March 31, 2009

Giada's Baked Mashed Potatoes

This is another winner I caught while enjoying cable at the gym. Giada was making this as a dinner for two, so she only used 3 russet potatoes. I followed her lead on portion size and cut back on the quantities listed below, but I didn't have any mozerella or parmesan, so I just used some asiago I had. I also substituted some 2% milk and a little sour cream for whole milk. It turned out delicious! I mean, mashed potatoes baked with cheese and a crunchy bread crumb topping? What's not to like?!
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 4 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons plain dry bread crumbs
  1. Cook the potatoes in a large pot of boiling salted water until they are very tender, about 15 minutes. Drain; return the potatoes to the same pot and mash well.

  2. While the potatoes are cooking, pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Use the 1 tablespoon of butter to grease a 9x13 baking dish. Set aside.
  3. Warm the milk and melt the butter. Stir into potatoes. Mix in the mozzarella and 3/4 cup of the Parmesan. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Transfer the potatoes to the prepared baking dish.

  4. Stir the bread crumbs and remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan in a small bowl to blend. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the mashed potatoes. Recipe can be prepared up to this point 6 hours ahead of time; cover and chill.

  5. Bake, uncovered, until the topping is golden brown, about 20 minutes.

March 29, 2009

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

The perfect chocolate chip cookies--Cook's Illustrated's claim, not mine. But, these cookies are truly great. I haven't met anyone who doesn't love them.

There are a number of specific changes Cook's Illustrated made to your standard Toll House cookie recipe in order to achieve these results. Melted butter makes them chewier. Browning the butter makes them tastier. More brown sugar than white makes them chewier, too. Allowing the sugar to dissolve completely into the liquid ingredients lets the sugar caramelize better, enhancing flavor. It also makes the edges crispy, while leaving the center chewy. Behold:
Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 14 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips (Ghiradelli, for best results!)
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (toasted)
  1. Adjust oven rack to the middle position. Heat oven to 375 degrees. (I always wait to do this step because my oven only takes a few minutes to pre-heat.) Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. (I actually have found that it is perfectly fine to re-use parchment sheets, so I use the same cookie sheet sized-parchment around 3 times--parchment's not cheap!)
  2. Whisk flour and baking soda together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  3. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch skillet (try not to use a non-stick skillet. I used a light colored sauce pan--you need to see the color of the butter as you brown it) over medium high heat until melted. Continue cooking, stirring or swirling the pan constantly until the butter is a dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma--1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and pour into a large heatproof bowl. Stir in remaining 4 tablespoons of butter into hot browned butter until it has melted.
  4. Add both sugars, salt and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and egg yolk; whisk until smooth--around 30 seconds.
  5. Let the mixture stand for 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times (this let's the sugars dissolve), until the mixture is thick, smooth and shiny.
  6. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined--about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts, making sure no flour pockets remain.
  7. Spoon dough in 3 tablespoon portions 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets--8 to a sheet. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy; the edges will have begun to set, but the centers will be still soft after 10-14 minutes. Rotate the sheet halfway through baking.
  8. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack and cool cookies completely before serving.
*Makes 16 cookies, which in my experience is not enough. I'd recommend doubling the recipe, for sure.

March 24, 2009

Cooks Illustrated

The first time I heard about Cook's Illustrated, I was in the middle of a group interview for a job I didn't get. Finding out about C.I. was probably the best thing to come of that whole experience, but at the time, I was like, "What? Cook's Illustrated? Like Sports Illustrated? For food?" I didn't really get it until months later when I saw an issue at my mom's house.

I became an immediate fan, but at $6 an issue I could rarely afford to purchase a copy. I'd flip through the whole thing at the bookstore and if the ratio of recipes I could use to ones I probably wouldn't was too low I couldn't justify the expense. I did finally resort to checking out their annual compendiums from the library and photocopying the best recipes on the sly. I even started a list of their best-rated gadgets and ingredients in the little black Moleskine I carry around with me everywhere.

For my birthday last December, though, some dear friends surprised me with a gift subscription. Definitely the best present of all. I've only received two issues so far (darn those bi-monthly magazines!), but they're chock full of useful tips and reliable recipes.

C.I's May/June issue arrived in the mail yesterday. I wasn't planning on making anything, but as I snuggled in bed with it last night, I came upon The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie article. It was late, but I was very intrigued. "Brown butter? Let the batter rest? I have to see this for myself!" And so I did.

