Monday, March 30, 2009

Chicken Carbonara

I've found a new favorite way to use leftover chicken.

Sometimes I'll have leftovers from a roasted chicken in the grocery store, from a restaurant, or in this case, from a chicken I roasted at home using this method. After the initial chicken meal there are many things I like to do with the leftover meat -- enchiladas, salad, quesadillas, etc. But I think this chicken carbonara is definitely my new favorite. The rich, creamy Alfredo-esque sauce with slight smokiness from the bacon and the heartiness of the chicken makes this spaghetti dish absolutely no one's leftovers. (However, this dish itself doesn't actually make for good leftovers -- cream sauces rarely do. Reheating will make it separate, so you should eat whatever you make right then and there!)

I was inspired by this video, in which Giada De Laurentiis shares her recipe for chicken carbonara, but I adjusted it to a) serve 2 rather than what looks like an army; b) use slightly less cream to save on calories; and c) use bacon rather than pancetta, which is easier to acquire and less costly as well.

Chicken Carbonara

Serves 2

  • 8oz dried spaghetti
  • 1 cup cooked chicken, chopped
  • 2 slices of strip bacon, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup regular or heavy whipping cream (or use 3/4 cup of cream and skip the whole milk)
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • salt to taste


  1. Start boiling water with some salt to make the pasta as the package directs. Cook pasta until just before al dente -- it will be cooked a little more in the sauce, so you don't want to overcook or it'll become too soft.
  2. In a medium saucepan with a heavy bottom, start frying the bacon. When nearly crisp, add the garlic and saute together for a minute, until the bacon is crisp. Remove from heat.
  3. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Add the whipping cream, milk, cheese, and parsley. Stir until combined.
  4. When the pasta is almost ready, place the pan with the bacon mixture back onto low to medium heat. Add the chicken.
  5. Using tongs or similar, add the cooked spaghetti directly on top of the chicken, without straining. The pasta water it brings over is good, as it's starchy and will help with thickening the sauce.
  6. Pour the cream mixture into the pan with the spaghetti. Gently mix everything together, until the sauce has thickened (this will go a LOT faster if you use heavy whipping cream; if you don't, just be patient, it WILL thicken) and the meat is well distributed. Do NOT heat so high that the sauce boils; this will cause it to separate and will be pretty much disgusting and inedible.
  7. Taste it; you may find that the salt from the bacon is enough to season the dish. If not, use salt to taste.

Note: Giada serves her carbonara with some crushed walnut sprinkled over the top; this is intriguing but I haven't yet tried it.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Friday Dinner: Baked Garlic Parmesan Fries

Here was our attempt at being healthy and bad at the same time. Fries, being made of potato, which is all starch, are never really "good" for you. But there's bad, and then there's slightly less bad. That's what we had on Friday.

They were good -- I made half the recipe, which called for 1 1/2 pounds of potatoes, and I ate every last one. But were they just like regular french fries? Not so much. Frying gives fries the texture that makes them fries; baking them is an OK substitute, but in the end you're really just roasting potatoes in the shape of french fries. And hey, that's OK too. It's certainly easier to bake them -- there are more steps involved -- but not having to deal with large amounts of frying oil is a reward in itself. At the end of the day, I'll say that both methods of making fries have their strong and weak points, and really, when you get to eat potatoes at the end of it, there's not much to complain about.

Making fries isn't new to me... after all, I've fried them properly and tried baking them as well. But this was a slight twist on the latter method. It required first baking the fries, then tossing them with butter, garlic, parmesan cheese, and parsley. It took the full 50 minutes of baking time to get my fries as brown as they look, and they didn't even start remotely looking brown until about 41 minutes. Alas for Trix, whose oven must not run as hot as mine, never got hers to be even half as brown after 60 minutes. Depending on your oven, you may find that you need to keep your fries in longer (or take them out earlier).

As usual I kept the skin of the potatoes on, as I like how they look, they don't taste any different to me, and they add what minimal nutritional value there is to fries.

Baked Garlic Parmesan Fries

  • 1-1/2 lbs russet potatoes (about 4 medium-sized ones), peeled or not
  • cooking oil spray
  • 2 tsp canola oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped


  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Layer a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with cooking oil.
  2. Using a knife or mandolin, slice potatoes into fries about 1/4" thick. Blot away moisture as best as you can. (If you're a slow chopper or are doubling the recipe, you may want to immerse your potatoes in water as you cut them so they don't oxidize. Be sure to dry them thoroughly before baking.)
  3. Place the fries into a gallon-sized plastic bag along with the canola oil and salt. Seal the bag and massage the contents so that all the potatoes are well coated.
  4. Layer the fries onto the prepared baking sheet, spreading them out into a single layer as best as you can.
  5. Place the sheet into the oven and bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove the baking sheet from the oven and turn the fries (I just kind of give them all a toss). Put them back in the oven for another 30 minutes or until golden brown.
  6. During the last minute or two of baking, heat the butter in a large pan. Saute the garlic for 30-45 seconds, making sure that they don't brown. The garlic should remain soft for best flavor. Turn off the heat.
  7. Add the baked fries to the garlic and butter. Using tongs or a spatula, carefully move the fries around (they're more delicate than their fried counterparts) so that they're coated. Top with parmesan and parsley. Give everything a quick toss, place on a dish, and serve.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Macarons, Part Two

I tried another batch of macarons today, nixing the attempt to make them chocolate for two reasons. 1) Chocolate macarons are supposedly more difficult than other kinds; and 2) I couldn't find Dutch-processed cocoa at a reasonable price (it was $12 for a small box, compared to $2.50 for a mix of regular cocoa and Dutch-processed), which could be a problem due to acidity. Best to stick with 'regular' macarons for now.

