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.