Monday, May 12, 2008


I hope some of you have noticed (Anyone? Anyone?) that even though I may not post a new recipe every day (or even every week, despite my best efforts), I’ve been steadily adding photos to all my old entries so that you can see what these recipes look like in action, and hopefully be tempted into making some of them. Granted, I have no photographic expertise or interest in food styling, so what you’re seeing are clumsy, un-Photoshopped images of the food right before I eat it, impatiently taken in a dark kitchen on a point-and-shoot camera by someone whose hands are probably shaky from low blood sugar, but you still get the idea. I guess I’ve been spoiled by the Internet, because nowadays I find myself reluctant to even try a new recipe if I can’t see a photo of how it’s going to turn out. So, in case you’re the same way: I’m working on it. 66 down, only about 120 to go!

I also find myself reluctant to post a new recipe these days unless I’ve got a photo to accompany it, unless it’s something you just absolutely have to know about right away, like the D.I.Y. taco seasoning. This means that some of the recipes I’ve tried recently have slipped through the cracks—some good but in need of further refinement, others satisfactory enough but not anything I need to make again. Still, you might find them interesting or useful, or I might want to refer back to them later, so here you go:

To Make Again

BANANA CAKE: This is the cake I made A for his birthday, and it turned out beautifully, if I do say so myself. I might have written a full post about it, if I’d remembered to actually take a picture of the inside of it. All you can see here is the frosting, and that was nothing special—in fact, it was an emergency fudge frosting I whipped up from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook after this chocolate fudge frosting recipe somehow went horribly awry just a few hours before I intended to serve the cake. (I don’t blame that recipe; I think it was my execution. Somehow I must have overcooked it, because it turned out really hard and unspreadable, like actual fudge.) As an emergency frosting, it was great—easy to make, used ingredients I had on hand, and tasted good. But it really didn’t do justice to the cake underneath it, the awesomeness that is this banana cake recipe (ignore the caramel-walnut-upside-down part). I will definitely be making that cake again. But it needed a darker chocolate frosting, like a ganache, or maybe no frosting and just some chocolate chips stirred into the batter?

FORK-CRUSHED PURPLE POTATOES: Take a look at these beauties at The Smitten Kitchen. Of course I had to try them—the lemoniness was too potent for me to resist, especially when it involves a magical chemical reaction by which the lemon juice actually makes the potatoes an even brighter shade of purple. Mine didn’t seem to be quite as photogenic (in fact, they turned a rather alarming shade of hot pink), so I didn’t photograph them, but I’ll certainly make this side dish again. I did find the result a little overwhelmingly oniony—all the crunchy raw shallots seemed distracting, both flavor-wise and texture-wise. I’d like to try sautéing the shallots in the olive oil until they’re tender, then pouring that over the boiled potatoes and adding the lemon juice and parsley. Yum.

CINNAMON-RAISIN NO-KNEAD BREAD: No-knead bread is great, so why not punch it up? I tried this recipe from Not Eating Out in New York, and it was pretty tasty, both on its own (toasted, with butter) and later as French toast, as shown in the original post. I’d like to try it again with some revisions, however, before I add it to my repertoire. The recipe calls for sugar to be sprinkled over the top of the dough before baking (which is done at very high heat in a covered container), and perhaps I overbaked my bread (I don’t have a big Dutch oven—future gift ideas!—so I have to divide it into two smaller loaves cooked in succession, and maybe I didn’t adjust the cooking time accordingly), but the sugar burned, which not only created a terrible mess in the baking dish, but also imparted a bitter taste to the bread’s crust. Meanwhile, the inside of the loaf didn’t taste quite as sweet or cinnamon as I’d hoped, making me wish I’d just mixed together all the sugar with a generous amount of cinnamon and swirled it inside the dough. All in all, however, you can’t complain about quick, easy cinnamon bread, so I plan to stick with this one.

STOVETOP BAKED BEANS: I’ve never felt compelled to make baked beans before, but the urge struck me suddenly while I was contemplating how best to use up the hot dogs left over from my birthday beach bonfire party. The answer: an early-summer faux picnic, with hot dogs grilled on the George Foreman and served in buns with all the condiments, accompanied by the farmers’ market’s first ears of corn on the cob, plus these stovetop baked beans. The fact that they’re not actually “baked” was a huge boon, because my apartment’s beautiful 1950s Thermador oven has been broken for the past week and a half (we’re trying to have it repaired, because it’s a real collector’s item), leaving me at a loss in the kitchen. In this time of trial, the beans were a delicious comfort, tender and saucy with a nice sweet/sour/spicy balance and bacony undertones. I cut up leftover hot dogs and mixed them into the leftover beans for a Boy-Scouty treat. I’d definitely make these again as the summer progresses. (Recipe notes: I used canned cannellini beans with their liquid, omitted the cloves because I didn’t have them, substituted brown sugar for molasses, and skipped the onion/bacon garnish. I also wonder if mincing the onion and garlic and them leaving them in after the intial boiling might amp up the flavor even more.)

