End-of-Year Party Pretzels

June 30, 2012

I made homemade pretzels for my youngest son’s “last day of school” party. I’ve made them before (following this recipe) and they have become one of my son’s favorite 5-star treats. But the pretzels are only great on the day they are made; overnight they become just average.  In the past, I had to wake up at 3AM to have them ready by 7AM. Because recent events have left me exhausted, I alter that perfect 5-star recipe so that I could get more sleep. My son and I prepared the dough, let it rise, and rolled out the pretzels the night before. We refrigerated the pre-made pretzels, and I only had to wake up at 5:30. I took them out of the fridge and let the dough come up to room temperature for an hour (while I did my regular shower and dressing routine). They only took about 30 minutes of work to finish boiling then baking them. Success!

27 perfect, fresh pretzels ready at 7AM; $2.85. A son who is proud of his father; priceless.

I increase the original recipe by 50%, which increased the yield from 12 to 18 full-sized pretzels. I reduced the pretzel size by 1/3 which meant that I was able to make 27 pretzels; enough for everyone in the class. To accomplish this I rolled out 18 twenty-inch batons (in Day 1 – Step 9.)  I cut off 13″ to make “O”s. I then twisted together  2 of the 7” leftovers to form “X”s.  However, there are also other ways in which I could have gotten the desired number of pretzels; for example reduce the pretzel size from 2-ounces down to 1-1/2 ounces. The only real requirement is that you do the math to ensure you’ll have enough before shaping the pretzels.


  1. But there is a huge difference between 3:30AM and 5:30AM, and for me 5:30 is just 30 minutes prior to my usual wake-up time. But I realize most people would consider that too early, and you will add only 45 minutes to your morning routine. Happy sleeping.
  2. Let them cool at least 10 to 15 minutes before packing them up, or the trapped moisture will make them soggy.
  3. While the pretzels are best while they are still warm from the oven, these were still described by my son’s classmates as “awesome”.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $2.85 for 18 full-size Pretzels.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Wake up at: 5:30 AM.  Ready:  7:00 AM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe for Soft Pretzels is here. The descriptions of how I cooked them over the two days are given below:

1-1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons honey
1-1/2 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
4-1/2 cups (24-3/4 oz) bread flour
3 tablespoons baking soda
3 tablespoons coarse salt

Day #1.

  1. Stir the water and honey together in a Pyrex measuring cup, microwave for 1 minute. Ensure the water is about 105-degrees. Add yeast, whisk together and allow to hydrate for 10 minutes. You should see bubbling.
  2. Place the salt and flour and in bowl of standing mixer equipped with dough hook. With the mixer on 2 running, slow add the honey/water mixture.
  3. Increase the mixer speed to 6 and mix the dough for another 4 minutes; a ball of dough will form.
  4. Knead the dough by hand for 30 seconds on a lightly floured counter. Form into a smooth ball.
  5. Spray a large mixing bowl with non-stick cooking spray. Place the dough in the bowl and turn the dough to coat in the oil. Tightly cover with plastic wrap and allow rise at room temperature for 1 to 1-1/2 hours (depending upon room temperature);  until it has doubled in size.
  6. Gently deflate the dough. Re-cover and allow to rise again for 30 to 40 minutes until it has doubled in size.
  7. Line two baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
  8. Divide the dough into 18 equal pieces (roughly 2-ounces each). Roll each piece into a 20″-long by 1/2″-wide rope.  Roll them first to about 12”, let them rest while you roll the remaining. This extra relaxation time will make them easier to finish rolling. Shape each rope into a pretzel (or whatever shape you choose) and place on the parchment-lined baking sheet.
  9. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight after shaping.

Day #2

  1. Remove dough from refrigerator and allow to come up to room temperature to 40 minutes. Try placing the baking sheets on-top of the stove as you pre-heat the oven, which will help to gently bring the dough up to room. (Note: Don’t mis-read that to think I’m suggesting inside the oven).
  2. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.
  3. Add 6 cups water into a 12-inch skillet. Stir in the baking soda, and bring to a boil over high heat. It will heat faster if covered.
  4. Using a spatula (with slots), gently place the 3 to 4 pretzels into the boiling water, top-side down for 30 seconds. Using tongs and spatula, carefully flip over and boil the second side for another 30 seconds. Remove the pretzels, drain briefly on wire rack, then place back onto the prepared baking sheet. The pretzels won’t rise much so you can place them pretty close.
  5. Sprinkle with coarse salt and bake for 14 minutes, until the pretzels are well-browned, turning the baking sheet around halfway through baking.
  6. Let the pretzels from cool on a wire rack for 8 minutes (no longer to serve warm) or at room temperature.

