Saturday, December 26, 2009

my #1 recommendations

While I'm at it, I might as well tell you about my #1 must-haves in your cooking library. These people are geniuses. And they do all of the work for you. You just have to follow their instructions. I've had this book for about 3 years now, and I seriously turn to it at least a few times a week for recipes, inspiration, information, or just plain good reading:) I am a completely different cook because of them.
If you don't know much about the good people at America's Test Kitchen, let me tell you a little about how they work. They slave away for hours, days, weeks, sometimes months at one recipe to get it perfect and fool-proof. They test different methods, ingredients, products, utensils, appliances, anything you can think of in the kitchen, to tell you what's best and why. It's amazing. And recently they came out with this book:
Another new Christmas addition to my library. And I seriously think I sat and just read it for a couple of hours straight yesterday. They have all sorts of classic recipes, explained and simplified. I love these people. This book is a little more complex, I think, than the cookbook counterpart, but mostly just because by nature baking is more complex than cooking. I love that this book has a little note next to recipes that are "great for beginners", and almost every other page has little "don't make this mistake" explanations as to why this certain bread recipe won't rise if you make this mistake, or why your frosting won't go on in a clean layer if you make this mistake. I love it. This is definitely another must-have in your home. Honestly, I think that if you were to only buy 2 cook/baking books for your kitchen library, I would say these are the 2 to get.

my first book review/recommendation

My very generous in-laws bought me this fascinating book for Christmas:
And this is what resulted:Isn't it gorgeous? I'd give you the recipe, but since it's more of a concept book, I'm going to have to tell you to just go out and either borrow it from your library or buy it. It's SO ridiculously easy, and gives you amazing results. So this is my first cook book review. And it is definitely a positive one. They're not kidding when they say 5 minutes a day. Of course including baking and resting time it's a lot longer, but you really only put in probably less than 5 minutes of hands-on work a day. And it's a no-knead method, so you can't even really call it work. And with this basic method, you can make a boule, baguette, ciabatta, bâtard, couronne, pain d'epi!, and basically whatever you can dream of. Those are just the ones I'm the most excited to create. We had leftover Christmas roast beef sandwiches on this bread for lunch today, and I just melted. It was too good to really have come out of MY oven!

Reading through this book can seem a little dry, though, so be warned. It's a lot of language (fascinating language, but a lot of it), and very few pictures. But this concept really needs a lot of explanation, so it's justified. And I'm the kind of person that loves to just sit and read cookbooks from cover to cover, so I have to admit I had a lot of fun studying it.

If you love good, crusty, chewy, delicious artisan bread (and who doesn't?), I highly recommend this book to you!

Friday, December 25, 2009

christmas eve-eve

My cute sister and her family started a family tradition a few years back where they watch one of our family favorites, "Scrooged" (vintage Bill Murray--can't get much better than that!) and get Chinese take-out for Christmas eve-eve dinner. If you've seen the movie, you'd understand. Back during my single days they always invited me, and even after I was married and lived only and hour away. But the last couple of years, since we live in a totally different part of the country, my husband and I have decided to continue that tradition for ourselves. But we don't know too many good Chinese take-out places around here, so we make our own. And this year we decided on some dim sum. Spring rolls and gyoza (pan-fried/steamed and deep fried). And I think I ate my weight in dim sum. It was delicious.

The food before it was cooked:
ohhhhhhh .... and after. mmmm.
All spread out on the table, ready to be eaten.
It was glorious! If you want my gyoza recipe, look here. And here's a basic spring roll recipe:

makes 9~12 spring rolls

spring roll skins (9~12, depending on how much or how little filling you put inside)

about 1/4 lb ground pork
1/2 t sake
1/2 t soy sauce
pinch of corn starch

1 scallion, minced
1/2 can bamboo shoots, cut into thin strips or chopped coarse
2 cabbage leaves, cut into thin strips
3 dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted in warm water, and sliced into thin strips
1/4~1/3 C super thin rice noodles, soaked in warm water until softened

vegetable or canola oil for deep frying, and for sauteing

1.5 T flour
1 T water

cooking sauce:
1 T sake
1 T soy sauce
1/2 t sugar
salt & pepper to taste
1 t sesame oil
  1. In a small bowl, combine the ground pork with the 1/2 t sake, 1/2 t soy sauce, and pinch of corn starch.
  2. In a wok or deep skillet, stir fry the pork in a little oil until cooked through. Add the bamboo shoots, cabbage, mushrooms, and cook until cabbage softens. Add the noodles and sauce and cook until evenly coated. Place in a bowl and set aside.
  3. Clean out the wok and fill with about 1/3 with oil. Heat oil to about 320°~330°F (160°~165°C). Meanwhile, wrap the spring rolls.
  4. Prepare the "glue" in a small bowl. To wrap the spring rolls, place the wrapper in front of you, with a corner facing you. Place a small amount of filling close to the corner closest to you, in a line-shape. (parallel to your shoulders, if that makes sense) Fold the corner closest to you over the food, roll over once, then fold in the 2 side corners and keep rolling. Using your finger, place a little of the flour glue into the corner furthest from you (the only corner showing at this point) and finish rolling and make sure the glue sticks and seals. Repeat with all of the rolls.
  5. Deep fry the spring rolls, about 3~4 at a time, in the oil until golden brown. Let drain on a wire rack over a cookie sheet lined with paper towels. Serve warm with hot rice.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

i think i'm in heaven

Ok, so these aren't the most fantastic pictures because it's late at night ... but I couldn't resist taking some and sharing the pure joy I just experienced. For a romantic after-the-kid-goes-to-sleep treat for my husband, I made a simple yellow bundt cake with caramel sauce and super lightly sweetened whipped cream. I've been meaning to use the beautiful bundt pan my sister bought for me a while back, and I seriously wondered why in the world I hadn't done it sooner. It was decadent, rich, not too sweet, divine! Just perfect. And seriously, very simple to make. Just takes a little patience (at least for the caramel sauce). Give it a try. You won't regret it.

