Monday, February 28, 2011

Mushroom and Black Bean Tortilla Casserole

I think I've set a new record for cooking recipes out of one issue of a magazine:


I know, I aim high.

This is the second recipe from the January/February 2011 issue of Everyday Food.  My first recipe was the turkey chili, which was delicious.  EDF, would you fail me now?

Today's recipe is the Mushroom and Black Bean Tortilla Casserole, which is from their week of dinners section of the magazine.  It seemed easy enough, and the ingredients aren't outlandish, and lo and behold, I have lunch for the week.

My only possible suggestion for this recipe is to omit the cayenne if you can't handle spice.  When I first tasted the casserole, it was HOT.  I bought mild salsa, but the cayenne gave it some extra kick.  If you don't like spice, make sure you purchase the mildest salsa there!  I bought Pace Picante's mild because it was on sale.

My biggest peeve about this recipe is it doesn't specify what size tortillas to buy.  It says "corn" so I assumed taco sized, but I kept worrying I wouldn't have enough tortillas, so I bought a pack of 18 tortillas.  It turned out I really only needed the 8 tortillas, so I have to find something to do with the remaining 10.  Enchiladas? 

Definitely rinse the black beans - it gets rid of that funky can smell.  Also remember to warm the tortillas, as it helps to soften them during baking.  You can warm them by microwaving them inbetween paper towels for 20 seconds.

Verdict:  Great taste, even it was a bit spicy.  However, the next day, the fire died down considerably, so if you're freezing or eating it over the course of a week, don't worry if it's too hot for you initially.  When I first pulled it out of the oven, I pulled a slice out to photograph and then put aside for lunch today, but I took a few sample bites.  And then a few more sample bites.  And then a sample bite out of another piece stil in the pan.  It is GOOD.  It comes together quickly, so if you need a fast meal on a weeknight, paired with some salad, it's a great meatless option.

My favorite part is definitely the mushrooms.  You can't go wrong with mushrooms. 

Casseroles, no matter what you do, do not photograph that well.

Mushroom and Black Bean Tortilla Casserole, Everyday Food, January/February 2011

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 3/4 pound cremini or white mushrooms, cleaned and quartered (I used 1/2 pound of cremini, which happened to be on sale!  Score!)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • Coarse salt and pepper
  • 15.5 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 8 corn tortillas, halved and warmed
  • 2 cups salsa
  • 4 oz Monterey Jack cheese, shredded.  (I couldn't find it at the grocery store, so I used a mixture of shredded cheddar and jack)
1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2.  In a large skillet, heat olive oil.  Add mushrooms, and stir until soft, about 7 minutes.  Add cayenne and garlic; season with salt and pepper.

3.  Add black beans to the skillet; stir to combine.  Continue stirring until heated through, about 2 minutes.  Remove from heat. 

4.  Arrange 5 tortilla halves on the bottom of a 2 quart baking pan.  (I used a 8x8 pyrex.)  I arranged the tortillas so the cut sides were along the edges of the pan, and then laid the fifth half in the middle.  Top with half of the bean mixture, and a 1/2 cup of salsa (I used a tablespoon and spooned out 8 tablespoons and a bit, which is 1/2 cup.)  Top with 1/3rd of the cheese.  Repeat with another layer.  Top with remaining tortilla, salsa, and cheese.

I hope this makes sense!

5.  Cover with foil and bake until center is hot and cheese melts, about 10-15 minutes.  Remove foil and bake until cheese bubbles, about 5 minutes.  Be careful!  Cheese burns quickly!

Enjoy the layers.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Kitchen Tips, Part II

If you've heard this one before, go about your day.  Thanks!


Wednesday night I am attempting to fry some russet potatoes.  Nothing fancy - just some olive oil, some onions, and then the potatoes cut into small pieces, almost like home fries.  I wanted to put them in freezer breakfast burritos.

I'm usually very careful to keep potatoes from sticking to my pans, mostly because I hate cleaning them later.  Well, this time I didn't have enough oil (darnit!) and I had a fine later of potato on the bottom of my pan.  Great. 

No pictures of this failure exists, and we'll keep it that way.  It was nicely browned though, and not burned, so HA!

Ordinarily I'd let the pan soak in water and then scrub like crazy later. 

