Sunday, November 12, 2006


I've finally accepted the dearth of good pizza in L.A. and have decided to just make my own. I'm not quite energetic enough to make my own crust, not when Trader Joe's sells tasty pizza dough for just 99 cents that cooks up nice and crisp. But I do whip up this nice, easy sauce based on my parents' recipe. Topped with sausage, mushrooms, and zucchini for me, and pepperoni and jalapenos for A, plus mozzarella, of course, it's a fast and delicious Friday dinner.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
16 ounces plain canned tomato sauce
1 teaspoon vinegar (I use red wine vinegar)
Small dash of soy sauce
1 teaspoon dried oregano (or fresh oregano to taste)
1 teaspoon dried basil (or fresh basil to taste)
Black pepper to taste

1. Heat oil in saucepan over medium heat. Saute garlic and onion until soft. Add fennel and red pepper flakes and saute 30 seconds longer.

2. Add remaining ingredients, mix, and simmer about 20 minutes, stirring frequently.

Makes about enough for one and a half baking-sheet-sized pizzas (I freeze the leftover half-portions, so after two sauce-making sessions I have enough in the freezer for a third whole pizza).
Time: 30 minutes

Thursday, November 09, 2006


Whoa, doesn’t this recipe title sound incredibly fancy? But really, it’s, um, baked potatoes topped with onions and cheese and some rosemary. (Ack, Cooking Light, you went overboard with “scented.” What is this, a spa treatment?) It’s one of those recipes that fails to knock my socks off only because I keep thinking, “Well, I could have thought of this.” I mean, you can put anything on a baked potato—you don’t really need a recipe, right? But of course, I had never put caramelized onions or rosemary on a baked potato, and it tasted delicious. Baked potatoes are so easy and cozy, but they need a little something, and onions add a nice zing. Potatoes and rosemary are of course a match made in heaven, and the Gruyere adds a kick. (The flavors are quite similar to French onion soup, actually.) We had these last night, with green salad on the side and some perfectly ripe pears rounding out this easy, fallish meal.

I would make it again, with a few adjustments. The onions definitely needed to cook longer than the 20 minutes specified by the recipe, and I think I’d cook them at a lower heat—at medium they browned quickly, but didn’t quite become all soft and sweet and truly caramelized. Perhaps this is why the whole dish seemed dry, or maybe they needed to be cooked in a little more butter (yes, I know this is Cooking Light, but let’s not sacrifice quality here). Next time, I think I’ll start the onions right after putting the potatoes in the oven, and cook them for about an hour over medium-low heat, covering them for part of that time so they steam and get tender before browning. Also, the original recipe doesn’t call for salt, and what is a potato without salt? The cheese is a little salty, but not enough to flavor the whole potato. I added a little salt to the onion mixture when I added the pepper, but ended up sprinkling more on top later. I think it would be better to add some to the inside of the potatoes after opening them up (I also mashed the potato flesh slightly with a fork, because I like it soft).

The original recipe serves 6, but I prefer 4 servings (two for me and A to eat right away, two for us to eat later), so I did my calculations (yay, multiplying fractions!) and came up with the following 2/3-sized version, which also reflects the changes in method I mentioned above:

4 medium baking potatoes (about 2 pounds)
1 tablespoon butter
4 cups thinly sliced onion (3 medium-large onions)
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
½ cup (2 ounces) shredded Gruyere cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Pierce potatoes with a fork, and bake for 1 hour or until tender.

3. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and garlic; cook, covered, 20 minutes until soft. Uncover and cook another 20 minutes or so, until onions are browned. Stir in chopped fresh rosemary and salt and pepper to taste.

4. When potatoes are cooked, remove them from the oven and preheat the broiler.

5. Split the potatoes lengthwise, cutting to, but not through, the other side, then put one finger on each end of the potato and squeeze together to open them up a little. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper inside, and gently stir and fluff the potato flesh with a fork. Divide onion mixture between potatoes and sprinkle each with 2 tablespoons Gruyere (you may have to squish the filling down inside the potatoes slightly to fit it all in). Place potatoes on baking sheet and broil 3 minutes or until cheese is lightly browned.

Serves: 4
Time: 1½ hours

Friday, November 03, 2006


Good old Cooking Light delivers another successful meal. I already have a serviceable squash soup recipe, but what attracted me to this new one was the whole head of roasted garlic. Also, I enjoy leeks…but garlic was the main appeal.

Having to spend an hour roasting the garlic before beginning to make the soup means this probably won’t become one of my old reliable weeknight recipes—instead, it goes in my
“Sunday recipe” category, like roast chicken or meatloaf. The hour did give me precisely the amount of time I needed to make focaccia to accompany the soup. And once the garlic was roasted, the soup came together really easily. Result? It didn’t pack quite the garlicky punch I was looking for, but it tasted good and I’d make it again. It was pretty, comforting, healthy, and fallish.

Only issue with the recipe: As instructed, I bought 4 leeks at the farmers’ market. Granted, they weren’t gigantic, but they were what I’d call medium-large. After trimming them, washing them, and slicing the white and light-green parts as recipes traditionally have you do, I was left with not the 6 cups called for, but instead a measly 2 cups of leeks. 6 cups is a lot of leeks—more than my potato-leek soup recipe calls for, and that recipe serves 12! So I’m left wondering: (a) How freakin’ huge were the four leeks used by the Cooking Light test kitchen? (b) Was I supposed to use the entire leek, even though I’ve never seen a recipe that calls for the dark green part? (c) Did my substantial shortage of leeks drastically affect the end product? It tasted fine to me—but would it have been dramatically different with more leeks? Well, yes, it would be leekier, obviously. To find out, I guess I’ll have to try again soon. But I’m here to tell you, if you don’t end up with 6 cups of leeks, don’t sweat it. You’ll still have good soup.

1 whole garlic head
4 teaspoons olive oil
6 cups thinly sliced leek (about 4 large)
4 cups (3/4-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash (about 1 medium)
2 cups water
2 cups less-sodium chicken broth
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Remove white papery outer skin from garlic head (but do not peel or separate the cloves). Wrap head in foil and bake for 1 hour. Cook 10 minutes, then separate cloves, squeezing to extract garlic pulp. Discard skins.

3. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add leek; sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in garlic, squash, 2 cups water, broth, salt, and black pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until squash is tender.

4. Place half of squash mixture in a blender and puree until smooth. Pour pureed soup into a bowl and repeat procedure with remaining squash mixture. Return pureed soup to the saucepan, stir, and heat briefly.