Spanish-Style Toasted Pasta with Shrimp

June 27, 2012

The only place I’ve ever eaten paella was Barcelona; made with rice and fresh seafood. It was so good that I thought it would be pointless to try it any place else. But today I made a variation called Fideuà, which is made with toasted noodles instead of rice.  Given that I am Northern New Jersey and not Northern Spain; i.e. I used frozen shrimp instead of fresh mussels and clams; the results were spectacular. This crispy noodles offered more flavor than rice, and the flavors were perfectly balanced. Amazingly, it only took  a little more than 1 hour to prepare. 4-1/2 stars.

Rich and delicious seafood paella; made at home


  1. Admittedly, I don’t think most people can make this recipe for $12. I got a great deal on the shrimp for just $3.99/lb. Wow, I stocked up, but it is rare that I can buy the shrimp for less than $7/lb. Still, even if you add $6, it’s still a lot cheaper than a trip to Barcelona.
  2. I used 2-pounds of shrimp instead of the required 1-1/2 pounds. I am a shrimp lover and can never get enough shrimp. I increased the marinate ingredient by 1/3 to compensate.
  3. Chris Kimball recommends serving with Aïoli, but I didn’t make it today. The recipe is here. Unfortunately I was out of eggs and didn’t have time to go to the store.

Rating: 4-1/2-stars.
Cost: $12. (but see comments)
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Start time 4:45 PM. Finish time 6:00 PM.

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

3 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves
Salt and pepper
1-1/2 pounds extra large shrimp (21 to 25 per pound),
2-3/4 cups water
1 cup chicken broth
1 bay leaf
8 ounces thin spaghetti
1 onion
14-1/2 oz can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
Lemon wedges

  1. Place the frozen shrimp in a large bowl with cold tap water and allow to defrost, replacing water with fresh tap water once or twice. Prepare you marinade, which will infuse the shrimp with flavor while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, clove garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in medium bowl
  2. Peel the shrimp placing the shrimp in them medium bowl containing the oil/garlic, and setting aside the shells in a small/medium, microwavable bowl.  Gently toss the shrimp to coat them with oil, cover with plastic wrap and and refrigerate until Step 14.
  3. Add 2-3/4 cups water, 1 cup chicken broth and bay leaf to the bowl containing the shells. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 6 minutes, and set aside until Step 12.
  4. In two batches, lay spaghetti out in a single layer on a clean kitchen towel. Fold the towel to close, slide lengthwise so that 1-1/2″ overhangs the counter and push down to break into 1-1/2″ segments. Repeat until all spaghetti has been broken down short pieces. Add to a broiler-safe 12″ skillet, and repeat breaking process with remaining 4 ounces of spaghetti.
  5. Add 2 teaspoons oil to skillet, and toss so that the spaghettini becomes evenly coated. Put over medium-high burner and brown for 8 minutes. Stir frequently for that it browns evenly, and should eventually have a smell nutty and appear about the same color as peanut butter. Empty toasted spaghettini into bowl, then use a paper towel to wipe out the skillet.
  6. Open can of diced tomatoes and set in fine-mess strainer to allow any liquid to drain away. Finely chop the onion, then finely chop drained tomatoes.
  7. Pre-heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in skillet over medium-high burner until it begins to shimmer. Saute finely chopped onion together with 1/4 teaspoon salt for 5 minutes.
  8. Add finely chopped tomatoes and continue cooking for 5 minutes until it has become slightly darker.
  9. Turn down burner to medium, and press 2 remaining garlic gloves directly into the skillet. Add both types of paprika and anchovy paste. Cook for 1-1/2 minutes.
  10. Add toasted spaghettini to skillet and stir to combine.
  11. Adjust an oven rack so that it’s 5″ or 6″ for the broiler element, and pre-heat on high.
  12. Pour broth through fine-mesh strainer into the skillet. Stir in 1/4 cup wine, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
  13. Increase burner to medium-high, bring up to a simmer, then cook an additional 9 minutes.
  14. Scatter shrimp in skillet and partially submerge. Broil for 7 minutes until the shrimp is cooked and spaghettini becomes dry and has some crispy, brown spots.
  15. Allow to cool for 5 minutes; then top with parsley and serve with lemon wedges.


June 24, 2012

For over 15 years I have made the best Tabbouleh I’ve ever eaten. I guess I’m biased, because I make it exactly as I like it. Restaurants always seem to stress the bulgur, and I prefer to stress the fresh ingredients; parsley, tomatoes, lemon.  Today’s recipe is somewhat of a compromise. Chris Kimball uses 6 tablespoons of Bulgur; probably a 33% decrease over an average deli. However, my own recipe used just 2 tablespoons, so that the freshness of the other ingredients really shine. Another interesting thing about today’s recipe is that the Bulgur is soaked; not cooked. This is intended to prevent the wheat from becoming mushy. Overall, it was just okay. I give it 3-stars.

