Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Wishes

Here's to a happy New Year everybody! May 2010 bring you and yours joy and prosperity.

Frozen Kir Royales
Printable Recipe

1 cup Minted Black Currant Sorbet
1 750 milliliter bottle sparkling wine, chilled

Scoop the sorbet into 4 champagne flutes. Divide the sparkling wine among the flutes and serve immediately.

Serves 4. Either store-bought currant or raspberry sorbet would make fine a substitute for the Minted Black Currant Sorbet. The traditional Kir Royale is made with crème de cassis and Champagne.

Friday, December 25, 2009

All-Clad Stainless with d5 Technology Review

When All-Clad asked me if I’d be interested in testing out its new Stainless with d5 Technology line of cookware, I jumped at the chance. All-Clad is my favorite brand of cookware (I have quite the collection to prove it, including a number of Stainless pots and pans, one Cop•R•Chef pan, one LTD pan, and a few Specialty Items. I’ve been collecting my All-Clad for over a decade…What can I say? Some women have a designer shoe fetish, I happen to have a weakness for designer cookware. But I digress…) and the one I recommend to students in my cooking classes. And no, I’m not even a paid representative. (Not that I wouldn’t be—All-Clad, are you listening?) I wanted to be the first to see how they had improved on the classic Stainless line. They offered me a free sample of the pan of my choice. I went for the 12” fry pan, figuring it would be the most versatile piece to take for a test drive. Then I waited anxiously for it to come in the mail, wondering what it would look like and how it would perform.

The pan arrived the day after Thanksgiving. It looked pretty much like any pan from the original Stainless line, with the same gleaming stainless, the same sexy lines, and the same solid feel, but with two new details: a logo, including pan size, on the bottom and a nifty little gripping notch on the handle. (By the way, I actually breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that they hadn’t changed the handle substantially—that handle is good to my little wrists, unlike others…) But here’s the real difference: while classic Stainless is made of just three layers of bonded metal, the Stainless with d5 Technology, as the name implies, is composed of five: a stainless steel interior and exterior, 2 plies of aluminum, and a stainless steel core. Would a couple of extra layers of metal matter? I was about to put my new fry pan through its paces with a series of tests to find out.

The Pop Quiz: As I mentioned, the pan arrived right after Thanksgiving. Considering I had spent the entirety of the previous two days in the kitchen, I was not particularly inclined to perform any great feats of culinary virtuosity, despite having a brand new shiny pan. Besides, there were too many leftovers to work through. So I threw together two roast turkey, provolone, and sage pesto paninis. They browned evenly. But let’s be honest, even a cheap pan can turn out an acceptable grilled cheese sandwich.

The Midterm: Pan-frying demands more of a pan, so I made Chicken Parmigiana.

I originally developed this recipe using the classic Stainless 14” fry pan, but I put the d5 pan to the test with just a half batch. I preheated the pan over medium-low to medium heat, and the pan didn’t seem to cool down one bit when the two chicken breasts were added. The panko crust browned nicely, and even the parts nearest the edges of the pan browned evenly. It was not necessary to rotate the chicken breasts 180-degrees like it sometimes is in the original Stainless pans to achieve that even browning. When dinner was done I popped the pan into the dishwasher, and it came out looking like new. If only my stovetop were as easy to clean.

The Final Examination: As far as I’m concerned, searing is the ultimate test of a pan’s performance. And *wink* you can trust me when I talk about searing—I’ve written a book on the subject. (Insert shameless plug here: my cookbook Seared to Perfection will be published in October, and for the record, I developed and tested every single one of its 100 recipes using my own Stainless All-Clad pans.) Anyway, as I was saying, you can just about judge a pan’s worth by how well it can sear. With that in mind, I endeavored to brown over three pounds of chili grind for a large pot of my Real Texas Chili. I broke the beef up into smallish crumbles, then preheated the pan thoroughly over medium-high heat on my largest burner. I added the oil to the pan, swirled it around, and added just a small portion of the meat so as to avoid overcrowding. After a couple of minutes the meat began to exude moisture and stew in its own juices. I immediately increased the heat, and the meat began to brown nicely. I seared the remaining chili grind in several batches over medium-high to high heat. The meat became a most appetizing shade of brown, it never scorched, even when I became distracted and turned away from to the stove, and to my great surprise I never had to add extra oil to the pan. It’s safe to say that the d5 pan passed the searing test with flying colors when I cranked up the heat. But the fine people at All-Clad insist that the d5 line is so efficient that you’ll never have to increase the heat above medium. If I had followed this advice, the searing test would’ve been a miserable failure. Anyway, the pan seemed very stable at high heat, and there were no signs of warping.

