Spaghetti al Vino Bianco

March 31, 2012

Every time I have ever made pasta I have cooked it solely in boiling water. This recipe only partially cooks the spaghetti in water, then finishes cooking it in wine, adding great flavor to every strand of pasta. By the end of cooking, the wine’s liquid had fully evaporated and the only other liquid component was a little heavy cream. The 5 cups of wilted baby arugula was much too bitter for kids (who ate around it). In the end, everyone at the table agreed that this the best pasta dish I’ve made in 2012. 4-1/2 stars

Great meal, but the kids hated the arugula.


  1. While the pancetta is delicious, it doesn’t taste sufficiently different from bacon to warrant spending $4. Instead, I’d recommend saving your money; just use bacon. In fact, everyone at my dinner table wanted more pancetta, so using bacon will also make it easier to boost it up to 6-or-8 ounces.
  2. Oh no! I forgot the pine nuts. Having already spent $4 on bag of pine nuts, I was extremely disappointed to realize having arrived at step 10 that I was supposed to have previously toasted the pine nuts. Dinner was ready to go to the table so it was too late. I added the step to the instructions below to remind me next time. This is a common complaint I have with many of Chris Kimball’s recipe; important parts of the instruction are embedded in the ingredient list, causing last minute panic.
  3. Pecorino Romano is made from pasteurized ewe’s milk, and the original recipe calls for just 1-ounce, plus some additional cheese to serve at the dinner table. But I’d recommend boosting up the cheese to at least 2 ounces.
  4. The 5-cups of wilted baby arugula was too bitter for both my kids, even the more adventurous of the two. Fortunately my kids were able to push it to the side of the plate without complaining about any after taste.
  5. $20 seems pretty expensive for a pasta dinner, but splurging on a delicious, home-made family meal is always worth the cost. The main reasons why it was so expensive were: $9 for bottle of wine, $4 for pancetta and $3 for baby arugula. Plus there is the cheese and pine nuts.
  6. Originally I was planning to make home-made pasta for this recipe, the recipe requires it to cook too long for fresh pasta. Use dried pasta.

Rating: 4-1/2-stars.
Cost: $20.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 5:20 PM. Ready at 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. My descriptions of how I prepare it are given below:

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4-oz pancetta or bacon
2 garlic cloves
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 bottle dry white wine (750 ml)
Salt and pepper
1 pound dried spaghetti
5-oz baby arugula
1/3 cup heavy cream
1-oz grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts

  1. Add 4 quarts water to large pot, add 1 tablespoon of table salt, and place over medium-high burner. It will take up to 15 minutes to bring to a boil.
  2. Place 12″ skillet over medium-low burner and toasted pine nuts in a dry skillet; shaking constantly until they become golden brown. Set aside on a plate to cool.
  3. Cut pancetta or bacon into 1/4″ pieces. Place your 12″ skillet over medium-high burner and heat 1 tablespoon olive oil until shimmering. Cook pancetta for 4 to 5 minutes until crispy. Remove from pan using a slotted spoon and place on a plate lined with paper towels. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of fat.
  4. Peel garlic cloves and put skillet over medium-low burner. Use a garlic press to press garlic gloves directly into skillet, add pepper flakes, and saute for 1 to 2 minutes until the garlic turns lightly golden.
  5. Add 1-1/2 cups of wine to garlic in the skillet. Reduce over medium-high for 8 to 10 minutes until you have just 1/2 cup. Season with 1/2 teaspoon table salt. Depending upon what type of wine you used, add up to 1 tablespoon of sugar to adjust sweetness according to your taste.
  6. Add spaghetti to boiling water and cook for 4 minutes. The pasta will be only partially cooked. Set aside 2 cups of the water used to cook the pasta, then drain in colander.
  7. Put skillet with the reduced wine over a medium burner. Add partially-cooked pasta and another 1/2-cup of wine to skillet. Cook until the wine has been fully absorbed, tossing the spaghetti constantly.  Continue adding the rest of the wine bottle, 1/2-cup at a time tossing until all the wine is incorporated and the pasta has cooked in skillet for a total of 8 minutes (al dente). If you run out of wine before the pasta is al dente, then use 1/2-cup of the pasta water.
  8. Put the baby arugula on top of the pasta, add 1/4-cup of the pasta water, cover and allow to stand for 1 minute.
  9. Add cream and 1/4-cup of grated cheese, and toss to combine. Adjust seasoning of salt and pepper according to your taste.
  10. Place on serving platter. Top with crispy pancetta and another 1/4-cup of grated cheese. Coarsely chop the pine nuts and sprinkle over pasta. Serve with additional grated cheese passed separately.

Poached Cod with Cilantro and Jalapeño Vinaigrette

March 28, 2012

While I made a mess in the kitchen, the final results are amazing. Perhaps the best fish I’ve ever prepared. The fish was perfectly cooked; moist and tender. The strong flavors of the cilantro, garlic and jalapenos perfectly complemented the subtleness of the poached fish. Because the jalapeño seeds were discarded, the vinaigrette (really more of a salsa) was not overly spicy. It was like something you’d buy in an expensive restaurant. 5-stars.