Yellow Bundt Cake (from America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook--which you must own someday) & Glorious Caramel Sauce
makes 1 bundt and about 2 C of sauce
Pan coating:
1 T unsalted butter, melted
1 T all-purpose flour

3 C all-purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1 t salt
1 T fresh lemon juice
1 T vanilla extract
3/4 C buttermilk*
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
18 T (2 and 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 C sugar
  1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle positon and heat oven to 350°F. To coat the pan: mash the butter and flour together into a paste then brush evenly over the inside of a 12-cup bundt pan (be sure to get all of the crevices).
  2. For the cake: whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. In a seperate bowl, whisk lemon juice, vanilla, and buttermilk together. In a thrid bowl, gently whisk eggs and yolk together.
  3. Beat the sugar and butter togethe rina alrge bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 6 minutes. Beat in the eggs in 2 batches until incorporated, about 1 minute, scraping down the bowl and beaters as needed.
  4. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly mix in 1/3 of the flour mixture until just combined, followed by half of the buttermilk mixture. Repeat this process again using half of the remaining flour mixture and all of the remaining buttermilk mixture. Mix in the remaining flour mixture until thoroughly combined.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Wipe any drops of batter off the sides of the pan. Bake until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, 50 to 60 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking (do not overbake).
  6. Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then flip out onto a wire rack to cool completely, about 2 hours.
For the caramel sauce, go here. This girl is a genius. And she makes a genius caramel sauce that even makes me want to drink it. And I'm not a huge caramel person. So that's saying a lot!

For the whipped cream, really only add like 1 or 2 teaspoons of sugar. The caramel is so sweet and the cake is so dense and rich that you won't want all that sweetness in the cream, trust me. And beat to soft peaks. Please.

*if you don't have or don't want to buy buttermilk, use 3/4 C milk and scant 1T white distilled vinegar or fresh lemon juice, stir, and let it thicken. And you can use that in place of buttermilk in any baking recipe. 1 C milk to 1T vinegar/lemon juice.

Monday, December 21, 2009

finally a new post!

So the bread I've been making a few times a week now, has become a dinner table staple. I make it substituting 2~3 C whole wheat flour, and it still turns out chewy and soft and fluffy. And I feel a little better about feeding it to my family. I also make it into 4 smaller loaves instead, and it bakes for about 15 minutes. Really good. Try it.

Anyway, this morning we had a couple loaves in the freezer, and my cutie is home from work this week, so I had to make his favorite, French Toast. I served it with lingonberry jam and honey-vanilla whipped cream.

And I'm going to get on a bit of a soap box here. Let's not over-whip our cream, my friends. Over-whipped cream is greasy and lumpy. That's when you go beyond stiff peaks. And what's happenening is you're starting to make butter and whey. Not what you want when serving it over pies, tarts, crepes, or anything! So keep an eye on your cream, the difference between stiff peaks (which isn't necessary for this dish anyway, you want soft peaks) and over-whipped cream is a matter of 30 seconds sometimes. Or less. If you're making whipped cream in your kitchenaid, don't walk away. Please.

French Toast with jam and honey-vanilla whipped cream
And the festive little girl decided to dress up like Santa for breakfast:) I think it may have been her first taste of whipped cream. Definitely like her mommy.
1 loaf crusty French bread, cut into 1 inch slices
an array of tart jams

2 eggs
1 C whole milk
1 t cinnamon
1 T pure vanilla extract
2 T honey or sugar

butter or oil for the pan
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°F and place an oven safe platter in the oven.
  2. In a deep plate or a small baking dish, whisk the custard mixture until well blended.
  3. Dip the bread slices into the custard, making sure it's coated on both sides, and place on a griddle or large frying pan over medium heat. Cook on the first side until lightly browned, flip over and repeat with the other side. Once cooked through, place on the platter in the oven. Repeat with all bread slices. Once finished, you can serve the whole warm platter so the cook can eat, too!
honey-vanilla whipped cream:
3/4 C heavy cream
1 T honey
1 t pure vanilla extract
  1. Pour the cream into a medium bowl. Using a hand-held mixer, whip the cream to soft peaks. Add the vanilla and honey and continue to whip until they cream reaches soft peaks again. Serve.
Serve French toast with a tart jam and the whipped cream:)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

more bread

I've always said I'm decent at cooking, but I don't do bread. And living here can be a little sad sometimes (when it comes to bread) because there aren't too many places to buy good artisan bread. Actually I can't think of anywhere. Maybe I haven't looked hard enough ... I got pretty good at making bread machine bread;), and Irish soda bread, but that isn't a yeast bread so I feel like it doesn't count. And then my sister came to visit when my daughter was born and taught me how to make my aunt Carolyn's perfect rolls. I can't seem to get them quite like either of them do, but they're still amazing, so I'm not complaining. But that experience made me realize that (some) bread isn't as intimidating as I always thought. So I started researching breads, and for Christmas I'm getting myself a new bread book.

Anyway, in the midst of all of this, I discovered a French bread recipe I wanted to try. It was so easy and amazingly puffy and chewy and delicious! And it took me maybe a total of 2 hours, start to finish. Now, if you're a purist and you like the traditional "real" French bread with a super crispy crust and an airy interior, call it something other than French bread and make it for your family. But if you don't experience the joy of real French bread too often, and your definition of it is an oblong loaf with slits cut on top, this will be your new favorite recipe and you'll never want to buy a loaf at Walmart again!

