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.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Learning What's Seasonal

The scariest part of learning to cook was memorizing what was in season when. The cookbooks said that any good cook should know, and I believed them. But fruits and vegetables came from the grocery store, and the grocery store in my neighborhood had the same stuff pretty much year round. The seasonality charts made my head spin. How hopeless.

It sounds so hilarious to me know—a silly college kid determined to learn to cook by reading recipes and “memorizing” seasonality charts. After all, study is what you’re supposed to do when you’re in college, right? Nobody ever tells you that experience, practice, and just paying attention to the rhythm of the world are really what’s important. I sometimes think about, actually chuckle about, the naïve would-be cook I once was. The appearance of Meyer lemons and pomegranates, both coming into season now, reminded me once again.

Meyer Lemon Verrines with Pomegranate
Printable Recipe

¾ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons gelatin
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon grated Meyer lemon zest
¾ cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons Limoncello
1/3 cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice
¼ cup pomegranate arils

Measure ¼ cup of the cream into a small bowl and slowly sprinkle over 1 ¼ teaspoons of the gelatin. Combine the remaining ½ cup of cream, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, and lemon zest in a small saucepan. Heat to a bare simmer. Whisk in the gelatin mixture and strain through a fine mesh sieve. Whisk in the buttermilk and chill over an ice bath until just beginning to thicken. Divide among 3 dessert cups. Refrigerate for about an hour, or until set.

Slowly sprinkle the remaining ¾ teaspoon of gelatin over the Limoncello. Combine the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Heat to a bare simmer. Whisk in the gelatin mixture and strain through a fine mesh sieve. Chill over an ice bath until just beginning to thicken. Divide among the dessert cups. Refrigerate for about an hour, or until set.

Divide the pomegranate arils among the dessert cups and serve immediately.

Makes 3 servings. Read this if you’re curious about verrines. You will need about 2 large Meyer lemons for this recipe.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Day After Thanksgiving

Did you have a happy and filling Thanksgiving? I know I did. After two-and-a-half days of frenzied cooking, one over-indulgent, seam-splitting meal, and a nearly insurmountable pile of dishes, I’m beat but content. I’m not cooking today, but I am looking forward to some very tasty leftovers…

Butternut Squash Soup with Sage Pesto
Printable Recipe

1 2 ½-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into ¾-inch cubes
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 tablespoons white wine
1 ½ quarts water
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig Italian parsley
2 tablespoons heavy cream
¼ cup fresh sage leaves
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons grated Parmegiano-Reggiano
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Toss together the butternut squash and 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large bowl. Spread on a baking tray and roast for about 45 to 50 minutes, or until tender.

Heat a large, heavy pot over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pot. Add the onion and celery and sauté for 8 to 9 minutes, or until soft. Add the wine and simmer for a minute or so, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan with a heat-proof spatula. Add the butternut squash, water, bay leaf, thyme, parsley, and cream and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the flavors come together.

Meanwhile, combine the sage, garlic, pine nuts, Parmegiano, and the remaining ¼ cup of oil in a food processor and pulse until smooth.

Discard the bay leaf, thyme sprig, and parsley sprig from the soup, remove from the heat, and puree with an immersion blender until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls, drizzle with the pesto, and serve immediately.

Serves 6 as a first course. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender but remember: never fill a blender more than half way with hot liquid. This means you will need to blend the soup in batches and reheat it before serving. Fall flavors dance in a bowl of soup. Sage pesto with a generous amount of olive oil floats as a brilliant emerald garnish on the surface of the soup and adds needed richness, elevating the simple pottage to delicious heights. Pass the remaining pesto at the table for diners to stir into their soup as they desire. Leftover sage pesto, should there be any, would be great on turkey sandwiches. This is a vegetarian soup.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Thanksgiving Idea

Can you believe it’s Thanksgiving week already? I know I can’t. Dare I ask how the menu planning is going? Well, in case you need a little inspiration, here’s an idea for you.

This deliciously different cranberry sauce has been a Thanksgiving tradition at my house ever since I learned the recipe during my Cooking Connection days.

Have a very happy and very tasty Thanksgiving everybody!