A Case of the Maybes

FLUFFY RICOTTA PANCAKES: Like the creators of this recipe from The Kitchen, I had some lemon curd (homemade last summer with a coworker’s glut of Meyer lemons and stored in my freezer ever since) to use up, as well as some ricotta, so breakfast-for-dinner ricotta pancakes seemed like a great idea. Beating egg whites until stiff (which is what gives these pancakes their lightness) is always a breeze with my KitchenAid, but it does mean that mixing up the batter is an irksome two-bowl affair. As promised, the pancakes were tender and fluffy, but they didn’t rock my world or anything (the lemon curd, on the other hand…nom nom nom). I’d make them again if I needed to use up some ricotta, but there are plenty of other delicious ways to do that. In short, a nice experiment, but not an addition to my permanent repertoire.

NO-BAKE NUTELLA OATMEAL COOKIES: Of course my oven had to go and conk out just when I needed to replenish my freezer’s cookie supply, but luckily I had this no-bake recipe from Bake or Break in hand. I love Nutella and uncooked rolled oats, and these treats were certainly easy to make (mix on stovetop, dollop onto waxed paper), though not as intensely Nutella-flavored as I’d expected (partially my fault; I didn’t feel like obtaining Frangelico and used vanilla instead). Given the array of cookie recipes available in the world, I’m not sure I’d make these again unless I find myself ovenless in the future--and really, they're more like candy than cookies; still, they’re certainly chocolatey and pleasing, with a tantalizing melt-in-the-mouth texture, like oaty clumps of firm frosting.

SWEET AND SALTY PEANUT CHOCOLATE CHUNK COOKIES: I like peanuts, I like chocolate, and I like some salty with my sweet, so of course I had to try this recipe after seeing it in Cooking Light. The cookies tasted good, about as you would expect, but the texture wasn’t ideal—a bit thin, as though the cookies only qualified as “light” because there wasn’t actually much cookie there. Again, given the wealth of cookie recipes in the world, I probably wouldn’t repeat this one unless requested, but it was perfectly worth trying once.

Not For Me, Maybe For You

CREAM OF MUSHROOM SOUP: The lesson here is simply that I don’t like cream of mushroom soup as much as I thought I did. I had a sudden craving for it a few months ago, and this glowing entry from the Smitten Kitchen provided a recipe I felt I had to try. It’s a perfectly good recipe and I think I executed it properly—I even bought expensive shitakes at the farmers’ market—but while I was making it I started to get overwhelmed by the mushroominess, even though I usually think of myself as quite the mushroom aficionado. Turns out dried wild mushrooms totally wig me out, and the smell of shitakes isn’t my favorite either. Who knew? The soup wasn’t inedible or anything; it was just too mushroomy for me and A. It’s always a strange feeling when you think you want something, and then when you get it you realize you were actually longing for something else, maybe something that doesn’t exist. In my case, I was apparently attracted to the idea of mushroom soup, not its reality. Learning experience!

PARMESAN-STUFFED CHICKEN BREASTS: You know how I enjoy foods stuffed with more food, especially when lemon and cheese are involved. This is a simple recipe from Everyday Food that, on the plus side, is a cinch to make. On the minus side, the flavor was just too simple. I found it hard to lift up the chicken skin sufficiently to get the stuffing evenly distributed across the breast; instead, it was more like a stuffing lump atop each piece. So when you cut into the top of the chicken to eat it, your first few mouthfuls were full of nice lemony cheesy flavor, and then after you’d eaten the top away, you were basically left with…a plain roasted chicken breast. Not my favorite thing. I’d rather have rubbed the seasoning all over the outside of the chicken, or stuffed it under the skin of a thigh instead. But still, there was just nothing special here. It’s fine for an emergency meal if all you have is chicken, parsley, Parmesan, breadcrumbs, and a lemon, but frankly I was underwhelmed.

Friday, May 09, 2008


I can’t believe I never thought of this before. Because, you know, every now and then I want to make tacos. Like, the old-skool Ortega “taco night” tacos of my youth. Not often, but once every few months. So I’ve been buying the stupid seasoning packets and feeling guilty about all the powdery chemicals therein, especially when I dump them onto my beautiful ethical-gourmet grass-fed ground beef, but I want my tacos to taste like I want my tacos to taste, dammit, and that taste comes from a packet, right?


