Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Holidays!

I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays. I'm having a lovely time with my family in Austin and I am taking a mini vacation from blogging.

I am not doing much cooking down here, but I did make this Tunisian Soup with Chard and Egg Noodles for dinner on Christmas Eve, which received many compliments. Paired with a fresh salad and warm, crusty bread, it made for a festive, satisfying dinner that was enjoyed by the whole family. It is fast and healthy, and would also be great for New Year's Eve.

I will be back in time for the New Year. See you then!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Baking Class: Snickerdoodles

We are having a cookie exchange at work today. I'm kind of excited because I've never participated in one before. The closest I have come is when I lived at Five Girl Farm in Austin and we all baked for the holidays together, so we had a variety of cookies around the house for the whole holiday season. I have tried to do it by myself over the years, but there are only so many cookies one person can make in any given season, and even less that one can consume and only so many one can give away.

And I was getting tired of my usual rotation, as I've mentioned in an earlier post. I wanted to make something new our exchange, but something that I associated with Christmas. And I thought back to that time when we all baked our holiday treats together at the Farm, and I remembered Susie's Snickerdoodles.

I had never heard of Snickerdoodles before my housemate Susie made them, and I laughed at their silly name. A native Austinite, Susie had grown up making them. They looked like a sugar cookie with cinnamon and sugar instead of just plain sugar, but when I took a bite of them it was immediately evident to me that these were much more than sugar cookies. Crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, there was a unique, tangy undertone from the cream of tartar that was like nothing in the world I had ever tasted. She was kind enough to give me the recipe, but I never made them.

So I thought this would be a good time to pull out the recipe and give them a try. But when I went to get it, I could not find it. I have no idea where it went. I do still have all of my old recipe index cards in the original box, and as far as I know it has stayed there untouched for all of this time, but the recipe was not there. So I looked in my backup book, and then my computer files, but it was nowhere to be found.

This bummed me out. I couldn't make the same cookie that Susie made all of those years ago without her recipe. And, if I don't have the Snickerdoodles recipe, what other recipes have I lost over the years that I don't yet know are gone?

I turned to my many cookbooks, but could not find a recipe for Snickerdoodles in any of them. I finally found one in the International Cookie Cookbook, but it used baking powder and baking soda instead of cream of tartar. I know that shouldn't make that big of a difference, but I wanted to get as close to the original recipe as I could and the cream of tartar lended that indefinable tang that made those cookies so darned good. I finally found some recipes online and, after comparing a few of them, came up with what looked like it would work.

And it did work. These are delicous, and almost as good as I remember them. I am betting that the original recipe had shortening in it, because they were softer and not as crisp as mine turned out, and the centers were more chewy as well. But these are definitely keepers. I won't wait so long to make them again.

I am looking forward to our exchange. I wonder what everyone else will bring? (And, because it's me, I'm also bringing a batch of sand tarts. Those have nuts, though, and we have allergies in the office so this way I have something for everyone.)
Home Cookin Chapter: Cookies

makes about 5 dozen cookies

2-1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon

Mix flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl and
set aside.

Beat the butter with a hand mixer on medium speed until it is creamy.
Add the sugar and continue beating until the butter and sugar are well
combined and fluffy.

Raise the speed to medium high and add the eggs, one at a time, making
sure it is well blended before adding the second egg.

Set the hand mixer to low and mix in half of the dry ingredients. When
the batter gets too thick for the beateres, switch to a wooden spoon
and add in the rest of the dry ingredients. Form the dough into a ball
and set it in the smaller bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and
refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (or up to 3 days).

Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F. and line baking sheets with parchment
paper. Roll the dough into 1-inch balls and place them on the baking
sheet, leaving plenty of room for the cookies to spread. Place the
dough back in the refrigerator between batches.

Bake the cookies for 13-16 minutes, until the edges are slightly firm.
For best results, turn the cookies around in the oven after about 7
minutes. Do not let the cookies get too brown.

Remove the baking sheets from the oven and place on cooling racks for
about 2 minutes, then remove the cookies from the sheets and let them
cool completely on the racks. Store in an airtight container.

adapted from several recipes found online, but mostly this one.

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Monday, December 12, 2011

How To Make Peanut Butter

The last time I was in Austin I was browsing the cooking section of the bookstore (yes, there are still bookstores out there and yes, I go to them) and my eyes were caught by a book called Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, by Jennifer Reese. I picked it up and thumbed through it. Now that I am making so many things myself, I was curious to see what she had to say about it, especially the idea that there are some things one should not try to make from scratch.

I already had my own, informal and relatively unformed, list of those things that are best bought, but that list is constantly changing as I learn how to make more and more of my own food. Five years ago I would never have thought I would be making my own mayonnaise; two years ago the idea of making my own mustard, ketchup, and Worcestershire sauce would have been unthinkable. And I have been making my own bread, granola and crackers (yes, crackers) for years now.

I thought it would be interesting to compare my experiential list to hers. And mostly, I agreed with what she said. There are certainly some things better left to the experts. Until I get a bigger kitchen, canning is not in my future, nor do I see myself making a home for cows, goats and chickens anytime soon. And while I do plan to experiment with cheese and yogurt, I doubt I will go past the basic simple paneer and ricotta, possibly mozzarella. But nothing that needs to be aged or kept in a dank, dark cave.

Jennifer Reese started her project when she lost her job and was mainly looking for economical ways to feed herself and her family. While I care about my money and how I am spending it, my primary motivating force is keeping the foods that I eat as chemical and preservative free as possible. On the way, I have discovered that I actually prefer the taste of homemade to store-bought, and I can often (though not always, I admit) taste and feel the difference between the two. That was not always the case. When I first started making my own condiments, for example, they tasted nothing like the mayonnaise, ketchup, and ballpark mustard that long were my standards. And salad dressings never tasted right. But after a period of not having the commercial brands around, my attempts tasted better and better, and now I do prefer the taste of what I make myself. Like everything else, it is a process.

Nothing comes out the same every time, but it is all good, and when it is really good, it can be transcendent. As with life, if you aren't willing to experience any of the lows, you won't be able to enjoy the highs.

I was pleased to discover that peanut butter fell into the "make it yourself" category in the book, as I have been making my own peanut butter for the past six months, and I was interested to see her recipe.

I don't remember all of the details of it, but I do remember that there were several ingredients, including oil. The first time I made my own peanut butter I added oil, but I soon realized that it was completely unnecessary. All you need to make peanut butter is peanuts. Maybe salt, if you want it to be a little salty.

But you should never need to add oil to peanut butter. It can look like you do, because when you first start grinding it up it makes a thick paste of the ground peanuts that doesn't look like it will ever break up. But if you are patient and let the food processor continue to do its work, the paste does break up and you end up with the smoothest, creamiest peanut butter, one that looks and tastes exactly like the natural brands that are on the grocery store shelf.