The recipe I used, other than not having cocoa, differed from the first recipe in the following ways:
  • less granulated sugar
  • the sugar is added to the egg whites at an earlier stage
  • more egg white, but also more powdered sugar and ground almond
  • the piped batter was allowed to sit out for 30 minutes before baking
  • they were baked at a lower temperature, for a shorter time

The egg whites I microwaved for 8 seconds after getting them to room temperature. By sight alone they didn't seem any different, as in, they hadn't gotten opaque and were as translucent as ever, but when whipping them up I could distinctly smell an eggy smell, which I've never experienced before when making meringue (but perhaps I've never had reason to get that close for that long).

They never got glossy. I don't know the reason for this -- whether it was the microwaving or the earlier addition of the granulated sugar, or maybe something else altogether. Yesterday's batch became glossy almost immediately after adding the sugar. This one I whipped and whipped and whipped far beyond my natural inclination (and ultimately, the good of the end result), because I kept waiting for them to get glossy and they never did. I even added a little more granulated sugar at the prescribed stage from yesterday's batch to try and get them to gloss, but just didn't happen. It was frustrating. When they're glossy the texture is almost like nougat. This one never got beyond fluffy egg white.

I finally stopped the machine when the meringue was so thick/fluffy that practically the whole mass of it was stuck in the whisk. Since I'd come this far, I decided to plow on and at least see how this batch would turn out, for the sake of science.

Folding the dry ingredients into the meringue went a lot faster and easier this time than it was yesterday; the end batter wasn't as thick as yesterday's, though it was still slightly thicker than the "flows like magma" description/photos from the macaron sites I've perused.

So how did these meringues turn out?

  • they were VERY puffy, so much so that a layer of air separated the top layer from the bottom layer ... they were so fragile that when you bit into one, it fell apart (unlike yesterday's, which were crunchy and hard)
  • immediately after baking, each one had a nice little foot -- after drying, the tops sunk down so that the feet disappeared
  • the tops of the cookies were consistently uncracked; however the batter wasn't thin enough to keep it from 'beaking,' so the baked cookies had a slight rise in their middles
  • they were still sweeter than I would like

I'll make some more adjustments and try again!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The First But Not the Last

This is going to be the start of what I suspect are many posts on the same topic: macarons.

Don't confuse macarons with macaroons. Macarons are a type of French pastry that's usually pressed into a sandwich by a ganache filling in between two cookies. Macaroons involve coconut and are far denser. The basic ingredients of macarons are ground almonds, powdered sugar, and egg whites.

And like so many French pastries, they are extremely difficult to perfect. Le sigh. (See what I did there?)

I've been intrigued by them for a long time, but have never actually had a proper one until last week. I've considered buying them, but they're rather pricey (about $3.50 per, and they're small cookies), and making them seemed like I was just asking for despair and disappointment. But, as I said, I finally had one -- a miniature version, a spicy pear macaron at Crush, one of Seattle's nicer restaurants -- and I dug it. Really dug it.

So I rolled up my sleeves, girded my loins, took the plunge, enter your favorite phrase here, and made my first attempt at them -- David Lebovitz's French Chocolate Macarons. It was supposed to be 'user friendly.' And of all the reading I've done on macarons, it was relatively simple. But they didn't come out right. Macarons -- from what I've read and what I experienced (limited though it was), aren't actually crunchy, like meringue cookies. They may have a slight crunch on the outside, but the inside should be pillowy and soft, though not chewy and not too sweet. When they're baked up properly, they'll have "feet" -- the trademark of a properly made macaron.

My batch of macarons had a number of problems:

  • the almond meal that I used wasn't ground fine enough (I think)
  • the cookies were far too hard and crunchy
  • the "feet" were inconsistent -- some cookies had it while others did not
  • the tops were grainy and often cracked instead of smooth all over
  • while folding in the dry ingredients to the egg whites, I could tell the batter was getting very stiff, and yet since it didn't look as described I had to keep going

For my next batch, I'm going to be trying a few changes, according to some other recipes/posts that I've read:

  • keep egg whites at room temperature for 24 hours or more, or microwave for 10 seconds before using
  • make sure almonds are finely ground, and sift with the powdered sugar twice to make sure everything is as fine as possible
  • get a proper pastry bag/tip
  • do not overwhip egg whites (DL's recipe said to whip until glossy and stiff, but others seem to disagree, that the meringue should only reach soft-medium levels)

Couple of recipes to try:

As I experiment further I'll be posting the results here!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Kalbi -- Korean Marinated Short Ribs

I'm not Korean but I LOOOOVE Korean food. Making it completely authentic is a bit of a challenge without that background, but I do have some friends to guide me. One of my favorite dishes is kalbi, marinated sliced short ribs that are sooooo good.

Last summer we had a barbecue, to which my cousin's friend, who's Korean, brought uncooked kalbi. It was grilled on the barbecue along with other meats, but frankly blew everything else away! I begged her for the recipe, wanting to know what went in the marinade, and after much badgering she finally confessed that she didn't make a marinade from scratch; she used Mr. Yoshida's marinade. D'oh.