On a whim, I started Googling last week and happened upon this Allrecipes entry, which had been rated an average of five out of five stars by a whopping 654 users, and over and over again the reviews said, “I will never buy packaged seasoning mix again!” I had every single one of the ingredients in my spice rack (even the onion powder, which I possess for the sole purpose of making Chex Mix), and it was the work of just a few minutes to mix the spices together in a bowl, brown some hamburger and add the seasoning, grate some cheddar cheese, shred some lettuce, chop some cherry tomatoes, warm up the taco shells, and open a container of my favorite salsa.

People, pay attention: The taco meat I made with this seasoning tasted exactly like the stuff made with the storebought packets, except maybe better. It was spicier (not overwhelmingly spicy, despite some of the “too spicy!” reviews, which were probably left by Minnesotans of Scandinavian descent, because this is only spicy if you think Taco Bell is authentic Mexican food), and yet at the same time the beef tasted beefier—the seasonings were enhancing its flavor, not masking it. I wouldn’t change a thing about the spice mixture, although of course the beauty of making your own seasoning is that you can adjust the quantities if you want to, and if you take the time to wade through the hundreds of comments on Allrecipes, you can find many suggested variations (for instance, using real onion and garlic instead of powders).

So with that, I’m joining the chorus of people who will no longer be buying taco seasoning mix (take that, corporate America!), and now that I’ve found this recipe I’ll probably be having tacos more often. (I’d also be interested to try the seasoning on chicken or veggies.) Now I just need to try making my own taco shells….

1 tablespoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon paprika
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt (if you don’t have coarse salt, use less than a teaspoon; I suspect some of the commenters found the seasoning too salty because they were using table salt)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Mix ingredients together in a small bowl. If you aren’t going to use the seasoning right away, store it in an airtight container.

The original recipe doesn’t officially tell you how to use this to make beef tacos, but following the guidance in the comments, it was pretty simple to work out a successful method. The recipe makes enough seasoning to season about a pound of ground beef (I actually had about a pound and a quarter, which worked just fine). Brown the beef and drain off the fat. Dump the bowl of seasoning into the pan with the beef. Whisk about a teaspoon of cornstarch into about half a cup of water, then pour the water into the pan of beef. Stir well, and simmer over medium heat until the liquid reduces and the mixture thickens (it seemed like a lot of people didn’t even bother with cornstarch but just mixed together beef, seasoning, and water; however, I wanted a sauce-like effect like the storebought packets have, and the cornstarch helped).

Serves: 4–8
Time: For the seasoning mix, 5 minutes; for the tacos in their entirety, maybe 30 minutes

Thursday, May 08, 2008


I wasn’t sure whether to make this post a tribute to California Pizza Kitchen or a kiss-off. I don’t eat at chain restaurants that often, but I’ll admit a soft spot in my heart for CPK, which I had never eaten at before moving to California and which has since worked its way into my California-culture repertoire as a frequent site of workplace lunches and casual evening dinners (particularly for us in Pasadena, where good pizza restaurants have thus far been hard for me to discover). A friend recommended this pizza to me upon my first visit to CPK, and although I did try a few other varieties before settling down, it quickly became my go-to favorite, with its tender potatoes and subtle winey-buttery-herby-garlicky-oniony (shalloty, as it turns out) sauce. So when CPK summarily retired it last year, I felt more than a little betrayed. A’s CPK favorite, Peking duck pizza, disappeared at the same time, and we briefly contemplated a boycott of the restaurant before realizing that we don’t really eat there that much anyway (plus, there’s still a garlic chicken pizza at CPK that bears an uncanny resemblance to my departed favorite, but for the sad absence of potatoes). But it was one of those moments of modern life when you feel helplessly smashed in the cogs of the corporate machine, and it did piss me off enough for me to search out the recipe for rosemary-potato-chicken pizza online so that I could try to replicate it at home. Luckily, CPK did publish a cookbook in the 1990s, and although my library didn’t carry it, Amazon’s “Search Inside” feature can be manipulated to gain access to desired content without buying the book. I felt so vengeful toward CPK that I copied out the entire recipe from the Internet by hand on a sheet of graph paper—but in doing so, I noticed how complicated it was—it consisted of four separate mini-recipes for pizza dough, garlic-shallot butter, grilled chicken, and rosemary potatoes, and the ingredients list was about a mile long. I stashed it away in a folder, in case someday I got really ambitious.

