Carrot Layer Cake

May 31, 2012

I’ve never loved carrot cake, which is why this is my last recipe from the May / June issue of Cook’s Illustrated. Carrot Cake always seemed dense and unbalanced,  that the heavy carrot always meant a heavy and squat cake. Fortunately, today’s recipe is perfectly balanced with the just right amount of carrot. The cake uses a layering technique to support the weight of the moist carrot, it’s as if it defies gravity. Finally, a carrot cake truly worth of being loved. Plus it looks like a work of art. 4-stars.

Not quite level, but otherwise the best carrot cake I’ve ever eaten.

But the cake is not without its problems. The thin cake ripped as I took it out of the pan, and the parchment paper made thinner rounded corners that prevented me from orienting the pieces to even as I pleased.

Comments / Issues:

  1. I’m glad that all 4 layers cook together as a single large piece. It’s so much easier than trying to make 4 separate layers.
  2. There was a problem flipping the carrot cake. The cake ripped because it was thin (and therefore fragile) and I don’t have a cooling rack that is as large as my sheet pan. I was able to reassemble the broken parts and use them as the middle layers. It came out fine.
  3. The thick batter will not spread evenly, so you are guaranteed to have an uneven cake. Chris Kimball’s suggestion to just arrange the layers to even out the final cake would only work if you have a perfect rectangle. But the parchment paper means you’ll have thin, rounded corners. My cake only fit together one specific way; unevenly.
  4. I’d suggest chopping the pecans smaller than my pieces. It will make for a slightly more refined appearance.
  5. Chris Kimball warns against substitute liquid buttermilk for the buttermilk powder in the frosting. Obviously one is liquid and the other is powder.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $11. ($5 of which was the pecans)
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 3:00 PM. Ready at 5:00 PM.

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

Cake ingredients:
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour (8-3/4 ounces)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1-1/4 cups light brown sugar (8-3/4 ounces)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-2/3 cups shredded carrots (4 carrots; about 10 ounces)
2/3 cups dried currants (about 3 ounces)

  1. Set a rack to the middle of your oven and preheat to 350-degrees. Grease an 18”x 13” rimmed baking sheet, line it with parchment paper, and then grease the parchment paper too.  Remove two sticks of unsalted butter from refrigerator so that it will have softened when you are ready to make the frosting.
  2. Shred four carrots on the large holes of a box grater or using the shedding disk and your food processor. Be sure to use the small round feeding tube (the small hole within your full-sized oval tube).
  3. In a medium bowl, add together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and cloves. Whisk together until combined.
  4. In another large bowl add sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Use a whisk to combine until smooth. Gently stir in carrots and currants with a rubber spatula until evenly distributed. Finally, add in flour mixture and fold in with your rubber spatula, but only until it is just combined.
  5. Empty batter onto baking sheet. Use an offset spatula to smooth surface and ensure the batter is an even depth. Bake for about 15 minutes, rotating half-way through baking, until the center is firm when touched.
  6. Allow cake to cool for 5 minutes in pan set on a wire rack. Flip the cake onto a wire rack then immediately re-flip back onto a second wire rack. The cake should be resting with the parchment side down. Allow the cake to cool for another 30 minutes.

Frosting ingredients:
16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks)
3 cups confectioners’ sugar (12 ounces)
1/3 cup buttermilk powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 ounces cream cheese (1-1/2 packages)
2 cups pecans (8 ounces)

  1. While the cake is cooking, toast your pecans and chop them coarsely. Cut your cream cheese into 12 equal-size pieces, but keep it refrigerated until you are ready to use in step 3.
  2. Add the butter, sugar, buttermilk powder, vanilla extract and salt to the bowl of a standing mixer. Mix using the paddle attachment on low-speed for 2 minutes; scrape down the bowl as necessary.
  3. Increase mixer speed to medium-low, then add cream cheese one piece at a time. Mix for 2 minutes until the frosting is smooth.

