December 27, 2011

Honey Madeleines

Guess who got a madeleine pan for Christmas! I'm too legit to quit, so I thought I would re-post this recipe for you. If you don't have a fancy pan, just use a cupcake pan. They will taste just as good...
Madeleines from a cupcake pan.
I tried my first madeleine while working at a coffee shop in college. They looked sorta plain, but once I took a bite and the buttery, vanilla cake-iness melted in my mouth, I was a convert. There is something about the slightly dense fluffiness of the crumb that I love. Friends at another cafe made me try madeleines topped with whipped cream, which I highly recommend--if you don't mind an approximately 1,000 calorie snack.

I don't make a habit of eating madeleines all the time, mind you. But, ever since I saw a recipe for them in Martha Stewart's Cookies cookbook, I've been itching to make them. Of course, you need a special madeleine pan to make madeleines, so I've been eying those madeleine molds enviously every time I enter a cooking store fancy enough to carry them. It just seemed a little beyond my budget to fork out major dough for something that would be used on such a limited basis. Still, I couldn't help day dreaming a bit when I came across one.

Recently, I cut out a madeleine recipe from Bon Appetit that called for lavender honey. I don't have fancy honey and I don't have a fancy pan, but I decided to make them anyway. I figured a cupcake pan was similar enough that it just might work...

And, lo and behold--they turned out just fine, minus the pretty fluting and scalloped shape that typically defines a madeleine. But, you know what, they taste damn good regardless. Now, where's the whipped cream...

Honey Madeleines
Authentic madeleine shape. They taste the same, though...
  • 9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter)
  • 4 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
  • 6 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup almond flour or almond meal
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter each mold or the cupcake pan and dust with flour, tapping out the excess. 
  2. Melt 9 tablespoons butter in a medium (light colored) skillet or a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until butter turns golden brown, stirring often. (It's harder to see the color of the butter in a dark pan.) Set browned butter aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites, sugar, all purpose flour and almond flour in a medium bowl until smooth. 
  4. Place honey in a small, microwave safe bowl and heat until just warm, 5-10 seconds. Beat honey into batter. Beat in browned butter.
  5. Spoon two tablespoons of batter into each mold. Bake until the tops are just dry and a tester comes out clean, about 14-16 minutes. Cool 5 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Tap madeleines out of mold onto the rack and cool slightly. Serve warm.
Yield: 12 madeleines

December 23, 2011

Patty's Famous Mrs. Field's Cookies

It just is not truly Christmas without these cookies. For as long as I can remember, my mother has baked what she calls "Mrs. Field's cookies" for the holidays. (Her original recipe makes a batch of 90 cookies! Nearly impossible to stir at the end there. I don't recommend it.)

These cookies are out of control. As you can tell from the title, they are jam packed with nearly everything you could want in a cookie. Oatmeal. Chocolate chips. Nuts. In fact, there ends up being trace amounts of dough holding all of those goodies together. Just enough it turns out, and somehow they magically come together in the oven--quickly, too! The baking time is a short 6-8 minutes.

This recipe is straight forward, but it does have a couple twists. The first and most obvious is a grated chocolate bar stirred into the dough... in addition to the massive amount of chocolate chips. Genius, plain and simple. These are chocolate-lovers' cookies, and I happen to love chocolate--so there you go. The second riff is the additional step of blending (or food-processing) some of the oatmeal. The added flavor component and binding capacity are paramount, with very little effort.

The dough gets very, very thick. It tested the strength and determination of my "professional" Kitchen Aid stand mixer. A hand-held mixer would likely prove too weak to compete with this heavy duty dough. Lacking a stand mixer, mix this by hand. (Just make sure you build up your arm strength for a few weeks before hand...)

There is still time to add these cookies to your holiday tradition! They make great gifts, and they are a grand slam for a cookie exchange party.

Patty's Mrs. Field's Cookies
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups oatmeal, separated
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 ounce good quality (Ghiradelli or Scharffen Berger) semi-sweet chocolate bar, finely-grated
  • 12 ounces chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped, roasted pecans and/or walnuts
  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. 
  2. Cream butter and both sugars in a large bowl.
  3. Add eggs and vanilla until combined.
  4. Blend 1/2 cup oatmeal in a blender or food processor until it is a power. Sift blended oatmeal together with flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a medium bowl.
  5. Mix flour mixture into butter mixture until combined.
  6. Stir in chocolate chips, grated chocolate, whole oats, and roasted nuts.
  7. Space golf ball-sized balls of dough on parchment lined cookie sheets. Flatten slightly, then bake for 6-8 minutes only. They will not look completely done, but I warn you--do not over cook or cookies will be too crunchy! Let cookies cool slightly on the pan on a cooling rack, then transfer to the rack.
Makes 45 cookies

November 20, 2011

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranate

I think you all have picked up on the fact that I absolutely love brussels sprouts, to the point of going on a quest to convert as many non-eaters to eaters and/or lovers of these little veggies. I usually stick to the classic roasted version, but then I saw this recipe from Bobby Flay in Food Network Magazine and knew I had to try it. Plus, apparently pomegranate is what all the cool kids are doing, since I brought this dish to a friends house for a potluck, and two other dishes also included pomegranates. This dish is so simple to make, and has incredible flavors, everyone raved about it. So yes, I am finally getting a Thanksgiving dish posted before Thanksgiving, which means you should probably add this one to your Thanksgiving feast this year. Plus, the pomegranate molasses will rock your world.

