Pot Stickers with Scallion Dipping Sauce

July 22, 2014

While comparing different recipes is a bit like comparing apples to oranges, this may be my favorite ATK recipe of all time. These dumplings are filled with flavor, are tender on the inside with have nice carmelization on their bottoms. The soy based sauce is a little predicable, but the saltiness is so traditional that I haven’t yet strayed from the original recipe. The base recipe is very straight-forward, only requiring a little bit of patience during the filling/sealing process. Be careful not to overfill them or they will close properly, but you can squeeze some of the excess out if necessary. The only logistical problem is that the batches take 20 minutes and yield between 12 to 14 dumplings, so unless you have two non-stick skillets they are difficult to make for a regular sit-down dinner for 4 people; coming and going from the table every 20 minutes to eat 3 dumplings. But worth the inconveniences, I absolute love them and give them a full 5-stars.

Perhaps my favorite ATK recipe

Perhaps my favorite ATK recipe

Comments / Issues:

  1. My 12.5″ non-stick skillets (the Chris Kimball recommended T-Fal), makes 14 dumplings at a time, and based upon my wrappers I needed 3 batches. I froze on the batches for cooking next week; they cook the same way with no need to thaw.
  2. I used to be able to buy round gyoza wrappers from my local supermarket. While I guess I may be able to find a local Asian market, in the meantime I am using frozen .
  3. Be careful that the dumplings don’t stick to the sheet pan is step 3. Some of mine did, and I suggest a very light spray with non-stick cooking spray.
  4. Sometimes I just use regular cabbage (rather than napa cabbage), especially around St. Patricks day because it tastes the same and is much cheaper.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $9. For about 40 dumplings.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Last Batch at 7:00 PM.

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

3 cups minced napa cabbage leaves (from 1/2 medium head)
3/4 teaspoon table salt
3/4 pound ground pork
4 minced scallions
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
4 teaspoons soy sauce
1-1/2 teaspoons minced or grated fresh ginger
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed (about 1 teaspoon)
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

24 round gyoza wrappers (see note)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup water, plus extra for brushing

Scallion Dipping Sauce:
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon chili oil
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 medium scallion, white and green parts, minced

  1. Minced 1/2 head of napa cabbage leaves, add to a colander and toss with 3/4 teaspoon salt. Set over a bowl and allow to wilt for 20 minutes. Use a rubber spatula to press down to extract any excess moisture. Empty into a medium bowl, combine the remaining filling ingredients and mix until combined. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes (up to 24 hours).
  2. When ready to assemble, work with 4 dumplings at a time to prevent the wrappers from drying out. Keep the remaining wrappers covered with plastic wrap. fill, seal, and shape the dumplings using a generous 1 teaspoon of the chilled filling per dumpling
  3. As you complete the dumplings, set the on a baking sheet and repeat step 2 until you have made all your dumplings. Once assembled you can refrigerate for up to 1 day, or freeze them for up to 1 month. (If frozen, do not thaw before cooking.)
  4. Line a large plate with two layers of paper towels, which you will use after cooking. Make dipping sauce by combining all ingredients in small bowl, which will make about 3/4 cup.
  5. Brush 1 tablespoon of oil in a 12″ cold non-stick skillet. Arrange 12 dumplings in the skillet with the flat side down, overlapping the tip as necessary. Put over medium-high burner and lightly brown dumplings for 5 minutes without moving.
  6. Turn down burner to low, and add 1/2 cup of water and immediately cover. Cook for 10 minutes until the water becomes absorbed and the wrappers are slightly translucent. Uncover and turn up the burner to medium-high and cook (again without moving) for 3 to 4 minutes until the bottoms are well browned. Put dumplings onto paper-towel lined plate (browned-side down) and allow to briefly drain, before setting onto a serving platter.
  7. Allow the skillet to cool until just warm and wipe out using paper towels. Repeat from step 5 with the next batch of 12 dumplings.
  8. Serve alongside the scallion dipping sauce.

Cookie Dough Ice Cream

July 9, 2014

I poured my heart into making my son a wonderful chocolate/coffee cookie-dough ice cream cake for his 15th birthday, but the regular cookie dough recipe turned much too hard when frozen. I have since experimented with a lot of different tricks and techniques, and am pleased to be able to offer some insight. I cut the flour down to 1 cup, and also tried to substitute liquids that remain softer when frozen; I omitted the egg whites, and used heavy cream which has less water. Also, I substituted vegetable oil in lieu of some butter to keep things soft. The butter that I did use, I browned to compensate for the substitution. The mini-chocolate chips also made the dough seem softer. The result is very good both in terms of texture and flavor. 4-stars, still a little room for refinements of the cookie dough.

Vanilla-bean, Cookie-Dough Ice cream cake

Vanilla-bean, Cookie-Dough Ice cream cake

The problem with using regular cookie dough is that it is meant to withstand the high-heat of an oven and then served either warm or at room temperature. When frozen, it becomes rock hard.


  1. Be sure to use unsalted butter or the recipe will be too salty. If you must use salted butter, cut the salt down to 1/4 teaspoon.
  2. I used many of Chris Kimball’s techniques found here, but adapted them for the freezer.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $10
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time: 12:00. Dinner time: 5:00

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

8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup packed dark brown sugar (6-1/2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup heavy cream or milk
2 large egg yolk
1 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (5 ounces)
1 cups semisweet mini- chocolate chips (6 ounces)

  1. Melt the stick of butter in 10” skillet over medium-high burner for 2 minutes, and continue cooking butter for about 4 more minutes, swirling pan constantly, until the butter becomes dark golden brown and has nutty aroma. Empty browned butter to large heatproof bowl using a heatproof spatula. Stir 1/4 cup vegetable oil into hot butter.
  2. Add brown sugar, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated.
  3. Add egg yolk and heavy cream. Whisk for 30 seconds until the mixture becomes smooth with no sugar lumps remaining. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream:
1-1/4 cups of 2% milk.
1-3/4 cup heavy cream.
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar.
1/3 cup light corn syrup.
1/4 teaspoon salt.
6 egg yolks.
1 vanilla bean.
2 teaspoon vanilla extract.