Best fish I’ve ever cooked

The principle fish recipe published in the March / April issue of Cook’s Illustrated was for Poached Fish Fillets with Sherry-Tomato Vinaigrette, but they also published a variation using a Cilantro and Jalapeño Vinaigrette which sounded more interesting.


  1. The recipe simply says to use four 6-oz fish fillets each being about 1″-thick. Of course, no supermarket sells fish like that; they want to sell you the entire half fish which includes the tapered ends. I just bought two halves of cod, and cooked the tapered ends separating in case anyone want more fish (which was a hit).
  2. Supposedly in step 5 I was going to need to wait up to 8 minutes for the oil to cool to 185-degrees. In fact, I had to heat the oil up on the burner for a few minutes. I’m not sure why.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $14.50.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium/High.
Started: 5:00 pm  Ready:  6:00 pm.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here.  The descriptions of how I prepared the soup today are given below:

4 skinless white fish fillets about 1″-thick.
Kosher salt
2 jalapeños
2 teaspoons cornstarch
3/4 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves
1/2 onion
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 avocado

4 jalapeños
1/2 small shallot
6 sprigs fresh cilantro
8 teaspoons fresh lime juice (from 1 to 1-1/2 limes)
Kosher salt

  1. Set a rack to both the middle and the lower-middle of your oven, and pre-heat to 250-degrees.
  2. Cut your fish into 6-oz pieces and pat dry using paper towels. Sprinkle each fillet with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Allow to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before cooking.
  3. Meanwhile, Remove stems and seeds from your jalapenos and slice into 1/8″-thick rings. Peel your garlic cloves. Cut an onion if half, peel one half and save the second half for another day.
  4. Set a 10″ non-stick skillet over medium burner. Add 1/2 cup oil and pre-heat until shimmering. Fry jalapeno rings for about 2 minutes until crisp, but not until they’ve browned. Press peeled garlic cloves directly into oil and continue frying for 30 seconds until they start to become golden.  Pour the contends of the skillet through a fine-mesh strainer into a Pyrex measuring cup. Remove jalapeños and garlic to paper towel–lined Pyrex pie plate or casserole dish. Sprinkle with a little kosher salt. No need to wash the strainer yet.
  5. Increase amount of oil in measuring cup so that you have 3/4 cup, and pour back into the skillet (but off the heat). Put the onion cut-side-down in the center of the skillet. Allow the oil to cool to 180-degrees, which could take between zero and 8 minutes. (I actually had to heat my oil up to 180-degrees)
  6. Meanwhile, prepare your ingredients for the vinaigrette. Remove stems from jalapenos, slice in half and discard pith and seeds, and add to blender. Peel shallot and add to blender. Add cilantro sprigs, lime juice, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to blender, but do not blend until step 10. (you’re still waiting to add some olive oil from the fish)
  7. Place fish with skin-side-up in oil, which should rise to cover about half-way up the fillets. Spoon a little oil over each piece of fish, cover your pan, and place on middle rack and cook for 15 minutes at 250-degrees.
  8. Remove covered skillet from oven and flip fish using two spatulas. Replace lid onto skillet and place on middle rack and continue to cook for 10 minutes longer until the internal temperature of the fish reaches 135-degrees. After 5 minutes of cooking put the fried jalapeños and garlic on the lower-middle oven rack to warm them through.
  9. When fish reaches desired temperature, place on serving platter and tent with aluminum foil.
  10. Add 1/2 cup of the olive oil used to cook the fish to blender. Blend for 1 minute on high speed. Add any juices from fish that have accumulated to blender, adjust salt according to your taste. Blend for 10 more seconds on high speed. Run vinaigrette through fine-mesh strainer and use a rubber spatula to press solids down to extract as much vinaigrette as possible.
  11. Place each fish fillet on individual serving place and top with fried jalapenos and garlic, chopped cilantro leaves and avocado cubes. Drizzle vinaigrette around each individual piece of fish (not on-top) so that diners can control the amount of sauce/heat they like. Serve remaining vinaigrette separately.

Filipino Chicken Adobo

March 26, 2012

This may be my first recipe from the Philippines. The recipe calls for coconut milk means, which I knew meant that my family’s opinion would be split.  I love coconut, and give this recipe 4-stars. My coconut-hating son gave his sauce-less chicken just 2-stars. But if you like coconut, the recipe doesn’t require a lot of labor and can be made on a weeknight.

Don’t try it unless you like coconut

The odd thing about this recipe is that the chicken starts skin-side down in a cold skillet. According to Chris Kimball, as the skillet gradually heats up the fat under the skin will begin to melt allowing the chicken to brown. In fact, the chicken browned very well and I discarded quite a bit of fat. So far so good.

But the recipe had a serious flaw. While I followed all the cooking temperatures and times exactly, in the end the thighs registered only 140-degrees. 10 minutes longer and they were only up to 145-degrees. Another 5 minutes and they were still at 145-degrees. After 50 minutes on the stove-top I had to finish under the broiler until the chicken registered 175-degrees. Why? I have two possible explanations: (1) the burner was too low, or (2) because I used only 6 thighs and the recipe called for 8, more of the thighs might have been covered by sauce. The higher level of the liquid would have transferred more heat to the chicken.