Serves: 5-6
Time: 1½ hours (mostly garlic-roasting time)


Two mom recipes in one week! She’ll be so proud.

I am not a baker, but I was pleasantly surprised by how easy this bread was to make and how well it turned out—simple, rustic, tasting of rosemary and red onion, crisp outside and soft inside. I made it on Wednesday night, because I’d gotten home earlier than usual (thank you, optometrist appointment that allowed me to miss the last two hours of work). I’d planned to make Butternut Squash-Leek Soup, and soup is always nicer with something to dip into it, and I thought the flavors would go well together, so I decided to try my mom’s focaccia recipe. I always enjoyed it while growing up, though back then I was more of an onion-phobe and would occasionally get squeamish about the soft, slimy-seeming pieces of onion interrupting the soft sponginess of the bread. (You’ll notice I had a similar texture-based complaint about the presence of dried fruit in granola—apparently, I didn’t care for textural contrasts in my food at the time.) Now I like onions, so why not?

The kitchen got messy and the loaves were a little deformed, but that’s just my baking incompetence. Cut into wedges, the bread looked and tasted delicious, paired felicitously with the soup, and was a big hit with A. (He was neutral about the soup, but high-fived me for the bread.) In fact, we ended up eating an entire loaf (the smaller of the two, at least) between us during that one meal. I’d really like to try the focaccia as a base for a sandwich this weekend. That is, if there’s any left by then.

1 packet dry yeast (1 tablespoon)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary (or 2 tablespoons dried; of course, I recommend the fresh)
½ cup finely chopped red onion
4 to 4½ cups all-purpose flour

1. Stir together yeast, sugar, and ½ cup warm water in a large bowl, and let stand 5 minutes.

2. To the yeast mixture, add salt, 1 cup warm water, olive oil, rosemary, and onion. Gradually stir in flour.

3. Knead dough on a floured surface (if dough seems too sticky, add more flour). Place in an olive-oil-greased bowl, cover with a kitchen towel, and let rise until double, about 45 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

5. Divide the dough into two pieces. Shape each piece into a flat round, about ½ inch thick. Place on olive-oil-greased baking sheets and brush loaves generously with olive oil. Let stand for 15 minutes.

6. Bake at 350 on the bottom oven rack for 15 minutes, then move to the top rack and bake for 10-15 more minutes, until lightly browned.

Makes: 2 loaves
Time: 1 hour 45 minutes (mostly rising/baking time)


For someone who thinks America’s Test Kitchen is too fussy, why am I posting two recipes from them in one week? Well, I have to admit those people do good work. I ripped a page on “Skillet Green Beans” out of a Cook’s Magazine I found in the lunchroom at work, and when I saw this updated take on what we Minnesotans call “green bean hot dish,” I had to try it. So I made a half-recipe on Monday night, as a side dish for Chicken Scaloppine With Parmesan. Verdict: I wouldn’t call it “quick,” exactly; it’s quicker than baking a casserole, I guess, but not something I see myself whipping up at the drop of a hat after a long day. It’s not difficult to make—the fact that it uses only one skillet is nice—but complicated enough that I found it challenging to make it while also trying to do a main dish (even one of my simpler chicken dish). The recipe just requires a little too much constant attention—there are no “let simmer for 30 minutes” steps where you can walk away and do something else. In the future, maybe I’d try some sort of baked chicken for the entrée, so it can cook while I devote my full concentration to the green beans. Because I would definitely make this again—it tastes great! Surprisingly like the real thing, and yet way better than the canned soup, canned green beans, and weird canned french-fried onions. I don’t think I got my shallots fried crisply enough (I suspect I got impatient and started before the oil was fully hot), but still? Very yummy, and it did pair nicely with the chicken. I was also thinking it might be possible to serve this over noodles as a main dish, if you had maybe just a little more sauce. Hmm, I’ll experiment and get back to you.

Postscript, December 2009: Meh, not worth it. I never made it again.

3 large shallots, sliced thin (about 1 cup)
Salt and ground black pepper
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
10 ounces cremini (brown) mushrooms, stems discarded, caps wiped clean and sliced ¼ inch thick
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium onion, minced (about 1 cup)
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1½ pounds green beans, stem ends trimmed
3 sprigs fresh thyme (the recipe wants you to use whole sprigs and remove them later, but I just used the leaves and left them in)
2 bay leaves
¾ cup heavy cream
¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth

1. Toss shallots with ¼ teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and 2 tablespoons flour in small bowl; set aside. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until smoking; add shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer shallots with oil to baking sheet lined with triple layer of paper towels.

2. Wipe out skillet and return to medium-high heat. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil, mushrooms, and ¼ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 8 minutes. Transfer to plate and set aside.

3. Wipe out skillet. Heat butter in skillet over medium heat; when foaming subsides, add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until edges begin to brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in garlic and remaining tablespoon of flour, then toss in green beans, thyme, and bay leaves. Add cream and chicken broth, increase heat to medium-high, cover, and cook until beans are partly tender but still crisp at center, about 4 minutes. Add mushrooms and continue to cook, uncovered, until green beans are tender and sauce has thickened slightly, about 4 minutes. Off heat, discard bay leaves and thyme sprigs (as I said, I didn’t use the whole sprigs, just the leaves, which I left in, because I like thyme). Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Transfer to serving dish, sprinkle evenly with shallots, and serve.

Serves: 8 as a side dish
Time: 30 minutes

Thursday, November 02, 2006


I love mac and cheese, though I have to admit my heart still belongs to the creamy, saucy, day-glo orange stuff (not Kraft, though—I used to love that stuff in high school and college, but now I think it’s grainy and gummy and doesn’t even taste particularly like cheese). This is real, traditional, homestyle macaroni and cheese, white and cheesy and a bit clumpy, and though it may not be quite what my inner child is crying out for, it’s very good. The recipe is from the folks at America’s Test Kitchen, via my pals the Ackermans, who contributed it to a compilation of favorite recipes we made for P and R’s wedding shower. Usually I avoid America’s Test Kitchen recipes—I like to watch the TV show and read Cook’s Magazine, and I admire their goal of finding absolutely the best recipe with scientific methods and high-quality ingredients, but…honestly, I don’t always need THE BEST of everything, just things I like. Sometimes their recipes are way too fussy. This one is a little tricky, what with making the white sauce and all, but not outlandish. Like many ATK recipes, it’s not the healthiest thing in the world, but it’s quite nice once in a while. I like it with mixed greens on the side.

