Chocolate Chip Cookies

October 29, 2014

A couple of years ago Chris Kimball came up with a variation on the classic Toll-house chocolate chip cookies. He called them “Perfect”. I first made them in 2010, and while I loved them I hardly considered them perfect. In the ensuing years, I’ve adjusted the recipe to my family’s desire for a classic chocolate chip cookie, backing away from some of Chris Kimball’s changes. For example, I’ve stopped browning the butter. The resulting nuttiness made the cookies taste delicious, but made them into something other than a classic chocolate chip cookie. I still melt the butter, because it makes the dough so easy to mix.

I added back 1/3-cup flour for thicker cookies (on the left)

I added back 1/3-to-1/2-cup flour for thicker cookies (on the left)

The other major change, I added back an extra 1/3 to 1/2-cup of flour. The original Toll House recipe calls for 2-1/4 cups flour. Chris Kimball’s original idea was to make larger, thinner cookies. See the photos for the side-by-side difference. While to cookies were fine on the first day, the flatter cookies get stale faster. Much to my children’s chagrin, I don’t let them eat them all in one day.


  1. The recipe calls for 10-oz of chocolate chips, they are always sold in 12-oz bags. You can either save the 1/4-cup of chocolate chips (which will never go to waste) or add them to the cookies. My kids have NEVER complained, “Dad, these cookies have too many chocolate chips”.
  2. Chris Kimball’s original recipe called for 1-3/4 cups flour, in case you wanted to give it a try. All the other ingredients listed below are unchanged.
  3. For High-Altitude the cookies may spread too much in the oven. Chris Kimball says to use less sugar, increase oven temperature and decrease baking time.
  4. If you think that the cookies are too dry, Chris Kimball recommends adding an extra egg yolk.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $3.50 for 16 large cookies.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Small/Medium.
Start time 2:00 PM. Snack time 3:00 PM.

The Cook’s Illustrated original recipe is here.  The recipe as I cooked it today is as follows:

2-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (10-ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1-3/4 sticks)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (3-1/2 ounces)
3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar (5-1/4 ounces)
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1-1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips or chunks (10-ounces)

  1. Set a rack to middle of your oven and pre-heat oven 375-degrees. Cut parchment to match the size of two 18″x12″ baking sheets.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine flour and baking soda, whisk briefly and set aside.
  3. Set 10″ skillet over medium-high burner and melt 10 tablespoons of butter (leaving 4 tablespoons butter) for about 2 minutes. If desired, continue cooking and swirling skillet constantly for between 1 to 3 minutes until the butter becomes dark golden brown and smells nutty. Remove from burner and empty into a large heatproof bowl, adding 4 more tablespoons of butter into hot butter and stir until completely melted.
  4. Add granulated and brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons vanilla to the bowl with the melted butter. Whisk until it becomes fully incorporated. Add 1 egg and extra yolk; whisk for about 30 seconds until it becomes smooth and there are no lumps of sugar. Allow to sit for 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat the resting and whisking process 2 more times until mixture becomes thick, smooth, and shiny.
  5. Stir in flour mixture with a stiff rubber spatula or wooden spoon for 1 minute, until it just combines. Stir in chocolate chips until evenly distributed and ensuring that no flour pockets remain.
  6. Divide dough into 16 portions, each portion is about 3 tablespoons (or you can use #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2″ apart on parchment-lined baking sheets (you will have 8 dough balls per sheet unless you are using smaller baking sheets, which will require 3 batches).
  7. Bake them 1 tray at a time for between 10 to 14 minutes, rotating the baking sheet 180-degrees half way through cooking. The cookies will be done when they become golden brown; the edges will begin to set but the centers will still be soft.
  8. Allow cookies to cook on a wire rack. Chris Kimball says to allow the to cool completely before serving (lol. Like that’s going to happen)
While thicker and softer, the same weight looks smaller