What's in it
1-2 lb brussels sprouts, washed, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
2 Tbl canola oil
salt and pepper, fresh ground
3 Tbl pomegranate molasses*
seeds of one pomegranate
1/2 C roasted walnuts (or hazelnuts or pecans...)
fine zest of one lime and one mandarin

How it's made
Preheat oven to 375 degrees (or 400 for a more roasty version). Put the brussels in a medium roasting pan (or large dutch oven with wide base) and toss with oil, salt and pepper. Roast until golden brown and a knife inserted goes in easily, 45 min - 1 hour. Transfer to a bowl (or not) and toss with remaining ingredients. Serve warm.

*this ingredient was the clincher...I went to Monterey Market in Berkeley for the brussels and pomegranate, and decided I would make this dish if they had the molasses. They ended up having two different types, and it was really inexpensive. You can probably find it if you look a few places. Or make it yourself.

Minestrone Soup

As daylight savings kicked into gear this November, and we all 'fell back', I immediately went into 'one soup a week' mode. I have some great standbys like Tortilla Soup, Pozole, Veggie Chowder, Thai Dumpling Soup and Tom Ka Gai. But then I realized I absolutely love Minestrone, and had never made it before (as far as I can remember). Being Italian, I realized I had been ignoring my roots, and fell into the belief minestrone only came from restaurants and my Grandma Nonna. My beloved Nonna is no longer alive to ask for a recipe, so I looked through all my cookbooks, and put a recipe together from a few different sources, mostly Joy of Cooking and The Silver Palate Good Times cookbooks. On the first go I vastly underestimated the power of pasta, but by the second and third rounds I think I have the soup dialed. Here's what I came up with...

What's in it
olive oil
chopped carrots*
chopped celery
chopped onion
minced garlic
1 sprig fresh rosemary
sweet italian sausage (uncooked, casing removed)
shredded cabbage or chopped kale
chopped basil
4-10 C chicken broth
28 oz can diced tomatoes
16 oz cannellini beans (white kidney), rinsed through
chopped zucchini
other optional additions (add with zucchini): bell pepper, green beans, parsley, parmesan rind
orzo or other small pasta noodle (macaroni, small tortellini, parfelles etc)
garnish with fresh grated parmesan and ground pepper

*I don't give any measurements, because what I use always comes out with a giganitic pot of soup, so if you want something more manageable it wouldn't help you. If you need recommendation, do one or two of each veggie (and 1/2 to 1 onion) with a half or whole pound sausage (or bacon, or pancetta).

How it's made
Prep all your veggies then heat olive oil (1-2 Tbl) in a large ceramic coated dutch oven or large stock pot. Add sausage and break into little pieces with your stirring spoon, cook in oil until browned. Add onion, celery, carrot and garlic add dashed of salt and saute until softened. Add rosemary (whole) and put cabbage/kale and basil on top of the cooked veggies, letting it steam on top for a few minutes before mixing in. Cook until wilted then add canned tomato, rinsing inside of can with water and adding it as well. Bring to a simmer, then add chicken broth and parmesan rind then bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add beans and zucchini. If you want to speed up this part of the process, heat chicken broth and canned tomato in a pot separate so it is hot when added. Simmer until zucchini is al dente, then add your pasta. Go very conservative, it grows to about 10 times its size, especially if you don't eat the soup right away. Kind of like the magic growing dinosaurs - just add water. I use orzo because it is so small to begin with, and for a big pot of soup I use 1/4 to 1/3 cup. Simmer your soup until the pasta is cooked, then serve with crusty bread.

November 13, 2011

Enchiladas Suizas

I made these enchiladas to drop off for our friends who just had a baby. Enchiladas are great because they aren't very labor intensive and you can make them ahead of time. (And who doesn't love a gooey cheese-y comfort food dish at this time of year.) Done and done. I went to look up this recipe and realized that there were no photos posted, so I took a couple and added them here. I figured I would re-post this 2009 recipe while I was at it. We'll call it a belated día de los muertos post...
Living in Mexico, this was easily one of my top five dishes to order. (Which, if you have ever been to Mexico, you'll know that's really saying something. So much good food!) As far as I'm concerned, enchiladas suizas are without a doubt the best enchilada out there. Creamy, cheesy chicken and green chile sauce? Yes, please. And just so you know, it would be nearly sacrilegious to make enchiladas with flour tortillas. (In fact, corn is always best, in my not-so-humble opinion.)

This recipe is a variation on one I found about five years ago in the San Francisco Chronicle Food Section. The woman who wrote it got the recipe from the family running the bed and breakfast where she stayed. The original version calls for making the salsa verde from scratch, but I didn't want to spend all day on this and just used canned green enchilada sauce. Some brands are better than others, and while I've yet to do a brand by brand taste test, I know that El Pato, Las Palmas and La Victoria are decent.

(If you are wondering, the word suiza, surprisingly enough, means Swiss. Apparently Swiss immigrants in Mexico often ended up making cheeses and other dairy products, like the crema Mexicana in this dish.)

Enchiladas Suizas
The Chicken
  • 2 chicken breasts (It called for bone and skin, but we used boneless/skinless.)
  • 1/4 of a white onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  1. Rinse chicken and put in a 4 quart pot with the onion quarter and garlic. Add broth. If the chicken is not completely covered, add water until covered. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat and let chicken cool in broth for 20 minutes. Remove chicken from broth and when cool, shred it.
  3. Save the broth for use in any recipe calling for chicken broth. (We used it to make tortilla soup.)
The Enchiladas