  1. Prepare a large bowl of ice water; to be used as an ice bath after removing milk from stove-top. Place metal sheet pan in freezer.
  2. Add milk, heavy cream, about half the sugar (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons), 1/3 cup corn syrup and 1/4 teaspoon salt to a medium saucepan. Use a paring knife to cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, then use the back of the knife to scrape out vanilla seeds (caviar). Add both the caviar and the empty stalks to the saucepan.
  3. Warm over medium burner for 5 minutes until the mixture reaches 160°; stir occasionally to ensure that the sugar completely dissolves. Temporarily remove pan from heat to prevent the milk from boiling.
  4. Meanwhile in a small bowl, beat the yolks together with 1/4 cup sugar.  Never let your yolks/sugar sit for more than a few minutes. Temper the yolks by whisking in 1/2 cup of the 160° milk/cream. Then whisk in a second 1/2 cup to further temper.
  5. Add the milk/yolk mixture back in with the milk in the saucepan. Cook over medium burner until the mixture reaches 180°; stir constantly with heat-proof spatula. Cooking too long will scramble your eggs.
  6. While the mixture heats up, wash your medium bowl and place it in ice batch.
  7. When the mixture reaches 180°, immediately strain your mixture through a fine-meshed strainer into the medium bowl (discarding empty vanilla pods). The ice batch will allow the mixture to cool in about 30 minutes; stirring occasionally will help. Then place the bowl in freezer for about 1/2 hour to 1 hour to further reduce the temperature. The mixture will begin to freeze along the sides of the bowl, which you should scrape down to further reduce the temperature.
  8. Add mix into the ice cream machine’s canister. Churn for 30 minutes, or per manufacturer’s instruction.
  9. If making a cake, line your sheet pan with plastic wrap and lay ice cream in a roughly even layer. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for 1 hour. After an hour, use a rolling pin to work into an even layer. Freeze for at least 2 more hours before serving.
Cookie-Dough as a middle layer

Cookie-Dough as a middle layer

Shu Mai

February 28, 2014

The dumplings were beautiful and delicious, but take a fair amount of patience to assemble. You will need to practice a bit on the technique to pinch together the pleats; a total of 8 pinches per dumpling and then rotating the dumpling so that the pleats all swirl in the same direction. It’s definitely worth the effort. Chris Kimball recommends serving with a chili oil. While the chili oil was fine, I found it unsatisfying and would recommend skipping it altogether. If you decide to make the chili oil start immediately after putting the mushrooms to soak in Step 1.  I enjoyed a more traditional soy-sauce-based-dipping-sauce. I threw my sauce together without a recipe, but Chris Kimball has a few good alternatives; e.g. here and here.  Overall, the dumplings were a big success; 4-1/2 stars. Delicious flavors, and the cutest dumplings I’ve ever seen.

Delicious but needs dumpling sauce

Delicious but needs dumpling sauce

Comments / Issues:

  1. The Chili oil recipe yielded about four times as much as necessary, so I modified the recipe (given below) to yield a more reasonable amount. The Chili oil is quite hot, so be careful if you have a delicate palate.
  2. Fortunately, I was able to use my 3-1/2″ biscuit cutter and still get two full-size cut-outs for each 5-1/2″ egg roll wrapper. The original recipe calls for a 3″ biscuit cutter (but I wanted to use the one I already had in my kitchen).
  3. My local Chinese take-out charges $6 for 8 dumplings, so my $12 work of dumplings would cost me $30. However, these are much cuter, and I am always suspicious of the ingredients my local Chinese restaurant uses.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $12 for 42 dumplings.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:30 PM. Dinner time 6:30 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The Chili Oil recipe is here. The descriptions of how I cooked both the Shu Mai and the Chili Oil today are given below:

Steamed Dumplings:
4 dried shiitake mushroom caps (3/4 ounce)
1 pound boneless country-style pork ribs
1/2 pound shrimp
1/4 cup water chestnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
2 teaspoons grated ginger
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon unflavored powdered gelatin
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon Chinese rice cooking wine or can substitute dry sherry
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 package 5-1/2 inch egg roll wrappers (1 pound)
2 carrots

