Wednesday, December 31, 2008

zuni roasted chicken with bread salad

This recipe from Zuni Cafe exemplifies turning simple ingredients into something fabulous. The recipe does take time and careful planning, but done right it's really almost a breeze. Thanks to Jenn, I got to try this last Christmas. This year I pulled it out for my Christmas dinner and actually had everything on the table in an hour.

First, the recipe calls for dry brining a bird by rubbing it down with salt, pepper and herbs, then letting it sit in the fridge for a day or two. Traditional brining method involves finding a big bowl and submerging the chicken in a sugar salt solution, aka salmonella sloshing around your fridge. Dry brining = way easier, and equally juicy, flavorful meat.

Next, cube up a nice loaf of bread and toast it. The recipe says to trim the crusts, but I choose to ignore this. Soak some currants or cranberries in red wine vinegar. This is KEY. The balance of sweet and sour gives your salad bright accents of addictiveness that contrast well with the heaviness of the meat. Then mix up a vinaigrette of olive oil, red wine vinegar (go heavy on it), and white wine vinegar. Soften some garlic and scallions and toss with the bread.

When the chicken is done, carve it up, toss a handful of mixed greens with your bread, currants, toasted nuts, and more vinaigrette and enjoy together.

I used a loaf of levain from Angela's Oven. If you happen to live in Houston, you can find them at the Tuesday farmers' market at Rice, or at the Saturday Richmond or Onion Creek markets. They're lovely people with lovely baked goods. I also subbed rice for white wine vinegar with tasty results, and go heavy on the currants and toasted nuts. If you are like me and burn pinenuts with infalliable regularity, try toasting walnuts instead, which are a) cheaper and b) less prone to incineration.

Find the recipe here.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

candied walnut banana cake

This cake is like addiction you feel good about having smothered in cream cheese fluff. Bananas, whole wheat, nuts, cultured cream cheese... health food, clearly!

Cultured cream cheese is basically cream cheese with the same little microorganisms that yogurt has. The result is a slightly tangy, more complex flavored deliciousness. If you happen to see it, I suggest giving it a try!

The cream cheese fluff is the lighter, more delicate cousin of cream cheese frosting. Instead of being loaded with butter and sugar, it is just slightly sweetened and beaten extensively till nice and fluffy. The tangy, sweet-savory flavor combines really nicely with mouthfuls of banana bread and extra sweetness of candied nuts.

To feed an addiction:

1. Get a handful of candied walnuts

2. Throw said walnuts into your favorite banana bread recipe, then bake in a cake pan

3. Meanwhile, make your cream cheese fluff: Beat together about 8 oz. of cream cheese and 1-2 tbsp of powdered sugar until fluffy. Think subtle and not red velvet cake frosting here.

4. When the cake is cool, spread a layer of fluff over the top and consume promptly.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

happy festivus!

In the middle of the afternoon, I hear some rather aggressive sirens and obnoxious amounts of honking slowly making their way down the street. Is it an emergency? Turkey deep-frying gone terribly awry? Oh, no...

It's Santa on a folding chair strapped to a fire truck. Please, please click on the photo for a better look. Best. Tax dollars. Ever. Even more, he was throwing broken candy cane dreams to the handful of confused citizens of Jersey Village that staggered out of their abodes. Imagine the truth-or-dare games they must be playing up in the fire station.

Moral of the story? Pay your taxes, and good things will come. Happy Festivus!

Monday, December 22, 2008

walnut butter cookies

Glorified, updated peanut butter cookies. Yeah. You've been replaced by a tree nut, Mr. Goober.

To make your own walnut butter, toss a few handfuls of toasted walnuts into a blender with a pinch of sugar and salt. Blend till peanut buttery. Will be a bit more liquidy than fresh ground peanut butter, but the flavor.. Oh, the flavor of concentrated walnut...

Walnut Butter Criss Crosses

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp nutmeg

1 ½ sticks (12 tbsp) unsalted butter
1 cup walnut butter
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven 350 F.

Whisk dry ingredients together. In another bowl, beat butter until smooth and creamy. Add walnut butter and beat together. Add the sugars and beat for 3 minutes more. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.

Add the dry ingredients to butter mixture, stirring only until they just disappear. Stir in walnuts. Chill dough in fridge for 30 minutes.

Scoop out tablespoons of dough, roll into balls, and place on cookie sheet. To make criss crosses, use a fork and press down on top of the dough balls. Dip fork in flour if dough is sticking too much. Bake for about 12 minutes. When done, the cookies will be lightly colored and somewhat soft.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

currant events (har har)

I seriously need to start waking up early and baking in the morning. Seriously. I know, it looks like a pile of currants and oatmeal, but what's not to love? Custardy, moist, layer of yogurt and berries practically baked in streusel. Hells yeah.

You could maybe eat this all day long, but it won't make it past breakfast. I got out a plate, cut myself a warm slice (it cuts beautifully, btw) and realized this was not a plate food. This is a pick it out of a hot pan and straight to the stomach food.

