Thursday, January 31, 2008


Oh, crème fraiche, where have you been all my life?

This is one of those fabulously simple recipes that yields surprisingly sophisticated and amazingly delicious results. If you make it for other people, it will impress them, and possibly knock their socks off, and the entire time (in between bouts of licking your plate) you’ll be laughing behind your hand at how secretly easy it was to make. The recipe comes from Amanda Hesser and I found it at The Wednesday Chef; it seems to have made the rounds of the food blogs, and other writeups can be found here and here and here. The fact that it came so highly recommended overcame my fears that a recipe with so few ingredients would be bland, and the lemon chicken didn’t disappoint. The sauce was a perfect blend of rich, creamy creme-fraicheyness and lemony brightness. With smoked paprika roasted potatoes (the better to soak up more sauce with) and a big green salad, this chicken was a perfect weeknight supper, but I would have been equally comfortable serving it at a dinner party.

Trader Joe’s doesn’t carry whole chicken legs, so I bought a “whole cut-up chicken,” which, oddly, consisted of two breasts, three thighs, three drumsticks, and no wings. (That’s one freakish chicken.) I decided to save the enormous breasts for another day and just make the six leg pieces, or three servings. (This turned out to be a good decision, because when A ate the one leftover portion the next day, he reported that although it still tasted fine, the sauce had separated dramatically. So this is probably a dish best served immediately.) I used full amounts of all the other ingredients, though, because I figured a little extra sauce couldn’t hurt anything. (It didn’t.) The recipe was easy to make—season the chicken well with salt and pepper, brown it in the butter and olive oil, bake it until done, and then make a pan sauce out of the drippings and lemon juice and crème fraiche. Can you believe I’d never used crème fraiche before? For those not in the know, it’s cultured cream—sort of like sour cream, but less sour. I don't particularly like sour cream, mind you, but I love creme fraiche. It's sort of like Mexican crema, zippy like yogurt, vaguely reminiscent of Mascarpone in its uses, but better than all those things. Pretty much like tangy, creamy crack. I bought it at Trader Joe’s, but apparently you can make your own quite easily by mixing cream with a little buttermilk and letting it sit at room temperature for a day or so. I’m totally trying it sometime.

The only hitch in making the chicken was that it was the first time I’d used my Calphalon pan in the oven, and even though I knew, logically, that the metal handle would be hot when I returned the pan to the stovetop, I kept automatically, absentmindedly grabbing it with my bare hand while I was making the pan sauce. (A’s not usually one to laugh at my pain, but I do have to admit it must have been pretty funny for him to keep overhearing my exclamations in the other room: “@!$%#! I burned my hand on the pan handle, but I’m OK!” Then, two minutes later, “$%@$*! I’m OK!” again.) So keep those oven mitts on the entire time, kids. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle! (Sorry, GI Joe flashback there. It was on right before Scooby-Doo when I was a kid, so I’d always tune in just in time for the public service announcement portion at the end of the show.)

1½ tablespoons butter
1½ tablespoons olive oil
4 whole chicken legs (thighs attached)
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
½ cup crème fraiche

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. After 3 minutes, add the butter and oil. Season the chicken generously with salt and very generously with pepper. Place the chicken, skin side down, in the skillet and brown well on both sides, turning once.

3. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for 15 minutes, or until the juices run clear when the chicken is pierced with a knife.

4. Return the skillet to the stovetop. Transfer the chicken to a platter and keep warm. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of drippings from the skillet. Over medium heat, add the lemon juice to the skillet and stir well. Simmer for 1 minute, then add the crème fraiche and stir until melted and bubbling. Pour the sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with lemon zest and additional pepper. Serve hot.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


I’m a bit behind with this posting thing, so you can look forward to lots of new delectable recipes this week. (Well, three, anyway. But super-delectable!)

You may have noticed that I’m all over the smoked paprika. I slathered it onto a roasted chicken, then I substituted it for normal paprika in Israeli Spice Chicken (an awesome decision, if I do say so myself; all smoky like barbecue), and now (er, a week and a half ago), I’ve dusted it onto roasted potatoes in this genius side-dish recipe from Hogwash. So good. So very easy. Why are you still reading this and not running to the nearest store to buy smoked paprika?