  1. Soak the dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water for 30 minutes. Defrost shrimp, peel and remove vein. Cut eat shrimp in halved lengthwise. Cut the pork ribs into 1″ pieces. Chop the water chestnuts, and mince 2 tablespoons of cilantro. Finally, grate 2 teaspoons of fresh ginger. After the mushrooms have soaked for 30 minutes, squeeze then dry, and cut into then 1/4″ pieces.
  2. Add the soy sauce to a small bowl, sprinkle in the gelatin and let it bloom for 5 minutes. Finely grate carrots on the small holes of a box grater.
  3. Meanwhile, place half of pork cubes into a food processor and pulse ten 1-second pulses (should be ground into 1/8-inch pieces). Put ground pork in a large bowl.
  4. Add 1/2-lb shrimp and remaining pork to food processor and pulse five 1-second pulses (should be ground into 1/4-inch pieces). Add to the same bowl with other ground pork.
  5. Add soy sauce mixture, chopped water chestnuts, mushrooms, cornstarch, cilantro, sesame oil, wine, vinegar, sugar, ginger, salt, and pepper to the bowl and mix until well combined.
  6. Use a 3-1/2″ biscuit cutter to cut two rounds from each egg roll wrapper. You can cut in stacks of 6 to 7 wrappers at a time. Cover rounds with moist paper towels to prevent them from drying out.
  7. Lay out 6 rounds at a time, brush the edges lightly with water. Place a heaping tablespoon of the filling mixture in the center of each round. With each hand, lift opposite sides of wrapper and pinch to form two pleats. Rotate 90 degrees and pinch again to form two more pleats. Continue two more times until you have eight folds.
  8. Pick up the dumpling. Using your thumb and index finger (as if to form the OK sign, but with the Shu Mai in the middle) gently squeeze near the top of the dumpling to form a “waist.”
  9. Use your middle finger to support the bottom of the dumpling and pack down the filling using your other hand (or a butter knife). Place on a piece of parchment paper sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Immediately cover with damp paper towel to prevent them from drying out. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.
  10. Place a small pinch of grated carrot on the center of each dumpling; mostly for appearance. I have also seen a single pea used.
  11. Cut a round piece of parchment slightly smaller than your dutch oven and poke 20 holes, and put it over your improvised steamer. Spray the parchment with non-stick cooking spray. I had to cook the dumplings in two batches, to make sure that they don’t touch. Be careful because they will plump slightly during steaming. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes per batch. Serve immediately with chili oil.

Chili Oil:
3 tablespoons peanut oil
3 tablespoon crushed red pepper
1-1/2 small garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1-1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
3/4 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon table salt

  1. Heat oil in small saucepan over medium heat until it measure 300 degrees on and instant-read thermometer.
  2. Remove pan from heat and stir in pepper flakes, garlic, soy sauce, soy sauce, sugar and table salt.
  3. Let cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour. Discard garlic before serving.
Worth the effort

Worth the effort

Valentine’s Day Truffles

February 16, 2014

I made these truffles once before. While the cocoa powder coating was a disaster, my main complaint was the unbearable monotony of having 64 exactly-equal truffles. So this year for Valentine’s Day, I pulled out all the stops and made more than a dozen variations. They turned out beautiful, even though I sat home alone on Valentine’s Day (well, alone with my two sons). The variety started with two base fillings; (1) the chocolate ganache in the original recipe, and (2) a peanut butter filling. I formed both into round balls, and I describe below how I turned these two varieties into at least a dozen unique truffles. Overall, the truffles need to be made in two phases, (1) prepare the ganache/peanut butter balls (about 3 hours total), and (2) the final assembly (about 1-1/2 hours). The chocolate mixture needs at least 2 hours between the steps, and the peanut butter needs to freeze solid. Of course, they turned out to be a perfect 5-star.

A bucket of truffles

A bucket of truffles

It was important for me to try to make a lot of unique truffles. Here’s how I did it. For the chocolate ganache, I used to following techniques to make 10 different varieties.

  1. Cocoa powder coating.
  2. Rolled in chopped nuts.
  3. Dipped in Milk chocolate and placed on parchment paper to form round balls.
  4. Same at #3, but using Dark chocolate.
  5. Made cups, putting a dab of melted Milk and/or Dark Chocolate in the bottom of a cup, putting a small truffle, then another dab of chocolate.
  6. Same as #5, but top with some chopped nuts. Between #5 and #6 there were 4 difference variations.
  7. I used a toothpick to decorate some of the milk chocolate truffles with melted dark chocolate.

For the Peanut Butter, I used to following techniques to make 4 different varieties.

  1. Dipped in Milk chocolate and placed on parchment paper to form round balls.
  2. Same at #1, but using Dark chocolate.
  3. I made classic peanut butter cups, both with milk and dark chocolate.

Comments / Issues:

  1. Below there are three parts. I would recommend preparing the first three parts the night before you plan to do the finally assembly. The Peanut Butter balls especially need to be frozen solid of they will not slice. The next day, be sure to remove them from the freezer at the last-minute, and only in batches of about 7 to 8.
  2. Microwaving at 50% power on my counter-top microwave was not enough. I needed 80% power.
  3. The recipe says to use an 8″x8″ pan, yielding 64 pieces. I used a 7″x7″ pan and got 49 slightly-larger pieces. If you are using 1-1/2″ cups, then I would suggest the slightly larger size.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $20.
How much work? Medium/High.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Start time 12:00 PM. Dinner time 4:00 PM.

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

Chocolate Ganache Ingredients:
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon espresso powder (optional)
1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

  1. Lightly spray a 7″-to-8″ square baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Prepare a parchment sling by folding 2 sheets of parchment so that they are as wide as the inside of baking dish. Arrange to two sheets of parchment perpendicular to each other, with extra hanging over edges of pan. Firmly push into corners and up sides of pan to that the parchment is flush to baking dish.
  2. Roughly chop the chocolate and put in a medium microwave proof bowl. Microwave at 50% power (or 80% for a counter-top microwave) for 2 to 3 minutes; stirring once or twice. The chocolate should be mostly melted, but there should remain a few small pieces of chocolate. Set aside.
  3. In a Pyrex measuring cup, microwave cream for 30 seconds until it is warm to touch. Add corn syrup, vanilla and the pinch of salt; stirring to combine. Pour the cream mixture over the chocolate. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to sit, without stirring, for 3 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, microwave butter for 20 second to soften and cut into 8 pieces.
  5. After 3 minutes, use a wooden spoon to combine cream into chocolate, then add small butter cubes one at a time, until everything becomes fully incorporated and smooth.
  6. Empty ganache into the prepared baking dish, and use a rubber spatula to even out. Allow to sit at room temperature for 2 hours.
  7. Cover pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (or up to 2 days)

Peanut Butter Filling:
16-to-18 ounce jar of creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup powdered milk
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder for dusting your hands.