Additional comments:

  1. Once I realized that what was going on I used a trick from the poached fish recipe, where I placed half an onion cut-side-down to occupy more space. The onion is there only to increase the level of the liquid. But perhaps I realized there was a problem too much liquid had evaporated for this trick to work.
  2. I only made 6 thighs but still my 12″ skillet was filled. There would have been no more room for 8 thighs specified in this recipe. They did shrink down a bit, but it would have been a tight fit which doesn’t really promote crisp skin.
  3. I would recommend pre-heating your oven in case your chicken isn’t coming up to temperature. If you prepare the chicken in an oven-proof skillet, just stick the whole skillet in a 350-degree oven.
  4. I substituted chopped shallot for chopped scallions, because that’s all I had in my kitchen.
  5. This recipe is from the Philippines, and has nothing whatsoever to do with chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Originally the Spanish term “adobo” meant and vinegar or chili-based sauce that was added as a preservative to meat.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $5.50.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Started: 1:00 pm  Ready:  6:00 pm.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here.  The descriptions of how I prepared the soup today are given below:

8 bone-in chicken thighs
1/3 cup soy sauce
13-1/2-oz coconut milk
3/4 cup cider vinegar
8 garlic cloves
4 bay leaves
2 teaspoons pepper
1 scallion

  1. Trim any excess fat or skin away from chicken and add to large bowl. Evenly coat chicken with 1/3 cup soy sauce. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  2. Peel garlic cloves. Remove chicken from soy sauce and place skin-side-down in 12″ non-stick skillet. But don’t discard the soy sauce.
  3. Put skillet on medium-high burner for about 8 minutes until the chicken becomes well browned. Meanwhile add coconut milk, cider vinegar, whole garlic cloves, bay leaves, and ground pepper into bowl with soy sauce.
  4. Temporarily move chicken to a clean plate and empty away any fat in the skillet. Replace the chicken in the skillet, again skin-side down. Add the coconut milk mixture to the skillet and continue to simmer for 20 minutes; uncovered.
  5. Flip the chicken skin-side up and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 175-degrees. (Note: If the chicken is substantially below 175-degrees finish cooking in a 350-degrees oven)
  6. Place chicken on a clean serving platter and tent with aluminum foil while finishing the sauce.
  7. Discard bay leaves and increase burner to medium-high. Cook sauce for 5 to 7 minutes to thicken. Meanwhile, slice your scallions thin.
  8. Pour sauce over chicken and sprinkle with chopped scallions.

7 Rules to the Best Onion Soup

March 23, 2012

Every time I see a particular friend of mine she always reminds me how much she loves this onion soup. So I made this recipe for her again, following all my tips/suggestions from the last time I made it. I even splurged on a full pound of Gruyere cheese. While the soup was delicious and universally praised by my guests as “better than the last time”, I was unhappy with this attempt because of my pet peeve; soggy bread.  Ideally, I want the bread to absorb just enough of the soup to soften and become flavorful, but not to absorb so much liquid that it becomes a mushy and begins to disintegrate. Today I offer more specific suggestions to reliably avoid this common pitfall. Hopefully.

Came out good, except for the soggy bread.

The 7 Rules to the Best Onion Soup are:

  1. First and foremost, A weakness in Chris Kimball’s recipe is that the most important flavor-building step happens near the end of cooking. The first time I made this soup, the onions over-cooked in the oven and I had to skip the triple de-glazing the pan in Steps 7 and 8.  I recommend erring on the side of caution. Lower the oven temperature from 400-degrees to 375-degrees (with convection turned off). That will mean a little more time on the stovetop, so maybe you can even quadruple de-glaze. Rule #1. Cooking the onions for 4+ hours will build lots of flavor, but be careful they don’t burn.
  2. It’s easy to ruin your flavorful soup with soggy bread. You need to limit the time that the bread makes direct contact with the soup. This requires planning, making sure that your table is set, that you have saucers at the ready, and that your guests are ready for dinner. This was my first problem; everybody was still in party mode and took 10 minutes to get to the dinner table. An extra 5-minutes saved will make an enormous difference. Rule #2. Never put the toast on the soup until the table is set and the guests have been told it’s dinner time.
  3. Once your guests take their first bite of soup the onus is on them to manage their own bread. Your responsibility is to insulate the bread from the soup to slow down the rate of absorption before your guests being to eat. The only way to do that is with an even layer of finely grated cheese between the soup and the toast. So to be clear, you need two layers of cheese. The “primer” layer of cheese will keep your bread floating above the soup’s surface, safe from the liquid ravages of the cauldron below. Melt and brown your first layer of cheese too (because it will taste better) and to ensure your cheese has complete coverage. Sprinkle a little raw cheese to cover any bare spots. In my haste, I used a food processor to grate the cheese, which was too coarse and let too much liquid through. My downfall was certain when the toast partially submerged. Rule #3. Top your soup with an even layer of finely grated cheese before adding the toast.
  4. Make sure the baguette you buy is light and airy. You need an open crumb so that the crouton won’t become sponge-like. You want a thick, crispy crust that will stand up better to the soup. Don’t worry so much about the diameter of the bread. By changing the bias on which you cut your 3/8″-thick slices, you can adjust the diameter of the bead to fit your bowls. I bought the baguette from a new bakery and the crumb was much to fine (similar to sandwich bread). Rule #4. Buy a baguette with a light and airy crumb.
  5. Many people advise to use day-old bread, but you should toast your fresh bread slices in an oven until deeply golden brown. Chris Kimball did some tests and found that stale bread become hard, but does not properly dry out. Toast both sides until they become evenly and deeply golden brown. Chris Kimball’s recommendation of 10 minutes is insufficient; it’ll take at least 15 minutes. Rule #5. Don’t let your bread slices become so dark at to adversely affect their flavor, but toast them as long as you possibly can.
  6. Begin toasting your bread slices at least 40 minutes before dinner time. This will give you enough time to make a second batch, should that contingency become necessary. I’m the first to admit, I routinely forget that I have croutons in the oven and ruin at least half my batches. Aim for success the first time, but also recognize that you will be extremely busy as your dinner is coming together. You may forget and you probably used less than half your baguette anyway. Rule #6. Your toast will be successful only 50% of the time; plan accordingly.
  7. A shameful confession: For some recipes I use bouillon cubes instead of real broth. It’s cheaper and easier to keep a box of small cubes than a case of liquid broth. But this is not the occasion to use bad broth. Rule #7. Don’t skimp on the broth; a high-quality broth makes a big difference.