1½ pounds small red potatoes (I used a mixture of red, yellow, and purple, because I like to live on the edge)
1½ tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Scrub the potatoes under cold running water and cut them in half (I ended up cutting mine in fourths because they weren’t the super-tiny kind). Arrange them in a single layer in a large ovenproof dish (I used a 9-by-12 Pyrex). Drizzle the olive oil over them, then season with the paprika, plus salt and pepper to taste. Toss with your hands to distribute the seasoning evenly.

3. Roast for 35 minutes, or until potatoes can easily be pierced with a fork.

Serves: 4–6
Time: 40 minutes

Friday, January 25, 2008


Sorry, this is a crazy photo. The season finale of Amazing Race was starting, and I’d inadvertently set my camera to some crazy manual-focus setting that made the foreground blurry and the background clear.

This recipe is from a recent issue of Cooking Light. It was a bit frustrating to make, because my dough turned out super-sticky, even after I added well over ½ cup of extra flour during the kneading process (which was really more like the “desperately peeling dough off the counter” process). I had to laugh bitterly at the “to prevent dough from sticking to hands” instruction in step 3—my dough was sticking to hands, bowl, counters, everything. Shaping it in step 5 was kind of a joke; as you can see, my “knots” look pretty much like smooth, round rolls. But just when I was on the verge of despair, I bit into a roll fresh from the oven and it tasted great. Sort of like my beloved Bumpy Rolls, but sweeter, and with the added wholesomeness of oatmeal and flax meal, plus sesame and poppy seeds, which I love. Although the original recipe didn’t call for it, I ground a little coarse salt on top of each roll, and I’m so glad I did—it contrasted nicely with the sweetness—that I’ve added it to the directions below.

Would I make these again, considering what a pain they were? I’d like to try at least once more, to see if I can make the dough more workable—I know something containing that much oatmeal and honey is bound to be a bit sticky, but mine seemed way goopier than what the recipe was expecting. I also think I’d skip the whole dividing-and-tying-into-knots step, which was mainly cosmetic, and make them into cloverleafs in a muffin tin, as with Bumpy Rolls. I’ll keep you posted.

Postscript, December 2009: Not worth it. I don't bake a lot of bread, so when I do, I want Bumpy Rolls. Maybe I can just throw some seeds on top of those sometime.

1 cup regular oats
½ cup honey
2 tablespoons butter
1½ tablespoons salt
2 cups boiling water
1 package dry yeast (about 2¼ teaspoons)
1/3 cup warm water (100 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit)
¼ cup flaxseed meal
3 cups whole wheat flour (about 14¼ ounces)
1½ cups all-purpose flour (about 6¾ ounces), divided
olive oil or cooking spray
1 large egg
1 tablespoon regular oats
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
coarse salt

1. Combine the first four ingredients in a large bowl and add 2 cups boiling water, stirring until well blended. Let cool to room temperature.

2. Dissolve yeast in 1/3 cup warm water in a small bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Add yeast mixture to oat mixture and stir well. Stir in flaxseed meal.

3. Measure flours by lightly spooning into dry measuring cups and leveling with a knife. Gradually add 3 cups whole wheat flour and 1 cup all-purpose flour to oat mixture, and stir until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes, adding enough of remaining all-purpose flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough should still feel tacky, however).

4. Place dough in a large bowl coated with olive oil or cooking spray, turning to coat. Cover and let rise in a warm place (about 85 degrees Fahrenheit), free from drafts, 1 hour or until doubled in size. (Press two fingers into the dough; if indentation remains, the dough has risen enough.) Punch the dough down and let rest for 5 minutes.