Adapted from Canela & Comino, I had this in the oven in 15 minutes flat as promised. Do try this, but don't blink or you'll be a sad panda.

Don't Blink Currant Oatmeal Wedges

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 cup oats
1/2 cup of packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
5 tbs butter, melted
3 tbs milk

1 1/3 cups dried currants or cranberries
3/4 cup yogurt or sour cream
1/2 cup sugar

¼ tsp salt

½ tsp cinnamon
2 tbs flour
1 tsp vanilla
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 325F. Cut out a circle of parchment paper to fit in bottom of springform pan, line it with circle, grease sides of pan. Any other shallow pan (square, pie, etc.) would work, too. Skip the parchment and just grease it.

In a bowl, mix together flour, oats, brown sugar, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. Drizzle butter and milk over flour mixture, stirring until moistened (mixture will be crumbly). Reserve 3/4 cup of oat mixture. Press remaining oat mixture into the bottom of pan.

In another bowl, combine all filling ingredients, stirring well. Spread currant mixture over prepared crust; sprinkle reserved oat mixture evenly over filling.

Bake 40-50 minutes or until edges are golden. Let cool if you can.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


You'd think I'd have Thanksgiving tales about delicious seared scallop pumpkin soup and a crustless buttermilk pumpkin pie (oops...), but alas, I can't even get around to posting the impressive backlog of adventures I've been sitting on.

Instead, I share with you this taco truck gastronomic delight. Cheers!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

jam time

If you happen to have scientists for friends and about 10 pounds of free grapes, I highly suggest making white grape jam. Real grape jam tastes like summer and sunshine, not purple.

What you need:

mason jars
a lot of grapes picked off the stem
juice of 1 lemon

cheap vodka
a lighter

What you do:

Put a plate in the fridge. Throw grapes into a big pot and mash them up. Add lemon juice. Cook over medium high heat for a long time, stirring continuously. Will bubble and hiss and threaten to burn your delicate arms.

If you are a food scientist, consider using a candy thermometer and pH paper to deduce whether any sporulating microorganisms will survive your brew.

When your jam mixture seems jam-like, drop a spoonful onto that plate you put in the fridge, chill it for a few minutes, then see if the jam is the consistency you want. If it's too runny, cook down longer.

When it's ready, pour into mason jars, screw on lids, and submerge in pot of boiling water for 30 minutes. Let sit overnight and see if your jars seal. Keep jam refrigerated.

**Sanitation Bonus Feature!**

Did you know that if you buy Taaka in $2 quantities it actually comes in a glass bottle? Fancy.

Wash out jars with hot water and soap, then fill with a dash of vodka and light on fire. Dim the lights for maximum mood effect.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


In the past, I've had trouble with roasted pumpkin seeds tasting a bit off or burnt despite my best effort to keep an eye on them while toasting.

The standard drill is to coat seeds in butter/oil, sprinkle with flavorings of choice, and bake. It occurred to me that the oil might be developing a rancid flavor while being heated in the oven, so this time I omitted it entirely, and took a page from granola-making and dropped the temperature for a more gradual drying process. The moisture on the raw seeds was enough to get the seasoning to stick, and efforts were rewarded with nutty, crunchy seeds. I found that the different flavors came out more clearly sans oil, too.

Roasted Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

Heat oven to 300F. Spread raw seeds from a pumpkin out over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle with sugar, salt, cinnamon, and cumin. Bake 20 minutes, stir seeds around, add more seasoning if needed, then return to oven for another 25 minutes, or until they taste toasty and done.

Friday, October 31, 2008

happy (almost) hypo-allergenic halloween!

In effort to stick it to the candy corporations, but mostly for amusement, late night baking party ensued to churn out nut-free, dairy-free, egg-free vegan cookies for Halloween. Hopefully the kids don't egg us. Oh, the irony.

We used Earth Balance margarine in place of butter, and either banana or pumpkin in place of eggs. The banana cookies were very adult. They were crisp, delicately banana flavored in a non-Runts kinda way, and would have been great with ice cream. I would totally make them again, but more fancy schmancy. The pumpkin spice cookies were soft, slightly spicy, and nom nom nom. They had great texture like any chewy cookie.

If you want to try your hand at vegan cookies, or happen to be out of eggs or butter, follow approximately the following:

Heat oven to 350F. Cream 1 cup Earth Balance and 1 1/2 c unrefined sugar together till fluffy. Beat in either 1 banana or 1/2 c pumpkin, 1 tsp vanilla, some nutmeg, ground ginger, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. Add 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour. Beat for a few minutes to build up some gluten. Chill dough in fridge for a bit if you have time. Or if you are dead tired, forge on!

Scoop out tablespoons of dough. Bake about 14 minutes. While you're waiting, wrestle with Word for about an hour making ingredient tags for the cookies.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

pumpkin time

Autumn is upon us, so, surprise, you're going to have to read about pumpkin. I love love love pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin scones, you name it. But since the blagosphere has already extolled pumpkin chocolate chip cookies to the point of saturation, I thought I a) should not have cookies for dinner. Again. And b) write about something savory instead.