A lot of my friends (and family) don't buy natural peanut butter because it is so hard and messy to stir together the nuts and oil that have separated after sitting on the shelf for so long. One trick I learned from my brother to solve that problem is to store your jar upside down on the shelf, so that all of the oil is on the bottom when you turn it over and open it. But if you make your own, that will never be a problem because there is no separation when it is fresh, and if you put it right into the refrigerator, it stays together. And because everything is already well integrated, you don't get that impenetrable mass of peanut paste that you sometimes get when you didn't combine it evenly.

It took me a few tries to get it to the right consistency, so I thought it might be helpful to offer a step-by-step tutorial of the process, with photos to show how it should look throughout the process. All you need is a pan, the peanuts, and a food processor. Do note that this will not work in a blender. I have it on good authority that it will burn out the motor.

This might sound like a lot of work, but it doesn't take long at all, and the food processor does all of the work. The whole process takes less than an hour (slightly more if you roast the peanuts, but you can do that as early as a few days ahead).

The first thing you need to do is to get your peanuts. I buy roasted valencia organic peanuts in bulk at Whole Foods, but you can really use any roasted (not dry-roasted, though)peanuts. I like a dark roast, though, so I put them in a pan and roast them at 350 deg. F. for about 12 minutes, and then let them cool. Sometimes there is still some of the red peel on the nuts. I will go through them and remove as much as I can, but I do not get overstressed about it. A little won't hurt.

After the nuts have cooled, place them in the food processor bowl. I usually use a pound of nuts. That fits nicely into the food processor, and the finished product goes right into a leftover peanut butter jar from when I used to buy it.

If you have more than one setting on your food processor, put it to the highest setting and turn it on. Let it go for a few minutes, until your peanuts have been ground into teeny little pieces that look like this. While you can just let the processor go until you have peanut butter, it is a good idea to stop every once in a while and see how it looks, especially at the beginning, when you are still not sure how it supposed to look at each stage of the process.

At some point the peanuts will start to clump together as they are whizzing around the food processor bowl. Eventually, it will solidify into a solid mass on one side of the bowl that looks it will never budge and just might possibly burn out your motor. This is the point where most people believe it needs some oil to get it going. They would be mistaken. You can let it keep going and it will eventually work through the mass or, if you don't believe it will ever make it through, you can turn it off and let it pulse every few seconds. The stopping and starting of the motor will slowly move the lump around the bowl until it is evenly spaced around the bowl and moving smoothly again.

Eventually, it will look like this. You can still see the pieces of peanut, but you can also see that the oil has separated out and it is starting to get smooth. Let it run for another 2 or 3 minutes, but be careful. I have heard that it is possible to overwork it and end up with a liquid that cannot be saved, but I have not had that happen yet and I have let it run for up to 3 minutes.

And just when you think it will never happen, the last little pieces of peanut disappear and you are left with a bowl full of beautiful, smooth, creamy peanut butter, just like this. If you prefer crunchy, set aside half a cup or so (to your taste) of the peanuts and grind them to the desired size. Follow this process withe rest of the peanuts and then stir in the ground peanuts.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Baking Class: Cornish Fairings

Well, it's that time of the year kids. Christmas = cookies! And I hope not to disappoint. I'm not going to be as unrealistically ridiculous as to try to make a different cookie every day, but I have gotten a little tired of my usual Christmas baking (except for the Mexican Wine Cookies - the butter is softening for those as I write) so I am experimenting with other options.

I found this recipe for Cornish Fairings in my new favorite cookie cookbook, The International Cookie Cookbook, by Nancy Baggett. It has been sitting on my bookshelf for years now, and I finally went through recently and started marking recipes I wanted to try. By the time I was done, the book had dozens of post-it tabs sticking out of the top. In fact, I was intimidated by how many cookies I wanted to try, so back on the shelf it went so I wouldn't have to decide where to start.

I have been in a cookie-making mode lately, so I decided it was time to pull it back down and start making some decisions. I have been experimenting with spice/ginger/molasses cookies lately so when I read through the recipe for Cornish Fairings it seemed like a good place to start.

Not surprisingly, the Cornish Fairing is most commonly found in Cornwall, where a fairing was originally known as any edible treat found or sold at a local fair. Over the years it has come to be more specifically associated with this spicy gingery biscuit, or cookie as we would call it here in the States.

The main thing that interested me about this cookie is that, while it is similar to the cookies I have been making recently, it does not have any molasses in it. I was interested to see how that would make it distinguishable from the other cookies I have been making.

And it did make a difference. Without the molasses, the cookies are lighter and sweeter. The spices are there, but they do not overtake the overall flavor of the cookie. While I do love the dark, sultry flavor that molasses provides, it was a refreshing change to have a lighter spice flavor come shining through.

This recipe (and several others in the book) calls for golden syrup, which is common in Great Britain but not so common here. For years I had no idea what that was and assumed it was the same as corn syrup. It is not. According to Baggett, you can substitute dark corn syrup for the golden syrup, but the cookie will not come out the same.

After searching for years, I finally found Lyle's Golden Syrup at my neighborhood Treasure Island, but the last time I was in Austin I actually found some at HEB, a local chain, so it has gotten easier to find. It is worth seeking out if you plan to make this recipe, or any recipe that specifically calls for it. Corn syrup is not at all the same. Golden syrup has the same taste, look and feel as pure cane syrup (or perhaps I should say, as I imagine pure cane syrup to taste; I can't say as I've ever tasted it). Corn syrup, while probably just as sweet, has less flavor, and the flavor is more muddled. There's a muted tone to it that somehow blunts the sweetness in an undesirable (to me) way. Your mileage may vary, of course.

But, whether you use the golden syrup or dark corn syrup, you really should try these cookies. They are light, sweet, and spicy without the sometimes cloying cloak of molasses.

Home Cookin Chapter: Cookies


Makes about 4 dozen cookies

2 cups all-purpose or unbleached white flour
1-1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1-1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 cup unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/4 tsp finely grated lemon zest
2 Tbsp golden syrup

Preheat the oven to 375 deg. F. Generously grease several baking sheets and set aside. Thoroughly stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.

In a large mixing bowl, combine butter and sugar and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and smooth. Add egg, lemon zest, and golden syrup and continue beating until thoroughly blended and smooth. Gradually beat in about half the dry ingredients. As dough stiffens, stir in remaining dry ingredients using a large wooden spoon.

To form cookies, pull off small pieces of dough and roll between the palms to form 1-inch balls. Space about 2-1/2 inches apart on baking sheets. Press down balls with the heel of the hand to flatten them just slightly.

Place in the upper third of the oven and bake for 9 to 11 minutes, or until cookies are a rich brown and slightly darker around edges. (The cookies will puff up and then "fall" as they bake, which gives them a crackled surface.) Remove baking sheets from oven and let stand for 1 to 2 minutes. Then, use a spatula to transfer cookies to wire racks and let stand until cooled completely.