Then I remembered the word "deglazing."

In a recipe where you brown meat in a pan, you usually create a sauce by adding broth or wine to the pan.  It'll lift the brown bits off the bottom of the pan, and cook into a nice sauce.

After I removed the cooked potatoes from the pan (and tried to scrape what brown crispy bits I could) I added enough water to cover the bottom of the pan, and then some, put it back on the stove, and turned the heat to medium high so the water would come close to a boil.  When the water heated up, I used a spatula to scrape all the cooked-on bits from the bottom of the pan.

It worked perfectly.  All the little pieces lifted off with a little spatula scraping, but the effort was nowhere close to what I would have done with a sponge.  Success!  I win! 

I poured everything down the drain and ran the disposal promptly.  I then washed the pan as usual, and I am back in business.

Maybe I'll finally retire my quickly dying non-stick 10" frying pan.  Or this is a weekend for a dish with braised chicken.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have a confession to make.

I'm not a big fan of chocolate chip cookies.  Actually, chocolate in general.  Most of the time, it's too sweet and I can only handle so much sweet at a time.  Ideally I like my sweet to be balanced with something else, which may be why I like Reese's Pieces so much.  Or I'm just weird.

I do love baking any kind of cookie out there though, and I do have a go-to chocolate chip recipe - Martha Stewart's Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies from her Cookie book.  A deliciously simple recipe that stayed soft and perfect for days after.  I didn't think any recipe could top that one.

Well America's Test Kitchen just had to go and up the ante, didn't they.  Last season they featured an improved chocolate chip cookie recipe that took the flavor up a notch from their previous cookie recipe - browned butter.

Browned butter cookies, cooling on a rack.

Browning butter infuses more flavor into the cookie, giving it a nutty, almost toffee like flavor.  Mmm flavor.  But the first time I browned the butter, I kept it on the stove too long, trying to get the butter as deep brown as possible, and I burned the butter.  Woe is me.  The second time around, I was extremely vigilant about the browning, and took it off the stove earlier.  Also, please use a 10 inch skillet.  I couldn't find a 10 inch skillet (or I was too lazy to clean one) in my stainless steel pan collection, so I used an 8 inch skillet.  It took longer to brown the butter.

You must use a stainless steel or other light colored pan to brown the butter.  Nonstick pans tend to be dark, so you won't see the butter browning, but you definitely will smell it... when it's burned.

Also, do NOT skip the rest/whisk part of the recipe!  It really thickens up the butter/sugar/egg mixture, and it is so unique compared to any other cookie recipe I've ever baked.

Gorgeous cookies.

The verdict?  Mr. Unoriginal Chef liked the different taste, but he couldn't give me an answer as to which one was better.  My testers at work couldn't give me a definitive answer other than "OMNOMNOM COOKIE." I liked the flavor, liked how the cookie remained soft the next day, and liked that I worked with melted butter instead of creaming butter (one less appliance to clean!)  It's really a toss up between which recipe I would use as my go-to recipe, but this one is definitely a contender.

Find out for yourself.

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies from America's Test Kitchen, Season 10.

  • 1 3/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour 
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cups dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips or chunks (10 ounces in a 12 ounce bag, roughly)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted. (optional) 

1.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Make sure the rack is in the middle.  Line a baking sheet with parchment.

2.  Whisk together baking soda and flour, set aside.

3.  Heat 10 tablespoons of butter in a 10 inch skillet over medium heat until melted, about 2 minutes.  Continue cooking, swirling the pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma, about 1 to 3 minutes.  It will burn VERY quickly, so watch closely!

4.  Remove skillet from heat and transfer butter to a heatproof bowl.  (My Pyrex bowl worked fine.)  Stir the remaining four tablespoons of butter into the hot butter and stir until melted.

5.  Add brown and granulated sugar, salt and vanilla to the butter.  (I highly advise measuring out the sugar before hand if possible.)  Whisk until fully incorporated.

6.  Add egg and egg yolk to the mixture.  Whisk mixture until smooth and no sugar lumps remain, about 30 seconds.  Let the mixture stand for three minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds.  Repeat the stand and whisk procedure twice.  The mixture will be thick, smooth, and shiny.