While thicker and softer, the same weight looks smaller

Pumpkin Bread

October 25, 2014

At this time of year pumpkin is everywhere. My oldest son is a fanatic for Pumpkin Pie, but I wanted to give him an alternative to his favorite dessert. This bread is a quick bread (i.e. uses making powder/soda instead of yeast), and has all the traditional seasoning for a pumpkin pie. While the ingredient list is long, I had everything in my kitchen already. The recipe makes a wonderful seasonal alternative to banana bread. Surprisingly, my pumpkin-fanatical son only had two slices. Hmmm, go figure. Overall the recipe yields great pumpkin-pie-flavor, a moist interior with a perfect hint of sweetness on top. 4-stars.

Moist loaf of Pumpkin Bread

Moist loaf of Pumpkin Bread

IMPORTANT HALLOWEEN TIP. How to prevent squirrels from eating your pumpkins.


  1. Chris Kimball recommends two 8-1/2″ by 4-1/2″, but I think most people only have 9″x5″  loaf pans. The resulting loaves will be a bit squatter and will need to be check 2 to 3 minutes earlier.  I could only find 1 of the 2 necessary 9″x5″  loaf pans, so I substituted my Pullman loaf pan (18″x4″), which made one long loaf instead of two shorter ones. The substitution of pans lengthened the baking time by 2 to 3 minutes.
  2. While I recently made homemade pumpkin puree by roasted my own sugar pumpkin, today I used a can of Libby’s. One of the motivations of this recipe was to remove the raw, metallic flavor of canned pumpkin, so I wanted to test the effectiveness of that element of the recipe too. It worked.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $5.50.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time: 2:00 PM. Ready at: 5:00 PM.

The Cook’s Illustrated original recipe is here.  The recipe as I cooked it today is as follows:

Topping Ingredients:
5 tablespoons packed light brown sugar (2 1/4 ounces)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt

Bread Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour (10 ounces)
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
15-oz can unsweetened pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup granulated sugar (7 ounces)
1 cup packed light brown sugar (7 ounces)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4-oz cream cheese
4 large eggs
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup walnuts (4-1/2 oz)

  1. To prepare the topping, add all the ingredients in small bowl. Use your finger to mix until well combined. It should resemble wet sand. Set it aside until Step 7.
  2. Cut your cream cheese into 12 pieces. Toast 1 cup walnuts an a small, dry skillet then chopped fine. Set aside.
  3. Set a rack to middle of your oven and pre-heat to 350-degrees. Grease two 8-1/2″ by 4-1/2″ loaf pans.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and baking soda.
  5. Put a large saucepan over medium burner, add pumpkin puree, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Cook and stir for 6 to 8 minutes until it is reduced to 1-1/2 cups. Remove saucepan from heat and add granulated and brown sugar, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, cream cheese. Stir until combined and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Use a whisk until there is no longer any visible cream cheese. It should appear homogenous.
  6. In another small bowl, whisk together the 4 eggs and 1/4-cup of buttermilk. Add into the saucepan with the pumpkin and whisk until combined. Fold in flour mixture from Step 4 until generally combined, but a few small lumps of flour are alright. Fold the chopped walnuts.
  7. Use a rubber spatula to evenly divide batter into the two prepared pans. Evenly sprinkle the topping from Step 1 over both loaves. Bake in the 350-degrees oven for 45 to 50 minutes until a skewer inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. If you are using 9″x5″ loaf pans, then you should star checking for doneness 5 minutes earlier.
  8. Allow bread to cool in the pans set on wire rack for 20 minutes, then remove bread from pans and allow to cool for another 1-1/2 hours. The bread can be served either warm or at room temperature.