To Finish:

  1. Put cooled cake on a cutting board and cut into equal halves cross-wise. Cut length-wise so that you have 4 equal pieces, measuring about 6″x8″ each.
  2. Cut out a 6″x8″ rectangle out of stiff cardboard. Put the first of the cake piece on the cardboard. Use a spatula to spread 2/3-cup of frosting over layer. Repeat with two more layers.
  3. Place the final cake layer on top. Remove any crumbs from your spatula and frost the top with a 1-cup of frosting.
  4. Frost the sides of the cake with your remaining frosting. You just need enough frosting to hold the chopped pecans, not completely hide all the crumbs.
  5. Holding the cake with one hand, use your other hand to gently press the chopped pecans onto the side of your cake. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

    The interior layers were not perfectly uniform; but they’re hidden.

Kansas City Ribs and Smoked Beans

May 28, 2012

Yesterday was my big BBQ for the Memorial Day weekend. I started cooking at 11 AM and was busy with 4 or 5 recipes until dinnertime at 6 PM. First and foremost, the recipe of the day was these slow-cooked barbecued ribs and smoked beans, which take 6 hours in the making. This is one of Chris Kimball’s more ingenious recipe. It uses both level of your Weber kettle grill for cooking; the beans are down with the coals, and the ribs are placed directly above the beans and the drippings from the ribs fall down to flavor the beans. The results are spectacular; as you would expect with slow-cooked ribs (4 hours of indirect heat).  This is one of my kids favorite summertime recipe, but I usually only make it once or twice a year because of the time commitment.

Here are the ribs before being brushed with final smattering of BBQ sauce.

This recipe is not available on Cook’s Illustrated website, only available on ATK’s website (from season 8) for which I don’t have a subscription. But if you do subscribe, then Chris Kimball has 3 separate recipes and you are supposed to weave them together on your own. Start with the ribs until they have their spice rubs applied, then work on the beans as the coals ignite, finally start the sauce after the ribs are on the grill. I’ve done the integration below, so that it’s all part of a single flow.


  1. I’ve been trying to switch my grilling over to lump charcoal, because of Kingsford corporate blunders, but slow cooking absolutely needs regular charcoal briquettes. Unfortunately, the first batch of briquettes self-extinguished (a constant problem with Kingsford’s reformulation). So the first 2 hours of barbecuing were at exceptionally low temperatures (between 250 and 175-degrees). However, the second batch of charcoal re-ignited the first batch and super-heated the ribs (above 400-degrees; which is my thermometers maximum temperature) during hours 3 and 4 of barbecuing. Solution: If your coals tend to self-extinguish, add a little lump charcoal to your first batch of briquettes. This will ensure that the first batch does lose its potency, and will ensure that the second batch isn’t overheating because of re-igniting the un-spent coals from the first batch.
  2. If using St. Louis cut (as Chris Kimball recommends), then use 2 full racks of pork ribs, plus double the sauce recipe. I use 1 rack of regular spare ribs, because it cost so much less, and isn’t cryo-packed like the St. Louis cut.
  3. My ribs were exceptionally meaty this year, which made this recipe especially rewarding. The only downside is that they weren’t as fall-apart-tender as usual. Still well-cooked and delicious, but not as tender as past years.
  4. I inadvertently use 1/2-cup of molasses instead of the 1/4-cup called for in the recipe. It was fine and gave the sauce a deeper flavor, but 1/4-cup is better.
  5. In addition to these 3 recipes (Ribs, BBQ sauce and Beans), I made the carrot cake (which I will publish in a few days) and the granola. There weren’t many changes with the granola, so I just updated the existing post from 2 months ago.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $18 for large, single rack of ribs, about 7 pounds.
How much work? Medium/High.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 12:00 PM. Dinner time 6:00 PM.

The original recipe for the ribs is here, the bean recipe is here, and the sauce is here.  My descriptions of how I prepare it today are given below:

The best baked beans you’ll ever eat.