  • 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon canola oil
  • 10 large corn tortillas
  • 4 cups (or more) green chile enchilada sauce (spicy, if you like!)
  • Shredded chicken from above
  • 1/2 cup chopped white onion (optional)
  • 3 cups grated manchego or Monterey Jack Cheese (We used cheddar and it was fine.)
  • 3/4 cup crema Mexicana (We had to substitute sour cream; it's definitely not as good as the real stuff.)
  1. Heat 1/2 tablespoon of the oil in a wide skillet and fry the tortillas (1-2 at a time) to soften them, turning once--about 20 seconds on each side. Stack them as you finish. Add more oil to the pan as needed.
  2. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Use 1 teaspoon oil (I used a spray instead) to coat a 12x9 inch (or so) baking dish. Spread 1 cup of green sauce over the bottom of the dish.
  4. Moisten the shredded chicken with 3/4 cup of the green sauce.
  5. For each enchilada, spoon some of the chicken, some chopped onions and some shredded cheese down the middle of a tortilla. Roll it up and place seam side down in the dish.
  6. When all of the enchiladas are in the dish, spread 1 tablespoon of crema over each one. Pour 2 cups (or more as desired) of the green sauce over the enchiladas, then sprinke more grated cheese all over the top.
  7. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until heated through and bubbly. Pass the remaining salsa verde at the table.

November 8, 2011

Thai Dumpling Soup

This recipe is from Food Network Magazine, from their quick and easy dinner section. Seeing as the weather has finally started to get very chilly, and I've been itching to cook thai food, it seemed the perfect opportunity to try this recipe. What I found out is that not only is this soup easier and faster to make than Tom Ka Gai, one of the simplest thai soups, but it is even more delicious. I've never made dumpling soup, and what I realized is unlike in a restaurant, I don't have to ration the 2 or 3 dumplings your soup will have, because when you make it yourself, you can have as many dumplings as you'd like! So do yourself a favor and try this one out in the next couple weeks. You will not regret it.

What's in it
2 Tbl oil
3 stalks celery, sliced thin
1/2 onion, sliced in 1/4" wedges
dried (or fresh) shittake mushrooms
1 Tbl curry powder
4 C chicken broth
1 can coconut milk
1 C water
1 Tbl fish sauce
1/4 lb fresh green beans trimmed and cut in half
optional: sliced crimini mushrooms, sliced bell peppers
1 lb frozen thai dumplings (I found delicious frozen chicken cilantro mini dumplings at Trader Joes)
lime and sliced green onions

How it's made
Boil 2 cups water and pour over dried shittake mushrooms in a bowl, if using. Use another bowl or cup to weigh them down under water. Let sit 30 minutes until re-hydrated. Prep other ingredients in the meantime.
In a large dutch oven or pot, heat oil over medium high heat. Add celery, onion, shittake mushrooms and curry powder. Stir until curry powder is toasted and vegetables are softened, about 4 minutes. Add chicken broth, coconut milk, fish sauce and water (use water from re-hydrating mushrooms if you'd like more mushroom flavor, but be sure to strain out bits). Bring to a simmer and add crimini mushrooms if using. Add green beans (and bell pepper if using) and simmer about 3-5 minutes until green beans are crisp tender. Add frozen dumplings and bring back to simmer until dumplings are cooked through. Serve garnished with lime juice and chopped green onions.
I highly encourage you to adapt this recipe to your taste. Clearly I like mushrooms so I load up on them, but maybe you'd like to see tomatoes or galanga and lemongrass for a more authentic flavor, or more green beans. The great thing about soups is they are very flexible to adaptation, so have fun with it!

October 18, 2011

Chai Tea Cupcakes

There are so many recipes I want to post, and so little time. However, I thought I could squeak this one up here, since I found time to bake a batch of these before going to work today. It was also a good excuse to use my new mini muffin tin, they are so adorable! Plus, you can have more than just one :-) These little cupcakes are delicious on their own without frosting, or you can be decadent and frost with chai cream cheese frosting. They remind me of my favorite drink from Peet's Coffee - chai latte with two pumps of chocolate!

What's in them
1 C flour (can use half unbleached, half whole wheat)
1/4 C cocoa powder (unsweetened)
1/4 C instant chai tea powder (Trader Joe's has it)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 C melted butter (1 stick)
3/4 C sugar
2 eggs
1/3 C milk
1/2 tsp vanilla

How it's made
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Line mini muffin pan with paper liners.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together first 5 ingredients (all dry ingredients). Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, cream together sugar and butter, at least a minute, until white and fluffy. Add eggs then milk and vanilla.
Slowly add dry ingredients to wet and mix until just combined.
Spoon batter into muffin tin, about a tablespoon each - don't be afraid to fill until just the top. Bake 12-15 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean or with just a couple crumbs. Cool on rack. Frost if desired.

Optional frosting:
Cream together 3/4 C soft cream cheese, 1/4 C chai powder, 1/4C powder sugar. Use cocoa powder for garnish if desired.

October 8, 2011

Still the Best Oatmeal

Teaching fifth grade is exhausting. And time consuming. I don't have much time left over to cook, let alone post blogs. Besides all that, my best friend and (RFL's co-creator) got married (!), so as you can imagine, we've been a little preoccupied.

I still make oatmeal every day, though, and I still think this is the best way to do it. SO, now that the weather is getting cooler, I wanted to re-post and update this recipe with the hope that you will give it a try sooner or later. I swear by it.

Thanks for your patience. I hope to be back in the kitchen soon!

I don't know about you, but I love oatmeal. I eat it nearly every day. It's so warm and comforting and delicious. It's the perfect winter-morning breakfast.

Before this, I'd always made my oatmeal the same way. The standard way. Old fashioned rolled oats, stirred into boiling water, cook, add toppings. It's good that way, and why mess with a good thing?

Well, one day last fall I came across a food blog that suggested something that sounded insane--adding a raw EGG to the cooked oatmeal. WHAT?! It sounds crazy. I imagined scrambled egg mixed into my oatmeal and got a little freaked out.

