Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Wacky Cake

I don't bake cakes. I have never really tried, or had the inclination to try, because my mother makes some of the best cakes I have ever tasted. Ever. It has gotten to the point with me that I won't usually have a piece of cake that she has not baked, because I am invariably disappointed. And forget about those sheet cakes from a grocery store that show up at work whenever something needs celebrating, I can barely look at them. I'll bake cookies or brownies, I've even tried a few pies, but no cake for me. That is until Wacky Cake.

I saw this recipe for the first time in an email from Cook's Country (an offshoot of America's Test Kitchens and Cook's Illustrated) and it became my first cake from scratch later that day. What is so wacky about it? Well it is a cake that is made without milk, eggs, or butter. Why? Apparently wacky cake has it roots in wartime rationing. During the world wars, ingredients like milk, eggs, butter, and sugar were scarce and this recipe was developed more out of necessity than any desire to be wacky. Like I said, I don't bake cakes, but I wanted to try this because it looked really easy and well, it's called wacky cake. Do you really need more of a reason than that?

There are two really cool things about this recipe. First, you mix all the ingredients in the dish that you bake the cake in, so clean up is a snap. Second, you can throw this together just about as quickly as a box cake mix, which means you get the idea to make it, and less than an hour later you have cake all baked and ready to go. Oh yeah, it tastes really good too. Not too sweet, just the right amount of chocolate flavor, nice and moist, a perfectly acceptable dessert considering the effort that goes into it.

Start by spraying an 8 x 8 inch glass baking dish with cooking spray. You mix all the dry ingredients in the dish, then make two small depressions and one large depression in the dry mix. Place 5 tablespoons of vegetable oil in the large depression, 1 teaspoon of vanilla in one of the small depressions, and 1 tablespoon of white vinegar in the other small depression.

You dump 1 cup of water over all the ingredients and stir until everything is just combined. A few streaks of flour should remain.

Bake the cake for about 30 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. If you want, sprinkle a little confectioners sugar over the top of the cake when you serve it. I'm sure it would be good with some ice cream as well. If you've never baked a cake, try this one, you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Ultimate Veggie Patties

There is really no way around it anymore. Unless you are one of those bury your head in the sand types, we are all being forced to accept the fact that too much meat just is not good for us. I emphasize "too much" because I still believe that human meat eating can be sustained into the future, just not at our current consumption levels and not with our current production methods. It really is not even just a matter of personal health anymore, but the health of the environment. The fact of the matter is that modern meat production methods are really beginning to take their toll.

If you love eating meat like I do, this can become a huge personal dilemma. I have compensated by replacing much of the meat in my diet with whole grains, beans, and vegetables. When I do eat meat, I am willing to spend more money to buy products that are raised in a healthful and ethical way. Yes it costs a lot more, usually about double, but I'm eating it a lot less, so overall there really is no increase in cost. I find that now when I do eat meat, I appreciate and enjoy it more than I ever have before.

So this brings me, in a somewhat roundabout way, to the real subject of today's post: the now ubiquitous veggie burger. Again, the emphasis is mine. Why focus on the word burger? Because for most meat eaters, the word burger sends the brain into a frenzy of juicy, beefy images that quickly set the mouth watering. I believe that well-meaning meat eaters looking for healthier alternatives to their couple-of-times-a-week burger habit have turned to the veggie burger and invariably been disappointed. This should not be the case. I feel that the meat eater looking to enjoy the veggie burger has two hurdles to clear. First, the fact that most veggie burgers are trying in vain to imitate beef burgers, instead of emphasizing their own unique attributes. Second, the word burger itself. If you love beef burgers, you are bound to be disappointed on a subconscious level when you bite into a "burger" and there's no meat. I know it is just semantics, but I believe words are extremely important precursors to perception. So I propose that the burger lover begin thinking of the veggie burger as the veggie patty. The veggie patty should not imitate meat (I abhor the whole imitation meat veggie product trend) and should not be thought of as a substitute for the hamburger, but as something that stands on its own. If you're craving a burger, and you're settling for a veggie patty, the battle is already lost. You need to find a recipe that you love, so eventually, you'll crave a veggie patty. I've tried a bunch of veggie patty recipes (and there are lots of them), some good, some not so good. After some effort, I can now say that I enjoy, look forward to, and actually get cravings for veggie patties.