BBQ Ribs Ingredients:
1 full racks pork spareribs (or 2 racks of St. Louis Cut ribs).
3 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups wood chips
2 disposable aluminum pans (13″x9″ )

  1. The night before your barbecue, soak your pinto beans in  12 cups (3 quarts) of water with 2 tablespoons of table salt. Allow to sit on counter-top overnight for at least 8 hours. Alternatively, you can use the “quick soak” method that brings the beans to a 1-minute boil, then allow them to sit for an 1 to 2 hour before draining. Incidentally, the quick soak method is also more effective at removing the non-digestible enzymes that cause intestinal gases.
  2. Use a paring knife to loosen the membrane from the back of the ribs, then use paper towels to rip it off. Pat the ribs dry with paper towels.
  3. Combine 3 tablespoons paprika, 2 tablespoons light brown sugar, 1 tablespoon ground black pepper, 1 tablespoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper in small bowl. Massage the spice rub into both sides of ribs.
  4. Soak wood chips in bowl of water for at least 15 minutes. Open bottom grill vents fully. Light a chimney starter 2/3-rds full with charcoal (about 60 briquettes) and burn for 20 minutes until covered with fine gray ash.
  5. Meanwhile, use these 20 minutes to begin your preparations of smokey beans through step 3.

Smokey BBQ Beans:
4 slice bacon
1 minced onion
4 cloves garlic
1 pound pinto beans
6 cups water
1 cup barbecue sauce
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons brown mustard
1 teaspoon hot sauce
2 teaspoons table salt

  1. Chop bacon and cook in Dutch oven over medium heat for 6 minutes until it begins to crisp (not fully cooked).
  2. Meanwhile mince onion, peel garlic and drain and rinse your beans. Stir minced onion into bacon and cook for 5 minutes until softened. Press garlic directly into skillet and cook for 30 seconds.
  3. Add drained beans and 6 cups of water to pot, and bring up to a simmer, then reduce burner to medium-low. Cover and cook for 1 hour until the beans are just soft.
  4. When the coals are ready, arrange one of your 13″x9″ disposable aluminum pan on one side of grill. Dump the hot coals into a pile on the opposite side. Sprinkle half the pre-soaked wood chips over coals. Replace grill grate. Position the ribs so that they are over pan; meat-side up. Place some aluminum foil directly ontop the ribs to trap heat.  Cover grill and place the lid vents directly over ribs to draw the smoke to the ribs. The vents should be 1/2 open.

BBQ Sauce:
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 small onion
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup root beer
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup ketchup
1 tablespoons brown mustard
1/2 tablespoon hot sauce
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)

  1. Mince onion. Heat oil in saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add chicken stock first to stop the onions from cooking. Whisk in all the remaining ingredients (except for the optional liquid smoke).
  3. Bring the sauce to boil, then reduce stove-top to medium heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour until the sauce has reduced to 2 cups.
  4. Stir in liquid smoke, if using.

To Finish:

  1. After the ribs have been cooking for 1 hour, flip then and rotate so that the side nearest the fire is now farther from the fire. Replace the foil directly on-top of the ribs. Continue barbecuing ribs for another 1 hour. (Note: if you have trouble with your Kingsford self-extinguishing then throw a few pieces of lump charcoal on-top of the Kingsford to keep it cooking at an even pace)
  2. Add the remaining ingredients to the beans: Add 1/2 cup barbecue sauce, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 2 tablespoons brown mustard, 1 teaspoon hot sauce, and 2 teaspoons table salt.  Simmer over medium-low burner while uncovered for another 1 hour.
  3. About 1h40m after you began grilling the ribs (About 20 minutes before coals are spent), light another 60 coals in chimney starter and burn until covered with fine gray ash.
  4. With about 5 minutes to go before the second batch of coals are ready, empty the beans into a second 13″x9″ disposable aluminum pan.  Wrap it tightly with aluminum foil. Use a paring knife or skewer to poke about 12 holes in foil, which will allow the juices from the ribs to permeate into the beans. The beans are not yet done; they will finish cooking by nestling disposable pan with beans inside disposable pan already in grill.
  5. Remove cooking grill and place new coals from the chimney started right on top of spent coals. Sprinkle the second cup of soaked wood chips over coals.
  6. Nestle beans inside existing disposable aluminum pan. Replace cooking grill.
  7. Turn and rotate ribs so that the meat side is upwards, placing the place ribs directly above beans, so that the juices flavor the beans. Barbecue for 1 hour.
  8. Brush ribs liberally with sauce, on both sides. Tightly wrap the ribs with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Continue barbecuing for 30-minutes to 1-1/2 hour more; check their doneness after the first 30 minutes to ensure they don’t overcook. If there are very meaty then they may need and the full 1-1/2 hours.
  9. Transfer ribs (still in foil) to cutting board and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
  10. Check the beans for doneness, if they are not fully soft bring them inside and bring them to a vigorous boil until soft. If they are soft allow the beans to continue to cook for 15 minutes longer than ribs; to keep them hot for serving. Discard foil, stir in 1/2-cup of barbecue sauce.
  11. Unwrap ribs and brush with additional barbecue sauce. Slice ribs between bones and serve with remaining sauce.
  12. Chop off the burnt ends, cut them into small pieces and add them to the beans.

Grilled Shrimp Skewers with Lemon-Garlic Sauce

May 26, 2012

I made this recipe a few years ago, but in my broiler. With the heat of an early summer, I wanted I avoided heating up my un-air-conditioned kitchen. So I made this recipe on the grill as it was originally intended. The idea behind this recipe is to use peeled shrimp (with the tails left on), and then nestle them closely onto the skewers. By reducing the surface area, it is simulating thicker (more expensive) shrimp, and slows the cooking process. In terms of full disclosure, I love shrimp so other people might not give them the full 4-1/2 stars that I am happily giving this recipe today.

Easy and tasty meal in less than an hour.


  1. Instead of using de-skewering the shrimp to finish cooking in step 9, I used a longer pan (one that fits your entire skewers) and left the shrimp skewers in tact for serving. It added about a minute to the cooking time, but allowed me to serve each person an entire skewer.
  2. While the recipe calls for parsley, I substituted cilantro because that’s what I already had in my refrigerator.
  3. Chris Kimball also recommends a recipe for Charmoula Sauce, which I have not tried yet.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $9.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 5:00 PM.  Dinnertime:  6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe for the shrimp is here, and the sauce recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared them today are given below:

Shrimp Ingredients:
1-1/2 pounds extra-large shrimp (21/25 per pound)
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil for brushing skewers
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 lemon, cut into wedges for serving

Sauce Ingredients:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Juice from 2 lemons (about 4 tablespoons juice)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 medium cloves garlic
1/8 teaspoon table salt
Disposable 10-inch aluminum pie plate
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

  1. Defrost your shrimp in cold water, replacing every 15 minutes until defrosted. Peel and devein the shrimp, if necessary, but leave the tails on. This will help protect the delicate shrimp. Use paper towels to dry the shrimp.
  2. Put 1/2-lb of shrimp on each skewer, alternating the direction of the heads-and-tails so that they nestle very closely together. Use a pastry brush to brush both sides with olive oil. Sprinkle both sides lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle only top side of each skewer with granulated sugar.
  3. Ignite a chimney starter  filled with about 100 briquettes. Allow to fully ignite for about 20 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile prepare the sauce ingredients. Add all the sauce ingredients (except parsley) into the disposable pan; cutting the butter into 4 pieces and peeling and pressing the garlic cloves. Separately, mince the parsley and set aside until step 10.
  5. When the coals are ready, empty them onto one side of grill, leaving the other side empty.
  6. Place the disposable aluminum pan with sauce ingredients (except parsley) over hot side of grill for about 1-1/2 minutes. When the sauce is hot slide it over to the cool side of the grill.
  7. Put the shrimp on the grill directly over the coals with the sugared-side-down. Grill for 5 minutes until they become lightly charred.
  8. Flip and grill the second side for 2 additional minutes until it becomes pink.
  9. Chris Kimball says to carefully remove the shrimp from the skewer so that they can finish cooking in the aluminum pie plate; about 30 seconds. However, today I left the shrimp on the skewers, and let the entire skewer cook in the sauce for about 2 minutes, using a disposable aluminum casserole pan. In either case, slide the pan to the hot side of the grill while you finish cooking.
  10. Add the parsley to the sauce, and serve immediately with lemon wedges.

