Saturday, February 28, 2009

Jam Cookies

I have a confession to make -- I am officially obsessed with baking. I have gone from scoffing at recipes for sweet treats to bookmarking so many of those same recipes that if I actually made all of them, my husband and I probably wouldn't fit on our bed. I don't know what caused this turn from savory to sweet -- I just know that last week, I turned not once but twice to baking when I was feeling a little bit blue. These jam cookies were the result of one of my baking flurries. The recipe is from Joy the Baker. It is the type of recipe that is perfect for when you are itching to bake but you don't have a lot of special ingredients lying around. My husband loved the jam flavor in the cookies and I loved the delicate pink color of the cookies. I used strawberry jam but you can, of course, use any type of thick jam you happen to have in the refrigerator. My husband's suggestion for next time is to pipe some jam into the middle of the cookies so you have a little bit of a surprise when you bite into the cookies. I promise to share if I am able to figure out a way to make this jam filling idea work. The recipe is slightly altered from the original. I was able to halve the recipe with no problem.

Jam Cookies


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cups sugar, plus more for coating the cookies
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk (I used fat free half-and-half)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup of strawberry jam, or any thick jam you have on hand


1. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, ginger and salt.

3. Beat the butter until creamy and smooth. Add the sugar and beat for a minute. Add the egg and beat for 2 minutes more. The mixture will be satiny. Add the milk and vanilla and beat just to combine. Don’t be concerned if the mixture looks curdled, it will even out shortly. Add the jam and beat for 1 minute more. Add the dry ingredients and mix only until they are incorporated.

4. Spoon the dough by the rounded teaspoonfuls into a dish of granulated sugar. Toss to coat and place on a baking sheet, leaving about an inch between the mounds.

5. Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes. The cookies will be only just firm, fairly pale and browned around the edges. Pull the sheets from the oven and allow the cookies to rest for 1 minute, the carefully transfer them to racks to cool to room temperature.

Re-Discovering Broccoli

I have always liked broccoli. Even when I was a kid, I never complained if there was broccoli on the dinner table like I would if I discovered squash or cabbage was on the menu. In college, I bought broccoli nearly every week and threw stray florets into serviceable stir fries or omelets. However, broccoli was never something I put in my shopping cart because I was excited about it. It was never the star of any dish I made. All of that changed when I saw this post on the Amateur Gourmet site. The Barefoot Contessa recipe highlighted seemed simple enough -- season broccoli with some salt, pepper, and garlic; roast until crispy and brown; toss with lemon zest and lemon juice; sprinkle with pine nuts and grated parmesan. Somehow, the sum of this dish is much, much greater than its parts. I have made broccoli this way countless times and it never fails to please. Roasting carmelizes the broccoli and results in delightfully crispy, browned spots on the florets. I can't imagine making broccoli any other way. This recipe allows broccoli to be the star for once.

Roasted Broccoli


2 bunches broccoli
4 garlic cloves, sliced
salt & pepper
zest of one lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
parmesan, grated
pine nuts, toasted
olive oil


1. Preheat oven to 425°F.

2. Wash and pat the broccoli very dry. Cut into large florets. Toss with a glug of olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Roast on a baking sheet for 20 to 25 minutes.

3. Remove from oven and toss with lemon zest and lemon juice. Top with pine nuts and parmesan.

Note: The original recipe also calls for julienned basil but I have always omitted it.

Makes 4 servings.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Twice Baked Potato

There are very few foods I love as much as the humble potato. My mother famously once told me that "If you keep eating so much potato, you will start looking like a potato." Sage advice indeed but sometimes I just have to have a baked potato slathered in butter and salt. Twice baked potatoes, of course, are even better. There are endless variations of ingredients you can throw into a twice backed potato -- my constants are butter, light cream, salt, and some sort of cheese. The Simply Recipes site has some good ideas. For the potatoes pictured in this post, I used freshly grated parmesan cheese (my husband's brilliant idea) and turkey bacon. The trick to light fluffy potatoes, is to bake the potatoes for at least an hour with a light rubbing of olive oil and salt. The salt draws out the moisture and the skin gets somewhat crispy. I used to get impatient and underbake the potatoes, which just results in potatoes that refuse to mash well and end up gluey. The recipe below is based on Elises's recipe but I don't include exact measurements for some of the ingredients below as they will vary by taste.