Most veggie patty recipes have a base that consists of either beans or grains and bread crumb, or some combination of the two. I've found that one difficulty with making veggie patties is decreasing the moisture in the patty so you can form them without having dry, dusty tasting patties. This issue is adequately addressed in good recipes. Beware of the recipes that have tons of veggies that are shredded in large pieces, they will contain a lot of water, and make very moist patties that are hard to form and cook in one piece. Also beware of cooking homemade veggie patties on the grill, as most won't be able maintain their form on the grate and will fall apart when flipped. I've had much more success cooking in a pan on the stove top or in the oven on a baking sheet.

This has been my standby recipe, which is satisfying, and relatively easy to make. It is bean-based, a bit on the dry side, but good nonetheless. A good thing about veggie patties is that you can freeze them for months. So make a huge batch and you'll have them whenever you want them. I usually get at least 4 dinners out of 1 batch. In the spring and summer I usually eat veggie patties for dinner twice a week, but during the fall and winter, I replace that with lentil soup. This past weekend I had a craving for veggie patties, and having not made them since the end of the summer, I had to make a new batch. I decided to try a new recipe as well, from Cook's Illustrated, which was somewhat complex and time consuming, but definitely worth the effort.

This is a long one, here goes...

You don't really have to get everything together before you begin this one, as there are many points where you have to wait for things to happen which gives you plenty of time to prep other parts of the recipe. Timing is not really important here. Start by cooking the lentils and the bulgur. While they cook, you can chop the veggies.

This recipe yields an easy to shape mix largely due to the extra lengths required to get excess moisture out of the ingredients. When the lentils are done you drain them and spread them on a triple layer of paper towel. You then press lightly with more towel to get as much water as possible. Drain the bulgur and press in a fine mesh strainer to remove as much liquid as possible.

Cook the veggies in a medium-hot skillet for about 12 minutes, just until they begin to brown.

Spread the cooked vegetables on a cookie sheet to cool and add the mushrooms to the now empty pan to begin browning.

Once the mushrooms are brown, take them out of the pan and put them on the sheet with the other cooling vegetables.

Now the food processor comes into play. Put the cashews in the bowl and pulse about 15 to 20 times.

In a large bowl, you combine the lentils, bulgur, vegetables, cashews, and mayonnaise. Stir well to combine all the ingredients.

Place half of the mixture back into the food processor and pulse about 20 times. Return the pasty mixture to yet another large bowl and process the other half of the mixture.

Combine the mixture with panko breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper. Stir it up.

Measure out the mixture into 1/2 cup portions and shape them into patties that are about 1/2 inch thick and 4 inches wide. You should be able to get about 12 patties. Place the patties on a cookie sheet lined with paper towel to suck out that last bit of water and put them in the fridge until you are ready to cook. Cook the patties in some vegetable oil over medium heat until they are nice and brown. If the pan is good and warm this should take about 5 minutes per side. Be careful not to burn them.

Serve on some nice whole wheat buns with whatever condiments you prefer. These patties have a nice texture, and a pleasant, mild flavor. Definitely my favorite veggie patty recipe that I've tried so far. I have seven more in the freezer right now and can't wait to eat them again next week!