Pretty good; but I think I make better


  1. I reduced the recipe by one-third, because that is how much parsley my bunch yielded.
  2. I have only ever eaten Tabbouleh just with pita bread. However, Chris Kimball also says that it can be eating with the crisp inner leaves of romaine lettuce AND pita bread. I didn’t try.

Rating: 3-stars.
Cost: $6.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 4:30 PM. Finish time 6:30 PM.

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

2 medium round tomatoes,
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup medium-grind bulgur
3 tablespoon lemon juice (1-1/2 lemons)
1/4-cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cups fresh parsley, chopped
1/3 cup fresh mint, chopped
1-1/2 scallions

  1. Put bulgur in a fine strainer and rinse with cold water. Allow to drain and put in a small bowl. Add 2 tablespoons on lemon juice from 1/2 a lemon. The grains will need about 40 minutes to begin to soften.
  2. Core the tomatoes and cut them into 1/2″ pieces. Add to a large bowl and combine with 1/4 teaspoon of table salt. Put in a fine strainer placed over the large bowl, and allow to stand for 30 minutes to drain away any excess liquid.
  3. As the tomatoes exude juice, add 2 tablespoons to the bulgur.
  4. About 15 minutes later begin to chop your remaining ingredients. Chop your parsley and fresh mint. Slice your scallions thin, and give them a few chops.
  5. After tomatoes have drained and bulgur has softened, wipe the large bowl dry and which together 2 more tablespoons of lemon juice from 1/2 a lemon, plus olive oil, cayenne pepper and 1/4 teaspoons salt. Gently mix in the tomatoes, bulgur, chopped parsley, mint, scallions.
  6. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to stand at room-temperature for 1 hour.  Toss to recombine the ingredients and adjust the salt and pepper according to your taste.
  7. Serve inside of sliced pita edges.

The Hourglass Effect in Baking Loaves

June 22, 2012

I just baked my last loaf of Sandwich bread for the school year, and wanted to share a little of what I’ve learned this year. For those new to my blog, beginning last September, I’ve been baking my kid’s sandwich bread every week. They love the fresh bread and seem genuinely disappointed when my schedule forces me to buy store-bought Arnold’s. About 6 months ago I noticed that my American Sandwich Bread was showing a tendency to collapse in on itself. Some slices, particularly mid-loaf were hourglass-shaped rather than rectangular. This was not happening originally (either with Chris Kimball’s original recipe or my loaves from a few months prior). See the photo below.

Mis-shapen and poor edges.

When you look closely there are actually two problems with the slice you see. First, is obviously the shape. The hour-glass shape reduces the surface area on which peanut butter and jelly can be applied, meaning my son will be hungry by the end of the school day. Second, you can see that the dough near the edges is uneven. The crumb in the center of the loaf is open, but is yellow and stringy along the edges.

The main changes that I had made that may have been to blame: (1) switching from Active Dry Yeast to Instant Yeast. Instant Yeast has more bang-for-the-buck, so it is possible that the increased potency was causing the problem. I eliminated the ginger powder (which I had been adding to help the yeast increase its effect) and cut back on the yeast, but with absolutely no improvement. I am sure this was 100% blameless. (2) My kids like a softer crust, so I had reduced the cooking temperature and increased the cooking time. But it’s possible that the softer crust couldn’t support the weight of the loaf. I readjusted the time and temperature, and there was some improvement; maybe 25% better. (3) Because  my two boys need to make 10 sandwiches per week, the last change I made was to switch to a pullman loaf pan. It is bigger and has more rectangular shape.  This turned out the main cause; in order to fill the large loaf pan I was letting the bread rise a little too much, so the loaf was too weak. As the air inside the loaf contracted during cooling, it sucked the sides inward causing the mis-shapen loaf.

My main theory was that the dough isn’t strong enough to hold outer edges in place. Briefly here are some other things I tried, which turned out not to be my problem:

  1. Too much bottom heat. I raised the rack from the bottom of the oven to the middle. This didn’t help at all, in fact, made the problem even worse.
  2. There are some talk on the internet about Tight fitting lids. While I was just using foil, I tried tenting it more loosely. Again, this made no difference and only controlled how toasted the top of the loaf became.
  3. Some on the internet claimed that Bread Flour was too strong for bread making process. I tried using All-purpose flour, but again the problem was worse. I am sure that my loaves were too weak; not too strong.
  4. Too high an improver level or too strong an improver. This is done by including enzymes (such as amylases and proteases) to act on the starch and gluten.  This is why I eliminated the ginger powder from my bread; to decrease the excessive enzymatic activity. It didn’t help, but I never re-started adding ginger powder, because I had switched from Active Dry Yeast to the more potent Instant Yeast.
  5. But still the internet insisted that the problem was NOT the weakness of the dough, but rather that the dough is too strong. There was a concrete recommendation to reduce the Ascorbic acid because it was over-strengthing the gluten. I did try eliminating the ascorbic Acid, which I add to change the pH of the bread to inhibit mold. It made no difference, so I re-started using the Vitamin C, because I needed my loaf to last for 5 days.
  6. There was also some talk about a long, slow baking contributing. I went back to the original cooking temperature and times that Chris Kimball gave in his recipe. It did help a little, but my kids disliked the darker crust.
  7. I also tried turning off my convection, but that didn’t help.

In the end, the cause turned out to me my new loaf pan. It was large and my solution is two-fold. (1) instead of trying of over-rise the bread in order to fill the larger loaf pan, I increased the flour and water. Viola! Problem solved 100%. (2) I mention this second reason, because even with my new formula there were weeks when I accidentally allowed the dough to over-rise, but those weeks meant an imperfect loaf. So I repeat; It is important that you don’t allow the dough to rise past the normal doubling in size.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $.90 for 29-ounce loaf.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Finish time 7:30 PM. (But don’t slice for another 3 hours)

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

3-1/2 oz warm water
1/8 teaspoon rapid-rise yeast or dry active yeast
3-1/2 oz flour

Wet Ingredients:
1-1/4 cup milk (10-1/2 ounces)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon rapid-rise yeast or dry active yeast
1 tablespoon granulated lecithin

Dry Ingredients:
3-1/2 cups bread flour (18-1/2 ounces)
2 teaspoons table salt
1/4 teaspoon fruit fresh or other powdered Vitamin C

  1. About 12 to 24 hours before making the loaf, prepare the sponge by heating water in microwave for 15 seconds to 105-degrees. Whisk in yeast and let it hydrate for 5 minutes. Finally, whisk in flour, cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm spot in your kitchen for up to 24 hours.
  2. Adjust an oven rack to low-middle position. Pre-heat the oven to 200-degrees, then turn it off. You will use the residual heat of the oven to speed the first rise.
  3. Add 10-1/2 ounces of milk to a Pyrex measuring cup (at least 2 cup capacity). Heat in microwave for 45 seconds until mixture reaches 105-degrees. Mix in olive oil, sugar, yeast and granulated lecithin; allow to hydrate for 5 minutes.
  4. Add sponge and dry ingredients (15-oz bread flour, 2 teaspoons salt, and ascorbic acid) to the bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook.
  5. Turn on standing mixer to lowest speed and slowly add liquid; use a rubber spatula to scrape out measuring cup. After the dough has come together, increase speed to 4 on KitchenAid mixer (medium-low on other models). Continue mixing for 10 minutes, stopping twice to remove the dough from hook. The dough will become smooth, add a little more flour or water if necessary. Lightly flour a work surface and gently turn out the dough. Knead by hand for about 15 seconds to form a smooth ball.
  6. Lightly oil a large glass bowl with non-stick cooking spray, add dough and roll around to lightly coat the dough ball. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in your warm (but turned off) oven. The dough should take about 45 minutes to double in size.
  7. Spray your loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray. Gently turn the dough out onto floured surface. Gently press the dough into a rectangle that corresponds exactly to the length of your loaf pan. Lightly spray the dough rectangle with a water bottle before rolling to try to prevent large air bubbles (or brush water on using a pastry brush). Roll the dough into a tight cylinder so that it corresponds to the length of your loaf pan, firmly pressing down as you roll to ensure that the dough sticks to itself and that there are no large air bubbles. Pinch the seam closed along the length of the cylinder, and put into your loaf pan seem-side down. Softly press the dough so that it touches all four sides of the pan.
  8. Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap, realizing that the loaf will grow above the top of the pan. Place it in a warm spot in your kitchen for between 1 to 2 hours. Depending upon pan size, wait until the dough grows to fill your loaf pan.
  9. About 20 minutes prior to baking, begin pre-heating your oven to 400-degrees. Adjust an oven rack to middle position; any lower and your bottom crust will be too hard.
  10. Carefully remove plastic wrap, spray the loaf three times with water from a spray bottle, and place loaf pan in oven. After 5 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 325-degrees and turn loaf 180-degrees. Bake uncovered for 8 additional minutes. Tent with aluminum foil to keep the loaf top very soft; baking for another 12 to 14 minutes until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads 195 degrees. Carefully remove bread from pan, and let cool on a wire rack for 3 hour before slicing.