Thus, here is Italian sausage pumpkin soup baked in a pumpkin. Well, since I lack a blender this was more like Italian sausage soup with pumpkin, but nevertheless! Consequently, this soup wasn't quite as thick as I would have liked - next time I would consider making a roux to counter the no blender issue. A handful of kale could be good, too.

Italian Sausage Soup (may contain pumpkin)

1 sugar pumpkin
half an onion, diced
1 leek, leafy green part discarded, thinly sliced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 potato, skin on, cubed
1 lb sausage, removed from casing

2 c stock (chicken, veggie, whatevs)
1 c water
1 1/2 c milk
1/2 c sour cream

some Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
pepper to taste

Heat oven to 350F. Cut a lid out of the pumpkin (I had no problem using a chef knife). Scoop out the seeds and stringy bits with your hand/spoon. Save the seeds for roasting! Replace the lid and pop pumpkin in the oven on a cookie sheet.

Brown sausage in a pan. When cooked, separate meat from all that tasty oil and set aside.

In a big pot, heat some oil, throw in onions, leeks, and celery. Cook for a few minutes. Add potato. Cook few more minutes. Add sausage, stock, water, milk, nutmeg, pepper, and some grated parmesan, too. Simmer for awhile.

Check your pumpkin. When you can scoop the flesh away with a spoon, pour in as much soup as will fit. Replace lid and bake till you feel like eating. If the outside is getting too dark, cover it with some foil.

When serving, scoop out some pumpkin flesh along with the soup. Yum!

Monday, October 27, 2008

salted oatmeal cookies

Sometimes all you want is a damn oatmeal cookie.

Can you spy other interesting objects in this photo?*

Oatmeal cookies often suffer from carrot cake syndrome - they have so many add-ins including but not limited to raisins, chocolate, a whole spice ship, etc. you might as well be eating trail mix.

Enter the salted oatmeal cookie. This is a barebones recipe with just a touch of nutmeg to bring the flavors together, and coarse salted sprinkled over the top. They have a really nice butterscotchy flavor to them despite the scant amount of brown sugar (butterscotch = butter + brown sugar). I made these for a Saturday night homework party (yes, I am cool), and studying has rarely been better. Salty-sweet for the win!

Added bonus feature: oatmeal content makes them suitable for breakfast.

This is a crunchy cookie recipe. If you like your cookies slightly pliable when cool, take them out of the oven after 12 minutes. They'll look pale and undone, but that's because the dough has less egg and brown sugar than your standard cookie recipe. If you enjoy wearing your cookie, bake up to 16 minutes. Adulterate your dough with a handful of chocolate chunks if you please.

If you like soft and chewy cookies, I might experiment with using 2 eggs and/or more brown sugar and less granulated sugar.

Studiously Salted Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups rolled oats (oatmeal)
coarse salt for sprinkling (kosher or sea salt is nice)

Heat oven to 350F.
In a bowl, mix first 5 ingredients together.
In a larger bowl, beat butter and sugars together until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla. Mix till combined. Gradually add flour mixture and mix until flour is just incorporated.
Gradually add in oats till mixed.

Make ping-pong sized balls of dough and put them on a cookie sheet. Gently flatten the tops of the balls a little with your fingers. Barely sprinkle salt over the tops. It only takes a little!

Bake 12-16 minutes - 12 if you want a softer cookie, longer if you want a crispier one. Cookies will look pale.

*leopard ears, bear ears, bike light

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

espresso cheesecake brownies

This weekend I had a friend visit which translated into a blitz of the culinary indulgences Davis has to offer - late night burgers, farmers' market pastries, crepes, dinner parties, dim sum, lattes, bubble tea... And as if that wasn't enough, I had them pick any recipe out of Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours to make for dessert.

Espresso cheesecake brownies. You can't lose, right? A layer of cheesecake baked on top of a layer of brownie should totally be money.

While I won't deny I ate a fair share of the pan, I didn't really find myself craving more. The brownie layer was just sweet enough and contrasted well with its richer cheesecake counterpart, but it didn't quite hit the spot. Aesthetically, these aren't the prettiest either. The recipe called for dropping spoonfuls of brownie batter over the cheesecake layer and swirling, but we discovered that the two layers had rather different densities. The brownie batter sank straight to the bottom and resulted in what you see above.

These brownies also experience a temperature dichotomy. Straight out of the fridge, the brownie layer is too hard to cut and practically fudge (yay saturated fats!). If you let it come to room temperature, then the cheesecake layer is too warm and doesn't hold up well to slicing. Food safety gets a little dicey there, too. In all, I had fun making this but would turn to another recipe in the future!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

nom nom nom granola

Little rivals my addiction for a bowl of granola in the morning. However, I've never had much luck making my own - it's either laden with ridiculous amounts of butter and sugar, or too dry like muesli. Fortunately, there is a solution. This recipe makes a pleasantly clustery, sweet granola that is best eaten with some plain yogurt rather than milk. I made this using whatever I had in the pantry - it is open to endless substitutions, but here are the basic ratios:

Nom Nom Nom Honey Sweetened Granola
Adapted from here

2 cups rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup sliced almonds (or other nuts of your choice)
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup honey
1 cup raisins, dried cranberries, apricots, etc.