But someday I will learn to make "real" French bread. And ciabatta. And brioche. And croissants. And foccacia. (Not the wannabe that I made, but the real thing) And all sorts of beautiful, more famously temperamental breads.

But for now, this Americanized French bread works perfectly for me. I'm going to try it with 25% whole wheat flour today. Hopefully that turns out:)

fluffy, chewy, easy French loaf
makes 2 large or 4 small loaves
2 T active dry yeast
2 T granulated sugar
1 T salt
3 C warm water
2 T butter (softened) or oil
8 C flour

egg wash:
1 egg white
2 T water
  1. Place the first 5 ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer and stir until combined. Switch to the dough hook attachment and add flour. Knead until elastic.
  2. Let dough rise for 10 minutes, punch down and let mix for a few seconds. Repeat this 5 times (50 minutes).
  3. Shape the dough into 2 rectangles (or 4, if you're making 4 smaller loaves) and roll up into a log shape. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and let rise to double in size. Brush with the egg wash and with a very sharp knife, cut 3~4 diagonal slits on the top.
  4. Bake at 400°F for about 15 minutes (less if you're making the smaller loaves, of course). The bread is done when golden brown.
Keep in mind that the bread will flatten a bit if you eat it right out of the oven. So if you want it to maintain it's shape, let it cool a little bit. If you don't care (and why should you? Fresh bread is so worth it!), eat it right out of the oven with butter. Or even better, honey butter!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

easy focaccia

We eat a lot of bread here. And that's why I am so glad I bought my bread machine a couple of years ago for Christmas. Last night I made some creamy chicken noodle soup, and I wanted a good, flavorful bread to go with it, so all I did was make my simple pizza dough recipe, added a head of roasted garlic into the dough, and when it was done, I kneaded in another head of whole cloves of garlic and a little herbes de provence (less then a 1/4 t--don't ever overdo it with dried herbs!). Then, I stretched it out carefully onto a parchment lined baking sheet, dimpled it all over, and doused it in extra virgin olive oil, baked it in a 375° F oven for about 15 minutes, and we devoured it! It was such a dense, moist bread. And so easy if you have a bread machine to do half of the work for you. You gotta try it out! I LOVE BREAD!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

black and white

Tonight we're having a little celebration for the Young Women at church. My friend Lori, a total artist (for real, that's what she studied in college), was in charge, and the presentation is going to be all black and white. b&w photos and such. I was asked to bring a treat of some sort, and since I knew the decorations were going to be black and white, I thought I'd work with that theme. Being pregnant makes me crave random things, but 2 things that never fail me are chocolate and lemon. Not together. No, no. Light, lemon-ey, creamy treats (like cute Sarah Winn's amazing lemon tart!) and rich, dense chocolate. And how perfect that dark chocolate is almost black, and creamy lemon is almost white? And since it's a standing and walking around kind of event, I decided to make mini tarts. I'm a little embarrassed to reveal to all of you how easy it all was, but I might as well share the joy. Try making something like this at your next party. It'll be a hit! (At least I hope so)
Mini Chocolate Truffle Tarts
makes about 2.5 dozen

1 C all-purpose flour
1/4 C dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 T sugar
1/4 t salt
2 oz cream (or nuefchatel) cheese, softened
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 C heavy cream
12 oz bittersweet chocolate (not semi-sweet)
1 T pure vanilla extract
1/4 t kosher salt
6 T unsalted butter, softened

toasted sliced almonds, for serving (optional)
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, and salt for the crust. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the cream cheese and butter, until combined. Add the dry ingredients, and pulse (scraping down the sides occasionally) until the dough resembles coarse crumbs. Replace into a bowl and press together until it forms a ball.
  2. In a lightly greased mini muffin pan, place about 1/2 T of dough into each cavity and press into the sides until it reaches the top and looks even. Repeat for all spaces, until you run out of dough. Place in the freezer for 15 minutes until chilled.
  3. Bake in a 375° F oven for 7 minutes, or until slighty crisp and fragrant. Let cool for at least an hour.
  4. Once the crusts have cooled, make the filling. Place the chocolate in a bowl. Bring the cream to a simmer in the microwave, and pour over the chocolate. Let stand for 1 minute then slowly whisk together. Add the butter and vanilla, and continue stirring until combined.
  5. Carefully pour about 1 T into each crust. Sprinkle with a few sliced almonds, if using, and place in the refrigerator to set for at least 3 hours. And serve!

Mini Lemon Cream Tarts
makes about 2.5 dozen

1-1/4 C all-purpose flour
2 T sugar
1/4 t salt
2 oz cream (or nuefchatel) cheese, softened
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 (8 oz) package cream (or nuefchatel) cheese, softenend
juice of 2 lemons
zest of 1 lemon
2/3 ~ 1 C sugar (to taste)

super thin slices of lemon, cut into 6 wedges, for serving (optional)
  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, and salt for the crust. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the cream cheese and butter, until combined. Add the dry ingredients, and pulse (scraping down the sides occasionally) until the dough resembles coarse crumbs. Replace into a bowl and press together until it forms a ball.
  2. In a lightly greased mini muffin pan, place about 1/2 T of dough into each cavity and press into the sides until it reaches the top and looks even. Repeat for all spaces, until you run out of dough. Place in the freezer for 15 minutes until chilled.
  3. Bake in a 375° F oven for 7 minutes, or until slighty crisp and fragrant. Let cool for at least an hour.
  4. Once crusts have cooled, make the filling. In a medium bowl, using a handheld mixer, combine the cheese, lemon juice, zest, and sugar until thorooughly combined. Place in a piping bag or a zip-top bag with a corner cut off and pipe into the crusts till slightly overflowing. Place a tiny lemon slice wedge, if desired. Place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, or until set. Serve and enjoy!

