Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Gorgonzola Cream Sauce – Now with Cream!

Since we’re heading into rich and creamy sauce season, I thought I’d use a nice hunk of Gorgonzola as an excuse to post a tutorial for a classic “cream sauce.” 

Unlike what’s passed off as the real stuff at casual dining chains, a true cream sauce contains nothing but heavy cream, and is on another level when it comes to taste and texture. A regular diet of cream sauce isn’t recommended, but once in a while, it’s nice to take a break from the old 2%, and the technique is dead simple. Simmer cream in a saucepan until it reduces and thickens slightly, flavor it however, and toss in some hot (hopefully stuffed) pasta. Done and done.

I went with a fairly mild, crumbly Gorgonzola this time, but no matter which you choose, be careful not to “cook” the cheese. You just want to stir it in on low, until it’s almost gone, and then turn off the heat. Otherwise the cheese will “break,” and you’ll have a greasy mess.

Since my mini-ravioli delivery system featured a squash filling, I decided to finish with diced apples and toasted walnuts. It was perfect with the rich sauce, and I recommend it if you’re using a similar pasta. Since the sauce itself is so easy, as in one ingredient easy, you can spend all that extra brainpower thinking of things you can add to it. I hope you give this great sauce technique a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 2 large or 4 smaller portions:
1 cup heavy whipping cream (36% fat)
salt and pepper to taste
cayenne to taste
3 ounces Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
2 tbsp chopped Italian parsley
finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, optional
6 ounces dry mini-ravioli (double to 12-oz if using fresh ravioli or tortellini)
1/2 apple, diced
1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Happy National Chocolate Day!

According to Twitter, today is National Chocolate Day, and to celebrate I'm re-posting one of my all-time favorite ways to enjoy this ancient pleasure, the Savory Chocolate Sea Salt Crostini. You can read the original post here, but to summarize, these are awesome. Enjoy!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Halloween Treat Special: The Devil’s Dentures!

We all know there’s really no such thing as a truly frightening Halloween treat, but that doesn’t mean we can’t give our guests a few moments of pause, as they process the sight of these fun, fang-filled apples staring up at them. Well, actually those are the bloody eyeball truffles staring up at them, but you get the idea. 

I kind of like the minimalist look here, but there are dozens of ways you could up the grossness factor with these. Maybe some fancy fruit gummy worms, or rice pudding “maggots?"

It’s been a while since we posted a “scary” Halloween treat, and since most tend to be sugar bombs, I thought it’d be nice to share something a little healthier. I’m assuming there will be no shortage of candy around. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Next Up: Terrifying Halloween Treat

I'm about to post a Halloween treat that's so scary, I actually had to pixelate the photo! Stay tuned...if you dare.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Enjoying Pomegranates with Less Mess

This time of year pomegranates make their annual appearance in produce aisles, and despite being beautiful, delicious, and nutritious, many shoppers avoid them because they simply don’t know how to work with the colorful, but mysterious fruit. This video shows a great method for harvesting all those juicy seeds without any mess. By the way, the individual kernels are water-proof, so don't worry about them losing any flavor in the bowl. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

“Local” Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese and Walnuts – Kill Once, Cook Twice

They say if you video blog long enough, you’ll eventually post a snuff film. Okay, so no one says that, but that’s what this roasted beets with goat cheese and walnuts kind of felt like, as I harvested my homegrown, and completely defenseless beet.

I was obviously kidding about vegetables being able to sense pain, but the more I think about it, who knows? Anyway, until I find out otherwise, I’ll assume the bloody root didn’t suffer for my pleasure, and just enjoy its incredible goodness. It’s the same assumption I use when eating chicken wings.

There are very few things that pair as perfectly as roasted beets and goat cheese. Simply a match made in occasional-vegetarian heaven. When you toss in some crunchy walnuts, foraged greens, and a simple walnut oil/vinegar dressing, you have something that’s way beyond the sum of the parts. 