My oven door is fixed! I celebrated with a batch of bagels and a third attempt at ciabatta with a new recipe. Success again with the bagels and success at last with the ciabatta! It came out amazing, with an incredibly tender open crumb, the hallmark of good ciabatta.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Gemelli with Tomatoes, Olives, and Ricotta

A few weeks back I was making dinner for my in-laws before their annual trek down to Florida for the winter months. I chose a pasta recipe that sounded really good and picked up all the necessary ingredients. Upon further review of the recipe as I was about to start cooking, I realized that I had somehow missed the fact that the recipe was for a cold pasta salad. This was not exactly what I was looking to eat on a frigid January evening. Instead of scrapping the whole thing, I figured I could turn it into a warm dish pretty easily. So rather than cooking and chilling the pasta, then tossing it with the cold sauce, tomatoes, and olives, I decided to warm the sauce a bit and cook everything for a few minutes, then toss in the cooked pasta at the last second. As I tossed the pasta in the pan, I was amazed at just how good everything looked. It turned out to taste just about as good, and was pretty easy to make.

The first time I made this dish I used gemelli pasta, which was great. When I made it again last night, I subbed in whole wheat fusilli, and must admit, that the overall dish did not look quite as good with the brownish pasta, but still tasted great (and was healthier too). Once you have all your ingredients prepped, this one comes together really fast so don't put the sauce in the pan to warm until the pasta is just about done and ready to be drained.

First chop the garlic, slice the tomatoes and olives, and get all your other ingredients together. Take the ricotta cheese out of the fridge so it is not ice cold when you serve it, which would blunt the flavors of the dish a bit. The sauce ingredients go into the food processor.

The sauce ingredients get pulsed a few times, then the oil is added in a drizzle with the machine running, making a thin, somewhat chunky sauce. Once the pasta is just about done, warm the sauce in a pan over medium heat.

When the sauce just starts to bubble, add the tomatoes and olives and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the pasta and toss to combine. Remove from the heat and toss in the fresh chopped basil.

Spoon the pasta into bowls and top with about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the ricotta cheese. A little fresh ground black pepper and you're good to go. The amazing thing about this dish is the incredible contrast between the cool ricotta cheese and the warm, pungent sauce. I like to have a huge dollop of cheese on top rather than combining it completely, that way you can take a little bit of cheese with each bite, rather than mixing it into the entire dish. If you wanted to make this one a bit healthier, you could eliminate, or at least cut down on the amount of ricotta, use whole wheat pasta, reduce on the amount of oil in the sauce, or use sun dried tomatoes stored dry rather than in olive oil. I don't think any of these changes would really cause the dish to suffer greatly, as there's a ton of flavor in the olives and capers. Try one or all (or none) of the suggestions and see what you like. Whatever pasta you end up using, just make sure it is something curly or with plenty of ridges to hold the chunky sauce. Some type of bread is also a must with this dish, to mop up all that sauce left in your bowl. If you like bold-flavored pasta dishes, this one will definitely find its way into your regular rotation.


Gemelli with Tomatoes, Olives, and Ricotta (modified from Real Simple)
About 30 minutes - Makes 2 large dinner portions or 4 small pasta course portions

  • Salt and pepper
  • 8 ounces gemelli (or fusilli or any twisty, curly pasta shape you like)
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 10 sun dried tomatoes in oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons capers, drained and rinsed
  • 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 to 1 cup ricotta cheese
  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil, salt well and toss in the pasta
  2. In a food processor, pulse the sun dried tomatoes, vinegar, capers, and garlic to blend them into a chunky paste
  3. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow stream
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste
  5. In a large saute pan, heat the sun dried tomato mixture over medium heat until just bubbling, about 4 to 5 minutes
  6. The pasta should be cooked just al dente, drain it and set it aside
  7. Add the tomatoes and the olives to the simmering sauce, toss to coat with sauce, and cook for about 2 minutes
  8. Add the pasta to the pan, toss to coat with sauce
  9. Remove from heat, add the basil, toss again to mix
  10. Place portion of pasta in individual bowl and top with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cool ricotta cheese
  11. Top with some fresh ground black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil if you want, and serve