Monday, November 9, 2009


I know I talk about this bread a lot, but I make it all the time! It's so chewy and crispy and dense and delicious! I make it often without the herbs, and that turns out fantastic. Well, this time I did something different, and LOVED it! I grated a good 1/2 C of Pana Granado cheese (Parmiggiano Reggiano, Asiago, Pecorino Romano, or any hard Italian cheese will work great!), put about 1/4 C of it in the dough, and dumped the rest of it on top of the bread, after cutting the "x". It was so cheesy and rich and tasty. Next time you make bread, try it out:)

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Once the fall/winter hits, I like to make a lot of soup. And I've learned that the best soup is soup made from homemade stock/broth. So I end up making homemade chicken stock probably every other weekend or sometimes more often. It's a really enjoyable process for me. So super simple, super cheap, and I get about 12~16 C of stock out of one chicken, and a whole poached chicken to use in anything and everything. Problem is last time I made it I ended up with a ton of chicken meat that I ended up throwing away because I forgot to use it. So this week I was determined to make good use of my chicken. Tonight, we had one of our favorites, black bean pie, but I changed things up a bit. I made the portions smaller and made 2 small ones instead of 1 big one (my theory is if there's a whole one left over, I won't want to cut into it, but if there's half of a big one left over, I'll be more tempted to get seconds) so we could have a good lunch when we get home from church tomorrow. And of course, this time I added chicken. And honestly, I only used 1 shredded chicken breast for the whole meal and I felt like there was plenty. Might have something to do with all of the black beans in the dish, but I didn't feel like it was missing any meaty-ness. So give this a try at home. Our whole family loved it! And, like I said, I have a whole one waiting for me to eat it when I get home from church tomorrow:)

*of course, if you don't have small baking dishes like these, make one large one in a 9-inch spring form pan. You'll need flour tortillas, though, since you'll never find corn tortillas big enough.

Black Bean and Chicken Pie
makes 2 2-person servings (2 for dinner tonight, and 2 for your lunch tomorrow)

2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can corn, drained, or 1 10 oz package frozen corn
8 corn tortillas, trimmed to the size of the baking dish
2 C cheddar cheese
4 scallions, sliced thin
1 onions, coarsely chopped
bunch of cilantro, chopped
1 poached chicken breast, shredded (you could use a rotisserie chicken, of course)
2 t cumin
1 t chili powder
canola oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 C ~ 1/2 C chicken stock
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. In a deep skillet, cook onions, cumin, chili powder, and salt and pepper to taste in 1 T oil. Cook, stirring often, until soft. Add black beans and stock and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add chicken and corn and heat through. Set aside.
  3. Place one tortilla on the bottom of each baking dish, and place about 1/4 C ~ 1/3 C of the black bean mixture on top and smooth out. Sprinkle with 1/2 T scallions, as much or as little cilantro as you like, and about 3 T of cheese. Place another tortilla on top, and repeat until all 4 tortillas are layered in each dish. I topped mine with the tortilla trimmings, just for fun.
  4. Bake in the oven for 10~15 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and browned. Sprinkle with extra scallions and cilantro before serving.
Serve with salsa, sour cream (or greek yogurt), and/or avocados

pasta isn't just for the italians

My friend told me about a Japanese cooking website, cookpad. And I love it! Japanese people are foodies, and they just know good food. I was stumped about what to make for dinner, and I didn't want to run to the store for anything, so I jumped on cookpad, and looked in the pasta section. The thing I love about it is that they have amazing traditional very Italian recipes on there as well as Japanese style pasta. And I don't mean Japanese noodles, I mean spaghetti and penne and such with Japanese flavors. Well, I found this recipe with shiitake mushrooms, tuna, thinly sliced onions, all sauteed in butter and seasoned with soy sauce. And instead of som fresh herb on top, it's served with very thinly sliced nori (delicious, crisp seaweed). If you out there are ready to try something new and different, this is my suggestion. AMAZING!

Japanese Tuna and Mushroom Pasta
serves 6

1 lb linguine (or any long pasta)
1/2 red (or yellow) onion, thinly sliced
1 can solid white albacore tuna, drained
1/2 lb fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
3 T butter, cut into 1 T pieces
soy sauce to taste
1 sheet nori, cut into very thin strips
  1. In a large pot, bring water and salt to a boil and cook pasta to al dente. Drain, reserving pasta water, and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile in a large skillet, melt 1 T of the butter over medium-high heat. Add half of the mushroom and a little bit of salt and saute until browned. Remove cooked mushrooms, add another tablespoon of butter to the skillet, and cook the rest of the mushrooms until browned.
  3. Add the tuna and break up with a wooden spoon, tossing gently with the mushrooms. Toss all together with the pasta, remaining tablespoon of butter, and soy sauce. Add reserved pasta water to loosen sauce if necessary.
  4. Serve with nori on top

doesn't get much better than this

Eggplant Parmesan. You might think "eggplant? I don't do eggplant." You've never had eggplant parmesan. And if you have and you still say that, you've never had GOOD eggplant parmesan. This stuff is beautiful and delicious and smooth and tart and crunchy and everything good. It's a little bit of a process because globe eggplants tend to be a little bitter if they aren't salted beforehand, but it's worth the work. If you don't want to deal with the salting, sweating, cleaning and then breading, go ahead and use Japanese eggplant. They'll be smaller pieces, but VERY tasty. Serve with some pasta and extra sauce.

