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)

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

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 (

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Borscht Style Roasted Beets and Kale

This is what I did with the beautiful beets that came attached to the greens I used in last week's frittata, and the kale I had bought the week before. I needed to do something with the kale right away and I had half of the beet greens still left. I knew all three ingredients would go well together, but I wasn't sure how I wanted to prepare them.

Before I decided to use them all together I was playing with the idea of making a batch of borscht, so I was anticipating that sweet and sour flavor and I didn't want to give up that idea. I thought about it for while the day before I was going to make whatever it was I was going to make, so I had time to think about the best way to use them. And that is when the idea to use borscht flavorings for a kale and beet (and beet greens) side dish came to me. I would make them sweet and sour and add dill at the end.

It was an unequivocal success, and pretty too! This would make a beautiful, healthy, delicious addition to your holiday table.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


Makes 4 servings

This dish can be served hot or cold - it is delicious either way.

3 large beets with their greens
2 Tbsp olive oil, plus 1 tsp for beets
1 bunch kale
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth, or water
2 Tbsp vinegar
2 Tbsp sugar, or to taste
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp chopped fresh dill, or to taste
chopped toasted walnuts, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400 deg. F.

Remove the greens from the beets and set aside. Trim the stem end of the beets to about half an inch. Do not cut off the stems or the roots. Wrap each beet in a packet of foil, sprinkle with salt, and pour a scant teaspoon of oil over the beet before wrapping them securely. Place the foil packets on a baking dish (they will most likely leak) and bake until a knife inserted through the foil goes in and out without resistance, 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool, peel, and cut into half-inch pieces.

Trim the leafy parts of the kale and beet greens from the stems. Loosely chop the greens and rinse them. Set aside.

Chop the kale and beet stems into half-inch pieces. In a large skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the stems and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the broth and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer.

Add the greens and stir until they have cooked down a little. Lower the heat and cover the pan and let the greens steam until tender, about ten minutes. Remove the lid, add the beets, and bring the heat back up to medium-high. Cook until the liquid reduces, about 5 more minutes.

Add the vinegar and sugar. Taste and adjust as necessary to reach the desired sweet-and-sour flavor. Remove from the heat and add the dill. Garnish with walnuts and serve.

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Taco Bell Dorito Taco

Apparently, people all over the country have been clamoring for a Taco Bell crispy taco with a Nacho Dorito shell. It looks like the wait is over, at least on a trial basis in some California cities:

The story was reported here in the LA Times. There was a pre-trial trial in Ohio, of all places, where it was reviewed by this lover of food:

His main reaction? It tastes like a taco. Duh. He was not impressed. The shell does not seem to be actually made of doritos to him. It tastes like a regular crispy taco shell with the nacho cheese flavoring. They would probably have been better off leaving the taco alone and putting smashed up doritos inside of it. Perhaps that would have satisfied the discerning palates who have been salivating for this food gem.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Pesto Chicken

What is one to do with all of the pesto one has made in such a short period of time that one has several jars of the stuff in one's freezer?

That was the question of the day for me, after assessing how much pesto I have actually made in the past couple of weeks. Pesto with pasta can get tiring, and I had just finished a batch of fusilli with pesto and still had half of a batch I made with walnuts in the refrigerator. Fortunately for me, I also had a package of chicken thighs in the freezer that needed to be used up to help make room for all of that marinara sauce and pesto.

I'm sure I am not the first person to think of combining chicken with pesto, and I hope I am not the last, because it made for a mighty tasty meal. It is a little less brown in real life than in the photo, but even if it had been brown it would not have mattered because it was so delicious. The combination of basil, cheese and nuts cooked through the entire piece of chicken for a flavor that just did not quit. The only thing that could possibly make it better would be a splash of lemon juice squeezed over everything before baking.

And it couldn't be easier to make. Here is the recipe:

Preheat oven to 350 deg. F.

Arrange chicken thighs (or breasts if you would prefer)evenly in a baking dish. Cover the top of the chicken with home-made or store-bought pesto. Cover the pan loosely with foil.
(I would usually season the chicken with salt and pepper, but the pesto has enough salt that I did not bother and the chicken was perfectly seasoned with just the pesto. YMMV.)

Bake for 45 minutes, then uncover and finish baking for another half hour, or until the pesto has set and the chicken is done. (For chicken breasts, you should probably reduce the covered time to half an hour and then another half hour uncovered, but I don't cook that many chicken breasts so I am not sure exactly how long it will take.)

If you want to be fancy when serving, sprinkle toasted nuts over each serving. I used walnuts here because I used walnuts in the pesto. There are only so many pine nuts a gal has hanging around in her freezer at any given time.
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