Sunday, October 25, 2009

Grilled Portabello Mushroom Sandwich with Basil Mustard Sauce

This is a recipe from the spa cuisine collection of Guide to Day Spas and Stay Spas and was created in connection with the mustard festival held every year in Napa Valley.

The recipe is easy, fast, and rich -- it has an intense taste which is necessary when you are counting calories. As the recipe states, only a tiny bit of the sauce is needed or it's too rich. I used about a tablespoon on my sandwich and although it was delicious, it was too much and I scraped some off. The thin schmear was much better.

I like the idea of using small mushrooms and buns as "mushroom sliders" but for my version, I had a large portabello and a ciabatta roll, so I used those.

This is also an easy but thoughtful sandwich to make for vegetarians which will come in handy this holiday season when everyone else is eating leftover turkey sandwiches. Grill some mushrooms and set them aside for your vegetarian guests so you can make this for them day after Thanksgiving.

Get the entire recipe and tips by clicking the link above. This is my synopsis:

1 mushroom cap, brushed with garlic olive
1 bun, brushed with garlic olive
1 tablespoon of mayo
Splash of lemon juice
Dab of Dijon mustard
handful of chopped basil
salt, pepper, and cayenne

Grill bun and mushroom 4 min each side until cooked. Mix remaining ingredients, top bun with basil mustard sauce, and serve.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I went to Napa and what did I buy? Well, it wasn't wine ...

My boyfriend and I made an impromptu visit to Napa, Yountville, and St. Helena this weekend, and, I can't believe the highlight of my trip to Napa Valley wasn't the wine. It was two things, entirely different, and one of them involved a bathroom. Sorry, but I speak true.

I enjoy wine, but I'm not half the oenophile my boyfriend is (as further evidenced by the fact I had to check and make sure I was spelling oenophile correctly). For instance, it never occurs to me to open a bottle of wine at home. I live alone, and no matter how nice a meal I make for myself, the thought to open wine for myself with a meal doesn't even occur to me. Nor when I take a bubble bath or try to relax, as a matter of fact.

For that reason, at lunch he had wine, of course, but I ordered a Moscow Mule with my lunch and I make no apologies for it.

The weather was spectacular, the food was wonderful, the tourists were non-existent (except for us, of course) and we wandered about dining on wonderful meals, buying picnic treats from Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery and Dean & Deluca, and then I saw it ... in the refrigerator case at Dean & Deluca ...

A tub of rendered Duck Fat.

"I've heard of that!" I exclaimed. "I heard roasted potatoes and fries in Duck Fat are out of this world."

My boyfriend and Michelle Obama share a trait: They've both said if they could get away with it, they would eat french fries every single day, maybe even at every meal. He loves them so. For me to exclaim that Duck Fat makes wonderful fried potatoes and is actually healthier than butter, made him give me the high sign and encourage me to buy it. He thought I was thinking only of him, but to heck with that. I want to try cooking with duck fat for me! Hoo yah! Duck Fat Fries and Moscow Mule? Mm mm.

I bought the tub of fat, brought it home, and began my Google Search. I found a thread on Chowhound which talks more about how to store it and make Duck Confit than anything else, and I found a post by Mark Bittman recommending I try it in my Buttermilk Biscuits (::Perk!::). Since I'm on a quest for Perfect Biscuits that tip will have to go into the rotation.

So, what say you all ... what do you do with your rendered duck fat that is out of this world? Roasted potatoes? Fries? Savory Collard Greens? I'm all ears and open to suggestions.

What we bought in Napa, while everyone else was buying wine (this is embarrassing):

From Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery

1) TKO's (Thomas Keller Oreos) (fantastic, swoon worthy, here's the recipe)
2) Pistachio Macaroons (too sweet)
3) Warm Brie Tomato Basil Sandwiches on Baquettes (excellent)

From Dean and Deluca Napa Valley

1) Rendered duck fat
2) Goat Cheese and Macaroni Mini Casserole
3) Roasted Chicken
4) Coconut Cupcakes (so damn good)
5) Alfajores
6) Old fashioned lemon mints; old fashioned spearmint gum
7) Beeswax hand creme
8) Apricot Morning Buns
9) Glazed Old Fashioned Donut
10) A small wire sieve I need when I'm roasting and sorting schezwan peppercorns.

From a collection of art galleries and shops:

1) A 3 strand necklace of seed pearls.

For lunch at Bardessono Hotel & Spa:

Heirloom tomato salad with basil oil and burrata cheese (oh my gosh...simplicity at its finest)
Marin Sun Farms Hamburger on Brioche with Aioli and Herb Fries
Oyster Po Boy

and the grand finale...

The bathroom at the Bardessono Hotel. My boyfriend said "You really must use the loo. You'll love it." I walked it...and just loved it. It's a mini spa all by itself. I won't regale you with the decor itself, which was lovely, but they have the Neo-Rest bidet system -- automatic toilets which gently lift the lid when the door opens and you walk in. The seats are heated. The controls on the wall let you take a nice little spa treatment right there, with warm water, mists, and a blow dryer with warm air for your nether regions. I so love a nice bidet system -- it's just so civilized, isn't it? I was in there a good long while testing out all of the various options and controls.

Way too much information, but I thought you really needed to know that the highlight of my trip to Napa Valley was a coconut cupcake, a Thomas Keller Oreo, a tub of duck fat -- and a wash and style for Miss Virginia.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Omnivore's 100 List

I'm passing on the Omnivore's 100 list which I found today at Ginny's "Just Get Floury" blog. I remember blogging something similar but this had more interesting items on it. Let me know in the comments if you elect to pass it on, I'd like to see what you guys think.