I would not say I have perfected this recipe yet. I don’t have a Dutch oven or really heavy saucepan (I just use my normal pasta pot), so at the high heats called for by the recipe, the white sauce tends to burn to the bottom. If I stir it too aggressively, the burned bits get mixed into the sauce. Anyway, it’s an annoyance to clean the pan afterwards. I think I’ll try a nonstick pan next time and see if that helps…or someone can buy me a Dutch oven for Christmas?

On Sunday night (my second time making this recipe) I faced a new obstacle: my broiler is broken, so browning the bread crumbs in the last step was going to be a problem. I solved this by using panko bread crumbs instead, figuring that they were already dry and crisp, so even if they didn’t get as browned, they were less likely to be soggy. I just melted the 3 tablespoons of butter in the microwave and poured that over a reasonable-looking amount of panko in a medium bowl, mixed well, and spread it atop the macaroni and cheese. And you know, it worked really well—so well I might continue using panko even if my broiler ever gets fixed.

Postscript, December 2009: This may have been an acceptable recipe, but I left it in the dust as soon as I found this easier, cheesier, awesomer one.

6 slices white sandwich bread (good-quality, about 6 ounces), torn into rough pieces
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold), cut into 6 pieces
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 tablespoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons powdered mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
5 cups milk
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (2 cups)
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)
1 teaspoon salt

1. For the bread crumbs: Pulse bread and 3 tablespoons butter in food processor until crumbs are no larger than 1/8 inch (10-15 1-second pulses). Alternatively, as the Ackermans note, you can break up the bread by hand, melt the butter in the microwave, and mix the two together a bowl. Or, as I mentioned above, you can use panko and mix with the melted butter.

2. For the pasta and cheese: Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat broiler. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in a Dutch oven or heavy saucepan over high heat. Add macaroni and 1 tablespoon salt; cook until pasta is tender (just past the al dente stage; overcooking is better than undercooking in this recipe). Drain pasta and set aside in a colander.

3. In now-empty Dutch oven, heat remaining 5 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat until foaming. Add flour, mustard, and cayenne and whisk well to combine. Continue whisking until mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute. Gradually whisk in milk; bring mixture to boil, whisking constantly (mixture must reach full boil to fully thicken). Reduce heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened to consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes. Off heat, whisk in cheeses and 1 teaspoon salt until cheese are fully melted. Add pasta and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is steaming and heated through, about 6 minutes.

4. Transfer mixture to broiler-safe 9x13 baking dish and sprinkle evenly with bread crumbs. Broil until crumbs are deep golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes, rotating pan if necessary for browning. Cool about 5 minutes, then serve.

Serves: 6 to 8, or 10 to 12 as a side dish
Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour


Hi, I’m back after a long hiatus with an armload of new recipes and a determination to post them more frequently. Plus, thanks to the magic of Blogger Beta, the functionality of this site has increased exponentially—I’m now able to categorize posts by type of recipe, thereby giving you a more useful way to look at the archives and pick recipes you might like to make. And if you make them, please let me know, because that makes me happy! Unless you make them and hate them. Then keep it to yourselves.

So, granola. My mom got this recipe from a friend of hers and made it regularly while I was growing up. I ate it occasionally and liked it well enough, except that it was annoying to pick out all the pieces of dried fruit (not really a dried-fruit fan, especially when it interrupted the nice granola texture). Little did I know that it would completely spoil me for regular, store-bought granola, which, no matter what kind, always tastes wrong to me, different texture, different flavor (no cinnamon, please), too sweet. I eventually realized that if I wanted granola exactly the way I like it, I’d have to make it myself.

This is a really easy recipe, but the first time I made it was a complete failure. As in, I had to throw it away because it was inedible. I was so disappointed—I think it’s the first time I’ve ever had a recipe just plain not work. In retrospect, the disaster was a perfect storm of mistakes and bad conditions: I was trying to cut the recipe in half but did a bad job of it, so there was too much oatmeal and not enough liquid, and then I piled it too high on the baking sheets so it didn’t cook evenly, and I cooked two pans at a time so that in my tiny oven, one of them was always a few inches from the heat source, and then the recipe heat was a little higher and the cooking time a little longer than what was needed, and with one thing and another, the granola ended up burning. Have you ever smelled burnt oats? I don’t recommend it. The second time I made the recipe, it turned out edible, but still too browned. The third time was the charm—and every time since then it’s cooked up like a dream. I try to make it every few weeks, and I get happy when I wake up in the morning and know I have granola in the cupboard for breakfast. It’s a filling, healthy meal and you can make it exactly the way you like it. In fact, it may totally spoil you for store-bought cereals in general; I hardly ever buy them anymore, except as a stopgap measure when I'm too busy to make more granola (though I'll still admit an abiding fondness for Life, Honey Nut Cheerios, and Honey Bunches of Oats). With practice, it's really easy to make, and the prep time isn't long. Sure, it bakes for a while, but that makes it a good activity for an evening or a weekend afternoon, when you can watch TV, read, or clean while the granola bakes, stopping every 15 minutes to stir (having a good kitchen timer to remind you is helpful).

The recipe below is my personal version, adapted from the original recipe with my burning-avoidance modifications and personal preferences. Postscript, May 2008: A while ago, when I was throwing a fit about the cost and availability of quick-cooking oats (the Quaker kind is expensive and rarely on sale at my local chain grocery store, the cute little neighborhood co-op with 89-cent-per-pound bulk oats closed, and the behemoth Whole Foods that replaced it didn't carry quick oats in the bulk section, although they later added it upon my request), in a shocking twist of events my mother revealed that she actually uses regular rolled oats to make her granola, and has been doing so for years! I sampled her version during a recent visit to Minnesota, and had to admit it was pretty tasty, though I have yet to switch away from the quick oats myself. So I'm revising my recipe to give you a choice: if you want a chewier, coarser, more muesli-like version, go with the regular oats; if you prefer the oatmeal finer, a little more cooked, and more readily formed into clusters like those you might find in an ordinary breakfast cereal, go with the quick oats. (I will say that the quick-oat version is a bit easier to eat on a rushed morning, which may be why I haven't yet made the switch. That, and the fact that I feel a teeny obligation to buy the quick oats at Whole Foods, since they stock them just for me!)