Garlic-Parmesan Mashed Potatoes

October 20, 2014

In the past, I’ve added cheese to mashed potatoes (see here and here), and the results have always been creamy and delicious. But today’s potatoes didn’t seem creamy enough for my taste, and the garlic seemed a little too raw (I realize a certain amount of that rawness was Chris Kimball’s goal).  I preferred the Aligot. I made these Garlic-Parm mashed potatoes as part of a mid-October turkey breast dinner. (I didn’t publish an update to the Turkey because there were no real changes from the last time). I rate these potatoes 3-1/2 stars; delicious, but the texture wasn’t as cream as I like, and the garlic overpowered the Parmesan.

Part of a delicious turkey dinner

Part of a delicious turkey dinner

Interestingly, Cooks Country published a similar recipe sans garlic. Comparing the two, I understand why the Asiago substitution isn’t necessary in today’s recipe (because the garlic would have overpowered any subtleties introduced by the inclusion of two kinds of cheese). The main other difference is that the butter, milk/cream, and cheese are treated differently. The Cook’s Country recipe claims that warming the 3 dairy in the same skillet will result in a silkier texture; which might have addressed one of my complaints about today’s recipe.


  1. I used New Jersey potatoes, which are similar to the “Eastern Potatoes” that I often use. They appear to have similar starch levels to Yukon Gold potatoes, but have a much whiter appearance.
  2. This is the first recipe I’ve made from the new Nov/Dec 2014 issue.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $4.50.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 4:45 PM. Dinner time 5:00 PM.

The Cook’s Illustrated original recipe is here. The recipe as I cooked it today is as follows:

2-lbs Yukon Gold potatoes (I used Jersey potatoes)
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1-1/4 teaspoons garlic (added in two parts)
1-1/2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (3/4 cup)
1-1/4 teaspoons Salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2/3 cup warm whole milk

  1.  Peel your potatoes and slice them into 1/2″-thick slices. Put potatoes in large saucepan and cover by 1-inch of cold water. Put saucepan over medium-high burner, and bring up to a simmer. Adjust your burner to that you maintain a gentle simmer for between 18 to 22 minutes, until a paring knife inserted in the center of potatoes meets no resistance. Drain potatoes into a strainer.
  2. While potatoes cook, combine garlic powder and 1/2 teaspoon water in small bowl. Mince the garlic until it turns into a paste. Cut butter into 4 pieces and add to an 8″ skillet. Place over medium-low burner until melted. Add 1 teaspoon garlic paste and 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder mixture; cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly, until it becomes slightly golden. Empty the butter mixture into medium serving bowl. Add grated Parmesan, 1-1/4 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon garlic paste. (You can use the residual heat of the 8″ skillet to gently warm your 2/3 cup whole milk)
  3. Put the now-empty saucepan over low burner. With the ricer or food mill over the saucepan, work in batches to process the potatoes. Using a rubber spatula to stir in butter-Parmesan until it becomes incorporated. Stir in warm milk until incorporated.
  4. Put into medium serving bowl. Adjust salt and pepper according to your taste, and serve immediately.

Homemade Pumpkin Puree

October 17, 2014

One unshakable truisms in the kitchen is “that fresh is always better than canned”. While those ubiquitous Libby’s can say “100% pumpkin” and are seductively easy to use, its slight off flavor has always made me want to roast my own pumpkin. In past years, I’ve read that I need to find “sugar pumpkins” (whatever those are), which are 8-to-10″ in diameter and have a darker orange exterior compared to jack-o’-lantern pumpkins. Hmm. Is that really all I’ve got to go on? And the difference is important: Sugar pumpkin have more flavorful and denser flesh. They are drier, and thus take less time to cook.

IMPORTANT HALLOWEEN TIP. How to prevent squirrels from eating your pumpkins.

After paying extra attention this year, I did finally notice that a few markets are properly labeling them as “sugar pumpkins” or “pie pumpkins”. In my case, I found a 5-3/4 pound sugar pumpkin, which yielded 2 pounds of pumpkin puree. That’s enough to make two pies, and only required about 15 minutes of work (over the course of nearly 3 hours).