Rustic Dinner Rolls

May 24, 2012

It has been two years since I made these crusty dinner rolls. There are one of only a few of Chris Kimball’s yeasted breads that I can make in one day (most require starting the night before).  I followed the recipe precisely and they turned out a bit too hard, almost stale-like, but because I ate them with stew there was no problem. The flavor was good, but simple. A few years ago I gave them 5-stars. So either I messed something up this time that made them too hard, or I’ve learned more about bread and am more discerning. Still they are nice, but today I only give them 3-1/2 stars.

Simple but delicious; a little too crusty.

I can’t wait to try these brand new potato rolls from the July / August 2012 issue of Cook’s Illustrated. I only have one more recipe (carrot cake) to make from the May / June issue.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $1 for 16 rolls.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Started: 2 pm Ready:  6:30.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe for Rustic Dinner Rolls is here, and was also featured back in Season 10 of ATK. The descriptions of how I prepared the recipe today are given below:

1-1/2 cups water (12 ounces)
1-1/2 teaspoons Active Dry Yeast
2 teaspoons honey
3-1/2 cups bread flour (18-1/2 ounces)
3 tablespoons whole wheat flour (1 ounce)
2 teaspoons table salt

  1. In a Pyrex measuring cup, heat water in microwave for 1 minute to 105-degrees. Whisk in yeast and honey, and allow to hydrate for 5 minutes. Make sure that there is no honey sticking to the bottom of the measuring cup.
  2. Add both types of flour to (but not salt) the bowl of a standing mixer. With the standing mixer equipped with dough hook, slowly add yeast mixture and mix on lowest setting for 3 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature 30 minutes.
  3. Remove the plastic wrap from the bowl and sprinkle salt evenly over the dough. Knead on low speed (2 on KitchenAid) for 5 minutes. Twice during mixing, stop the mixer and use a spatula to scrape dough from dough hook. After 5 minutes, increase speed to medium speed (6 on KitchenAid ) and knead for 1-1/2 more minutes. The dough should smooth and only slightly tacky.
  4. Spray a glass bowl with non-stick cooking spray, transfer dough to bowl, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise for 1 hour until it doubles in size in a warm, draft-free place. In winter, you’ll have to use your warmed, but turned off oven to help.
  5. Using a greased spatula, fold the dough over onto itself; rotate bowl quarter turn and fold again. Rotate bowl again and fold once more. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 30 minutes.
  6. Repeat folding, and place on replace plastic wrap, and let dough rise until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.
  7. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle evenly with a very thin coat of flour.
  8. Carefully remove dough from bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough in half with a bench scrape or chef’s knife and carefully stretch each piece into a 16”-long cylinder. Cut each cylinder into quarters; then cut each piece into two (yielding 16 pieces). Lightly dust the tops of each piece with more flour.
  9. Flour your hands and briefly roll each piece in your palms to coat with flour; shake off any excess. Put 8 pieces of dough in each cake pan; placing one piece of dough in the center and the other seven pieces like the spokes of a wheel, making sure that the cut-sides face up.
  10. Set an oven rack to the middle of your oven and pre-heat to 500-degrees. Cover pans with plastic wrap and allow the rolls to rise for about 30 minutes until they have double in size. You can also test it because the dough will spring back if you gently press with your finger.
  11. Discard plastic wrap and lightly spray the rolls with water. Bake for 10 minutes until the rolls are brown. Turn the oven down to 400-degrees. Remove rolls and turn them out onto a rimmed baking sheet. After 5 or 10 minutes the rolls will have cool enough to handle. Pull them apart and place on baking sheet. Bake at 400-degrees for 10 to 15 minutes; rotating the pan half-way through baking. They should have a deeply golden crust, and sound hollow if you tap their bottoms.
  12. Allow to cook on a wire rack for 30 minutes to an hour before serving.