Heat oven to 300 degrees F.

Mix the oats, nuts, grains, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Measure oil and vanilla into the measuring cup and swirl it around before pouring into bowl. Measure out the honey in the same, unwashed cup. The oil will help the honey exit the cup. Toss everything together until evenly coated and then pour out into a 9x13" baking pan lined with parchment paper. With a spatula, press mixture down into pan like you're making granola bars.

Bake 20 minutes. Remove from oven, stir up mixture to make sure everything gets evenly toasted, then press it down into the pan again. Bake 20 more minutes.

Stir up the granola and add the dried fruit. If you like your granola in big chunks, press the mixture back down into the pan to your liking. If you like it looser, stir it up a whole bunch. When cool, the mixture will harden into clusters.

*Do NOT mix fruit with the oats in the beginning. They will burn in the oven and destroy your batch of tastiness. Party foul.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

cinnamon squares

Don't be deceived by the name. This is a cake. A fairly addictive one at that, and easy to make, too. I'm all about maximum return on effort. You might think it a bit boring or flat with just cinnamon, but I assure you it's not. This cake is warm and inviting from the spice, and a touch decadent from the layer of dark, unsweetened chocolate and espresso in the middle. The original recipe called for a bittersweet chocolate buttercream frosting, but upon eating a piece warm from the oven decided that it would be ridiculously rich and overpower the nice spice, chocolate, and coffee balance. With a handful of toasted pecans tossed in, this recipe would make for an excellent coffeecake.

Generally when you bake something sweet, you start by creaming together butter and sugar, adding the wet ingredients, then adding the dry. This recipe called for something a bit reversed that I had never seen before by mixing together dry, adding eggs and milk, then finally stirring in melted butter. I was intrigued by how homogeneous a batter I'd obtain, and how that would affect the texture of the cake. I can tell you that you will be rewarded for your unorthodox approach!

Cinnamon Squares
Mostly from Dorie Greenspan's Baking From My Home to Yours

1 1/4 cups plus 2 tbs sugar
1 tablespoon plus 2 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp instant espresso powder (instant coffee works, too)

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
3/4 cup milk
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
10 tbs unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped into small chunks

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 8" square baking pan.

In a small bowl, stir together 2 tbs sugar, 2 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and 1 1/2 tsp espresso together.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, remaining sugar, baking powder, salt, and 1 tbs cinnamon. In another bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, and vanilla.

Pour liquid ingredients over flour mixture, and gently stir until you have a homogeneous batter. Will look lumpy, like so:

Next, gently stir in the butter just until absorbed. At first it looks like the butter will never incorporate, but keep stirring! You'll have a smooth, satiny batter when you're done.

Scrape half of the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle the chocolate over the batter and dust with the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Cover with the rest of batter and smooth the top again.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the cake is puffed and beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. A thin knife or fort inserted into the center will come out clean. Let cake cool rest for 15 minutes before flipping it out onto a cooling rack. At this point you will not be able to resist any longer, so go ahead and cut yourself a piece.

roasted tomatoes

Not generally a tomato product or Italian-y food fan, but won over by the extensive array of pretty tomatoes at the farmers' market (bless your heart, Davis) I pulled out this recipe for oven-roasted tomatoes. And glory! Super-versatile deliciousness with minimal labor! So far, I have had this spread on olive bread with slices of raw goat cheese cheddar (see below), on multigrain toast with avocado (think fancy BLT), and tossed with some Italian sausage tortellini and smoked mozzarella. Yum, yes?

The original recipe calls for steeping the roasted tomatoes with raw garlic; I wondered why not roast some garlic along with the tomatoes, but stuck to the recipe anyway. The answer? At least with the varieties that I used, after several hours in the oven, they were fairly sweet in that good tomatoey way and really benefited from the brighter bite of raw garlic. The sweet, caramelized flavor of roasted garlic would have muddled the flavor balance. In conclusion? Follow directions!

To make your own Pomodori al Forno:
Heat oven to 250 degrees F.
Cut some tomatoes in half, equatorially, and remove seeds.
Get out some of that really good olive oil you've been hiding. Pour enough into a baking pan so that all your tomatoes will be sitting in some.
Place tomatoes in pan, cut side down. Sprinkle with dried oregano, salt, pepper, and sugar. Don't be scared of sugar! It helps balance the acidity.
Drizzle a bit more olive oil over the top.

Put in oven for 1 hour. Flip tomatoes. Put back in oven for 1 hour. Flip again. Put back in oven for 15-45 minutes. Remove tomatoes when they're tender, but not falling apart. A little mush is fine!