Store cookies in an airtight container for up to a week. Freeze for longer storage.

from The International Cookie Cookbook, by Nancy Baggett (Stewart Tabori & Chang, 1988)

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Can Organic Feed the World?

I don't write as often as I would like to about food politics because I do not take the time that I should to do the research to make sure that I know my facts, and can produce sources with which to back them. Of course, I have my opinions, and those come through regularly in my posts - at least I hope they do.

Fortunately, there are others who do take the time to do the research. Barry Estabrook is one of those people. In this piece, he provides a cogent rebuttal to a post by Steve Kopperud, a lobbyist for agribusiness, who claims that Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle are living in an ivory tower and have an unrealistic approach to food production, and that sustainable, diverse, organic farming cannot feed the world.

However, from what Mr. Estabrook is saying, and from the studies he cites (something conspicuously lacking in Mr. Kopperud's post), it looks like sustainable, diverse, organic farming may be the only thing that will feed the world.

But don't take my word for it. Read the piece yourself.

Photo found at

Monday, December 05, 2011

Chicken Noodle Egg-drop Soup

This lovely soup was born of my desire for something quick and comforting when I was recovering from a nasty virus I picked up the last time I was in Austin. The last thing I felt like doing was cooking, let alone making a trip to the grocery store, so my only option was to forage through my freezer and pantry.

It is a good thing I keep my freezer so well stocked, even though I often complain about how full it is. I was pleased to discover a quart of chicken stock in there, and some noodles on my pantry shelf. A quick chicken noodle soup was just the ticket.

But of course I had to get creative with it, even as awful as I was feeling. I did not have any chicken and I wanted to use some kind of protein, so I decided to make an egg-drop soup, which inspired me to give the soup an Asian twist. I quickly revised my plan and added ginger, napa cabbage, fish sauce and garlic chili paste to the broth.

In record time I had a delicious, soothing, nourishing dinner. The Marsala added a sweet counterpoint to the sourness of the fish sauce and the heat of the chili paste. The pungent garlic chili paste cleared out my sinuses for the rest of the evening, so I was able to get my first good night's sleep since getting sick.

Until now, I had never made egg-drop soup. Several online sources that I looked at before adding them said that the strands would be more silky if cornstarch was added to the liquid, but I did not feel like messing with it so I just dropped them into the liquid as it was. As you can see in the photo, the eggs did not make those lovely strands you find in the egg-drop soup they serve in Chinese restaurants. I might try it with the cornstarch next time, but I can say with no hesitation at all that there was no loss of flavor doing it this way.

The beauty of this soup is that all you really need is the chicken stock, the noodles and the eggs. You can add whatever vegetables you happen to have. Instead of ginger, fish sauce and garlic chili paste, you can add thyme or poultry seasoning. The options are virtually endless.

The beauty of this soup is the quickness and ease with which you can make such a hearty meal - perfect for those evenings when you get home late from a mind-numbing round of Christmas shopping and want to indulge yourself without having to work for it. It will rejuvenate you enough to go back out and do it all over again the next day. And if you want to make it vegetarian, just use vegetable broth and leave out the fish sauce - nothing could be simpler.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


Makes 4 servings

2 Tbsp + 1 tsp oil, divided
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp minced ginger
1/2 onion, chopped
1/4 napa cabbage, sliced
1 quart chicken stock
1 tsp fish sauce
1/4 tsp garlic chili paste
1/4 cup thin noodles
1 Tbsp Marsala wine
2 eggs, well beaten
green onion and fresh parsley for garnish (optional)

Heat oil over medium-low heat in soup pan. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Add onions and cook until translucent. Add cabbage and salt and cook for about 10 more minutes.

Add the stock, chili paste, and fish sauce and bring to a boil. While the stock is coming to a boil, heat the remaining teaspoon of oil in a small skillet. Add the pasta and cook, stirring constantly, until the pasta is toasty brown. Remove from the heat.

When the stock is boiling, add the noodles. Cook them for 2 minutes less than the package directions. Stir in the sherry. Turn off the heat and slowly add the beaten egg in a thin stream, stirring constantly.

Garnish with green onion and parsley and serve immediately.


Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Baking Class: Sweet Rolls

Bagels were a staple in our house when I was growing up, and every Saturday morning my father would drive down to Three Brothers Bakery and come home with a couple dozen assorted bagels, which would last us through the week until the next Saturday, when he would go get more.

But every once in a while he would surprise us, and come home with a box of assorted Danish instead (or on those rare, special occasions, both). This was mostly when we had company for brunch. Cherry, apple, lemon, pineapple and cheese - I loved them all and it was always a little bit of torture having to decide which one I was going to have, because it meant that I would not be having any of the others. The dough was more chewy than flaky, and it was soft and buttery. The fillings were fruity and not too sweet, and there was just a hint of glaze threaded over the top to add a touch of sweetness to the dough. Left alone, I could have eaten the whole box myself but, alas, two was the most I ever managed to wrangle.

When we moved to Dallas it took a while, but my father finally found a place that had decent bagels. But that was all they had, and I don't believe I ever had a Three Brothers danish ever again. And no danish I have had since has been able to come close to my memory of the taste of those lovely treats. I realized that it was probably my memory of how they tasted that made later pastries suffer in comparison. Whatever the reason, I just haven't been all that interested in sweet rolls.

A search for a recipe for hamantashen, however, led me back to sweet rolls in a curious way. In my memory they were cookies, and we made them in Sabbath school one year - at least we put the filling in the pre-made, pre-rolled dough and folded over the corners to make the hat-shaped triangles - but I kept running into recipes that had a yeast dough. It confused me - was it a cookie or a pastry? Having worked so successfully with yeast these past few years, I decided to go for the yeasted version. (More on that later; I flaked out and missed writing about them in time for Purim, but I hope to get to it this year.)

It turns out that the base for the hamantashen was a basic sweet bread recipe that could not only be made into hamantashen, but was also good for sweet rolls and other sweet breads. I don't know what prompted my decision, but I was happy enough with my success with the hamantashen that I decided to take a stab at the sweet rolls.

The recipe looks daunting, but it is actually fairly easy and does not take that long. It was easy enough, and the sweet rolls went over well enough (including a request for the recipe) that I have already made them again, and plan to put them into a semi-regular rotation. And now that I am making my own jams, I don't have to worry about whether or not I have any in the pantry. These days I almost always have a jar of some kind of home-made jam in the freezer.

These sweet rolls are actually not like those ever-elusive Three Brothers sweet rolls at all. But they are very, very good.

I believe it is worth mentioning that the directions for the recipe in the cookbook is one paragraph long. It tells you what to do, and assumes that you know how to do it. If I hadn't been making breads and baking as much as I have been these past few years, I don't know that I would have known what to do, so I have expanded the recipe to include more detailed instructions.

Here are the instructions for making the dough:
"Dissolve the yeast in warm water. To the scalded milk add the butter, sugar, salt, a little nutmeg and lemon. When lukewarm, add 1 beaten egg or the beaten yolks of 2 eggs; stir in the yeast and only enough flour to knead. Knead dough until smooth and elastic. Cover tightly and let rise until doubled in bulk. Cut dough down, form into desired shape and bake in a moderately hot oven (375 deg. F.) until browned."