Eggplant Parmesan (From America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook)
makes 1 9x13 pan
2 globe eggplants (2 lbs), sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds
1 C all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
4 C panko bread crumbs (or plaind dried breadcrumbs, but I like the texture of panko better)
3 oz Parmesan cheese, grated (1-1/2 C)
6 T vegetable oil
4 C tomato sauce (homemade, please!), pureed smooth
8 oz mozarella, shredded (2 C)
10 fresh basil leaves, torn (optional)
  1. Toos the eggplant with 1 teaspoon salt (easiest if done in 2 batches) and let it drain in a colander for about 40 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, adjust 2 oven racks to the upper- and lower- middle positions, place a rimmed baking sheet on each rack, and heat the oven to 425°F. Combine the flour and 1 t pepper in a large zipper lock bag and shake to combine. Beat the eggs into a shallow dish. Combine the breadcrumbs, 1 C of the Parmesan, 1/4 t salt, and 1/2 t pepper in a second shallow dish.
  3. Spread the drained eggplant over paper towels. Wipe away as much salt as possible and press firmly on each slice to remove as much liquid as possible. Working with about 8 eggplant slices at a time, place them in the bag with the flour, seal, and shake until thoroughly coated. Remove the eggplant, shaking off an excess flour, and dip into the eggs. Remove to eggplant from the eggs, allowing any excess to drip off, and coat evenly with the breadcrumbs, pressing them to adhere. Lay the breaded eggplant on a wire rack. Flour, dip in egg, and coat the remaining eggplant with breadcrumbs in the same manner.
  4. Remove the preheated baking sheets from the oven. Pour 3 T oil onto each sheet, tilting to coat the sheets evenly. Spread the breaded eggplant in a single layer over the hot sheets. Bake until the eggplant is well browned and crisp on the first side, about 20 minutes. Flip the eggplant slices over. Switch and rotate the baking sheets, and continue to bake until the second side is browned, about 10 minutes longer. (Do not turn off the oven.)
  5. Spread 1 C of tomato sauce over the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Shingle half of the eggplant slices over the tomato sauce. Distribute 1 more cup of the sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle with half of the mozarella. Shingle the remaining eggplant exposed so that it will remian crisp. Sprinkle with 1/4 C of the Parmesan cheese and the remaining 1 C mozarella.
  6. Place the dish on the lower-middle rack of the oven. Bake until the cheese is bubbling and well browned, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle the basil over the top and cool for about 10 minutes before serving. Pass the remaining 1 C tomato sauce and 1/4 C Parmesan separately.

the secret ingredient in my secret ingredient soup

... name that movie.

Ok, so this isn't about soup, and there actually is a secret ingredient. But this comes with a story.

When I was about 17 I had a youth leader who claimed she made this amazing cake. And then she told me she had a secret ingredient. Mayonnaise. Not sour cream, not pudding mix. Mayonnaise! And I wrote her off right there. (Sorry, Jill!) But I have since changed my ways, but not easily. All these years, I kept telling myself I would never try to make that dang cake, but I had a baby-sitter coming over for a service thing (so for free) and I wanted to do something nice for her, so I thought I'd make some dark chocolate cupcakes and orange colored cream cheese frosting so she and my baby could have something fun to do. But the time was coming near, I didn't have a cake mix, and I didn't want to spend a lot of time making cake. I turned to my trusted favorite cookbook of all time and the first cake in the cake section was an emergency chocolate cake recipe. Perfect! So I look through the ingredients and ... it calls for mayo! But America's Test Kitchen is so trustworthy and amazing, so I thought I'd better try it. And holy cow, these were good cupcakes. I'm sure their less-emergency cakes are better, but I'm sold! Jill, you were right. Mayo can go in cakes. And it's good. Even my super anti-mayo husband ate a few of them with great joy.

Emergency Chocolate Cupcakes
makes 12 cupcakes
2 C all-purpose flour
1-1/4 C sugar
3/4 t baking soda
3/4 C Dutch-processed coca powder
1-1/4 C water
1 C mayonnaise
1 T vanilla extract
  1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350°F. Line a muffin pan with paper cupcake liners.
  2. Whisk flour, sugar, and baking soda together in a large bowl. In a seperate bowl, whisk the cocoa and water together until smooth. Whisk in the mayonnaise and vanilla. Stir the mayonnaise mixture into the flour mixture until combined.
  3. Pour the batter evenly into the 12 muffins cups. Bake until a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cakes comes out with a few crumbs attached, about 20~25 minutes.
  4. Let the cakes cool in the pan on a wire rack, about 1 hour. Spread tops with cream cheese frosting and sprinkles!

Friday, October 16, 2009

for one of those days

Blake was having one of those days. And that's just not a fun way to start your morning. Baby and I felt so bad that we decided to make him some kind of treat to come home to. But since I didn't have the car to run to the store with, I had to come up with something with the limited ingredients we had. I looked on for some ideas and found this. Perfect! Except I didn't have dark brown sugar so I made some, I didn't have chunky peanut butter so I used creamy (and I really like the smooth texture so I think I'll stick to it), and I only had Ghiradelli baking chocolate instead of chips, so I pulsed them in the food processor. And I think I'm in love with chocolate chunks now. Try it out. I've already eaten a few. I think they might bring tears to Blake's eyes;)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

so misunderstood

Tuna. Such a misunderstood and underestimated food. It can so be dressed up from the usual sandwich or casserole (which I love, don't get me wrong). But somehow tuna has been labeled as a poor man's food, which I don't think is right! The other day I was mentioning to Blake that I might make tuna pasta for dinner when a friend was nearby and she made a look. You know the look. The "did she really just say ... tuna and pasta together? Such a contradiction of quality" kind of look. So I find it is my responsibility to introduce to you another side of tuna.

It's a low fat, high protein wonder, and if handled properly, not fishy or tinny at all. It is time, people! Let us go on a quest for a higher standard for tuna cuisine! So to all of you friend out there who have a passion for food, please share with me your favorite ways to use tuna. In a not so blah way.