Put tomatoes in a bowl. Toss in 2 minced garlic cloves. Pour remaining olive oil over the top. The left over olive oil is gold! Let stand at room temperature 2 hours. Indulge in your tomatoes as you will, then store in fridge when done.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

inaugural banana bread

Safely relocated and mostly moved into the new digs, I woke up this morning absurdly cold and decided it was time to test out the new oven with some early morning baking.

With my beautiful red stand mixer (BEST. BIRTHDAY GIFT. EVER.) claiming some counter space, this recipe was a breeze. Sometimes banana bread turns out overly moist and sticky, but this recipe results in a slightly sweet, fairly light textured breakfast bread. The wheat flour and toasted nuts balance out the sweetness, and give the bread a little depth. Do enjoy straight from the oven, possibly with a touch of butter. Possibly have another slice for lunch as well.

Banana Nut Bread

8 tbs butter (1 stick), room temperature
3/4 c sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

1 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

1 c mashed very ripe bananas (2-3 bananas)
1/2 c plain yogurt (or sour cream)
1/2 c chopped toasted walnuts or pecans (don't be a noob and burn them like I did)

Put on a hoodie.

Preheat oven to 350°F, butter a loaf pan. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs beating well.

In another bowl, mix dry ingredients together and add to butter mixture. Blend well. Add the yogurt and bananas. Mix, mix, mix. Stir in the nuts and pour into the pan. Bake 45-60 mins until the middle springs back when you push down on it. If it's getting too brown and it's not done, cover the loaf with foil and keep baking.

Try not to burn yourself as you cut yourself a piece and bask in the warmth of your kitchen.

fast fruit tarts

I had some precious handmade puff pastry left over from the bakery gig, and was looking to put it to good use. Laziness + awesome puff pastry = amazing. You'll hardly lift a finger but look like a pro because anything with puff pastry looks fancy schmancy.

What you do:

Find yourself some puff pastry better than that frozen Pepperidge Farm stuff. Consider begging your local bakery to give you some.

Cut 2 squares of thawed puff pastry out.
Top one with a few slices of apple left over from your apple pie, sprinkle with brown sugar, and dot with butter.

Top the other square with a spoon or two of peach preserves you made a few months ago because you're nuts, and some of those frozen blueberries that you picked, too. (Other jam and fruit combos work quite tastily as well. Raspberry/blackberry anyone?)

Pop in the oven at 450 degrees for 20 minutes, or until pastry is puffed and golden, and the fruit looks done. Pat yourself on the back and serve with ice cream.

summer in a jar

Recall the peach jamboree madness? Here's what happened to a mere 3 pounds of them back in June. Risking burned limbs and anaerobic bacterial growth, I had a little foray into canning. Sadly, I lost my photographic adventures of this project, but thought I aught to document it for my own edification anyway.

Peach Preserves

What you need:
4 1/2-pint mason jars and new lids, washed

3 lbs. peeled and roughly sliced peaches , about 5 cups of fruit
2/3 c sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tbs. lemon juice
a very healthy splash or two of triple sec

Toss peaches, sugar, cinnamon, and lemon juice together in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let stand 3 or 4 hours. This is what we call macerating.

Place a colander in a big skillet or wok. Pour fruit and juice through colander, and let drain for 20 minutes. Remove fruit to a bowl. Measure depth of juice in pan with a chopstick.

Bring the juice to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat enough to keep the juice boiling fairly rapidly (the surface will appear foamy with small bubbles covering the entire surface). Boil until the juice is reduced by half. This will take about 20 minutes. To test the amount of reduction, place the chopstick in the pan and see where the surface hits in relation to the original measurement. By this time, the juice has become a light, slightly glistening syrup.

Get a pot of gently boiling water going.

Add the fruit, any additional juice that has accumulated, and the triple sec. Continue cooking until the peaches begin to take on a translucent, caramelized look around the edges, and the syrup is quite thick. This will take about 15 minutes. There will be lots of splattering of screaming hot sugar, so protect your hands and arms to avoid battle scars.

Remove the mixture from the heat. Ladle the hot jam into one hot jar at a time, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Wipe jar rim clean. Attach lid. Fill and close remaining jars. submerge jars in pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and let cool till you can safely fish out the jars. Let sit on the counter overnight. Hopefully a seal should form. Nurse your burns and take pride that you'll be enjoying your peaches year-round.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

hatch chile apple pie

Pie and chiles, you say? A la mode, you say?

This basic apple pie gets its twist from roasted hatch chile. The roasting mellows out the chile, and adds a mild spicy background that adds another layer to the traditional spice combo in the pie. Perfect with a scoop of vanilla ice cream to cool down the heat.

Hatch Chile Apple Pie
Adapted from Central Market's Hatch Chile Apple Cobbler

your favorite double pie crust recipe

1 hatch chile
5 or 6 granny smith or golden delicious apples, peeled and sliced to your preference
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tbs cornstarch

1 egg, beaten

Make your pie crust dough. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Broil chile for a few minutes on each side, till skin is charred and blistered. Remove from oven and cover with foil while you prep everything else. When you're good and ready, peel the skin, discard seeds, and chop up the remaining chile.

