Sunday, November 27, 2011

Favorite Holiday Cookies

When it comes to Christmas food, cookies rank high on the list of staples. All kinds of cookies. For us, they're synonymous with Christmas. I always try to make at least one cookie recipe I've never tried before. If you got some suggestions, I'm all ears.

In order to help get us into the Christmas cookie spirit, here are links to my favorite holiday cookie recipes.

Five-Spice Cookies
Icebox Sugar Cookies with Variations in Flavor and Variations in Style
Orange-Spice Sugar Cookies
Tangerine Dainties

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Family Food History

How many of you have a family cookbook? It occurred to me this might be a good idea. Sure, I’ve got the recipes I like up on the blog, and a dozen or more cookbooks on my shelves, but there’s no central place the find all the recipes my family likes to eat. If we had a family cookbook, it would be easier for my wife and kids to make the things we like, without trying to hunt down the recipes in a dozen cookbooks or the internet.

I also have a collection of the recipes used by three generations of home cooks: my mother, her mother, and her mother’s mother. A great treasure, I know. Right now they’re scattered between several index cards, old newspaper and magazine clippings. Wouldn’t it be great if they were included in the family cookbook, along with my own recipes, as well as the modifications I’ve made to some of their recipes? Can you imagine it? Four generations of home cook’s experience in one binder. It boggles my mind.

With that boggled mind, I started compiling these recipes into a book. It’s been slow going. To make it easier I’ve been using some cookbook software, but I’ve got a very old copy that will need to be replaced sometime soon. I settled on a few categories that made sense for me:

  • Appetizers
  • Salads and Dressings
  • Sandwiches
  • Soups and Stews
  • Vegetables
  • Rice, Grains and Beans
  • Pasta and Pizza
  • Eggs and Breakfast
  • Fish
  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Breads
  • Desserts

Next, I got a large 3-ring binder and created divider cards for each category.

The next, ongoing, step is going through my blog archives and the recipes from my ancestors, entering them one at a time into my cookbook software. The software allows me to insert pictures, so I’ve been doing that where I could, as well. As I add them, I print them and put them in the notebook. To help get the rest of the family involved, I asked my oldest daughter, a growing talent in graphic arts, to design the cover.

I’m both excited and daunted by the project. It’s a kind of “family food history,” a genealogy of familial food. When I finish it, I’m planning on making a gift of it to my siblings and other relatives. I hope they like it, but it's a long way off.

How do you organize your family’s recipes?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Low and Slow (Cooker) Beef Stew

I’d be hard pressed to find a food my wife likes better than beef stew. It’s a winter staple for her. We have cans of the stuff hanging around the pantry all the time. I can’t stand the canned stuff. Most of it is crap. To make it palatable I’ve always got to mess with it or I won’t be able to keep it in my mouth long enough to chew and swallow. Making your own is much better, even if it can take all day to do it.

Enter the slow cooker. I love using a slow cooker for cheap cuts of meat. It takes what can be a chewy mess and turns it into a tender and tasty indulgence.

Low and slow is the answer, my friends. Low and slow.

I’m not going to kid you, though. This recipe takes a bit more work than most slow cooker recipes. A bunch of stuff gets cooked a bit before putting it into the crock pot in order to get better caramelization and richer flavor. The results are worth the effort, though. Even my wife agrees.

Now I just need to figure out what to do with all of these extra cans.

Equipment Needed
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Garlic press (optional)
Measuring cups and spoons
Paper towels
Large skillet
Slow cooker
Large spoons, slotted and non-slotted
Vegetable peeler

3-4 pound boneless beef chuck roast
1 large onion, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound carrots, cut into 1/2-inch circles
3 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and pepper as needed
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup red wine or cooking sherry
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
4 cups beef broth
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup flour
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 Tablespoon dried parsley

Pull apart the roast along it’s major seams, using a knife as needed. Trim excess fat and silver skin. Cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks.

Heat 2 teaspoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat until smoking. Brown the beef in batches, about 5 minutes for each batch, and add to the slow cooker. Add more oil as needed.

Reduce the heat to medium, adding 2 more teaspoons of oil until shimmering. Add the onions and a pinch of salt. Cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 15 seconds more, until fragrant.

Stir in the wine and tomato paste, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Simmer, uncovered, until the wine reduces by half, about 3 minutes. Pour into the slow cooker.

Add the 3 1/2 cups of the broth, bay leaves, and thyme to the slow cooker. Stir in the potatoes and carrots. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

Discard the bay leaf. Set the cooker to high. Whisk together the flour and remaining 1/2 cup broth until smooth. Stir into the cooker. Add the peas and parsley. Cover and continue to cook until the sauce is thickened, the flour is cooked, and the veggies are tender, about 30 minutes to an hour more. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 6 servings

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Twice-Baked Potatoes

You’d think that baking a potato once would be sufficient. It is, but why settle for sufficient when you can have glorious? Mashing that potato with cheese and then re-baking it in crispy potato shells turns sufficient into twice-baked potato elegance.

To cut down on the cooking time in oven, we’re going to microwave the potatoes a bit, first. While this recipe uses cheddar cheese, gruyere, feta, or almost any other cheese can be substituted.

Equipment Needed
Box grater
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Measuring cups and spoons
Rimmed baking sheet
Potato masher
Large spoon
Mixing bowls

2 tablespoons butter, softened
4 medium russet potatoes, about 2 pounds, scrubbed clean
4 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded, about 1 cup
3 green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup buttermilk

Adjust and oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 450 degree Fahrenheit.

Poke several holes into each potato with a skewer or fork. Microwave on high for about 8 minutes, or until slightly soft to the touch. Transfer the potatoes to the oven and cook directly on the middle oven rack until a skewer slide in easily, about 20 minutes.