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Head Cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam Chowder in Sourdough Bowl
33. Salted Lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a Fat Cigar
37. Clotted Cream Tea
38. Vodka Jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whiskey from a bottle worth $120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (CLAY? Oh, gotcha)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang Souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom Yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. 3 Michelin Star Tasting Menu
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose Harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole Poblano
96. Bagel and Lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Monday, October 5, 2009

Thomas Keller TKO Cookies

These cookies are sold at Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery in Yountville, California, and are so delicious, I'm surprised how simple they really are. The salty, sandy cookie is perfect on its own, if you don't want to bother with the white chocolate filling.

I only had one complaint about these cookies when purchased fresh from the bakery: They were too large -- about the size of an English Muffin! That actually makes them too sweet as they don't divide easily, so you're essentially eating three very sweet cookies in one. By making your own, you can select the size of your choosing.


1 1/2 cups plus 3 tbsp AP flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup plus 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
15 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3/4-inch cubes, at room temperature


1/2 cup heavy cream
8 ounces white chocolate, chopped


For the Filling: In a small pan, bring the cream to a boil. Remove from heat and add the chocolate. Let stand for 1 minute, then whisk to melt the chocolate until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl, and let stand for at least 6 hours to thicken up.

For the Cookies: In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt, and mix on low speed. With the mixer running, add the butter, a piece at a time. The mixture will be dry and sandy at first, but over 2 minutes, will form pebble-sized pieces that start to cling together. Stop the mixer and transfer the dough to your board.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Separate dough into 2 pieces. Roll each piece of dough between 2 pieces of plastic wrap or parchment paper to 1/8" inch thick. Using a cookie cutter, cut into rounds. Scraps can be pieced together and rolled out again. Place 1/2" apart on baking sheets lined with Silpat liners or parchment paper.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, rotating halfway through baking. Remove and cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to a cooling rack. Cool completely.

To Assemble: Lightly whip the white chocolate cream to aerate and fluff up. Transfer filling to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4" plain tip. Pipe about 1 1/2 tsp in the center of half the cookies. Top with another cookie to sandwich. Gently press down until the cream comes to the edges.

Cookies can be stored in a container for up to 3 days. Loosely cover.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mujudarra: Rice and Lentils

There is nothing "pretty" or food porny about Mujudarra, a Middle Eastern rice and lentil dish, but I do hope you'll try it anyway.

I've read numerous posts claiming it be one of the easiest, least expensive, common, humble and yet greatest side dishes ever, and you know what? That's not too far off the mark. I can't find anything negative to say about Mujudarra except that it's the ugly stepsister to a beautiful rice pilaf or cous cous dish. It doesn't make for a pretty presentation.

My version was so simple and fast because I took advantage of some staples from Trader Joe's which I'm never without: Frozen rice and Steamed Lentils. Those bags of frozen or jasmine rice are quite convenient, and while cooking lentils is not difficult, I really enjoy the lentils which are vacuum packaged after being steamed, fully cooked, imported from France. Delicious, and a fast protein source.

You will likely read the list of ingredients and wonder what all the fuss is about. I certainly did, but I'm telling you, all the bloggers are right: This dish is really perfect just as written. There is something wonderful which happens to these humble ingredients when you cook them together.


1 large onion (your favorite type)
2 cups of cooked rice (your favorite type)
2 cups of cooked lentils (your favorite type)
Olive Oil
Chicken or Vegetable Stock
Salt and Pepper
Plain Yogurt (optional)

Coat a very deep skillet with a good amount of olive oil. Thinly slice an onion and add to the oil, slowly sweating and caramelizing until it is very soft, and fully browned. Don't rush this step -- the darker and softer it is, the sweeter it will be -- a key component to this dish. To the oily skillet, add 2 cups of cooked lentils and stir together. Add 2 cups of rice and stir together very gently. Add salt and pepper to taste throughout the process. When thoroughly combined, slowly add chicken or vegetable stock (approx 1/4 to 1/2 cup) until the dish is moistened, but not soupy. Heat the dish through. Serve the mujudarra with a dollop of yogurt, which is traditional.

Notes: I used 1 package of Trader Joe's frozen Jasmin rice, and added it to the warm onions and lentils, stirring just until it was no longer frozen, and then added the stock. For the lentils, I used 1 package of Trader Joe's fully cooked imported French Steamed Lentils. The first night I tried it, I skipped the dollop of yogurt because I forgot about it, but I was so taken with just easting this warm and comforting side dish, that I didn't miss it. A few nights later when I was having leftovers, I remembered the yogurt and tried a dollop of Greek Yogurt. It does add a nice tangy sour cream quality, but I found it just as good without. I also thought it was just as good cold as hot, and as good on day 3 as day 1. I'll make this again, absolutely.

I've seen variations on the spelling of this dish, and even some calling for wheat bulgar instead of rice. This is an excellent side dish, and I hope you'll try it in this traditional method first, and then go search for the types with all sorts of add-ins (proteins, nuts, berries) which are probably very good as well.

Here are some related posts:

The post which got me thinking I had to make this dish:

I take it back about not being pretty. Desert Candy makes her look much nicer:

A version by Orangette, where she cooks the lentils and rice from scratch if you want to go that route:

Another version which suggests Mark Bittman has done it before, too!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Braised Pork Shoulder

There was a time I used to keep The Food Channel on my television for most of the weekend, during the day. I loved it so much, I'd also watch a few episodes more than once. Back then, Unwrapped was still fascinating, I wasn't yet sick of "BAM", and Anthony Bourdain was still on the line up.

Over time, I've become disheartened by how much the network has changed from a "Chef Based" cooking network to a "Food as Entertainment" network. The same tired things get shown over and over again, the great chefs are gone, and Unwrapped is a bore.