Well, you can't argue with a good thing. I'd love to know how to make my own authentic marinade for kalbi one day (any of you have tried and true recipes you'd like to share??), but until then, this one does me just fine.

Kalbi is so popular that grocery stores of all types are carrying this cut of meat -- often named some variation of "kalbi" or might say "for Korean BBQ" or "cut flanken style." You definitely don't want the typical large cuts of short ribs (that are good in their own right, for braising usually). These should be strips of beef about 1/2-inch thick, about a foot long, and interspersed with 3-4 bones toward the edges. You can marinade and grill them whole, but I usually slice them into pieces, letting the bones guide me where another piece should start/end. I'm way too lazy to fire up a grill to make these (though I do think they taste better that way), so to make them at home I just heat up a tablespoon or two of canola oil in the wok and cook them that way (they don't take very long). I make sure that the beef is in a single layer, and just turn them at intervals. Depending on how much you have you may need to do this in batches. It also seems fairly typical to serve these with just-cooked onion ... in the last batch toward the end of cooking toss in a small onion sliced on the vertical in with the beef, and stir fry until the onion is just starting to brown, about a minute or two. They shouldn't be completely soft and should still have a nice crunch to them.

So far I have been way too lazy to serve this with a proper Korean banchan offering -- way too many little side dishes to make for just me! -- but I eat this with a large helping of fluffy white rice and prepared kimchi and it's just divine! I initially start out using chopsticks but soon abandon my propriety and just eat the ribs with my fingers, lol.

I posted this to LiveJournal and chumas has shared a kalbi marinade, woot! It goes like this:

Moms Marinade

  • 1 cup of dark soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup sherry
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup green onions, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground cayanne pepper (I like it firey, less for less heat)
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds


  1. Let kalbi soak in marinade for two to three hours, flipping occasionally. Grill or pan fry, serve.
But it seems that Mr. Yoshida's is quite well known and popular, so there's no shame in using it from time to time, right? Right!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

T-Bone Steak with Melting Marrow Gremolata

One of the simplest pleasures in life is a perfectly cooked steak.

Beef is enjoyable in many forms, but steak is possibly the simplest and best of all -- you throw it over some heat and minutes later, you're sitting down to a satisfying meal. At least, that's the way it should be. Cooking a steak is simple. It doesn't take much to cook beef. But cooking it perfectly is another story.

My idea of a perfect steak is: seared and crusty on the outside, with a warm red center. It sounds so deceptively simple, but it's taken me years to finally figure out how to make something close to what I love (though not perfected yet) with the tools I have at hand. The thing with steak is that it's so easily overcooked. One second it's too rare, and the next second it's brown throughout. If you brown it on high heat, the outside is charred but the inside is too rare. Brown it on lower heat, and it'll take longer to brown, by which time the meat will be far too well done.

My dad doesn't worry about the browning. As long as it's medium rare, he's good with it. And his steaks are definitely fantastic. But he uses a broiler, and I've never been able to figure out my electric broiler, so that's out. Others use outdoor grills with great success. I love the flavor of meat that's been grilled on a barbecue, but I'm just one person and it's a lot of effort to get a grill going just for one steak, and anyway I don't have a great grill (just a small hibachi) or experience with grilling steak. Basically, all I have is my oven and my stove. Is it possible to get perfectly cooked steak with just those? It might be. I'm still in the experimental stages. What I do know is that my first try was a steak that came close to being perfect, maybe as perfect as I can get with home equipment. Time will tell.

Until today, I generally avoided cooking steak at home because it never comes out the way I want. Why did I finally cave? Well, it has to do with bone marrow.

The other day I went to a neighborhood butcher for the first time, with the intent to buy marrow bones. I ended up buying 6 pieces. (One was given raw to my dog, as marrow bones have been proven to be a great recreational bone, keeping dogs busy for hours as they chew happily away -- and it keeps their teeth clean and tartar-free at the same time!) I've been doing a LOT of research and reading about eating bone marrow, which has sadly gone out of practice in modern times, even though it's chock full of goodness. "Bone marrow is a source of protein and high in monounsaturated fats. These fats are known to decrease LDL cholesterol levels resulting in a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease." (Source)

I've ordered Bones: Recipes, History, and Lore by Jennifer Mclagan, which won a James Beard award as the best single subject cookbook of 2005. The cover of the book is a plate of delectable-looking roasted marrow bones. I love this quote from the author in an interview she did: "But when you [...] get to chew on the bone it is something primordial. It takes us back to our ancient wild past as humans. It is a pure basic human pleasure and the basis of the truism 'the closer to the bone, the sweeter is the meat'."

The most common method of preparation is to roast the marrow right in the bone, then use it as a spread on toasted bread. Anthony Bourdain has said that if he were on death row, his last meal would consist of bone marrow (here is his recipe). For something a little fancier, you could also roast it, remove the marrow and mix it with aromatics and mushrooms, then stuff it back into the bone, and serve it that way. I'm also intrigued by this method of removing the marrow from the bone, brining it, rolling it in flour, then sauteing it in oil. Then you spread it on bread to eat.

But perhaps the method that's intrigued me the most is the recipe for Melting Marrow Gremolata, which comes from Judy Rodgers's The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, one of the favorites in my collection of cookbooks. Her recipe has you mixing together a traditional gremolata of garlic, lemon peel, parsley and other seasonings along with chunks of cold bone marrow. You then cook yourself up a nice juicy steak, and spread the marrow gremolata over the steak. The heat melts the marrow and the aromatics spread and bloom over the surface of the meat (paraphrasing now as I don't have the book in front of me).