  1. Lightly spray a 4″x8″ loaf pan with vegetable oil spray. Prepare a parchment sling by folding 2 sheets of parchment so that they are as wide as the inside of loaf pan. Arrange to two sheets of parchment perpendicular to each other, with extra hanging over edges of pan. Firmly push into corners and up sides of pan to that the parchment is flush to the pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the peanut butter, dry milk, and sugar until combined; you should have a stiff mixture.
  3. Empty peanut butter mixture into the prepared loaf pan, and use a rubber spatula to even out. Freeze for at least 3 hours.
  4. Grip overhanging parchment and lift to remove from loaf pan. Cut into thirty-two 1″ squares (8 rows by 4 rows).
  5. Keeping remaining squares as frozen as possible, work in batches of 8. Dust your hands in cocoa powder to prevent the peanut butter from sticking to your hands. Roll into round balls and place on parchment-lined baking sheet.
  6. Cover balls with plastic wrap and freeze again for at least 2 hours. (I’m talking about cooking! lol)

Final Assembly:
1 pound Milk Chocolate
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa (1-1/2 ounces)
2 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar (1/2 ounce)
1-1/2″ mini cup-cake liners
1 pound Bittersweet Chocolate

  1. Break milk chocolate into rough chunks, and melt in a bowl set over simmering water (later you will melt the dark chocolate in step 8).
  2. Prepare the coating by sifting the cocoa and sugar through fine-mesh strainer into large bowl. Sift again into a pie plate and set aside.
  3. Wipe out large bowl from previous step with paper towel, chop nuts, and place in the freshly wiped bowl. Set aside.
  4. Grip overhanging parchment and lift ganache. Cut into sixty-four 1″  squares (8 rows by 8 rows). If the ganache cracks while you are slicing, allow to sit at room temperature for about 5 to 10 minutes before proceeding.
  5. Use the dusting powder to cover your hands so that theganache doesn’t stick to your hands. Use your hands to roll each square into a round ball, re-applying dusting powder as necessary to keep it from sticking to your hands. I would suggest rolling in big circles between your hands. If at first they don’t roll, eventually the warmth from your hands will allow you to succeed.
    1. For those truffles that you want to coat in powder, transfer to pie plate and evenly cover with powder, then lightly shake to remove excess powder.
    2. For those truffles that you want to cover in nuts, more them around bowl with chopped nuts, pressing the nuts firmly
    3. For those truffles that you want for milk chocolate balls, drop in melted chocolate and fish out using a fork. Tilt to allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the pan, then transfer to parchment lined backing sheet. After you get about 6 to 8 balls, put them into freezer for 1 minute to set the chocolate.
    4. If some of your squares of ganache are small, then make in mini cup cake wrapper. Put a dab of melted Chocolate in the bottom of a cup, putting a small ganache ball, then another dab of chocolate to top. Sprinkle some of them with left-over chopped nuts.
  6. Working in batches of 6 to 8 peanut butter balls, cut those that you want to make into peanut butter cups in half, and leave the remaining peanut butter balls un-sliced.
    1. For those truffles that you want for milk chocolate peanut butter balls, drop in melted chocolate and fish out using a fork. Tilt to allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the pan, then transfer to parchment lined backing sheet. After you get about 6 to 8 balls, put them into freezer for 1 minute to set the chocolate.
    2. For those truffles that you want peanut butter cups; Put a dab of melted chocolate in the bottom of a cup, putting a half-ball with the flat side upward. Add another dab of chocolate to top, and smooth so that the top is flat. I would suggest doing the peanut butter cups last, so that you know how much extra chocolate you have. That will dictate how full you fill the cups.
  7. Return all unused peanut butter balls to the freezer.
  8. Break dark chocolate into rough chunks, and melt in a same bowl containing the remaining milk chocolate. Continue to simmer pot of water, ensuring that the water doesn’t boil.
  9. As the dark chocolate melts, dip the tip of a toothpick into the melted dark chocolate and draw some designed some of the finished milk chocolate truffles; especially 5.3 and 5.4 (nut-less).
  10. Assemble the remaining truffles as you did in step 5 and 6, saving the peanut butter cups until last (and fill to a level based upon available chocolate).
  11. Cover container and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 1 week. Let truffles sit at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Vanilla Extract – Week 2

December 17, 2013

2 weeks ago I started a new batch of homemade vanilla extract. It’s starting to look a little better. Mostly as I have already surmised; more beans means more flavor. Oddly, there is one exception. My recipe #4, the double-strength extract, seems paler than recipe #3 (even similar to recipe #2). This seems so counter-intuitive that I will make a second jar of recipe #4, because that jar used exceptionally fat beans. When making my “control jar” I will use more average-sized beans (but still my super-sized 68-beans-per-pound).

After 2 weeks, it's looking a little cloudier

After 2 weeks, it’s looking a little cloudier

My Four Vanilla Extract Recipes for Round 2:

  1. 60% of the minimum FDA-strength: Based upon Chris Kimball’s 1993 recipe using super-size beans. I used 2 beans (1/2-ounce) and 8-oz of vodka. The cost is 25-cents per ounce of vanilla extract.
  2. 120% of the minimum FDA-strength: The recipe is slightly more potent than the minimum FDA-Strength. I used 1 ounce of beans and 8-oz of vodka, whereas the FDA requires only 0.83-oz beans per cup. The cost is 46-cents per ounce of vanilla extract.
  3. 166% of the minimum FDA-strength: I am hoping that this recipe gives me the big vanilla flavor that I am searching for. I used 6 beans weighing 1-3/8-ounces plus 7-1/3-oz vodka. The cost is 75-cents per ounce.
  4. 211% of the minimum FDA-strength: Gives me a full double-strength vanilla extract. The recipe used 7 beans weighing 1-3/4-oz plus 7-oz vodka. The cost is $1.03 per ounce.