Father’s Day Dinner

June 20, 2012

I hope everyone enjoyed their Father’s Day. I spent a quiet day with my two sons and I. We played tennis and chess, and watched some Euro Cup Soccer. Later, we each picked one of our favorite meals. My 13-year-old son chose Parmesan Crusted Chicken, my 11-year-old son chose Aligot, and I chose my favorite dessert, home-made coffee ice cream with chocolate fudge swirl.  Everything turned out fantastic. given the circumstances, I rate the entire day 5-stars.

The dinner was memorably delicious.

In addition to spending the day with me, they gave me a chef’s hat to go along with my chef’s jacket.

Wearing my new chef’s hat

Grill-Roasted Beef Short Ribs with Mustard Glaze

June 14, 2012

I love ribs and had high hopes for this recipe. But the cooking times were confusing (the way it included multiple cooking methods; charcoal, gas-grill and oven). The confusion meant we ate our dinner at 8pm. The recipe called for cooking the ribs in a Pyrex baking dish with 2 tablespoons of vinegar, which resulted in a nightmare to clean. I should have lined the baking dish with aluminum foil. The ribs themselves were delicious. I was sure I wouldn’t like the mustard glaze, but it complemented the slow-cooked ribs very well. As long as you allocate 4-1/2 hours to make the recipe, I’m sure you’ll enjoy them. 4-stars.

A long wait, but ultimately they were delicious


  1. Chris Kimball says to use “ribs that are 4 to 6 inches in length and have at least 1 inch of meat on top of the bone.” If only we had the same butcher! Instead I used what was available, which were meaty, but just regular short ribs. I have never need “English-Style” short ribs.
  2. Be sure to line your baking dish with aluminum foil to avoid a baked-on mess requiring 24-hours soaking in order to clean.
  3. At first when I read the recipe, I thought that your could either cook the ribs in one of 3 methods; oven, charcoal or gas-grill; each for almost 2 hours. But as I made the recipe I realized the the ribs required 2 hours in the oven before spending another 2 hours on the grill. Unfortunately we ate dinner at 8PM.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $28.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Start time 1:30 PM. Ready at 6:00 PM.

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

2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/4 teaspoons paprika
3/4 teaspoon ground fennel
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
5-lbs bone-in, “English-style” beef short ribs
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon spice rub; reserved from step 1.
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

  1. In a small bowl, combine kosher salt, brown sugar, pepper, cumin, garlic powder, paprika, ground fennel (which I didn’t have) and cayenne pepper. Mix to combine and set aside 1 teaspoon in a another small/medium bowl rub for glaze.
  2. Set a rack to the middle of your oven and pre-heat to 300-degrees. Evenly cover all sides of ribs with spice rub; press rub so that it sticks. Line a 13″x9″ Pyrex baking dish with aluminum foil and set ribs with the meat-side up, putting the thicker ribs around the edge of the baking dish. Sprinkle the vinegar evenly over ribs. Use aluminum foil to tightly cover the baking dish, and bake for about 1h45m. The internal temperature of the ribs should be 165-degrees.
  3. While the ribs bake, whisk together all the ingredients for the glaze.
  4. Prepare your grill by opening the bottom and top vents half-way. Set a little unlit charcoal (only about 2 quarts) on one half the grill. Light a chimney starter half-full (about 3 quarts) with charcoal. When the coals are ready empty over the until coals (leaving half the grill without any coals).
  5. Put the ribs with the meat-side up on the cool side of the grill, beginning about 2″ from the coals. Brush the ribs with 1/4-cup of glaze. Cover the grill and cook for about 2 hours until the internal temperature of the ribs is 195-degrees. Brush the ribs with glaze every 30 minutes.
  6. When done, tent with aluminum foil and allow the ribs to rest for 5 minutes.

Buffalo Chicken Caesar Salad

June 11, 2012

A few hours before dinner I though I was going to make this classic Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad. I considered using the quasi-sous vide method, but after re-reading that post I simply broiled the chicken in my oven until browned (and the internal temperature reached 165-degrees).  But at the last-minute I had a craving for something spicy, so I slathered the chicken breasts in buffalo sauce. The result was good, but the regular Caesar Salad faded in the face of the extreme boldness of the buffalo sauce. Next time I will add 1/4-cup of the buffalo sauce to the salad dressing. My stomach gives this recipe a solid 4-stars; but my head must override and give 3-1/2 stars. Delicious, but there is room for improvement; not well-balanced.

Last minute change satisfied my craving for something spicy


  1. The Parmesan cheese is somewhat wasted here, because it is so overpowered by the buffalo sauce. I’d recommend saving the $2 and omitting it. In my case, though, I gave my older, finicky son just plain Chicken Caesar Salad. For him the Parmesan was critical.
  2. In the past, I have tried grilling my buffalo chicken, and I see on the internet that some people like the combination. But I personally find the two flavors, the smokiness from the grill and spiciness of the sauce; do not compliment each other. This is why I opted for broiling the chicken.
  3. My boneless, skinless chicken breast were on a super sale; only $1/lb. The recipe would have cost $9 had I paid the regular sale price of $2/lb.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $7.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:30 PM. Ready at 6:00 PM.