Remove the potatoes from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Slice the potatoes in half lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop the flesh out of each half and transfer to a bowl, leaving a 1/4-inch thick shell. Arrange the shells upright on the baking sheet and return them to the oven. Bake about 10 minutes, or until slightly dry and crisp.

While the shells are cooking, mash the potato flesh until smooth. Stir in the cheese, sour cream, buttermilk and scallions. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Remove the shells from the oven and increase the temperature to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Carefully spoon the potato mixture into the shells. Return the stuffed potatoes to the oven and bake until spotty brown and crisp, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 8 servings.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Oaty Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies

In marriage, we often have to make sacrifices. We give a little, our spouse gives a little, we both compromise. One thing I’m not compromising on is my oatmeal cookies. Not only does my wife not like oatmeal cookies, she doesn’t like raisins, either. Too bad for her. These are great cookies. All the more for me, I guess. If it weren’t for the children, anyway.

Most oatmeal cookie recipes just don’t have as much oaty flavor as I’d like. This recipe is different. It actually has more oats than flour. The raisins balance the heartiness of the oats with fruity sweetness. Too bad they get eaten so fast. Oh, well. Munch all you want. I’ll make more.

Equipment needed
Measuring cups and spoons
Parchment paper (optional)
2 Rimmed baking sheets
Mixing bowls
Rubber spatula
Hand-held mixer
Ice cream scoop (optional)
Cooling racks

2 sticks butter (16 tablespoons), softened
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups raisins

Adjust oven racks to the upper and lower middle positions. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Farenheit.

Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper (or use cooking spray).

Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg together in a medium mixing bowl and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar using a hand mixer on medium speed, until blended and fluffy. While the mixer is running, add the eggs, one at a time, until well combined. Scrape down the beaters and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.

Reduce the speed to low and slowly add the flour mixture, mixing until combined. Add the oats and raising and mix until just incorporated.

Using and ice-cream scoop, scoop up about 1/4 cup of dough per cookie, placing them on the two lined baking sheets about 2 1/2-inches apart. You should get about 10 cookies per baking sheet. Gently flatten the cookies with the palm of your hand.

If you don’t have a good ice cream scoop, you can roll the dough into balls with your hands.

Bake in the oven until the tops are lightly golden, but the centers are still soft and puffy, about 25 minutes. Swap and rotate the baking sheets halfway through baking.

Remove the cookies and let them cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes. Transfer them to a wire cooling rack to finish cooling, or serve warm. With milk.

Makes 20 cookies.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Greek Salad, Hold the Lettuce

When my wife thinks of a green salad, she thinks of iceberg lettuce with ranch dressing on it. That is not a green salad. Who said green salad had to have lettuce? Not me. Certainly not the Greeks. Fortunately, they have a very nice green salad that focuses on fresh cucumbers and raw onions. Don’t get me wrong, you can add lettuce if you want. Romaine hearts would work really well with this recipe, but you don’t need them.

This recipe uses feta cheese, but you could use any mild cheese such as Romano or even cottage cheese. Just make sure to chill the salad well and don’t dress it until just before serving.

Equipment Needed
Measuring cups and spoons
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Vegetable peeler
Garlic press (optional)
Mixing bowls

2 medium tomatoes
1/2 cucumber
1 small onion
1 small green pepper

for the dressing
12 kalamata olives, pitted and finely chopped
1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsps lemon juice
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

Chopped parsley for garnish

Peel the cucumber, cut in half and remove the seeds with a spoon. Cut into 1/2-inch slices.

Peel and half the onion. Cut each half into thin slices.

Remove the stem and seeds from the green pepper. Slice into thin, horizontal strips.

Cut the tomatoes in half and remove the seeds. Chop into 3/4-inch pieces.

In a bowl, toss together to cucumber, onion, tomato and green pepper. Chill until ready to serve.

When it’s time to serve, prepare the dressing. Place the minced garlic into a small mixing bowl. Add the salt, pepper and lemon juice. Whisk together. Add the chopped olives and mix in. Keep whisking while slowly adding the olive oil. Add the feta cheese and mix it in, as well.

Add the chilled vegetables to the dressing and toss to coat. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serve in individual bowls.

Makes 4 servings.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Vegetable Soup

Classic vegetable soup is an odd form of comfort food for me. My mother used to served canned vegetable soup from time to time and, to be honest, I didn’t like it. Little did I know that making it myself would change my feelings. This recipe, stolen from America’s Test Kitchen, is delicious. It’s comfort food, improved on.

To improve the flavor, cook the vegetables over low heat using some of the same techniques as quick soups. This draws out the natural sweetness of the vegetables and improves the flavor of store-bought vegetable broth. You could make this with chicken broth, but I don’t recommend it. This soup is much better when the vegetables take center stage. If you’d like, replace the potatoes with a can of white beans. Just drain and rinse them before adding to the pot.

Equipment Needed
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Garlic press
Fine-mesh strainer
Measuring cups and spoons
Dutch oven or large pot (6 quart)
Vegetable peeler
Large spoon
Mixing bowls

1 onion, minced
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium russet potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt as needed
5 cups vegetable broth
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
Ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or 6 quart pot over medium-low heat until shimmering. Stir in the onion, celery, carrots, garlic, and 3/4 tsp salt. Cover and cook until soft, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.

Stir in the broth, potatoes, and tomatoes. Bring to simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Add the peas and remove from the heat. Let the soup stand for 2 minutes. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 6 servings.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Weeknight Tacos

For quick and tasty tacos on a weeknight, don’t resort a store-bought kit. Stale spice packets laden with chemicals and excess sodium are aren’t welcome. A simple combination of herbs and spices, along with chopped onion and tomato, will give your family the taste they crave. And you’ll only spend about 30 minutes making dinner.

To save time and get everyone involved, have your kids prepare your family’s favorite taco toppings while you cook the meat. For us that means shredded cheese, lettuce and chopped tomatoes, salsa and sour cream. Feel free to add avocados, onions and minced peppers. Whatever you like!