Better Homemade Vanilla Extract

December 8, 2013

A few years ago, I made a quart of homemade vanilla extract, based upon 4 different recipes. I considered all 4 recipes a failure, and abandoned the project after a few months. I added a bunch more vanilla beans, and was able to salvage my investment and produce enough “acceptable” vanilla extract, which has lasted for a few years. The last of my homemade vanilla extract is now gone, and I am ready to revisit my efforts to make a better vanilla extract.

After just 4 days, only Chris Kimball's recipe looks weak.

After just 4 days, only Chris Kimball’s recipe looks weak.                  (Recipe 1 to 4 are in order left to right)

The lessons I learned from my first experiment are:

  1. MORE BEANS EQUALS MORE FLAVOR. Within a few short weeks it became clear that the only real determinant in the strength of the extract is the amount of beans used. More beans equals more flavor. While I had tried Chris Kimball’s 2009 method of heating the vodka prior to adding the vanilla beans, that technique had absolutely no affect on the final outcome. Because the extract process takes three to six months, any increase in temperature lasting only a few hours will obviously have no real effect.
  2. 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 that I will probably never buy extract-grade beans again. Last time my extract-grade beans (150 beans per pound) cost $16 per 1/2-lb. “Grade A” beans require approximately 100 beans to make one pound. Even better, the beans that I am using today are 68 beans per pound, which cost me $28 per 1/2-lb.  While costing 75% more, I definitely wanted to see if the higher-quality beans were worth the extra cost. So far, I am thrilled with them. Here is a link showing the description of the beans I bought.
  3. 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, but there are still additional steps you can take to re-hyrdate them. Vanilla extract can be made from dry-ish beans, but it is a question of the quality of the final extract that most concerns me. My experience with old and tough beans was terrible, so I wanted to try making the extract from the current year’s crop (2013).

Just as last time, I am making four recipes to evaluate how to obtain the best vanilla extract. The recipes that I am making now are generally much stronger than my last attempt. You can see the summary of this second round here. The four recipes I am follow are here:

  1. Recipe 1: (60% of FDA):  I wanted to give Chris Kimball’s 1993 recipe another try, using my high-quality beans. These super-size beans mean that his recipe represents 60% of the minimum FDA-strength, whereas using two extract-grade beans represented just 25% of the FDA-minimum. Today, I used 2 beans (1/2-ounce) and 8-oz of vodka. Using my half-pound of beans, I could make a total of 1 gallon vanilla extract (or 32 four-ounce-bottles).  The cost is 25-cents per ounce, or $1 for a 4-oz bottle.
  2. Recipe 2: (120% of FDA) It’s the closest to regular FDA-Strength, and want to see if the higher quality beans make this recipe acceptable. I used 1 ounce of beans and 8-oz of vodka, whereas the FDA requires only 0.83-oz beans per cup. Using my half-pound of beans, I could make a total of 64-ounces of vanilla extract; sixteen 4-oz-bottles. The cost is 46-cents per ounce, or $1.86 for a 4-oz bottle.
  3. Recipe 3: (166% of FDA)  Of the four recipes, this is the one that I’m most hoping works out. I want big vanilla flavor, but still to keep the cost down. I used 6 beans weighing 1-3/8-ounces plus 7-1/3-oz vodka. Using my half-pound of beans, this recipe will yield a total of 48-ounces of vanilla extract; or twelve 4-oz-bottles. The cost is 75-cents per ounce, or $3 for a 4-oz bottle.
  4. Recipe 4: (211% of FDA). Because recipe 3 does not represent a full doubling of the FDA requirements, and I know that bakers especially love to use double-strength vanilla, I wanted to include this option as an upper end. The recipe used 7 beans weighing 1-3/4-oz plus 7-oz vodka. Using my half-pound of beans, I could make a total of 32-ounces of vanilla extract; or eight double-strength 4-oz-bottles. The cost is $1.03 per ounce, or $4.13 for a 4-oz bottle.

Additional comments and considerations:

  1. Chris Kimball’s 1993 and 2009 recipes have both been removed from his website. Good riddance! While I’m still including a version of the 1993 recipe in this experiment, it is only remotely feasible based upon these super-sized beans. Realistically I think recipe 2 or 3 will be the ultimate victor in this shoot out.
  2. McCormick’s won Chris Kimball’s 2009 taste test, and is the most important company with regards to vanilla production (not just commercial brands). They control about 40% of the world trade of vanilla. I will use McCormick’s in my taste tests as this experiment continues.
  3. There are two main varieties on beans used to produce vanilla extract: Bourbon and Tahitian. Most vanilla extract is made using Bourbon beans. The Bourbon refers to Reunion Island, located near Madagascar, which was mostly called Bourbon Islands between 1649 and 1848. Bourbon beans do not typically use bourbon (the alcohol) to extract the vanilla flavor.
  4. Many commercial extracts also add sugar, which takes away the natural bitter aftertaste. Buying/making it without sugar will allow the extract to keep indefinitely. Plus all recipes in which you use your extract also add sugar, so there’s absolutely no reason to incorporate sugar into your extract.
  5. Vanilla keeps for at least 10 years without any loss in potency or flavor; though McCormick’s puts an expiry date about 2 years out. If properly stored in cool, dark place, most say that it only improves with age, and any fine red wine.
  6. I recommend contacting your seller about bean size before placing your order. If a potential bean vendor won’t tell you how many beans per pound, then don’t buy it. “Extract Grade” (a.k.a. “Grade B”) vanilla beans should be 140 to 160 per pound. “Grade A” requires about 100 beans to equal one pound.
  7. The FDA defines Vanilla Extract to contain at least 35% alcohol. I used 80 proof (40%) Vodka because of its neutral flavor, but theoretically any alcohol can be used; rum, bourbon or brandy is sometimes used. There is no benefit to using expensive vodka; I used 1.75 liter bottle of Svenka that cost me $13. I have read using significantly higher proof will hinder, rather than help, the extraction process.
  8. The perfect bottles for gift are here. The amber helps protect the vanilla from light.
  9. Cost of McCormick’s is about $4 per ounce, but most others are $2 per ounce. Based upon these super-high-quality beans, my FDA-strength cost about 50-cents per ounce, and my double-strength cost just $1 per ounce.