It seems easy to me now, but there was a time when I would not have known what to do. I hope my version will be easier for the less experienced cook to feel comfortable enough to jump on in and get started.
Home Cookin Chapter: Breads and Muffins

Makes about 20 rolls


1 package active dry yeast (3/4 Tbsp)
1/4 cup warm water (105-115 deg. F.)
1-3/4 cup scalded milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
Dash nutmeg
Grated rind of 1/2 lemon
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed*
2 cups white whole wheat flour*
1 egg
1 egg white mixed with 1 tsp water
Coarse (sanding) sugar, optional


1 lb blueberries, strawberries, figs, or any other fruit, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup sugar
grated rind of 1/2 lemon
2-4 Tbsp water

*I have also successfully made this dough using 100% whole wheat white flour.

Put the warm water in a small bowl. Add the yeast and let it dissolve.

Once the milk is scalded (do not let it boil), remove from the heat and add the butter, sugar, salt, nutmeg and lemon zest. When the mixture is lukewarm, pour it into a large mixing bowl. Add the egg and the yeast and mix well.

Combine 2 cups of all-purpose flour and 2 cups of white whole wheat flour and whisk together. Add to the yeast mixture and stir vigorously. Add more flour as necessary until a soft dough has formed. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead until it is smooth and elastic, adding only as much flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking.

Put the dough back into the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place to rise until it has doubled, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

While the dough is rising, make the filling: Combine the blueberries, sugar, lemon zest and water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and let simmer until the blueberries have broken down and the sauce has thickened. Set aside to cool.

When the dough has risen, punch it down and turn it out of the bowl. Preheat the oven to 375 deg. F.

Divide the dough into two equal pieces and set one aside, covering it with plastic wrap. Roll the first piece into a 1-inch thick rectangle. Cut into 2-1/2-inch circles and place close together on a baking sheet that has either been greased or covered with parchment paper (I use parchment paper). Repeat with the second piece of dough, re-rolling the leftover scraps and cutting more circles until you have used up the dough. Let rise for about half an hour, until they have almost doubled.

With your fingertips, make a cavity in the center of each roll (dip your fingers in flour if necessary). Drop about 1/2 teaspoon of the blueberry filling into each hole. Brush the dough with the egg white mixed with water, being careful not to smear the filling. Sprinkle the coarse sugar over both the dough and the filling.

Bake 20-25 minutes, until the rolls are golden. Start checking after 10 minutes. Let them cool enough for the filling to set.

Adapted from The Settlement Cookbook, Third Edition Newly Revised (Simon and Schuster, 1976)

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Monday, November 28, 2011

Braised Pot Roast with Leeks

Ah, braising. If you've been following my blog at all, then you know how fond I am of this technique. It makes everything tender and flavorful - meat or vegetables. And it is so easy! And even though it takes a long time, there is little work involved and once the braise is going you can pretty much ignore it and still end up with a a delicious dinner. And the leftovers just seem to get better.

But as much as I love the process, and the layers of flavor you get when you load up with aromatics and root vegetables, sometimes even that is too much work. I had pulled a chuck shoulder out of the freezer and let it defrost overnight in the refrigerator, but by the time it was ready to be braised I was not so ready to braise it.

But braise it I must, so I decided to follow Mark Bittman's lead and make it as minimalist as possible. I decided a leek would add enough flavor to some chicken stock, along with some home-made ketchup and fennel seeds. The carrots, potatoes, and squash could wait for the next day.

I browned the meat in the oven while I cooked down the leeks. The whole thing was in the oven within a half hour and there was very little to clean up when it was done. Easy peasy and out-of-this-world delicious! The next day I didn't even bother with the rest of the vegetables, I just cooked up some potatoes and mashed them with some squash and garlic I had roasted earlier in the week (and was the basis for this Thanksgiving dish) to use as a bed for the roast.

I made it the weekend before I went down to Austin for my nephew's bar mitzvah and I had more of both the beef and the potatoes left over than I could finish before leaving. I gave them to a co-worker so he could have them for lunch. When I got back he asked for the recipe. Can't get better validation than that!

So not only will I give it to him, I will give it to you as well.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Serves 4

2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
1 leek, cut in half lengthwise, well rinsed and thinly sliced
2 to 2-1/2 lb chuck shoulder roast
4 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp fennel seeds
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup ketchup, preferably home made (or any tomato-based sauce)
2 cups beef or chicken stock (or water)

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 425 deg. F. and line a baking sheet with foil. Bring the meat to room temperature and put it on the sheet. Season both sides liberally with salt and pepper and bake in the 425 deg. oven for 15 minutes.

While the meat is browning, in an oven-proof dutch oven or heavy pan heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the fennel seeds and cook for 1 minute, being careful not to let them burn. Add the leek and garlic and turn the heat to low. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until they have turned translucent and tender.

Two minutes before the meat is done, raise the heat back to medium-high and add the tomato paste to the leeks and garlic and cook, stirring frequently.

Take the meat out of the oven and lower the heat to 275 deg. F. Put the roast into the pot browned side up. Cook for two to three minutes without moving the meat.

Add the ketchup and the stock to cover the roast about halfway up the sides. Add more stock or water if necessary. Bring to a boil, cover with a tight fitting lid, and put in the 275-degree oven. Bake 2-1/2 to 3 hours, until the meat is falling off of the bone.

Remove the meat from the pot and set it aside, covering loosely with foil. Return the pot with the cooking liquid to the stove and cook over medium heat until it has reduced to the desired thickness.

Can be served immediately or the next day. Store the meat separately from the sauce. Before serving the sauce, remove the cold layer of fat from the top before reheating it.


Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Veggie Spring Rolls from Bun Mi Express

Happy Thanksgiving! This year I stayed put while some of my family has traveled to Chicago. Space and other challenges make cooking problematic, so we follow a longstanding tradition of eating out when Thanksgiving is celebrated in Chi-town.

And we won't be alone. According to this piece in the Huffington Post, some 14 million Americans are expected to eat out this Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, I thought I would share these veggie spring rolls from what has become my regular takeout spot these days, Bun Mi Express. They were inexpensive, and good, but the ratio of noddles to veggie was too high, in my opinion, and they were rather loosely wrapped. The sauce was good, if maybe a little thick and sweet, but overall it made for a nice meal. While I prefer their sandwiches, these make for a nice change.

So if you, too, eat out for Thanksgiving, or there just weren't enough leftovers to go around, these would make a lovely day-after Thanksgiving lunch.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Mashed Potatoes with Butternut Squash and Roasted Garlic

Here is a new take on an old Thanksgiving work horse. It's a little bit of a twist, because it looks like those are sweet potatoes mashed up with the potatoes, but they're not. That's butternut squash in there. And it adds a more complex, savory dimension to the potatoes. Mix in some roasted garlic and a little gruyere cheese and you have an exciting new addition to the Thanksgiving table.