Little by little, I just stopped watching and it occurred to me, recently, that I bet I've only turned it on perhaps once or twice in the past year. In fact, the last thing I remember turning in to watch was the very first second (thanks Deb!) season of The Next Food TV Star and I remember wanting that sweet guy (Reggie?) from a Los Angeles Bakery to win, but he lost to Guy Fieri (who in retrospect, although I can't abide watching him gorge his face with food [honestly, must he use his mouth as a back-hoe?], was probably the better choice). How long ago was that, a couple of years at least?

So, it was surprising to me that I was channel surfing the other night and stopped to watch a young woman prepare a simple and inexpensive Braised Pork Shoulder, and I didn't turn the channel. That's very rare these days. It really did look very easy and tasty, and I thought to myself, as I watched "First, I'd like to make that this weekend, but Second, someone needs to show her how to properly use a knife. It's as if she's never learned." I had no idea who she was until I went online to download and prepare the recipe.

The coincidence is, that she is Melissa d'Arabian who apparently is the most recent winner of that same show -- The Next Food TV Star -- and she is not a chef, which explains her less than polished performance and lack of knife skills. The Braised Pork recipe has all five star reviews from the new fans of her show, Ten Dollar Dinners, so I made it and pronounce it excellent. So fast and easy, really economical without tasting like it, and it reminded me that having a cast iron dutch oven is such a good thing. I need to use it more often.

The complete recipe is here. I'd add less wine next time -- my red wine had too much personality. My progress photos are shown below:

Rough chopped celery, leeks, onion, carrots, and garlic cloves.

A pork shoulder, which cost only $4.85 for the entire package (several pounds), was cut into hunks, seasoned, and seared in a cast iron dutch iron. Mmmm, seared pork.

Those babies came out to rest after just getting browned on the outside. I picked all the crispy bits off and ate them. So good.

All but a few teaspoons of the pork fat was drained off, and I added the veggies until they were soft, and then added stocks, seasonings, bay leaf, etc., and brought to a boil.

The seared pork shoulder was nestled back down into the vegetable stock.

Three hours later, I had some beautiful braised pork shoulder and lots of stewed vegetables.

It was pull-apart with a fork tender. After we had pork shoulder and veggies, we pulled the rest of the pork into the shreds and kept that for sandwiches and other dishes. Excellent. Congrats, Melissa!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

My favorite salad ever: Austrian Lentil Salad

I first tasted a version of this salad in 1990, when my boss's wife, who is from Vienna, Austria, brought a large container of her version to my wedding reception, because she said it's a traditional salad to serve at weddings and promises fertility.

She was pouting when no one ate the salad. I thought "What did she expect, she brought Lentils to my wedding reception!"
Fast forward nearly 20 years, and I had a chance to eat her salad again, and my tastes have matured to the point where I thought it was incredibly tasty. I became an instant convert. I updated and significantly improved upon her recipe (she only used 4 ingredients -- lentils boiled with bay leaf, a simple herbal mustard vinaigrette, and minced onion), and now, I am never without a container of this salad in my fridge. I make it every Sunday, and it lasts all week, holds up extremely well in lunches, and fortunately, did not make me fertile, which is a very good thing, because her recipe lasted longer than the marriage.

I don't know what makes a lentil dish "Austrian" but she claims it was a childhood dish she had many times in Vienna. My version is not likely Austrian, but is certainly inspired by hers.  I use Trader Joe's ingredients primarily, which included steamed and cooked lentils, but you can easily cook your own lentils and proceed with those after you've done so.


Base Salad

1 package of Trader Joe's Steamed Lentils (from the refrigerated section)
1 package of Trader Joe's Beluga Lentils (from the pasta section)
1/2 very finely diced red or white onion -or- 1 shaved shallot (shown in this version)
1-2 very finely chopped carrots
Snipped Italian Parsley
The zest of one lemon (use all the juice, below)
Zest an entire lemon into a large bowl. Add both packages of lentils, the diced carrots and onions, and the parsley. Toss all ingredients thoroughly and set aside.


The basic dressing is a lemon vinaigrette, but you should feel free to use your favorite oil & vinegar dressing, being certain to add the mucho lemon zest and lemon juice to it, to create the unique flavor. Here is my tried and true method:

1/2 cup of Trader Joe's Olive Oil
1/4 cup of Trader Joe's Seasoned Rice Vinegar (sometimes I use a bit of rice vinegar, and a bit of cider vinegar, when I want it tarter)
1 dollop of TJ's Dijon Mustard
The juice of 1 whole lemon
Salt and Pepper to taste

Combine all in a blender cup to emulsify, and pour over the lentil salad. Toss thoroughly, adjust seasonings to taste, and serve chilled. This salad requires no cooking (unless you've cooked your own lentils) keeps in the fridge all week, and makes a wonderful, healthy, high protein, high fiber very satisfying lunch.

In fact, I'd never once thought I'd say this about a salad, especially one with lentils, but I'll stand in front of my open fridge door at night and eat this salad right from the container, with a spoon. If I worked at a TJ's, I would make this easy dish and demonstrate it, to convert people to the wonder of lemony lentils as a salad.

Personal note to my sister, Weezie: Aren't you proud of me?! I finally figured out a use for my obsessive acquisition of vinegar and oil even though I've always hated oil & vinegar dressing!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Does anyone else think the grilled meat ad on Tastespotting looks revolting?

Is it me, or does the advertisement on Tastespotting for El Patron Tequila show the most unappetizing piece of grilled protein -- whatever it is -- maybe ever? I don't think one could drink enough El Patron to make that -- thing -- look tasty.

Dear Tastespotting:

Love the site you guys (even though you've rejected every single entry I've submitted after the site was relaunched, but published lots before the relaunch), but that ad is just HORRID. I can't tell if it's a piece of grilled fat, meat, road kill, a split open rattle snake (or worse, something Bobbitt like ::shudder::).

Tastespotting, please don't make me look at the ugly meat anymore.