Twice Baked Potatoes


2 large Russet potatoes
olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated parmesan cheese
light cream
2 - 3 strips turkey bacon


1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Wash and scrub the potatoes and dry with a paper towel. Prick the potatoes a few times with a fork. Rub with a little olive oil and sprinkle all over with kosher salt. Place on a baking sheet and bake for at least an hour and until the potatoes are cooked through.

2. In the meantime, heat the turkey bacon strips over medium heat until crispy. Crumble and set aside.

3. Remove potatoes from oven and allow to cool somewhat for easy handling. Lower oven temperature to 350°F. Cut off top third of each potato. Scoop out insides but leave about 1/4 inch of potato all around so the potatoes hold their shape.

4. Mash the insides of the potatoes with light cream, salt, 3/4 of grated parmesan cheese, and 2/3 of the crumbled bacon. Add the ingredients to taste and don't overmix as the potato will get gluey.

5. Scoop the mashed potatoes back into the potato skins and top each with remaining turkey bacon crumbles and parmesan cheese. Bake for an additional 15 minutes before serving.

Makes 2 servings.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Harissa Spaghetti

I never would have thought to combine harissa and pasta until I ran into this recipe on the 101 Cookbooks website. The combination of Mediterranean ingredients and harissa in this recipe is ingenious -- it is light and healthy, but also hearty and extremely tasty. Although I admit that I don't like making practical weeknight food, I think this recipe qualifies but still keeps things interesting.

Harissa is one of my favorite ingredients though but, for some reason, I don't use it nearly often enough. The harissa I used for this recipe wasn't too spicy so I was able to use quite a bit for the sauce. I echo Heidi's advice to taste the harissa you intend to use first as pre-made harissa can vary greatly and many are extremely spicy. I also think whole wheat pasta works great for this recipe as it can stand up to bold flavors. I am a late convert to whole wheat pasta and still don't use it for every pasta recipe. However, I have been pleased with the taste and consistency of Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Spaghetti. As usual, I have reproduced the recipe below with a few of my own alterations.

Harissa Spaghetti


4 - 5 medium cloves garlic, peeled
a big pinch of fine grain sea salt
1/4 cup plus 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp harissa (paste)
8-10 ounces (or a little more than 1/2 pound) whole wheat spaghetti
1 small bunch kale, well-washed, deveined, and torn into smaller pieces
1/2 cup oil-cured black olives pitted
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
zest of 1 lemon
squeeze of lemon


1. Bring a big pot of water to a boil. Whisk together the harissa and 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil with a big pinch of salt and set aside.

2. Heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and saute until fragrant. Add kale and a small pinch of salt and saute until softened. Add half the harissa/olive oil sauce and heat.

3. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente. Add the cooked spaghetti with a touch of pasta water to the heated sauce. Add the olives, lemon zest, and the remaining sauce and toss to combine. Add a squeeze of lemon and scatter the pine nuts.

Makes 4 servings.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

I have been dying to make Ina Garten's, better known as the Barefoot Contessa, recipe for chicken with 40 cloves of garlic ever since I saw this post on the Amateur Gourmet site. I adore garlic and throw it into almost every savory recipe, whether or not it calls for garlic. However, for some reason, when I first brought up the recipe to my husband, he was hesitant about it. According to him, several months later, when he suggested making the recipe, I was in turn hesitant about it because I thought it could be bland. So, this recipe languished for over a year in my recipe book. All this hesitation was ultimately pointless as the chicken was phenomenal!

It is amazing how just a few ingredients combine and concentrate to create such heightened flavors. Don't be afraid of the amount of garlic this recipe calls for as the garlic really mellows out, becoming almost sweet, during the cooking process. Although the recipe states that the chicken is "bland" without the sauce, I found the chicken to be very chicken-y, in a good way. I briefly considered omitting the Cognac as it required buying an overpriced tiny bottle just for the recipe but I am glad that I ended up splurging because it adds a great dimension to the dish. I also recommend using fresh thyme, as the flavor was also very evident in the final product. Finally, make sure to season the chicken thoroughly and be very patient with the initial browning as that is when most of the flavor is developed (as in most if not all braising dishes). I served this dish with roasted baby potatoes, flavored with some of the remaining fresh thyme and the Christmas truffle salt, and roasted broccoli, which deserves and will soon get its own post.