Equipment Needed
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Measuring cups and spoons
Garlic press (optional)
12-inch skillet
Large spoon

1 medium yellow onion
3 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp canola oil
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt as needed
1 pound ground beef (the leaner the better)
1/2 cup canned tomato sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp brown sugar
8 taco shells (homemade are best)

Peel and mince the onion into 1/8-inch pieces. Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet until shimmering. Add the onion, along with a pinch of salt, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the ground beef cook until no-longer pink, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Drain the excess fat.

Add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander, oregano, 1 tsp salt and cayenne pepper. Stir in and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute more.

Add the tomato sauce, chicken broth, vinegar and sugar. Stir and simmer until very thick, about 10 minutes. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the filling evenly among the taco shells and serve with desired toppings. Serve with a simple green salad for a complete meal.

Makes 4 servings.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Emergency (Wartime) Chocolate Cake

In 1918, the Royal Baking Powder Company of New York created a book of recipes, called Real War Recipes, designed to save on eggs, butter, milk and wheat flour.  The book was written in response to a call by the Conservation Division of the United States Food Administration, who was shipping such ingredients to Europe in support of our allies in the war effort and feeding a starving populace. While this modern recipe for Emergency Chocolate Cake didn’t appear in their book, it is inspired by typical recipes of the time.

Many people are under the impression that the name, Emergency Chocolate Cake, is in reference to the fact that it can be cooked to quickly, and with little effort, to quickly appease their chocolate cravings. While I can sympathize with that sentiment, it’s simply not the case. It refers to to the wartime situation and takes into account rationing during wartime efforts. Because of that, it's also a great cake for using food storage staples.

This cake is very easy to make. It’s moist and super rich, jam packed with chocolate flavor. It’s so rich, in fact, that you may want to make sure you’ve got a glass of milk on hand. It can be served straight from the pan or turned out and dusted with powdered sugar or a bit of whipped cream.

Equipment Needed
Measuring cups and spoons
8-inch square baking pan
Mixing bowls
Rubber spatula
Cooling rack

Cooking spray
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 cup cocoa powder (Dutch-processed is best)
1 1/4 cups water
1 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
Confectioners sugar (optional)

Place an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Coat an 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and baking soda.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder and water together until smooth. Add the mayonnaise and vanilla. Whisk until well blended and smooth. Add the mayonnaise mixture to the flour mixture and mix until well combined into a smooth batter.

Using a rubber spatula, scrape the batter into the prepared baking pan, smoothing the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with only a few crumbs, about 40 minutes. Remove the cake  and place the pan on a wire cooling rack. Let cool in the pan 1 to 2 hours.

Cut into squares and serve straight from the pan or turn the cake out onto a serving plate. Dust with powdered sugar if desired, or serve with whipped cream.

Makes 9 servings.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pasta Shells with Broccoli and Sausage

There are hundreds of recipes for pasta with a variety of cooked vegetables making up a crude sauce. One favorite features small shell pasta, or conchiglie, with broccoli and sausage. Roasted peppers play a big role, as well.

This recipe for pasta with broccoli and sausage is relatively simple, and very quick to make. It shouldn’t take much more than about 30 minutes from start to table. It’s simple ingredients, and quick cooking time, make it a perfect weeknight meal. You can use your own roasted red peppers, or canned.

For more variation, you can substitute sun-dried tomatoes for the red peppers, or broccoli rabe for the broccoli.

Pecorino Romano is the cheese of choice for this dish. You can substitute Parmesan if Romano is unavailable. This sauce works best with shapes that will grab onto the bits of vegetables and sausage. Small shells are readily available at my grocery store, but other small pasta shapes, such as penne or orecchiette, will do nicely.

Equipment needed
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Garlic press (optional)
Rasp grater or microplane
Measuring cups and spoons
Dutch oven or large sauce pot
Large spoon
Colander or mesh strainer

4 ounces Italian sausage
1 cup roasted red peppers
6 medium garlic cloves
1 bunch broccoli, about 1-1/2 pounds
2 ounces Romano cheese (about 1 cup, grated)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup water
1 pound small shell pasta
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, for the skillet
1 tablespoon salt, for the pasta water

Squeeze the meat out of the casings and discard the casings. Rinse the roasted peppers and cut into thin strips. Peel and mince the garlic. Cut the florets off the broccoli head. Slice the larger florets into 1 inch pieces by slicing through the stems. Trim the bottom of the large stalks and peel the outer layer. (Peeling the outer layer removes the bitter parts of the broccoli stalk.) Cut the peeled stalks into 1/4-inch thick pieces Grate the Romano cheese with the rasp grater or microplane. You should have about 1 cup of cheese after grating.

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil over high heat for the pasta. While it's coming to a boil, you can work on making the sauce.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the sausage in the skillet, breaking it into small pieces, until browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the roasted red peppers and garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Stir in the broccoli, 1/2 tsp of salt, and 1/2 cup water. Cover, and cook until the broccoli begins to turn bright green, about 2-4 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking until most of the liquid is evaporated and the broccoli is tender, about 5 - 7 minutes more.

When the water in the dutch oven begins to boil, add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta shells. Cover and simmer until the pasta is almost tender, but still a little firm (al dente), about ten minutes.

Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta shells in a colander and return to the pot. Stir in the broccoli and sausage mixture, grated Romano cheese and 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil. Add reserved pasta water to "loosen the sauce" if needed. Add more salt and freshly ground black pepper as needed.

Makes 6 servings.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Black Bean Salad

Black bean salad is a great side dish for tacos, enchiladas, or any Mexican entree. It has a bright flavor and is very easy to make. It’s quick, too. It shouldn’t take you much more than ten minutes to put together. You can prepare it up to a day in advance, if you’d like, giving the flavors time to develop.