BTW, I am planning to use the same Pumpkin Pie recipe that I’ve used for the past 3 years. Based upon a simple tasting of the pumpkin puree, the flavors are much deeper and more flavorful. I’m sure that this will make for a 5-star pumpkin pie!


  1. The pumpkin puree should be used within 4 days or frozen in an air-tight container (with parchment paper pressed onto the surface of the pumpkin) for up to 2 months.
  2. I did try to roast the pumpkin seeds, but didn’t pay close enough attention as they baked in the same hot oven as the pumpkin. They overcooked, but fortunately didn’t burn, which could have ruined the pumpkin puree.

Cost: $2.50.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time: 2:00 PM. Done at: 4:45 PM.

The Cook’s Illustrated original recipe is here. The recipe as I cooked it today is as follows:

1 small sugar pumpkin

  1. Set a rack to the middle of your oven and preheat to 375-degrees.
  2. Cut pumpkin in half from top to bottom. Remove the seeds and pulp. Line a rimmed-backing sheet with parchment paper, and set pumpkin halves with the cut-side downwards.
  3. Roast for 45 to 60 minutes until the flesh can be easily pierced with a skewer. Flip the pumpkin over and roast for 30 minutes more.
  4. Scoop flesh from skin into a food processor, process until smooth. Unless you have a full-sized food processor, you will need to process one half at a time (i.e. in two batches).
  5. Drain the puree in a fine-mesh strainer, set over a bowl for 1 hour. Mine lost about 6 ounces of water.
  6. To test consistency, pack some of your puree into a small drinking glass and unmold it onto a plate. It should slump gently toward base but otherwise hold its shape. Loosen as necessary with drained liquid, or return puree to strainer and continue to drain it if it is too loose.
  7. Measure out puree into two 16-oz containers before freezing. A typical Libby’s can weighs 15-ounces.
  8. When you use cook with it, you should use it exactly as your would canned pumpkin.

Vanilla Extract

October 14, 2014

I’ve waited patiently for 10 months as my Vanilla Extract slowly steeped. I waited and waited for it to transform in the richly-dark, extravagantly-decedent vanilla that as I’ve wanted, but it just hasn’t happened. Don’t get me wrong the flavor is good (and the aroma is heavenly), but it’s slightly less potent than store-bought McCormick’s. After waiting so long I am somewhat disappointed that the Higher Intensity (Recipe #3 and #4) didn’t completely outshine McCormick’s. I guess there is a reason why McCormick’s is so expensive (and is Cook’s Illustrated vanilla extract of choice). So, I am now moving on to the same step that saved by last batch of vanilla extract from 2010; using a fresh set of beans to increase the potency.

Extract needs to be double extracted

Extract needs to be double extracted

After 4 years of experimenting with different recipes and techniques, the lessons of my project are……….

MORE BEANS EQUALS MORE FLAVOR. After experimenting with 8 difference recipes, it is clear that being stingy with your beans will yield worthless vanilla extract. But also, adding more beans only helps up to a point. There is a point of diminishing returns, beyond which you are throwing your beans away. In my opinion, that point appears to be recipe #3, between 150% and 165% of the minimum FDA-Formula. Extracting more flavor requires new techniques.

DOUBLE DUNK YOUR BEANS.  This is the secret step. Don’t throw away those used beans! Even after you have already used your beans to create an extract, they still have more flavor to give. Cut up your beans into 1″ segments and pre-soak them in enough vodka to make your next batch. Allow them to just sit for a year (or two) until you’re ready to make your next batch. The head-start will yield otherwise unachievable results. If this is your first batch, I still think that you need to swap out the beans for new beans after a few months. I was unable to match store-bought potency without using two sets of beans during the extract process.

AVOID EXTRACT-GRADE BEANS. While the consensus on the internet is that “Extract-Grade” or “Grade B” beans are most suited to make vanilla extract (mostly for cost reasons), I was so disappointed with their quality when I first it 4 years ago that I will probably never buy extract-grade beans again. And when I want them for other purposes, extract beans just won’t made the grade. Besides, the end result is cheap enough where I don’t really care if I pay 75-cents versus 45-cents per ounce.