5. Divide dough in half, then cut each half into 12 equal portions. Working with one portion at a time (cover remaining dough to keep it from drying out), shape each portion into an 8-inch rope. Tie each rope into a single knot and tuck top end of rope under bottom edge of roll. Place rolls on baking sheets coated with olive oil or cooking spray. Cover with plastic wrap coated with olive oil or cooking spray (or use a damp disk towel), and let rise on a warm place for 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

6. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

7. Combine egg with 1 teaspoon water in a small bowl, and brush egg wash over rolls. Combine 1 tablespoon oats, poppy seeds, and sesame seeds in a small bowl and sprinkle evenly over rolls. Sprinkle a little coarse salt over rolls. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, or until golden. Cool on wire racks.

Yield: 24 rolls
Time: 2½ to 3 hours

Monday, January 14, 2008


I made bread! And I used the KitchenAid dough hook! And even though I flubbed the dough texture a little bit as a result, it tastes delicious!

I am really craving savory, herby, grainy breads lately, and I hope to spend the winter months merrily baking them. At the top of my list was this alluring dill bread from The Joy of Cooking via The Smitten Kitchen (where you will notice a heck of a lot more bread-baking expertise than you see here). I’ve seen many a dill bread recipe that contains sour cream, but this one appealed to me with its slightly healthier use of cottage cheese as a moistening agent, as well as honey instead of boring old sugar, and wheat germ for extra ethos.

Making the bread in the mixer saved me a lot of mess and elbow grease, but I should have added more flour to compensate for the fact that I wasn’t kneading the bread with floury hands on a floured surface. Since the KitchenAid method was less hands-on, I didn’t immediately notice that my dough was too shaggy and sticky until I started transferring it to the oiled bowl for the first rise. Granted, at that point I could have added more flour and kneaded it again, in the machine or by hand, but I decided I didn’t care enough. Better too moist than too dry, right? That’s me, Bookcook, slapdash and lazy since 1977!

Actually, the bread turned out perfectly fine for a nonperfectionist like me. The dough was so hard to work with that the loaf was rough and misshapen, but the exterior texture was perfect, crusty and golden and salty (thanks to the genius melted butter/salt wash). The interior was almost like a cake or a quick bread, maybe a bit too much on the gummy side where it should have been crumby, but I secretly enjoy slightly-underdone baked goods (whereas bread that’s too firm or dense or dry makes me want to spit it out after a bit of halfhearted chewing). Anyway, minor textural issues are nothing compared to the awesome flavor, savory with herb and onion and the perfect sweet/salty balance. I bet this stuff makes killer grilled-cheese sandwiches, and I intend to find out very soon, if I don’t eat it all plain first. This bread needs no butter or other adornment. A definite keeper.

1 package (2¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
½ cup warm (105 to 115 degrees) water
3 cups flour
½ cup finely chopped red onion
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon toasted wheat germ
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup cottage cheese
1 large egg
1 tablespoon melted butter
½ teaspoon coarse salt

1. Combine yeast and water in a small bowl and let stand until yeast is dissolved, about 5 minutes.

2. Combine flour, onions, dill, honey, wheat germ, and 1 teaspoon salt in a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer). Add the yeast mixture, the cottage cheese, and the egg. Mix by hand (or if using a mixer, on low speed) until the dough comes together, adding more flour or warm water if needed to achieve proper consistency. Knead for about 10 minutes by hand (or using the dough hook of the stand mixer on low to medium speed) until the dough is smooth and elastic. Transfer to an oiled bowl and turn dough over once to coat it with the oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place (75 to 80 degrees) until doubled in volume, 1 to 1½ hours.

3. Grease a 9-by-5-inch (8-cup) loaf pan. Gently press the dough down, form it into a loaf, and place it seam side down in the pan. Cover with oiled plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

4. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the top of the loaf with melted butter, then sprinkle with the coarse salt. Bake until the crust is deep brown and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped, about 35 to 40 minutes (internal temperature of the loaf should be about 200 degrees). Remove the loaf from the pan, place it on a rack, and let it cool completely.

Yield: 1 9-by-5-inch loaf
Time: 3 to 3½ hours


Sure, it doesn’t look like much, but that’s partly my fault for failing to garnish with apple slices and rosemary sprigs as directed, and not having any white pepper on hand instead of those big honking black specks you see. Anyway, who cares what it looks like when it tastes like apples and Brie?