But, wait a minute! She assured her readers that this was not so. When you quickly stir the egg into your oatmeal, it disappears. It's not eggy. In fact, the egg makes your oatmeal into the creamiest, richest oatmeal ever. It becomes divinely custardy and, with the added protein, even more sustaining for a day of playing in the snow...or going to work.

I know you are probably skeptical. It took me three or four months from the time I read about this oatmeal to the day I finally decided to try it. Hopefully it won't take you that long.

But, even if it takes you until next fall---try this one day. I bet you'll never go back.

Creamiest Oatmeal Ever
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk
  • 1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 egg
  • Vanilla extract
  • Cinnamon
  • Toppings: brown sugar, nuts, blueberries, banana, etc
  1. Bring water/milk (add sugar/spices to taste--optional) to a gentle boil. Stir in oats. Return to a boil, then reduce heat medium-low. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed, stirring occasionally. Add a splash of vanilla extract and a dash of cinnamon; stir.
  2. Remove oatmeal from heat. In a small bowl, scramble an egg. Stir a spoonful of oatmeal into the egg (to temper it).  Add egg mixture to oatmeal and rapidly stir for about a minute. The egg will mix in completely and turn your oatmeal fluffier and creamier. Return oatmeal to heat for a minute or so.
  3. Stir again and pour into a bowl. Top with brown sugar, sliced banana, blueberries, etc. Enjoy immediately.
Serves 1

    Add vanilla and cinnamon, then add one mashed banana--the kind that have turned extra ripe/brown that you keep in the freezer for banana bread. (Defrost it first in the microwave.) After everything is mixed in and hot again, take the oatmeal off the heat and add the egg. Serve with brown sugar and pecans. Mark said it was the best oatmeal he's ever had!

    August 20, 2011

    Chocolate Covered Pretzels, Wedding Edition

    There is something about this combination that gets me every time. White chocolate is my favorite, because the chocolate is so sweet next to the salty crunch of the pretzel. Semi-sweet and milk chocolate work great, too, though.

    Of course, the sprinkles are not essential, but they do make things a lot more festive with just a few easy shakes. Worth it, I'd say.

    We made probably 130 or so chocolate covered pretzels to serve with the other desserts at my wedding. It seemed like an easy enough task--I mean you just dip the pretzels in chocolate and cool. But, 130 pretzels is really quite a few. We had three people working on this and had to call in reinforcements, because we weren't moving quickly enough.

    It all came together, though, and these were really a hit!

    Chocolate Covered Pretzels
    • 1 bag of chocolate chips--either white, milk or semi-sweet depending on your preference
    • 2 bags pretzel rods
    • Sprinkles, optional
    1. Line a baking sheet with wax paper or parchment paper. Pour as many chocolate chips as will fit into a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for about a minute, stirring as needed. Continue to microwave in 10-15 second increments, stirring in between, until the chocolate  is completely melted. 
    2. Hold pretzel rod vertically over the bowl and spoon melted chocolate evenly over the entire pretzel, leaving just enough uncovered to serve as a handle. Let the excess chocolate drip off.
    3. Hold the chocolate covered pretzel over a plate and cover evenly with sprinkles. Set on the prepared baking sheet to cool. Place the full baking sheet in the refrigerator for a few minutes to harden, making them easier to store. (Serve at room temperature.)
    4. If the chocolate in your bowl gets to hard, microwave it for a few seconds until it is melted again. Add more chocolate chips to your bowl and repeat step one as necessary.

    August 9, 2011

    The Recipes for Laughter Cookbook - Nuptuals Edition

    In preparation for Alexis and Mark's wedding, I decided to make a RFL cookbook as a wedding gift. It really turned out great and I hope we all continue this tradition by making future editions.

    I have not received the final print copy yet, so if you want to buy a copy, you might wait until I have had a chance to look at it. You can purchase the cookbook through Blurb.

    Here is a preview -

    July 25, 2011

    Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse Pie

    Not the best photo, but we weren't worried about photos at the time!

    Sometimes you just have to improvise. I mean, not all rental houses are stocked as fully as we might hope them to be.

    But, when you are celebrating a very important person's impending nuptials with a bachelorette party to end all bachelorette parties--in Lake Tahoe no less--there must be chocolate peanut butter pie.

    And so I crushed the graham crackers for the crust in a Ziplock bag with a melon (success!), because there was no food processor. And Amber "whipped" the cream for the mousse in the blender (mostly a success!), because there was not an electric beater. Having no tablespoon measuring spoon, we dutifully counted out 3 teaspoons for each one. The fact that there was no also pie pan was also a bit of a set back. Luckily, there was a Kmart down the way, so I bought one. (When is the last time you were in a Kmart? Weird!) Pie pan doesn't fit in the freezer? Refrigerator will have to do. Sometimes you just have to be flexible.

    This pie is really rich (you probably got that impression from the name), but it is super easy and very delicious--if you like peanut butter and chocolate. (If you don't like peanut butter and chocolate, you should really, really work on that.) This is a chilled pie, so it's great for summer parties. Make it ahead, then just sit back and enjoy the feather boas---er, festivities.

    Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse Pie
    • Non-stick vegetable oil spray
    • 7 whole graham crackers, coarsely broken
    • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick), unsalted butter, melted
    • 4 tablespoons sugar, divided
    • 1 1/3 cups bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips (about 8 ounces)
    • 2/3 plus 1 3/4 cups chilled whipping cream, divided
    • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
    • 6 ounces (1 cup) peanut butter chips
    • 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter (like Skippy, not old-fashioned or freshly ground)
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch glass pie pan with non-stick spray. Blend graham crackers, melted butter and 2 tablespoons of sugar in a food processor until moist clumps form. Press crumb mixture over bottom and up sides of prepared pie dish. Bake crust until lightly browned, around 15 minutes.
    2. Meanwhile, combine chocolate chips, 2/3 cup whipping cream, corn syrup and 1 teaspoon vanilla in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium heat until chocolate softens, about 3 minutes, checking it frequently. Whisk until melted and smooth. Spread chocolate mixture over the bottom of the crust. Freeze 10 minutes.
    3. Microwave peanut butter chips and 3/4 cup cream in a large microwave-safe bowl on medium heat at 15 second intervals, stirring often, until chips soften. Whisk in peanut butter and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Set aside and cool to barely lukewarm. In another medium bowl, beat remaining 1 cup cream and and 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl until very thick, but not yet holding peaks. Fold in peanut butter mixture in 3 additions. Spoon mousse evenly over chocolate layer. Chill at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

    July 5, 2011


    There was a time in my life when I refused to eat pasta with "red sauce." I would only eat pasta with pesto. While I have become much less picky about my pasta sauces as I've, um,... matured, I still think pesto is delicious. I would eat it with a spoon if I could get away with it.

    Pesto is usually quite expensive to buy at the grocery store. As you can imagine, I've often entertained the idea of making my own. The problem is that it is also expensive to make. Pine nuts are expensive. Basil can be expensive. Good olive oil is expensive. Good Parmesan is expensive. It can add up. And while not exactly cheap, pesto is less expensive to buy at Costco than to make from scratch. Or so I have told myself.

    So, all my good intentions of making my own pesto over the last couple of years have been thwarted. Until now. I have recently found out that you can make pesto with nearly any kind of nut--not just pine nuts. Break through! I usually have pecans and other nuts on hand, so that is no extra cost. I used a pecan and walnut combo in this version, but feel free to substitute whatever kind of nut you have available. I have heard that almond pesto is also very good.

    Also, it is prime basil season out there, at least up here in Portland. I was at the farmer's market and I could not get away from the sweet, herb-y smell of fresh basil. One stand was selling three bunches of basil for $5. (The equivalent of at least 5 cups of basil leaves.) I couldn't resist--especially because I just happened to have some Parmesan in the fridge. I was pesto ready and I couldn't deny it any longer.

    I first tried to use the Magic Bullet that I had recently received as a gift, but no dice. I whipped out my mini-food processor and turned my basil into pesto in no time. This is an easy and quick recipe that is very flexible. I tried to use as little olive oil as possible, since I find the store-bought kind too greasy. That is the added benefit of making your own--you get to make it precisely the way you like it.

    I used a cup of this freshly made pesto to make a pesto potato salad for a Fourth of July barbecue, which I will post shortly. I have a ton of pesto left, too, so I see some pesto pasta in my near future. For the quantity of pesto this makes, it definitely ended up being cheaper than buying it at the grocery store in the end.  Worth it, for sure.

    Happy summer!

    • 4 cups packed fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
    • 2/3 cup to 1 1/2 cup olive oil, depending on your preference (use olive oil that tastes good on it's own)
    • 1 cup toasted nuts, chopped (walnuts, pecans, almonds, pine nuts)
    • 5 or more cloves of garlic, or more to taste
    • 1 cup grated Parmesan
    • 1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
    1. Put basil, olive oil, nuts and garlic and salt in food processor.
    2. Blend until combined
    3. Add Parmesan and blend for a few seconds until incorporated.
    Makes at least 2 cups. You can easily half this recipe for a smaller batch.
    To store: cover with surface completely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to a week.

    June 26, 2011

    Cheddar-Basil Scones

    • 3 cups all-purpose flour
    • 2 Tbsp. sugar
    • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
    • 1/2 tsp. salt
    • 1-1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (6 ounces)
    • 2/3 cup snipped fresh basil
    • 1-1/2 cups whipping cream, half-and-half (I used half-and-half)
    • 1 egg, lightly beaten


    1. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add shredded cheddar and basil; stir to combine.

    2. In a small bowl, combine 1-1/2 cups cream and egg. Add to flour mixture, stirring until moistened. Turn out onto a well- floured surface; knead gently for 10 to 12 strokes.

    3. Divide dough in half; shape into two balls. Pat or roll each into a 6-inch circle. Cut each into 8 wedges. Place onto ungreased baking sheet. Brush tops with additional cream.

    4. Bake in a 450 degree F oven for 12 to 14 minutes or until golden. Remove from baking sheet; serve warm. Makes 16 scones.

    June 15, 2011

    Pork Loin with Honey Mustard Glaze

    The closest we have to a picture of the pork loin! (Thanks for modeling it for us, John.)
    We grilled this pork loin last weekend for Alexis' bachelorette party weekend, and it came together beautifully, considering Andy and I didn't have a specific plan for the loin. Luckily Alexis brought a generous jar of her homemade mustard, which reminded me of an article I read a month or so ago in Bon Appetit magazine about homemade mustards, and how they are delicious with pork. Because we assembled everything on the fly, I don't have exact measurements, so use your best judgement.

    What's in it
    one pork loin (size depends on how many people you are feeding)
    equal parts: homemade mustard, honey, olive oil
    salt to taste
    homemade mustard for serving

    How it's made
    Whisk together enough glaze (mustard/honey/olive oil/salt) to cover your pork loin, which is probably about 1/4 C per pound. You'll want the glaze to be thick enough to spread over the roast without running off, so please adjust as necessary. Place the loin on a pan or plate, and brush on the glaze, covering the entire surface evenly. Let marinade 30 minutes.