Combine the apples, brown sugar, cornstarch, chile, cider vinegar, and spices in a bowl. Mix well.
Roll out your pie crust and put it in the pan. Pour in the apple mixture. If you're OCD, proceed to lattice your pie. If not, make a normal double-crusted pie. Paint the top with beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar to make pretty.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until the filling looks brown, bubbly, and delicious.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

goodness that is mango

Be still my heart - it's mango season! My love for this fruit is greater than the risk of phalange loss when cutting them, especially with my propensity for kitchen injury. How the hell I work in a bakery, I have no idea. But with all 10 fingers, I shall blog about mango... in bread form!

Once again facilitated by the incredible powers of procrastination vested in Google Reader, I found this recipe for fresh mango bread from Joy the Baker. Drawn by the unique combination of ingredients (mango, apple, raisins, lime zest...), it seemed like a nice change of pace from my usual arsenal of quick breads.

Verdict? The cinnamon and ginger flavors make your palate think holidays, and then the bites of mango make you think, "Why didn't I put mango in my bread sooner?"

I didn't have any raisins, but threw in a handful of toasted walnuts instead. Also, I had a little trouble getting the very middle of the bread to bake through using a shallower but longer 13 3/8 " x 4 7/8 " pan. Can someone explain those dimensions, by the way? They don't even come out to even numbers in metric... Regardless, this one's a keeper and I'll be making it again soon.

Fresh Mango Lime Bread
Adapted from Joy the Baker adapted from Dorie Greenspan

3 large eggs
3/4 cup canola oil
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup brown sugar

1 to 1 1/4 cup diced mangos from 1 large peeled and pitted mango
1 cup grated apple from 1 peeled Granny Smith apple
3/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
grated zest of 1/2 lime

Preheat oven 350 degrees F. Grease a 8-1/2 x 4-1/2 inch loaf pan. Put the pan on a baking sheet. This extra insulation will keep the bottom of the bread from over baking.

Whisk the eggs and the oil together.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Rub the brown sugar between your palms into the bowl, breaking up any lumps, then stir it in. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry, switch to a sturdy rubber spatula or wooden spoon and mix until blended- the batter will be very thick (really more like a dough than a batter) and not easily mixed, but persevere, it will soon come together. Stir in the mango, apples, raisins and zest. Batter into the pan!

Bake 1 1/2 hours, or until it is golden brown and a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean. If the bread looks as if it’s getting too brown as it bakes, cover loosely with a foil tent. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before running a knife around the sides of the pan and unmolding. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up on the rack. Eat a lot of it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


smell of fresh baked cookies + smell of rendering bacon = confusingly delicious

Saturday, July 12, 2008

tom yum goong

Tom yum goong, or Thai lemongrass prawn soup, is distinctly not a baked good, but guaranteed to fill your home with yummy smells. This is one of those traditional dishes open to a million interpretations, but they all get their distinctive flavor from lemongrass, nam-prik pao (roasted red chili paste), and kaffir lime leaves if you're ever so lucky to have some. The lemongrass and lime leaves impart that addictive flavor you find in Thai cooking, and the roasted chili paste (which contains shrimp paste) adds a deliciously complex salty and spicy quality to the broth. You can totally find this paste in the Asian foods isle at the market.

Not up to making prawn stock from prawn heads and shells, I made this quick and dirty, non-authentic but tasty version cleaning out the fridge. The longer you can simmer it, the better. The coconut milk gives it a satisfying richness. Serve this over some vermicelli and you could make a meal out of it.

Quick and Dirty Tom Yum Goong

3 ½ cups chicken broth
1 cup water
¼ cup coconut milk

1 shallot, minced
1 jalapeno, cut into strips
2 pieces of ginger, 1” each
2 stalks lemon grass, discard outer layer and dry ends, cut into 2” pieces
3 kaffir lime leaves, crushed up a bit
1 lime, juiced
2 tbs fish sauce
1 tbs nam-prik pao (roasted red chili paste)

15 shitake mushrooms, sliced
½ block of tofu, cut into chunks
Handful of coarsely chopped cilantro
10 prawns

Get a sizeable pot. Heat a little oil over low heat. Soften shallots and jalapeno. Add mushrooms. Soften.

Add broth and water. Throw in everything else, except prawns. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for at least 30 minutes.

Throw in prawns a few minutes before you want to serve. Done when you're hungry.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


The Stonewall, TX Peach JAMboree experience (which I highly recommend) isn't complete without mutton riding, wild cow milking, and walking away with a half bushel of peaches. Some idea of what half a bushel minus 20 peaches looks like...
Needless to say, some peaches need eated.

Peach Project #1: Spiced Peach Pie with Buttermilk Crust

Pie crust and I have a brief, yet unhappy history together. However, as a firm believer that buttermilk makes everything better, this recipe prevailed. The crust rolled out easily and baked up tender; the cardamom and cinnamon gave the peaches a hint of warm, delicious spiciness.

I also made this pie with a handful of blackberries thrown in with tasty results. This crust recipe would work well for just about any fruit pie.