Monday, January 21, 2008

Kaiser Rolls, Roast Pork, and Football

I wanted to make something to eat during the NFC Championship (which turned out to be a glorious, albeit frustrating, win for the G-Men) that would let me spend most of my time in front of the TV instead of the stove. Sandwiches were the perfect option here, and while they allowed me to catch almost all of the game, they did not prevent me from spending my fair share of time in front of the oven. I decided to make roast pork sandwiches on homemade kaiser rolls with a ravioli pasta salad. I figured I could bake the rolls Sunday morning, then make the pasta salad while the pork was roasting, that way once the game started all I would have to do is cut up the pork. What I didn't figure when I began this little adventure was how early I would have to actually get up on Sunday to get the rolls baked and the pork roasted by 6 PM (4 AM in case you were wondering).

I picked up a 10 pound pork butt at Whole Foods on Saturday morning, had an amazing burger for lunch at Plan B in West Hartford, then came right home and started brining. The pork went into a solution of salt, sugar, garlic, and orange juice. Brining is a great way to keep meat moist while cooking (even to some degree of overcooking). I put the brine bucket in the garage to stay cold overnight, then made the pate fermentee starter for the rolls. After a quick rise it was into the fridge to stay cold overnight as well.

Sunday morning at 4 am I took the starter dough out of the fridge, then went back to sleep for about 40 minutes. I made the dough and allowed it to ferment for a two hours. While I was waiting, I made the garlic-citrus rub for the pork. When the time was right, I cut the dough into 16 pieces and shaped those into tiny rounds.

After a five minute rest, I patted the rounds out a bit thinner, then folded them up, and placed them seam-side down on a baking sheet. 90 minutes later they were flipped over and baked off in a 425 degree oven.

The rolls came out looking beautiful. But how would they taste? As usual, the cooling period was torturous.

At first I was just going to try one with just a bit of butter, but then I thought, what better way is there to test a hard roll (which is what I call kaiser rolls), than by making an egg & cheese sandwich? I couldn't think of one, so I waited a few more minutes while my egg fried. When I finally did try it, the roll was perfect, as good as any I've ever had. Phase one of my long pork sandwich process was complete.

I immediately got the pork out of the brine, gave it a good rinse, patted it dry and rubbed it with the garlic/citrus paste I had made earlier. The pork began its 6 hour roast at exactly 11:15 AM. After 3 hours, it was looking pretty good (from what I could see through the oven door).

The roast came out at 5:40 and sat on the cutting board for an additional hour. I was cutting it up just as the Giants were orchestrating their opening drive. Not too bad. The meat was perfectly cooked, but the rub was a little salty for my tastes (which are very sensitive to salt). This was easily compensated for by just choosing pieces of meat from the interior of the roast where the flavor imparted by the long brining and the rub was more subtle. Everybody enjoyed their sandwiches. A few hours later and the food was pretty much an afterthought, as the Giants were (and still are) headed to the Superbowl to face the mighty, undefeated New England Patriots. Lucky for me, now I've got two weeks to figure out what I'm going to make.


Fresh off my success with hard rolls, I made my second attempt at ciabatta. The bread tasted great, and had a slightly more open crumb than my first attempt, and was not burnt. I still need some more practice on this one though. Unfortunately for me, I won't be able to do any bread (or any other kind) of baking for a while. Today while adding water to my steam pan during the baking of my second loaf, I got a few water droplets on the inside of the glass window, which predictably began to crack, and now needs to be replaced. D'oh! Next time I'll be more careful.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Pizza - It's All In The Crust

At best, pizza can be a perfect food, the epitome of synergy. At worst, pizza can be slightly less tasty than the cardboard box it came in, overloaded with soggy, greasy ingredients, and so disgustingly doughy that a starving cat wouldn't touch it (it's an inside joke). To me, pizza is a lesson in balance, where no one ingredient should be allowed to overpower. Extra cheese? No thank you. A good pizza doesn't need it. Just give me that hint of fresh tomato, not too sweet, definitely not too thickly layered, topped with just enough slightly browned, slightly salty mozzarella. Other toppings are optional, and can be very good, just as long as they are limited to one or two so as not to dominate the other elements. And of course, there's the crust. The crust is what makes a pizza truly great. Definitely not too thick, it needs to have good chew with a slight crispy, crackly outside, and that famous char that can only be achieved in wood or coal fired ovens that can get upwards of 800 degrees. The crust is where so many pizzas fall short and not surprisingly, is the greatest challenge to home pizza making.