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic


3 whole heads garlic, about 40 cloves
2 (3 1/2-pound) chickens, cut into eighths (I used just one chicken)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons good olive oil
3 tablespoons Cognac, divided
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons heavy cream (I used light cream)


1. Separate the cloves of garlic and drop them into a pot of boiling water for 60 seconds. Drain the garlic and peel. Set aside. (I cheated and used pre-peeled cloves of garlic I got from Trader Joe's, which did not hurt the flavor of the dish at all and saved me a ton of time and frustration.)

2. Dry the chicken with paper towels. Season liberally with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat the butter and oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat (If you are making just one chicken like I did, use half the amount of butter and oil. The chicken will give off plenty of its own fat). In batches, saute the chicken in the fat, skin side down first, until nicely browned, about 3 to 5 minutes on each side. Turn with tongs or a spatula; you don't want to pierce the skin with a fork. If the fat is burning, turn the heat down to medium. When a batch is done, transfer it to a plate and continue to saute all the chicken in batches. Remove the last chicken to the plate.

3. Add all of the garlic to the pot. Lower the heat and saute for 5 to 10 minutes, turning often, until evenly browned. Add 2 tablespoons of the Cognac and the wine, return to a boil, and scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Return the chicken to the pot with the juices and sprinkle with the thyme leaves. Cover and simmer over the lowest heat for about 30 minutes, until all the chicken is done.

4. Remove the chicken to a platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup of the sauce and the flour and then whisk it back into the sauce in the pot. Raise the heat, add the remaining tablespoon of Cognac and the cream, and boil for 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste; it should be very flavorful because chicken tends to be bland. Pour the sauce and the garlic over the chicken and serve hot.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Chile Peanuts

My husband surprised me last year with a subscription to Gourmet magazine. I really like Gourmet's mix of travel and food writing and, of course, the beautiful food photography. As for the recipes, I have generally been successful with the ones that I have tried. I have to admit that I am usually only intrigued by an average of 2 or 3 recipes per issue (just due to personal taste) and try even less, maybe 1 per issue. Part of the reason is that I bombard myself with recipes from food blogs, which I often find to be even more reliable than food magazines, and it is not humanly possibe to make everything I want to try! This recipe is the first recipe from Gourmet that I tried and it is definitely a success. It is not too spicy and is just the right mix of tangy and hot. As usual, I halved the recipe. The peanuts keep in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks and can be reheated in a 250°F oven for 15 to 20 minutes.

Chile Peanuts


1 1/4 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp cayenne
2 cups unsalted dry-roasted peanuts


1. Preheat oven to 250°F with rack in middle.

2. Whisk together lime juice, oil, paprika, sea salt, and cayenne. Stir in peanuts to coat evenly.

3. Spread peanuts in a large shallow baking pan and bake until coating is dry and fragrant, about 30 minutes. Cool completely before serving.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Blueberry Crumb Bars

This is one of those desserts that looks very impressive but is incredibly easy to make. I first saw these blueberry crumb bars on Smitten Kitchen. They looked so pretty that I had to try them right away and, boy, were they good! I now have made them 3 different times, and each time, they have been a huge success. I have also been able to halve the recipe without any problem (the halved version is reproduced below). A lot of the comments on the Smitten Kitchen post mentioned that this recipe is easily adaptable and can be made with cranberries or raspberries and with orange zest and juice. I am eager to try the variations.

I probably should have mentioned before now that I do not own a stand mixer so every dessert I highlight on this blog easily can be made by hand. In fact, if a recipe seems to require a stand mixer, I tend to avoid it. This recipe, thankfully, does not call for a stand mixer or a huge list of ingredients. Just one tip -- I have found that grating the butter is the easiest way to incorporate it into the flour/sugar/baking powder mixture. The butter needs to be very cold before grating. The technique is a little messy but has never failed to produce perfect crumbly dough.

Blueberry Crumb Bars


½ cup white sugar
½ tsp baking powder
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cold butter (1 stick)
½ egg
⅛ tsp salt
Zest and juice of ½ lemon
2 cups fresh blueberries
¼ cup white sugar
2 tsp cornstarch


1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a 8X8 inch square pan with parchment paper.

