Monday, June 22, 2009

Sesame Crusted Tuna with Ponzu Sauce

You know how sometimes a baguette can just be the tool to gorge on a particularly decadent dip? Or how a tortilla chip is really only there as the vehicle for some salsa? Recently, I had some tuna -- which was amazingly delicious in and of itself -- that I used almost exclusively to eat some ponzu sauce. This recipe was fantastic -- incredibly quick, easy, healthy and tasty. However, it was the sauce that really took it over the edge. I suggest buying the best tuna you can get -- I lucked out with some tuna on sale on Fresh Direct. I served this with some wasabi mashed potatoes.

The only tweak I made to the below recipe was to omit the orange juice, which I did not miss at all.

Sesame-Crusted Tuna with Wasabi-Ponzu Sauce

1 tablespoon chopped green onions
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey
1 1/4 teaspoons prepared wasabi paste
1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
4 (6-ounce) tuna steaks (about 3/4 inch thick)
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds
Sliced green onions (optional)

Combine first 10 ingredients, stirring with a whisk.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle tuna with salt. Combine sesame seeds in a shallow dish. Dredge tuna in sesame seeds. Add tuna to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Garnish with green onions, if desired. Serve tuna with sauce.

Makes 4 servings.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

No Knead Bread

At this point, I am sure almost everyone has heard of the no knead bread phenomena. After I finally got around to purchasing a dutch oven a few years ago, this recipe was one of the first I tried. The ingredients couldn't be more basic -- just flour, salt, instant yeast, and water. The hardest part of the recipe is the timing as it requires a lot of resting time to allow the yeast to do its work. Usually, an overnight rest is the way to go so starting the recipe the day before you intend to bake is a good technique. Once it has risen, the dough has a wonderful yeast-y smell. The dutch oven is invaluable because it can take and evenly distribute very high heat, as called for in this recipe.

When the bread finally comes out of the oven, it is beautifully golden and crusty. You have to let it rest for a few minutes, during which you will hear the bread crackle and settle. The final
product has a beautiful crust that isn't too hard and a springy interior with plenty of air pockets. This bread is probably as good, if not better, than most boules you may get at a bakery and you have the satisfaction of having baked it yourself! While this bread with butter is plenty good, I often make open faced sandwiches with it. The picture on the left is of an open faced sandwich consisting of goat cheese and grilled zuchinni and red onion, although the variations are endless. These make a great, light weekday dinner.

The recipe below is from Steamy Kitchen, which is slightly modified from the original recipe Mark Bittman got from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery. I have also tried Bittman's speedier version of the recipe and find it to be almost as good.

No Knead Bread


3 cups bread flour (such as Harvest King bread flour)
1/4 tsp instant yeast
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 cups warm water


1. Mix the dough: The night before, combine all the ingredients with a wooden spoon in a large bowl until a shaggy dough forms. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and allow it to sit on a countertop for 12 to 20 hours.

2. Shape and preheat: The dough will rise and become wet, sticky, and bubbly. With a wet spatula, dump the on a floured surface. Fold ends of dough over a few times with the spatula and nudge it into a ball shape. You can use your hands if you like, just keep your hands wet so that the dough does not stick. Generously dust a cotton towel (not terrycloth) with flour. Set dough seam side down on top of towel. Fold towel over the dough. Let it nap for 2 hours. When you’ve got about a half hour left, slip your covered pot into the oven and preheat to 450F.

3. Bake: Your dough should have doubled in size. Remove pot from oven. Holding towel, dump wobbly dough into pot. Doesn’t matter which way it lands. Shake to even dough out. Cover. Bake 30 minutes. Uncover, bake another 15-20 minutes or until the crust is beautifully golden and middle of loaf is 210F. Remove and let cool on wired rack.