Will you be surprised when I inform you that this soup is fabulous? Thank you, parents, for The St. Paul Farmers’ Market Cookbook, and thank you, St. Paul Farmers’ Market Cookbook, for including this recipe for one of the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant’s trademark dishes, and thank you, (former) executive chef Ken Goff, for creating it in the first place.

I had a few quibbles with the recipe—for one, it called for three cups of heavy cream, which is insane, considering we’re already using half a stick of butter and half a pound of Brie. The chef’s parenthetical notes grudgingly suggested I could substitute half and half or whole milk if I also used four potatoes instead of three. I went a step further down the ladder and used 1% milk, and it’s still the creamiest soup in Creamyland. I’m not even including the option for cream in my version of the recipe. Use milk and live longer, the better to enjoy more Brie and apple soup.

Also, the original recipe asked for just “4 small potatoes,” which is maddeningly unspecific. When I think “small potatoes,” I think teeny-tiny one-bite baby red potatoes, but I don’t think that’s what Goff meant. I used four smallish Russet potatoes, and that seemed about right. Just use enough potato slices to fit in the pan with the three cups of milk, but not so many that the milk doesn’t cover them. And speaking of that, Goff also became vague about cooking the potatoes in the milk, failing to give any guidance beyond “combine and cook slowly”—does that mean low heat? Medium? Can I blame this vagueness for the fact that the milk burned like hell onto the bottom of my (granted, not very high-quality or “thick-bottomed” pan)? Sadly, I think not. I hate any recipe that requires me to boil milk; I’m terrible at it, and burning inevitably ensues. It didn’t affect the taste of the soup at all, but it will affect my arm tonight when I try to scrape off the layers of char. Anyway, I’ve tried to clarify the directions below, but maybe you don’t want to listen to the woman who always burns the milk.

Finally, I’ve switched the steps around for maximum efficiency. The way the recipe was originally organized, I didn’t start cooking the potatoes and milk until after I’d added the chicken broth to the onions and apples. I figured: hey, 15 minutes for the onions and apples, 12 minutes for the potatoes and milk—that should time out pretty well! I had neglected to take into account the time it took for the refrigerator-cold milk to even heat up to a simmer, and thus the 12-minute clock didn’t even start running until well after the onions and apples were soft (I just turned the heat down to the lowest setting and kept cooking the onion/apple mixture until the potatoes were ready, and it was all fine, but it took a lot longer than it should have). So even though my directions sound complicated, making you jump back and forth between the two pots, it’s quicker this way, trust me.

Besides these minor frustrations, this wasn’t a hard recipe to make (as usual, the immersion blender helped immeasurably), and it turned out amazingly. Too rich and sweet to eat in great quantity, but so creamy and luxurious and with a great oniony, herby undertone. Unique and sophisticated, and thus perfect for serving to others so you can amaze them with your fancy-pantsness. But not too pretentious for just a simple Sunday night at home like ours, where we ate it with fresh dill bread (recipe to follow) and bitter green salads dressed with lemon vinaigrette (my favorite salad dressing ever: juice of one lemon, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, coarse salt, freshly ground pepper, shake well) while watching The Amazing Race.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup yellow onion, chopped
¼ cup sliced leeks (white part only)
4 large tart apples (I used Granny Smith), peeled and quartered
2 cups chicken broth
1 sprig fresh rosemary, about 1½ inches long
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
1 small bay leaf
1½ teaspoons salt
3 cups milk
4 small Russet potatoes, peeled and sliced ⅛ inch thick
8 ounces Brie cheese, rind removed, cut into pieces
salt and ground pepper to taste

1. In a soup pot with a heavy bottom, melt the butter over medium-high heat until it foams. Add the onion, leek, and apple. Stir to coat them, then reduce heat to medium and cook until onions are softened, about 8 minutes.

2. While onions are cooking, combine the milk and potatoes in a separate heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, reduce to medium-low, and cook slowly, stirring frequently, until the potatoes are tender, about 12 minutes.

3. When onions are softened in the first pot, add the chicken broth, rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, and 1½ teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.