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE. Those internet recipes that tell you to wait just a week or two are wrong (including Chris Kimball). After 2 months, you can begin to use your steeping bottle in recipes. While waiting beyond 4 to 6 months won’t do any harm, such extended periods of time won’t help the extract to become any more intense. If it is not strong enough after 6 months, switch your beans and use the old beans to pre-steep your next batch.

And the winner is……….

RECIPE #3. For the winning recipe I used 6 beans weighing 1-3/8-ounces plus 7-1/3-oz vodka, equaling 166% of the minimum FDA-strength. The winning recipe cost just 75-cents per ounce to make. My supermarket charges $17 for a 4-oz bottle of McCormick’s, and $25 for a 8-oz bottle; roughly 4 to 5 times the cost of home-made vanilla extract.  However, if your not willing to invest the 4 to 6 months (and the $25) into the process, there are certainly less expensive places to buy Vanilla than your supermarket.

Other final thoughts……….

  • USE FRESH BEANS. While vanilla extract can last forever, the beans themselves seem to remain fresh for about a year. They tend to dry out (still there are additional steps you can take to re-hyrdate them). I think Vanilla extract could be made from dry-ish beans, but they are more difficult to slice open and remove the caviar; possibly dangerously difficult.  Personally, my experience with old and tough beans was terrible. While it ultimately boils down to the quality of the final extract that most concerns me, fresh beans are simply a joy to work with. I made the current year’s (2013) batch of vanilla from wonderfully fresh beans.
  • BEAN COUNT. Just as with shrimp, vanilla beans are sold based upon their size, with lower number per pound being more expensive. It takes, on average, 100 “Grade A” vanilla beans to equal one pound. The average number of extract-grade (“Grade B”) vanilla beans is 140 to 160 per pound. If your bean provider isn’t up front then I recommend contacting your seller before placing your order to ensure that you aren’t surprised.
  • THE PERFECT BOTTLES for gift are here. The amber helps protect the vanilla from light.
  • MINIMUM FDA-STRENGTH for vanilla extract . anything less is just vanilla flavored booze.



Chicken Fingers with General Tso’s Dipping Sauce

October 12, 2014

As a single father, you can be sure that I’ve made quite a few chicken nuggets (see here , here, here, here and here). But in my opinion, the biggest leap forward in chicken nugget evolution came a few years ago when I switched away from breading-based nuggets. I adapted this batter fried chicken recipe and used it to make batter-based nuggets; which has become my go to recipe. But a recent job change means that I simply cannot afford the requisite 1 hour and 15 minutes to make them (and be left with a pretty big mess in the kitchen) on a weeknight. Today’s recipe promises make-ahead convenience without sacrificing the crispness of the final chicken. I was skeptical, but was excited to give them a try. Unfortunately, the recipe yielded barely enough chicken for one meal, so I had nothing left-over (which I was intending to serve for dinner one night and use the left-overs as “make-ahead”). The chicken fingers are solid, 3-1/2 stars. Cooking with such a small amount of oil greatly simplifies clean up. There are a few minor issues (see comments below).

Easy to make and not much of a mess

Easy to make and not much of a mess


  1. While I love the idea of cooking with just 1/4-cup of oil per batch, it simply did not work in my kitchen. My Cook’s-Illustrated-recommended, 12-inch TFal skillet does not have a perfectly flat cooking surface (it’s raised slightly in the middle, pushing the oil to the sides).
  2. The recipe calls for a ridiculously small amount of chicken; just 1-1/2 pounds; enough for a single dinner. I’m not sure why they advertise this recipe as a make-ahead time-saver. I suggest doubling the recipe (The brine is already enough to accommodate 3 pounds of chicken fingers. Increase Panko from to 3 cups. Use 3 eggs; maybe 4).
  3. While the original recipe calls for 2 cups of Panko, there was a lot of leftover. I’ve reduced the amount in the recipe to 1-1/2 cups.
  4. The original recipe called for 3 eggs, but I’ve reduced the recipe to use 2 eggs.