I’m am going to give another attempt at following my Rules #2 through #6 very closely. If I still cannot reliably avoid soggy bread, then I am going to try the tip for those without broiler-safe crocs: simply broil the cheese and bread slices on a baking sheet, then slip onto the soup just before serving. Julia Child recommends adding 2 to 3 tablespoons of Cognac, something I still want to try but haven’t had any cognac.  While the recipe says it will make 8 bowls, I was able to  stretched this recipe to the maximum and got 9 bowls. I wanted to make 10 servings, but it just wouldn’t stretch any farther. And finally a few comments about the cheese. My local supermarket sells Gruyere for $24/lb, but there is a gormet supermarket 10 miles away that sells superior French Gruyere Comte. Officially the proper cheese is Swiss Gruyere, but I really like the French Comte. If you can’t afford imported Gruyere made with raw cows milk, then substitute 70% Jarlsberg with 30% fresh Parmesan. Don’t resort to domestic Gruyere made with pasteurized milk; it’s flavorless.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $16 for eight servings.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess? Medium.
Started: 1:00 pm  Ready:  6:00 pm.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here.  The descriptions of how I prepared the soup today are given below:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
6-lbs yellow onions
2-1/2 teaspoon table salt
3 cups water (plus up t0 1 cup more for deglazing)
3/4 cup dry sherry
6 cups chicken broth
3 cups beef broth
9 sprigs fresh thyme, tied together using kitchen twine
2 bay leaf
Ground black pepper

Cheese Croutons:
1/2 small baguette , cut into 3/8″ slices on the bias to match the diameter of your soup bowls.
12 ounces finely grated Gruyère cheese

  1. Cut your onions in half from pole to pole, and slice off the root end of onion. Peel and discard the the skin. Placing each onion half with the flat side down on cutting board, slice each onion half from pole to pole into 1/8″-thick slices.
  2. Set an oven rack to the lower middle position in your oven. Preheat to 375-degrees (with convection fan turned off).
  3. Spray the inside of a large Dutch oven with non-stick cooking spray. Place 4 tablespoons of butter, and onion slices into your dutch oven. Sprinkle with 1-1/2 teaspoon salt.
  4. Place the lid on to fully cover your dutch oven for the first hour of cooking. Then remove from oven and stir and scrape the bottom and sides. Return to oven, but with the lid slightly ajar, and cook for another 1-1/2 hours; stir and scrape the onions after 45 minutes. The onions should be very soft and lightly golden brown.
  5. Remove the onions from the oven and put on stove-top over medium to medium-high burner. Cook the onions for 15 to 20 minutes until all the liquid has evaporated and the onions have browned; stir and scrape the bottom and sides frequently. Adjust the heat if your onions are browning too quickly. It is easy to forget that the handles are 375-degrees; be very careful to use oven mitts.
  6. Meanwhile, slice baguette on the diagonal into 3/8″-thick slices. Match the diameter of your soup bowls by adjusting the angle on which you slice the bread. Place bread slices on foil-lined baking sheet, and bake for between 12 to 18 minutes in a 400-degree oven until the bread becomes crispy and golden brown. Also take advantage of any free moments to finely grate your cheese using the fine holes of a box grater (or ideally a microplane).
  7. Continue to cook onions without stirring for another 6 to 8 minutes until the pot’s bottom becomes coated with a dark crust. You may need to adjusting the burner to avoid burning the fond.
  8. To loosen the fond, stir in 1/4-cup water and scrape the bottom and sides. Continue to cook without stirring for another 6 to 8 minutes until the pot’s bottom becomes coated with a dark crust. Repeat this process of deglazing until the onions become very dark brown; 2 or 3 more times.
  9. Stir in 3/4-cup dry sherry to deglaze the pan. Cook for 5 minutes until the sherry has evaporated; stirring frequently.
  10. Now add both chicken and beef broth, 3-cups of water, thyme bundle, bay leaf, and 1 teaspoon table salt. Bring to a simmer over high heat, then cover and reduce to low heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
  11. Remove and discard herbs, then season with pepper (and adjust salt if necessary).
  12. Adjust an oven rack so that it is 6″ from the broiler element. Preheat broiler on high for 5 to 10 minutes.
  13. Fill each broiler-safe crocks with soup and place on your foil-lined baking sheet.  Sprinkle soup with finely grated Gruyère so that it completely covers the soup. Broil for 3 to 5 minutes about 6″ from the broiler element until the cheese has melted and is bubbling around edges. If any spots show soup coming through, plus the holes with a little more raw cheese.
  14. Place 1 or 2 baguette slices with the crispy side down, being careful not to overlap your slices. Sprinkle with shredded Gruyère and broil for 3 to 5 minutes about 6″ from the broiler element until the cheese has melted and is bubbling around edges. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