A little more work than your average Toll House, but it will be my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe, for sure. The cookies got rave reviews at work, even among my most respected tasters. (Recipe and pictures forthcoming)

March 18, 2009

Fettucine with Crispy Garlic, Sage and Sausage

Whenever I see a recipe I want, I cut it out and paste it in a notebook. I started doing this years ago and now I've nearly filled it up. It's not organized in any way, but I've memorized the order of the recipes from flipping through them so many times. When I need to make something, I scan through all of the recipes until I find a few that sound good. Usually I need someone else to help me make the final decision.

This is a recipe I clipped from Bon Appetit awhile ago that kept catching my eye. The first couple of times I saw it, I ended up making something else, but this one wouldn't let me go until I made it. It was rich and delicious--and a welcome departure from our default tomato sauce pasta.

  • 3/4 pound egg fettuccine (we couldn't find egg fettucine, so we used another egg pasta)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (less would be fine)
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled, thinly sliced (Definitely consider using way more if you like garlic)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
  • 1 pound sweet Italian turkey sausages, casings removed (we substituted cooked spicy Italian sausage and it was delicious)
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper (optional)
  • 1 cup (approx. 3 ounces) grated Asiago cheese (maybe more)
  1. Boil your pasta in a large pot of lightly salted water according to manufacturer's instructions.
  2. Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon butter with oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add garlic slices and saute until they've achieved desired crispy golden deliciousness (about 45 seconds to a minute). Using a slotted spoon, remove garlic and set aside.
  3. Increase heat to medium high. Add the sage and stir until beginning to crisp-around 10 seconds (although a little longer/crispier would be good, too). Add sausage and saute until browned/crispy in spots.
  4. Drain pasta and add to the skillet with sage and sausage. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Sprinkle with crushed red peppers and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss the pasta to mix all ingredients.
  5. Serve topped with crispy garlic and grated asiago cheese. (We actually mixed some of the cheese into the pasta while it was still in the skillet, so it melted in. Tasty!)

March 15, 2009

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

According to Mollie Katzen, these are the brussel sprouts that will convert any non-lovers of brussel sprouts. I put it to the test, and promptly converted Mary Ann, although her disclaimer was she would only eat them if they were prepared like so. My next test case will be the hardest - Andy Zoo. Not only is this recipe incredibly easy, but super delicious as well!

What's in it
Brussel Sprouts, cut in half (as many as you like)
Olive Oil

How it's made
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking pan with foil and treat with the olive oil so there is a thin coating all over the foil. Place all the brussel sprouts cut side down on the tray, and smear them around so they get coated with oil on the bottom.

Once oven is preheated, bake for ten minutes, then shuffle the sprouts around again to get them coated with more oil. Bake five minutes more or until done to your liking. They will continue to cook a bit once you take them out, since they will be so hot. When removed from oven, sprinkle with ground sea salt if you like. Prepare to love them, then eat them!

March 12, 2009

Spicy Eggplant Stir Fry

A few days ago, I was really craving eggplant--it's so rich and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. I searched the internet for a recipe that looked easy and that didn't smother the eggplant in cheese. I found a stir-fry type recipe at that got some rave reviews. The nice thing about that website is that if a dish is good, people will leave comments saying so--no guess work. They also put tips they used (or should have used) to make the dish even better. I usually take the recipe and the user comments and then add to it or tweak it to suit my taste or on-hand ingredients. I've been consistently satisfied with the results.
Spicy Eggplant Stir Fry
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil 
  • 2 long Chinese eggplants, cubed (I went to Safeway and could only find the plump regular kind, so I went with that)
  • 1 onion chopped into bite-sized chunks
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped into bite-sized chunks
  • Any other veggies you want
  • 4 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce/tamari
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 green chili pepper (as spicy as you desire), finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons white sugar
  • 3 teaspoons corn starch
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chili oil (you can substitute chili sauce, red pepper flakes, etc for some heat)
  • Salt to taste
  1. Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add onion and saute for a couple of minutes. Add minced garlic and other veggies and saute until cooked--the eggplant will become tender and start to brown in 5-10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. In a small bowl, mix soy sauce, red wine vinegar, chili pepper, sugar, corn starch and chili oil.
  3. Add sauce to the stir fry, stir to coat evenly and cook until the sauce thickens.
  4. Serve with rice.
*Many comments suggested adding pork or chicken to this dish. One of the nice things about this recipe is you can pretty much add or subtract anything you like. People tried it with potatoes, green onions, fish sauce, Sriracha, cashews--you name it.
*The sauce originally called for 1/3 the amounts shown here, but all of the comments said to make more sauce; I doubled it, and then found I needed even more.