Here is the Cook’s Illustrated link to the Caesar Salad Recipe. Chris Kimball’s original Buffalo recipe is here.  My descriptions of how I prepare it today are given below:

Buffalo Chicken Breasts:
4-lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
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. Set an oven rack to high position in your oven and pre-heat the broiler on high. Trim any excess fat away from chicken breasts. Set a wire rack over a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet.
  2. 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.
  3. Reserve 1/4 cup of sauce incorporate into dressing, and to ensure that your chicken isn’t too spicy.
  4. Flip your chicken after first side has browned. Remove the chicken from the broiler when the internal temperature has reached 160-to-165-degrees.
  5. Loosely tent with aluminum foil until ready to serve.

Caesar Salad:
1 large clove garlic
3 tablespoons Lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
6 anchovy fillets
2 large egg yolks
5 tablespoons canola oil
5 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
2 ounces finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2-1/2 romaine hearts

  1. Rip the romaine into 3/4″ pieces; then rinse and dry in a salad spinner.
  2. Peel garlic cloves. Press directly into a large bowl, and add lemon juice and allow to stand for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, minced the anchovies and use a fork to mash to form a paste. Grate the Parmesan cheese and set aside.
  4. Add Worcestershire sauce, minced anchovies, and 2 egg yolks into garlic/lemon juice mixture. Whisk until it is combined.
  5. While whisking constantly, slowly pour the canola oil and olive oil into the bowl. Whisk until the dressing has become fully emulsified. Finally, whisk in 1/2-cup grated Parmesan cheese and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
  6. Add romaine lettuce to bowl and toss until the dressing is evenly coating the lettuce. Add croutons and gently mix gently.
  7. Slice the chicken crosswise into 1/2″-thick slices, put sliced breast into skillet containing the Buffalo sauce. Move and flip to cover in sauce.
  8. Serve salad immediately on individual plates or bowls, then add one chicken breast on top of each salad.
  9. Pass the remaining Parmesan cheese separately.

Taco Pizza

June 9, 2012

I’ve never heard of Taco pizza until this week when my eldest son asked for it specifically. Because he can be such a finicky eater I was anxious to please him, plus I coincidentally had left-over taco meat from the prior evening. I wanted a crisper crust than my usual dough, so gave this recipe from Bobby Flay a try. Bobby Flay said that using bread flour would yield a much crisper crust, but unfortunately it was bready; not at all crisp. But the toppings where all straight-forward and my son loved it. I gave it only 3-1/2 stars, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a success. However, there is room for improvement.

Made without a specific recipe, it was good enough to please a teenager.


  1. Having never even seen a taco pizza before, I guessed at the amount of lettuce. But my son wanted more that included in the picture.
  2. If I were making this pizza for myself I would have added diced avocado, but the pizza was not for me.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $5.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 4:30 PM. Ready at 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s doesn’t have a recipe for Taco Pizza.  My descriptions of how I prepare it today are given below:

Pizza Dough:
1 cups water
3/4 teaspoon sugar
3/4 tablespoon instant dry yeast
2-1/2 cups bread flour (12 ounces)
3/4 teaspoons table salt
1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil

  1. Warm 1 cup of water in the microwave for 30 seconds until it reached 110-degrees.
  2. Combine bread flour, sugar, yeast and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer.  Turn on the standing mixer equipped with dough hook on low-speed and slowly add the water plus 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Mix for 4 minutes until forms a dough ball. Adjust the consistency of the dough by adding 1 tablespoon of flour or water at a time until the desired consistency is obtained.
  3. Lightly flour a work surface and knead into a ball. Spray a large bowl with non-stick vegetable spray, add the dough, cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow the dough to double in size; about 1 hour.
  4. Meanwhile cook your taco meat and prepare you other toppings.
  5. Empty dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and cover with plastic wrap to allow the dough to rest of 10 minutes.
  6. Carefully stretch your dough into a thin, round crust.