French-Themed Dinner to Welcome Spring

March 21, 2012

Last October I had planned a party themed around French cuisine, but a freak snow-storm and the ensuing blackout cause me to cancel. I was finally able to reschedule for last weekend. Unfortunately I don’t think any of my dishes surpassed 4-stars, but my guests seemed to have enjoyed the belated feast nevertheless. With a total of 20 guests (half were children), I certainly reached the maximum capacity of my petit kitchen, especially because it was the preferred gathering place for most of the party.

I made the chicken bundles in the morning, and finished them up 45 minutes before dinner.

First, the main course was French-Style Stuffed Chicken Breasts. It uses a forcemeat filling technique to bind the stuffing together so it doesn’t fall apart when you slice the chicken. Traditionally a Ballotine would use dark meat in the stuffing, but for simplicity’s sake this recipe just uses some trimmings from the breast. While the chicken was good, I did not attain the 4-1/2 stars that I was aiming for. I chicken was tough and the flavors were a little out of balance. I’ve made this recipe in the past and it was 4-1/2 stars, so I have to chalk this one up to my divided attention by trying to do too much at one time. I should have served the Onion Soup first, which would have spread things out a little, though it would have kept me away from my guests during the first course.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $29 for 11 servings.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Dinner time 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original is here.  The descriptions of how I cooked them today are given below, except that I tripled the recipe:

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
10-oz white mushrooms
1 small leek, white part (about 1 cup).
2 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
Juice of 1 lemon.
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
Table salt and ground black pepper
1 cup chicken broth
3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons butter

  1. Trim away the tenderloin from your chicken breasts, if present. Lay the chicken flat on a cutting board and freeze for 15 minutes to make the butterflying process easier. Meanwhile wipe mushrooms  clean, and slice them thin.
  2. Butterfly the chicken, start at thinnest end and stop 1/2″ from edge (the halves will remain attached).
  3. Open them up one breast at a time and put in large ziplock bag. Pound thin until it reaches a uniform 1/4″ thickness.
  4. Slightly trim (perhaps 1/2″) from the long sides of cutlets to form rough 8″ by 5″ rectangles with one pointy end.
  5. Add trimmings to food processor and puree for 20 seconds until smooth. Place puree in medium bowl and set aside. (There is no need to wash out food processor bowl yet.)
  6. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in 12″ skillet (regular, not non-stick) over medium-high burner. Add sliced mushrooms and cook for 10 minutes until the mushrooms become golden brown. Meanwhile cut the leaks in half lengthwise, wash to remove any dirt, and chopped the white part. Also chop thyme, parsley and peel the garlic.
  7. Push the mushrooms to the side of the skillet. Add another 1 tablespoon oil to the center of skillet, then add the leaks. Cook for 3 minutes.
  8. Add pressed garlic and thyme to the skillet, and cook for 30 seconds.
  9. Add juice from 1/2 of the lemon. Cook until the moisture has evaporated  from the skillet, then put mixture in food processor.
  10. Immediately return the pan to heat. Add the wine and deglaze the pan; only 1 minute. Transfer wine to small bowl and set aside. Rinse and dry skillet.
  11. Pulse mushroom mixture in food processor using five 1-second pulses.
  12. Switch to the plastic mixing blade in food processor and add pureed chicken. Mix well, then put mixture back into your medium bowl.
  13. Add half the chopped parsley, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Fold together with a spatula, and divide the mixture into four equal parts.
  14. Lay chicken cutlet flat with the narrowest ends pointing away from you. Evenly spread one-fourth of stuffing over each cutlet, leaving 3/4″ border on the top, pointy end, and 1/4″ border along the sides. Tightly roll the breasts (without squeezing filling). Place seam-side down and tie with three 10″ pieces of kitchen twine;  trimming away any excess twine.
  15. Season the exterior of each roll with salt and pepper.
  16. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken bundles and brown on all four sides, about 2-1/2 minutes per side (for a total of 10 minutes).
  17. Add the reserved wine plus 1-cup chicken broth to the pan, then bring to a boil. Cover the pan and reduce heat to low. Cook about 25 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
  18. Place the chicken on cutting board and tent with aluminum foil while finishing the pan sauce.
  19. Meanwhile, whisk Dijon into cooking liquid. Increase burner to high. Scrap the pan to deglaze, and cook for 10 minutes until reduced to about 1/2 cup. Remove pan from heat, and whisk in butter, remaining 1-1/2 teaspoons chopped parsley and lemon juice from the other half lemon. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
  20. Remove twine. For best presentation you can slice each chicken bundle on bias into approximately 6 medallions and spoon sauce over chicken. Or for ease, I just served the chicken whole and let everybody slice their own chicken.