If you are honest with yourselves, you know damn well you would have REJECTED that as a photo submission from any one of us, stating "Unflattering Composition; Not Sharp." Don't you even try to deny it.

You should make the sponsor drink some of their product and replace that ad photo with one of a grilled taco or something -- with identifiable meat cooked past 165 degrees to avoid the cooties crawling all over the undercooked meat in that unflattering, unsharp, low contrast, photograph.



Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Great Biscuit Fraud

My Cream Biscuits, still hot from the oven
This post is MUCH too long to be just about biscuits, but, what can I say? I'm a carb queen.

I wish I didn't love McDonald's Buttermilk Biscuits. I shouldn't love them. No one should. Come on, it's a fast food chain -- they shouldn't sell good biscuits, but they do. I like that they are light and tender, and hold up well to a sausage sandwich. I've heard tales from some forums that McDonald's uses a mix and adds water, rolling them out and baking (which seems unlikely); while others claim they come in a pre cooked slab and are heated from frozen with a brush of margarine (which seems more likely). I once knew a woman who -- ahem -- never had to pay for her lunches because she was particularly nice to the married cafe manager. Really nice. I'd like to think I'd never barter myself for a tuna sandwich, but then again, if I confirmed McDonald's uses a water based mix I might shame myself with my efforts to meet a manager and get a big bucket of it, somehow.

Buttermilk Biscuits shouldn't be difficult to make, but I've yet to find the perfect recipe (e.g., one that I can't screw up with too heavy a hand). Don't even suggest Pillsbury Grands -- those are an abomination, and although I'm a Trader Joe's Junkie, I don't like their frozen biscuit dough, either. Heavy, dense and greasy.

I'd like to be able to make my own and keep them frozen so that I can grab one for a portable breakfast sandwich, so I've gone on a quest to find that recipe. This will not only address my portable breakfast agenda, but, will help bring to an end a long running fraud I've been committing for years. YEARS, I tell you.

At least 7-8 years ago, I was invited to a potluck picnic by my boss and his wife. They were serving chicken and ribs and such, and I was asked to bring bread. Ah Ha! I thought. I've got some frozen Schwan's Southern Style Biscuits , those will work just fine. I baked them off, took them to the BBQ, and my boss went nuts, telling me, and his wife, that they were the best biscuits he'd ever had.

This Biscuit Adulation didn't sit well with his wife, who is a great cook and didn't like that someone else was getting all the attention, so she asked me for the recipe over and over again. I never said "Oh they are just frozen Schwan's biscuits, order some." NO, I had to complicate my life and lie, so I said "Oh I don't share that recipe -- it's my family recipe, but I"ll bring you some anytime you want, and you can keep them in your freezer and just bake them off for him whenever he asks for them."

Thus began the Great Biscuit Fraud. I ended up having to buy -- several times -- bags of frozen Schwan's Biscuits and giving them to her in a baggie with written instructions (they come in frozen par baked dough). I've done it probably once or twice a year, for 7 years. She's even said we should have one of those biscuit and tamale making parties around the holidays and put them all up at once. I always decline (of course). Oh what a tangled web we weave, and all that. Fortunately she doesn't read this blog.

I agree they are pretty damn good, but more free form -- a little closer to a drop biscuit -- than the rolled biscuit in the Schwan's product photo, but it's a pain in the ass to order ahead and coordinate delivery every other week, and tell the driver yet again that no, I don't want any of their overpriced frozen steaks. Just the biscuits. Oh, and some of the English fish and chips, those are excellent. And um, those vanilla ice cream sandwiches, too (See? this is why I can't shop at Schwan's anymore, except when I need to lie to my boss about biscuits).

Anyway, I want -- and need -- to master my own biscuit recipe so I've set about finding one that is fluffy, light, golden, and buttery. I've tried Angel Biscuits in the past, which are yeast based, but they didn't quite make it, either. Too much like a roll.

I found a recipe booklet online (and what a hoot it is), which has recipe clones for everything McDonald's sells, and it had the biscuit recipe in it. It seemed simple enough -- basically a doctored Bisquick biscuit recipe, but I was wary of anything which started with Bisquick. I was right to be wary. They were NOT the biscuits they sell in the restaurant, so don't be fooled. I'm not even posting the pic of those I made because they are not worthy. A decent enough biscuit, surely, but nothing to write home about. Oh, sorry, was I droning on? Have you tired of my biscuit drama and you want a link to the McMenu Cookbook instead? See the bottom of this post, if you're still with me.

Anyway, back to the biscuits. The McDonald's clones -- out. Not worthy. The Angel Biscuits -- meh. Not quite worthy. Then I found a "Cream Biscuit" recipe on the King Arthur Flour website and tried those. I recently learned that I really liked cornstarch based bakery recipes due to the wonderful texture. The best cake I've ever made was mostly cornstarch, so this recipe, which calls for more than the average amount of cornstarch, and heavy cream (whoo yeah) which I had on hand, seemed promising.

Also, I read a cookbook by Jane and Michael Stern -- Recipes from The Blue Willow Inn -- and the tip from the cook at this Southern inn said to handle the biscuit dough as little as possible. Literally stir just a bit until the flour is moist, slap the stringy floury wad down on the board and pat it out without kneading, and cut them without really mixing the dough all that well. I used KAF's recipe, but followed the Blue Willow Rule, and I'm really glad I did.

These biscuits were VERY VERY good. Best biscuits I've made to date, that's certain. The texture was wonderful. Very tender, very buttery, very delicate. Loved the crispy almost granular crust and the soft interior. However, they were not high and pillowy -- they didn't rise terribly high, and, when sliced for a sandwich, tended to crumble. So while these are great for a breakfast basket, they are not quite the right biscuit for a portable sausage breakfast sandwich.