    Heat up your grill (BBQ), and clean it as necessary. Using high heat, sear the pork loin on all sides, in order to keep the juices in. Then turn the heat to low/medium low and cook for about 30-60 minutes, depending on size, turning every so often for even cooking. You can use a thermometer to check temperature to decide when it is done cooking, or use the jiggle test if you have experience BBQing. Jiggle test: With your tongs, poke at the loin, and if it gives only slightly, or doesn't jiggle a bunch, it is probably done. If it jiggles quite a bit, then it needs more time. When you poke the loin, it should feel like the part of your palm below the thumb.

    When done grilling, remove the loin from heat and let it rest for 10-15 minutes. This will allow the loin to keep cooking a bit, and the juices will have time to reabsorb back into the meat fibers, so they don't run out when you slice it.

    Slice the loin in 1/2" slices, and serve with homemade mustard on the side.

    Recommended side dishes: Broccoli Salad, Baked Beans, Cornbread

    May 27, 2011

    Blue Cheese Scallion Biscuits

     There must have been a time when I did not like blue cheese, but if there was I cannot remember it. The ripely pungent, extremely boldly flavored moldy cheese doesn't seem like it would appeal to young children and I admit that it is something of an acquired taste. Yet I only know that the first time I remember eating blue cheese--smeared on crostini with roasted garlic--I couldn't get enough.

    Blue cheese is good in salads, in mac n' cheese, on crackers--well, when isn't blue cheese a good idea? Now I know that it is also fantastic in these biscuits from Smitten Kitchen. The salty, savory flavor of blue cheese really shines in these craggy drop biscuits, but is not over powering. I served these biscuits with a subtly spiced roasted red pepper soup, but they would be a great accent to any dish that could use a hint of blue cheese. These are so quick and easy you can throw them in the oven right before you serve dinner. You will not regret it.

    What a second, did I just say BISCUITS? Savory, cheesy biscuits?! So fluffy, so flaky, so rich and toasty!  Honestly, who doesn't love biscuits?!  I love them a bit too much, so I must very intentionally limit my biscuit making or things would very easily get out of hand. (And by things, I mean my girth.) Luckily, I had some friends over for dinner who love biscuits maybe even more than I do. They took the remaining biscuits safely out of my reach. (My scale and I thank you, D & K.)

    One year ago: homemade tortilla chips, guacamole
    Two years ago: chocolate cream cheese cupcakes, easy d.i.y. sushi
    Other blue cheese recipes: roasted pear salad with blue cheese and walnutsstuffed burgers

    Blue Cheese Scallion Biscuits
    • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
    • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 2 teaspoons sugar
    • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 6 tablespoons (3/4 of a stick) cold, unsalted butter cut into 1/2-inch cubes
    • 1 1/2 cups crumbled blue cheese
    • 4 scallions, finely chopped
    • 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
    1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
    2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, sugar, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Use a pastry cutter or your hands to blend in the butter until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Stir in blue cheese and scallions. Add buttermilk and stir until just combined. 
    3. Drop dough in 12 equal portions about 2 inches apart onto prepared baking sheet. Bake in the middle of the oven until golden, 16 to 20 minutes.
    Makes 12 biscuits

    May 5, 2011

    Garbanzo, Herb and Spinach Salad

    Day off + reading food magazines + sunny weather (finally!) + impromptu barbecue = garbanzo, herb and spinach salad. You know, sometimes these things just come together. I'm glad these confluent factors led to this dish!

    This salad is easy, slightly exotic, and combines really powerful flavors in an absolutely perfect balance. The garlic, basil, parsley, Parmesan and lemon juice combine fantastically complementary notes, and the toothsome garbanzo beans add texture, protein and heft. This salad has flavors reminiscent of a good pesto, but at a much lower cost. (Especially if you pick up a whole basil plant at Trader Joe's for only $2.99 instead of buying the cut herb at the store.) This salad could be easily adapted to include whatever else you happen to have in your fridge.

    I found this recipe in Molly Weizenberg's (aka OrangetteBon Appetit column. I wanted to make it more of a salad salad, so I added a bed of spinach tossed with an easy olive oil and lemon juice salad dressing. The result was perfect for pairing with barbecue, or serving at a picnic, or eating whenever and wherever on a lovely spring or summer day.

    P.S. It was possibly even better the next day.

    Garbanzo, Herb and Spinach Salad
    • 2 (15 oz.) cans garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
    • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
    • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
    • 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
    • 8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 2 gloves of garlic, pressed or finely minced
    • 2/3 cup packed freshly grated Parmesan and/or Romano cheese
    • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
    • 1 pound or more baby spinach
    • Lemon and Olive Oil Dressing, to taste
    1. Combine chickpeas, basil, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic in a medium bowl. Add cheese and toss gently to blend all ingredients thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
    2. Toss spinach with dressing. Top spinach with garbanzo mixture to serve, pass remaining dressing if anyone wants more!

    April 30, 2011

    Easter Cheerio Nest Treats

    This recipe is from Lauren's family, from her early days of Easters with family and friends. Recently (before Easter) Lauren was describing these delicious little treats to me, and how her family would make them each Easter, but she hadn't had them in a long time. They look like cute little eggs in nests. Magically, her old neighbor from her hometown sent her a batch for Easter this year, and I can vouch they are very tasty. I imagine they are especially fun to make with and for children. Be sure not to use off-brand ingredients (a tip from Lauren's Mom). I wish I had a picture of them!

    What's in it
    24 caramels
    2. T. water
    1/4 cup creamy peanut butter (think Jiffy)
    1 1/2 cup Cheerios
    12 peanut M&M's - preferably Easter colors

    How it's made
    Put caramels and water in saucepan. Heat over low heat, stirring all the time until melted and smooth. Add PB and mix.
    Remove from heat. Add Cheerios. Mix until evenly coated.
    Drop by round spoonfuls on wax papered cookie sheet. Press 1 M&M into each cookie (like a nest!). Place in refrigerator until firm.
    Makes 12 cookies.

