May 29, 2010

Candied Espresso Pecans

On a whim one night not long ago, Mark and I invited some friends over for dinner. After the four of us finished off some homemade chips and slurped down the last of our tortilla soup, I realized I hadn't thought at all about dessert. While we were sitting at the table finishing some Pacificos, I flipped through my hodge podge recipe books--scraps I've cut out and collected from anywhere and everywhere. I was hoping to find something I could whip together quickly with ingredients I had on hand. Apparently most of the recipes I cut out are a little bit more on the elaborate side: almond-macaroon torte with chocolate frosting and orange compote, milk chocolate souffles with nougat whip, roasted pear tarte tatin with brown sugar-balsamic swirl ice cream (?!). Not going to happen.

I started with the most recent recipes and began flipping back to the beginning. Just before I gave up, I found a recipe for candied espresso walnuts. I had enough on hand to make it work---well, I subbed the pecans for the walnuts, obviously, but pecans are way better than walnuts anyway. That night I cut the recipe from 4 cups to 1 cup and made a few other adjustments. I threw this together in a grand total of about 15 minutes. One of our guests didn't even realize that I'd made them!

Candied Pecans
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 packets of Starbucks VIA (or about 1 heaping tablespoon)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 large egg white
  • 2 cups pecan halves
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper (or spray the sheet with non-stick spray).
  2. In a small bowl, whisk sugar, VIA, cinnamon and salt. In a large bowl, whisk egg white until frothy. Add pecans to egg whites and toss to coat. Sprinkle VIA mixture over pecans and toss to coat.
  3. Spread coated pecans on prepared sheet in a single layer. Bake 5 minutes. Use a spatula to stir the pecans, rearranging them in single layer. Bake for about 5 minutes more, or until pecans are dry to the touch.
  4. Loosen pecans from the baking sheet. Cool on sheet, then enjoy!

Can be made up to 2 weeks ahead and stored in an airtight container at room temperature. 
Makes 2 cups.

May 28, 2010

Just Curious...

Hey, everybody--
   I've been mulling over the idea of expanding this site to include some non-recipe posts. I'd be interested in reviewing books (cookbooks and otherwise food-related books) and possibly restaurants as well, but I wanted to see if any readers would even be interested in those types of post. What do you guys think? Let me know in the comments. Thanks for your thoughts!

Love, Alexis

May 21, 2010

Beef Bourguignon for Your Crockpot!

I wanted to make the real deal meal, but due to lack of time and a dutch oven, this is what I made up. It was SO GOOD!!!
Read the entire directions and have fun!
Made simple-ish for the crock pot
3 medium russet potatoes
3 medium carrots
8 white or brown mushrooms, cleaned and cut into quarters
1 large yellow or white onion, chopped medium fine
1 clove of garlic, chopped fine
1 teaspoon of fresh thyme (1/2 teaspoon dried)
4 tablespoons of butter
½ cup flour
2 cups red wine (Chianti is best for this dish)
3-4 cups of stock (veg, chick, or beef)
½ package of regular bacon
1 pound of lean beef, cut into 1 inch cubes, dried with paper towels
Salt and Pepper to taste
Fresh parsley for garnish
Peel and chop potatoes into 1 inch cubes.
Peel and chop carrots into bite-sized pieces cut on the diagonal.
Place potatoes and carrots into the crock pot
Add thyme to pot.
Chop bacon into little pieces.
Fry in dutch oven or regular pan
Remove crispy bits of bacon, add to pot, leave fat in pan
Add cubed meat, don’t crowd. Fry on all sides until browned.
Remove meat, add to pot, leave fat in pan.
Add onions, when they are translucent add garlic.
Fry until onions and garlic until just starting to brown.
Remove onions and garlic, add to pot, discard all remaining bacon fat.
Add wine to all of the cooked ingredients in the crock pot with veggies and thyme.
Cover with enough stock until everything is just covered.
Stir in tomato paste.
Cover and store until ready to cook. (You can prep this up to two days in advance.)
Cook on low for at least half of the time and high to finish. (Minimum of 6 hours, ideal, 9 hours.)
When you’re 30 minutes from serving:
Saute mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter, don’t crowd.
Add mushrooms to pot.
Melt remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in pan, add flour.
Cook butter and flour to make a roux until browned to your preference. (about 3-5 minutes.)
Add 2 cups of juices from the pot to the roux, stir well until thick.
Add thickened sauce to pot and stir well.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Garnish with chopped parsley

May 18, 2010


After only being in India a few days, I found myself, thanks to a friend of a friend, spending New Year's Eve with a local family in the Northern suburbs of Mumbai. I won't tell you about the harrowing train ride there, which left me in tears, but I will tell you that we arrived to a memorable Indian welcome and just in time for a lavish lunch prepared entirely from scratch by our host mother.