This is another one of those dishes that came about by accident. I was making mashed potatoes and accidentally poured in too much cream and butter, so it was quite soupy. I had to think quickly to figure out how to save them when I remembered that I had some roasted squash in the refrigerator for which I had no clear plans. I knew they would mash well so I figured I had nothing to lose. I mashed them up and added them to the potatoes. They turned the potatoes a lovely shade of orange, so it was a little disconcerting as I was eating them because I kept expecting that sweetness that sweet potatoes added. I don't remember what kind of squash it was, but it was a subtle flavor, adding just a hint of nuttiness.

It was intriguing enough that I decided it was worth playing with it to see if I could come up with something intentional. This time I thought a butternut squash would work better, given it's sturdier texture and more pronounced flavor. I peeled, deseeded, cubed and roasted it in a little olive oil, salt and pepper. I separated, but did not peel, two heads of garlic and scattered the cloves among the squash. I baked it for about 35 minutes at 350 deg. F., until both the squash and the garlic were soft.

The most time-consuming part of this dish is roasting the squash and garlic, and you can do that up to two days ahead of time. After that, it's pretty much like making regular mashed potatoes. But it adds an unexpected, wonderful new dimension to an old favorite so you get the best of both worlds - tradition and innovation.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


Serves 6 to 8

1/2 medium butternut squash, (about 1-1/2 cups) peeled, seeded and cut into 1-1/2-inch cubes*
2 heads of garlic, separated but not peeled
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup cream (or milk)
4 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
Salt and freshly grated black pepper to taste
Parsley for garnish (optional)

*I usually roast the whole squash and use the rest of it for soup, or a frittata, or some other purpose.

Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Place squash and unpeeled garlic cloves in a large bowl and add salt, pepper, and the olive oil. Toss well and lay out onto a baking sheet that is large enough to allow for a single layer. Place on a center rack in the oven and cook until the squash and the garlic are tender, about 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. (This can be done up to two days ahead of time.)

Place the cubed potatoes in a pan with salted cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes are fork-tender. Drain the potatoes and return them to the pan, placing it over the low flame. Let the potatoes sit for a minute or two to dry.

Take a potato masher, a ricer, or a food mill (whatever is your usual process) and mash the potatoes, adding the milk and butter about halfway through. Add the mashed squash and mix it in with the potatoes. Add more cream as needed if the mixture gets too thick. Add the cheese and roasted garlic and stir until the cheese is melted and the garlic is blended in.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.


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Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Good Idea That Didn't Quite Work

Here's a good idea that just didn't make it. The spices are right, it's potatoes and onions, and the yogurt should have made it nice and creamy.

But alas, it was not to be. The potatoes developed that tightness that comes when they are too dry as they cook, and the sauce curdled.

I think the main problems were that the dish I used was too big, so there wasn't enough of the yogurt and stock to cover the potatoes. It's one of those things that I noticed as I was putting the dish in the oven, but for whatever reason decided to keep going instead of pulling it out and adding more liquid.

It's a decent enough idea that it should have worked, so I hope to try it again, since the flavors were there. At least this mistake was still edible, even if it wasn't perfect. You can't always hit a home run, but if you learn something in the process then it's not a total loss.

When I figure out how to make it work, I will let you know how I did it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Silken Eggplant

This is a dish that I made before the Eggplant Braised in Marsala about which I wrote last month. It is equally delicious and went especially well with couscous. If it had occurred to me at the time, I would have added the Marsala, but it was under the radar at the time. Now that I have been using it, I am finding all kinds of uses for it.

I am now firmly convinced that this is the best way to cook eggplant. It is soft, and silky, and the long cooking time allows the flavor of the eggplant to shine.

Couscous cooked with vegetable broth and cranberries highlighted the eggplant perfectly, I added a garnish of toasted walnuts for a contrasting texture, which was much needed.

By now, this is more of a technique than a recipe. Here is how it works:
Trim the ends off the eggplant. Heat a scant tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place the eggplant in the skillet, cut side down and in a single layer, and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Turn the eggplant skin-side down and cook for another 5 minutes. Turn the eggplant back over and pour stock or water to cover about one inch of the eggplant. Reduce heat to low, cover, and braise until silky and tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from skillet and reduce the liquid to desired consistency for a sauce.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pasta Shells with Rapini and Pesto

Ah, the joys of modern living. An email with this subject header was waiting for me in my spam folder this morning: "FBI OFFICE GET BACK TO US IMMEDIATELY IF YOU DONT WANT US TO ARREST YOU AND JAIL YOU FOR YOUR OWN G0OD." Do people actually fall for this?

As much as I am constantly complaining about how full my freezer is, there is something to be said for having a little bit of everything in there for those days when you have nothing in the house and need to whip up something fast and easy.

I had a wonderful long weekend in Austin, but I could already tell I was coming down with something potentially virile on my way home from the airport. I had purposely worked my way down to the bare essentials in the kitchen the week before, taking advantage of the opportunity to clear out my refrigerator, so I did not have much and knew I was not going to up for a full-on visit to the grocery store.

Instead, I toted my carry-on bag and backpack into Treasure Island and picked up a few things I knew I needed (milk), a thing or two I knew I wanted (chicken salad, sourdough bread, and - yes - ice cream), and a lovely bunch of rapini that was on sale. I figured I could put together a quick pasta dish and the rapini would be easy to prep and quick to cook.

I have only used rapini once or twice before, and I know that it can be bitter, which I used to hate. I had a low tolerance for it, maybe because my mother had a high tolerance for it and whenever I would complain that something was bitter she would take a bite of it, chew reflectively for a minute, and proclaim definitively that there was nothing wrong with whatever it was at all, and I would have to do my best to force it down. Ah, memories.

Now I find that I like a little bitterness in my food. Not too much, mind you, but some. And rapini has a lovely pungent bitterness, due most likely to its relation to mustard. A little honey or sugar could help offset the bitterness factor, but I find these days that a dash or two of red wine vinegar works just as well and freshens it up enough to offset the bitterness without adding sweet.

While I was thinking about the quickest way to prepare it, I remembered all of those little jars of pesto I had put away over the past few months for future use. What could be more simple? Pasta shells on the larger side (but not the huge ones) seemed ideal for catching the pasta. With little thought and ingredients I already had on hand, I was able to make a delicious dinner, with enough left over for a couple of lunches. Just what I needed to get me through a few days of not feeling like cooking.

You don't really need a recipe for this, but I can tell you what I did.

Makes 2-3 servings

Wash and trim a bunch of rapini and give it a rough chop. While bringing water to boil in a 3-quart saucepan, heat 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds and cook for 1 minute. Add 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes and cook for about 30 more seconds. Add 4 cloves of chopped garlic and lower the heat to medium-low. Cook the garlic for a few minutes. Add the rapini and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, until the greens have started to wilt. If the water is not boiling yet, reduce the heat under the skillet so there is just enough heat to keep the rapini warm without overcooking it.