    April 22, 2011

    Banana Oat Muffins

    Overripe bananas: they're a little scary looking, and honestly quite disgusting when you open them, but they are the perfect motivation for making a baked treat. I love banana bread, and make it often, when I have three or more overripe bananas. This week I only had two, so I figured I'd have to mix it up a bit.

    I found a recipe for banana oat muffins on, the website I usually start with when looking for a good base recipe I can adapt for my pantry. I found a simple recipe with good reviews, and it looked super easy to make. I am sure you can substitute as you like with the recipe posted here as well. A good rule of thumb - if you're not down with sugar or oil, just use applesauce instead, and a little brown sugar. You can also incorporate yogurt or sour cream in lieu of milk or oil. Get creative, have fun, banana muffins are very forgiving. (Also check out our other banana recipes: Nana's Banana Bread, Banana, Pecan, Oatmeal, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins, and Best Oatmeal )

    Banana Oat Muffins
    What's in it
    1 1/2 C flour (you can do half whole wheat, half unbleached)
    1 C oats
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/2 C sugar (you can mix and match brown and white)
    1 tsp baking soda
    2 tsp baking powder
    1 egg, lightly beaten
    3/4 C milk (I used almond breeze)
    1/3 C oil (or applesauce - I grated an overripe apple into it)
    1 C mashed ripe banana
    1/2 tsp vanilla extract
    optional: chopped walnuts, chocolate chips

    How it's made
    Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line cupcake/muffin pan with paper liners or spray with oil. (Recipe makes a baker's dozen.)
    In a large mixing bowl, combine the first 7 (dry) ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix the remaining ingredients until combined. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and mix until just combined. Using the 1/4 C measuring cup, scoop batter into muffin pan, almost full. Bake 18-20 min until done.

    April 20, 2011

    Creamy Meyer Lemon Tart

    Spring, 2003: A handwritten sign in a downtown Berkeley restaurant window announced, "We buy Meyer lemons." It was the first I'd heard of them and I had no idea what they were. I figured maybe they were a cross between a lemon and a lime. (Nope!) Every time I walked home I saw the sign, but I never ate at the restaurant or looked into the Meyer lemon mystery.

    Fast forward to Spring, 2011: As an avid reader of food blogs and magazines, I am hearing about Meyer lemons left and right. People are raving. Desserts abound, but savory dishes do, too. I read recently that Alice Waters brought Meyer lemons from her backyard all they way to a speaking engagement in the Midwest some years back. Oh and by they way, as it turns out a Meyer lemon is more like a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. Intriguing.

    Though I've been hearing much about them lately, I have yet to see them in the grocery store. Maybe fancy stores carry them, but my neighborhood store does not. Fortunately, I have relatives that live in California. My dad just brought me a big bag of Meyer lemons direct from a California backyard.

    As luck would have it, I also happened upon a "creamy lemon pie" recipe. I like this recipe because it is "light" (non-fat sweetened condensed milk, reduced-fat graham crackers and the like), but it does not taste like you've cut any of those corners. It is rich and creamy, sweet and very lemony--or in this case, Meyer lemony (which is marvelously the best flavors of lemons and oranges at the same time, and not too sour either.) Anyone can make a great dessert if you put enough fat and sugar in it, but a guilt-free dessert that doesn't taste guilt-free--now that's really a find. At least in my mind it is.

    I'm calling this a tart and not a pie because it just doesn't seem thick enough to be a pie. (I'm sure that's not really how one is able to tell the difference between a pie and a tart, but I'm sticking with it.) The slices look a little on the dainty side, but I swear to you, once you taste this tart you will understand. It makes up in taste what it lacks in bulk. Each bite is so flavorful that you savor it slowly. And anyway, I'd rather have a small slice of something delicious than a big slice of something lackluster.

    Oh, and did I mention that this recipe is ridiculously easy? Pretty sure it doesn't get better than that. I made two and froze one for a week. (It was just as good the second time.)

    Creamy Meyer Lemon Tart
    • 6 whole reduced-fat cinnamon graham crackers
    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • 11 ounces fat-free sweetened condensed milk
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
    • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grind graham crackers in a food processor until you have fine crumbs. Place crumbs in a small bowl and set aside.
    2. Melt butter on stove top or in the microwave. Pour over graham cracker crumbs, mixing with a fork until completely moistened. Press crumbs evenly into the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan (or spring-form pan, or a tart pan). Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator while preparing filling.
    3. In a medium bowl, combine condensed milk and eggs. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Add lemon juice and zest. Stir until incorporated. Pour into prepared crust.
    4. Bake pie for 15 minutes. Cool completely. Serve chilled and topped with fat-free "whipped cream" topping. (I think a sprinkle of zest or candied peel would be a good finishing touch.)

    April 3, 2011

    Easy Salad Dressing

    I needed a salad to bring to a dinner party. The main course was clam chowder, so I wanted something light for the salad dressing. I love clam chowder,  but I didn't want the whole dinner to be too rich and creamy. I found a quick, easy and "bright" dressing online and made minor adjustments. Lemon juice replaces vinegar in this dressing which makes it just different enough than a vinaigrette to keep things nice and interesting. The garlic adds a great depth of flavor. (If you are not into garlic, substitute with something you like and post the variation in the comments!) The salad was a hit!

    Lemon, Garlic and Olive Oil Dressing
    • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
    • 3 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed (more or less to taste)
    • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper (or more to taste)
    • 2 tsp salt
    1. Add all ingredients to a container with a tightly sealing lid.
    2. Shake contents vigorously until the oil is well-incorporated, about 1 minute.
    3. Drizzle over salad and toss to coat.
    This recipe makes a large batch. Store remaining dressing in the refrigerator.