2. In a bowl, stir together ½ cup sugar, 1½ cups flour, and baking powder. Mix in salt and lemon zest. Use a fork to blend in the butter and egg. Dough will be crumbly. Pat half of dough into the prepared pan.

3. In another bowl, stir together ¼ cup sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice. Gently mix in the blueberries. Sprinkle the blueberry mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until top is slightly brown. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Makes about 12 squares.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Scallion Pancakes and Shrimp Fried Rice

Two dishes I never order from Asian restaurants anymore are scallion pancakes and fried rice as I find both are usually too greasy. So, if I ever get a hankering for either, both of which are quick and use ingredients I often have lying around, I have to make them at home. The pancake recipe below is for a version of Korean Pajeon, and not for scallion pancakes that are usually served at Chinese restaurants, which I found on David Lebowitz's site. My favorite part of the recipe is the egg that is swirled into the pan and cooked until the edges are crispy. I have made the Pajeon with cut-up shrimp with great success. The batter is a little thick, so make sure to nudge the batter all around the pan. I serve the Pajeon with a simple sauce of soy sauce with a touch of rice wine vinegar and sesame oil.

I can't say that I follow a set recipe for fried rice every time I make it or that my version is very authentic. I have made fried rice so often that I just tend to throw in whatever I have on hand and season to taste. However, I do recommend that you read this great post by Jaiden Hair of Steamy Kitchen on the Simply Recipes blog. Jaiden gives several useful tips on how to avoid making fried rice that is too mushy or goopy. One of her cardinal rules is to use day old rice, which I have to admit, I don't always do if I don't plan ahead. For my version, I use a lot of soy sauce, add some sambal oelek because I like the heat, add garlic and ginger, and use basmati rice because it is usually what I have on hand and because it is very close to jasmine rice.

Korean Pancake


1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup ice-cold water
1/2 tsp salt
1 large or extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1 bunch of scallions
soy sauce
optional: cut up shrimp
oil, for frying
white wine vinegar
sesame oil


1. Stir together the flour, water and salt until just mixed.

2. Chop the green parts of the scallions into 3-inch lengths. Reserve the white parts for another use.

3. Heat a thin layer of oil in a 9 or 10-inch skillet, preferably non-stick, until hot. Fry the scallions until they're completely cooked through and soft. Add a touch of soy sauce to the pan when they're almost done, to season the scallions.

4. If using other ingredients, such as shrimp — add them now, then toss a few times to heat them through.

5. Pour the pancake batter over the scallions (and other stuff in the pan), spreading the batter, and cook a few minutes until the bottom is nice and brown underneath. Lift the edge to peek.

6. Pour the beaten egg on top then swirl the pan to even out the egg a bit, still keeping it pretty uneven, and cook until the egg is just beginning to firm near the edges.

7. Using a wide spatula, flip the pancake and cook for another minute or two until the egg is set and preferably crispy at the edges.

8. Slide pancake onto a cutting board, then cool to room temperature. Cut into six or eight wedges, and serve with dipping sauce made by mixing 3 parts soy sauce with 1-2 parts rice vinegar and a few drops of sesame oil. A bit of chile oil can also be added.

Makes one 9-inch pancake.

Shrimp Fried Rice


8 ounces small raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
2 tablespoons cooking oil, divided
3 eggs, beaten
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 tsp grated ginger
2 stalks green onion, minced
3 cups leftover rice, grains separated well
3/4 cup frozen peas
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped (optional; this ingredient is sometimes used in fried rice served at Indian Chinese restaurants)
soy sauce
sambal oelek
1 teaspoon sesame oil


1. Heat a wok or large sauté pan on high heat. When the pan is hot enough for a bead of water to instantly sizzle and evaporate, add just 1 tablespoon of the cooking oil and swirl to coat pan.

2. Add the shrimp, quickly spreading out around the cooking surface area so that they are not overlapping. Add a touch of soy sauce to taste and stir fry until about 80% cooked through (the shrimp should have just turned pink). Remove the shrimp from the pan onto a plate.

3. Turn the heat to medium, let the pan heat up again. Add the eggs, stirring in a quick motion to break up and scramble the eggs. When the eggs are just cooked through, dish out of the pan into the same plate as the cooked shrimp.