Trip to a local bakery

March 19, 2012

A friend recently introduced me to a large bakery (really almost a factory) about 15 minutes from my house. I took my boys there over the weekend to buy bagels and also two kinds of bread for a “Spring Party”. The boys were especially amazed by the bagel machine spitting out bagels a few hundred per minute. With the bagels having been baked just minutes before, they were amazing.

Fresh bagels by the hundreds, and only 45-cents.

The bakery had more than 50 types of bread to choose from. I tried to pick loaves that were still warm. I bought a wonderful round loaf on Italian Panella, which was beautiful and tasted great. However I also needed a French baguette for some onion soup, but the loaf turned out to not be very genuine. The crumb was not at all light or airy; its crumb was more like sandwich bread than baguette.

The trip was fun, and since I was cooking dinner for 20 people, it was a nice alternative to baking.

Matt checking out the vast variety of bread.

All-Beef Meatloaf

March 17, 2012

I’ve been making this all-beef meatloaf for about 5 years. I’ve had such great luck with it that I haven’t since made one with the traditionally combination of ground pork, veal and beef.  Of course, the “all-beef” mostly makes it’s cheaper and more convenient; it doesn’t make it taste better. But Chris Kimball has done great job in making this version on-par with the classic combination; 4-stars.

While I was sauteing the vegetables, an Italian friend telephoned, and she asked me if I was using salami and mozzarella. Hmmm. No, but maybe next time.

Tasty meatloaf without pork or veal.


  1. The main drawback is the long list of ingredients, but most of them are usually in my kitchen. Usually I only have to buy one or two of the ingredients.
  2. Today I used 2 pounds ground chuck instead of the usual chuck/sirloin combination. I think it lost some of it’s beefy flavor, but I already had the hamburger meat in my refrigerator.
  3. Unfortunately, my oldest son says he doesn’t like meatloaf, but that gave my youngest son the chance to have leftovers the next day. Be sure to promptly wrap any leftovers tightly in plastic wrap or an oxidized crust will form.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $8.50.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Finish time 6:15 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

3 ounces Monterrey Jack cheese
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion (when chopped fine should be 1 cup)
1 medium rib celery (when chopped fine should be 1/2 cup)
1 medium clove garlic
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 cup tomato juice
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon unflavored, powdered gelatin
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
22 saltine crackers
2 tablespoons minced parsley leaves
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound 90% lean ground sirloin
1 pound 80% lean ground beef chuck

Ketchup Glaze:
1/2 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 cup cider vinegar
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar

  1. Adjust a rack to the middle of your oven, and preheat to 375-degrees. Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with aluminum foil (for easy clean-up). Set a wire rack inside sheet pan. Fold an 11″x6″ square of aluminum foil and set on-top of wire rack. Use a chop stick or paring knife to poke a holes approximately every square inch for drainage of excess fat.
  2. Use the small holes of your cheese grater to grate cheese. Spread it out on a plate and freeze until step XXXXXX.
  3. Finely chop onions and celery. Place a 10″ skillet over a medium-high burner and melt 1 tablespoon. When butter is foaming, saute onions and celery for 7 minutes until it begins to brown. Meanwhile while the onions are cooking, peel your garlic, mince your thyme, and crush saltines in food processor. In a large bowl, combine chicken broth and eggs, then sprinkle unflavored gelatin; allow gelatin to sit for 5 minutes.
  4. Press your garlic cloves directly into the skillet, add minced thyme and paprika. Continue cooking for 1 minute.
  5. Reduce burner to low and add 1/4 cup of tomato juice. Continue cooking for 1 more minute, before allowing to cool in a small bowl.
  6. Add soy sauce, Dijon, minced parley, salt and ground black pepper to onions.
  7. Add onion mixture to large bowl with gelatin, add saltine crumbs, then crumble frozen cheese into a coarse powder. Add ground beef. Use your hands to mix all ingredients together, and form into a rough loaf shape. Place your loaf on the 11″x6″ rectangle of aluminum foil. Use a moistened spatula to smooth the top and sides of the loaf.
  8. Bake at 375-degrees for 60 minutes until internal temperature reaches 150-degrees. With 10 minutes remaining (of the 60 minutes) combine the ingredients for the glaze in a small saucepan. Bring up to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes until it becomes thick.
  9. Remove loaf from oven, and pre-heat broiler on high.
  10. Use a rubber spatula to evenly coat the meatloaf with the half the glaze. Broil for 5 minutes until the glaze begins to bubble.
  11. Remove meatloaf and coat with the remaining glaze. Again, broil for 4 minutes until the glaze begins to bubble.
  12. Allow to cool for 20 minutes before slicing.