I always say that when I go out to eat, I want to eat something that I can't even come close to reproducing in my house. I tend to stay away from Italian restaurants, because I feel I can approximate (or even improve upon) most dishes at home. Stir-fry usually meets my craving for Chinese, and I can make a pretty decent Pad Thai. When I go out now, it's usually for sushi, which I don't think I'll ever try to make at home, or pizza, which I tried earlier tonight. Here's how it went.

I decided to use the pizza dough recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, the new cookbook I'd gotten for Christmas. I started yesterday by starting the dough and cutting it into six pieces which were allowed to rest in the fridge overnight. This step helps to develop flavor in the dough.

When I got home today, I took the dough out of the fridge, put it on the counter and patted it into 5 inch circles which sat for 2 hours. When I went to begin tossing the pizza dough to shape it into a larger circle, it began to tear. I think this is because my dough was either kneaded too little (not enough gluten development), or too wet. It wasn't too much of a problem though, instead of tossing it, I just put the dough rounds directly onto the peal and lightly pushed them out into 12 inch circles. Not as glamorous the US Pizza Team, but it worked nonetheless. I topped the first one with some mozzarella, and half mushroom, and cooked it in a 550 degree oven on baking tiles for 5 minutes.

The pie was a bit underdone and probably could've used another minute. The thickness was perfect though (according to me), and my daughter seemed to like it just fine. I thought I could do better. I made a margherita pizza next (fresh mozzarella, basil, and tomato). This time I brushed a little bit of oil on the outer crust to help it brown. The oil did it's job nicely, and the pizza looked perfect. It tasted good, but still needed a slight flavor enhancer.

The last 2 pies I made were a mozzarella with mushroom, and a plain mozzarella. I sprinkled them both with just a touch (about 1/8 tsp) of kosher salt, brushed them both with oil, and included a few red pepper flakes on the mushroom for a bit of an extra kick. These 2 pizzas looked beautiful coming out of the oven and were definitely the best 2 of the night. As I cooked pizza after pizza (6 in all), cornmeal began to collect on the tiles, and burn, which surprisingly added quite a bit of flavor to my bottom crust.

All in all, I'd say the pizza making was a success. The pizzas were thin, with a nicely flavored crust. Much better than anything from a chain restaurant, and at least as good as most pizza joints that use gas ovens. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get that really good charred, chewy crust that I love so much. This is almost certainly due to the fact that a home oven just can't get anywhere near 800 degrees. That's not to say that making pizza at home doesn't have its merits. First of all, it's fun and really not that difficult. While I'm more of a traditionalist, you can top your pies however you want, and pizza parties are a great idea when you're hosting guests. You just keep popping pizzas in the oven and everybody gets a fresh, hot slice every 15 minutes or so. Secondly, the pizza was really good, it just fell a little below my ridiculously high pizza standards. I will definitely be making more pizza at home in the future, as I look forward to experimenting with some different dough recipes to see if I can get that crust a little closer to perfect.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Way back in high school, my friend Jeff and I used to talk about reading classic books. We'd walk through the Fiction and Literature section of Barnes & Noble, pointing out all the books we might like to read someday (we were very cool high school kids). Then Barnes & Noble took somewhat of a back seat to beer and college. Since then Jeff has read a bunch of those classics, as he has morphed from a chemical engineering major to an aspiring writer/teacher, but I felt I was finally ready to give it a go as well. So this past summer we belatedly began our book club, with a focus on classic books. The club has experienced robust growth over the past months, blossoming to include a 3rd quasi-member.