Thus while at the butcher's, I also picked up a T-bone steak, one of my favorites. If I was going to make the gremolata, I'd have to have a steak to use it on. And if I was going to cook steak at home, I'd have to try and make it good. I made the gremolata while waiting for the steak to come to room temperature and kept it in the fridge until it was ready to be used.

I preheated my oven to 450°F and started heating my new Le Creuset grilling pan (yes, the same one I used yesterday for my flounder). When the latter was hot, I rubbed a bit of canola oil over both sides of the steak. If I didn't have the gremolata I would have seasoned it with salt and pepper as well, but I did have it, so I did no further seasoning. The steak sizzled when I placed it into the pan. After 3 minutes, the steak was seared with lovely stripes of brown that you see on TV commercials -- I wish I'd taken a picture of it at this point. I'll be trying this with a normal pan as well, to perhaps get an all-over crust (I'll also use a higher temperature to sear). I flipped the steak over, sprinkled the gremolata over the top, and placed the pan into the oven. After two minutes, the steak was done. You should let it sit for a few minutes to keep in the juice.

Overall, the result was very good. The only problems were that it was actually a little more well done in parts than I really like, and that there was a bit of inconsistency in how evenly the steak cooked. Some parts were overdone, while other parts (the bits closer to the bone) were underdone. There will always be some inconsistency, but the range here was a little more than I would have liked.

For my next attempt, I'll use a higher heat when doing the initial searing and lessen the time as well. I'll also try using a lower temperature in the oven, and keep it in a minute longer. Still, I must say that it was very exciting to come this close on a first attempt. It gives me great hope! As for the gremolata, I think it was a bit heavy on the parsley. If I make it again I'll use more garlic and less parsley. Not being familiar with bone marrow, I'm not really sure I could taste it! I'll definitely need to prepare it using one of the other methods.

I served the steak with Ruth's Chris au gratin potatoes (recipe here).

Taking it out of the oven in preparation for the last step: Lots of cheese sprinkled on top!

And the finished product...

Melting Marrow Gremolata paraphrased from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

  • 1 tbsp cold beef marrow (0.5oz)
  • 2 tbsp packed, chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp lemon zest, chopped
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 pinches of salt


  1. Mix together everything but the bone marrow.
  2. Chop the beef marrow into small pieces and toss with the aromatics. Keep it in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday Dinner: Fish Tacos

You know what I loved about this Friday Dinner? Well, actually, I loved a few things. But you know what was the best thing? The fact that Trix and I both made fish tacos, and yet almost everything about them was different. We both used tortillas, salsa, and fish, but none were the same. The other things I loved: 1) it's a healthy meal; and 2) it was delicious, yet fast and easy to prepare.

Trix used corn tortillas; I used flour. She used regular cabbage; I used Napa cabbage. She added shredded carrot to hers; I didn't. (The recipe we were basing this meal off of used shredded carrot and jicama -- I didn't feel like using carrot and I couldn't find jicama at the store, even though I've bought it before.)

I pan "grilled" my fish (flounder) using my new Le Creuset grilling pan:

She broiled her fish (halibut) in the oven:

I made a traditional tomato salsa while Trix adapted an avocado and mango salsa to an avocado and pineapple salsa. Mine was OK; she said hers was excellent. I think when mangoes are in season I'm definitely going to be trying that salsa!

We both warmed our tortillas -- she in the oven, me in the microwave -- then piled on the goodies. Since there isn't much of a recipe for this, the recipes I'll share are the two salsas!

Mango Avocado Salsa

  • 1 ripe and firm mango, peeled and chopped
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 2 avocados, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 red onion, diced
  • 1 dash garlic salt (optional)


  1. Combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl. Cover and chill 20-30 minutes before serving.

Tomato Salsa


  • 1 14.5oz can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup diced red onion (about half a small-sized one)
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 1 tbsp fresh jalapeno, diced (about half a medium-sized one)
  • 2 tsp garlic, minced (about 2 cloves)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper


  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Friday Dinner: Milk-Braised Pork

Whaaaat? Pork again? Well, yes. When we find yummy-sounding recipes, particularly ones that sound yummy and simple, we don't turn them away. This one involved cutting slits into pork, inserting slivers of garlic, browning, and using milk as a braising liquid.

The verdict? I can't speak for Trix, but I thought this was a good recipe. If someone else made it for me, I'd eat it for sure with no qualms. But as something I make for myself, there are pork recipes out there that I like better, such as last week's roasting method, and would probably make again before I made this one. That may not be true of everyone. This was good pork, and I'd encourage you to make it so you can decide for yourself if this is one for your regular repertoire.

So why didn't I like it as much as other pork recipes? First, while the meat was tender, I don't think this one maximized pork's potential; the flavor, while pleasing, was a little bland. It could have been any meat. Second, for an otherwise simple recipe, the step of having to blend the braising liquid in order to turn it into a gravy for the meat wastes time and requires having to wash something that I usually find annoying/unwieldy to have to wash (my blender). Trix used low-fat milk and there weren't as many curds so she didn't have to blend her sauce, but the trade off was that it was the consistency of milk. Mine wasn't much thicker, but that could also be due to the fact that I was too lazy to remove the onions and blended them right into the sauce.