Grading: So, would I run out and replace all of my old Stainless with d5? No, of course not…Well, maybe I would if I were independently wealthy. But would I choose d5 for my future cookware needs? You bet. The new generation preserves or improves upon all of the features that make the original Stainless line so great, and it cooks even more evenly. Yes I did just say “even more evenly”. All-Clad Stainless with d5 is the best cookware out there, as long as you’re not afraid of the heat.

New All-Clad Stainless with d5 Technology cookware launches on December 26th and will be available exclusively at Williams-Sonoma. Hopefully you got a Williams-Sonoma gift card for Christmas.

Chicken Parmigiana
Printable Recipe

1 large egg
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/3 cup grated Parmegiano-Reggiano
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
4 6-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Kosher salt
¼ cup all-purpose flour
Canola oil, for frying
1 cup Basic Tomato Sauce
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, drained, sliced, and at room temperature

Whisk together the egg and 2 tablespoons of water in a large, shallow dish. Mix together the panko, Parmegiano, oregano, and a generous pinch of pepper in another large, shallow dish. Gently pound out the chicken breasts to an even thickness with a meat pounder and season generously with salt and pepper. Dip each chicken breast into the flour to coat and shake off any excess, then into the egg wash, and then into the panko mixture to coat, patting so that it adheres. Arrange the chicken breasts in a single layer on a plate and let rest for about 15 minutes.

Add enough oil to a very large, heavy frying pan to come to a depth of ¼ inch. Heat over medium heat until a pinch of the breadcrumb mixture sizzles immediately when added. Add the chicken breasts and fry without disturbing for 5 to 6 minutes, or until golden brown. Using tongs, turn the chicken breasts and fry another 4 to 5 minutes, or until just cooked through and golden brown. The chicken breasts will be firm to the touch and the juices will run clear when they are just cooked through. Meanwhile, preheat the broiler and bring the tomato sauce to a simmer in a small saucepan. Remove the chicken breasts to a paper towel-lined plate and drain for about a minute. Transfer to a rack on a baking tray, top each one with ¼ cup of the sauce, and divide the mozzarella among them, arranging the slices in a single layer. Broil for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the mozzarella melts. Arrange on individual plates and serve immediately.

Serves 4. Drain the mozzarella thoroughly on paper towels so that there's no excess moisture to turn the panko breading on the chicken soggy. The sweetness of fresh mozzarella is absolutely delicious with chicken breasts, but when I’m in the mood for a more pungent cheese, I like to substitute provolone. If you don’t have a pan large enough to cook all of the chicken breasts without overcrowding, fry them in 2 batches or use 2 pans. Veal and eggplant can also be prepared in this manner. Serve spaghetti with additional Basic Tomato Sauce on the side.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dreamy Grapefruit

It's citrus season, and tangerines, lemons, and grapefruits are appearing not only in the markets, but also in my dreams. Thoughts of grapefruit with zabaglione came to me as I was drifting off to sleep one night. A dreamy flavor combination indeed.

Grapefruit Gratins with Zabaglione
Printable Recipe

Suprêmes from 2 grapefruits, preferably Ruby Red
4 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup Marsala

Divide the suprêmes along with their juices among 4 individual gratin dishes.

Combine the yolks and sugar in a medium bowl and whisk for 2 to 3 minutes, or until thickened and pale yellow. Whisk in the Marsala. Place the bowl over a small pan of simmering water and heat, whisking constantly, for 6 to 8 minutes, or until warm and fluffy.

Divide among the gratin dishes. Brown the gratins with a culinary torch and serve immediately.