Pizza Toppings:
8-ounces Taco Meat
8-ounces tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 scallion
1 tomato
2 large leaves of romaine lettuce
8-ounces mozzarella
3-ounces mild cheddar cheese

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 400-degrees and set an oven rack to the middle position in your oven.
  2. I used about 8-ounces of leftover taco meat, but otherwise cook it while the dough was rising.
  3. Add 8-ounces of canned tomato sauce to a small saucepan together with cumin and coriander. Cook over medium burner, stirring occasionally.
  4. Meanwhile, shred your mozzarella and cheddar cheese. Thinly slice your scallion; seed and dice you tomato.  Thinly slice your lettuce.
  5. Spread your sauce on top of the pre-formed pizza crust, and evenly spread your grated cheeses. Top the pizza with pre-cooked taco meat.
  6. Bake the pizza for 15 minutes until the cheese has melted and slightly browned.
  7. As the pizza emerges from the oven blot away any excess grease with paper towels.
  8. Top pizza  with lettuce, tomatoes, and scallions. Slice and serve.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

June 6, 2012

Three years ago I traveled to the Jamaica. The culinary highlight of the trip was eating Jerk Chicken in the place where Jerk Chicken was born; Boston Bay. Their secret is to marinate the chicken long enough to incorporate the spiciness into the chicken itself, rather than simply relying on sauce to impart flavor. I was shocked to find that even Kingston’s Jerk Chicken relies on sauce. Another key reason why I thought good Jerk chicken was impossible outside of Jamaica; the use of Pimento wood (what Jamaicans call pimento we call allspice). Chris Kimball solves this insurmountable obstacle by the use of foil-wrapped, water-soaked herbs and wood chips. If you close your eyes, the resulting aromatic smoke will make you think you’re sitting in Jamaica. Rarely does Chris Kimball get a spicy recipe so right, but today he hit a home run with his Jerk chicken recipe. The best Jerk chicken outside of Boston Bay, but beware: it’s extremely hot. You’ll need at least 2 cold beers to finish your dinner. 4-1/2 stars.

A rare home-run for Chris Kimball with a spicy recipe

I once tried to make Jerk Chicken on my own, but I failed to even match the Jerk Chicken from Kingston; must less Boston Bay. That attempt was my own recipe, because I had completely rejected Chris Kimball’s only previous Jerk Recipe because it used 1/4-cup of brown sugar (which is absurd).


  1. Today I used 3 habaneros (used about 20% of seeds) and the results were authentically spicy. I needed 2 cold beers to finish my meal. Two habaneros will also provide a lot of heat, but might be a better place to start until you are sure you can handle the heat. Next time I might try just 2 chiles.
  2. Be sure to marinate the chicken for a full 24-hours, otherwise your flavor will not permeate into the meat of your chicken.
  3. If you don’t properly clean and season the grill in step 6 then the skin will stick to the grill.
  4. I used 4-lbs of breasts and allow the chicken to marinate for 24 hours. There seemed to be enough marinade for at least 4-1/2 to 5 pounds of chicken.
  5. If you go to Jamaica, the only thing better than Jerk Chicken is Jerk Pork.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $9.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:30 PM. Ready at 6:00 PM. (of course I started marinating the day before)

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

Jerk Marinade:
1-1/2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
1 tablespoon whole allspice berries
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
3 Habanero chiles
8 scallions
6 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons finely grated lime zest (2 to 3 limes)
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
2-1/4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3-lbs bone-in chicken pieces (split breasts cut in half, drumsticks, and/or thighs)

Smoking Packet:
2 tablespoons whole allspice berries
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons dried rosemary
2 tablespoons water
1 cup wood chips

  1. Coarsely grind the whole coriander seeds, the allspice berries and whole peppercorns in a spice grinder. Add freshly ground spices to blender.
  2. Discard the stem from the chiles. Remove and reserve the ribs and seeds, then cut into quarters. Add to blender. Roughly chop scallions and garlic and add to blender. Add all the remaining ingredients (except the chicken) to the blender and process until a smooth paste forms. Empty the paste into a gallon-sized Zip-Lock bag.
  3. Trim the chicken to remove any excess fat (or ribs) and cut the breasts is half cross-wise. Add the chicken to the marinade and remove as much air as possible from the zip-lock bag. Allow to sit a room temperature for 30 minutes; flipping the bag over after 15 minutes. Refrigerate for 24-hours.
  4. Combine the spices for the smoke packet with 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl, and allow to hydrate for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, soak 1 cup of wood chips separately.
  5. Open the top and bottom vents of your grill halfway and even arrange about 1 quart of unlit briquettes over half the grill (should have a single layer). Ignite a chimney starter 1/3-full with briquettes, and allow coals to become partially covered with gray ash. While the charcoal ignites, wrap the soaked chips and moistened spice mixture in heavy-duty aluminum foil, then use a paring knife to cut five or six vent holes in top of the packet.
  6. Empty the lit coals on top of until coals, leaving half the grill empty. Put the wood chip/spice packet on top of the coals. Replace grate clean the grill, and season with vegetable oil (otherwise the skin will stick to the grill).
  7. Leave some marinade on the chicken, and put chicken skin-side-up as far away from the heat as possible. Arrange so that the dark meat is closest to the heat, and the white meat is further. Cover grill so that the vent holes are directly over the chicken. Cook for 30 minutes.
  8. Flip chicken skin-side-down as you move the chicken directly over the coals. Cook for about 10 minutes until well browned. Flip the chicken again skin-side-up and cook for about 15 more minutes directly over the coals until the chicken reaches the correct temperature; 160 degrees for breasts and 175 degrees for thighs/drumsticks.
  9. Move to a serving platter and tent loosely with aluminum foil for 5 minutes. Slice limes for serving.