Neither Trix nor I could find pork roasts, which is what the recipe originally calls for, so she used a tenderloin and I used rib chops. I think any cut works; you just have to adjust the braising time accordingly.

As for sides I went the lazy route and prepared two things that could be roasted alongside the pork: asparagus and garlic potatoes. I washed, patted dry, and trimmed the asparagus (best method is to grasp the asaparagus toward the stem with both hands and bend it until it breaks -- it will break off at the point where tough meets tender), placed it in a baking dish, and seasoned with coarse salt, a dash of pepper, olive oil, and a tiny bit of truffled oil. For the potatoes I chopped Yukon Golds into bite-sized pieces and tossed them in a baking dish with Lawry's seasoned salt, 2 cloves of minced garlic, and 2 tsp of minced chives, then placed small dabs of cold butter, about 1 1/2 tbsp, over the top. While roasting I stirred both side dishes 3-4 times over the course of an hour. Trix made creamed broccoli and Ruth's Chris au gratin potatoes.

Milk-Braised Pork

  • 2-3 lbs pork roast, tenderloin, or chops
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 cups of milk, preferably whole
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp olive or canola oil


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Cut slits into the pork and place a sliver of garlic in each. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a large frying pan or Dutch oven. Briefly cook onions on high heat until they start to brown on the edges -- this shouldn't take very long. Remove to a dish. In the remaining oil, sear the meat on all sides until browned, 3-4 minutes per side.
  4. Transfer meat to a roasting pan unless you're using a Dutch oven, in which case the meat can simply be braised right in it. Pour in enough milk to just about cover the pork. Layer the onions over the top. Cover the dish.
  5. Place the Dutch oven or roasting pan into the oven and braise 1-2 hours -- if you're using a thick roast, cook it for longer; if using chops, an hour will do. When done, an instant thermometer will register 150°F when inserted into the center of the meat.
  6. When the pork is ready, carefully remove it to another dish or a cutting board if you're planning to slice it. You can remove the onions at this point or not -- your choice. They will be very limp, so if you don't want them as part of the sauce (they make it sweeter), you might want to strain it.
  7. If you used whole milk you will probably find many curds in the braising liquid. Transfer the liquid, curds and all, to a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Pour the gravy over the pork. Serve hot.

Ruth's Chris Au Gratin Potatoes


  • 5 medium russet potatoes, peeled
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1-1/2 tbsp flour
  • 1 large clove garlic, pressed
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp fresh black pepper
  • 1 tbsp butter, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
  • 1 tsp finely chopped parsley


  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Cut the potatoes into 1/4 inch slices, then quarter each of those slices.
  3. Beat together the cream, milk, flour, garlic, salt, and pepper by hand just until well combined.
  4. Coat the inside of a large baking dish with the softened butter.
  5. Arrange the potatoes in the dish and pour the cream mixture over them.
  6. Cover and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake another 40 minutes or until the potatoes are starting to brown on the top.
  7. Sprinkle grated cheese over the top and continue to bake for another 5-10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and slightly browned and the potatoes are tender.
  8. Sprinkle parsley on top and serve.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bridge Creek Heavenly Hots

About 8 times out of 10, if you asked me to choose, I'd probably pick waffles over pancakes. But occasionally I'm in the mood for pancakes, especially when homemade, as they're so much easier to make than waffles (in my opinion). I'm also a fan of things in miniature. So when I saw the recipe for silver-dollar pancakes in the latest issue of Gourmet, I was tempted.

Then I read this description of them in the magazine, and it sealed my fate: These are the lightest sour cream silver-dollar-size hotcakes I've ever had -- they seem to hover over the plate. They are heavenly and certainly should be served hot. So light they hover over the plate? Surely an exaggeration.

Shown here next to a head of garlic so you can see the hotcakes' silver-dollar size -- or close enough, anyway.

And while okay, they didn't literally levitate, they really were the lightest, most wonderful little hotcakes I've ever had. It finally gave me a good excuse to drag out my Black & Decker griddle, which has gotten far too little use. The batter is quite thin and will spread, so use less per cake than your instincts tell you. "Serve hot" also seems to be a tall order, given how small these are and how many you'd likely have to make, but depending on the size of your griddle, you can make several at a time. I was able to fit 8 of them on mine, and if I had really tried I probably could have made it 10. Stacking them immediately after they're done will help insulate the heat between them, as well.

Also? I haven't purchased maple syrup in probably years, and I must say I was simply shocked by the prices. I had read something at some news source about maple syrup costing an arm and a leg these days, but I didn't pay that much attention since I rarely buy it. But wow -- I'm sure glad pancakes are a once-in-a-while treat in my house rather than a regular staple!

I had these for breakfast this morning, and just in case, I had them again for dessert after dinner. You know, for the sake of science. I wanted to make sure the first batch wasn't a fluke of "heavenliness."

Bridge Creek Heavenly Hots (from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham)

Makes 50-60 dollar-size pancakes

  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 cup cake flour
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 3 tbsp sugar


  1. Put the eggs in a mixing bowl and stir until well blended. Add the salt, baking soda, flour, sour cream, and sugar, and mix well. All of this can be done in a blender, if you prefer.
  2. Heat a griddle or frying pan until it is good and hot, film with grease, and drop small spoonfuls of batter onto the griddle -- just enough to spread to an approximately 2 1/2-inch round. When a few bubbles appear on top of the pancakes, turn them over and cook briefly.