Our first book was Herman Melville's masterpiece, Moby Dick, which contained an amusing chapter dedicated to chowder. Ishamael and his new friend Queequeg find themselves in the Try Pots Inn facing the question, "Clam or Cod?" Ishamael ponders how a single, cold clam can serve as dinner for two, and is pleasantly surprised...

But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh, sweet friends! hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt. -Ishamael narrating from Moby Dick

Ishamael enjoys the clam chowder so much, that he has a bowl of cod chowder as well. When it came time to have our first book club meeting, Jeff and I discussed Moby Dick in what we thought was a very fitting way - over a bowl of curried cod chowder (a recipe I'll post the next time I make it because it is really good).

We recently completed our second book, Hemingway's For Whom The Bell Tolls, which takes place in pre-WWII Spain. Like all good clubs, ours began establishing tradition right away, beginning with eating something somehow related to the book at our meetings. At one point in the For Whom The Bell Tolls, somebody traps two large rabbits which were made into stew (and later on some tasty sandwiches). I didn't think my wife would go for that, so Jeff suggested paella (the only Spanish dish he knew).

Now the only thing I knew about paella is what I learned in the classic Seinfeld episode "The Raincoats"...

Kramer: Have you ever had really good paella?
Morty: Not really.
Kramer: Oh, it’s an orgiastic feast for the senses. A festival of sights, sounds and colors. I did a little research. Paella is a traditional rice and saffron dish that is usually cooked on a stove top or over an open fire in shallow pans. The recipe I settled on was a bastardized version from America's Test Kitchen that uses a dutch oven pot, and does some of the cooking in the oven. I'd had great success with Test Kitchen recipes in the past, they are always good because they are well researched and tested, and this time was no exception. I modified the recipe a bit by replacing the chorizo with a little butter and salt (my wife doesn't eat sausage in any form), and the mussels with sea scallops. The only thing I didn't like about this recipe was that the cooking instructions are in small paragraphs, which tends to confuse me and I lose my place. I re-wrote it in a more step by step fashion which I included at the bottom of this post.

This is not a quick and easy recipe. It's not hard either, but good mise en place is essential as there are quite a few steps to this recipe and not much time to prep ingredients in between. Things move in and out of the pot quite a bit, so have some clean bowls or plates on hand as you cook.

First preheat your oven to 375 degrees, prep the ingredients, season the shrimp and scallops with salt, pepper, oil, and garlic, and season the chicken with salt and pepper.

You are supposed to cook the pepper strips in a bit of oil next, but I somehow skipped this step. I didn't realize this until I put the chicken in the pot, so I ended up cooking the peppers in a separate skillet. Both the chicken and peppers are cooked until browned (or bubbly and slightly blackened in the case of the peppers) and removed from the pot. To the pot add some butter, salt, and a little more oil (to bring the total fat in the pan to about 2 tablespoons). The onions go in next for about 3 minutes, and are then joined by the garlic and cooked until fragrant.

Add the tomato to the pot and cook until the mixture thickens and darkens slightly, 1 to 2 minutes, then stir in the rice and cook for about 2 more minutes.

At this point the recipe slows down a bit. You add the broth, wine, bay leaf, saffron, and some more salt then bring the mixture to a boil stirring occasionally.

Once it boils you cover the pot and place it in the oven for 15 minutes. Take out the the pot, uncover and scatter the shrimp and scallops over the top of the rice, arrange the pepper strips in a neat pattern, and scatter the peas over everything. Cover the pot and put it back in the oven for 12 minutes. When it comes out again, uncover it and put it over medium-high heat for 2 minutes, then turn the pot 180 degrees and cook for 3 more minutes. This step develops soccarat, a tasty layer of crusty brown rice on the bottom of the pot. Take the pot off the heat, cover it, and let it sit for 5 minutes. Sprinkle some parsley over the top, spoon into bowls, and serve with lemon wedges.