I really can’t think of a more perfect fall lunch. By the way, in addition to making a great mid-day meal, this would also work nicely as a fancy side dish come holiday time, and you have plenty of time to practice. I hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 2 portions:
1 or 2 tbsp walnut oil
1 roasted beet (*about 8 oz)
2 oz goat cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup roasted chopped walnuts
2 tbsp champagne or sherry vinegar
thinly sliced beet greens and fresh chives to top
toasted walnut bread to serve with

*Note: Since beets come in all sorts of sizes, you’ll just have to go by feel. Roast a beet or two, slice it up, see how much you have, pick a baking dish that large enough for one layer, cover the bottom with walnut oil, toss in the beets, fill in between with goat cheese, season, bake and dress as you see fit.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Bolognese Sauce – Hip Hip Hazan!

This bolognese sauce is dedicated to the late, great Marcella Hazan, who passed away in September, at the age of 89. She was considered the Julia Child of Italian food, and at a time when most Americans though “bolognese” was spaghetti sauce with chunks of hamburger it, Marcella taught us just how magnificent this meat sauce could be.

One thing that always surprises people making this recipe for the first time is the absence of garlic. Hazan railed against the common belief that garlic should be added to any and all Italian recipes. She once wrote, “the unbalanced use of garlic is the single greatest cause of failure in would-be Italian cooking,” and “Garlic can be exciting when you turn to it sporadically, on impulse, but on a regular basis, it is tiresome.”

Would a few minced garlic cloves ruin this incredibly delicious pasta sauce? Probably not, but since this is supposed to be something of a tribute, I decided to remain true. Speaking of ingredients, I used ground beef here, but I’ve also done this with cubed chuck roast, which works wonderfully as well.

Anyway, I really hope you give this classic bolognese a try, and if you do, and there’s some extra wine around, please raise a glass, and toast the “Nonna” of Italian cuisine in America. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 6 portions:
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 cup finely diced onions
1/2 cup finely diced celery
1/2 cup finely diced carrot
1 1/2  tsp salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper and cayenne to taste
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/2 lb ground beef
1 1/2 cups milk
2 cups white wine
1 can San Marzano plum tomatoes (28-oz), about 3 cups
2 cups water, or as needed

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Next Up: Bolognese Sauce

Not That Mole

I saw a tweet about October 23 being National Mole Day, which served to remind me that I’ve still not done a take on this magical Mexican sauce. The video below is from my friends at, and looks like a great place for me to start my experiments.

By the way, as I searched for more info on how National Mole Day came to be, I realized it wasn’t “Mole” the sauce; it was actually “Mole” the scientific unit of measure. Now, why would scientists name a unit of molecular weight after this delicious Mexican sauce? Anyway, enjoy the video (you can see the written recipe here), and if you have any secret mole-making knowledge, feel free to pass it along. Enjoy!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Apple & Cheddar Cheese Soufflés – Great for People Who Stink at Folding Egg Whites

After doing such a great job folding the egg whites into this apple and cheddar soufflé batter, I celebrated by dropping a measuring cup into the bowl. By the time I fished it out, cleaned the sides of the bowl, and shook my fist at the heavens, I’d lost a lot of micro-bubbles.

I pressed on, and despite my tragic encounter with gravity, the resulting soufflés were simply fabulous, which just goes to show that maybe we need to relax about this whole folding thing. Sure, more bubbles would make it go a little higher, but if you’ve never made a soufflé before, I hope this gives you some new-found courage.

By the way, I don’t know why most similar recipes call for extra egg whites. Actually, I do know; it’s to make them more visually impressive, but I think this dilutes the flavor. I use about half the egg whites normally called for, and these are still light as a feather.

If you decide to give these a whirl, please promise me you'll use a great cheddar. I used a sharp and creamy Cabot, but any other quality, aged cheddar will work. These apple cheddar soufflés are very versatile, and would make a great appetizer, a special holiday brunch starter, or deliciously different dessert. I hope you give them a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 4  (I used Le Creuset 4 3/4-ounce size):

For the apples:
1 tbsp butter, heated until edges start to turn brown
1 apple, cubed
1 tbsp sugar

For the batter:
2 tbsp flour
2 tbsp butter
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp salt
pinch freshly ground black pepper
pinch cayenne
pinch nutmeg
3 oz sharp white cheddar, or almost 1 cup grated
2 eggs, separated