March 11, 2009

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

I love macaroni and cheese. I love it so much. I love it like a fat kid loves, well, macaroni and cheese. For you Portland readers, there is a particularly good macaroni and cheese at the Hedge House on 34th and Division. The Screen Door also has great mac and cheese that you can get as part of their Screen Door Plate. I think the recipe below, which is in the oven right now and that I got from the book Macaroni & Cheese by Marlena Spieler, stacks up well against both.

This Is What's In It

12 ounces large elbow macaroni, farfalle, or conchiglie
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups hot, but not boiling, milk
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon dry mustard
12 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
3 ounces mild white meltable cheese, such as Jack or Gouda (mmm, Gouda)
3 ounces bleu cheese
1 cup dry breadcrumbs
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

This Is How You Do It

1. Cook the pasta until not quite tender. Drain and set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 375 F.

3. Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a heavy nonstick saucepan and sprinkle with the flour. Cook for a minute or two, then stir with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat and add the hot milk all at once, along with the bay leaf. Cook, stirring, over medium-high heat until the sauce thickens (about 5 - 7 minutes). If there are lumps, remove the bay leaf and whisk. Remove from heat and season with salt, pepper, paprika, and dry mustard.

4. Reserve 3 to 4 tablespoons of the Cheddar and mild white cheese. Remove bay leaf from the sauce if you haven't already, then stir in the remaining Cheddar, mild white cheese, and bleu cheese and set aside.

5. In a small frying pan, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter and combine with the breadcrumbs. Set aside.

6. In the bottom of a 1 1/2-quart baking dish with 4-inch sides, sprinkle 1 or 2 tablespoons of the reserved cheese.

7. Layer a third of the macaroni in the bottom of the pan, top with a third of the cheese, and repeat the layers two more times, ending with the cheese sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining shredded cheeses, then the Parm, and finally with the breadcrumbs.

8. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the top is crispy and browned in spots.

Yes indeed. If we were in a black church, I'd be hollerin' back at you right now.

March 5, 2009

Veggies You Love Chowder

IMG_0698-1.jpg picture by hikeramber
Today I received my first shipment for my CSA box from Farm Fresh To You and I spent the afternoon researching recipes that would use a good part of the veggies.  If you are interested in signing up for this CSA program, I can refer you at a discount on the first trial.

After looking through all my Mollie Katzen books (Moosewood) I found one that seemed easy and versatile, Vegetable Chowder.  After making this, I realized the veggie portions are more of a guideline, I would use whatever you have on hand.

What's in it
2C chopped onion
6 cloves garlic, minced
salt, thyme & basil (whatever else you like as well, I used Caraway Seed)
1 medium potato, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2C chopped broccoli
1/2 lb mushrooms, chopped
frozen or fresh corn
Diced tomatoes, canned and drained
fresh black pepper
1 1/2C water
1 Qt milk, heated.

How it's made
Melt butter in large pot or dutch oven.  Add onion, half of garlic and basil, thyme, salt.  Satue about 5 minutes until onions clarify.  Add potatoes, celery, carrots, broccoli and saute another 5 minutes or so. Add mushrooms, corn and tomatoes, plus lots of pepper.  Saute another 10 minutes.  Add water, cover and simmer about 15 minutes until everything is tender.  Stir in the milk and remaining garlic.  Remove from heat.  Served topped with fresh herbs.

Obviously you can add or subtract depending on your ingredients.  I added half a bag of frozed artichoke hearts I had on hand, because I love them!  Other good additions are cauliflower, zucchini, etc.  Sorry there are not precise measurements for some of the smaller portions, I don't believe in measuring those amounts.  It will depend on how much veggies you have.

This turned out to be an incredibly delicious soup, very creamy and flavorful.  I also picked up a par baked french bread from TJ's and baked it fresh out of the oven, and it was perfect with the soup.  Yum!