4. Use paper towels to wipe the same wok or sauté pan clean and return to high heat with the remaining 1 tablespoon of cooking oil, swirling to coat. When the oil is very hot, add the green onions, garlic, and ginger and fry until fragrant. Add in the rice and stir well to mix in the garlic, ginger, and green onions throughout. Spread the rice all around the wok surface area and let the rice heat up, untouched until you hear the bottoms of the grains sizzle, about 1-2 minutes. Use the spatula to toss the rice, again spreading the rice out over the surface of wok.

5. Drizzle the soy sauce all around the rice and toss. Add the peas, the cooked eggs, shrimp, cilantro (if using), and sesame oil, tossing to mix the rice evenly with all of the ingredients. Let everything heat back up again. Taste and add sambal oelek and soy sauce to taste.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Arroz Con Pollo

One of my husband's absolute favorite dishes is arroz con pollo. For years, he begged me to make it for him on a regular basis and though I tried many times, I could never find a recipe that I thought was a keeper. For example, Tyler Florence's recipe is perfectly serviceable, except that it calls for way too much cumin and I disliked the consistency of the chicken. I have also tried recipes that call for the addition of beer like this one, which really did not work for me as the alcohol overwhelms the taste of the dish. I think the problem is that arroz con pollo is such a staple in so many latino households, that every family has their own recipe, which varies not only by taste but also by each family's regional roots.

I finally hit upon the perfect recipe for my husband's and my tastes when I took matters into my own hands and created a recipe that is a hybrid of two recipes -- a 2007 recipe from Gourmet highlighted on Smitten Kitchen and an America's Test Kitchen recipe. Both recipes had aspects I liked and disliked so I had a lot to draw from. My version of arroz con pollo, which I fully admit likely is not very authentic, makes a lot -- we ate this for 3 days straight and still had some leftover. This is the type of recipe that gets better overnight so leftovers are not a problem.
Arroz Con Pollo


1 3 1/2 - 4lbs whole chicken, cut up into 8 pieces
6 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp plus 2 tsp distilled white vinegar
ground black pepper
3 1/4 tsp salt, plus more to taste
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
1 green, red, yellow, or orange pepper, chopped fine
1/4 cup cilantro, minced
1 3/4 cup chicken stock
3/4 cup water
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 or 2 bay leaves
1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
3 cups long grain rice
1/2 cup green olives stuffed with jalepenos, halved
2 Tbsp capers
1/2 cup jarred pimentos, cut into strips


1. Mash one-half the minced garlic with 2 tsp of salt, then transfer to a large bowl. Stir in 1 tablespoon of vinegar and 1 teaspoon oregano. Toss chicken with marinade until coated and marinate, covered and chilled, for at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions, bell pepper, and the rest of the garlic. Saute until softened, about 4 to 5 minutes.

3. Add cumin, cayenne, oregano, paprika, 1/2 tsp oregano, 1 1/4 tsp salt, and bay leaves. Cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add 2 tablespoons of cilantro and stir to combine.

4. Push vegetables to side of the pot and add half the chicken pieces skin side down. Increase heat to medium high heat. Cook without moving chicken, until outer layer becomes opaque, 2 to 4 minutes. Using tongs, flip chicken and cook on second side until opaque, another 2 to 4 minutes. Remove chicken to a platter. Repeat same process with remaining chicken pieces.

5. Add rice to the vegetables and saute together for 30 seconds. Add broth, tomato sauce, and water; stir to combine. Bring to a simmer.

6. Lower heat to medium low heat. Scatter olives and capers. Nestle chicken pieces throughout the rice. Cover pot with parchment paper and a tight lid. Allow to cook for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring once or twice. If liquid seems to evaporate too quickly, add a small amount of chicken broth.

7. Once the chicken and rice are cooked through, turn off heat. Remove chicken pieces from pot. Remove chicken skin and discard. Using two spoons, remove the meat from the bones and discard bones. Toss chicken meat with remaining cilantro, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 teaspoons vinegar, and salt to taste.

8. Add the chicken back to the rice and stir. Scatter pimento strips. Taste for seasoning and add salt to taste if necessary.

Makes 6-10 servings.