It’s no secret that I don’t like avocados so, I didn’t include any. If you like them, however, you can add 2 chopped avocados. Don’t add them until just before you’re ready to serve, though. Otherwise they’ll get too mushy and ruin the salad.

If using fresh corn, you’ll need about 3 to 4 cobs. If using frozen corn, thaw and drain before adding.

Equipment needed
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Large spoon
Paring knife
Fine-mesh strainer
Mixing bowls
Measuring cups and spoons

2 medium tomatoes
2 cans (16 oz.) black beans
2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 Tbsp dried parsley or 1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley or cilantro
2 Tbsp olive oil

For the Dressing
4 green onions
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce (canned)
1 tsp honey
1/3 cup lime juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil

Trim the roots and remove any dried outer parts of the green onion. Slice thinly and set aside.

Remove the chipotle chili from the adobo sauce. Cut in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with the pack of your paring knife and mince. You’ll need about 1 Tbsp of minced chipotle. If you like it very spicy, leave in the seeds.

Core the tomatoes with a paring knife and cut into 1/2 inch cubes.

Rinse and drain the canned beans in a fine-mesh strainer.

Heat 2 Tbsp oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Cook the corn, stirring frequently, until spotty brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Mix the green onion, chipotle, honey, lime juice, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper in a large mixing bowl. Whisk in 2 Tbsp olive oil. Add the beans, tomatoes, parsley and toasted corn. Toss to combine. Season with additional salt and pepper, as desired.

Makes 6 servings.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cream of Pea Soup

I have always liked peas. I’ve eaten plenty of split pea soup in my life, too, but I wasn’t in the mood for something heavy in the middle of summer. Finding this recipe for cream of pea soup seemed like it might be just the right solution for a light summer meal.

What I don’t like about most cream soups is they taste mostly like cream. It’s like the vegetables were there just to make your mother, or nutritionist, happy. I wanted more robust vegetable flavor. According to America’s Test Kitchen, processing the raw veggies before adding them to the soup helps add flavor and reduce cooking time. Certainly the flavors in this cream of pea soup recipe were brighter and fresher than I expected.

I had a problem, though. My food processor broke down and I’ve not replaced it. I tried using my blender instead, chopping up the peas in batches, but the results were less than desirable. Most of the peas broke up, but I suspect I would have gotten smoother results if I’d used a food processor. Cleaning the blender wasn’t any fun, either

This recipe uses frozen peas, but you can substitute equal amounts of other fresh or frozen vegetables. Broccoli, asparagus, or carrots also make delicious cream soups. You could even try combining them. If you use fresh veggies, I recommend blanching them before chopping them.

Equipment Needed
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Food processor
Measuring cups and spoons
Large cooking pot or Dutch Oven
Large spoon
Rubber spatula
Blender or Hand Blender

1 yellow onion
1 1/2 pounds frozen peas, thawed
2 Tbl butter
Salt as needed
2 Tbl all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
Ground black pepper
Chopped parsley or chives to garnish

Peel and mince the onion into very small pieces and set aside. Place the peas in a food processor and pulse until chopped fine.

Melt the butter in a large cooking pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and 1/2 tsp salt and cook until softened, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute more. This removes the “raw” flavor of flour.

Slowly stir in the chicken broth, scraping any browned bits (fond) from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Add the peas and simmer until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes more. Puree in batches in batches a food processor or blender. Alternately, you can use a hand blender.

Return the pureed soup to the pot and stir in the cream. Bring the soup to a brief simmer, then remove from the heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped parsley or chives.

Makes 6 main dish or 8 side dish servings.

I like eating cream soups with crusty bread and butter. It makes an excellent light lunch or dinner.

For a vegetarian version of this soup, substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Asian Spice Mixes

Finishing our tour of homemade, regional herb and spice mixes, we find ourselves traveling through Asia. The flavors are exciting, spicy, and will make your taste bugs tingle.

Even though all the spice mixes in this series are regionally inspired, that doesn’t mean they won’t work well in dishes from other countries. The following Shanghai blend, for example, works equally well to kick up Mexican dishes.

As with the previous flavor stops in Europe, the Mediterranean, and Northern Africa, to make these you’ll want a quality coffee/spice mill and spice jars.

Shanghai Coastal Mix
2 Tbl crushed red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp ground anise

Grind to a fine powder.

One of hottest spice mixes in this series, it’s an excellent choice for adding kicking up the heat in any dish. I especially like it on eggs.

Indian Spice Mix
3 tsp turmeric
1 tsp dry mustard
2 1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/4 tsp dill seed
1 tsp cardamon
1 tsp fenugreek seed

Grind to a fine powder.

Fenugreek is sometimes hard to find in my town. If you have trouble finding it, just leave it out. I enjoy using this blend in rice dishes, or any time I want to get a hint of curry without the curry.

Bali Spice Mix
2 bay leaves, crushed
2 tsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp dried onion flakes
1 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp ground black pepper
3 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Grind to a fine powder

This blend provides a nice alternative in stir fries, satays, fish and tofu dishes.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our tour of the flavors of the world through these spice mix blends. To some, mixing your own spice blends has probably seemed odd, while other may consider it being lazy. It’s neither. Instead, they provide a quick and easy way to add variety and excitement any meal.

Photo by abcdz2000 via sxc.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

North African Spice Mixes

Fresh from our short tour of the flavors of the Riviera, our next stop on the spice mix tour takes us across the Mediterranean to coastal North Africa. If you missed the first two installments in this homemade herb and spice mix series, you can always go back to visit Europe and the northern Mediterranean coast.

As always, you want a good spice mill and spice jars to blend these for yourself.

Moroccan Mix
2 tsp grated nutmeg
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Grind to a fine powder.