Yields 1 loaf.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies

I love peanut butter and have gotten somewhat addicted to the fresh honey roasted peanut butter you can grind yourself on the nifty machines at Whole Foods. So, when I saw these cookies on Joy the Baker, I just had to try them. This recipe doesn't use any flour and results in the most peanut-buttery peanut butter cookies I have ever eaten. The original recipe calls for a full cup of sugar, half granulated/half brown sugar. I made two batches of these cookies. For the first batch, I used half granulated/half light brown pourable sugar. While still delicious, I thought the cookies were a little too sweet and the sugar masked the peanut butter flavor. For the second batch, I used the same sugars but cut the total amount by one-third cup. This resulted in a little less batter but much better cookies. The edited version of the recipe appears below. Joy the Baker recommends using natural peanut butter as it results in dough that holds itself together a little bit better and that is what I did. These cookies are definitely rich and when I brought them over in a gift box for my mother and mother-in-law for Mother's Day, the boxes were soaked with oil. However, both mothers absolutely loved the cookies.

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies


1 cup natural chunky or smooth peanut butter
2/3 cup sugar, half granulated/half light brown pourable sugar
1 egg
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp vanilla extract


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Mix peanut butter and sugar until well-mixed. Add egg, baking soda, and vanilla extract and mix well.

3. Roll into walnut size balls and create a criss-cross pattern with a fork.

4. Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. The cookies will be delicate so allow to cool for a few minutes before transferring from baking sheet.

Makes 14 - 18 cookies.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Los Angeles

I didn't get to travel too much when I was growing up. My parents, outside of the odd road trip, would save most of their money to take my sister and me to India to stay for months with our relatives in Kolkata, which was certainly a valuable experience. However, I always longed to travel to other parts of the world (or even other parts of India) and romanticized the backpacker lifestyle. While I never quite got to do the backpacker thing, I did start travelling fairly regularly as soon as I started working. Unfortunately, this blog was not in existence when I had my adventures (food-related and otherwise) on my trips and recently, my husband and I have curtailed our travelling for various reasons. However, I was fortunate enough to be sent to Los Angeles for work a few weeks ago and we decided to make a mini-vacation out of the trip.

The first day was filled with work for me but my husband walked around downtown LA during that time. He chose Philippe for his lunch, an old-timey restaurant that claims to have invented the french dip sandwich. Despite the long lines, he thought the sandwich was completely worth it. He was even thoughtful enough to get me a jar of Philippe's famous hot mustard, which I have yet to try.

The trip started to feel like a vacation for me only when we ran into the cutest bakery called Vanilla Bake Shop right near our hotel in Santa Monica. We loved it so much that we went back there a second time. On the first visit, I tried the most decadent bite-size peanut butter chocolate tart. But, the shop seems to be best known for its cupcakes and the best way to try several flavors is to take advantage of the 3 mini-cupcakes for $5 deal. We tried a red velvet, a black & white, and a vanilla cupcake. All three were mouthwateringly good and super moist and 3 mini-cupcakes were plenty for an afternoon snack with a cup of coffee.

Our first real dinner in LA was at Joe's, a restaurant in Venice Beach that specializes in farm-fresh, seasonal fare. I would describe the menu as New American. Although I don't remember the exact descriptions of each of everything we ate, I remember the stand out dishes were a rich mushroom ravioli appetizer and a seared duck breast with lentils main course.

We finally were able to enjoy a leisurely brunch on our second full day, when we headed to Blue Plate in Santa Monica. It was a small, bright restaurant that was packed for brunch even on a Friday morning. The food was very fresh and served in extremely generous portions. Both my husband and I got variations on the scramble, which was essentially scrambled eggs with a choice of 4 add-ins. The dinner menu, which was scrawled on a blackboard on the wall, also seemed to include some interesting choices using seasonal ingredients.

Of course, no trip to California is complete without some burgers. On our quest to try the best California burgers, we first hit In-n-Out burger at the Westwood location. Having done our research beforehand, we knew to order our burgers and fries "animal style," which sounds frightening but just really means that your burger and fries will be smothered in a mix of cheese, sauce, and sauteed onions. While the burger was certainly good, it was nowhere near as good as I thought it would be from having heard all the hype. Much more satisfying were the burgers at Fatburger, which also has several locations including one conveniently located on Santa Monica's 3rd Street Promenade. The Fatburger was juicy and full of beefy flavor. Both burgers were California-style in that they were relatively flat patties and not the bigger and more loosely packed burgers one usually finds in New York.