Potato Casserole with Bacon and Caramelized Onion

March 15, 2012

I love potatoes and the whole time while I was preparing the meal I was sure that I was going to love this dish too. But the potatoes were just okay; 3-1/2 stars. I should have anticipated a little better based upon the list of ingredients. While the bacon and caramelized onions helped, the main flavor of the dish was potatoes soaked in chicken broth. The texture of the “crispy” potatoes was rubbery; not crisp. It was only the potatoes underneath the crust that were tender. Don’t get me wrong, they were edible, and my youngest son really enjoyed them. But it made a huge mess in my kitchen. There is no way I will ever make this dish again.

3-1/2 star payoff not worth the huge mess in the kitchen


  1. My biggest complaint is it made the mess of a 5-star main course, but with the payoff of just a 3-1/2 star side dish. Everything else I say in this post is secondary. This is the reason that I will never make this recipe again.
  2. Chris Kimball recommends using a mandolin to slice your potatoes, but I used the slicing attachment for my food processor. While the slices using a food processor were not completely uniform, it made quick work of the slicing. I couldn’t imagine trying to do it by hand.
  3. There is a lot of liquid, and at one point I was sure that there was too much. But in the end it cooked down within the allotted 55 minutes.
  4. I would recommend (but didn’t do it myself) lining your baking dish with aluminum foil. Not so important for the bottom of the baking dish, but the sides get a heavy burned on crust that will take 12 hours soaking in soapy water to get ride of.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $4.50.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  High.
Start time 5:00 PM. Finish time 7:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

4 slices thick-cut bacon (6 ounces)
1 large onion
1-1/4teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1-1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1-1/4 cups beef broth
3 pounds Yukon gold potatoes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

  1. Use butter to grease a 13”x9” baking dish, especially along the sides. Cut bacon slices into 1/2″ squares.
  2. Set a medium saucepan over medium-low burner and cook bacon for 12 minutes until crispy.  Use a slotted spoon to remove bacon and place on a plate lined with paper towels. While the bacon cooks, cut your onion in half and then slice thin.
  3. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of bacon fat from saucepan. Increase burner to medium, cook sliced onion together with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir frequently for 25 minutes until the onion becomes golden brown. Add 1 tablespoon of water at a time whenever the pot begins to dry out, and adjust the burner if it turns too dark.
  4. While the onion cooks, set rack to lower-middle position in your oven and preheat to 425-degrees, and peel and slice your potatoes into 1/8” thick slices. Do not wash or rinse the potatoes, as the starch that would be washed away is very important in this dish.
  5. After the onions have browned, add them to a large bowl together with the bacon, thyme, 1 additional teaspoon salt and season with ground pepper.
  6. Use chicken and beef broth to deglaze the saucepan. Increase burner to medium-high and bring up to simmer.
  7. Put potatoes in bowl with onion and toss to combine, being careful not to break the potatoes. Once combined empty bowl into the prepared baking dish. Press down to compress the potatoes into an even layer. Pour the hot broth over the potatoes, and place butter evenly around the top of the potatoes.
  8. Leaving potatoes uncovered, bake for 50 to 55 minutes at 425-degrees. The potatoes will become golden brown along the edges and most of liquid will have been absorbed.
  9. Place on wire rack and allow to stand for a full 20 minutes. This is critical to the texture of the dish, as it allows the broth to become fully absorbed.

Coffee Fudge Swirl Ice Cream

March 10, 2012

I have always made my Cappuccino Ice Cream by mixing real espresso with heavy cream. It tastes delicious. But adding 8 ounces of espresso, which is mostly water, allows some ice crystals to form taking a slight toll on the texture of the final ice cream. So today I used Chris Kimball’s technique of heating ground coffee grounds directly in the milk/cream mixture. Not only does using a custard base result in unparalleled silkiness, but the heating allows me to  simultaneously “brew” the coffee. The texture is amazing, and the flavor is nearly as good as using real espresso. The only draw back is that it you must strain the custard base three times to remove 95% of the coffee grounds. 5-stars.

Pictured here with my son’s 13-th birthday cake.

Usually I swirl in Dulce de Leche to my coffee ice cream, but today my son requested using Chocolate Fudge. As an adult, I prefer the Dulce de Leche, but this combination using chocolate fudge was a home run with my guests (whose average age was 12-years-old). It was decadent. Just be sure that the fudge sauce has cooled completely before swirling into your ice cream.


  1. The main problem with Chris Kimball’s recipe is removing the spend coffee grounds from the custard base. He instructed me to strain the custard through a fine-mesh strainer, but my strainer let quite a bit of grounds through. In fact, I had to strain the custard three times in order to remove enough of the grounds.
  2. Also, Chris Kimball instructed me to strain the chilled custard, but I strained it as part of the cooling process. I don’t think that this contributed to the straining problem, but I do think that my technique allowed for the custard to remain colder, which is critical to prevent ice crystals from forming.
  3. I also tried to strain through a paper coffee filter, but the custard was too thick and never permeated through the filter. I only have a French Press at work, but think that that would have worked well.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $5.20.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 12 Noon. Finish time 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original Ice Cream recipe is here, and his Chocolate Fudge Sauce recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

Hot Fudge Sauce:
4-oz semisweet chocolate
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
2-1/2 tablespoons heavy cream
Pinch table salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces.