When the water is boiling, add a heaping tablespoon of salt and then add 1-1/2 cups of medium-sized shell whole wheat pasta. Cook according to package directions, but remove from the water 1 minute earlier than instructed. Save some pasta water to thin the sauce if necessary. If you had to lower the heat under the skillet, raise it back to medium-high and add a tablespoon of red wine vinegar to the rapini, then the pasta. Cook for about 1 minute, adding pasta water if the mixture looks too tight. When the pasta is ready, remove from the heat and stir in about 1/4 a cup of pesto and 1/4 a cup of grated parmesan or pecorino cheese. Add more pasta water if necessary.

Garnish with parsley and more cheese, if desired.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Eggplant Casserole

More work with eggplant. I had eggplant and tomatoes and cheese, which made me think of the dish I used to make that I called Eggplant Parmigiana, but was really more of a lasagna in which I used eggplant slices instead of noodles. It was the first dish I made on a regular basis that I had created myself, using lasagna as a template, and I must say it was pretty good, and it was a great go-to for company. But as my repertoire expanded, it fell by the wayside and I had not made it for years.

One of the reasons that my dish was not a true eggplant parmigiana is because I did not bread and fry the eggplant before layering it into the casserole dish. I just sliced it thinly lengthwise and layered it with the cheese and sauce. In those days, I pretty much used our family's spaghetti sauce recipe, which at that time was the only sauce we knew of for pasta (not to mention spaghetti being the only pasta of which we were aware other than macaroni, which we did not think of as pasta since it came out of that blue box and was mixed with milk, margarine, and that packet of powdered cheese and was one of my all-time favorite dishes. And lasagna noodles, which were a later discovery in our house, and again, was not pasta. It was lasagna!)

My family's spaghetti sauce was a mixture of onions, ground beef, several cans of tomato sauce, tomato paste, ground oregano and salt. (No pepper! Not in our house!) The recipe instructions were to cook it for a few hours but my mother never did, so while it always tasted good to me, it was watery and there would always be a pool of water underneath my spaghetti on the plate. I still remember what a revelation it was to me the first time I made it where I left on the stove to simmer all day, which resulted in a thick, velvety rich sauce. Wow. By then I was also using dried oregano instead of ground, and that also enhanced the flavor a great deal.

These days I usually just heat up some olive oil, add sliced garlic, throw in a can of whole tomatoes, some thyme, basil, salt and pepper, and cook it down for about half an hour and it is delicious with any kind of whole-wheat short pasta.

But I wanted to do something with eggplant. So I decided to make my old standby.

I must say it came out quite lovely. The only mistake I made (and I realized it as soon as I had done it) is that, when layering it, I put in a little bit of sauce, the eggplant, then the sauce, then the cheese. I should have put the cheese before the sauce, especially on the top layer. It didn't really affect the flavor, but it caused the cheese to separate from the eggplant so that there were two separate layers, rather than one cheezy oozy mess of goodness. But that is easily fixed, and I will not make that mistake again.

I am sure I will improve upon this dish in the future, but for now, here is what I did.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


Serves 4

1 large or 2 medium eggplants, sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch thick pieces
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 batch tomato sauce (recipe follows)
1/2 lb fresh ricotta cheese
1 egg
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley (1 Tbsp dried), plus extra for garnish
8 oz grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmagiana Reggiano cheese

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. When it is hot, add the eggplant slices in one layer (cook in batches if necessary) and cook until browned, about 2-3 minutes and they release from the bottom of the pan. Turn the slices and brown them on the other side. Remove and set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, mix the ricotta cheese with the egg and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F. and grease an 8 x 12" casserole dish.

Spread about half a cup of the sauce in the bottom of a greased 8 x 9-inch casserole dish. Cover with a single layer of the eggplant slices (should be half of the total), then cover with half of the ricotta
cheese mixture and half the shredded mozzarella. Spread half of the tomato sauce over the cheese. Repeat one more layer, starting with the eggplant and ending with the tomato sauce.

Bake, covered, for 30 minutes, then remove the cover and sprinkle the Parmagiana Reggiano over the top and bake uncovered for another 30 minutes, until the cheese topping is golden brown.

Let sit for 15 minutes, the serve hot.


Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


Makes 2-1/2 to 3 cups

2 Tbsp Olive Oil
4 to 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 28-oz can of whole tomatoes (preferably San Marzano or plum)
2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried basil

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until it just starts to brown. Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, thyme and basil.

Break the tomatoes down while bringing to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, until the liquid has reduced to desired consistency.


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Thursday, November 03, 2011

Three Cheese Mac and Cheese

The weather has definitely turned here in Chicago. And it's a turn for the better in my book - cold and windy. Autumn is here and that means one thing: comfort food.

And what better comfort food than macaroni and cheese? I felt so good about the success of my last attempt that I thought I would see if I could improve upon it.

And I believe I did. And it came about kind of by accident. Isn't that how most good things happen? After I decided I wanted to make it, I bought some gruyere cheese, but after I got it home I realized I hadn't bought enough. I didn't want to wait and I certainly did not want to have to go back to the store right then, so I took stock of what cheese I already had in the refrigerator. Thanks to coupons, I actually had quite a bit of mozzarella, some of which was even grated from the last pizza I made. I also had a sizable chunk of pecorino Romano. I no longer remember why I bought that, but it seemed to me that the milder mozzarella would add a smoothness to the nutty richness of the gruyere, and the pecorino would add a sharp bite to finish off the effect.

And as good as my earlier mac and cheeses have been, this was by far the best. It was rich and smooth and full of flavor, and the mozzarella added a lightness that kept it from being too rich.

Adding butter and cheese to the bread crumb topping seemed like overkill to me, so I decided to use just the breadcrumbs. They absorbed enough fat from the cheese and the sauce so I will do it that way from now on.

Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


Makes 4 side servings

1 cup whole wheat elbow macaroni
1 recipe basic cheese sauce, made with grated gruyere cheese (recipe here)
1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano
1 Tbsp bread crumbs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F. Grease a 1-1/2-quart baking dish.

Cook the pasta 1 to 2 minutes less than package directions and put in a mixing bowl. Stir in a scant tablespoon of cold water to keep the pasta from sticking.

Prepare the cheese sauce and add it to the pasta along with the grated mozzarella and pecorino cheeses, stirring it together. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour the mixture into the greased baking dish. Combine the melted butter, breadcrumbs, and parmesan cheese and sprinkle over the top of the casserole.

Bake covered for 30 minutes, then uncover and bake another 30 minutes to brown the cheese and breadcrumb mixture.


Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Monday, October 31, 2011

Baking Class: Deep Chocolate Sables

Happy Halloween! I thought I would give the adults a treat and make something a little less spooky and a little less tooth-achingly sweet this year. These deep chocolate sables fit the bill. They are soft, with a deep chocolate flavor. There is just the right amount of sweetness to balance the darkness of the rich dark chocolate.