This distinctive mix is excellent in meat and/or vegetable stews, served with rice or couscous. I wonder if Bogey used this in Casablanca?

Harissa (dry)
1 tsp caraway seed
1/2 tsp cumin
2 tsp coriander
4 tsp red pepper flakes

Grind to a fine powder

Harissa is actually a spicy chili sauce hailing from Tunisia. This dry spice variation is excellent. It adds a unique flavor, as well as a nice amount of heat, to any dish.

Next time, we’ll visit India and Asia for a blast of flavors from Shanghai China, through India, to Indonesia. Stay tuned flavor lovers …

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mediterranean Spice Mixes

Last time, I introduced you to Graham Kerr’s idea of Ethmixes, herb and spice mixtures based on regional flavors to quickly spice up your meal. I gave you two Norther European blends so, this time let’s travel south and visit the Mediterranean. Ah, flavors of the Riviera … yum!

As with the previous blends, you’ll want to use a good spice grinder.

Southern France Mix
1 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
1 1/2 tsp dried basil
2 1/2 tsp sage
2 bay leaves, crushed
2 1/2 tsp dried marjoram
2 1/2 tsp dried oregano

Grind to a fine powder.

This mix adds great flavor and complexity to almost any dish.

Northwestern Italy Mix
4 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried basil
2 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp sage
2 tsp dried rosemary

Grind to a fine powder.

This is an excellent go-to blend for any Italian themed dish, especially tomato based pasta sauces. I also like it with sauteed vegetables.

Greek Isles Mix
2 Tbl dried oregano
3 tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp dried lemon zest
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Grind to a fine powder.

This is a surprising alternative for beef, lamb, and fish dishes. It’s great for flavoring a rice pilaf, too. The Greeks invented the edible complex, didn’t they?

Next time we’ll cross the Mediterranean into coastal North Africa. Are you ready for homemade Harissa?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Spice Up Dinner with Homemade Spice Mixes

Quickly putting together a meal sometimes means whipping up whatever is on hand. Even if you plan  meals in advance, life gets in the way sometimes and plans have to be changed. It’s not your fault. That’s just modern life.

Quick meals don’t have to be boring meals, though. Changing the herbs and spices is a great way to add flavor variety to our lives, especially when improvising. Instead of endless trial and error, trying to figure out which spices go with what herb for what dish, try using a pre-made spice mix. Just don’t rely on the ones at the grocery store.

In his book Swiftly Seasoned, Graham Kerr introduces the idea of “Ethmixes,” spice and herb blends based on regional flavors and made at home. I love this idea. They’re a wonderful addition to the cooking arsenal, quickly adding depth of flavor and variety.

Here are two of my favorite European blends. They are based on Graham Kerr’s recipes, modified for availability of ingredients, amounts likely to be used within a year, and my own tastes. I’ll share more of my mix variations in the coming days.

Equipment Needed

Making your own spice mixes is easy. You will need some equipment that you may not  have purchased before, though. First is a good coffee/spice mill. I don’t drink coffee, so I only need one. If you grind your own coffee, though, buy a separate mill or your coffee will have the peculiar flavor of herbs and spices.

The next is a collection of empty spice jars. Almost any small jar with a tight lid will do. If they are UV resistant, that’s even better. Mark your jars with the date you create the mix. Use them within 6 months to a year. After that, the flavors will weaken and some will simply become stale. Ick.

For each of the following mixes, simply combine the ingredients in your spice mill and grind into a fine powder. With some mixes, you will mix in addition ingredients after you grind the others. Some herbs instill better flavor if used that way, instead of being ground.

Scandinavian Medley
2 1/4 tsp caraway seeds
3 Tbl dried parsely
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp allspice
2 tsp salt

Grind into a fine powder, then mix in 1/2 tsp dried dill weed

This one is much simpler that Graham Kerr’s version. I enjoy it in fish dishes, vegetable soup, and almost everything else.

Northern France Mix
3 tsp dried tarragon
3 dried bay leaves, crushed
2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp ground cloves
4 tsp dried parsley

Grind into a fine powder.

I like this mix as a rub for roasts or in meaty stews.

Stay tuned. I'll be sharing more spice mixes, next time.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Creamy Polenta with Parmesan Cheese

Polenta can be quite a nice treat, either as a side dish or main course. It’s odd to think that this much sought after, and sometimes expensive, dish began life as congealed corn much. Yup! Let hot corn mush harden and you’ve got polenta.

Italians don’t only each it after it’s firmed up, though. Intelligent foodistas that they are, they enjoy it hot from the pan as well, as creamy polenta. It’s the ultimate comfort food.

Contrary to what some may tell you, the best polenta is made from coarsely ground cornmeal. If you like eating craft glue, by all means, use a fine ground cornmeal. Otherwise, stick with a course grind. Stone-ground cornmeal is a close second choice, but because of it’s uneven grind, you get uneven results.

One of the nice things about this recipe is that it's so easy. My ten year old made the polenta you see pictured.

Equipment needed
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Microplane or rasp grater
Measuring cups and spoons
Wooden (or plastic) spoon

3 Tbl butter
2 ounces Parmesan cheese (1 cup, grated)
6 cups water
1 1/2 cups coarsely ground cornmeal
Salt as needed

Cut the butter into large chunks and set aside. Grate the cheese with a fine rasp grater or microplane. You should end up with about 1 cup of grated Parmesan.

Bring 6 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add 1 1/2 tsp salt. Slowly add the cornmeal, whisking the whole time to avoid clumps. Reduce to a simmer, stirring constantly. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Continue stirring often, making sure you get into the corners of the pan, until the polenta is smooth and soft. This can take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes, depending on the humidity and corn meal. Taste to check if it’s done. It should have a warm toasted corn flavor and be smooth in texture. Stir in the butter and grated Parmesan. Season with additional salt to taste and serve.