1½ pounds quick-cooking or regular rolled oats
High-quality, flaked, unsweetened coconut to taste (I probably use about ½ cup, maybe a little more--oh, and I won't tell anyone if you use shredded and/or sweetened coconut)
1 cup chopped nuts and seeds (I use about half sliced almonds, one-third sunflower seeds, and the rest sesame seeds and flax seeds)
1 cup wheat germ (you could probably substitute flaxseed meal for some of the wheat germ; I've been meaning to start experimenting with this ever since I read somewhere that the human body doesn't usually break down whole flaxseeds enough to digest the Omega-3s in them--but still, I continue to use whole flaxseeds because I love the taste of them)
¼ cup canola oil
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
½ cup water
½ cup honey
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I ran out of vanilla and used almond extract once, which was also good)
A little cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg if you're feeling daring
Dried fruit as desired (I usually toss in a few handfuls of raisins and dried apricots)

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

2. Combine rolled oats, coconut, nuts and seeds, and wheat germ in a very large bowl.

3. In a smaller bowl, whisk together oil, applesauce, water, honey, brown sugar, and vanilla (and spices, if desired). Pour over dry ingredients and mix well, using your hands to make sure all the dry ingredients get wetted (I squeeze the mixture in my hands a bit to make it clumpy, because I like the cluster effect in my granola).

4. Lightly grease 2 cookie sheets with canola oil. Spread granola evenly over sheets in a thin layer. Bake until lightly browned, 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

5. Remove from oven and cool. Add dried fruit as desired. Store in a Ziplock bag or tightly sealed container.

I haven't exactly measured how much this makes, but it's enough for me to eat it for breakfast for a week or two, and I eat fairly large portions because I'm freakishly hungry in the mornings.

Friday, August 04, 2006


Again, I’ve had this for a while and have no idea where it came from. While I didn’t have the good fortune to eat any seasoned corn like this while in Oaxaca (though I made up for it by eating plenty of mole and guacamole…and I even tried fried grasshoppers), I love to keep this zesty concoction in a spare salt shaker each summer to sprinkle over my buttered corn at home. A loves it, too. To me (and I’d say I have about a medium spiciness tolerance), it’s not too hot—just enough to perk up the corn and contrast with its sweetness—but I’d start with just a light sprinkling on your corn until you’re sure you like it.

1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground red pepper (cayenne)
3 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Mix seasonings together in a small bowl. Prepare and cook corn, spread with butter, sprinkle on all sides with seasoning mixture, and enjoy. The extra seasoning mixture will keep nicely in a salt shaker, covered jar, or other container for at least a few months.

Serves: The recipe says this makes “enough to cover 8-12 ears of corn,” but I’d say I’ve had the same saltshaker full of seasoning for…oh gosh, over a year now (its flavor has probably faded a bit, but I still like it) and it’s still at least 1/3 full. Maybe the creators of this recipe liked to encrust their corn in the seasoning, but we just sprinkle it on as we would do with salt. So I’d say a batch of this will last two moderate seasoning users through a summer of active corn-eating.

Time: 5 minutes


This is what we had with the corn cakes the other night. I’m surprised I haven’t posted it before, since we eat it fairly often as a summer side dish, with chicken or zucchini fritters or such. I’ve had it for so long, I have no idea where it came from.

This salad is really like eating a big bowl full of bruschetta. The original recipe calls for stale bread; I think the texture is supposed to be softer, with the dressing completely soaking into the bread. But I like to enhance the bruschetta resemblance by toasting my bread cubes in a skillet with a little olive oil (about 1 tablespoon) beforehand, which makes it crisper. Do whichever you like. Just be sure to make this salad with perfectly fresh, ripe, meaty summer tomatoes.

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons water
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon salt
Black pepper to taste
6 cups cubed stale or lightly toasted bread (I use French baguette)
2-3 large round tomatoes or 6 plum tomatoes, cut into wedges
½ to 1 small red onion, sliced as finely as possible
1 cup (combined) chopped fresh basil, cilantro, and dill

1. In a small bowl or screw-top jar, mix together the vinegar, oil, water, garlic, and salt and pepper.

2. Mix together tomatoes, onion, and herbs in a large bowl, add the dressing and bread cubes, and toss well. Let sit for about 5-10 minutes, then serve.

Serves: 3-4
Time: 20 minutes


  • Jack Bishop: Pasta e Verdura* and Vegetables Every Day*
  • Anthony Bourdain: Kitchen Confidential and A Cook’s Tour
  • Laurie Colwin: Home Cooking* and More Home Cooking*
  • David Kamp: The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation
  • Barbara Kingsolver (with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver): Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
  • David Lebovitz: The Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments
  • Susan Marks: Finding Betty Crocker
  • Michael Pollen: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
  • Julie Powell: Julie & Julia
  • Ruth Reichl: Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me With Apples, and Garlic and Sapphires
  • Adam D. Roberts: The Amateur Gourmet: How to Shop, Chop, and Table-Hop Like a Pro
  • Laura Shapiro: Perfection Salad
  • Nigel Slater: The Kitchen Diaries and Toast
  • Jeffrey Steingarten: The Man Who Ate Everything and It Must Have Been Something I Ate
  • Jane and Michael Stern: Two for the Road and Roadfood
  • Calvin Trillin: The Tummy Trilogy* (American Fried, Alice, Let’s Eat, and Third Helpings), Feeding a Yen, and Travels With Alice
  • Patricia Volk: Stuffed
  • Carole Walter: Great Cookies*
  • Molly Wizenberg: A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes From My Kitchen Table
* = most favorite

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


I’ve been obsessed with fresh corn this summer. Now that I’ve finally located the one vendor at my farmers’ market that sells the perfect, sweet white-and-yellow corn prevalent in Minnesota, rather than the plain white corn that is inexplicably dominant in California, I want to eat corn on the cob at least once a week, covered in butter and salt, or butter and salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper, or butter and this awesome spicy seasoning mixture I have a recipe for (remind me to post that, huh?), preferably accompanied by BLTs. I’ve also been gung-ho to try some new corn recipes. This one is from old reliable Jack Bishop, published in Vegetables Every Day. Except for grating the corn, which is a teeny bit of a pain (though it seemed much easier the second time I tried it than the first), it’s incredibly easy and comes together quickly. And the corn cakes taste delicious, a little bit savory, a little bit sweet, crisp outside and tender inside. They’re more like actual pancakes than my beloved zucchini fritters; I like them nearly as much and often contemplate making an entire fritter-based dinner that would feature both of them, but I think all that grating and frying might drive me bonkers. Jack says the corn cakes are “delicious with grilled fish or roast chicken. A tomato salad would round out the meal.” So far, we’ve been eating them as a main dish instead of a side dish, devouring two or three apiece with tomatoes on the side—either Stuffed Tomatoes Caprese or Italian Bread-and-Tomato Salad (which, holy cow, I haven’t posted that here? Well, recipe is forthcoming) works well. I’m thinking you could actually top the corn cakes with a fresh tomato salsa (tomato, olive oil, basil, maybe some onion or garlic), but then why mess with such a good and simple thing?