KAF calls these Guaranteed Biscuits. I guarantee I'll make them again and eat the batch within 24 hours because they came together really quickly (except for the freezing time in Step 5 but that gave me time to clean up), but the quest for the McDonald's biscuit close, or a proper Buttermilk Biscuit, continues. Got any winning recipes for me?


1 3/4 cups KAF AP Flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1 to 1 1/4 cups heavy cream, enough to make a cohesive dough
1 to 2 tablespoons melted butter

1) Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder, and sugar. Stir in enough heavy cream to moisten the dough thoroughly. You'll probably use about 1 cup in the summer, 1 1/4 cups in the winter, and 1 cup + 2 tablespoons at the turn of the seasons. You want to be able to gather the dough together, squeeze it, and have it hang together easily, without dry bits falling off.
2) Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, and very gently pat it into an 8" circle about 3/4" thick. If you're uncertain about your ability to make a nice free form 8" round, pat the dough into a lightly floured 8" round cake pan, then turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.
3) Use a sharp 2 ¼" biscuit cutter to cut rounds. Place them on a lightly greased (or parchment-lined) baking sheet.
4) Brush the biscuits with butter, if desired, for extra flavor.
5) Place the pan in the freezer for 30 minutes. This will improve the biscuits' texture and rise.
6) Preheat the oven to 425°F while the biscuits are in the freezer.
7) Bake the biscuits for 20 minutes, till they're golden brown. Remove from the oven. If you have any melted butter left over, brush it on the baked biscuits. Serve immediately.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Vegetable Stock and Shrimp Laksa

I'm officially hopeless. My name is Kate and I can't stop buying cookbooks. Here I am giving them away every week to reduce my collection and bring some sanity to my life, and I stumbled on a cookbook in a Marshall's Department Store, and bought it.

That place is the worst for me.

Problem 1: They tend to have a lot of very inexpensive cookbooks.
Problem 2: They tend to be by Paragon Publishing, which is a problem because
Problem 3: Paragon tends to recycle the same photos and recipes into new volumes and I don't notice until later, like when I'm giving away the cookbooks, how often I buy the same recipe, over and over again.

In my defense, this particular book was one I had not seen before, and even though its by Paragon, it had recipes I'd never seen before, and I loved the concept. It's called "1 Broth, 100 Soups" and in leafing through it, I immediately noted that I'd want to try more than 75% of them. That's a must buy. Plus, I find making stocks really calming and therapeutic, and the stock for each of the 100 recipes is a Vegetable Stock, which I have not made before.

I made the Basic Veggie Stock first (adapted, my own recipe follows) and then chose Shrimp Laksa for my first soup. I didn't have every ingredient on hand, but made some tasty substitutions and turned a very lovely bowl of soup. This time, I'm actually glad I broke my No New Cookbooks Rule.


2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 container of Trader Joe's Mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery)
1 large potato, diced
1 leek, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
1 cup white wine
Fresh Parsley
Sage Leaves
Garlic Clove

In a large stock pot, heat the oil, and add the mirepox, diced potato, and leek. Saute until soft, wilted, and barely beginning to color. Add the bay leaves, 1 crushed garlic clove, fresh parsley (a lot), fresh sage leaves (only a few), and the cup of white wine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until liquid has reduced and all alcohol has burned off. Carry vegetables in stock pot to the tap and fill with cool water (I added at least 10 cups-- up to the handles of the pot). Bring stock to a rapid boil, then reduce to a simmer and simmer for 1-2 hours. Let stock cool, and then strain all vegetables out (at this point, my veggies were still recognizable, very soft, but I couldn't stand throwing them away. I fished out the bay leaves, and then threw the rest in a blender with a bit of stock and made a very pretty mustard yellow veggie puree, which I froze in ice cube trays so I can add the puree to soups and stews as a thickener). Portion the stock into baggies or freezer containers, and freeze for up to six months.


I'm really a soup alchemist and my Soup Esteem is well intact -- I make GREAT soup. In fact if I were going to open a restaurant, it would be a Soup Kitchen. Problem is, I use ingredient amounts as a suggestion and treat my kitchen like a laB without writing stuff down as I go along, so I often can't remember how to recreate really spectacular pots of soup I've made. Fortunately, I can always make something else just as good. This time, I took notes:


My Shrimp Laksa, adapted heavily from "1 Stock, 100 Soups":

Veggie Stock
Shrimp with tails on
Coconut Milk
Trader Joe's Yellow Curry Sauce
Curry Powder
Thai Kitchen Fish Sauce
Siracha Chili Sauce
Rice Noodles
Brown Sugar
Salt and Pepper

In a large soup pot, bring veggie stock to a boil. Remove shrimp shells and tails. Set the shrimp meat aside, and first throw the shells and tails in the pot of stock and boil rapidly for several minutes to infuse the stock with shrimp flavor. Fish out and discard the shells and tails. Strain stock to be certain no shells remain. Stir in 1/2 to 1 cup of TJ's yellow curry sauce (if you have curry paste, that's preferable). Add curry powder to taste, and several glugs of Fish Sauce. Stir and simmer, stir and simmer. Add several glugs of Siracha Chili Sauce. Stir and simmer, stir and simmer. Grind up a big handful of cashews into a coarse powder (but don't make a paste). Add ground nuts and 1 tablespoon of brown sugar and 1 cup of coconut milk to the stock. Whisk thoroughly to combine and simmer gently. Add the raw shrimp, and with the heat on low, simmer until the shrimp are pink, cooked, but still tender.

Meanwhile, boil water and pour over rice noodles. When saturated and "cooked", drain noodles and portion into bowls. Ladle the soup over each portion of noodles, and dress with slivered carrots, cilantro, and scallions. Dress with more siracha to taste.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Rancho La Puerta Spa Spiced Apple Salad

This was an easy and healthy Spa Cuisine salad, courtesy of Rancho La Puerta Spa in Mexico, and the Spa Cuisine collection. You may view the complete recipe here.