Spiced Peach Pie with Buttermilk Crust
Adapted from Bon Appétit | August 1999

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
5 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup shortening, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cup chilled buttermilk

½ cup sugar
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
3 3/4 to 4 pounds ripe peaches (about 6 cups fruit)
1 egg, beaten (for glaze)

Make crust (when you don’t have a processor):
Mix flour, sugar and salt. Toss in butter and lard. Take 2 steak knives and cut up the chunks into smaller bits. Should look like chunky flour, yum! With a spatula, stir in 3/4 cup buttermilk, smearing the bits of dough against the side of the bowl. Dough should look a might dry and crumbly, but comes together in a moist clump when you take a handful and squeeze it. Gather dough into ball. Divide into 2 pieces, 1 slightly larger than the other. Flatten each into disk. Wrap disks in plastic; chill at least 1 hour or overnight.

Peel your peaches:
Boil some water. Cut a little ‘X’ into the bottom of peaches and toss them into water for 30 seconds. Transfer them into a bowl of ice water for a few minutes. Peel, halve and pit peaches. Mix 3/4 cup sugar and next 4 ingredients in large bowl Slice peaches into bowl with sugar mixture; toss to coat. Let filling stand until juices form, 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Roll out larger dough disk on floured surface to 12- to 13-inch round. Transfer dough to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Trim overhang to 3/4 inch. Mound filling in dish. Roll out second disk on floured surface to 12-inch round. Drape dough over filling. Pinch overhang and edge of top crust together. Fold edge under. Cut several slits in top crust. Crimp edge. Brush pie with beaten egg; sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar.

Place pie on center rack in oven. Bake 50 minutes. Place baking sheet on lowest rack to catch drippings. Continue to bake pie until crust is brown and juices bubble thickly through slits, covering very loosely with foil if top browns too quickly, about 20 minutes. Cool on rack 1 hour, or cut into it hot and let it run everywhere with a scoop of ice cream.

Monday, June 16, 2008

eat more veggies

I love carrot cake, but sometimes there's just too much going on. Pineapple, coconut, raisins, nuts... it skirts fruitcake at times.

Looking for simpler times, I have been eying this recipe I saw for Carrot Honey Cake. I finally made them outsourced their creation (thanks, friend!) in cupcake form for a dinner shindig, and my tummy was glad I did.

I often say that people think they can't cook because they follow poorly written recipes. Ambiguous phrases such as "mix until barely incorporated" or "cook till just done" add anxiety and don't tell the inexperienced cook what to look for. On the flip side, this carrot cake is a good example of a very well written recipe that is concise yet descriptive. At a glance it looks a bit wordy, but follow these directions and you will have a moist, subtly spicey cake with a nice hint of sweetness from the honey. They would be delicious as muffins sans cream cheese frosting, but why wouldn't you want cream cheese frosting?

good pie bad pie

Hard at work perusing my Google Reader news feed (procrastination: more efficient than ever!), I saw a recipe for strawberry pie. Deluded by promises of plump, fragrant berries in pie form I hit the market. Five pounds of strawberries richer, I was confident I was going to churn out a gorgeous scarlet red pie, nevermind my knack for misshapen pies.

Hasty, hasty, Jen. Had I taken the time to read the recipe carefully, I would have realized that I was setting myself up to make strawberry jello in a pie crust. As far as jello goes, this was a winner. I, however, am keen on my food having a little less wiggle to it.

With 3 lbs. of berries remaining, I felt the need for revenge of the strawberry pie. I settled on the recipe below, adapted from
Bon Appétit. This recipe was simple, fast, and gone soon after its conception. The orange zest provided a nice brightness, and the cookie crust was easy to make (no rolling out dough, yay!).

Strawberry Icebox Pie with Almond Crust

Adapted from Bon Appétit | April 2003

1 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 2 graham crackers)
3 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

5 cups quartered hulled strawberries (about 24 oz)
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons orange zest

1 1/2 cups chilled whipping cream
1 tablespoon sugar

For crust:
Preheat to 350°F. Butter 9" pie dish. Coarsely chop almonds. Add graham cracker crumbs and sugar; mash up together to mix. Add butter, mix. Press crumb mixture onto bottom and up sides of pie dish. Bake until crust looks toasty, about 12 minutes.

For filling:
Place 2 cups strawberries in medium saucepan.

Mash strawberries until chunky. Add sugar, cornstarch (slowly so you don't get clumps), and lemon juice. Stir over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves and mixture boils and thickens, about 3 minutes. Stir in orange zest. Transfer mixture to bowl. Cool to room temperature.

Stir in remaining 3 cups strawberries and grated orange peel. Mound filling in crust. Chill pie until cold and set, at least 2 hours and up to 6 hours.

Using electric mixer, beat cream in large bowl until peaks form.

Spread whipped cream decoratively over filling. Cut pie into wedges and serve.
Spread a few spoonfuls of mixture over bottom of crust. Organize remaining strawberries till pretty. Mound filling in crust. Chill pie until cold and set.