The finished dish was superb and I would encourage anybody to try it. The way the ingredients blend together, with no one flavor dominating, is amazing. The shrimp and scallops were perfectly cooked, as were the chicken and the rice. This recipe looks and tastes impressive, and I would recommend making it when you have a few friends to share in the deliciousness. I would also recommend reading some classics, both Moby Dick and For Whom The Bell Tolls are excellent choices (and a good excuse to make some cod chowder or paella).


Paella (ATK dutch oven version modified by Darron)
About 2 to 2 ½ hours to prepare and cook
Feeds 4 to 6 depending on portion


  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 9 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • ½ pound (about 8) large sea scallops
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut in half horizontally
  • 1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and cut into ½ inch wide strips
  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
  • 1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained, minced, and drained again
  • 2 cups Arborio Rice
  • 3 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • ½ tsp saffron threads, crumbled
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • ½ cup of frozen peas, thawed
  • 2 Tbs chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges for serving
  1. Heat oven to 375
  2. Toss shrimp with 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1 Tbs oil, 1 tsp of the garlic, refrigerate
  3. Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper
  4. Heat 2 tsp oil in a large dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering.
  5. Cook the pepper strips, stirring occasionally, until the skin begins to blister and turn spotty black, about 3 to 4 minutes, remove peppers from pot and set aside
  6. Add 1 tsp of oil to pot and heat until shimmering
  7. Add chicken pieces in a single layer, cook without moving for 3 minutes, turn and cook for 3 more minutes until brown, remove chicken from pot and set aside
  8. Add 1 Tbs butter and 1 tsp salt to pan, melt
  9. Add enough oil so that in combination with the butter, there are about 2 tablespoons of fat in the pan (probably add about 1 Tbs)
  10. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 3 to 4 minutes
  11. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minutes
  12. Stir in the tomatoes, cook until the mixture begins to darken and thicken slightly, about 1 to 2 minutes
  13. Stir in the rice and cook until the grains are well coated with the tomato/onion mixture, 1 to 2 minutes
  14. Stir in the chicken broth, wine, saffron, baby leaf, and ½ tsp salt
  15. Return the chicken to the pot, increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil uncovered, stirring occasionally
  16. Cover the pot and put it in the oven for 15 minutes
  17. Remove the pot from the oven and uncover
  18. Scatter the shrimp and scallops over the rice
  19. Arrange the pepper strips into an attractive pattern
  20. Scatter the peas over the top of the shrimp, scallops, and peppers
  21. Cover and return to the oven for 12 minutes
  22. Remove the pot from the oven, place on a burner set to medium-high heat and uncover
  23. Cook for 2 minutes, rotate the pan 180 degrees, and cook for 3 more minutes
  24. Remove the paella from the heat and cover
  25. Allow the paella to stand for 5 minutes
  26. If you can find it, remove the bay leaf, then sprinkle with parsley and serve with lemon wedges

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Way back in 1927, Harry Lender founded one of the nation's first bagel bakeries in New Haven, Connecticut. This bakery would eventually include over 600 employees and would be largely responsible for the popularization of bagels in the United States. While most people were introduced to Lender's through their frozen, six in a bag, grocery store bagels, I was fortunate enough to live near one of the two Lender's Restaurants, which baked delicious, fresh, and chewy bagels every day. You could actually watch them boil the bagels before they were baked and they were so good that if you got a really fresh one, you wouldn't think of putting butter or cream cheese on it, it was perfect as is. Alas, the Lender's Restaurant is no more, and in it's place Applebee's (within walking distance of a TGIF and a Chili's...blech). I can't drive by without getting all nostalgic, and more than a little upset. I've had other good bagels, but nothing lives up to the Lender's experience that is forever imprinted on my mind. Every bagel I eat makes me pine even more for what I can never have again. So it goes.

So of course, when I got my new bread book (get this book if you have any interest in bread baking), the bagel recipe was one of the first ones I wanted to try. As it turns out, it was the third recipe I tried, and probably the most successful so far. I was so excited to get up and bake them Sunday morning that I couldn't sleep. So consequently, I was boiling water and preheating my oven at 6 AM. I was in bagel heaven at approximately 7:30.