4 medium ears corn
1 large egg
¼ cup flour
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1. Remove the husks and silk from the corn. Grate the corn on the large holes of a box grater set over a large bowl until the cobs are clean, then discard the cobs. To the bowl of corn, add egg, flour, cheese, chives, salt, and pepper, and stir until the batter is smooth.

2. Melt the butter in a large nonstick skillet. Fill a ¼-cup measuring cup with batter. Pour into the pan to form a round cake. Repeat using all the batter. (You should get about six cakes. You may have to cook them in two batches if your skillet isn’t big enough; if so, add a little more butter before cooking the second batch.). Cook over medium heat, turning once, until the cakes are a rich golden brown color on both sides, about 9 minutes. Serve immediately.

Serves: 2–6
Time: 20–30 minutes


Neither my busy schedule nor the unusually brutal Southern California temperatures (it reached 107 degrees in Pasadena the weekend before last) have diminished my gusto for cooking and eating…just my gusto for writing and posting about it, apparently. But the heat wave’s broken, I have some free time (well, freer, anyway, with my hostessing and bridesmaid’s duties behind me), and I’m turning over a new leaf. Here’s one of the fresh, summery, mercifully simple recipes the weather compelled me to try last week. It’s from a little paperback book called Favourite Recipes From Books for Cooks 1, 2, and 3, which A’s mom gave me (signed by one of the authors) for Christmas. She bought it on a trip to England (Books for Cooks is a store in London). I think its non-glossiness and lack of photos put me off for a while, because this is the first thing I’ve attempted from it. (Luckily, I did not need to rely on my shoddy understanding of the metric system, as the measurements were thoughtfully given in both sets of units. I’ve reprinted them American-style.)

As usual for me when I embark upon a new recipe, by the time I started cooking I’d forgotten how delicious the food initially sounded to me and had turned suspicious. I don’t completely like beans, after all, and beans plus pasta sounded like a lot of starch, and 4 cups of broth per 1 can beans (yes, I used the canned; boiling beans for 1½ hours would have been unbearable in triple-digit heat) sounded like it would make a really runny soup. But it turned out great—a bit thinner than what I think of when I think of bean soup, but who wants a thick, hearty soup after you’ve broken a sweat just chopping tomatoes? My microwave got so warm it temporarily burned out while I was defrosting my homemade frozen chicken broth, but aside from that everything came together quickly and easily, and it tasted delicious—savory, a little spicy, refreshing (I served it warm, but not hot): perfect for a hot evening. The tomatoes really make this dish, so use good ones; I favor a mix of heirlooms.

4 ripe tomatoes, diced
¼ red onion, finely chopped
5 tablespoons olive oil
A handful of basil leaves, cut into strips
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 garlic cloves, chopped
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 cups hot chicken or vegetable stock
4 ounces (2/3 cup) dry cannellini beans (or other white beans), soaked overnight and simmered until tender (1 to 1½ hours), or 1 can (14 to 15 ounces) cannellini (or other white) beans, drained
3 ounces (1/2 cup) dried mezzi tubetti, ditalini, or other small pasta
grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

1. For the salsa, mix the tomato, red onion, 1 tablespoon oil, and 1 tablespoon basil together in a small bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.

2. To make the soup, heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and the rest of the basil and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Pour in the stock, add the beans, bring to a boil, and simmer steadily for 15 minutes. Ladle out a cupful (or more) of the beans and their liquid, put into a food processor or blender, and puree until smooth. Stir back into the soup.

3. Add the pasta to the soup and simmer steadily until al dente. Add salt and pepper to taste.

4. Serve the soup hot or warm, topping each serving with a generous spoonful of the salsa. Finish with a swirl of olive oil and grated Parmesan, if you like.

Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes

Friday, June 23, 2006


This is not chocolate. It’s savory, not sweet—in fact it has nothing to do with actual fudge, except that it is, in its own way, just as rich and tasty. One of my friends’ moms used to make it for neighborhood parties when I was a kid, and I always remember the grownups talking about how sinfully delicious it was. I, of course, was way too picky then to eat any food that contained anything remotely resembling a green pepper, but once I grew older and my tastes normalized, I sampled Mexican Fudge a few times when my mom made it. (I remember one Christmas Eve when Mom, Dad, and I prepared it as part of a sumptuous spread for ourselves, then all came down with a cold/flu that rendered us far too sick to enjoy any of it.) My mother passed on the recipe to me, but it never occurred to me to make it until I was called upon to throw a wedding shower for my friends P&R. My fellow bridesmaid, J, and I decided to serve a nacho bar of sorts, with my black-bean salsa, the awesome farmers’-market Holy Guacamole, and other things that can be eaten with tortilla chips. I remembered Mexican Fudge, saw how simple and easy the recipe was, and, flying in the face of one of the cardinal rules of hostessing (never serve anything you haven’t made before), whipped up a batch with some trepidation. And…it was a huge hit. I could have eaten half the pan myself, if I hadn’t felt a grudging compunction to save some for the actual guests. (I should have doubled the recipe—I only did 1.5 times the quantity.) This stuff is good, and easy enough for a small child (with good oven-safety skills) to make. After all, it’s basically just a big pan of jalapeno-infused melted cheese, with just enough egg to bind it into solid form.

2 cups grated cheddar cheese
2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
3 eggs
½ cup hot green taco or enchilada sauce (I used bottled salsa verde from the Mexican-foods aisle of the grocery store)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Combine the grated cheeses and place half the mixture in a 9x9 baking dish.
3. Combine the eggs and sauce and pour over the cheese. Spread the remaining cheese on top.
4. Bake for 30 minutes, cool slightly, and cut into 1-inch squares. Serve (warm or at room temperature) with tortilla chips.