Finally, after you’ve finished your with your extract, you’re beans still have more to give. You have a couple of choices:

  1. You don’t need to filter your vanilla after the 6-month extraction process. You can just leave the beans in your extract for years, and it will only improve the flavor. The only downside is that there will be seeds floating around and included in your recipes. That isn’t a bad thing, but visually it is more pleasant to see the pure, dark liquid without anything floating around.
  2. After my last batch, I added some new vodka to a mason jar containing the used beans, then let it steep for nearly three years. I ended up with an extra 12-ounces of 60%-strength vanilla extract, pictured below.
  3. Chris Kimball tried to dry and grind the spent pods, but he was unhappy with malty flavor that the vanilla powder gave. He recommends sticking to extract and “new” beans.
  4. Lastly, people make vanilla sugar out of their spend beans. After slowly drying the beans in a very low oven, simply bury them in granulated sugar for a month. Here is an article, and Cook’s Country has a related article here.
Made re-using beans after they had already been extracted.

Made re-using beans after they had already been extracted.

Crispy Potato Tots

March 24, 2013

My first Tatar-Tot-experience was from my mediocre Jr. High School’s cafeteria. Even still, they were delicious and I never figured out why my mother never made Tator Tots when I was growing up. I have always loved them, and I’ve made them for my kids many, many times; but only from a bag. So I was excited to see in the latest season of Cook’s Country that Tator Tots can be made from scratch. I made them for a recent sleepover with 5 teenage boys. They were easy to make, but there were a few minor problems. First, 10 minutes in my microwave didn’t seem to fully cook the potatoes, compromising both texture and flavor.  They were just undercooked, not raw, so an extra 2 to 4 minutes would be enough extra time. Second, I failed to properly estimate the amount of time they would take to prepare. Budget a full 1-1/2 hours. Third, the boys wanted the Tots to be round; not square. Fortunately, the bar to make a sleepover a success is set pretty low; having more to do with the smile on my face than perfectly cooked Tator Tots. As they were, I can only give them 3-1/2 stars. Not worth the effort when compared to the bag. But I will try them again and update the review if I am more successful next time.

Homemade rectangular Tator Tots

Homemade rectangular Tator Tots


  1. Chris Kimball warns that if you have a food processor with capacity less than 11 cups, that you need to process the potatoes in two batches. I did this, using half the water in each batch.
  2. When I pressed the water out of the potatoes I didn’t check to see if I yielded 1-1/2 cups of liquid. If I didn’t, that may explain why the potatoes didn’t fully cook during the 10 minutes in the microwave.
  3. Chris Kimball says that you can cool the fried leftovers, then put in a zip-lock bag. They can be frozen for up to 1 month. Bake at 400-degrees for 12 to 15 minutes to re-heat.

Rating: 3-1/2 star.
Cost: $2.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 4:30 pm. Dinner Time:  6:00.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here.  The descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below, but the ingredient list has already increased the amount of cheese according to my recommendations above :
2-1/4 teaspoons table salt
2-1/2 lbs russet potatoes
1-1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 cups vegetable oil

  1. Whisk 1 cup water and salt together in bowl until salt dissolves.
  2. Peel your potatoes and cut them into 1-1/2″ pieces.
  3. In one or two batches depending upon the size of your food processor, add the potatoes chunks and water. Pulse 10 to 12 times until the potatoes become coarsely ground. Empty into a fine mesh strainer and use a rubber spatula to press out 1-1/2 cups of liquid.
  4. Put potatoes into a large glass bowl and microwave (uncovered) for 10 to 14 minutes; stir potatoes once after 5 minutes. The potatoes should become dry and sticky.
  5. Add 1-1/2 tablespoons flour and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, mix until combined. Allow to cool for 10 minutes by spreading the potatoes out on a foil-lined sheet pan. Use a spatula to push the mixture to the center of the foil, and put in an 8″ square cake pan. Use a spatula to evenly spread the potatoes, then fold the foil over and firmly press the potatoes to ensure they are even, compact and fill the corners. Freeze for 30 minutes, so that they are easier to cut.
  6. While the potatoes freeze, begin pre-heating your oil over a high burner to 375-degrees (about 10 minutes).  If you want to serve both batches at the same time, pre-heat your oven to 200-degrees. I served the first batch immediately, and therefore didn’t pre-heat my oven.
  7. Use the foil to lift the potatoes and put them on a cutting board. Cut them into bite-sized tots. Depending upon the exact size of your cake pan, that could be 6×8 or 5×9.
  8. When the oil reaches 375-degrees, use a wide, metal spatula to gently lower half your tots into the oil (without splashing). Fry each batch for 6 to 7 minutes until they become crispy and golden brown.
  9. Remove from oil as they become ready and drain on a wire rack set over a foil-lined sheet pan. Season with salt. Keep the fist batch warm in your 200-degree oven while you cook the second batch. Repeat steps 8 and 9 for the second batch.