My note: If you have a nonstick griddle, as I do, you may be able to skip the "film with grease" step. They are very obedient on my griddle and slide off easily. I certainly don't need the extra calories from the grease, given the amount of sour cream that goes into these!

Monday, March 9, 2009

No One's Leftovers

There are some people out there -- mostly men, I've noticed -- who don't like leftovers. I'm not one of those people. I LOVE leftovers. I love not wasting food, certainly, and I love saving time by nuking something for 2 minutes rather than having to make a meal from scratch. But I actually love the way most leftovers taste, too -- they're usually just as good, if not better, than the original meal.

There are exceptions, of course. Beef, particularly since I like it on the rare side, isn't good reheated. It gets cooked too well and there's a strange after taste that I don't like. Things that used to be crispy, such as fries, tortilla chips, or fried chicken, also aren't very good leftovers. But then you have Chinese food, or other Asian foods, or a tomato-based spaghetti sauce, which almost always taste better after the flavors have had some time to mingle.

But so far I've just talked about leftovers eaten in their pure form: taken from whatever container they happen to be in, then reheated to be eaten just as they are.

There are also the leftovers that get transformed into something different, and if you're lucky, even better than what they were before. Take, for instance, the creamed broccoli I made the other night. On its own, it had been good, but not great. As I mentioned in that post, it was too thin as I hadn't used enough broccoli. Tonight, I wanted to make Alfredo (ironically, one of the foods that doesn't make good leftovers, as reheating it but keeping the sauce from separating is a herculean task) -- the first time since the first failed attempt. However, I didn't have any heavy cream. That's when I thought back to the creamed broccoli. Since it'd been too thin, there was plenty of 'cream' left, and it hadn't been overly seasoned so it could actually work as a base for my Alfredo -- a broccoli Alfredo.

I simplified the recipe greatly from when I first attempted it, taking my cue from other readings I've done on simple Alfredo sauces. And it was, in a word, spectacular. Creamy, rich, and everything I always imagined an Alfredo should be. Unfortunately, I didn't take exact measurements, but it should be simple enough to reproduce.

The meal wasn't an entire success, however. I still had leftover pork loin from the last Friday dinner, and if you remember, I wasn't a fan of the apple-rosemary sauce. I'd recently been talking to a friend about the wonders of McDonald's sweet and sour sauce (he was waxing poetic over it, not me), which is something that Trix is a big fan of as well. We found a copycat recipe for it online. And it got me thinking: maybe this sauce would work better with the pork loin! So I made it, as it's very easy. And I actually like the taste of it better than the McDonald's version (though it remains to be seen whether the two people who love the McD sauce will agree). But... I should have remembered that I just don't like sweet sauces, no matter how hard I try.

Still, the pasta was so great that it didn't matter at all. :D

Broccoli Alfredo
  • 2 servings of dried fettucini noodles
  • 1 serving creamed broccoli
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup hot starchy pasta water
  1. In a medium saucepan, boil water for the pasta. Add enough salt so that it's lightly salted. Do not add additional oil. When it's boiling, add the pasta and cook as directed.
  2. While the water is boiling, melt the butter in a wide saucepan. When it's melted, add the creamed broccoli and bring to a simmer. Simmer until the pasta is nearly done -- the cream sauce should reduce by 1/3 or 1/2. Stir occasionally to make sure the sauce doesn't burn. You probably also have time to grate the cheese.
  3. When the pasta is done, use tongs to transfer it into the bubbling broccoli and butter mixture. You don't have to be too conscientious about the water.
  4. Toss the parmesan onto the pasta, and give everything a good stir. Turn off the heat at this point, as you don't want it to boil again, which will make the sauce separate.
  5. Add the indicated amount of pasta water to the pasta and sauce. Stir briefly. The starchy, salted water will help thicken the sauce and flavor it at the same time.
  6. Use tongs to dish out the pasta. Serve hot and enjoy!
Sweet and Sour Sauce (patterned after McDonald's version)

  • ¼ cup apricot preserves
  • ¼ cup peach preserves
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 5 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons corn starch
  • ½ teaspoon soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon yellow mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons water


  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender EXCEPT for the water. Puree until the mixture is smooth.
  2. Pour the mixture into a saucepan over medium heat. Mix in the water and stir. Bring this mixture to a boil and allow it to boil for five minutes while stirring often. When it is fully thickened, take the pan off the heat source and let it cool.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Breaking Out of My Hermit Shell for a Night

Those who know me in real life won't be surprised by the confession I'm about to make: I'm somewhat of a hermit. I like my family and I like my friends, and occasionally I even like my coworkers. But put me in a room full of strangers and acquaintences, and I'm completely ill at ease. It's not a situation I like to put myself in. But sometimes there are invitations you can't refuse.

Take Carol, a coworker of mine, and a friend. We've known each other for years, though it's only been since 6 months since we began seeing each other in person with any regularity (previously she lived in New Zealand). We go to lunch every week -- at least, we try to. She's a food enthusiast, like me. So when she said she was throwing a dinner party for a handful of people, I couldn't say no.

There were only 7 of us, so the "room full of strangers" claustrophobia didn't set in, even though I didn't know anyone well (or at all) other than Carol and her husband, David. And the best part of dinner parties is getting to take pictures of all the wonderful food, without having to do the work of making it (and worse, cleaning up afterward).