This recipe is from my college friend S’s mom. S used to make it when we lived together; I remember sitting and watching TV and eating it straight out of the bowl with spoons, like a salad. I quickly acquired the recipe and made it for myself as a summer meal when I lived alone; now that I live with A I don’t make it much, since he is prejudiced against raw black beans (and I sympathize with his prejudice, since I don’t like them much myself in any context besides this one). But if he tried this I think he would like it, because how can you not when tomatoes and garlic and cilantro and onions and delicious vinaigrette are involved? Anyway, I made this for a wedding shower on Saturday and it was light, tasty, and super-easy. We served it as a dip-like thing, with tortilla chips, but the next day I sat down in front of the TV and ate the leftovers out of a bowl with a big soup spoon, just like the old days.

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 small garlic cloves, minced
2 cans black beans
1 cup chopped green onions
6 to 8 Roma tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes, as shown above)
1/3 cup cilantro
1½ teaspoons cumin
salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine the first three ingredients in a large bowl.
2. Rinse and drain the black beans and add them to the bowl. Add chopped green onions. Peel, seed, and chop tomatoes and add them to the bowl. Remove stems from cilantro, chop, and add to mixture. Add cumin and salt and pepper to taste and mix well.
3. Serve with tortilla chips.

Makes 4 cups

Friday, April 28, 2006


I think this is from The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook, the one book by Jack Bishop I don’t own. I photocopied it ages ago and stuck it in the front pocket of my three-ring recipe binder with a bunch of other recipes I’ve been meaning to try, and there it sat. Although it sounded delicious, I kept chickening out—after all, I still think of myself as a cooked-carrot hater, though I’ve been eating them lo these many years. If I embrace cooked carrots, will green peppers be next? Perish the thought!

But then I needed a side dish to go with Italian-Style Meatloaf (yes, I made it again; told you it was good!) on a Sunday evening, and this seemed perfect. It even cooks on the stovetop for about the same amount of time that the meatloaf cooks in the oven. It was a cinch to make—barely needs your attention once you get it going—and it tasted great. Since Jack’s description is accurate, I’ll just quote him: “This dish is so basic—carrots, butter, and salt—that you may think, ‘Who needs a recipe?’ But slow-cooking the carrots in a little butter intensifies their flavor and makes them incredibly sweet.” Who could resist?

I didn’t try this with the Parmesan cheese, even though it sounded delicious. I wanted to be sure I was tasting the carrots on their own terms the first time around, and besides, meatloaf isn’t exactly light to begin with. Next time, though, I’m going for it. (Postscript from October 2008: I have never actually gotten around to trying these with the cheese. They're so very good on their own.)

By the way, now that the process of moving my archives from Diaryland to Blogspot is finally on the verge of completion, I promise more new posts in the next week.

5 large carrots (about 1¼ pounds)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

1. Peel and cut the carrots on the bias into ¼-inch thick ovals. (Be sure to keep them thin—a few of my slices got too thick and didn’t become as tender as they should have. Also, if your carrots are organic and fairly tender, you can skip the peeling; I always do.)

2. Place the carrots and butter in a large skillet. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, until the carrots shrink and start to brown, 1¼ to 1½ hours.

3. Season with salt to taste, sprinkle with Parmesan if desired, and serve immediately.

Serves: 4 as a side dish
Time: 90 minutes

Monday, March 20, 2006


Wow! I’ve never been that into meatloaf before—OK, I’ve never been into meatloaf at all before, and in fact the concept of a loaf of meat strikes me as both hilarious and disturbing. But when I saw this recipe in Cooking Light, it just sounded so good. Maybe I was iron-deficient that day, but I suddenly craved a big slice of spiced meat. And boy howdy, it tasted as good as it sounded. I always think of ground beef as somewhat dry and bland, but this recipe makes sure to keep it well-seasoned and moistened with tomato sauce, producing a juicy, flavorful meatloaf (even more flavorful the next day) that isn’t too dense and is still pretty lean. And could it be any easier to cook? Plus, you’ve got to love that kitchy ’50s housewife vibe you feel pulling a hot meatloaf out of the oven. (Especially if, like me, you happen to be wearing a retro cherry-printed apron at the time.) This is another recipe I can’t wait to make again.

Note: Usually I abhor garlic powder, because I love the real thing so incredibly much. But Cooking Light usually avoids the powdered stuff, too, so when this recipe called for it, I figured there must be some good reason to go along (also, I usually think it’s best to follow a recipe to the letter at least one time before I go making modifications). And I do think the garlic powder works better here. The garlic flavor gets subtly distributed throughout the entire mixture and melds with the other tastes, rather than just appearing in intense, isolated chunks. And really, it doesn’t pay to try to be too fancy when making one of the ultimate comfort foods.

1 and 1/2 pounds 92% lean ground beef
1 cup canned tomato sauce, divided
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 large egg whites

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Combine beef, 1/2 cup tomato sauce, and remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Shape beef mixture into an 8-by-4-inch loaf on a broiler pan or baking sheet lined with tin foil and coated with a small amount of olive oil or cooking spray. Brush remaining 1/2 cup tomato sauce over top of meat loaf. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a meat thermometer registers 160 degrees. Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes, then slice and serve.

Serves: 4-6
Time: 1 and 1/2 hours, mostly cooking time

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


You'll notice that this white bean soup is not white. That's because I made it with Rancho Gordo Yellow Eye beans, which are mostly white but have tan spots. They are also quite delicious, and I actually prefer the golden hue they impart, even if it doesn't photograph terribly appetizingly.

I am so proud of myself for trying this and loving it, considering I don’t completely love beans. It’s a texture thing—they need to be as mashed-up as possible for me to accept them, and so far in my cooking career I’ve only reconciled myself with black beans (plus garbanzo beans, but only in the form of hummus). But when I saw this in an old magazine someone brought in to work (Bon Appetit, I think), it sounded so savory and comforting, full of ingredients I enjoy, a healthy and hearty winter meal...also, let’s face it, the word “creamy” gets me every time. Making it was a bit of a challenge—very simple, but working with dried beans, you have to be organized and start a few days in advance. On Monday morning before leaving for work, I set the beans out to soak. On Monday night, I cooked the beans (Step 2 of the recipe) and also made chicken broth. (Wow, did that make the apartment steamy-warm and delicious-smelling.) On Tuesday night, I made the actual soup. But you know what? It was worth it. It was awesome, exactly how I’d hoped it would be. Hooray for beans (or at least those properly pureed)!

A few notes: I used the Italian sausage. I didn’t buy any whipping cream, thinking I’d be healthy and just use milk instead, but the soup ended up creamy enough on its own, and just the perfect thickness already, so I didn’t want or need to add any more liquid. Thus, I’ve labeled the cream optional.