  1. Break chocolate into pieces and melt in small heat-proof bowl placed over a pot of nearly simmering water. Don’t allow the water to boil. Stir the chocolate occasionally, which will take about 10 minutes to melt. Remove from heat and whisk in cocoa until it has dissolved.
  2. Place a heavy-bottom pan over low heat, and warm sugar, corn syrup, heavy cream, salt, and 1/4 cup water for 5 minutes without stirring.
  3. Once the sugar has dissolved, increase the burner to medium/high and simmer for 4 minutes; stirring often.
  4. Remove from heat and add butter pieces and vanilla extract. Once combined, whisk in the melted chocolate/cocoa.
  5. Allow to cool completely before spreading on ice cream, or serve warm to make Hot Fudge Sundae.

Coffee Fudge Swirl Ice Cream:
2 Cup heavy cream (1 pint)
1-1/2 whole milk
1/2 cup ground coffee or espresso beans.
1-1/4 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
2 teaspoon vanilla.

  1. Prepare a large bowl of ice water; to be used as an ice bath after removing cream from stove-top.
  2. Add heavy cream, milk, coffee grounds and 1 cup sugar to medium saucepan. Warm over medium heat for 5 minutes until the mixture reaches 160°; stir occasionally to ensure that the sugar completely dissolves. Temporarily remove pan from heat to prevent the milk from boiling.
  3. Meanwhile in a small bowl, beat the yolks together with 1/4 cup sugar. Be sure not to let the egg yolks and sugar sit for any length of time; after 5 minutes the combination will get hard. Temper the yolks by whisking in 1/2 cup of the 160° cream. Then whisk in a second 1/2 cup to further temper.
  4. Add the yolk mixture back in with the cream/coffee in the saucepan. Cook over medium burner until the mixture reaches180°; stir constantly with heat-proof spatula. Cooking too long will scramble your eggs.
  5. While the mixture heats up, wash your medium bowl and place it in ice batch, and get your strainer handy.
  6. When the mixture reaches 180°, immediately strain your mixture into the medium bowl. Wash the strainer and then strain the mixture two more times to remove as much of the grounds as possible.
  7. The ice batch will allow the mixture to cool to room temperature quickly; stirring occasionally will help it cool. Add vanilla extract, cover, refrigerate for 3 hours. Alternatively freeze for 1 hour; just be sure it’s below 40°.
  8. Add mix into the ice cream machine’s canister. Churn for 30 minutes or how ever long your ice cream machine recommends. While ice cream churns; pre-freeze a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and the ice cream’s final container/bowl.
  9. When ice cream finishes spread in thin, even layer of pre-chilled baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap, making sure to leave as little air as possible, and freeze for 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
  10. Use a spatula to spread your fudge evenly over entire surface of ice cream, then roll up ice cream into a long cylinder.
  11. Put finished ice cream in airtight container, or press plastic wrap against the ice cream’s surface. Freeze for at least 1 more hour before serving.

Matt celebrating his 13-th Birthday with his friends

Buffalo Chicken Nuggets

March 8, 2012

OK, so this isn’t a new recipe, but a combination of two older ones; Buffalo Wings and these Chicken Nuggets. The combination turned out fantastic; just as good as regular Buffalo Wings, but so easy to eat using a knife and fork. There was no mess and my fingers weren’t tingling from all the spices. The sauce recipe below is a slight variation on Chris Kimball’s. First, I reduced the total amount of sauce made, because I found that there was always too much. The second secret is to add some Worcester sauce, adding some great depth.

Just as tasty as wings, but easier to eat.


  1. I love spicy food. But if you don’t, then you can leave out the cayenne pepper to soften the heat. If it’s still too hot then you can reduce the Tabasco. By itself, Frank’s wing sauce is not all that hot.

Rating: 4-1/2-stars.
Cost: $5.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Finish time 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original Chicken Nugget recipe is here, and his Buffalo wing recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared the chicken nuggets is here, and the descriptions of how I prepared the Buffalo Sauce are given below:

3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup Frank’s Louisiana Hot Sauce
1 tablespoon Tabasco
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
2 teaspoon cider vinegar
2 teaspoon Worcester sauce
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  1. With 5 minutes remaining until chicken is ready to serve, begin to make the sauce. Melt the butter in 12” regular (i.e. not non-stick) skillet over a medium low burner, whisk in the Frank’s sauce, Tabasco, brown sugar, Worcester, cayenne and cider vinegar. Mix well and allow to cook for 2 minutes. Reserve 1/4 cup of sauce to serve separately at table, and to ensure that your nuggets aren’t too spicy.
  2. Put chicken nuggets into skillet and use a rubber spatula to toss until evenly coated.

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