4. When potatoes are tender, add them to the pot with the onions and apples. Puree in batches in a blender (or use an immersion blender in the pot), adding pieces of Brie gradually while blending just long enough to incorporate. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serves: 6
Time: 1 hour


As soon as I acquired some smoked Spanish paprika, courtesy of my mother’s generosity at Penzey’s during my Minnesota visit, I immediately began searching my favorite food blogs for recipes in which to use it. This one, from Simply Recipes, won first place. It was easy to make, and man, was it good. Of course, I managed to eff it up slightly by forgetting the lemon juice in the spice rub and then sort of trying to sprinkle it on later, and maybe I didn’t get my chicken quite dry after washing it in Step 1, because I saw too much of the precious red spice goo dripping off after I applied it, but the end result was still delicious. My only sadness was that there was no way to get that delicious, sweet-smoky flavor inside the meat—it was all on the outside, which caused me to ingest rather more chicken skin than I usually like to. Still, I will definitely be making this again. And watch for more smoked paprika recipes in the weeks to come. I love that stuff!

2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon softened butter
2 teaspoons garlic salt (or 1 teaspoon salt plus 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
½ teaspoon pepper
1 whole 4-to-5-pound roasting chicken

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Rinse the chicken with cold water and pat dry thoroughly with paper towels (if it’s wet, the seasoning won’t stick to it).

2. Mix together the paprika, honey, lemon juice, butter, garlic salt, and pepper. Spread over the entire surface of the chicken and place on a roasting rack or in a shallow baking pan.

3. Roast for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. You may need to adjust the time depending on how large your chicken is; the chicken is done with the juices run clear (not pink) when a knife tip is inserted into the breast and thigh, and the temperature is about 165–170 degrees for the breast and 180–185 degrees for the thigh.

Serves: 4–6
Time: 1½ hours


Another simple, solid recipe from Everyday Food: Great Food Fast. Ironically, I was going to make this tart into a pizza, using Trader Joe’s pizza dough instead of puff pastry called for, both because it seemed healthier and because I’m interested in the mushroom/spinach/onion combination on a pizza. But Trader Joe’s sabotaged me by running out of pizza dough that day, so puff pastry it was. And while A argued that the butteriness of the puff pastry is a necessary foil for the earthy tastes of mushroom, spinach, and goat cheese, I found myself wishing for the more neutral taste of pizza dough, but perhaps that’s because the puff pastry got a bit overdone. Either my puff pastry sheet was too small (Trader Joe’s all-butter puff pastry comes in a two-sheet 16-ounce package), my baking sheet was too crappy, or the baking times in this recipe are a bit too long. Anyway, the darkened puff pastry tasted bitter to me, and combined with the fact that I don’t totally love goat cheese (I think there’s something musty about it) and the aforementioned earthiness of the mushrooms and spinach, it had me longing for a brighter note in the flavors, besides the sweetness of the onions—maybe garlic or parsley?—or a different kind of cheese—maybe Fontina? I’ll have to play around with it. But even with my reservations, I would not refuse to make this again as is (being more careful not to darken the pastry, though). It was easy to make, and those with more affection for goat cheese (like A, who was enthusiastic) might find it downright delectable.

Postscript, 2/21/08: Consider my reservations overcome. I made this again last night and (as the photo above shows) it came out beautifully. Using a double layer of baking sheets and keeping a careful eye on the puff pastry as it baked rather than relying on the recipe's time measurements, I was able to avoid overbrowning the crust, which fixed a lot of the bitterness problem. I sauteed a couple of cloves of minced garlic with the mushrooms, which added a nice flavor (I also wanted to sprinkle minced parsley over the finished tart, but I got too lazy--maybe next time). I'll admit that I experimented on a small corner of the tart, using grated Gouda instead of goat cheese, and preferred that. But even the normal goat-cheese parts tasted way better to me this time around. Also, can I just testify that I love this method of caramelizing onions? I always have trouble getting them suitably tender before they get too brown, and had never thought to cover them and let them steam. I'm going to do this all the time. Thanks, Everyday Food!