This recipe calls for finely chopped semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate. I had just the right amount of leftover chocolate (from bars) on hand from earlier baking projects - 2 parts semisweet to 1 part bittersweet. What a perfect way to finally use them! I was afraid I was chopping it too fine, as there was quite a bit of "dust" accumulating, but there were still chunks that got in the way when I was slicing the finished logs, so I think I didn't chop it finely enough. You also want to roll the logs slightly bigger than you think you want them, because they will get smaller yet when you roll them in the sugar.

And there is one thing I have learned with the most recent batches of cookies that I have made, and is the hardest thing to do: you should really wait at least overnight before tasting your baked goods. The only exception I can think of is chocolate chip cookies, of which there is nothing better than taking a bite when they are still soft and warm from the oven. Everything else needs time for the ingredients to settle down and the flavors to combine. And actually, now that I think about it, even chocolate chip cookies are better the next day.

When I tried one not long after baking it (I did wait until it had cooled completely), it was ok, but not great. And I could really taste the cocoa, which left a slight bitter aftertaste. I was pretty sure I had ruined them because I did not use the Dutch-processed cocoa as specified in the recipe. I did not have any on hand and I was not going out just for that so I used regular cocoa. I did not think it would matter that much to my palate, since I had grown up with everyday American cocoa, but maybe for this recipe it really did matter.

But I tried them again the next day with my morning coffee, and that slightly bitter aftertaste had mellowed, and all I tasted was rich, deep, velvety chocolate. Very good. Worth making again.

Another thing I love about these cookies is that you can mix up the dough, roll out the logs, and then put them in the refrigerator for up to 3 days before you bake them. I'm sure they would freeze well, too. I love cooking in installments.

Home Cookin Chapter: Cookies


Makes about 4 dozen cookies

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifted
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1-3/4 cups all purpose flour
3 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup coarse or granulated sugar

Cream together the butter and confectioner's sugar until well blended. Add the cocoa powder and mix until it is also well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, making sure each one is fully blended. Beat in the vanilla and the salt.

Add the flour in three installments, mixing until just blended each time. Add the chocolate and stir only as much as necessary for the mixture to come together.

Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured survace. The dough will be soft. Divide it in half and shape into 2 logs about 1-1/4 inches in diameter. Sprinkle the sugar onto the work surface and roll the dough
in it, making sure each log is well coated. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, up to 3 days.

Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cut the dough logs into 1/4-inch slices with a sharp knife. Lay the slices on the parchment paper about 1 inch apart. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the cookies are no longer shiny. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and cool completely.

from The Good Cookie, by Tish Boyle (John Wiley and Sons 2002)

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

DIY Condiments: Homemade Jam

A few weeks before summer's end Treasure Island had organic raspberries on sale for a ridiculously low price so I bought a couple of pints. (Although, after reading the piece I wrote about here I am no longer sure they really are organic - bummer.)

I wasn't until after I got home that I began to wonder just what I thought I was going to do with them. While I love the flavor, I am not so fond of the fruit. But I am fond of raspberry jam, so I decided to make some.

I had already been experimenting with making my own jams from both fresh and frozen fruits. It is surprisingly easy. You just
cook the fruit down with sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest until it has reduced to the thickness you want. It started with the strawberry jam I made a few years ago, but it didn't take off until this year. So far I have made blueberry jam, the raspberry jam you see here, and several batches of fig jam. All have been delicious, especially on my flaky buttermillk biscuits.

These are what I believe is called "freezer jam." I am nowhere near the idea of canning. Not that I haven't thought about it, mind you. I just don't have the space, either to do the canning or to store the end results. This jam will last a few weeks in the refrigerator, and it can be frozen (hence the term freezer jam). So when I make a batch, I usually freeze half of it immediately, since I am not likely to eat that much jam in such a short time.

Does this mean I will never buy jam or jelly again? Probably not. But it does mean that I can have it whenever I need it, as long as I have some fruit around the house.

And, more to the point, I know exactly what is in it when I make it myself.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Would You Like a Little Sugar with Your Sugar?

Some graffiti artist decided to tell it like it is on this BK billboard in Seattle. I wonder how long it will last.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Eggplant Braised in Marsala

I am still working on eggplant. I have been making great progress since I theorized that the trick is to make sure it is well cooked. And my latest experiment continues to support my thesis.

Braised eggplant is soft and silky, with a deep, almost smoky flavor. When combined with Marsala, it develops a velvety, luxurious umami richness that is insanely good. Add a topping of chopped toasted walnuts and fresh parsley and it is pretty near Nirvana.

This would make an excellent side dish for any dish, meat, poultry, or seafood. It packs a wallop of flavor for little effort.

You may notice that there is grated cheese on top of the photo. It makes for a prettier dish, but to my taste it overpowered the rest of the ingredients and I regretted using it. I left it off of the recipe, and I would strongly suggest that you do, too.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


Makes 4 side servings

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 medium eggplants
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup Marsala (or other fortified wine)
Salt to taste
pinch of nutmeg
2 Tbsp cream or butter
Parsley and toasted walnuts for garnish

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cut the stem end off of the eggplants and slice them into thirds lengthwise. When the oil is hot, add the eggplant flesh-side down and let sit without
touching until well browned, about 5 minutes. Turn the pieces and cook another 5 minutes, until they are also well browned.

Add the chicken stock, wine, salt and nutmeg. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover the pan, and cook for about 30 minutes, until the eggplant is silky and almost falling apart.

Remove the eggplant from the skillet and place on a serving platter. Let the liquid cook down, 5 to 10 more minutes. Add the cream or butter and cook for another minute, then pour the sauce over the
eggplant. Garnish with the parsley and walnuts and serve immediately.


Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Cheese Pizza with Marinara Sauce and Pesto

I still have quite a bit of marinara sauce and pesto in my freezer. These pizzas are the first dishes I have made with them.

This first one is just your basic cheese garlic pizza - a layer of the sauce covered with grated mozzarella cheese and garlic, and then topped off with grated Parmagiana Reggiano and the last of the fresh basil.

This pizza proves, once again, that simple pleasures really are the best.

But that's no reason not to keep experimenting. This pizza is a blend of the marinara sauce and some of the pesto, covered with the cheese, garlic, and sliced green olives and, as always, finished off with some Parmagiana Reggiano.

The pesto added an extra depth of flavor, but remember that it has a lot of olive oil in it, so if you are going to put it on your pizza put it on the bottom and spread as thin a layer as you can or it will be too greasy. And yes, there is such a thing as a too-greasy pizza.

For my basic pizza crust recipe go here. To see how to make a pizza, go here. For all pizza posts, click on the Pizza label.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Sardine Banh Mi from Bun Mi Express

I'm getting ready for a visitor this week so I did not do much cooking over the weekend. I did, however, stop at Bun Mi Express to try their sardine banh mi.