    March 30, 2011

    Simple Granola

    I could have sworn Alexis posted a recipe for granola, but I cannot find it. This here recipe is a very simple granola, perfect for beginners like me, just taking the first leap into the wonderful land of granola. (I snicker to myself just typing the word 'granola' as I think of how many people must think I'm a total hippy.) I personally never buy granola, as it seems to be very expensive, and not too tasty. I never developed a taste for it until now, after my first time making it.

    Being a backpacker and pseudo-hippy, it's surprising I never caught onto the granola bandwagon. Recently every single non-western medicine doctor/nutritionist/acupuncturist I've seen has told me to stop eating cereal every day, except hot oatmeal. I tried doing hot oatmeal, but I just don't have time or energy to make it every morning. As a compromise I made my first batch of granola, from a recipe cut out of a food magazine (most likely Bon Appetit).

    This homemade granola is like eating a supercharged breakfast that has magically found a way to have a healthy breakfast taste more like dessert. The toasty oats and nuts mixed with your favorite dried fruit is the perfect way to start your day, or have a snack before or after lunch. It's best on top of yogurt, but you could also eat plain or with (almond) milk. If you're feeling decadent, sprinkle some on top of your waffle or ice cream.

    It's easy to make, it's economical, it made me a believer, and you only need to eat a little to keep you going a long time. To cut costs even more, visit the bulk food section of your local natural food store (like Monterey Market in Berkeley) for your ingredients.
    Simple Granola

    What's in it
    3 C old fashioned oats
    1 C coarsely chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds...)
    1/2 C unsweetened shredded coconut (if you like that sort of thing)
    3 Tbls packed brown sugar
    3/4 tsp cinnamon
    1/2 tsp ground ginger
    1/4 tsp salt
    1/3 C honey
    2 Tbls oil
    1 C coarsely chopped dried fruit (cranberries, golden raisins, cherries...)

    How it's made
    Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
    Mix first 7 ingredients in a large bowl. Heat honey and oil together in a small saucepan on medium-low heat, until smooth and combined. Pour honey mixture over oat mixture. Toss until combined.
    Spread evenly on the baking sheet. Bake until golden, stirring every 10 minutes, about 40 minutes total. Cool completely, then mix in dried fruit.
    Store in an airtight container.
    This recipe makes approximately 5 cups. It is a good base to start, and then alter the ingredients as you feel inspired to do so.

    March 27, 2011

    Pan de Elote

    The time: summer 2000. The place: a leafy neighborhood in Mexico City. The food: pan de elote.

    It can be a little hard to think all the way back to when I was 17 years old and first ventured into a foreign country. But it is not hard to remember how my friend bought a slice of this tasty treat from an old lady seated at a folding table in the middle of a mercado sobre ruedas--something like a Mexico City version of a farmer's market. As we wound our way through the narrow aisles, between stalls cluttered high and low with everything from fresh produce to beauty products and brooms, Giovanna stopped me and handed me a slice of this pastry.

    I had never even heard of  pan de elote (which somewhat misleadingly translates as corn bread), let alone tasted it. Elote? I thought to myself, isn't corn suppose to be called maiz? But as soon as I took my first bite I had an overwhelming feeling that this was something familiar, something I'd had long ago. I really can't explain it--I guess I don't need to, but I might just have to have another slice while I try to figure it out.

    Pan de elote is a sweet (but not too sweet), dense, rich "bread." That's in quotation marks because there is very little flour in this bread, and there are lots of eggs which make it creamy and custard-y. There is no corn meal, just blended, fresh corn kernels--which give it a delectably toothsome texture. When it bakes, it turns a deep caramelized brown at the edges, and that is definitely the best part. Pan de elote is not your average corn bread. It is something special. I have not found anything like this in the United States. I did come across a recipe online once, but when I tried to make it, I ended up with something like corn pudding--nothing like the pan de elote I'd eaten all those years ago.

    This recipe comes from My Sweet Mexico, one of the latest and greatest additions to my cookbook collection. The author, the pastry chef Fany Gerson, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and a veteran of three-Michelin star restaurants. She spent years traveling around her native Mexico collecting the best dessert recipes she could find. You have no idea!

    Pan de elote is among them. And thank god for that. This easy recipe captures the sweet corn essence of that first slice all those summers ago. Though this version is slightly richer and more custard-like than I remember, I am definitely not complaining.

    Try pan de elote as a morning pastry with a cup of hot coffee or a glass of cold milk. Eat a slice as a snack or even as dessert. Warning: eating pan de elote may cause you to relive past adventures in Mexico. Even if you have never been to that lovely country, eating this you might experience a pleasant sensation of deja vu. You'll see.

    Pan de Elote
    • 5 ears of corn, shucked, or 2 cups of corn kernels (I used the really good cans of corn from Trader Joe's. Don't believe canned corn could be good? Try it!)
    • 3 tablespoons rice flour or all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 5 eggs, room temperature
    • 1 (14 oz.) can of condensed milk
    • 1/3 cup Mexican crema or sour cream
    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for the pan
    1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and four a 9-inch cake pan. Slice the kernels from the corn, or drain the canned corn.
    2. Sift together the flour and baking powder. Put the eggs, condensed milk, crema/sour cream, and vanilla in an electric blender or food processor and mix to combine. Slice the butter into small pats and add to the blender. Add the four mixture and the corn kernels and blend until well-incorporated. (The mixture will not be completely smooth!)
    3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toopick inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool slightly, then invert onto a wire rack to cool. Cut into slices and enjoy slightly warm or at room temperature.