Italian Vegetable Stew (Ciambotta)

May 20, 2012

I needed a bit of salesmanship to convince my family that this vegetable stew was worthwhile. It is essentially an Italian-version of Ratatouille, so I used Remy-the-mouse metaphor, and his ability to transform this seemingly plain dish into a big success with an important food critic. While I was able to convince them to try it, unfortunately the meal was not a success. The stew was fairly well-balanced and the vegetables were perfectly cooked. But the tomatoes tasted as though they came out of a can. I can give it only 3-stars. But I do believe in full disclosure. This is the recipe that I was least excited to make this year; I think if I was not predisposed against vegetable stew that it would be 4-stars.

If you’re on a diet, this meal is perfect.

Rating: 3 stars.
Cost: $10.
How much work? Medium/High.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Started: 5:00 PM.  Dinner:  6:30 PM.

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

1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
1/3 cup fresh oregano leaves
6 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Vegetable Stew:
1 small eggplant (about 12 ounces)
Table Salt
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion
1 pound russet potatoes (about 2 potatoes)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2-1/4 cups water
28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes
2 zucchini (8-oz each)
2 red or yellow bell peppers
1 cup shredded fresh basil

  1. To prepare the pestata, roughly chopped fresh basil and remove fresh oregano leaves from stems. Peel 6 garlic cloves and roughly chop. Add all ingredients into a food processor, process for 1 minute until everything is finely ground. It will be necessary to scrape down the sides of the processor bowl. Set aside until step 6.
  2. Use a potato peeler to peel eggplant and cut into 1/2″ dice.  Put into bowl with 1-1/2 teaspoons table salt’ toss to combine. Line a large plate with two layers of coffee filters. Spray filters lightly with vegetable oil spray, and evenly spread eggplant over the filters. Microwave for about 10 minutes; mixing half way through cooking time so that it cooks evenly.
  3. While egg plant is in microwave, Peel potatoes and cut into 1/2″ dice. Peel and chop a large onion. Drain your tomatoes; reserving the juice, and coarsely chop. Seed and cut your zucchini into 1/2″ dice. Remove the seeds and ribs of your bell pepper, and cut into 1/2″ dice.
  4. Set a Dutch oven over high burner. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and preheat until it begins to shimmer.
  5. Saute eggplant, onion, and potatoes for 2 minutes. Move vegetables towards the sides, add another 1 tablespoon olive oil to the clearing. Cook tomatoes paste in oil for 2 minutes. Stir frequently until a brown fond develops. Deglaze the pan with 2 cups water. Add chopped tomatoes and their juices and bring up to boil. Turn down burner to medium, cover pot, and allow to simmer for 20 to 25 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile in a separate 12″ skillet set over high burner. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and preheat until shimmering. Add zucchini and bell peppers, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Saute for 10 to 12 minutes until the vegetables become browned. Move vegetable towards sides on the skillet and cook pestata in the clearing for 1 minute. Mix everything together. Remove skillet from heat and add 1/4 cup of water, which you can use to deglaze the pan.
  7. After the vegetables in the Dutch oven are ready (the eggplant has completely broken down and potatoes are tender), remove from heat and add the vegetables from the skillet.
  8. Cover and allow the flavors to combine for 20 minutes before serving. Finally stir in shredded basil and adjust salt according to your taste.