Here's one of mine:

Simple Tuna Pasta
serves 4~6

*the key here is to use plenty of lemon juice and zest and parsley. Then you'll completely forget your aversion to what you think tuna tastes like. No fishy, stinky, tinny-ness whatsoever.
1/2 onion, diced small
2~3 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil
1 can solid white albacore tuna, drained
1 can petite diced tomatoes
juice of 1/2 lemon (hang on the other half, just in case you want to use it)
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 C super finely minced fresh parsley
1 lb penne
salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Generously salt the water, and boil the pasta to al dente. Reserve some pasta water and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, In a large skillet, heat 1 T olive oil to medium-high. When shimmering, add onions and a little salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until onions are slightly golden. Add garlic and continue to cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tuna and tomatoes, and simmer until tomatoes thicken slightly, about 5 minutes.
  3. Once pasta and sauce are both to this stage, toss them together with the parsley, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Add pasta water to loosen the sauce if necessary, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add remaining lemon juice if you'd like it brighter.
  4. Serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese if desired.
I can't wait to read all of your favorite tuna recipes!

something went horribly wrong ...

I love my bread machine. I throw in the ingredients, and I wake up (several times a night since I'm pregnant) to the smell of beautiful, fresh baked bread. And Ella and I have delicious hot bread with our breakfast. I do love making one of my favorite breads and of course my genius Aunt Carolyn's rolls, but sometimes you just can't beat the convenience of a bread machine. And I have a good one. My sister did her research and I just copied her. Well, the other day I awoke to this:
So I guess this is where it's definitely better to make it by hand. You know when to stop kneading. And the bread machine just didn't seem to get it. So it was sad morning for cold cereal for me and the baby.

Monday, September 28, 2009

golden day

My cute husband celebrated his golden birthday today, so I knew I had to make it a special day for him. I decorated in gold and made him gold food all day. They were all old favorites, so I kept forgetting to take pictures, but thankfully I have all of the recipes on this blog. We started the day out with this favorite golden cinnamon rolls. After church we had golden frittata with potatoes, onions, and kielbasa. For dinner we had, per his request, golden からあげ, or Japanese fried chicken (pictured below)
and for dessert, the ever so irresistable creme brulee. Nothing quite like creme brulee. I realize he didn't get a cake, but I'm pretty sure he was ok with that.

Monday, September 21, 2009

fancy nancy

I wanted to make a fancy dinner tonight. I don't know why exactly, but I was really in the mood for something fancy. It might be in part because over the weekend I ran into a dear friend from Japan and her sweet husband and family and found out we live 20 minutes away from each other! And she's a total foodie. I'm so excited to get together with her more often and make delicious food. Mmm can't wait. That, and I feel like pasta is so often misunderstood. Pasta is such a beautiful and diverse food, but a lot of people only buy spaghetti (and don't get me wrong, I LOVE spaghetti) and pair it with a jar of tomato sauce of some kind. Not the way to enjoy pasta. Sure, in a pinch whatever works. But homemade sauce is so quick and simple and ... FANCY!

So tonight I was inspired and made a mushroom and white wine sauce with rigatoni and it was amazing. And since it was such a beautiful fall evening, I roasted some butternut and acorn squash as a side.

Creamy White Wine and Mushrooms with Rigatoni
serves 4~6
1 lb rigatoni
1 lb mushrooms (I used cremini, or baby bellas, but shiitake and plain white buttons would be great, too. If you're using white buttons, though, I reccomend using a couple varieties, just for a more complex flavor)
3 T butter
1/2 C heavy cream
4 shallots, thinly sliced
1/2 C white wine (NOT cooking wine. They always say to use a wine good enough to drink. I don't drink so I wouldn't really know what that is, but I always buy a Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris or a nice-sounding white wine;))
1/4 C very finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 C freshly grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a large skillet, bring 1 tablespoon of butter to medium-high heat and melt. Add the shallots with a little salt and pepper to taste, and cook, stirring often, until very soft and slightly browned. Remove to a plate.
  2. Add another tablespoon of butter to the pan and add half of the mushrooms with a little bit of salt and pepper. Cook until browned. Once they're browned and released all of their juices, transfer to the same plate as the shallots and cook the other half of the mushrooms with another tablespoon of butter and salt and pepper.
  3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta to al dente. Drain, and set aside, reserving some of the cooking liquid.
  4. Replace all of the shallots and mushrooms back to the pan and heat through. Add the white wine and cook until completely evaporated. Add the cream and let simmer until slightly thickened and reduce the heat to low. Add 3 tablespoon of the parsley and about a 1/4 C of the cheese and stir in.
  5. Gently toss the pasta in with the mushroom mixture, adding some of the reserved pasta water to thin the sauce if needed.
  6. Serve warm with extra parsley and cheese.
Roasted Butternut and Acorn Squash
serves 8+
1 butternut squash, cut in half pole-to-pole
1 acorn squash, cut in half pole-to-pole
2 T butter, softenend
1~2 T brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 450° F.
  2. Place the halves of the squash, cut side up, on a a parchment lined rimmed baking sheet. Spread a teaspoon of butter, sprinkle with about a teaspoon of brown sugar, and season generously with salt and pepper on each half.
  3. Bake in the oven for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, until caramelized and cooked through. Either serve sections or scoop out with a spoon and gently smash together with a little milk or cream.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

vegetable lasagne

This was so good. Look at the picture. I don't think I need to say much else.

Except ... If you're one of those people that thinks a meal isn't a meal without meat, you are so missing out.