Bake at 400 degrees F.  for about 22 minutes

*Assuming you don’t drop a measuring cup into your folded egg white fluffed batter, you should have about 2 cups of batter. You can divide each 1/2 cup portion into whatever sized ramekin you have, but a 4 3/4 to 5 oz size is ideal. Basically, when it’s fully puffed and browned, it’s done. And for goodness sake, serve very warm, but not piping hot!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Building a Bigger Baguette

People are asking if you can make larger loaves, and the answer is a definite yes. Here you see a batch of dough made into two larger baguettes, which took about 20 minutes to bake, I think. I should have timed it for you, but I was mesmerized by their beauty as I kept peeking to see if they were done, and never checked the clock. It's hardly my fault.

You can also make one giant loaf, but may want to reduce the temperature to 450 F., since the baking time is going to be longer, maybe 35-40 minutes or so. By the way, you can always test with a thermometer, and pull the bread at an internal temperature of 190-200 F. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Perfect French Baguette at Home – Only Impossible If You Don’t Try It

Whenever someone asked me why I hadn’t done a baguette video yet, I’d tell them because you just can’t recreate an authentic loaf of French bread at home. 

I’d explain about the water, the flour, the centuries old starters, and the steam-injected ovens. I told them what I’d been told; that it was simply impossible, or as the French say, "impossible!"

That was, until I actually tried to make some. Much to my amazement, not only was it possible, it was really pretty simple. The key is water. That goes for the dough, and the baking environment. The dough must be very sticky, as in hard-to-work-with sticky. This is nothing well-floured fingers can’t conquer, but I did want to give you a heads-up.

Besides the water content in the dough, the oven must also be moist. This humidity, in addition to some occasional misting will give the crusty baguettes their signature look. How does this work? You know how when someone pours water on the rocks in a dry sauna, and suddenly it feels way hotter? It probably has something to do with that.

Anyway, who cares why it works, the important thing here is that real, authentic, freshly-baked baguette is now an everyday reality. One thing worth noting; I adapted this no-knead version from a recipe I found here last year. The original is in metric, so I’ve converted it, but also included the original flour and water units in case you want to get it exact. I hope you give this easy, and so not impossible baguette recipe a try soon. Enjoy!

For 4 smaller or 2 large baguette:
1/4 tsp dry active yeast (I used Fleischmann's Rapid Rise Yeast)
(Note: if you want to use a traditional bread technique, add the whole package of yeast (2 1/4 tsp) and proceed as usual)
1 1/2 cups water (325 grams)
1 3/4 tsp salt
18 oz by weight all-purpose flour (500 grams), about 4 cups
- Mix dough and let rise 12-14 hours or until doubled
- Punch down and shape loaves, let rise covered with floured plastic 1 to 1 1/2 hr or until almost doubled
- Bake at 550 F. about 15 minutes or until well-browned
- Spray with water before baking, at 5 minutes, and at 10 minutes during cooking time

Monday, October 14, 2013

Kicking Off Side Dish Season with Roasted “Wild” Mushroom and Potato Salad

It’s almost that time of year again. The holidays are still a little ways off, but you’re already starting to wonder (worry?) what creative side dishes will adorn the season’s holiday tables. This delicious, and very versatile roasted mushroom and potato salad could be worth a look. 

“Wild” mushrooms have never been less so, and that’s a good thing. Not that hunting for mushrooms in a dewy forest isn’t fun, but I’ll take a nice safe grocery store over actual labor anytime. Especially since the selection has gotten so much better over the years. You can easily find 5-6 varieties of mushrooms in the big markets, and they all will work.

I’ve given you an almost blank canvas here, with possible additions being as numerous as they are obvious. One geometrical change I’d make next time, would be to quarter the potatoes instead of halving them, to add surface area, as well as decreasing the cooking time.