Grilled Steak with Ancho Chile-Coffee Rub

May 17, 2012

I made Chris Kimball’s Spice-Rubbed Steak on the Grill last week with a Spicy Chipotle Rub, and the results were amazing, 4-1/2 stars. But s I was afraid much of it’s greatness might have come from the more expensive cut of meat I had used; from the rib section. The overall technique of Today’s recipe is exactly the same; but uses ancho chiles, and also coffee grounds and cocoa powder.  The results were good, but not as good as the first time. I was sure that the coffee and cocoa powder would taste out of place, but they deepened the flavor of the chile.  I think that I prefer the slightly brighter flavors of the Spicy Chipotle Chile Rub, but the biggest difference was the reduction of meat quality. Sirloin steak is not very tender. Overall; 3-1/2 stars.

Another variation of CI’s latest grilled steak recipe.

The recipe slightly scores the meat to allow for deeper penetration of the seasoning, and uses salt mixed with tomato paste and a few other water-soluble spices (onion powder, garlic powder) during the “salting phase”. The spice rub was made by toasted whole spices on the stovetop in a skillet, then ground using a spice grinder. Finally, because the recipe called for a lean cut of beef I sprayed the steaks with vegetable oil just before grilling, which gives the crust a head start in becoming moist.


  1.  I used top sirloin steak, which was specified in Chris Kimball’s original recipe. The last time I used a steak from the rib section of the cow, which was more tender. The cost different was $7/lb versus only $4/lb today.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $9.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium/Low.
Started: 5:00 PM.  Dinner:  6:30 PM.

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

2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 boneless sirloin shell steaks, about 1″ thick (about 1-1/2 pounds)

Spice Rub:
1 dried ancho chile
4 teaspoons cumin seeds
4 teaspoons coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons ground coffee
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
Vegetable oil spray

  1. In a small bowl, mix together equal amounts of tomato paste and fish sauce. Add kosher salt, onion powder and garlic powder.
  2. Use paper towels to dry both side of the steak. Use a chef’s knife to create a cross-hatch pattern on both sides of the steak, with the slits cut 1/16″ deep and 1/2″ apart. Evenly rub the tomato/salt mixture on both sides of the steaks, and place them on a wire rack. Allow to sit at room temperature for 1 hour.
  3. With about 30 minutes to go, completely open the bottom and top vents of the grill. Light a chimney starter filled with charcoal.
  4. Remove the stem and seeds from your chiles and tear into 1/2″ pieces. Place a 10″ skillet over medium-low burner, and toast the chiles, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, red pepper flakes and whole peppercorns for about 4 minutes; until they begin to smoke. Empty onto a small plate and allow to cool for 5 minutes, before grinding in a spice grinder. I used a small coffee grinder and processed until it was coarsely ground.  Empty into a small bowl and mix together the remaining spices: sugar, ground coffee, and cocoa powder.
  5. Evenly sprinkle half the seasoning mixture over each side of the steaks, pressing until the mixture becomes moist. Spray the steaks lightly with vegetable oil spray, before flipping to season the second side.
  6. Grill the steaks over the hot-side of the grill, covered, until the outside is charred, about 4 minutes per side. Move the steaks to the cooler side, cover, and continue cooking until the desired internal temperature has been reached. 125-degrees is medium-rare, 130-degrees is medium, etc.
  7. Allow steaks to rest on a clean wire rack, loosely tented with foil, for 10 minutes before slicing thinly against the grain.

Rosemary Focaccia

May 14, 2012

This is my all time-favorite bread; rich with olive oil and topped with freshly chopped rosemary. I usually serve it beside a plate of olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. Also, It is one of the easiest breads to make; not even requiring a standing mixer. Just one bowl. It has the wettest dough of any bread I’ve made. With an 80% hydration level your hands must be well-floured when initially shaping the dough (in step 7); but after coating with olive oil you’ll have no such worries. This is definitely 5-star bread.