March 3, 2009

Taco Salad

Tonight we're having taco salad "take 2".  We made it last night as well, and there is something so satisfying about eating taco salad.  Maybe it's because I grew up eating it often.  The best part is not having to be confined to a tortilla to get all the goods mixed together, as you are with a taco or burrito.  It's not the fanciest recipe on the block but it's what's for dinner tonight, so here we go.  When serving this salad, we leave all the ingredients separate, just like when we serve tacos, so everyone can make theirs to order.

What's in it
One head of lettuce (romaine) rinsed, dried and chopped
Green onions, sliced
Cheese, grated - use a mixture of what you are craving, such as jack, cheddar or pepper jack
Sour cream
Tomatoes, chopped
Avocado, cubed
Can of corn, drained
Can of sliced olives, drained
Can of beans, rinsed and heated (I prefer black)
Ground beef or chopped chicken
Taco seasoning or packet (I got the spicy taco seasoning by McCormick)
Catalina salad dressing

How it's made
Prepare the meat with the taco seasoning packet as directed on the back of the seasoning package.  Prepare the rest of the ingredients.  Set the table with each ingredient in it's own bowl, to have a 'make your own' set up.  I combine the onion and lettuce, and the corn and olives.  You can use any dressing you like - a salsa, Catalina, or that weird creamy mixture that's red and white mixed together and I'm blanking on the name right now.

An alternative to using tortilla chips is frying up a whole tortilla to serve as the base of the salad.

Homemade Kettle Corn

Making my own popcorn is my new favorite thing! It's so easy and delicious. You don't need any fancy equipment. I first made a batch with 1 tablespoon oil and 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels. After it popped, I topped it with melted butter and sprinkled it with salt and grated Parmesan cheese. Tasty, savory snack--goes well with good beer.

But, my heart really belongs to kettle corn. I found an easy recipe on and tweaked it a little. I literally ate my first batch by myself, so watch out! It's that good. The website said that white sugar makes it taste like popcorn balls and brown sugar made it taste more like caramel corn. I use a little of both--packed into the same 1/4 measuring cup.

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil (allrecipes called for 1/4 cup; the second time I made this, I used less and it was ok. I may try using an 1/8 cup or less next time.)
  • 1/2 cup popcorn kernels
  • 1/8 cup white sugar
  • 1/8 cup brown sugar
  • Salt to taste
  1. Heat oil over medium heat in a large pot with a lid.
  2. Add popcorn kernels, then add sugars and quickly stir--keeping the lid covering the pot as well as possible.
  3. As the popcorn pops, shake your pot. A LOT. Every once in a while, I lift up the pot and flip it over to try to get the sugar as evenly coated as possible. Any sugar left on the bottom of the pot the whole time will burn.
  4. Once popping slows to once every couple of seconds, remove from heat. Keep shaking until the popping stops. I'd recommend removing it a little earlier rather than later, as the sugar will burn quickly if left on too long.
  5. Pour into a huge bowl and sprinkle with salt.

March 1, 2009

Potato, Kale and Chorizo Soup

This was a Sunday dinner dinner. I'd never heard of putting greens in a soup like this, so I was a little skeptical. It took a second to grow on me, but the satisfying, hearty deliciousness of this soup sort of took me by surprise.

We made this vegan by using vegetable broth and soy sausages. It definitely worked, but I'm thinking it would be a tad bit more flavorful and amazing with the real deal. Finding real Spanish chorizo is a bit of a challenge--most widely available chorizo in the United States is spicy, mushy ground up parts (like lips, lymph nodes and salivary glands, no joke) that come in a plastic casing. (For dishes calling for that kind of chorizo, I quite emphatically recommend using the very tasty soyrizo instead.) Alternatively, Spanish chorizo--called for in this variation of a Bon Appetit recipe--is made from coarsely chopped pork seasoned with paprika, garlic and herbs.

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 8 ounces fully cooked Spanish chorizo or hot Calabrese salami, casing removed if necesary, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 pounds kale, stemmed, torn into small pieces (about 16 cups tightly packed)
  • Croutons (home-made or store bought)
  • Grated parmesan cheese, optional
  1. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook for about 8 minutes, until translucent.
  2. Add chorizo and paprika, stir for 1 minute.
  3. Add potatoes and broth. Increase heat and bring to a boil.
  4. Add kale and stir until it has wilted and soup returns to a boil.
  5. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. (This soup tastes even better when the flavors have had more time to mingle--i.e. the next day.)
  6. Divide soup among bowls and serve topped with croutons and finely grated parmesan cheese.