Cranberry-Apricot Chutney
Printable Recipe

½ cup water
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
12 ounces cranberries
1 cup diced dried apricots
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon grated ginger

Combine the water, sugar, and brown sugar in a medium, heavy saucepan. Heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the cranberries, apricots, cider vinegar, and ginger. Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until thickened and saucy.

Makes about 2 ½ cups, serving 10 to 12. Serve warm or at room temperature. Can be made a few days ahead of time and kept tightly sealed in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Eating in Texas

How to fit four dinners into just three nights? This is the sort of problem that confronts us when I get together with my family in Texas. I just went to see them. During my week-and-a-half trip, I spent nearly every minute cooking with them and for them and eating. It’s all about food, that’s the way it works in my family.

This visit may have been the most indulgent ever. It began with my parents taking me out for crawfish bisque and crawfish po’ boys to remedy the crawfish deficiency I suffer from here in the Pacific Northwest. Then it continued with a sort of Russian boiled meat dumpling called pelimeni, seafood pasta with two-and-a-half pounds of shrimp, scallops, and crab, rib-eye steaks (grilled on my father’s gleaming new Weber, which can reach temperatures so hot it can give Hell a run for its money) with garlic butter and gorgonzola butter, three rotisserie chickens (also cooked to succulent, crispy-skinned perfection on said grill), eleven pounds of mussels in saffron broth, cheesecake baked by my little brother, veal parmigiana and homemade extruded bucatini with red sauce, biscuits and sausage gravy, and a smattering of gorgonzola dolce, very ripe Brie, Roquefort, truffle salami, and wine. The visit culminated in a big pot of Texas chili and homemade cheese fries (a joint effort with my little brother and a bonding experience indeed). So much food, so little time.

It’s been a mere twenty-four hours since I left them, and I miss the fam already. I miss eating like that too.

Real Texas Chili
Printable Recipe

4 ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
4 pasilla chiles, stemmed and seeded
¼ cup canola oil
3 pounds ground beef chuck, preferably chili grind
2 yellow onions, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 poblano, diced
3 jalapenos, seeded and minced
10 to 12 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup tomato paste
¼ cup mild New Mexico chile powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ cup beer, preferably a pale ale
1 14 ½-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1 quart beef broth
Juice of 1 lime
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat a medium, heavy sauté pan or griddle over medium heat until very hot but not smoking. Add 2 of the chiles and toast, pressing down on them firmly with a spatula, for 10 to 15 seconds, or until golden brown. Turn the chiles and continue to toast, pressing down on them firmly with the spatula, another 10 to 15 seconds, or until fragrant, golden brown, and pliable. Remove the toasted chiles to a bowl and toast the remaining chiles in the same manner. Combine the chiles and 2 cups boiling water in a medium bowl and let soak for 10 to 12 minutes, or until rehydrated. Transfer to a blender and blend until smooth. Strain through a fine mesh sieve.

Heat a large, heavy pot over high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pot. Add half of the beef and cook for 7 to 8 minutes, tossing about 2 times, until crusty and brown in spots.* Using a slotted spoon, remove the beef to a plate. Sear the remaining beef in the same manner and set aside. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions, and sauté for 8 to 9 minutes, or until soft. Add the bell peppers, poblano, and jalapenos and sauté for another 6 to 7 minutes, or until soft. Add the garlic, tomato paste, chile powder, cumin, Mexican oregano, and cayenne and sauté 1 to 2 minutes more, or until fragrant. Add the beer and simmer for a minute or so, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan with a heat-proof spatula. Return the beef to the pot and add the tomatoes, broth, and chile puree. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 2 hours, or until thickened and saucy and the flavors come together. Remove from the heat and skim off any fat from the surface of the chili. Stir in the lime juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and serve immediately.