She started with handmade samosas. Though the whole meal was thoroughly enjoyable, the samosas are what I remember most. Made from scratch! By hand! Just for us! I never, ever thought that I would be able to attempt something like that on my own. And to be sure, when I flipped the pages of Cooking Light and came across a recipe for samosas, I was surprised to find it there. I imagined the making of samosas to be a laborious and time consuming task, something outside the scope of your average American cook.

Now, these samosas are not exactly what I ate that day in a Mumbai living room, but they are definitely good enough for me. The main leap of faith is using egg roll wrappers in place of the tasty dough that normally envelopes these savory treats. The egg roll wrappers are easier, of course, and I would rather make samosas this way than not make them at all, which would probably be the alternative--at least for me.

The original recipe was developed by Cheryl and Bill Jamison of, apparently, some cookbook fame. I had never heard of them before randomly picking up a sale book at Powell's called Around the World in 80 Dinners: The Ultimate Culinary Adventure. I think it was priced to move for a reason. Terrible, boring book. I don't know how the Jamisons made a book about travel and food boring, but sadly they did. Skip their book, but definitely try these samosas.

(adapted from Cooking Light)
  • 1 1/4 cups mashed potatoes
  • 1/4 cup cooked lentils
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh mint
  • 1 teaspoon curry paste (like Patak's) or curry powder, more if desired
  • 1 teaspoon butter, softened
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosker salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 cup frozen petite green peas, thawed
  • 10 egg roll wrappers
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Cooking spray
  1. Mix together potatoes, lentils, mint, curry, butter, salt and cumin until combined. Gently fold in peas.
  2. Use one egg roll wrapper at a time and cover the rest so they don't dry out. Cut the wrapper down the middle to form 2 long triangles. Dip a finger in the egg, then use your finger to coat the edges of the wrapper with egg. 
  3. With your hands, grab a small portion (about 1 tablespoon) of the potato mixture and place it near the bottom left hand edge of the wrapper. Fold the bottom right hand corner of the wrapper over the mixture to meet the left edge of the wrapper to form a triangle. Repeat the fold to the opposite side to form another triangle---like folding up a flag. Seal the edges and set aside. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.
  4. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Coat with cooking spray. Add samosas to pan, cook until bottoms are golden brown. Flip and cook until other side is also golden brown. Serve with chutney or raita of your choice. (Note: Trader Joe's has an excellent selection of chutneys and sauces.)
Makes 20 pieces/ 4-5 servings

May 11, 2010

Alexis' Guacamole

Guacamole is a bit of a contentious issue in my house. Everybody has their own way of making it, and while all versions are good, they are quite different. Some cooks are minimalists, others go all out. Either way everybody is usually pretty happy, because how can you not love avocados?! It's hard to go wrong here, but I've sort of honed my guac recipe over the years and feel like it's pretty fantastic.

I've hesitated to post it, but only because I don't usually measure anything. I just add ingredients, stir, taste and repeat until I've hit the right balance. I think it's good to put your own personal spin on guacamole, so please, my all means---go wild. The avocados we bought recently were particularly tasty, so you should probably go out and buy some right now.

I'd be very interested to hear what your favorite guacamole recipe includes, especially if you add something I don't...

Alexis' Guacamole
  •  2 ripe medium avocados
  • 1/4  of a medium white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (or garlic pressed)
  • Leaves from approximately 20 sprigs of cilantro, torn or chopped
  • Juice from 1/2 lime
  • 1/8 to 1/4 cup of your favorite salsa (I use hot Pace)
  • 4 to 6 drops of El Yucateco Chile Habanero Hot Sauce
  • A couple of good shakes of Trader Joe's Jalapeno Hot Sauce
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste (optional; I didn't put any in my last batch)
  1. In a medium bowl, mash avocados with a fork. Mark likes to leave it kind of chunky and I tend to go a little smoother. 
  2. Add remaining ingredients individually, stirring and tasting after each addition. Add more of whatever you feel it needs.  If you think your guac is missing something, I've found that usually salt is the magic ingredient. Don't be afraid to add more.
  3. Serve with a cilantro garnish and fresh homemade tortilla chips.  There is very little in this life that is more satisfying than good guacamole with fresh, warm tortilla chips!

May 4, 2010

Totopos: Tortilla Chips (Updated)

Since discovering this simple recipe, Mark and I have made it more times than I can count. It is a fun addition to our repertoire, good for parties and big dinners. People usual are impressed with us, though I always tell them how easy it is. We made them again tonight, getting psyched up for Cinco de Mayo, I suppose. I finally took pictures while we were at it, so I thought I 'd repost this favorite of ours:

This is one of those things that is really simple and mind-blowingly delicious, but that most people don't (or at least I didn't) think to do. About a year ago, I bought a lovely cookbook from a hip and tasty Mexican restaurant called Tacubaya on Berkeley's famous 4th Street. Part of why I compulsively bought the book were the enticing photos and sleek design, but Tacubaya's food also happens to be fantastic and authentically Mexican (not so many Mexican restaurants actually are).