I had a couple apples going a bit soft and I remembered I wanted to try a recipe where you shave them thin and make an apple slaw.

This salad has a dressing of yogurt, lime juice, apple juice. It's tossed with raisins or cranberries, coconut, sunflower seeds, vanilla and cinnamon. I made a few adaptations -- cranberries in place of raisins and I omitted sunflower seeds -- because I forgot to add them. It's really tasty, tart, not sweet (although there is a bit of sweet when you bite into a cranberry or piece of coconut), and is both tropical and warm and spicy at the same time. I think it would be great to swap out the coconut with walnuts, for a different taste and crunch.

Since Apple Desserts are my least favorite of all (apple pie, apple muffins, yawwwwn), but I like apples in most savory dishes (sandwiches, salads, curries, stuffings), I was happy to learn a unique and more "savory" way to use my apples. Still, this recipe will appeal to children who will think it's a treat. It's also perfect for those "Ladies Who Lunch" meals.

While the recipe makes six servings. This salad is easily adaptable for one person by just tossing a cut up apple with a handful of the loose ingredients, and then a splash of each wet ingredient, a shake of spice, and you're there, in a few minutes flat.

I have few similar Apple Slaw recipes from other spa resorts, so come this fall, I may need to test each one and see which I like best -- but this one is darn good with that fresh taste of lime.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Nectarine Raspberry Cream Pie

I had nectarines going soft. I had raspberries. I had crust. I wanted pie. I searched and found this rather interesting sounding pie which uses cream, but in a baked base. Intrigued, I made it. I think this recipe has definite possibilities, because it was interesting and tasty, but, I wasn't too fond of the rather undercooked base. If I had left this in my oven until it was browner, I think it would have been more the texture of a clafouti, and less the texture of slightly undercooked cake. Still, it was very pretty and tweaking the baking time would have made it perfect. I skipped the entire boiling/skin removal process and this made the pie come together really quickly. My notations and adaptions are shown.

  • 2/3 cup white sugar (I always add sugar to taste; I only added 4 tablespoons)
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I also added 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 1/4 teaspoon ground vanilla bean)
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 5 nectarines (I used four nectarines, quartered, and 1 cup of frozen black raspberries)
  • 1 (9 inch) unbaked pie shell
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C). Place a large pot of water over high heat, and bring to a boil. Combine sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, heavy cream and almond extract. Set aside. Place the nectarines in boiling water for 30 to 45 seconds. Immediately place nectarines under cold running water and remove skins. (I skipped the boiling process entirely because nectarine skins are edible). Cut nectarines in half and remove pits. Place halves in the pie shell with the cut side down. (I did this, but quartered the nectarines, and, added a cup of frozen raspberries). Pour the cream mixture around the nectarines.

Bake at 400 degrees F (205 degrees C) for 35 to 40 minutes. Good served warm or cold.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ginger Pear Mint Elixer

This was inspired by a smoothie cookbook I recently found, rather dated, but which has far more interesting combinations than usual (forget the banana orange strawberry surprise, this book uses everything from tapioca to quinoa to figs). This my adaptation of one recipe that was based on ginger and pear:

Ginger Pear Mint Elixer

3 canned no-sugar pear halves
Ginger Juice
Mint Leaves
Almond Milk
Club Soda

In my bullet blender cup, I filled it half with ice, and then 3 pear halves, two mint leaves from my own garden, a splash of ginger juice (or you could use ginger powder or fresh ginger), a splash of almond milk, and topped it off with club soda. I added 2-3 drops of sucralose no-calorie sweetener, and blended.

Very refreshing and cool on a hot summer day. Ginger and pear are soothing to the stomach and digestion. Of course I think this would be much improved by using Asti Spumanti or champagne in place of the club soda, but that would detract from the so-called restorative factor.

That's my ground floor kitchen window. It faces a parking lot and the lot's water hose is under my window. I don't like lookie loos so I swirled clear glass paint on it for privacy, but still lets the light through. Looks pretty darn cool, I think.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Hippie Quiche: Zucchini Cheese Pie Bake

Zuke Pie Whole

Zuke Pie Macro

Zuke Pie Steaming and Ready to Taste

This is a recipe for Zucchini Pie by my pal Liz in New York, who bakes it and serves it in her bento box lunches quite frequently. It's a cross between a veggie loaf and a healthy quiche. Since I made chick pea flour zucchini bread earlier in the week, I had another zucchini waiting to be used, more chick pea flour of course, and her recipe in mind. I'm finding the chick pea flour really tasty, and the high protein and fibre is an added bonus.

This would be both a good vegetarian main dish and a good side dish as well, actually. I served it with a piece of grilled rainbow trout, so this acted as my "vegetable stuffing on the side." If you're planning to grow zukes in your garden this year, take note. This will help use up your bounty.

This is a hard to fail recipe. She uses more or less cheese depending on what she has, more or less veggies, depending on what she has, and less oil. You really just need enough liquid to bind the batter together. When it looks gloppy and moist and the veggies are coated, it's ready to go into the oven. This is what I put into mine:


1 large thinly sliced zucchini
1 grated carrot
1 small onion chopped
1 small diced yam
1 handful of torn oyster mushrooms
1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup fine ground corn flour
1/3 cup chick pea flour
1 cup grated mild cheddar cheese
1 rogue slice of Lite Jarlsberg cheese from the deli drawer
1/4 cup canola oil
2 egg whites and 1 whole egg, beaten
1 handful of grated parmesan
1 handful of chopped fresh herbs (I used basil, parsley, thyme, oregano and chives)
1 teaspoon baking powder
A few liberal shakes of Penzey's Sandwich Sprinkle and Mural of Flavor seasoning (basically more herbs and garlic salt)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Spoon zucchini mixture into a 10 inch glass pie or quiche plate that has been coated with vegetable cooking spray. I used an IKEA loaf pan -- they are quite longer than your average loaf pan by a wide margin so it spread out as shallow as a pie pan and worked fine. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until golden brown. Cool for 15 minutes before slicing.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The calmest, coolest hip cat around

I don't think I've ever seen a cat so utterly calm. Be sure to stay onboard until the end, to hear the owner's comment, and the pet's response. So cute.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers: Tuna Salad

This month's first selection for Barefoot Bloggers is mine and I chose Ina Garten's Tuna Salad. This was a tough choice -- I moved up the list so quickly, I had to make new choices repeatedly as the time of year changed, and at the last minute, I just chose something I thought was fresh and simple and relatively healthy.