Serves 8 to 10. A true bowl of red. Chili grind is coarsely ground beef and makes for a chunkier chili than regular ground beef. New Mexico chile powder brings a distinct flavor to the chili, but if you can’t find it, substitute another mild pure chile powder such as ancho or pasilla. (Also keep in mind that most “chile powders” marketed in stores are actually blends of chile and other spices such as cumin, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. These are to be avoided.) Dried Mexican oregano, which has a unique floral character, can be found at some gourmet grocers and (usually for less than a dollar) at any Mexican market. If you can’t find it, just omit it from the recipe; don’t substitute common oregano. This chili is pleasantly spicy but not too hot, at least in my opinion. If you like it hotter, add more cayenne pepper. Add some chipotle if you like a smokey flavor. The chili is perfect all by itself, but it can be topped with diced onions, sour cream, and/or shredded cheddar. And in case you’re wondering, real chili does not have beans.

*Searing the beef in this manner adds tons of flavor to the finished dish. For everything you ever wanted to know about searing, plus dozens of fabulous searing recipes, look for my book Seared to Perfection in stores in the fall of 2010.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Butternut Squash Gnocchi

Call it dedication, call it the pursuit of perfection, or call me crazy.

Over the last three days I’ve made four batches of gnocchi so that I could give you the ultimate Butternut Squash Gnocchi recipe.

Butternut Squash Gnocchi
Printable Recipe

½ large butternut squash (about 2 ¼ pounds), seeded
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Place the butternut squash cut side down on a baking tray and roast for about 30 minutes. Turn and roast another 45 minutes, or until very tender. Let rest for about 15 minutes, or until just cool enough to handle. Peel and puree in a food mill using a fine disc. Spread evenly on the baking tray and let cool to room temperature.

Transfer the butternut squash puree to a large bowl, season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir in the flour. Transfer to a work surface and knead briefly until smooth. Cut the dough into eighths. Roll 1 portion of dough into a ½-inch thick rope and sprinkle lightly with flour. Using a bench knife, cut the rope into ½-inch pieces. Roll 1 side of each piece of dough against a lightly floured gnocchi board or the back of the tines of a fork, pressing the other side lightly with your thumb as you roll. Make more gnocchi with the remaining dough in the same manner. As you work, arrange the gnocchi in a single layer on lightly floured parchment-lined baking trays. Let dry for up to 2 hours.

Cook the gnocchi in 2 or 3 batches in a large pot of boiling, salted water, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until they float to the surface of the water. Remove the gnocchi from the pot using a wire skimmer. Serve immediately as desired.

Serves 4 as a main course. Select a 4 ½-pound butternut squash and use the second half for another purpose. The key to making light, fluffy gnocchi is to drive off as much of the moisture from the butternut squash as possible during roasting and cooling and to incorporate as little flour into the dough as possible. It seems that the squash puree absorbs the least flour if it’s left to cool at room temperature for at least a couple of hours. The dough will be a bit soft and sticky, but it should be smooth and fairly easy to knead and form. Keep your hands, work surface, tools, and dough lightly floured as you work but avoid adding excess flour.

Serve the gnocchi tossed with plain butter, brown butter and sage, or your favorite pasta sauce and sprinkled with grated Parmegiano-Reggiano. Perfect in the fall when squash is abundant. Uncooked gnocchi may be frozen in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking tray and transferred to a zip-top bag when frozen solid. Gnocchi keep for several weeks frozen. Cook them straight from the freezer—do not thaw.

Friday, October 30, 2009


Is it wrong to gloat when you’ve managed to find a rare and desirable raw ingredient? Well, as soon as we were back in cell phone range from our mushroom hunt, I called my family in Texas to let them know that we had found four bagsful of chanterelles.

“I hate you,” was my mother’s reply. (In case you’re wondering, this isn’t the first time she’s become nasty over foodstuffs. At least she didn’t threaten to sever all contact this time.) And then she retaliated, “I’m poaching lobster.” Who knew that the conversation would end with me being just as jealous as they were? Serves me right.

Cream of Chanterelle Soup with Wild Rice
Printable Recipe

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 ¾ pounds chanterelles, torn into bite-size pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ cup white wine
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig Italian parsley
¼ cup heavy cream
¾ cup wild rice
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large, heavy pot over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pot. Add the onion, celery, and carrots and sauté for 10 to 12 minutes, or until soft. Increase the heat to high, add the chanterelles, and sauté for another 10 to 12 minutes, or until soft. Add the garlic and tomato paste and sauté 1 to 2 minutes more, or until fragrant. Stir in the flour. Add the wine and simmer, stirring, for a minute or so. Add the bay leaf, thyme, parsley, cream, and 2 ½ quarts water. Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about an hour, or until the flavors come together.