Finally, last week, that day arrived. I’m continuing to become a more confident cook, and I’m currently on a homemade-pizza bender, so when I stumbled across the hand-scrawled recipe in the back of the folder and happened to glance it over, it didn’t seem so intimidating. With the advent of Trader Joe’s pizza dough as a shortcut, I could ignore the CPK pizza dough recipe (someday I’ll probably get into making my own, but not while I live two blocks from a TJ’s), and it seemed like the rest of the recipe could be streamlined. It was basically just: season some potato slices and bake them in the oven (the original recipe as I copied it down said it would take 45 minutes to bake quarter-inch-thick slices, but that just didn’t seem possible), marinate some chicken and grill it (I’d be doing this on the George Foreman for expediency), and make a simple sauce of butter, garlic, shallots, white wine, lemon juice, and herbs. The original recipe had seemed too decadent, calling for so much butter, it also made two CPK-sized pizzas; I figured I could halve the recipe for my baking-sheet-sized crust—I might get slightly sparser topping coverage, but I’d survive. All in all, it didn’t seem too arduous an undertaking, especially if it meant I could taste that delicious pizza once again.

The verdict: more complicated than most of my other pizza recipes, but not at all hard to make. I simplified the ingredient list to reflect total quantities (so that I could just mince 2 tablespoons of garlic at the beginning, for instance, instead of cutting up a teaspoon for the chicken marinade and then later realizing I needed another 2 teaspoons for the potatoes and more for the sauce), and I rearranged the steps more efficiently, so that I could work on the potatoes while the chicken marinated and the sauce while the potatoes cooked. And the result? As tasty as the original, and somehow more wholesome-feeling because I’d made it myself. The garlic-shallot butter is amazing in its own right. Admittedly, this pizza was delectable enough that I might have eaten half of it in one sitting if no one was looking, but two slices with a large green salad still made a perfectly satisfying weeknight dinner, and that way I got to have leftovers the next day. A wasn't home for dinner that night and didn't eat his portion until after I went to bed, but he enjoyed it so much that he left me a note on the bathroom mirror that said, "Awesome pizza!"

I’ll definitely be making this again. Probably more often than I eat at CPK, for that matter.

Recipe notes: I didn’t have any chicken broth in the freezer, so I skipped that. It’s such a small amount, I didn’t notice the missing flavor; however, if I had it on hand, I would add it. I also totally forgot to add the parsley at the end and didn’t notice its absence until I started typing up the recipe just now. Poor parsley, always an afterthought.

2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic, divided
½ teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon coarse (kosher or sea) salt, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast (5 to 8 ounces)
½ pound small red potatoes, sliced into ⅛-inch-thick rounds
2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano, divided
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary, divided
Ground pepper to taste
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 tablespoons minced shallot
½ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
3 tablespoons chardonnay
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon chicken stock
Dough for one pizza (1 lb)
¾ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

2. Combine 1 teaspoon minced garlic, ½ teaspoon soy sauce, ½ teaspoon coarse salt, and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small, shallow bowl. Add chicken, turning it over to coat it thoroughly, and marinate for about 15 minutes.

3. While chicken is marinating, mix together 2 teaspoons minced garlic, ½ teaspoon chopped fresh oregano, 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary, ground pepper to taste, ½ teaspoon coarse salt, and 1 tablespoon oil in a medium bowl. Add the sliced potatoes and toss to coat thoroughly. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place the potato slices on it in a single layer, without overlapping. Discard leftover potato marinade (do not pour over potatoes). Place potatoes in oven and cook for about 20 minutes, flipping over once, until tender and beginning to brown. Remove potatoes from oven and increase oven temperature to 450 degrees.

4. While potatoes are cooking, prepare a grill, and when hot, grill chicken until cooked through. Chill chicken in refrigerator until ready to top pizza.

5. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a medium nonstick saucepan over medium heat. Add minced shallot, 1 tablespoon garlic, and minced thyme. Cook, stirring, until tender and light brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Add ¼ teaspoon coarse salt, ground pepper to taste, wine, lemon, and chicken stock. Cook until reduced, turning heat to low if necessary to prevent scorching. Remove pan from heat and quickly whisk in 2 tablespoons butter.

6. Roll out pizza dough and place on baking pan or pizza stone. Spread garlic-shallot butter over dough, then cover with the shredded mozzarella. Add the chicken, 1 teaspoon rosemary, 1½ teaspoon oregano, and the potatoes. Bake 8 to 10 minutes, or until crust is browned. Sprinkle parsley over pizza and serve.

Serves: 4
Time: 90 minutes