So many Dipping Sauces……

  1. I’ve previously made General Tso’s Chicken. While that recipe wasn’t a perfect replicate of classic General Tso, it was delicious nevertheless. Chris Kimball has finally come out with a General Tso’s recipe, which was the basis from which I adapted it for use as a dipping sauce. My adaptation is at the bottom of this post.
  2. A classic and simple BBQ Dipping Sauce Recipe is here. But it yields more sauce than I usually need, so I would recommend cutting the recipe in half.
  3. I made a delicious Hoisin Sesame Dipping Sauce.
  4. Another sweeter Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce is here. I thought that this sauce was disproportionately sweet (which was okay with my kids).
  5. A spicier version is Spicy Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce. I loved the fresh lime juice in this sauce.
  6. Spicy Orange Dipping Sauce. But beware, the recipe uses a habanero chile, so it was pretty hot.
  7. Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce. Chris Kimball have a basic recipe using only honey and mustard. However, the recipe yields a cup; probably need to use down by at least 50%.
  8. Spicy Jamaican Jerk Dipping Sauce. The recipe yields a lot of sauce. Start by cutting the recipe in half.

Storing and Reheating……

  1. Transfer cooled chicken fingers to zipper-lock freezer bags, press out air, and seal. Freeze for up to 1 month.
  2. Do not thaw before reheating.) Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Place chicken fingers on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet and bake until heated through and crisp, about 30 minutes, flipping chicken halfway through baking. Serve.
  3. To cook, simply heat the oven to 350 degrees, and bake them until they’re heated through and crisp, about 30 minutes, flipping the chicken halfway through cooking.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $4.50.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 4:45 PM. Dinner time 5:00 PM.

The Cook’s Illustrated original recipe is here. and was published by CNN here. The General Tso’s Chicken recipe from which I adapted the sauce is here. The recipe as I cooked it today is as follows:

Chicken Fingers Recipe:
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
2 large eggs
1-1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
3/4 cup vegetable oil

  1. Trim chicken and cut lengthwise into 3/4″-wide strips.
  2. In a large bowl, add 2 cups of cold water and dissolve 1 tablespoon of salt. Add chicken fingers to brine, ensure that they are entirely submerged, cover with [plastic wrap and refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, toast the 2 cups of Panko in a 12″ nonstick skillet over medium heat, swirling constantly so that it brown evenly.
  4. Also, prepare 3 shallow dishes as follows: (1) add flour, onion powder, garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper to a pie plate is whisk until combined. (2) lightly beat 3 large eggs, and (3) spread the toasted panko into a third pie plate.
  5. When chicken has finished brining, discard the brine and pat chicken dry using paper towels.
  6. Working in batches, dredge chicken in flour mixture, dip in eggs, then coat with panko, pressing gently to adhere; transfer to large plate.
  7. Put a wire rack set inside a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet.
  8. Wipe of skillet and pre-heat 1/4 cup oil over medium burner until it begins to shimmer. Cook one-third of chicken in skillet for 3 minutes per side until it turns golden brown. Be sure to check the temperature of the larger pieces, as a few of mine didn’t cook to 165-degrees. Transfer to prepared wire rack and they become ready.
  9. Wipe out skillet and repeat shallow frying the remaining batches. Serve immediately and allow the chicken cool for 30 minutes before freezing.