Meanwhile, place the wild rice into a medium pot and add enough water to cover by several inches. Add several large pinches of salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until tender. Drain.

Discard the bay leaf, thyme sprig, and parsley sprig from the soup, remove from the heat, and puree with an immersion blender until smooth. Stir in the wild rice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and serve immediately.

Serves 6 as a main course. This is a vegetarian soup. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender but remember: never fill a blender more than half way with hot liquid. This means you will need to blend the soup in batches and reheat it before serving.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Husband

On our first restaurant date, he ordered dessert first. That was the moment I knew he was the one for me. We’ve been together ever since, and yesterday we celebrated our eighth anniversary. I made two cakes for the occasion, since just one wouldn’t be enough to satisfy his sweet tooth. Here’s to many more desserts and many more years together!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cobweb Cupcakes

Halloween is just around the corner! Here’s the perfect treat for the spooky season…hope you’re not afraid of spiders!

Pumpkin Cobweb Cupcakes
Printable Recipe

3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons salt
6 ounces (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 2/3 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
15 ounces pumpkin puree
2/3 cup water
½ cup heavy cream
1 ounce white chocolate, chopped or 2 tablespoons white chocolate chips
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped or ½ cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line 2 standard 12-cup muffin pans with paper liners. Sift together the flour, cinnamon, cloves, baking powder, and salt.

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar on high for 3 to 4 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time until thoroughly combined. Blend together the pumpkin puree and water in a medium bowl. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then ½ of the pumpkin mixture, then 1/3 of the flour mixture, then the remaining ½ of the pumpkin mixture, and then the remaining 1/3 of the flour mixture, mixing on low for only a few seconds after each addition until just combined, and stopping the mixer once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Do not overmix. Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the edges of the cupcakes start to shrink away from the pans and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Let the cupcakes cool in the pans for about 10 minutes. Invert onto cooling racks and finish cooling completely.

Bring the cream to a bare simmer in a small, heavy saucepan. Place the white chocolate into a small bowl and the semisweet chocolate into a medium bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the hot cream to the white chocolate and whisk until smooth. Add the remaining hot cream to the semisweet chocolate and whisk until smooth. Let cool until thickened slightly.

Dip the top of a cupcake into the semisweet chocolate ganache and, while still holding it upside down over the bowl, give the cupcake a few abrupt shakes so that any excess ganache drips off. Transfer the white chocolate ganache to a paper cone and pipe a swirl pattern over the semisweet ganache on the cupcake. To complete the web design, draw the tip of a toothpick through the ganache from the center to the edge of the cupcake 8 or 9 times, wiping off the tip of the toothpick between each swipe, in a pattern of evenly spaced radiating lines. Glaze the remaining cupcakes with the remaining ganache in the same manner.

Makes 24 cupcakes. Cupcakes keep for 2 to 3 days in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dry place. Leftover ganache will keep for a week tightly sealed in the refrigerator. Reheat it gently using the microwave or a double boiler and serve it as a sauce or use it to make hot chocolate or mochas.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Apple-Quince Sauce

What a pain it is when your better half has a completely irrational food aversion. It forces you to avoid certain ingredients or possibly even entire categories of food—food that you yourself might otherwise enjoy—or risk whining, countless complaints, or worse yet, “yuck face”.

Well, my husband hates quinces (and pears too—he says it’s a texture thing), and considering that we planted a quince tree in our backyard a couple of years ago and are now inundated with quinces, that’s a problem. Sharing the harvest with family and friends made a good dent in our quince supply. Now what do I do with the rest? I can think of dozens of tasty things I could make with these quinces, but I have to admit I’m never very motivated to go to the trouble of cooking something just for myself. So I determined to come up with a dish that the hubby would like too. I thought about making a quince crumble with a pecan streusel topping. But then I remembered he doesn’t eat pecans either…

After much brainstorming, a sudden craving for some comfort food, and the need to use up some of the apples from our trip to the orchard, Apple-Quince Sauce seemed like the way to go.