Vegetable Lasagne
makes 1 9x13 pan
1 package no-boil lasagne noodles (I like Barilla)
1 9 oz bag of baby spinach leaves
1 lb mushrooms, sliced (I used white button, but cremini or shiitake would be delicious, too. Use a variety!)
4 T butter
4 T flour
4 C milk (I used 2 C 1% and 2 C whole)
1/2 onion, minced
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
2 C grated mozzarella cheese
1~2 C freshly grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat. Add half of the mushrooms and season gently with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing once in a while, until juices are released and evaporated and the mushrooms are browned. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the second half. (You never want to crowd mushrooms or they won't brown properly)
  3. In a large saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat and add the onion with a little salt and pepper. Cook the onion until softened but not browned. Add the flour and stir until there are no more dry spots left and flour is cooked and slightly golden.
  4. Add 1/2 C of the milk, and whisk vigorously until no lumps remain. Continue to repeat with the addition of milk in small portions until all the milk is used up and the sauce can coat the back of a spoon.
  5. Add the spinach to the sauce and stir gently until spinach is wilted. Take the pan off the heat.
  6. In a 9x13-inch lasagna pan, pour a little bit of the sauce and layer 3 lasagna noodles on top. Top with 1/3 of the mushrooms, 1/2 C of sauce, 1/2 C of mozarella, and a couple tablespoons of parmesan. Add noodles and repeat. On the top layer, use 1/2 C of sauce, 1/2 C of mozarella, and the remaining parmesan.
  7. Cover with foil and bake 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake under the broiler for 5~10 minutes until the cheese is golden and bubbly. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.
And here's a cute picture of my sweetie enjoying her serving

homemade granola bars

I made granola bars last week, but they just couldn't hold themselves together! It was a mess in my hand. They were so tasty, though, and super filling, so I thought I needed to try again, with some minor adjustments. So now it's not quite as healthy as the original, but still really not that bad. And you really only need a little square to be satisfied, and it's all homemade, so I don't feel too bad about feeding this to my family:) If you can make rice krispie treats, you can make these.

Home made granola bars
makes about 2.5 dozen, depending on how you cut them
4 C rolled oats (not quick cooking oats)
1 C shredded coconut
1.5 C chopped nuts of any kind (I did slivered almonds because they were on sale)
1 C ground flaxseeds or wheatgerm (I did a combination of both)
1/2 C sesame seeds
2 C chopped (or small) dried fruit (I used golden raisins and craisins, but last time I did dried apricots and those were really good, too)

2 T butter
1 (10 oz) package mini marshmallows

prepared materials:
1 9x13 inch baking pan, greased and lined with parchment or wax paper, and greased again
  1. Preheat over to 350°F. In a large baking sheet, toss the oats, coconut, nuts, flaxseeds or wheatgerm, and sesame seeds together. Place in the oven and toast until fragrant and very slightly browned, about 10~12 minutes, tossing a few times during baking.
  2. In a large pot, melt the butter. Add the marshmallows, and stir until completely melted. Working quickly, add all of the other ingredients (including the dried fruit) and stir gently until thoroughly encorporated.
  3. Immediately pour the ingredients into the prepared baking pan, and using a lightly greased spatula, press down firmly until you have an even, flat surface. Let cool completely.
  4. Once cooled, flip the whole pan over onto a large cutting board, and cut to desired size. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

good ol' sunday dinner repeat

For dinner on Sunday, I made a roasted chicken with root vegetables and my favorite bread. Even my little sweetie couldn't wait for dinner.
The only difference was that this time I only brushed about 2 tablespoons of melted butter on top of the chicken and seasoned it with salt and pepper. it was amazing! (And please ignore the fact that for some reason ... probably my pregnant brain ... I roasted the chicken upside down)

Saturday, September 12, 2009


I feel like a flake. It must be because I'm pregnant because when I'm about to sit down to eat after spending quite a bit of time at the cutting board or stove, the last thing I'm thinking about is, "oh wait a second, I have to take a picture!" Pretty much the only thing I'm thinking is, "FINALLY". So my poor camera has been a little neglected, which is why I haven't posted in a while. And the saddest part is I've actually been making good food! So I know food posts without pictures are way lame, but I still think my readers deserve to know the joys of simple delicious food, so I will share anyway. Both of them are just additions to my old favorites anyway.

First of all, my salsa. I have it listed as avocado salsa, but I often make it without the avocados, and it's still the best salsa ever. Tonight, I was in the mood for chips and salsa, but since it was dinner time, I thought I'd heft it up a bit. My sister said she made my salsa once with corn and black beans, so I tried that, and it was amazing! You know those meals that you almost regret eating so much but then you remember that it's actually mostly good for you? Well, this was one of those meals. Add 1 can of black beans (drained and rinsed), and 1 can of corn (drained). We were planning on using fresh corn from our neighbor's garden, but we were a couple weeks too late. But if you have access to fresh corn, cut it off the cob and sauté it until a little caramelized, and you won't believe the joy you'll experience.

And going back almost a whole week, I made panzanella for our church Labor Day picnic. It was a total hit! I know this is pathetic, but whenever we have potluck type meals, I am constantly checking to see how much of my contribution is gone. And if I leave before it's all gone, I get a little sad. So this time was a success. And the variations I made were a bit bigger this round. I tossed the stale bread cubes with a couple tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and a couple of table spoons of melted butter and salt and most important, a clove of grated garlic. Then put them in a single layer on a baking sheet and put them under the broiler for about 2~3 minutes, until crispy and golden. The darkness depends on your broiler, so keep a good eye on them! And then I added 3 colored bell peppers (yellow, orange, and purple) to the salad along with capers and 1 seeded hot house cucumber, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2 inch pieces. I think calamata olives would be great, too. Mmm! Anyway, this is a fantastic recipe, you should try it out.