One of my favorite Mexican dishes, chilaquiles, has a base of fried corn tortilla chips or totopos. I couldn't wait to make chilaquiles of my very own (I hope you've had the opportunity to try them and know why), so the totopos were the first recipe I attempted. Now, I have to tell you that I am afraid of frying anything. My family never fried foods when I was growing up and I had never personally attempted to fry anything, ever.

I found that this was actually nothing to fear. And while it's cheap and easy to buy corn tortilla chips at the store, this only takes a few minutes and is more worth it than I could have ever imagined.

  • 3 cups canola oil
  • 24 fresh corn tortillas
  • Kosher salt
  1. Put the canola oil in a large frying pan and turn the heat up to high.
  2. In the 5-10 minutes it will take the oil to heat up to 350 degrees (I don't have a thermometer, but when it's hot, it's hot), cut your tortillas into sixths to make chip-size triangles.
  3. When the oil is ready, turn the heat down to medium-high. Put half of your cut tortillas in the pan, submerging them with a slotted spoon if they float up to the top. They will turn crispy and brown in about 3-4 minutes. (Try not to let them get too dark.)
  4. Use the slotted spoon or a spatula to fish out the chips, letting as much oil as possible drain back into the pan. (You'll want to do this pretty quickly, since they'll get extra crispy if you leave them in too long.) Set the chips on a few layers of paper towels to soak up the extra oil.
  5. While they're still hot, sprinkle them with salt and have a few!
  6. Repeat with the other half of the tortillas.
These would be a fantastic appetizer as is or served with salsa and guacamole. The best chilaquiles I've ever had were made with these chips, and I've made a delicious plate of nachos with them as well.

May 2, 2010

Chocolate Covered Honey Florentines

In Cuba, there is not much to eat. When I was studying there for a month, we had a weekly rotation of dinner menu items that repeated itself over and over. We also had eggs for breakfast every day, though we could chose a variety of egg preparations--omelet, scrambled, fried, hard cooked. (We also had a beautiful array of fresh tropical fruit, though, which helped.) 

For lunch, between classes, my friends and I would walk down the street to one of the recently legalized paladares, a restaurant (in this case take-out window) operated out of someone's house. The menu was very limited and every day I would order pollo asado, a huge piece of roasted chicken served with moros y cristianos, a savory mixture of white rice and black beans, and a "salad" of un-dressed shredded green cabbage. (All of this for criminally low price of less than a dollar's worth of Cuban pesos.) The food was very good, but very basic. Cuban food is not spicy and this dish was hardly spiced at all for that matter. (Fancy ingredients and fresh vegetables are hard to come by in Cuba--except at expensive tourist resorts---due to our stubborn embargo. Boo.)

Imagine my surprise then, when I first dined at Pambiche, a lively, vibrant and bountiful Cuban restaurant in Portland. They had my moros y cristianos, but everything else seemed much too elaborate and fancy. Of course it is delicious, but I hardly recognized the food given what I had eaten everyday in Cuba.

Regardless, the best thing about Pambiche is the dessert. When I am there I usually eat as little as possible for dinner and save my appetite for the good stuff. They serve some of the best cakes--and most inspired dessert flavor combinations--- I've ever eaten. That first evening,  I had the arroz con leche---rice pudding. One of my favorite aspects of the dessert was the edible bowl it was served in---my first encounter with a Florentine cookie--- that delicate, crunchy, lacy caramelized sugar goodness. I've been thinking about it ever since.

Chocolate Covered Honey Florentines
(adapted from Martha Stewart's Cookies)

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar (I only had dark and it was fine)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • Pinch of coarse salt
  • 4 oz good quality chocolate
  1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Melt Butter, brown sugar and honey in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Transfer to a small bowl. Stir in four and salt until smooth.
  3. Working quickly, drop 1/2 teaspoons of batter onto lined baking sheets, spacing them about 3 inches apart. Bake cookies until they spread and turn golden brown,  about 6 minutes.
  4. Let cool completely on baking sheets on wire cooling racks. Carefully remove cookies from sheets with your fingers.
  5. Melt chocolate in a double boiler [or a bowl set over (not touching) a saucepan of simmering water], stirring often. Remove from heat as soon as chocolate is mostly melted, continue stirring until it is fully melted.
  6. Dip Florentines in chocolate, make chocolate Florentine sandwiches, or use a knife to spread half of each Florentine with melted chocolate. 
  7. Cool and serve.
Makes about 2 dozen cookies