Serves 4. A cinch to prepare, these light and refreshing gratins would be the perfect finish to any brunch. Add a bit of grapefruit zest to the zabaglione along with the yolks and sugar if you want more grapefruit flavor. If you don’t have a culinary torch, you can brown the gratins under a preheated broiler. No matter how you do it, be careful to brown them only lightly as burnt eggs are unpleasant. Gratins may be assembled several hours in advance and kept uncovered in the refrigerator. Brown just before serving.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


It was a typical conversation—one about food and cooking of course—when Mother posed the question “What organism is a sesame anyway?” Hmmm, thought provoking indeed. Where do those little seeds that grace the top of so many bagels and burger buns come from? Could they originate from a tree, shrub, or grass? And while we’re on the subject, why do people always say “open sesame”? Hmmm…

But what’s really important about sesame seeds isn’t that they come from a plant that looks rather like a weed or that they were first domesticated in India, it’s that they’re tasty and delicious (especially toasted). The sesame crunch candy that I keep in a bowl on my dining table made me think of making cookies loaded with sesame seeds.

Sesame Cookies
Printable Recipe

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup toasted sesame seeds
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil

Whisk together the flour, sesame seeds, and salt in a medium bowl. In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar on medium until creamy. Add the egg and sesame oil and mix on low until blended. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low until the dough comes together, stopping the mixer once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a sheet of parchment paper and roll into a 2-inch log. Refrigerate for about 2 hours, or until firm.

Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Unwrap the dough and cut into 3/8-inch slices. Arrange the slices about an inch apart on parchment-lined baking trays. Bake for about 18 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool.

Makes about 30 cookies. Cookies keep for several days in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dry place. The log of dough, or portions of it, may be frozen for up to 1 month tightly wrapped in plastic wrap. Perfect with a cup of green tea.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Adventures in Extruded Pasta

Many months ago I saw FXcuisine’s account of making macaroni from scratch and his tale of homemade casarecce, and I immediately fell in love with his gorgeous pasta extruder the idea of making extruded pasta myself. Both the hubby and I love pasta. I scoured the internet searching for the sleek, shiny pasta extruder with the gleaming bronze dies, since it is said that only a bronze die will produce a pasta with the rough-textured surface to which sauce will adhere. Finding this Rolls-Royce of home pasta extruders became an obsessive mission for me. You can imagine my frustration when I discovered that it’s only available in Europe. For a small fortune. And that it only works when attached to the Kenwood Kitchen Machine. Which costs a not-so-small fortune. I can’t believe I seriously contemplated getting the extruder and the huge machine to attach it to and paying to have the heavy things shipped over here. Actually, yes I can—did I mention I was obsessed? I can just imagine parking a second stand mixer next to my KitchenAid! Who needs all that counter space anyway?

Maybe at this point I should take a moment to explain what extruded pasta is and how it’s different from other pasta. Extruded pasta is made by forcing a dry semolina-and-water dough through a die. Spaghetti, rotini, fusilli, penne, bucatini, macaroni, and rigatoni are all examples of extruded pasta. Fresh extruded pasta is rare, but most of the dried pastas sold at the grocery store are actually extruded. Rolled pasta, on the other hand, is made by rolling out a flour-and-egg dough, either with a rolling pin or with a pasta sheeter, into a thin sheet and then cutting the sheet into strips of the desired width. Examples of rolled pasta include lasagna, linguini, fettuccini, tagliatelle, and pappardelle. When pasta is made at home, it’s usually the rolled type of pasta. A myriad of other traditional pasta shapes like cavatelli, orecchiette, and trofie are made by shaping pieces of dough by hand. Special dies can be used to make extruded versions of many rolled and handmade pastas.

The alternatives to spending the entire year’s food budget on the pasta extruder of my dreams? Well, it just happens that Pastaworks, a fine Portland-area specialty market, has outstanding fresh extruded pastas which they make themselves. Unfortunately, several delightful Pastaworks pasta dinners only strengthened my desire for homemade extruded pasta. I resorted to making orecchiette from scratch, but the pasta rope was longer than my attention span. The home pasta extruders available in the U.S. have mixed reviews at best, so a relatively cheap, Italian-made hand-cranked model seemed like the way to go. It worked fine, but to be honest, a manual machine is a pain in the butt.

So over a year later, I was still pining for the Kenwood pasta extruder. I think KitchenAid must’ve heard my prayers because they just came out with a Stand Mixer Pasta Press Attachment that, while not as sexy, is every bit as functional. I happen to know that personally because I’m the proud new owner of one. Thanks for my early birthday present, Mom and Dad! I absolutely love it!

With the experience of using the hand-cranked machine under my belt, my first attempts at using my new extruder couldn’t have gone better. Should you be inspired to acquire a pasta extruder yourself and make your own homemade extruded pasta, there are a few things you ought to know…

First, the dough should be very dry—so dry that it won’t even come together into a single mass.