1 sheet frozen puff pastry (from a 17.3-ounce package)
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
20 ounces white or brown mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced
10 ounces fresh baby spinach
2 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Thaw puff pastry according to package instructions.

2. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, toss the onion with 1 tablespoon of the oil and season with salt. Cover and cook over medium heat until the onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir. Continue cooking with the cover on for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Set aside.

3. While onions are cooking, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat. Add the mushrooms; cover and cook until tender and all liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Fold in the spinach; season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes more. Drain off any liquid.

4. When puff pastry has thawed, roll the dough out on a floured surface into a 16-by-10-inch rectangle. Place the pastry on a baking sheet. With a sharp knife, lightly score the dough to form a 1-inch border. Using a fork, prick the dough inside the border every ½ inch. Bake until golden, rotating the pan once, about 15 minutes.

5. Top the dough with the mushroom-spinach mixture. Scatter the onions and goat cheese on top. Bake until the cheese is lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


Just one of the many trays of homemade Christmas cookies I was fortunate enough to encounter during the holidays.

I hope you all had a lovely holiday. I enjoyed my visit to Minnesota, where I dined happily upon my parents' incomparable homemade pizza, plus lefse, about a million cookies, Davanni's deep-dish pizza with mushrooms and pink sauce (an off-menu treat consisting of the usual red sauce mixed with the garlicky sauce used on their white pizzas), sushi at Saji-Ya, salad at Cafe Latte, kothe (pan-fried pork momos) at Everest on Grand, Honeycrisp apples (which don't seem to have made it to California), and many perfect mugs of Tea Source tea. I did a lot of cooking before the holidays (cookies, jam, etc.) that never got written down here, but I hope to do a better job at documenting things in the new year. In the meantime, let's take a look back at 2007....

  1. Mac and cheese
  2. Roasted kale
  3. Pizza sausage
  4. Shrimp boil
  5. No-knead bread

  1. My KitchenAid stand mixer
  2. My immersion blender
  3. Experimenting with new produce (including chard, kale, cabbage, tatsoi, broccoli rabe, arugula, parsnips, beets, and delicata and kabocha and red kuri squash) thanks to my CSA
  4. Photographing my food
  5. A wealth of new favorite food sites (see sidebar)

  1. The Kitchen Diaries, by Nigel Slater
  2. The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation, by David Kamp
  3. The Amateur Gourmet: How to Shop, Chop, and Table-Hop Like a Pro, by Adam D. Roberts
  4. Alone in the Kitchen With an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone, edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler
  5. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver

I received a passel of food-related Christmas gifts I’m really excited about. My new tea kettle and single-cup loose-tea infuser from my parents, plus the scads of Tea Source tea I picked up during my visit to Minnesota (Moon Over Madagascar, which is richly vanilla-flavored, and Winter Spice, which is…well, what it sounds like, are my current faves) ensure that I’ll be happily sipping tea all year long. A’s dad gave me a brand-new block of nice sharp knives that’ll make chopping and mincing a joy. A’s aunt gave me a silicone baking mat for rolling out dough, so I won’t have to slip and slide all over the counter on the cutting board anymore (I have a tiled counter, which is too uneven to roll out dough directly on it). A’s mom supplied a nifty sliding-top measuring spoon that allows me to measure odd quantities, like 1¼ teaspoons, all in one shot. I received a renewal of my Cooking Light subscription, plus the St. Paul Farmers’ Market Cookbook and several others, ensuring me a good supply of new recipes to try. I won a waffle iron, of all things, at my office holiday party, and I fired it up last weekend—chose a sugarless, “light and crispy” waffle recipes from the booklet that came with the waffle iron, and experienced the joyous one-two punch of employing my KitchenAid to beat egg whites until stiff while I mixed up the rest of the batter, then I folded the two together and the waffle iron worked its magic. I spread the waffles with the apple butter I made (and canned all by myself) for Christmas (recipe to be posted eventually), and it was heaven. I also received some food items: dark Mexican honey from one aunt and uncle, Harry and David pepper and onion relish from another, and French gray sea salt and Spanish smoked paprika that mom let me pick out during a visit to Penzeys in St. Paul (great store, but sadly, only one location in the entire great state of California). If you haven’t tried smoked paprika yet, it smells like really great barbecued potato chips and tastes even better. I tried some on a roast chicken last weekend (recipe forthcoming) and had to refrain from licking the chicken skin afterward.