Serve with additional Parmesan cheese, your favorite marinara sauce, or with any other desired toppings.

Makes 6 servings.

I posted a recipe for the firmed up version of polenta, earlier. I like this mash recipe better. If you want firm polenta, you can allow this mixture to cool, cutting it into squares and frying just as I did in the original recipe.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Food Joke Friday - Hotel Breakfast

A man orders breakfast in the hotel he’s staying at and calls over the waiter.

"This morning I’d like two boiled eggs, one so undercooked that the whites are runny, the other so overcooked it's turned to rubber. Also, I’d like some grilled bacon that’s been left out overnight and gone cold, horribly burnt toast with butter straight from the freezer that’s impossible to spread, and a glass of orange juice from concentrate that’s been watered down so you can barely tell it’s orange.”

"That's quite a strange order sir," the waiter says. "It might be difficult to fill."

"Really?” the guest replies. “I don't understand. That's exactly what I got here yesterday when I ordered two boiled eggs with bacon, toast, and orange juice."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Braised Green Beans with Bacon

How can you go wrong adding bacon to green beans? I haven’t got a clue. This delicious side dish goes well with almost any entree. The addition of cider vinegar and brown sugar makes the flavor pop.

This recipe uses canned green beans for convenience, but fresh ones are always the best choice when you can get them. If using fresh green beans, trim the ends and then cut in half, widthwise. Increase the chicken stock to 1 cup and increase the cooking time to 5 minutes.

Equipment needed
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Wooden Spoon
Measuring cups and spoons
Paper towels

1 yellow onion
2 cans green beans, 15 oz cans
6 slices bacon
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 Tbl apple cider vinegar
1 Tbl brown sugar
1/2 tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper

Peel and mince the onion into 1/8 inch pieces.  Drain the green beans.

Cook the bacon in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until crispy, about 8 minutes. Turn the bacon over a few times during cooking. Transfer the bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate to cool. When cool enough to handle, chop the bacon and set aside.

In the same skillet, cook the mined onion with a pinch of salt until translucent and starting to brown, about 8 more minutes. Add the drained green beans, broth, vinegar, brown sugar and thyme, along with 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp ground black pepper. Bring to a brief boil. Lower the heat to medium and cook until most of the liquid evaporates, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 8 servings.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Creamy Lemon Bars Recipe

A lemon walks into a bar and the bartender asks, “Why the sour face?”

Unlike that tasteless joke, these lemon bars  are full of flavor. Creamy, refreshing, and not too tart, they’re a perfect summer dessert. They were a hit with my kids and I think yours will enjoy them, too.

I use bottled lemon juice for these bars out of convenience, but you can certainly use fresh lemon juice. Tossing some lemon zest in with the lemon juice will only improve the flavor. You’ll need 4 fresh lemons and 1/4 cup grated lemon zest.

Equipment needed
Measuring cups and spoons
9” x 9” baking pan
Aluminum foil
Mixing bowls
Instant-read thermometer
Fine-mesh strainer
Rubber spatula
Cooling racks
Chef’s knife


8 Tbl butter
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Cooking spray

2/3 cup lemon juice
7 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
1 cup plus 2 Tbl granulated sugar
4 Tbl butter
3 Tbl heavy cream

Powdered sugar for dusting

Cut all of the butter into small pieces and place on a small plate or bowl to soften, about 30 to 60 minutes. Keep the butter for the crust separate from the butter for the filling to make it easier later on.

Place an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 °F.

Line the baking pan with two long sheets of aluminum foil, perpendicular to each other, with extra foil hanging over the side to make a foil “sling.” This will make it easier to remove, later. Make sure the foil is pushed into the corners and smooth against the sides and bottom of the pan. Coat the sides and bottom with cooking spray.

Making the Crust
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, 1/2 cup powdered sugar and 1/2 tsp salt. Add 8 Tbl of the softened butter and mix with clean hands until the butter is incorporated and the mixture looks like course cornmeal. Sprinkle the mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly across the bottom with your fingers. Put in the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until it just starts to brown.

Making the Filling
While the crust bakes, whisk together the egg yolks and whole eggs in a medium saucepan. Whisk in 1 cup plus 2 Tbl granulated sugar until well combined. Whisk in the lemon juice and lemon zest, if using, along with a pinch of salt. Add the rest of the butter and cook over medium low heat until slightly thickened and registering 170 °F on a thermometer, about 5 minutes.

Immediately pour the mixture through a strainer into a mixing bowl, pushing the liquid through with a rubber spatula. Stir in 3 Tbl heavy cream.

Remove the crust from the oven and pour the hot lemon filling over it. It’s important that both the crust and the filling be hot to prevent the crust from getting soggy and the lemon curd cooked properly.

Bake until the filling is shiny and jiggles only slightly when shaken, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Place the pan on a wire rack and let cool in the pan about 2 hours. Remove the lemon bars from the pan using the foil sling to gently lift them out onto a cutting board. Cut into 9 squares. Dust with additional powdered sugar before serving.

Makes 9 servings.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Rawesome Foods and the Raw Milk Debate

Recently, food co-op Rawesome in Venice, California was raided by the FDA for selling raw milk without a permit. This has re-kindled the on-going debate about the safety of raw milk, the operations of the FDA, and the individual liberties of Americans.

It should be noted that this is not the first time Rawesome has been raided. They were similarly raided in 2010. The recent raid raid came as a result of a sting operation the FDA has been running there for the past year, presumably since the first raid occurred.

While this seems to be a question of proper permits, the question of raw milk consumption is a debate between food safety and potential health benefits.

A Short History of Pasteurization in the US

After the discovery of germ theory in the 1890’s, milk was pasteurized to control the potential hazards of highly contagious bacterial diseases, including bovine tuberculosis, that could be easily transmitted to humans through the drinking of raw milk. At the time, no product testing was available to determine if a farmer's milk was safe or infected so, all milk had to be treated as potentially dangerous.