Next time I promise I'll bring my camera to the dinner table! Until then, happy cooking, friends!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

my lazy panzanella

I feel like these tomatoes (and Blake cleaning the kitchen for me) have reawakened my love for food. I've been in the kitchen all day today. I made homemade granola bars and soup and for breakfast we had pancakes and eggs and hashbrowns. Love love love! But my favorite was what I had for dinner. We were over at our daughter's friend's 1st birthday party until just about dinner time, so we rushed home, full of cake and ice cream, and I had to think of something quick. So I made a lazy panzanella. And I am so in love! Ahhhh, I wish I could eat tomatoes like this year round.

Ok, I know I sound like a broken record here, but if you think you don't like raw onions, you don't know what you're missing. You need to soak them. Slice them super thin, and soak them in water for a good 30 minutes, changing the water once or twice. This salad is not as good without that juicy crunch of the onions, but they'll be overpowering and not as enjoyable if you don't soak them. So please, my friends, SOAK!

And basically, I just used my tomato and onion recipe that I posted yesterday, and added about a cup of cubed day-old bread. Toasted cubed bread would be better, of course, but I wanted something super duper quick. And it was divine. You might think I'm crazy for adding stale bread to my salad, but you have to try it. It's a beautiful thing those genius Italians came up with. Genius.

quick lunch

This is one of my new favorite soups. I got the idea watching Everyday Food last weekend, and loved the recipe when I followed it exactly, but I decided it needed a little more heft, so I added a few of my favorite things and used cannellini beans instead of chickpeas. I liked the texture a little better for soup. And last night, I poached a chicken and made homemade chicken broth, so it was perfect timing to have this for lunch today. Making your own broth is so easy, and it will last pretty much indefinitely in your freezer, so it's really worth it. But of course, if you don't have homemade broth or stock, use the packaged stuff. My favorite brand is Pacific. And use the low-sodium stuff. If you love soup, you're going to love this one. It's super simple and fast, and tastes like you've been cooking all day.

Hearty Cannelini Bean and Pasta Soup
Serves 4~6
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (or you could use chickpeas if you like)
1 C elbow macaroni or other small shaped pasta
1 C cooked shredded or chopped chicken, white or dark meat
3 small or 1 large yukon gold potato, peeled and diced small
4 C chicken broth or stock
2 C water
salt and pepper to taste

To serve:
finely grated parmesan cheese (I used Pecorino Romano in the picture)
chopped fresh parsley
  1. In a large pot, bring the chicken broth and water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook for 2~3 minutes, until slightly cooked through. Add the pasta and cook for another 5 minutes, until slightly firm.
  2. Add the chicken and beans and let simmer for another minute until heated through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Serve with cheese and parsley.
This recipe freezes really well, but because the pasta will just keep absorbing the liquid it doesn't refrigerate really well. So if you have leftovers, place individual portions in freezer-safe containers and place in the freezer.

Friday, September 4, 2009

i. love. tomatoes.

I planted tomatoes this Summer in the hopes of eating a TON of tomatoes from June to September. Ahhhh, the dreams of fresh tomato pasta, caprese salad, tomato sandwiches, fresh salsa, and onion and tomato salad. Alas, my little seeds grew to be super tall, but never grew a single fruit! Can you believe that? It's really sad. Well, I've been hesitant to buy any tomatoes because I kept hoping my plant would bear fruit, but it still hasn't, so I finally decided I need some this week. We were at Meijer, my favorite grocery store around here, and I was so excited to find they had a clearance tomato section! And it was crazy. A pint of grape tomatoes for $.75, and they weren't wrinkly! And then they had these "kumato" tomatoes (never heard of them before), which are a deep, rich red--almost a purple-y brown. Gorgeous. And they were $1! So I bought some and as soon as I got home, I made the salad I've been dreaming of all these months. And on Monday, I'm taking panzanella to our church Labor Day celebration. Can not wait!

Onion and Tomato Salad
serves ... 1?
3~4 small tomatoes or 1~2 large tomatoes, cut into wedges
1/4 red onion, super thinly sliced and soaked in water for 30 minutes or rinsed well for about 5
1 T flat leaf parsley, chopped fine*
2 T red wine vinegar
2 t extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

*feel free to use other fresh herbs, like of course, BASIL! I just picked my basil plant clean the other day, so I used parsley, and it was beautiful.
  1. Toss all ingredients in a bowl and enjoy!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

quick and fancy comfort food

Last night we had this mushroom ravioli for dinner. I've never made it before, I got the idea from Martha Stewart but had to change a few things. I couldn't find tortellini at Target, so I bought ravioli, and I made the sauce with white wine and milk instead of water. Much improved, I think. And white buttons are so much cheaper than shiitake mushrooms, so I used them instead. Though if you have fresh shiitake at your market, and they don't cost 5 times as much, you really should try them. They are amazing. So you really should try this. It took me probably a total of 25 minutes to make, maybe less. And it was such a nice meal! And Ella LOVED the ravioli, and surprisingly even the mushrooms. I love meals like that.

Ravioli with White Wine Mushroom Sauce
serves 4
1 (26 oz) bag of frozen cheese ravioli
1 lb white button mushrooms
4 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1/4 C white wine
1/4 C whole milk
2~3 T flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 T cold butter
2 t olive oil
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions, or until pasta floats to the top of the water, should take less than 5 minutes. Drain.
  2. In a deep skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Cook mushrooms and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook until mushrooms release all their juices and start to brown. Add white wine and cook until completely evaporated. Add milk and butter and cook until slightly thickened.
  3. Put the cooked pasta back into the pot it was cooked in and add the mushroom mixture. Toss all together with the parsley and cheese until evenly distributed. Serve warm.