I made one batch with half semolina and half all-purpose flour and another batch with all semolina. Both times, I used 10 ounces of flour in total to about 4 to 4 ½ ounces of warm water. I will use even less water next time. A dry dough will be easy to feed into the extruder, and the freshly extruded pasta will be less likely to stick together. By the way, one 14-ounce batch of pasta will be enough for 2 very generous servings.

Second, feed the dough into the extruder a crumble or two at a time. Larger amounts of dough tend to bind up in the extruder as they reach the auger.

Once the pasta is extruded and cut, arrange it in a single layer on a pasta drying screen or rack.

If you don’t have one, use a baking tray that’s either lined with a clean kitchen towel or dusted lightly with flour. Let the pasta dry for a few hours.

Cook the homemade extruded pasta as you would any other pasta, in a large pot of boiling, salted water until al dente. Cooking time will vary depending on how wet the dough was and how long the pasta was dried.

Finally, disassemble the extruder, remove any large gobs of dough, and let the rest dry overnight before attempting to clean the parts. The dough will flick right off once it’s completely dry.

And now, may I present my first batch of homemade extruded rigatoni with tomato sauce with Italian sausage.

In case you’re wondering if it all was worthwhile—without a doubt, the object of my desires really lived up to my expectations. Making pasta with an electric extruder is surprisingly easy, and watching the dough squeeze its way out of the die is definitely my idea of fun. And the pasta itself is more toothsome and flavorful than anything you can buy. Most definitely worthwhile.

Next up: More Adventures in Extruded Pasta.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Monkeys Made Me Do It

Why else would I crave this? I don’t even like bananas all that much.

Spiced Banana Crème Brûlées
Printable Recipe

2 ripe bananas, cut into ¼-inch slices
3 cups heavy cream
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
6 large egg yolks
1 ½ ounces sugar
1 ½ ounces light brown sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
¼ cup Turbinado sugar

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Divide the banana slices among 6 crème brûlée dishes, arranging them in a single layer. Combine the cream, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a small saucepan and heat to a simmer. Whisk together the yolks, sugar, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Continue whisking while adding the hot cream in a thin stream. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Stir in the vanilla, if desired, and skim off any foam from the surface. Divide the mixture among the crème brûlée dishes and place them into a roasting pan. Add enough hot water to the roasting pan to come half way up the sides of the crème brûlée dishes and bake for 22 to 24 minutes, or until just set. Remove from the water bath and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate for 3 to 4 hours, or until firm.

Top 1 crème brûlée with 2 teaspoons of the Turbinado sugar and swirl to coat. Caramelize the sugar with a culinary torch. Finish the remaining crème brûlées with the remaining Turbinado sugar in the same manner. Serve immediately.

Serves 6. There’s just a hint of spice in these brûlées. Double the amount of cinnamon and nutmeg if you like more. You can tell that the crème brûlées are done when they jiggle like gelatin. If you don’t have crème brûlée dishes, you can use ramekins, but they will take slightly longer to bake. And if you don’t have a culinary torch, you can caramelize the sugar topping under a preheated broiler. Crème brûlées may be baked a day or two in advance and kept covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator. Add Turbinado sugar and caramelize just before serving.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Creamy Salad Dressing

I wasn’t planning on sharing this not-quite-homemade recipe with you, but my mother insisted and even my little brother, who usually hates mayonnaise, backed her up. The thing is, I can’t stand store-bought salad dressings, and I absolutely will not buy them. (They have such a gloppy texture from all those gums!) Prepared mayonnaise, on the other hand, I’m perfectly OK with. Anyway, this is the quick recipe I make when I’m in the mood for a creamy salad dressing but don’t feel like getting out the food processor and eggs. Everyone seems to love it, and it has inspired certain other people to give up bottled salad dressings too.

Quick Creamy Salad Dressing
Printable Recipe

½ cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 to 2 cloves garlic, grated
2 ½ teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons water
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Blend together the mayonnaise, mustard, garlic, lemon juice, and water in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes about ¾ cup. My personal preference for a brand of mayonnaise is Best Foods/Hellmann’s. This simple salad dressing is very versatile. Try adding minced fresh herbs such as Italian parsley, chives, or basil. Add a minced anchovy and grated Parmegiano to turn it into a Caesar-style dressing. Keeps for a day or two tightly sealed in the refrigerator.

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