Traditional Chicken Stock

December 15, 2012

Is spending 5 hours to make homemade chicken stock really worth the $6 savings over store-bought broth? If you measure your answer in terms of time or dollars, then the answer is certainly no. So here’s why I make it nonetheless. First, the 5 hours of clock time is more like 30 minutes of effort. Second, I like the idea of using my chicken scraps rather than simply discarding them. When I buy chicken breasts, I always feel semi-guilty about throwing away 20% of what was once a living creature. But of course, the most important reason to make it is that homemade stock taste much better and is preservative-free.

After de-fatting, separate into usable sizes.

After de-fatting, separate into usable sizes.

My personal history regarding chicken stock is a checkered one: Years ago, all my “chicken stock” started with a bullion cubes (bullion is just the French word for broth). It was inexpensive and convenient, but unfortunately they are mostly salt (and chemicals). Any recipe that reduces stock made from bullion will become too salty. My childhood memories of metallic-tasting Campbell’s soup have always stopped me from buying canned broth. So lately, I’ve been buying 32-ounce cartons of broths, which taste much better, but can be inconvenient if I only need a cup or two (once opened the boxed broth should be used within a week). I suppose it could be frozen, but have never actually done so.


  1. The most important thing in terms of logistics, is to keep a gallon-sized Zip-lock bag in your freezer. As you trim your chicken over the months simply add the chicken scraps to the bag. My first misconception with stock is that I had to have 5 pounds of fresh chicken scraps all at once, which of course would never happen.
  2. This recipe makes the equivalent of three 32-ounce cartons of chicken stock. It usually takes me about 2 months of regular cooking to gather enough chicken scraps to make a batch of stock. In terms of my kitchen, that’s more than enough to satisfy all my chicken stock needs.
  3. For recipes where I need a smaller amount of stock, I measured out 2-cups into Zip-lock bags. I laid then flat on a baking sheet and froze them. I can thaw out a bag for just 2 cups of stock at a time. From an old quick tip. I also have some containers with 3 and 4 cups, which satisfy my soup making needs.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $7.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time: 1:00 PM. Finish time: 6:00 PM.

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

5 pounds assorted chicken parts (backs, necks, legs, and wings)
3-1/2 quarts of water
2 medium carrots
2 celery stalks
2 medium onions
2 dried bay leaves
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

  1. Add chicken parts to a stockpot just large enough to hold them. Cover with water, adding an extra 1″ of water (about 3-1/2 quarts). Bring to a boil over medium-high burner. Use a ladle or skimmer to remove any foam that rise to the top.
  2. Meanwhile, peel and cut carrots into 2″ lengths. Cut celery into 2″ lengths. Peel and quarter your onions.
  3. When water comes to a boil, add chopped vegetables, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Reduce burner until it is barely simmering (bubbles just barely breaking the surface). Cook for 4 hours, occasionally skimming any impurities that rise to the top.
  4. Line a strainer with cheese-cloth and place over a large bowl or pot. Strain away and discard the solids; do not press on solids.
  5. Allow to cool completely (you can use an ice-water bath to speed the process). Refrigerate overnight to allow the fat to accumulate to the top; then lift off and discard the semi-solid fat.
  6. Separate into individual containers in commonly used sizes. The stock should only be refrigerated for up to 3 days, but holds well in the freezer for up to 3 months; but be sure to completely thaw in refrigerator before use.
Divided into 4 cup, 3cup, 2 cup and 1-12 cup sizes

Divided into 4 cup, 3 cup, 2 cup and 1-1/2 cup sizes. So they’re pre-measured.

After  chilling, the fat is easily removed with a spoon

After chilling, the semi-hardened fat is easily removed with a spoon

Fresh Pasta Without a Machine

April 28, 2012

The current issue of Cook’s Illustrated promises to deliver one of my son’s favorite food; perfect fresh pasta. Unfortunately, for all my past efforts, I have never been able to surpass a $2.50 package of refrigerated Buitoni. So today I tried Chris Kimball’s technique, and was quite pleased with the ease with which the dough is mixed, rolled out and cut into linguine.  It was even easier than using the pasta machine, and cleaning a counter-top is much more straight-forward than trying to brush away the dough fragments stuck to the pasta machine. The key to obtaining the perfect al dente texture is to roll your dough out incredibly thin. The guidelines he gives by rolling out into a 20″x6″ sheet allowed me to understand just how thin the dough needed to be. In the end, the final pasta was perfectly cooked with great texture. So far so good.

Yellow color comes from egg yolks, not semolina flour.

Unfortunately, the recipe relies of egg yolks instead of double-zero flour to attain its soft, workable texture. While providing a beautiful yellow color, it also adds a slight but distinctive egg flavor that left my son liking, but not loving, his dinner. 3-1/2 stars.


  1. I used Chris Kimball’s recommended rolling pin, but the tapered ends made it difficult to obtain an even thickness. I think non-tapered ends would have made the rolling process easier and more effective.
  2. I didn’t make any of his recommended sauces; Olive Oil Sauce with Anchovies and Parsley, Tomato-Brown Butter Sauce or Walnut Cream Sauce. I will definitely try one or two in the future, and it’s possible that the sauces would have been more effective at hiding the eggy flavor.
  3. The original recipe calls for folding the dough into 2″ folds, but I found 3″ folds easier to unfurl.
  4. Chris Kimball notes that if you use King Arthur flour you will need to use 7 egg yolks, to compensate for the extra protein.
  5. I allowed the dough to rest for 2 hours, and it rolled out fine. However, the longer the dough rests in step 2 (up to 4 hours) the easier the dough will roll out.
  6. Chris Kimball offers a few alternate shapes. I tried the bow ties, but it is much more work and in the future will stick to linguine.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $1.40; 1 pound of fresh pasta.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Started: 4:00 PM.  Dinner:  7:00 PM.