It wasn't the best timing for a barbecue (they'd just gotten a new Webber grill) -- it ended up getting extremely cold during the day and started snowing. I wasn't even sure I should go, as the roads were sure to be a mess. But I had made a pumpkin pound cake that I didn't want to eat all by myself, and I do actually try to make an effort at not being such a hermit all the time. So I went, and other than one terrible spot on the freeway, it wasn't too bad. A fun time was had by all, and though I didn't get home till well after midnight, I was glad I had gone.

Now for the pictorial, and a recipe for the pumpkin pound cake at the end...

We begin, appropriately, with the appetizers. Here is a bowl of chicken wings, marinated in Malaysian spices (which had a hint of sweetness to them), then deep fried. They were delicious; possibly my favorite of all the food served!

Here we have some fantastic salami from Whole Foods, a duck spread that has a French name that I've forgotten, and freshly sliced French bread.

Next, I helped Carol wrestle this special, extra-long pasta into a pot of boiling water. Its black color comes from -- squid ink!

Here we've got some on-the-vine tomatoes, roasted with a couple of cloves of garlic, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.

The tomatoes, along with their sauce, were stirred into the pasta, along with sliced scallions, pine nuts, apple-flavored olive oil, and a dash of salt and pepper. It was light and delicious.

Here we have a huge salad (though you can't really tell that from the photograph) of mixed greens, candied walnuts, cucumber, shaved parmesan, and thinly sliced apple and pear. It was served with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette.

The lamb roast on the grill:

And off:

Unfortunately, the problem with serving meat at home is that people tend to like it cooked with some variation of rare or well done, and neither the twain shall meet. I like my lamb (and beef) cooked medium rare, as did 3 others. The other 3 liked their meat practically burnt ("cook it as much as you can cook it, and you're just about there" is how one described it). It's very difficult to prepare meat that caters to everyone's preferences without either letting some portion go cold (those of us who like it on the rare side), or making people watch others eat (those who need their meat cooked longer). Sadly, those who like meat on the rare side tend to get screwed, because while we can usually still suffer through over-done meat, those who like their meat well done absolutely cannot eat meat that has even the slightest amount of pink (at least, that was the case last night). So last night, the meat was cooked too well. There were a few slices with some hint of pink, but that was as rare as it got.

David, who prefers his meat medium rare as well, was muttering to himself as he sliced: "God! Ugh.... how can people eat their meat this way.... and this probably isn't even done enough for them! Ugh!" The meat was tender, though, so in that way it was still good. Flavor wise it was less than ideal, due to it being overdone, though since the lamb was fresh, it didn't have that gamey flavor that I don't like.

Along with the pasta and salad, the lamb was served with some beautifully roasted potatoes:

Putting it all together, it made for a very eye-catching plate:

As I mentioned, I brought a pumpkin pound cake laced with chocolate chips, which Carol served after dinner along with a cheese plate, an assortment of crackers, and slices of apple.

The cheese included an Irish cheddar, some kind of bleu that was wonderful with an apple slice, a caramel-flavored gouda, and one that looks like Brie but that I don't think was Brie (though I can't actually remember what it was):

The crackers included two types of New Zealand cracker, and one that was laced with dried fruit and nuts. My favorite was the one in the middle, which had a great taste and crunch. Naturally it was the one that Carol had actually physically brought back from New Zealand, which means I won't be able to find it here. Sigh.

My favorite thing about this pumpkin pound cake, which probably would have been more suitable in October or November, is that it actually sort of resembles a pumpkin. It's not an extremely sweet cake, and the pumpkin and spices are fairly subtle.

I laced it with chocolate chips, which you can see better here:

And a slice:

Pumpkin Pound Cake


For the cake:
  • 3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 8 oz. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree (or mashed fresh roasted pumpkin)
  • 4 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips

For the buttermilk glaze:

  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 4 Tbsp. (½ stick) unsalted butter, cubed
  • 2 tbsp pure pumpkin puree
  • 1 ½ tsp. cornstarch or flour
  • ¼ tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 10-inch non-stick Bundt pan with cooking oil.
    In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt. Whisk well.
  2. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the milk and vanilla.
  3. In stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and two sugars until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. Scrape down, add the pumpkin, and mix until the batter is combined. The batter will look grainy at this point; that's okay.
  5. With the mixer on low speed, add half of the flour mixture. Beat until just combined. Add half of the milk mixture and beat on low speed until well blended. Add the remaining flour, followed by the remaining milk, using the same method. Beat on low until the batter is thick and smooth.
  6. Scrape half the batter into the prepared pan. Scatter the chocolate chips as evenly as you can over the batter, then spoon the rest of the batter into the pan. Bake for 60 to 75 minutes (in my oven it took 70 minutes), or until the cake springs back when pressed lightly and a toothpick inserted in one of the cracks comes out clean.
  7. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. If needed, run a thin knife around the edge to loosen the cake. Carefully invert it onto the rack.
  8. Meanwhile, make the glaze. In a medium saucepan, combine the buttermilk, sugar, butter, pumpkin puree, cornstarch, and baking soda. Place it over medium heat, and bring it just to a gentle boil. Remove it from the heat, stir well, and set it aside to cool to room temperature. Once cool, add the vanilla and stir well.
  9. Set the wire rack over a rimmed sheet pan or long piece of foil. Spoon the glaze, which may have lumpy bits of cornstarch in it, through a cheesecloth-lined strainer over the warm cake if you want the glaze to soak into the cake. If you want the glaze to sit atop the cake, don't use it until the cake has been cooled significantly. Cool completely before serving.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Friday Dinner: Apple Dijon Pork

This meal is a solo edition of the Friday dinners, as Trix had an emergency with her dog and couldn't participate. There was also no Gossip Girl watching, which is sad only in that it means we still have 4-5 episodes to go before we can start Battlestar Galactica.