Postscript from April 2009: This time I used my new favorite sausage, Trader Joe's chicken andouille, a smoked, spicy, Cajun-style sausage (it has a firmer, more kielbasa-like texture, so I cut it into cubes instead of removing the casing and crumbling it). It was vastly superior to the Italian sausage I'd used before. If you can't find chorizo, I really recommend a good andouille--the spice and smokiness are wonderful with the beans, sort of like a really high-quality grown-up version of franks 'n' beans.

1 pound dried cannellini or Great Northern Beans (a generous 2 cups)
8 cups water
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 garlic cloves: 1 smashed, 2 chopped
1 large fresh rosemary sprig
1 bay leaf
1 large onion, coarsely chopped (about 2 cups)
1 large carrot, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 large celery stalk, coarsely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
2 and 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme, divided
4 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 pound fresh chorizo or spicy Italian link sausages, casings removed
1/4 cup whipping cream or milk (optional)

1. Place beans in a large, heavy pot. Add enough water to pan to cover beans by 4 inches. Let beans soak overnight, covered, at room temperature.

2. Drain and rinse beans; return to same pot. Add 8 cups water, 1 tablespoon oil, smashed garlic clove, rosemary, and bay leaf. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover, and simmer until beans are tender, 60–90 minutes. Season to taste with salt. (Can be prepared up to 2 days ahead. Cool slightly, cover, and chill.)

3. Drain beans, reserving cooking liquid. Discard rosemary sprig and bay leaf.

4. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, and celery. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute until vegetables are beginning to soften, about 10 minutes. Add chopped garlic and 1 teaspoon thyme; sauté 2 minutes. Add 2 cups reserved bean cooking liquid, 4 cups chicken broth, and beans. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered until vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes. Cool soup 10 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, sauté chorizo or Italian sausage in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through, breaking up lumps with back of spoon, about 5 minutes. Remove sausage from pan with a slotted spoon and transfer to paper towels to drain.

6. Using a slotted spoon, remove 1 and 1/2 cups bean mixture from soup and reserve. Working in batches, puree remaining soup in a blender until smooth. Return pureed soup to pot and stir in reserved whole-bean mixture, remaining 1 and 1/2 teaspoons thyme, sausage, and cream or milk if desired. Season with salt and pepper.

Serves: 6
Time: 1 hour, plus 1 day and 90 minute prep

Thursday, March 09, 2006


Another one from Cooking Light. For some reason, it was described in the magazine as “Warm Asparagus Salad,” which...well, Merriam-Webster’s defines “salad” as “a dish of meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, fruits, or vegetables singly or in combination usually served cold with a dressing,” which is generic enough to makes it sound like salad is in the eye of the beholder. Personally, I think of salad as cold, and while this may have a vinaigrette, it’s just a side dish, in my view. Whatever it is, however, it happens to be wonderful. Asparagus and garlic and lemon is, to me, the happiest taste combination on earth, and this recipe executes it masterfully.

I made this as a side dish with another new Cooking Light recipe, which was for two-potato latkes, and which didn’t turn out at all as well as I’d hoped (to add insult to injury, it was extremely labor-intensive too). A liked the latkes fine, but I’m not planning to make them again and won’t post the recipe here, as it had a few major flaws. A ended up eating most of the latkes for dinner, while I polished off my own serving of asparagus plus most of his, meaning that I ate nearly a pound of the stuff. That is how good this dish, or salad, or whatever, is.

I can’t wait to make it again. The only thing I’ll do differently is make the breadcrumbs smaller—I took the word “coarsely” in the recipe a little too much to heart, and my food processor was not being cooperative (or maybe, now that I think about it, my bread, which wasn’t day-old, was too soft to break up properly?), and I ended up with pea-sized breadcrumbs that, when sprinkled atop the asparagus, just made it hard to eat. The topping and the asparagus didn’t blend; you’d pick up a spear of asparagus with your fork and all the breadcrumbs would fall off, and you’d have to take a bit of asparagus and then separately scoop up a mouthful of breadcrumbs...which I really have no problem with, but A found it daunting. I also found the cooking method for the asparagus a little strange—why couldn’t I just have steamed it in my steamer basket? A suggested we could roast the asparagus, which might be fun to try also. What the heck, I’ll try everything—I think I could eat this every day. And since asparagus is already available at the farmer's market here in California (where March is actually spring), I think I will.

2 ounces day-old French bread or other firm white bread, sliced
1 garlic clove, peeled and halved
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 medium shallot, peeled and minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup water
1 and 1/2 pounds asparagus

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Place bread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until toasted. Rub cut sides of garlic over both sides of each bread slice. Place bread in a food processor and pulse 10 times or until bread is coarsely ground into crumbs. Arrange breadcrumbs in a single layer on baking sheet and bake 5 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer breadcrumbs to a bowl and set aside.

3. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook 1-2 minutes or until butter is lightly browned, shaking pan occasionally; remove from heat. Drizzle butter over toasted breadcrumbs and toss well to coat.

4. Combine vinegar, oil, lemon rind and juice, shallot, salt, and pepper in a small bowl or screw-top jar. Stir well with a whisk (if in a bowl) or shake well (if in a jar) to combine.

5. Bring water to a boil in a large skillet. Snap off tough ends of asparagus and add asparagus to pan. Cook 5 minutes or until tender, stirring constantly. Place asparagus on serving platter, drizzle with vinaigrette, and top with breadcrumb mixture.

Serves 2-6

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


I quit posting on Bookcook 8 months ago (eek), because I was dissatisfied with the site. My writing, while never meant to be any great work of art, had become perfunctory. (Apparently I’m not destined to be a food writer, because I can only think of so many words to use to describe a bowl of soup, one of which is “soupy.”) My yen to try new recipes had lulled. The Diaryland format was pretty clunky and ugly. The whole blog was user-unfriendly, what with my decision to write recipes in awkward first-person narrative format and the lack of any sort of categorization by type of recipe. I wasn’t sure anyone was even reading or trying the recipes I posted. Reader, I was bored.

Somewhere around Christmas (could it have been the three cookbooks, Cooking Light subscription, cookbook holder, kitchen timer, garlic-chile-pepper braid, and egg beater and spatula I received as gifts?) I got back into the cooking experimentation, and ever since have felt driven to try increasingly ambitious projects, record my adventures, and press my recipes upon others. I found a shiny new design at Blogspot. As I move my archives over, I’m re-editing the recipes to a simpler, more user-friendly format. I hope to eventually recommend some other good food blogs or recipe sites in my “Links” sidebar. I’d still like to figure out how I can classify my archives by type of recipe (soups, salads, pastas, etc.) instead of by date, but for now you’ll simply have to browse to find what you want. And I have a new crop of recipes to write about, beginning with this one, which I made on Sunday.