Not only is this salad good hot, room temp, and cold, but it also works for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I hope you give it a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 6 portions
2 tbsp olive oil, more as needed
2 lbs new yellow or red potatoes
1 lb trimmed wild mushrooms
2 oz pancetta
salt and pepper to taste
3 tbsp sherry vinegar
2 tbsp tarragon
2 garlic cloves, finely minced

Note: I roasted the potatoes at 400 F. for 30 minutes, then turned the oven up to 425 F. to finish with the mushrooms. For simplicity’s sake, just use 425 F the whole way. It’s 30 minutes for just potatoes, then about 20-30 more with the mushrooms, tossing a few times. Don’t stop until everything is looking awesome.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Homemade Cream Cheese – The Labneh Way

This recipe video is inspired by a Lebanese yogurt cheese spread called Labneh, but I decided to call it homemade cream cheese because my sources deep inside Google tell me that “cream cheese” is searched for more often than “labneh.” In fairness, and with apologies to my Lebanese fans, it really is almost identical in texture and mouthfeel.

Like I say in the video, the taste is a bit bolder and tangier than that stuff from Philly, but when is that ever a bad thing? Michele found some amazing sheep’s milk yogurt at a local farmer’s market, and it was incredible in this, but I've used regular yogurt and it works wonderfully as well.

You can use it as you would any commercial cream cheese, but the honey and pistachio variation I tacked on to the end would make for a memorable holiday brunch addition. On the savory side, you can’t beat simply drizzling over some olive oil and eating as a spread with crispy bread or pita chips.

Most recipes for this say you can eat it after one day, but I really think the two-day “aging” and pressing process does great things. The taste mellows out a bit, and the texture gets even denser and richer feeling. Besides, if you don’t press it, you won’t get those signature, and ultra sexy cheesecloth fabric marks! I hope you give this homemade cream cheese a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for about two heaping cups of cream cheese:
1 quart yogurt, try to get something really nice from a dairy, or use Greek-style
1 tsp kosher salt or to taste
*If needed, use a paper towel to blot off any additional moisture that come to the top during the 2-day pressing in the fridge.
Note: I’ve only made this one way, so I’m not sure what happens if you deviate from the recipe and use low-fat yogurt, etc. Let me know if you try something different!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Salt-Roasted Chicken – Tastes Like Chicken

There's no mystery why “Chicken” is one of the most popular recipe searches ever. Everyone loves chicken, but it’s easy to get tired of, so we're always on the lookout for new things to try. 

The problem is we get so tied up in adding things, that we forget how amazing roast chicken can be when we take things away…like everything, except a very generous dusting of kosher salt. 

When you prep a chicken like this, and roast it in a very hot oven, the bird has no choice but to cook and crisp up in its own juices, which results in very moist, flavorful meat. Thomas Keller, who helped popularize this minimalist method, argues that cooking the thighs/legs as quickly as possible in a very hot oven prevents the breasts from drying out, and I tend to agree. 

Of course, no matter how juicy and chickeny your chicken tastes, it can only get better garnished with a little spoonful of thyme butter sauce. I wanted to remind everyone how simple it is to make these quick, butter-based pan sauces. If you know how to make one, you know how to make a thousand. 

The important thing to remember is that any time there’s a pan sitting around crusted with caramelized meat drippings, you’re always only three minutes away from a world-class sauce. I hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for four portions:
1 big chicken, about 3 1/2 to 4 pounds
lots of kosher salt (coat the entire surface of the bird, inside and out, with the salt, being extra generous on the breasts)
– Roast at 450 F. for 50-60 minutes
For the sauce:
1 tbsp thyme leaves
1 lemon, juiced
1/3 cup chicken broth (plus all extra juices from rested chicken plate)
2 tbsp cold butter cut in 4 pieces
salt and pepper to taste
cayenne, to taste
(Note: I’m totally guessing at measurements here, since you kind of just splash stuff in. Use the force.)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

National Pizza Month? Sure, Why Not!

That's right, apparently October is National Pizza Month, and to celebrate I'm sharing these links to some of our most popular pizza-related posts. Both pizza doughs, the no-knead, and Wolfgang Puck's classic California-style, get rave reviews, and are easy to master, even for a beginner. 

Of course, man cannot live by crust alone, so you'll also need some sauce, a few creative topping ideas, and a brilliant technique to reheat those cold, leftover slices. You know the drill; simply click the links to watch/read the original recipe post. Enjoy!

No-Knead Pizza Dough

So easy and fun to make, unless you like kneading, then maybe not so much.