Our second sit-down dinner was a point of much discussion and we finally settled on Jar, a chophouse in West Hollywood. The restaurant was decorated, I believe, to invoke a chophouse from the 1940's. I found the decor to be, frankly, a little oppressive as the walls were all dark wood and the furniture struck me as a little heavy and stuffy. The food, also, was only ok in my opinion. My husband got what was essentially a modern twist on Salisbury steak, which was very good. However, my coq au vin was seriously oversalted, which I think is a fatal mistake for a kitchen in a pricey restaurant to make.

Because we did not feel like having another heavy brunch on our last day in LA, we decided to graze at the Farmer's Market in West Hollywood. The market is year-round and the emphasis seems to be on prepared foods rather than vegetables and fruits as in the Union Square market in New York. While I munched on a perfectly good chocolate chip scone from one of the bakeries in the market, my husband hit the jackpot with a chicken taco and potatoes mashed with poblanos at Loteria Grill, a Mexican foodstand. It was our first taste of California Mexican food on this trip, which we loved so much that we decided to hit Border Grill in Santa Monica for our last dinner. Border Grill was a huge, bustling restaurant that had just the festive mood we needed to cap off our trip. Everything we tried, from the traditional tamale assortment and Chile Relleno to the less traditional gaucho steak, was fantastic. We knew we had made the right choice as soon as we were served with an assortment of fresh salsas served with fresh tortilla chips. I find California Mexican food to be more authentic than what you normally find in New York, but somehow more tasty than what I had when I actually went to Mexico!

While I had some mixed feelings about LA as a whole -- great weather, quirky characters, but a serious lack of architecture and a troublesome car culture -- the food was certainly a highlight.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Strawberry Blueberry Bread

I only recently started eating breakfast regularly. In the past, I stumbled out of bed, rushed to the subway, and was lucky if I could grab a cup of coffee at work. These days, I try to get up a little earlier to have a somewhat leisurely breakfast with my husband, which I find makes the impending work day seem the slightest bit more bearable. Lately, however, I have become very bored with my usual bowl of cereal or toast. This strawberry/blueberry bread was the perfect thing to break up my routine. Given the amount of sugar and butter in this recipe, calling this bread may strain the definition of "bread," but it is perfect toasted and slathered with a dab of butter. It reminds me of a Spring version of the Pumpkin bread I made in the winter. I used some leftover strawberries and blueberries but other berries, such as raspberries would be just as good.

Strawberry Blueberry Bread


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp lemon zest
2 eggs
2 Tbsp sour cream (I used fat free sour cream)
1 cup crushed fresh strawberries, blueberries, and/or raspberries


1. Preheat oven to 325F. Spray or grease a loaf pan.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

3. In a large bowl, cream together the sugar, butter, and vanilla until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, beating well after the addition of each egg. Mix in the flour and sour cream. Fold in the crushed berries and lemon zest.

4. Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake in the center of the oven for 55 to 60 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.

5. Cool the bread for 20 minutes in the pan. Invert the loaf onto a wire rack and cool completely.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookies

If I had to pick my favorite desserts, the humble chocolate chip cookie would definitely be in my top five. I'm not too picky either -- I have been known to grab the sad looking chocolate chip cookies that always seem to appear on the dessert trays at work meetings. However, I do know a good chocolate chip cookie when I find one. Recently, my husband and I stumbled upon Jacques Torres' chocolate outpost in Tribeca and along with the requisite Wicked Hot Chocolate (hot chocolate with a touch of spice) we had the most amazing chocolate chip cookie in recent memory. It was gigantic (one was plenty for both of us) and was just oozing with chocolate; you even have the option of getting it warmed up by the staff! A recent NY Times article that made waves in the food blog world mentioned Jacques Torres' secret to the oozing chocolate in this cookies -- he uses chocolate disks, which are larger than chips, that create a layer of chocolate in his cookies.