I stopped in on my way home from work on Friday night. They were busy, and had just pulled the loaves of bread from the oven. (They do not make the bread on-site, as I had originally thought they might. They are delivered par-baked, and they bake them off there.) Because they were busy, it also took a while, but I figured it was worth the wait.

When I got home, I unwrapped my sandwich with much anticipation. It had the same fresh ingredients as the BBQ Pork sandwich I had previously ordered, but there was a critical difference with this sandwich. The bread was still hot-out-of-the-oven when they made my sandwich and wrapped it, so by the time I unwrapped it all of the crunch had steamed out of the crust of the bread. It still tasted ok, but it was a bit of a disappointment.

I'm not sure of the answer to this problem, other than to make sure I only go when they are not busy and the bread has been sitting around long enough for the crust to stay crusty.

And I have one more (milder) issue with the restaurant. They do not open until noon on the weekends. Twice now I have thought I might stop in on the way home from the grocery store on a Sunday and treat myself, but both times it was before noon. It was 11:30 one week and 11:45 the next. If they opened at 11:00, I think they might get a little more business. They would certainly have gotten more business from me.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Chicken with Zucchini, Cashews and Thai Basil

I pulled out the wok over the weekend for the first time in over a year. Last week another co-worker gave me bunches of herbs - sage, rosemary, oregano, and Thai basil. I seem to have developed something of a reputation around the building as a foodie. I can't imagine how anyone would have gotten that idea. I mean, it's not like I come into work every Wednesday morning with a bag or two bulging with Green Market produce. Oh wait - I do.

I made a big batch of Faki , replacing the dried oregano with the fresh, for workday lunches. The rosemary and sage are still waiting, but not for long. The Thai basil made me think of stir-fry, so I pondered that for a while before deciding maybe it was time to get busy with the wok.

My wok repertoire is limited, and lately I have been using it mainly to make my Tofu stir-fry. I have not had much luck with it beyond that, but I have been watching Ching-He Huang cook up the most amazing dishes on Chinese Food Made Easy on the Cooking Channel. I must admit, she does indeed make it look easy; easy enough for me to believe that I might have been able to come up with a decent Thai-inspired chicken stir-fry.

And I have to say, I was successful beyond my wildest dreams. I think the main thing I learned from watching Ching-He Huang do her thing is that you actually can relax and enjoy the process. It is true that you have to move quickly, and you definitely want your ingredients prepped and ready to go, but it's not the frantic "GET EVERYTHING IN THE WOK AND STIR IT AROUND FRANTICALLY OR IT WILL BURN AND YOU'D BETTER NOT TAKE YOUR EYES OFF OF IT OR DINNER WILL BE RUINED BEYOND RECOGNITION AND YOUR KITCHEN WILL CATCH FIRE AND THE FIREMEN WILL BREAK YOUR DOOR DOWN AND YOU WILL NEVER, EVER, BE ABLE TO LOOK AT A WOK AGAIN!!!!" I have always found it to be. One thing I have discovered about myself in recent years is how literally I take everything, and how much I overcomplicate things because of it. Everything I have read about stir-fry says you have to work quickly and not let the food sit for a second, so I believed it.

Here are the two main tips I have learned that made this stir-fry so successful. First, if you are using meat, let it sit for a few seconds after you have put it into the hot oil, and then just make sure you are moving everything around briskly, not frantically. Second, once you added your vegetables, you should add water in small amounts at a time to create steam, which helps the vegetables cook more quickly on the inside so you aren't burning the outside before they are done.

Both of those tips made all the difference here. I can't believe I am saying it, but this was restaurant-quality stir fry. The sauce was perfect, with a good blend of sweet, sour, and salty (bitter, not so much). It is sure to impress. I can't wait to see what I can do next!
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Makes 2 servings

1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or breasts), cut into 1-inch pieces
Corn, grapeseed, or canola oil
2 Tbsp cornstarch, divided
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
2Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp sherry (I used Marsala)
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1/4 tsp garlic chili sauce
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 zucchini, quarted and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 scallions, divided, white parts cut into 1/2-inch pieces, the greens thinly sliced
2 Tbsp garlic/ginger mix (or 1 Tbsp each, chopped)
1/2 cup toasted cashews or other nuts
2 Tbsp fresh thai basil leaves
Toasted sesame oil
Sesame seeds for garnish

Coat chicken with 1 tablespoon of the cornstarch and set aside. In a small bowl, mix the vinegar, soy sauce, sherry, fish sauce, garlic chili sauce and brown sugar, and set aside.

Mix the other tablespoon of corn starch with a tablespoon of cold water and set aside.

Heat wok over high heat. When it starts smoking, add about 2 tablespoons of oil and let it heat up. Add the chicken to the wok, letting it sit for a few seconds, then let it cook until just cooked through, moving it constantly. Remove the chicken from the wok.

If necessary, add more oil to the wok. Add the garlic and ginger and let it sit for a second, then add the zucchini and the white part of the scallions. Cook until the zucchini is just tender, adding water as needed to create steam.

Add the chicken back to the wok and cook for a couple of minutes more, until it is thorougly cooked. Add the sauce and about a teaspoon of the sesame oil and cook for a few seconds, then add the cornstarch slurry and cook until the sauce has thickened.

Remove the wok from the heat and add the basil, the cashews and most of the green onions immediately, reserving a few for garnish.


Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mediterranean Lentil and Couscous Salad

This is another recipe from my go-to book on beans, Lean Bean Cuisine by Jay Solomon. As I mentioned before, it is out of print, but I believe there are still copies available online and I cannot recommend this book highly enough. While not every recipe has been completely to my taste, none of them have been failures. And the ones that I like I really, really like.

This is no exception. It cooks quickly and is easy to put together. The ingredients are fresh and the dressing is light and refreshing. Using fresh basil and parsley makes it even more light and refreshing, but dried herbs work just as well. If you do use dried herbs, though, only use half of the amount, as dried herbs are stronger than fresh. You can also use other herbs, if you would like. I'm thinking a touch of mint would be quite lovely.

For the best flavor, serve the salad at room temperature. This makes it quite nice for workday lunches and picnics.
Home Cookin Chapter: Beans and Vegetables


Makes 4 servings

1/2 cup brown or red lentils
3 cups water
1 cup boiling water
2/3 cup uncooked couscous
1/4 cup oil
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon-style mustard
2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 Tbsp minced fresh parsley
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 red bell pepper, diced
3-4 scallions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced

Place lentils and water in saucepan and cook for 45 minutes, until tender. Drain.

Meanwhile, combine couscous and boiling water in small saucepan. Cover and let stand for 10 mins.

In mixing bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, mustard, herbs and seasonings. Add lentils, bell pepper, scallions, garlic and couscous and blend well.

Chill 1 hour before serving.

From Lean Bean Cuisine: Over 100 Tasty Meatless Recipes from Around the World, by Jay Solomon (Prima, 1994)

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (
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