It began Saturday with a sponge starter that was allowed to ferment for about 3 hours, then mixed with the rest of the flour, yeast, salt, and barley malt syrup to make the dough.

I finished kneading the dough by hand, until it passed the "windowpane test," then formed it into a ball so it would be easy to divide into bagel-size pieces.

I divided the dough into 16 roughly equal pieces, shaped them into balls, and allowed the balls to sit under a damp towel for 20 minutes.

I then had to shape the bagels. This was achieved by poking a hole in the middle of the dough ball with my thumb, then working the dough into a bagel shape. At this point the bagels had to sit in the fridge overnight in order for the enzymes to go to work breaking down those starches into sugars. The following morning, I brought a pot of water to a boil, added some baking soda, and boiled my bagels for one minute per side.

The boiled bagels were placed on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. I sprinkled a few with sesame seeds and then it was into a 500 degree oven for about 12 minutes (Just in case you forget where you put the bagels, it can be useful to have a baby around to point them out).

When I took the bagels out of the oven, it was extremely hard to wait the suggested 15 minutes cooling time before eating. I managed to hold out and was rewarded with warm, chewy bagels, that were somewhat reminiscent of the old Lender's experience. Definitely as good or better than the best I've had since. The longer they sat around, the chewier they got, which was definitely a good thing. They were delicious plain, or with cream cheese, toasted or not toasted, with or without smoked salmon. The hardest thing about homemade bagels will be resisting the urge to make them every weekend!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Friday Night Curry

I have had some barley sitting in my kitchen cabinet for about a year now and I decided last week that I was going to use it for something. I was thinking of maybe roasting some onions and carrots with a little balsamic vinegar, tossing some chickpeas in a skillet with a little oil and salt, then throwing everything over some barley, maybe topping it with some goat cheese - hopefully it would come out something like this. I never did find out though because I then opened my fridge and saw some leftover coconut milk which needed some immediate attention. I went to Recipezaar and entered coconut milk and chick peas and came up with this recipe for Creamy Chickpea Curry. It looked pretty good, was highly rated with some good user reviews, and I already had some red curry paste sitting in the fridge as well. The only thing I changed about this recipe was to add 1 pound of chicken tenders cut into bite size pieces. The recipe called for putting the curry over jasmine rice, but since this whole adventure began with me wanting to use barley, I used barley instead, and I couldn't imagine that it would have been better with the rice.

The recipe was so good that I made it again this week, minus the chicken, double the chickpeas, and subbing in lite coconut milk for the full fat variety (for calorie reasons). The resulting curry was tasty, but lacked that luxurious quality and silky texture that the regular coconut milk provides. I think I'll sacrifice the calories in the future and use the full fat version, which contains lauric acid, an ingredient found in breast milk that the body converts into a chemical that is a powerful antibacterial and antiviral agent. In short, it might make it harder for you to get sick.

Start by preparing the grain of your choice (try barley instead of rice) and prepping the other ingredients. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, toss in the onions and cook them until they just begin to brown.

Add the garlic and curry paste, stirring to combine, and cook a minute or two until the paste is pretty much dissolved into the onion mixture. Dump in the chickpeas, coconut milk, and soy sauce, bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes.

Stir in the tomatoes, brown sugar and lime juice. Simmer for another minute, and prepare some serving bowls by placing about a cup of barley in each.

Don't forget to stir in your fresh chopped herbs before adding the curry to the bowls. This is an extremely satisfying dinner all on its own. I'm definitely no expert on Thai food, and have no idea how authentic this dish is, but it tastes good to me. Give it a try.

And since it was Friday, and there were not already enough dirty dishes, I decided to make some cookies as well. I wanted my favorite oatmeal cookies, but alas, not enough brown sugar in the house. I settled on Martha Stewart's Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies. Thin, chewy, and chocolaty...