Baking chocolate chip cookies at home is always a tricky proposition. Most of the recipes I had tried in the past were all similar to the well known Toll House version -- they were tasty but all turn out too thin and crispy; nothing at all like the thick, chewy chocolate chip cookies that I enjoy from bakeries. I hit the jackpot when I found this recipe, which is my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe (at least until I try the NY Times recipe). It is the only recipe I have tried that results in thick, chewy cookies rather than thin crisp disks. The recipe even includes a brilliant method for getting large cookies with beautiful nooks and crannies -- you roll a 1/2 cup of the dough in your hands, pull it apart in half, and then place the halves on the baking sheet with the torn portion facing up. The one key change I made to the recipe is to use light brown pourable sugar rather than regular brown sugar. The one time I tried this recipe with regular brown sugar, the dough was too moist and the cookies came out too thin and crispy. These cookies may not be quite on the Jacques Torres level, but they are pretty darn good.

Chocolate Chip Cookies


2 cup plus 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
12 Tbsp (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, melted & cooled until warm
1 cup light brown pourable sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 yolk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1½ cup semisweet chocolate chips


1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

2. Whisk dry ingredients (except sugar) together; set aside. Mix butter & sugars until thoroughly combined. Beat in egg, yolk and vanilla until combined. Add dry ingredients & beat at just until combined. Stir in chips.

3. Roll scant ½ cup dough into ball. Holding dough ball in fingertips of both hands, pull into 2 equal halves. Rotate halves 90 degrees and, with jagged surfaces facing up, place formed dough onto cookie sheet, leaving ample room between each ball.

4. Bake until cookies are light golden brown and outer edges start to harden yet centers are still soft & puffy (about 18 - 20 minutes). Cool cookies on sheets until able to lift without breaking.

Makes 18 or so large cookies.

Macaroni and Cheese

What goes better with fried chicken than macaroni and cheese? I have made macaroni and cheese in the past but this Martha Stewart recipe blew the old recipes I had tried out of the water. The recipe is for baked macaroni and cheese, rather than a stovetop version, and calls for a real cheese sauce starting with a bechamel sauce rather than Velveeta. It may sound strange but the ingredient that made the biggest difference was the cubed white bread that is scattered on top of the cheesey pasta right before baking. The bread cubes form a delicious crust and lend some needed crunch to the final product. I recommend this technique over topping with normal breadcrumbs, which always seems to create a crust that is a little too dry and separate from the rest of the dish.

Making this recipe also caused a light bulb to go off in my head about bechamel sauce -- namely, that making a bechamel sauce takes patience. In the past, after a few minutes of stirring, I would get bothered by the lumps in the sauce cased by the butter/flour roux and fish out the lumps, which usually resulted in a sauce that was too thin and watery. This time, I let the sauce simmer for at least 10 minutes while constantly swirling with a whisk. The sauce thickened up beautifully with nary a lump in sight. The below recipe is slightly altered from the original.

Macaroni and Cheese


4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for casserole
3 slices white bread, crusts removed, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
2 3/4 cups milk (I used 1% milk)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for water
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 1/4 cups grated sharp white cheddar cheese
1 cup grated Gruyère or 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp grated Pecorino Romano cheese (I used Parmesan cheese)
1/2 pound elbow macaroni


1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Place the bread cubes in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter. Pour the melted butter into the bowl with the bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside.

2. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.

3. While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, 8 to 12 minutes.

4. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, and 3/4 cups Gruyère (or 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano); set the cheese sauce aside.

5. Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.

6. Pour the mixture into a 8X8 casserole dish. Sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cups cheddar cheese, 1/4 cup Gruyère (or 2 Tbsp Pecorino Romano), and the breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Transfer the dish to a wire rack for 5 minutes; serve.

Makes 6 servings.