General Tso’s Dipping Sauce Recipe:
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1-1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoons sugar (or I suggest substituting 2 tablespoons apricot or orange jam)
1 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

  1. Combine water, hoisin sauce, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl and stir with a fork until cornstarch is dissolved and no lumps remain. Set aside.
  2. Add oil to a small saucepan. Saute garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes for 1 minute. Add the hoisin mixture, making sure to scrape out and sugar or starch that has sunk to the bottom. Cook, stirring, until sauce boils and thickens, about 1 minute. Transfer sauce to a dipping bowl and serve.

Red Chile Salsa

October 9, 2014

When I made this Mexican Feast over the weekend, the menu included two Red Chile sauces that were nearly identical. One was for these Folded Enchiladas, and the other was to accompany the Carne Asada. I made both recipes to see which one I preferred, but there is absolutely no other reason to make two such similar recipes. In my opinion, the two recipes are completely interchangeable; they are so close that I would not think twice about using either recipe for either purpose. The Enchilada Sauce includes chicken broth instead of water (I would opt for the chicken broth) and adds a tablespoon of vegetable oil (which I thought slightly improved the consistency). Overall its a simple, basic sauce that can be used with many different types of Mexican food. 3-stars.

Red chili sauce

Red chili sauce

The recipe makes a generous 2 cups. I found that there is no way for me to use so much sauce, even when I made Mexican food all week long. But the size of the $1 can of tomatoes means that there is not really a chance to scale back the batch size.

Rating: 3-stars.
Cost: $2.50.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 4:45 PM. Dinner time 5:00 PM.

The Cook’s Illustrated original recipe is here. The recipe as I cooked it today is as follows:

1-1/4-oz dried guajillo chiles
14.5-oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
3/4 cup water
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Pinch ground cloves

  1. Put a 10″ non-stick skillet over a medium-high burner. Wipe guajillos clean and toast them for 1 to 2 minutes per side until soft and fragrant. Move to a plate and allow to cool until you are able to handle. Remove the stems and seeds, and rip into pieces. Put in blender and process for 60 to 90 seconds until finely ground, scraping down the sides as required.
  2. Add diced tomatoes and their juices, 3/4 cup water (or chicken stock), 3/4 teaspoon salt, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, 1/8 teaspoon pepper and a pinch of ground cloves to blender. Process for 60 to 90 seconds until very smooth. Scrape down the sides of blender a few times. Taste and adjust salt.
  3. you can store the salsa in the refrigerator for 5 days, or freeze for as much as 1 month.

Folded Enchiladas

October 7, 2014

Most Enchiladas are an elaborate affair and stuffed with some type of slow cooked meat, for example these 3-hour Beef Enchiladas that I made a few years ago.  Today’s folded enchiladas are intended as a simple side-dish. In this case, I made them as part of my big-Mexican meal. They come together in about 1/2 hour with very little effort, and are cooked mostly in the microwave. Given the minimal effort, I was surprised that they were so popular at my dinner table; even my picky-eating-son was happy with them. Overall, I would rate them 3-1/2 stars; an excellent side-dish that will compliment most Mexican meals.

Folded enchiladas

Folded enchiladas


  1. My supermarket doesn’t reliably sell Queso Fresco, so I substituted Monterrey Jack. Obviously a much different flavor, but not a big deal given that this was just a side-dish.
  2. Step 4 of the recipe calls for an 8″ square, Pyrex baking dish. Because my rectangular Pyrex casserole dish won’t fit in my microwave oven, I used a round Pyrex pie plate. Nobody noticed anything unusual.
  3. The guajillos stained the soft-rubber lid of my blender. Even after soaking in soapy water for a week, I am still unable to get it clean.
  4. In addition to the sauce for this recipe, I made a very similar (but slightly different) Red Chili Sauce. There was so much leftover sauce (both kinds) that there is no need to make two recipes. If you are making Enchiladas, then just make the Enchilada sauce. Otherwise, just make the Red Chili Sauce.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $2.50.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:30 PM. Dinner time 5:00 PM.