In the United States, milk pasteurization was widely used in the 1920s and it was considered a major breakthrough in public health. Pasteurization has been credited with reducing infectious disease rates in the U.S. more than 90% over the past century. In 1924, Grade A pasteurization became a recommended federal policy, but interstate commerce of unpasteurized dairy products was not limited via federal legislation until 1987.

Health and Safety Issues in Raw Milk

Pasteurized milk is heated to 161 °F for 15 seconds, killing harmful bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella, sometimes found in milk. The pasteurization process, however, also destroys some vitamins as well as healthy bacteria, such as L. acidophilous.

Exposure to harmful bacteria present in some milk can lead to tuberculosis, listeriosis, salmonellosis, and several other food borne illnesses. The symptoms range from nausea, to diarrhea, to death. According to the FDA, in 2002 there were nearly 200 deaths that could be directly associated with exposure to such bacteria by drinking raw milk. Pasteurization also kills many bacteria that lead to spoilage, contributing to a longer shelf life.

Pasteurization isn’t discriminatory in killing bacteria, however. It also kills “helpful” bacteria, such as L. acidophilous, used in culturing yoghurt and cheese. Milk products with L. acidophilus, have been associated with a decrease in pediatric diarrhea, decreased levels of toxic amines in the blood of some dialysis patients, aids in lactose digestion and has been linked to a a reduction in certain risks associated with coronary heart disease.

The FDA maintains that the benefits of pasteurization far outweigh the loss of health benefits. L. acidophilus can be found in pasteurized yoghurt and cheeses. Some raw milk advocates cite government regulation of raw milk consumption as a threat to civil liberties, noting that adults are allowed to consume more dangerous substances.

My Opinion on Raw Milk

The debate over raw milk is interesting. On the one hand, the benefits of destroying pathogenic bacteria in our food supply can’t be ignored. On the other, such bacteria can be re-introduced if the milk is handled improperly after pasteurization. Such bacteria is not present in all milk and there are several tests available to check for it before the milk is put in the refrigerator section of stores.

My own experience with consuming raw milk has been limited. There are a few farms in Utah that are licensed to produce and sell raw milk. They use incredible handling procedures to ensure it’s safety, going miles beyond the norm to maintain proper temperatures. By law, they make you sign a waiver sto ensure you know the risks, and they don’t sell to minors. I have occasionally purchased and consumed milk from them. Growing up, my grandparents and at least one uncle kept cows. Drinking fresh, raw milk while visiting them was not uncommon. They would pasteurize the milk in large batches on the stove before serving it, from time time, as well. I have never gotten sick consuming raw milk.

As for taste, I don’t find much difference. There’s a greater taste difference between organically produced milk, pasteurized or not, and other milk. Different brands have different tastes, as well. I’m guessing this is due more to the diet and living conditions of the cows than anything else. I prefer the organic variety, but it’s more expensive so, I purchase it as a treat, not a staple.

Currently, I want a legal choice between raw and pasteurized milk, as long as food production and sanitation guidelines are being held to the highest standards and enforced. It’s insane to think that we have to sign a waiver to buy raw milk, but adults can buy cigarettes without signing anything.

Raw milk with cookies? Evil! Cigarettes and whiskey? Go ahead and kill yourself, we don’t care. It’s ridiculous.

Does this mean I’m rushing out to buy raw milk? No way. I’ve already laid out the benefits of pasteurization and, like the FDA, I think they outweigh the loss of a few nutrients. I can get my daily doses of L. acidophilus by eating yogurt and cheese, thank you. (I make my own yoghurt and buttermilk from time to time using NFD milk. I’ll show you how, another day. It’s easier than you think.)

That doesn’t mean I’m riding on the FDA’s anti-raw milk bandwagon. I think the current policies and enforcement are too heavy-handed and hurt small, local farmers. The fact that the FDA uses federal tax dollars to help states that actively seek to counter raw milk consumption is an indirect way of pressuring states to give up the authority to govern food commerce within their own states.

That’s a debate for another day, though. I’d like to hear your opinion. Please share your thoughts with us by leaving a comment, below.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Egg Salad Sandwiches

Ah, the classic egg salad sandwich. Easy to make, yummy to eat. My wife certainly loves them. I'm  pretty fond of them, too. You don’t have to put egg salad on bread to enjoy it. It works nicely as a light side. If you’re not watching your carbs, though, why not? Toasting the bread first is nice, too.

The secret in this simple recipe is not to chop the eggs too finely. Keep it course or they will dissolve into the dressing.

Equipment needed
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Measuring cups and spoons
Mixing bowls
Rubber spatula

1 celery stalk
1/4 yellow onion
12 hard-boiled eggs.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbl dried parsley, or 2 Tbl fresh parsley, minced
1 Tbl Dijon mustard
1 Tbl fresh lemon juice
Salt and Pepper

Cut the celery stalk into long thing strips, then cut the strips crosswise into very small pieces. Mince the onion into 1/8-inch or smaller pieces. Cut the eggs in half, lay them on their side and coarsely chop.

Mix the mayonnaise, chopped celery, minced onion parsely, 1/2 tsp salt, pinch of pepper, mustard, and lemon juice in a large mixing bowl. Gently fold in the eggs. Season with addition salt and pepper to taste.

Spread on bread to make sandwiches, or eat as a cool summer side dish.

Makes 4 cups of egg salad, enough to make 6 sandwiches.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Caprese Salad, Revisited

Two years ago I posted a recipe for Caprese salad, a cold salad made from tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. I always like to try new recipes and this version turned out so much better than the first, that I thought I’d share it with you.