I also chose this recipe because the best "salad" I ever had was a grilled tuna salad dish at a Todd English restaurant -- Olives, in Las Vegas. It was so memorable I still think about it. Ina's recipe was similar in most respects, so I thought it would be a good stand-in.

Regrettably, I've learned that what I can get very easily -- tuna steaks for $5.69 a pound -- others cannot, so for those who gave this recipe a try, thank you, and for those who couldn't, I'm sorry about that. I trust you used the Barefoot Backtrack feature to choose something more to your liking.

I stared with Albacore tuna steaks -- $4.10 for the package. The steak is brushed with olive oil and grilled in a very hot pan. Ina instructs for just a minute or two on each side. This is essentially the same as the grilled tuna you'd find in restaurants, blackened on the outside and raw on the inside. While I do like this, I prefer my raw fish to be served to me in restaurants, and not handled in my own home, so for my version, I grilled it all the way through (and this is the way it was served in the Vegas restaurant, where I enjoyed it so much).

In the meantime, I'd mixed the dressing and tossed it with a chopped avocado, fresh from the Farmer's Market today. The dressing is very basic -- lime juice, olive oil, soy sauce, wasabi, salt and pepper. I ended up just whirling the ingredients together in quantities that tasted good to me. I didn't add nearly the salt she called for -- soy sauce takes care of that, and I added sesame chili oil in addition to the drops of hot sauce. I'm a hot sauce weenie, I don't like it all, but I know it serves an important purpose in certain dishes, like Asian dressings. I also added a lot more wasabi than called for. Love that stuff.

After the tuna chunks were grilled, I added them to the dressed avocados.
Now, bear something in mind. Ceviche, a traditional spanish dish of cold fish in a citrusy lime dressing, is "cooked" by adding lime juice to fish. The acid cooks the fish, so this tuna salad, which contains a lot of lime juice, cannot be made in advance and stored without the lime juice cooking the fish. If you're making it with a raw interior, don't dress the cooked tuna until you are ready to serve it, and reserve any leftover dressing. Store the tuna undressed, if you want leftovers. For mine, which was cooked all the way through, it was less of an issue, but head's up!

I added chopped scallions, more sliced avocado, and sprinkled with additional chili oil. I didn't bother with the red onions. I thought that a big handful of scallions was adequate for the onion flavor.

And here it is, my tower of Tuna Salad, ready to chill (it's great warm, but I preferred it chilled).

I really liked this. The dressing would be great with chicken, salmon, beef, tofu -- you name it. For those who gave it a try, thank you. Tuna isn't hard to make and it's easy to customize. In fact, I'd encourage you to cook a tuna steak and dress it as you would a traditional tuna salad. There is no comparison to the canned stuff.

About this challenge: The Barefoot Bloggers join forces and cook or bake recipes by Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten each month, chosen in order by members, and present them for discussion on two Thursdays each month. Hungry? Please join us at the table!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Banana Blueberry Breakfast Bread

Banana Blueberry Breakfast Bread. That's a lot of B's. This bread was totally worth the experiment it involved.

I started with my standard breakfast bun recipe which I created with the Stealth Cinnamon Rolls from earlier this week. Since I halved that recipe, I was left with a half a box of yellow cake mix, and I wanted to see if my theory, that this recipe would make a great yeast bread, was a good one. It was. In fact, it made a better loaf bread than it did rolls.

When I made the cinnamon rolls, I didn't trust how "wet" the dough was and I added as much as an additional cup of flour to the "half" recipe, and the rolls, while still high and tasty, were somewhat dry and more bread than pastry-like. This time, I resisted the urge to add more flour and just let the wet dough raise on its own without my interference, and I'm glad I did. It turned out just fine, and was moister than the rolls.


This recipe is for ONE LOAF -- a half recipe.

1/2 box of yellow cake mix (no pudding in the mix)
1-1/4 cup of warm water
1 package of yeast
3 cups of flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Allow to double in volume. Punch down, and stir in any mix-ins, or, roll out on a chopping board, layer toppings, and roll up. Add to a buttered loaf pan, allow to double in volume again, and bake for 20 minutes at 375 degrees.

For this variation of the basic bread, I used my bread machine to mix the dough, only. At the "fruit and nut beep" I added 2 big handfuls of Trader Joe's Freeze Dried Blueberries, and 1 big handful of Trader Joe's Freeze Dried Banana Slices, and 1 big handful of chopped walnuts. I crushed more dried blueberries for the top of the loaf (which was really pretty, like painting with water colors). I then took it out of the machine and kneaded and raised it myself, in a loaf pan, before baking.

This particular loaf would have tasted great with a lemon cake mix, but I was using up the 1/2 box left from the cinnamon rolls. I let the loaf raise, baked it off, and sliced. It was just perfect. This bread is not "too too" sweet, it's closer to Hawaiian Sweet Bread. It made EXCELLENT toast -- really superb toast, in fact. 

As pictured, though, I've spread some Lemon Quark on a slice, which was also top notch. Quark is a much lower fat and creamier, lighter version of ricotta or mascarpone.  Many compare quark to cream cheese but quark is much "fluffier."  I get mine from a Farmer's Market in both Vanilla and Lemon flavors. Lemon Quark on Blueberry Banana Bread Toast was really fantastic.  