Potato Dinner Rolls with Parmesan and Black Pepper

June 3, 2012

I made Chris Kimball’s new potato bread dinner rolls, and chose this variation that includes Parmesan cheese because I thought that it would add great flavor. I was somewhat disappointed, given them just 3-star. My son said that these potato rolls were not as good as store-bought potato bread. Considering their freshness, that is stinging criticism from a 13-year-old boy. In my opinion the problem may have simply been a lack of salt. Anyone who has eaten under-salted bread knows the severity of the issue, but it’s so basic that Chris Kimball should have certainly perfected the amount of salt. He includes just 1 teaspoon of salt; half the salt included in the rustic dinner rolls a few weeks ago.

The rolls were good, but needed more salt.


  1. I used a little more than 1 pound of russet potatoes in order to obtain my 1/2-pound of mashed potatoes. I gave the extra mashed potatoes to my youngest son, who absolutely loves mashed potatoes.
  2. Chris Kimball warns against using potatoes that are too hot in step 5. But by the time you are ready to mix it will almost certainly be lower than 110-degrees.
  3. Be sure to use bread flour, as all-purpose flour does not contain enough protein to support the potatoes.

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

1 pound russet potatoes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2-1/4 cups bread flour (12 1/3 ounces)
1-1/2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (3/4 cup)
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 large eggs

  1. Peel your potatoes and cut into 1″ cubes. Put potatoes in medium saucepan and add enough water to cover, but don’t salt the water. Bring up to boil over high burner, then reduce to medium-low. Simmer for 10 minutes so that the potatoes are cooked through.
  2. Before draining potatoes, reserve 5 tablespoons of the potato cooking water.
  3. Drain potatoes and return them to the saucepan set over a low burner. Cook them for 1 minute, shaking occasionally, so that all moister from the surface of the potatoes evaporates. Then remove from heat.
  4. Process the potatoes through ricer (or mash them well using a potato masher). Measure 8 ounces and put in bowl.  Cut the butter into 4 pieces and stir into potatoes until melted.
  5. Add bread flour, 1/2-cup Parmesan (1-oz), yeast, sugar, salt, and pepper in bowl of stand mixer. Ensure the potato mixture isn’t more than 110-degrees, then add to flour mixture. Mix together with your hands until combined, leaving a few large lumps isn’t a problem. Add 1 egg and the potato water you reserved in step 2. Turn on standing mixer (equipped with dough hook) to low, and mix for 10 minutes until the dough becomes soft. Don’t be fooled into adding more water too early in the mixing process if the dough appears too dry.
  6. Spray a large bowl with non-stick vegetable spray. Empty dough only counter and shape into a dough ball. Add to prepared bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let sit at room temperature for 40 minutes until the dough has doubled in size.
  7. Empty the dough out onto an un-floured counter (lightly dusting with flour only if dough is too sticky to handle). Pat dough into an 8″ square of even thickness. Use a chef’s knife to cut dough into 12 even-sized pieces (3 rows by 4 rows). Each roll should weight 2 ounces. Separate and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  8. Form each piece of dough (keeping remaining pieces covered with plastic wrap) into smooth balls. Chris Kimball recommends a technique of cupping your hands around the dough ball, and moving in circular motions on the counter-top (without applying any pressure on the dough). This will allow the inherent tackiness of dough to work itself into smooth, even balls. Place rolls on prepared baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic and allow to rise at room temperature for 40 minutes until they have doubled in size. Meanwhile, adjust a rack to upper-middle of your oven. Pre-heat to 425-degrees.
  9. Lightly beaten 1 eggs with 1 teaspoon water and pinch salt. Brush each roll carefully with a little egg wash. Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of grated Parmesan cheese on each roll (1/4 cup total). Bake in your 435-degree oven for 12 to 14 minutes until the rolls become deeply golden brown. Be sure to rotate the rolls halfway through baking to ensure even baking. Put baking sheet on wire cooling rack for 5 minutes, then remove from baking sheet and allow them to cool directly on the wire rack for another 15 minutes. They can be served warm or at room temperature.

Rolled and almost ready to go into the oven

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