Beat cream and sugar in large bowl until soft peaks form. Serve together!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Sneaking contraband durian into the restaurant, disallowed in most public places due to its... pungency.

The verdict? Like eating creamed onion. In fruit form. The flesh is soft, and well, creamy, and somewhat stringy with a pit in the middle. The taste is somewhere between onion and chive, reminiscent of the delicious lily bulbs we had in China. I wonder if there are any durian recipes...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Phi Phi Island, Thailand - clear water, white sand, biting monkeys... do we have to leave?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

school of new thought

Safely back in Hong Kong and still recovering from the culinary adventures of China, I was informed that the menu for the tonight would include more specialties from our 'home village' that had been brought back. You just can't leave some experiences behind.

Fortunately, the prized victuals were not more cold sea creature bits, but roast goose and the ugliest tangerines I have ever seen. The goose was savory and the tangerine sweet, just like they were supposed to be, which led me to a new theory about food from Chaozhou. Foodstuffs must cross border in order to fully develop their proper flavor. In China, we had simply expected too much too soon from our meals. That being said, I think I'll stick to dining on the island for now.

Tomorrow? The quest for the best mango dessert place in Hong Kong!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

tasting the armpit of the rooster

Chaozhou is an area located in the easternmost part of the Guangdong province in southern China not renowned for their food. I'd like to think that I have an accepting palate, especially for Asian flavors, but this trip was truly a challenge to stomach.

After schlepping up and down a slick, jungly Chaozhou mountainside in the rain with forty people I am apparently related to for the burial ceremony I was ironically not allowed to attend due to my "astral sign karma" (more on that later), it was feeding time. Thus, we descended upon what I could only guess was the single restaurant in town with seating capacity for our party.

Allow me to regale you with some of the culinary delights served in the Chaozhou style:

  • Small clams in an odd, intensely flavored broth
  • An unidentified, armored relative of the shrimp: equipped with extra exoskeleton and a thick orange-red vein likening to overcooked egg yolk
  • Stir-fried lily bulbs: the onion/potato hybrid. It looks like a garlic bulb, slices like an onion, but has the mouthfeel of a mealy starch. And tastes somewhere in between.
  • Fried yam. Period. Not to be confused with delicious, orange sweet potatoes. (Yam fufu, anyone?)
  • Cold cod innards and other fish bits. I was informed the swim bladder is a delicacy.
  • Ginseng abalone soup. This was actually one of the better courses, but there's something about prehistoric mollusks with a furry yet chewy texture that gets me every time.
  • Cherry tomatoes. For dessert.

These and handful of other lackluster, poorly seasoned dishes rounded out the night. The grade? Points for diversity, but fail on execution. Judging by the fact that nobody insisted the fish bits be polished off, or that I needed another yam left me to believe that the restaurant was at fault and not the cuisine. At least till morning.

(Side note: There was a 911 Carrera 4 out front when we left the restaurant. What? How? Why?)

Morning was greeted with oversalted congee mixed to a disproportionate ratio of water to rice, and shoddy dim sum. Being with family from the region, I was starting to doubt that we just happened upon subpar places, but that Chaozhou was simply a gastronomically underwhelming place.

Lunch confirmed this suspicion as we became the only patrons of another nondescript restaurant. Having been told that a number of relatives had dined at this restaurant before kindled false hope that maybe Chaozhou cuisine wasn’t so bad after all.

Dish #1: Shady clams with chopped chilies. At first I thought they weren’t fresh because none of the shells were open. The fact was they were just still alive. Next came a series of dishes similar to the ones we had regarded last night as well as a few new friends. Highlights include:

  • Braised lettuce with membranous clam bits and other chewy sea creatures.
  • The lovechild of a fiddlehead fern precursor and a soba noodle. I was told it was a mushroom, but I have my doubts. Taste: inoffensive.
  • ‘Lotus seed’ in a fishy broth. This seed was more like a large great northern bean, but really firm and waxy.

Overall, this led me to believe that the previous night’s dinner really was bad, but that it was also time to head for the border back to Hong Kong.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

return of the great pumpkin

What happens if you really aught to be moving and find roasted pumpkin from last November in the back of your freezer? You fill the apartment with yummy smells and tell yourself it's much easier to move 2 cups of flour in your stomach than in a box.

This recipe made a moist, dense loaf that slices well enough it might take to a cream cheese swirl in the future (note to self). The batter was quite runny even for a quick bread, but rest assured, you will be rewarded! Sadly, no photos.

Cranberry-Walnut Pumpkin Bread
Adapted from Bon Appétit | October 2003

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp fresh grated ginger
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder

tsp salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup pumpkin

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup dried sweetened cranberries
1/2 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 9 1/4x5 1/4x3-inch loaf pan.

Whisk flour, spices, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in medium bowl to blend.

In a separate, larger bowl – beat together butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Beat in pumpkin, then vanilla.

Beat in dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk in 2 additions each. Fold in cranberries and nuts. Transfer batter to pan.

Bake bread until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Cool bread in pan on rack 15 minutes.