The recipe appeared in the L.A. Times Magazine, as a sidebar to a story about Siberian tomatoes. Normally I think the recipes in the L.A. Times Magazine are pretentious, fussy, and useless (OK, let’s face it, I sometimes think this about the entire magazine), so I was shocked to find one that (a) included only ingredients I’d heard of, (b) took less than an hour to make, and (c) actually sounded good. I was also pleased to find a potato soup recipe different from the ones I already have (potato-garlic, potato-leek, carrot-potato, etc.). And I was relieved to find one that didn’t call for chicken broth, because I don’t have any homemade in the freezer this week, and no chicken carcass with which to make more (yes, I suppose I could have bought some broth at the store, but what fun is that?). Best yet, the tomato and basil sounded so nice and springy, and believe it or not (you people living in the Snow Belt can feel free to hate me now; I know I would), it’s getting to be spring at the farmers’ market. Really. There’s asparagus and everything.

So, the soup: It was pretty easy, fresh-tasting, with a delicate flavor. I don’t think I actually used new potatoes (I bought tiny red ones, only to come home and read in Jack Bishop’s vegetable bible that “all new potatoes are small, but not all small potatoes are new,” and mine didn’t seem to have the thin skin he described), and I went with a normal onion because I wasn’t sure about “spring onions,” but the other ingredients were simple. I didn’t pass the soup through a food mill, because I didn’t have one, and when I started thinking about it, I wanted a smoother texture anyway, so I pureed it in a blender. I suppose the food mill (or the poor woman’s substitute, a fine sieve) would have removed the skins, but I like the little red flecks in the finished soup (and the skin is good for you). (Or, of course, you could just peel your potatoes.) Overall, in fact, it’s an intriguing-looking soup—a nice pink once you stir in the tomatoes, and then you garnish with the impressive bright-green swirl of basil puree. It looks a little like Christmas, though it tastes like summer.

Be forewarned, you might keep tasting the soup while you're cooking and thinking it seems a little..boring. Just wait until you add that basil puree--it zips up the flavor like you wouldn't believe.

4 tablespoons butter
5 cups water, divided
1 large white onion, peeled and finely chopped, or 2 bunches of spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped, about 2 and 1/2 cups
1 bay leaf
5 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
1 and 1/2 pounds new potatoes, washed (or peeled, if desired) and coarsely chopped
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped, about 1 and 3/4 cups
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 small bunch basil, leaves only
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Melt the butter in a large soup pot with 2 cups water, and add the onion, bay leaf, and thyme. Simmer over low heat for a few minutes, then add potatoes and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour in the rest of the water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat slightly and cook until potatoes are beginning to fall apart, about 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the tomatoes and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Saute, stirring often, until juices have evaporated and the tomatoes have thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Whisk together to form a semi-smooth sauce.

3. Pass the soup through a food mill (or puree it in a blender or food processor) and return it to the pot. Stir in the tomato sauce. (If the soup looks too thick, you can thin it with a little water, milk, or cream.)

4. Puree the basil, vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil in a food processor or blender. Garnish each serving of soup with a swirl of basil puree, plus extra salt and pepper to taste.

Serves: 5-6
Time: 40 minutes


One of the first recipes I’ve tried from my new Cooking Light subscription. The delectable-looking photo lured me in, plus in the last year or so I’ve realized how totally awesome roasted vegetables (asparagus, green beans, broccoli) can be. And the soup was good, but maybe not quite as good as I was expecting. Basically, I felt like it was a lot of work to go through for something that wasn’t (in my opinion) as tasty as my usual chicken-noodle soup recipe, and wasn’t even as different from it in flavor as I’d hoped. A, on the other hand, thought it was as good, or possibly even slightly better. I can see where he’s coming from—it’s a darker, richer, more substantial soup. The variety of vegetables was nice, and the flavor did get nicely caramelized and intensified by the roasting. I’ll give it another shot, but with the following modifications: (a) More broth. The soup turned out way too stew-like for my taste, almost like a really wet pasta dish. (b) A mix of white and dark meat for the chicken. I just think chicken breast, even the nice free-range organic stuff I’ve been buying lately, is too bland and feels chewy and dry to me, even when it’s been boiled in broth. (c) Maybe egg noodles instead of the rotini; they’d blend in better, make the soup feel less chunky.

I think my disappointment in the soup was compounded by the fact that I made what sounded like a delicious brown-butter soda bread with rosemary and black pepper as an accompaniment (I’m not sure where the recipe was from—some magazine I picked up at work; Bon Appetit, maybe>?), was OK, but I’m starting to think maybe I just don’t like soda bread that much. The recipes always sound good to me (and so temptingly easy), and then I make them and say, “eh.” Hence, I’ll refrain from posting that recipe. It wasn’t even an interesting enough failure to write about.

But anyway, back to the perfectly nice, wintery chicken soup, which was, in retrospect, pretty easy to make—it may require a lot of time, but the directions are very simple.

Postscript, December 2009: Look at me, trying to put a brave face on the disappointment, all "I'll make it again!" I never made it again. I have a perfectly satisfactory chicken-noodle soup recipe already.

1 cup chopped carrot (cut into 1-inch cubes)
1 cup chopped onion (cut into 1-inch cubes)
1 cup coarsely chopped mushrooms
1 cup chopped celery (cut into 1-inch pieces)
1 cup chopped red bell pepper (cut into 1-inch pieces)
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup water (maybe more?)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 (14-ounce) cans fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth, or 7 cups homemade chicken broth (maybe more?)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (maybe use 1/2 pound breast and 1/2 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, if you like dark meat)
2 cups uncooked rotini pasta (or possibly egg noodles)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Combine the carrot, onion, mushrooms, celery, and bell pepper on a large baking sheet or roasting pan, drizzle with oil, and stir well to coat. Bake for 50 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally.

3. After vegetables have cooked for 20 minutes, combine water, rosemary, salt, chicken broth, and garlic in a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes.

4. Add roasted vegetables to soup and simmer 30 minutes.

5. Bring soup to a boil; add pasta and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serves: 6-8
Time: 1 and 1/2 hours