Wolfgang's California Pizza Dough

The original chef-to-the-stars shares this very user-friendly, all-purpose pizza dough recipe.

Pizza Sauce

Pizza sauce is almost as important as the dough, so don't even think about using something straight from the can.

Asparagus, Ham, and Ricotta Pizza 

I generally don't like a lot vegetables on my pizza, since that's what salads are for, but asparagus with ham and ricotta is another story altogether.

Sausage and Egg Pizza

Eggs on pizza? Yes, yes, and yes. Yes. 

Potato Pesto Pizza

Do you love pizza, but wish it had more carbs? Well, this potato-topped pesto pizza is just what the "doctor" ordered.   

How to Reheat Pizza 

This went viral for a reason. Simply put, this method produces a better slice of pizza than when it was first made.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Cheesy Crackers – The Simple Joy of Homemade Crackers

Making homemade cheese crackers has never been very high on my must-do baking list, but with entertaining season rapidly approaching, I decided to give it a try to see just how vastly superior they are to their store-bought cousins.

I’m happy to report that they are better anything I’ve ever had out of a factory-sealed package. They have a much better texture with more crunch, and way more real, cheesy flavor. The only thing they have less of is ingredients; like by 45 to 5.

By the way, these cheesy crackers are based on a recipe I found on my friend, Joy the Baker’s blog. If you’re not familiar with her fine work, I encourage you to go check her out. She’s one of my favorites!

As far as the cheese goes, I went with three parts sharp cheddar to one part Parmigiano-Reggiano. I’m giving the cheese measurements below in weight, as the proportions to the rest of the ingredients are critical, and as you’ll see in the clip, measuring by cup is highly inaccurate. Since I used a fine grater on the very dry, hard cheese, it looks like well over a half-cup of cheese, but in fact was only one ounce.

This is why when recipes call for a cup of Parmesan cheese, some people will be adding 2-oz of cheese, and others 4-oz, simply depending on how they grated the cheese and packed the cup. But, when portioning cheese by weight, one ounce is always one ounce. 

Okay, I feel better. I hope you give these delicious homemade cheese crackers a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for about 36 crackers:
(Note: This is a half recipe, you should double to make enough for a party)
2 tablespoons room temperature unsalted butter
3 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 3/4 cup lightly packed)
1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated (about 1/3 cup lightly packed)
1/2 tsp paprika
pinch of cayenne
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (2.25 oz by weight)
1 tablespoon cold water

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Tomato Bisque – Soup Might Not Count as a Meal, but Bisque Certainly Does

It’s been awhile since I dropped a Seinfeld reference, but this hearty tomato bisque had me reminiscing about the famous “soup’s not a meal” episode. It’s rich, hearty, and satisfyingly thick without being heavy. Sorry, Bania, it counts. 

There are different opinions on what makes something a bisque. Technically, it’s made from some sort of shellfish puree, but modern usage includes vegetables as well. Above and beyond that, it has to have cream, and be thickened with rice.

One problem with many of the tomato soups I’ve had, is that they are either thickened with tons of tomato paste, which is like eating a bowl of pasta sauce, or they’re thickened with a flour roux or cornstarch slurry, which leaves them too pasty for me. A little rice thickens the soup just as well , but also gives it a nice silky texture.

As far as the canned tomatoes go, we’re using the same argument here we use for tomato sauce. Unless you have some amazingly sweet, vine-ripened specimens around, that you’ve peeled, seeded, and cooked down to get rid of the excess moisture, then chances are San Marzano tomatoes will produce a superior product.

I tried to stress in the video how important it is to adjust the seasonings to your liking,  especially the sweetness. Many of us were raised on Campbell’s tomato soup (and grilled cheese sandwiches, of course), and because that flavor is so ingrained in our taste memories, you need to get this at least close for it to work. Taste, adjust, taste, adjust, and as always, enjoy!

Ingredients for 6 Portions:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
3 cloves garlic
1 quart chicken broth, plus more as needed
1 (28-oz) can crushed San Marzano tomatoes, or about 3 1/2 cups of other crushed tomatoes
1/2 tsp paprika
3 tbsp white long grain rice
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 or 2 tsp sugar, or to taste
salt and pepper to taste
cayenne to taste
basil to garnish