I buy mine from Spring Hill Cheese Company based in Petaluma, California, which sells it at Farmer's Markets, but it looks like you can get it mail order -- which has to be a little costly because it's perishable -- but if you have to go through life without trying their Vanilla Bean or Lemon Quark, it just may be a sacrifice you have to make.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Stealth Cinnamon Rolls

I'm calling these Stealth Cinnamon Rolls because I'll bet you don't realize you've got every single ingredient for these, in your pantry, most of the time. I saw the recipe and thought "You know, I could make those right now!" and I did. The concept is interesting, and I immediately thought of several variations on the theme, as shown below.


  • 1 box of yellow cake mix (no pudding in the mix)
  • 2.5 cups of warm water
  • 2 packages of yeast
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 5 cups AP flour

Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Allow to rest and raise, doubling in size, for approximately 1 hour. Roll out, spread thickly with butter, and sprinkle thickly with cinnamon and sugar. Roll up on the long edge, cut into 1 inch spiral rolls, and set in pan, or in muffin pans. Allow to raise a second time, approximately 1 hour. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Ice with glaze of your choice.

I halved this recipe, and found the dough so sticky, I kept adding more flour to get it to come together in a soft ball. As much as a cup more flour than I thought. I think may have lead to the rolls being more bread and less pastry like, but they were still soft and tasty. Next time, I'll trust the sticky dough and leave it alone. Still it was so simple. I added ground vanilla powder to the cinnamon sugar mixture, but not nearly enough butter -- they were cooked perfectly throughout, but I like a bit more moisture in the rolls, so next time I'd use more butter and maybe bake them 5 minutes less. Otherwise, they rose high and light. HALF of this recipe made a full 13x9 pan, so if you used the recipe as written, you'd get a bunch of rolls for sure.


Red Velvet Cake Mix + Cream Cheese Filling

Chocolate Cake Mix + Coconut Pecan Nutella Filling

Lemon Cake Mix + Citrus or Coconut Filling, or Blueberry or Poppyseed

Spice Cake Mix + Nut Filling

Carrot Cake Mix + Cream Cheese Filling

White Cake Mix + Almond Extract + Chopped Cherry Filling

Ooh, the possibilities of fast breakfast rolls!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Fail: Cold Oven Pound Cake

This wasn't a success. America's Test Kitchen, you've disappointed me -- but so did my oven, so I think it's a little of both reasons.

This vintage recipe assured me that I'd have a light, fluffy, not-dense pound cake using a retro method of placing the batter in the pan, and into a stone-cold oven, and then letting it come up to temperature and baking one hour.

The *taste* of the batter was okay, but I followed it to the letter and saw my first problem almost immediately. I used the exact quantities called for in a recent The Best of America's Test Kitchen magazine 2009, and it prominently states that after scooping the batter into the pan, you should "smooth the top." My batter was so loose and runny, there was NO smoothing necessary at all, and in fact, it seeped out of the seams of the removable bottom for the angel food cake pan I was using. I quickly poured the batter back into the mixer, including using a knife to dredge it off my counters and back into the bowl (no lie), and then slowly added flour until it was less runny. Back into a freshly dredged pan, and then into the cold oven.

The instructions then warned me: Do NOT open the oven for one hour. Okay, okay. But, the problem is, after 15 minutes, I smelled too-baked cake. It was nice smelling, but far too toasty smelling to be normal after 15 minutes, so I opened the door, anyway. Good thing I did. The cake was dripping out of the angel food cake pan bottom and onto the floor of my oven. NICE. That's gonna be a bitch to clean. I quickly placed a pan under it and let it finish without disturbing it. Looked crappy anyway.

After one hour, the cake was done, and I eventually cooled it and then coaxed it out of the pan. I was amazed it wasn't adhered to the pan since it had baked into the seams of the removable bottom. The cake was not light and fluffy (my added flour?). It was tasty, but it was rather dense and a little too gummy for my taste. I took it into work and it was devoured in a few hours, but to me, this is not a signature pound cake recipe and I won't try it again.

The search for good pound cake continues.
Use it Up Points:
None, really, I had all the ingredients but they were not dated or needing to be cleared away. I just made use of what I already had instead of buying pound cake.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers: Chicken Piccata

The first of four (!) recipes we're making this month for Barefoot Bloggers is Chicken Piccata as chosen by Lindsey of Noodle Nights and Muffin Mornings, which can be found in Barefoot Contessa at Home on pages 96-97.

Well this was easy! I don't cook breaded cutlets all that often. In fact, the last time I did it, was for the BB Parmesan Chicken challenge. I'm not sure why I don't -- I must think it's too labor intensive, or messy, or too many steps, or adds too many unnecessary calories, but this is second time I've been surprised how easy it was, really not that time consuming, and didn't really take that much fat (never as much as Ina calls for).

When you actually follow directions, your cutlets get nice and crispy and golden brown, with barely any olive oil.

Reducing the butter, wine, and lemon juice to a nice sauce. I only used one tablespoon (not 3) and it still got very thick and saucy.

Yum. Lemony chicken, still crisp and hot.

This was a huge chicken breast and despite pounding the heck out of it, it was still too thick for my tastes. Next time I'd use tenderloins or fingers just because I like thin, small pieces of well done chicken. Other than that, this was very good!

Use it Up Points: Excellent -- 100%. I had everything I needed in the pantry and freezer for this recipe, except fresh parsley, so I used dried (normally not used in my house, but didn't want to go to the store).

About this challenge: The Barefoot Bloggers join forces and cook or bake recipes by Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten each month, chosen in order by members, and present them for discussion on two Thursdays each month. Hungry? Please join us at the table!