  1. This is the best of about three of Chris Kimball’s bread recipes that doesn’t require a standing mixer (or lots of manual kneading). Instead it uses a process called “Autolyse” to develop gluten; replacing kneading with a long fermentation process.
  2. Another noteworthy element is to briefly delay adding the salt by 15 minutes, which will hastened the gluten development by a full hour. This is because salt inhibits flour’s ability to absorb water thus slowing down the activity of the enzymes that break down protein to form gluten. If you add the salt when first mixing the dough, then just be sure to give the dough some extra time.
  3. I made this bread today because a co-worker gave me a beautiful rosemary branch. Apparently, she is blessed with a sizable rosemary bush that sometimes prevents her from opening her car door. Because it is a mature bush the needles were larger and more flavorful that anything you can buy in a supermarket. Wow…she is so lucky.
  4. Given the free rosemary, I only spent 40-cents on ingredients to make these two loaves. I gave the second loaf to a neighbor, because this 5-star bread will become just 3-stars overnight.

Rating: 5 stars.
Cost: 80-cents.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium/Low.
Start time 2:00 PM. Finish time 6:00 PM.

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

1/2 cup (2-1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (2-2/3 ounces) water
1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

2-1/2 cups (12-1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus extra for shaping
1-1/4 cups (10 ounces) water
1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
2 + 1 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

  1. Make the biga the night before. Microwave water on high for 15 seconds to bring water to 110-degrees. In a large bowl, combine flour, warm water, and yeast. Using a wooden spoon stir for 1 minute until there is no more dry flour. Tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Allow to stand at room temperature (about 70 degrees) overnight. If your overnight kitchen is closer to 60-degrees you can use a warmed (but turn-off) oven to help.
  2. The next day, microwave 10-oz water in a Pyrex measuring cup on high for 40 seconds to bring water to 110-degrees. Add flour, warm water, and yeast into the same bowl as the biga. Use a ribber spatula to stir for 1 minute until there is no more dry flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 15 minutes.
  3. Evenly sprinkle 2 teaspoons kosher salt over dough, stir into the dough for 1 minute until completely incorporated. By withholding the salt for 15-minutes the gluten development will be hastened by a full hour.  Re-cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes.
  4. Spray a rubber spatula with non-stick cooking spray. Fold the dough over onto itself; gently lift one edge of the dough and fold it over towards the center of the bowl. Rotate the bowl 90-degrees and repeat folding process for a total of 8 folds. Re-cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes. This process will stretch the gluten and help it more fully develop.
  5. Repeat folding, turning, and rising 2 more times, for total of three 30-minute rises. Meanwhile, adjust a rack to the upper-middle of your oven, place a baking stone on rack, and pre-heat to 500-degrees at least 30 minutes before baking. If you don’t have a baking stone than you can use an overturned heavy-duty baking sheet.
  6. Coat two 9″ round cake pans with 2 tablespoons olive oil each. Sprinkle each pan with 1/2-teaspoon kosher salt.
  7. Carefully pour out dough onto a floured counter. Dust the top of dough with flour and divide in half using a bench scraper of chef’s knife. With floured hands, form each piece into a rough 5″ round by gently tucking the edges underneath.  Put each piece of dough in pan, smooth-side down. Slide it around pan to coat the bottom and sides. Flip dough over, then cover tightly with plastic wrap; repeat with second piece of dough. Allow dough to relax for 5 minutes, which will make it easier to stretch. Use your finger tips to stretch dough to the edges of pan. (If dough resists too much then allow it to rest for another 5 to 10 minutes).
  8. Poke surface with a dinner fork between 25 to 30 times; especially to pop any large bubbles. Evenly sprinkle chopped rosemary over the top of dough. Cover and allow dough to rest another 5 to 10 minutes.
  9. Put cake pans on baking stone and reduce oven to 350-degrees. Bake for 23 to 25 minutes or until the tops are golden brown; rotating pans halfway through baking. If one loaf is slightly smaller it may need to come out of the oven first, to prevent the bottom from burning.
  10. Allow pans to cook on a wire rack for 5 minutes, before removing loaves from pan. Brush the loaf tops with any oil remaining in pan. Allow bread to cool on wire racks for 30 minutes before serving.

This focaccia taste amazing when dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

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