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

2 cups all-purpose flour (10 ounces)
2 large eggs plus 6 large yolks
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon salt

  1. Add flour, eggs, yolks and olive oil to the bowl of a food processor. Mix for 45 seconds until it becomes cohesive. If the dough sticks to your fingers, add 1 tablespoon of flour at a time (up to 4 tablespoons) until the dough just becomes tacky. But if the dough doesn’t become cohesive then add 1 teaspoon of water (up to 3 teaspoons) until the dough just comes together. Process an extra 30 seconds to incorporate your adjustments.
  2. Empty the dough onto a dry, un-floured work surface. Knead by hand for 1 or 2 minutes until it becomes smooth. Roll into a 6″-long cylinder and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest at room temperature for between 1 to 4 hours, the higher end will make the dough easier to roll out.
  3. Add 4 quarts of water to a large pot and place over medium burner. The water will slowly come up to a boil while you roll out the pasta.
  4. Cut into 6 equal pieces and re-wrap remaining dough. Dust both sides of 1 slice with flour, lay the slice on a dry, un-floured work surface. Use your fingers to press into a 3″ square. Use a rolling pin to roll into a 6″square. Lightly dust both sides with flour.  Maintaining the 6″ width, roll the dough into a 12″ by 6″ rectangle; start in the middle of the dough roll away from you, return the rolling pin to the center of the dough, and roll the closer half towards you. Repeat as necessary to obtain a 12″ by 6″ rectangle.
  5. Again lightly dust both sides with flour and continue the same rolling process until you obtain a 20″ by 6″ rectangle, which will become somewhat translucent. Lift the dough occasionally to ensure that it doesn’t stick to the counter-top, and if the dough sticks to the counter too frequently or wrinkles when you roll it out, then you should again lightly dust the dough with flour. Repeat the rolling process with the remaining slices of dough. Be careful not to add too much flour or the dough may snapback when you roll.
  6. Allow the pasta sheet to stand on clean kitchen towel for 15 minutes before cutting. To make linguine, loosely fold pasta sheet at 3″ intervals to form a flat roll. Use a chef’s knife to cut into 3/16″-wide noodles. Gently use your fingers to unfurl the cut pasta. Place on baking sheet while you prepare your sauce, but be sure to cook within 1 hour.
  7. Add 1 tablespoon of salt to the boiling water. Boil pasta for about 3 minutes. Reserve a cup of the pasta’s cooking water for later, drain and combine with sauce. If your sauce is not immediately ready, add back a little of the reserved pasta’s cooking water to re-loosen the sauce.
  8. If you don’t cook all the pasta tonight, lay your shaped pasta on a baking sheet freeze until it is firm. Once frozen you can put in zip-lock bags a freeze for up to 2 weeks.


April 25, 2012

I haven’t made donuts for 2 years because the last ones were such a big disappointment, with some of them as hard as a hockey puck. Today they came out much better, but still I am not completely satisfied. I believe that I rolling out in step 7 to 3/8″ is too thin, so I modified the recipe to 1/2″-thick. At first my oil was too hot because the oil wasn’t deep enough for my clip-on candy thermometer to properly register the temperature. The donuts overcooked within 1 minute, but when I lowered the temperature they came out much better. I was looking for chocolate glaze, but again ended up with chocolate frosting. At best, I consider these a work-in-progress; 3-1/2 stars (which is not very good for a donut). Please fell free to add comments with suggestions about how to make the donuts fluffier and how to improve the consistency of the chocolate glaze.

they were just okay; 3-1/2 stars


  1. The donuts are best eaten the day they are made. Without any preservatives these donuts became stale quickly, even when tightly wrapped in plastic. I’d suggest freezing half your donuts. When you are ready to eat them, heat them up in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds.

Rating: 3-1/2 star.
Cost: $1.50 for 10 donuts, plus donut holes.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Huge.
Start time 9:00 AM. Dessert time 1:00 PM.

3/4 cups milk
5 tablespoon butter
2-1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour (14-1/2 ounces)

  1. Put milk and butter in micowaveable bowl or measuring cup and microwave for 1 minute. Alternatively you could melt it a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk and butter until just melted. Then set aside.
  2. Add 1/4 cup of 110° water to the bowl of a standing mixer. Add the yeast and let stand 5 minutes.
  3. After 5 minutes, add the remaining milk and butter to standing mixer, then add the egg, sugar, salt and half the flour.
  4. Mix with dough hook on low, increasing to medium until well combined.
  5. Add the remaining flour on low, increasing to medium until dough pulls away from the bowl and becomes smooth, 3 to 4 minutes.
  6. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise until it has doubled in size; about 1 hour.
  7. Transfer dough to lightly floured  surface and roll out to 3/8″ 1/2″-thick. Use a donut cutter to create the donuts, pressing down firmly and rotating cutter at least 90-degrees to ensure a clean cut.
  8. Do not try to re-form the scraps to form more donuts, because the flour from the counter will prevent them from holding together. Instead you should make donut holes without adding additional flour.
  9. Transfer  the donut rings and donut holes to a lightly floured baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 30 minutes.
  10. Meanwhile, preheat oil in Dutch oven to 360°, about 15 minutes.
  11. Working with 3 or 4 rings at a time, gently place doughnuts in the oil.
  12. Cook for approximately 1 minute per side until lightly golden brown, being careful not to overcook. Use a slotted spoon and tongs remove from oil and allow some of the oil to fall back into the fryer for a few seconds, then transfer to a wire rack set over a foil-lined baking sheet and allow to cool for 15 minutes prior to glazing.

Chocolate Glaze:

1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoon milk or half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 oz dark chocolate
3/4 cups powdered sugar

  1. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter and chocolate until fully melted.
  2. Remove from heat and stir in powdered sugar and milk.
  3. Let cool slightly then dunk doughnuts.


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