I love pork. I love it in soup, in barbecue, in sandwiches, and basically any way it's prepared in a restaurant. At home I'm most successful with cooking pork when it involves slow cooking somehow, whether in the Crock Pot or in soup. (And I'm talking about cuts of pork rather than, say, bacon or ham.) Otherwise, it tends to be tough rather than tender, and is always just a little bit disappointing.

This recipe has shown me what I've done wrong all this time -- I've been overcooking it. According to the recipe, "Pork tenderloin is a very tender and lean cut of pork, and should not be served well done. Pork is completely safe to eat cooked medium, and may be slightly pink in color if cooked properly." I've always been very careful to make sure my pork was well done, because I was raised in the camp of thought that that was the only safe way to cook and eat pork. It's particularly painful for someone who enjoys her beef medium rare, which is why I generally avoid cooking cuts of pork -- I don't really enjoy sawdust in my mouth. I felt very daring the one time I had medium rare pork at El Greco. Now knowing that it's perfectly safe to eat it medium, well -- I won't be avoiding pork cuts anymore, because this was simply wonderful. The meat was tender and flavorful, and it was very simple to prepare.

As for the apple dijon sauce in this recipe, I can take it or leave it. I'm not a huge fan of sweet sauces to begin with, but the combination of the sweetness and the overabundance of rosemary (I like it in small quantities) is a little too much for me. Since the pork was so wonderful just seasoned with salt and pepper, the sauce was, for me, extraneous. If you like sweet sauces and/or rosemary, you might enjoy it a lot more than I did. In the interest of full disclosure I should admit that I used dried rosemary rather than fresh, which is what the recipe calls for, so I might have overdone it.

Rather than searing the meat in a frying pan then transferring it to a roasting pan, I used my new Le Creuset roasting pan right on the stovetop. I heated it up, added the oil, and seared the meat. Then I just placed the whole thing into the oven. If you have a cast iron roasting pan, you can do the same -- otherwise, just follow the directions as they are.

I also didn't use a pork tenderloin. I used pork sirloin, which was on sale at the market when I went. And I had just read this in the latest issue of Gourmet magazine: "Sirloin pork cutlets or chops come from the part of a pig's (very long) loin nearest the hip. The fact that they're inexpensive and naturally dark or two-toned in color doesn't mean that they're of poorer quality than paler loin chops or rib chops. In fact, they are tender, juicy, and full of wonderful flavor. They also behave beautifully during cooking: Both loin and rib chops have a tighter, dense texture that turns bouncy or cottony if cooked a second or so too long; sirloin cuts are much more forgiving."

Now I'm not sure if the tenderness of the meat was due to the cooking method or the fact that I used sirloin! I let it sit out longer than the 10 minutes the recipe suggests, because I made 3 sides and was putting the finishing touches on 2 of them when the sirloin was ready. Gourmet was right though; it must have been extremely forgiving, because they were still great even by the time I got to slicing them.

As for the sides, I made Zuni Cafe's buttermilk mashed potatoes (hey, I had Yukon Golds and buttermilk in the fridge, so why not), broth-boiled kale, and a new recipe for creamed broccoli that I also got from the latest issue of Gourmet. The head of broccoli I used was smaller than the suggested size, so the dish turned out a bit too thin, and next time I will probably just use a sprinkling of nutmeg rather than the full 1/4 tsp it calls for, but was otherwise very tasty -- I'll be making it again, but with a bigger head of broccoli!

Apple Dijon Pork

  • 2lbs pork tenderloin or sirloin (about 2 pieces), trimmed of excess fat
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 2 cups apple cider, or juice
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
  • 2 tbsp cold butter


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Season the pork tenderloins well with black pepper and salt to taste.
  3. Heat the vegetable oil in a large frying pan, over medium-high heat, until it begins to smoke. Sear the pork on all sides, about 2 minutes per side.
  4. Turn off the heat, transfer to a shallow baking pan, and place the pan in the oven. Roast the pork for about 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees F.
  5. While the pork is cooking, pour off the excess oil from the frying pan. Place over high heat and add the garlic. Cook for 30 seconds.
  6. Add the vinegar, apple cider, Dijon mustard, and rosemary. Cook until the sauce reduces by about 2/3, and begins to slightly thicken. Turn off the heat and whisk in the cold butter, stirring constantly until the butter is gone. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  7. Remove the pork from the oven and move to a platter. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving with the warm sauce.

Creamed Broccoli (adapted from Gourmet)


  • 1 bunch broccoli (1 1/4 lb)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 3 tbsp grated parmesan
  • 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice


  1. Peel broccoli stems, then corasely chop stems and florets. Cook broccoli in boiling salted water (1 1/2 tsp salt for 4 qt water) until just tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Drain in a colander and run under cold water to stop cooking. (Note: Broccoli can be boiled 1 day ahead and chilled.)
  2. Simmer cream, garlic, nutmeg, salt, and pepper in a medium saucepan, uncovered, until slightly thickened and reduced to about 2/3 cup, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add broccoli and simmer, mashing with a potato masher, until coarsely mashed and heated through, about 2 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in parmesan and lemon juice.