Caprese salad is a wonderful cold side dish for hot summer days. It’s bright flavors make a nice change from traditional green salads. It’s at it’s best with fresh tomatoes ripe from the vine, but store-bought ones can be used nicely, as well. Although I use Roma tomatoes in this recipe, you can easily substitute cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, or any firm tomato from your garden.

Using fresh mozzarella cheese is vital for the success of this recipe. The blocks you find in the grocer’s refrigerator section aren’t going to cut it. Go to the deli counter and find the round balls of fresh mozzarella. They are tender and creamy, not hard and dry.

Equipment needed
Cutting board
Paring knife
Chef’s knife
Mixing bowls
Salad spinner
Fine-mesh strainer
Small saucepan
Rubber spatula
Measuring cups and spoons
Garlic press (optional)

8 Roma tomatoes (or 2 pints of cherry or grape tomatoes)
1 large clove garlic
1 Tbl balsamic vinegar
2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese.
1/2 tsp sugar
3 Tbl dried basil (or 1 cup chopped fresh basil)
Ground black pepper

Core the tomatoes with a paring knife. Quarter lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Toss the tomatoes, sugar, and 1/4 tsp salt together in a mixing bowl, cover, and let stand for 30 minutes. This helps season the tomatoes, and draw out some of their excess liquid.

In the meantime, mince the garlic using a garlic press or chef’s knife. Cut the mozzarella into 1/2-inch chunks.

Transfer the tomatoes and any accumulated liquid to a salad spinner and spin to remove seeds and liquid. Return the tomatoes to the mixing bowl and pour the tomato liquid through a fine mesh strainer over a small saucepan to remove the seeds and reserve the liquid. You should have about 1/2 cup of extracted juice.

Add the vinegar and garlic to the saucepan with the tomato juice. Turn the heat to medium and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced to 3 tablespoons, about 5-7 minutes.

Cool the tomato juice mixture to room temperature. Whisk in the extra-virgin olive oil. Add the tomato juice mixture to the mixing bowl with the tomatoes. Add the cheese and basil then toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 4 – 6 servings.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Food Joke Friday - Ordering Soft Drinks

A girl walks into a restaurant and asks the waiter, “How much is a soft drink?”

“One dollar,” the waiter replies.

“How much is a refill?” the girls asks.

“The first one is free,” the waiter says.

“Oh, good,” the girls says. “I’d like a refill, please.”

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Big, Chewy, Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies

My friend and fellow food blogger Mark Hansen once told me he likes chewy cookies, not crunchy ones. Have I got a chocolate cookie for you, my friend. These cookies are big and totally tasty. Using melted butter, along with extra egg yolks, keeps these cookies rich and chewy. We use dark chocolate chips in this recipe, but you can use semi-sweet chocolate chips, white chocolate, or even butterscotch chips if you’d like to.

Equipment needed
Small saucepan
Measuring cups and spoons
Mixing bowls
Rimmed baking sheet
Parchment paper (optional)
Rubber spatula
Hand mixer or standing mixer (recommended)
Ice cream scoop
Cooking rack

2 sticks butter (16 Tbl)
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 additional egg yolks
1 Tbl vanilla extract
1 (12-ounce) bag dark chocolate chips (about 2 cups)


Melt the butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally as it melts. Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 325 °F with two racks set to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions.

Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. You can use cooking spray, instead, but I find the bottoms of the cookies aren’t as likely to overcook with parchment paper and clean up is easier.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together the melted butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes until well blended. You can use either a hand mixer or a standing mixer. You can also a wooden spoon or stiff whisk, but it will take longer.

Beat in the eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla until just combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beaters with a rubber spatula as needed.

Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture a little at a time until all is combined, about 30 to 40 seconds. Do not over mix. Mix in the chocolate chips until evenly incorporated.

Using a medium ice cream scoop (about 1/3 cup), scoop rounded balls of dough onto the two parchment lined baking sheets, 2 1/2 inches apart. Bake until the edges are golden and the centers are soft and puffy, about 20 minutes. Rotate and switch the baking sheets, from one rack to the other, halfway through, to ensure even baking.

Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes. The cookies may not look done to you. Take them out, anyway. They’ll continue cooking and firm up on the baking sheet as they cool.

Serve warm or transfer to a wire cooling rack and let cool completely.

Makes 16 to 20 large cookies.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Roasted Bell Peppers, the Easy Way

There’s no reason to pay for a jar of roasted bell peppers when you can make them easily and affordably at home. All it takes is a good baking sheet, your broiler, and a bit of attention. Cutting the peppers and removing the seeds before roasting makes it easier to remove the skin, and lets you avoid rinsing them. Washing them removes much of the flavor, not just the skin.

Equipment Needed
Cutting board
Chef’s knife
Rimmed baking sheet
Aluminum foil
Mixing bowls
Plastic wrap

4 sweet bell peppers, red or green
Extra-virgin olive oil


Cut 1/4 inch from the top and bottom of each pepper and gently remove the stem from the lobe.

Lay the pepper on it’s side, and cut through one side the pepper, horizontally, rolling it as you cut, to remove the seeds and ribs in one fell swoop. Cut the pepper strips as needed to get them to lay flat.

Adjust the oven rack so that it is 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches from the boiler element. Head the broiler (500 °F) for 5 minutes. If your oven rack is more than 3 1/2 inches from the broiler, set an upside down rimmed baking sheet on it to raise the level.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Arrange the pieces of sweet pepper on the baking sheet, skin side up. Flatten them as needed. Cook under the broiler until the skin is spotty brown and puffed up, about 9 minutes. Rotate the sheet halfway through cooking to ensure even browning.

Transfer the hot peppers to a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let them steam for at least 10 minutes or longer if they need to cool more so they can be easily handled. Peel and discard the skin from each piece.

The peppers can be stored in an airtight container for use in other recipes, but can also be served as an appetizer. Slice the peppers into strips, drizzle a little olive oil over them, and season with salt to taste.