The Cook’s Illustrated original recipe is here. The recipe as I cooked it today is as follows:

2/3 ounce dried guajillo chiles
8-oz can tomato sauce
1 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
12 (6″) soft corn tortillas
Vegetable oil spray
1 small onion
2 ounces queso fresco, crumbled (1/2 cup)

  1. Put a 10″ non-stick skillet over a medium-high burner. Wipe guajillos clean and toast them for 1 to 2 minutes per side until soft and fragrant. Move to a plate and allow to cool until you are able to handle. Remove the stems and seeds, and rip into pieces. Put in blender and process for 60 to 90 seconds until finely ground, scraping down the sides as required.
  2. Add tomato sauce, 1 cup broth, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, garlic, 1 teaspoon vinegar, and 1 teaspoon cumin to blender and process for 60 to 90 seconds until very smooth. Scrape down the sides of blender a few times. Taste and adjust salt.
  3. Spray both sides of tortillas with oil spray and stack on plate. Microwave, covered, until softened and warm, 60 to 90 seconds.
  4. Put 1 cup enchilada sauce in large bowl, then working with 1 tortilla at a time, dip into sauce and coat both sides, fold into quarters, and arrange in 8″ square baking dish (enchiladas will overlap slightly in dish). I had to use a round pie plate
  5. Finely chop your onion and crumble the queso fresco.
  6. When ready to serve, pour the remaining sauce evenly over enchiladas. Microwave for 3 to 5 minutes until hot throughout. Sprinkle evenly with onion and queso fresco. Serve.

Simple Refried Beans

October 4, 2014

I have made refried beans from scratch before, and it’s only about 25 minutes of work (but spread over 24 hours). When compared to a canned refried beans, the difference is like night-and-day. This time I followed Chris Kimball advise, and abandoned my dried pinto beans in favor of canned whole beans. Overall, the dried beans require overnight soaking, but are only a few minutes more work. The ingredient list in today’s beans is shorter, and the bacon (in lieu of salt pork) is a more convenient ingredient; not requiring an extra trip to the supermarket. Still, I would recommend adding a few of spices to improve the simple flavor; it doesn’t add any extra effort. The simple recipe as written is 3-stars.

Easy refried beans

Easy refried beans


  1. When compared to this other recipe, I would recommend adding any of the following ingredients that you happened to have available:
    -Substitute 1/4-cup chicken stock for the 1/4 cup water.
    -1 minced jalapeno chile, seeded. (added with the onions)
    -1/4 teaspoon ground cumin (added with the garlic)
    -1/2 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro leaves (added at the end)
    -1 teaspoon fresh lime juice (added at the end)
    -A little crumbled queso fresco or grated jack or mozzarella cheese.
  2. I was a little worried about using a metal potato mashed in my non-stick skillet, but the beans are thick enough to the potato masher never touches the pan.
  3. I made these refried beans as part of my Mexican Feast.

Rating: 3 star.
Cost: $2.50.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 4:30 PM. Dinner time 5:00 PM.

Cook’s Illustrated original recipe is here. The recipe as I cooked it today is as follows:

2 slices bacon
1 small onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
15-oz can pinto beans (do not rinse)
1/4 cup water
Kosher salt

  1. Cook two slices of bacon in a 10″ non-stick skillet over medium-low burner for about 8 to 9 minutes; flipping bacon and rearranging as necessary so that it cooks evenly.
  2. Meanwhile finely chop your onion, and peel your garlic cloves.
  3. After the bacon has rendered it’s fat and has crisped, remove it to a paper towel to soak up any extra fat. Chris Kimball says to “reserve for another use”, but I crumbled it on top of the finished beans.
  4.  Turn up burner to medium, and saute the chopped onion in the bacon fat. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes until it lightly browns. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
  5. Empty the canned beans (including their liquid) and 1/4 cup of water into the skillet with the onions. Bring up to a simmer. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, while mashing the beans with a potato masher until it becomes mostly smooth
  6. Season with salt to taste, and serve.

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