I’m not going to make strict resolutions for the new year, but here are some general food-related wishes and hopes for 2008:

About Bookcook:

  1. I’d like to remember to post more often, with more photos.
  2. I want to recategorize the recipes on this site (this is already in progress, as you can see from the shambles of the sidebar) and make sure they’re all up to date and error-free.
  3. I’d like to see some comments from my readers, ahem ahem! Have you tried a recipe and loved or hated it? Do you have questions? Recipes to recommend? Just want to say hi? Let me know you’re out there every once in a while, hmm?
About cooking:
  1. I have yet to try the dough hook on the KitchenAid. More bread-baking, please!
  2. Possible tools to try/acquire: KitchenAid pasta-making attachment (I’m dying to make ravioli), kitchen scale (I like the cute Escali Primo, which has a small footprint and comes in a rainbow of colors), enameled cast-iron Dutch oven, new dishes (I’m coveting my friends’ Fiestaware collections), a food processor, a mandoline and a mortar and pestle (P just acquired both of these and I’m keeping an eye on her to see how she likes them).
  3. Just keep on trying new recipes and new ingredients (things I’d like to try making include pies and tarts, gnocchi, flour tortillas, pickles, more jams, and more muffins and cakes and bread and cookies).
About shopping and eating in general:
  1. Try more new restaurants. I'm definitely in a rut there.
  2. Recycle more of my trash, always use reusable bags when shopping (I’ve gotten into the habit of bringing them to the farmers’ market and my weekly grocery shopping, but I often forget on shorter or more spontaneous errands), and waste less food.
  3. Keep on striving to eat homemade, fresh, healthy, local, and organic as much as possible.

Friday, January 04, 2008


I found this recipe in the Everyday Food cookbook, Great Food Fast, during a recent trip to the library. It’s a real no-brainer (pasta + tomato sauce + cheese + oven = oh really?) and, assuming you’re using cheese ravioli, it probably contains more cheese than you’d want to consume on a regular basis. But it’s fairly quick and easy as all heck (I had all the ingredients in my kitchen already), and it’s a great treatment for any prepackaged stuffed pasta you might have lying around. I had stashed a bag of Safeway brand five-cheese frozen ravioli (I like Rosetto, but my grocery store doesn’t carry it) in case of a food emergency, and it was getting a bit ice-encrusted, and this was the perfect way to use it up. Baking the ravioli seems to give it more character (less soggy, more chewy), and the cheeses form a delightful brown, crispy crust on top. Aside from the virtue of being homemade, the tomato sauce is nothing special, and I dare say you could tweak it however you want or substitute your own preferred tomato sauce recipe, as long as it matches the quantity and texture of this one. I personally would have wished for something slightly less chunky (this may be my fault; I can never find canned crushed tomatoes, and whole tomatoes are so very chunky, so I split the difference and just used two cans of diced tomatoes) and zestier (I sprinkled on some red pepper flakes at the end).

So: I wouldn’t buy ravioli just to make this recipe, but I would make it again if I had ravioli on hand. It’s easy, cheesy, and definitely elevates the storebought stuff to the next level. Which is all you need sometimes.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper to taste
¾ teaspoon dried basil
¾ teaspoon dried oregano
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 pounds ravioli (any variety, fresh, dried, or frozen)
1½ cups shredded mozzarella
½ cup grated Parmesan

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and season with salt and pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the dried herbs and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, breaking up the tomatoes with a spoon, until the sauce is thickened and reduced to about 5½ cups, 20 to 25 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, cook the ravioli in a large pot of boiling salted water just until they float to the top (the pasta will continue to cook in the oven). Drain the pasta and toss with the sauce.

4. Pour the pasta and sauce into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, and sprinkle with the cheeses. Bake until golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool slightly before serving.

Serves: 6
Time: 1 hour