The dual strategy of diffusing the quince flavor with apples and creating a brown butter cookie distraction worked, Hubby approved!

Apple-Quince Sauce
Printable Recipe

2 quinces
¼ cup sugar
1 cup water
4 Braeburn apples

Quarter and core the quinces. Combine the quinces, sugar, and water in a medium, heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, for about an hour and 15 minutes, or until the quinces turn pink. Quarter and core the apples, add to the pan, and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, for another 45 minutes, or until the apples are very tender. Remove from the heat and let cool. Puree in a food mill using a fine disc.

Makes about 1 ¼ quarts. Quinces have lots of pectin and turn a rosy color when cooked, so using them in combination with apples makes for a very flavorful thick sauce that’s a pretty shade of pink. Any variety of cooking apple may be used instead of the Braeburns. If you prefer applesauce that’s on the sweet side, feel free to add more sugar. Flavor the sauce with cinnamon, vanilla, or lemon zest if you like. There is no need to peel the fruit because the food mill will remove almost all of the skins. Keeps for several days tightly sealed in the refrigerator. Serve either warm or chilled.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fall and Apple Cider

While it pains me to say goodbye to the berries and stone fruit of summer, I still greet autumn with open arms. (And while we’re on the subject, I just want to take a moment to say how super it is to live in an area that actually has four distinct seasons a year.) At the first sign of a chill in the air, Hubby and I hop in the car for a drive to the scenic Hood River Valley, otherwise known as apple and pear country, to take advantage of the fall harvest. The Draper Girls' Country Farm, situated in the shadow of Mount Hood, is the friendliest orchard on the Hood River Fruit Loop.

I hadn’t even started deciding between the countless varieties of apples when Theresa Draper, the owner, emerged to greet us. She may not know our names, but from our many visits to her orchard and her farmers market stand*, she remembers exactly how hubby likes his apple cider—tart. “They’re pressing the cider right now,” she said as if it were my lucky day and invited us to take a peek. You bet I jumped at the chance! (For the record, Theresa had invited me to see the cider-making process before, but you know how complicated coordinating a time can be…)

That day’s blend included lots of Gravensteins. The just-picked apples are meticulously washed and then chopped. The apple puree is pumped onto sheets of canvas, which act as a sort of filter.

Then pressure is applied, and out flows the golden liquid.

A surprisingly simple process—old-fashioned cider but produced with modern equipment.

Unfortunately Theresa would not let me drink directly from the press. But she did sneak us a sample.

A very, very generous sample. The just-pressed cider was cold, tart, and extremely refreshing, the essence of the fruit. To drink it was to gulp down fall. The Drapers do not pasteurize their ciders, so the fresh flavor is retained.

Too bad we came too late to see the cinnamon-sugar dried apple production.

With the cider to energize us, we headed off for a stroll through the orchard.

Then it was time for the shopping. I loaded up on Gala, Braeburn, Red Delicious, and Golden Delicious apples.

This, by the way, is the place where I learned that Red Delicious apples are indeed delicious. I didn’t get any pears because for some inexplicable reason the husband abhors them. We picked up plenty of winter squash too.

Perhaps there will be Butternut Squash Gnocchi and apple crisps in our future.

The Drapers also have a petting zoo, where we got a good lesson in manners. (Keep this in mind for Thanksgiving, as it will most likely apply.)

If the food is really good, it is perfectly acceptable to climb into the platter for choicest bits. If you’ve had a little too much to eat, go ahead and take a nap under the dinner table. No one will mind!

Now that the pantry is stocked, bring on the cold and rain. Give me space heaters and steaming soup, snuggly blankets, pajamas, and fuzzy socks, and mulled cider and hot chocolate. I’m ready for fall!

*We love to visit the Drapers in the summer for u-pick cherries, Italian prune plums, peaches, and nectarines. We also go for the cherry cider, which is so good you’ll think you died and went to heaven.

And no, I am not a paid representative.
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