7.  Add the flour to the mixture and stir to combine, about one minute.  Stir in chocolate chips and nuts, if using and stir to incorporate and make sure there are no flour pockets (check the bottom!)

8.  ATK recommends making 3 tablespoon sized cookies, or use a #24 cookie scoop.  I used a tablespoon to scoop and formed it with my fingers.

9.  Bake cookies one tray at a time for 9-10 minutes (smaller cookies) or 10 to 14 minutes (larger cookies.)  Halfway through, rotate the cookie sheet.  Cookies are done when they are golden brown and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft.

10.  Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack to cool, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool.  (I had to do this, I needed the baking sheet to make another batch!)

Cookies cooling on the sheet... reflecting on their existence in another pot.

ATK's recipe says to cool completely before serving, but I love warm, out of the oven cookies.  I may have yoinked a cookie off this sheet after it cooled to the touch.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Pan Fried Lemon Chicken Bites

After two days of ravioli, I needed to change up my menu and find another use for my pomodoro sauce.

I decided regular pasta would be fine, but I needed a protein to go with it.  What's a good, quick, but lunch friendly protein dish I could make?  The second part of the challenge - it also had to hold up pretty well before I ate it for lunch.

There's a website for that!  Enter Just Bento!  Just Bento is run by Maki, who provides ideas about how to make bento style lunches for lunch that are not only good for you but delicious.  Her recipes can be found on her other website, Just Hungry.  By the way, Maki has a new adorable book out called The Just Bento Cookbook.

I somehow came across the recipe for Pan Fried Lemon Chicken Nuggets and I loved how simple the recipe was and knew it was perfect for a quick weeknight dish.  I had all the ingredients on hand, making life simple.  I defrosted my chicken overnight (unfortunately it was slightly frozen, so I cooked it longer) and had half of the chicken for dinner, and the other half went with my lunch.

The amount of time you marinate the chicken (plus starting with unfrozen chicken would help) will develop a much deeper lemon flavor in the nuggets, however, drizzling lemon juice on the chicken also gave it that extra lemon burst.  No, it's not exactly like the lemon chicken from Chinese restaurants, but it's a good, quick alternative you can make at home.  Just the way I like it.

Gimme a little cocktail fork and I'm good to go.

Heck, you can probably even serve them as an appetizer at a party.  Or snack on them as they come out of the frying pan.

One note about frying though - I would use the smallest pan you have, just to make your life easier, and so that the oil creates a layer on the bottom of the pan.  If you just drizzle, it tends to collect in one side of the pan versus the other, and your chicken doesn't fry evenly.

Pan-fried Lemon Chicken Bites from Just Bento


  • About 10.5 ounces of boneless, skinless chicken breast (I used breast tenderloins)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cornstarch (approximately 1/3 cup)
  • One whole lemon
  • 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil (more if needed)

1.  Using paper towels, wipe the chicken dry and cut into bite sized pieces.  In a bowl, season with salt, pepper, and the juice of half a lemon.  Toss well, and set aside for at least five minutes.

2.  Heat up a pan with the oil.

3.  Drain the chicken and coat in cornstarch.  

4.  Pan-fry in the frying pan until brown and crispy, about 3-4 minutes, and turn over.  Repeat on the other side, about 2-3 minutes.  Drain on paper towels and repeat until the chicken is cooked.  I always pull a piece out and rip it in half to make sure it is cooked through.  

5.  Optional:  Drizzle soy sauce over the chicken to give it a caramel color.  

6.  Squeeze the other half of the lemon over the chicken.  Let cool if you will be packing it for lunch, or serve hot and eat it right away.  Or while you're cooking them...

Served with whole wheat pasta, pomodoro sauce, and some lemon.  Yums.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pomodoro Sauce

A good hearty pasta always comes with a delicious, hearty sauce.  The simplest of the sauces is a tomato sauce. 

I had printed the recipe for spaghetti pomodoro by Lucinda Scala Quinn ages ago, before I even planned the ravioli, for my "make" file.  I decided to kill two birds with one stone (that's such a violent saying!) by making the pomodoro sauce to go with my ravioli.

Lucinda calls this her "go-to" tomato sauce.  Once again, Lucinda is right.  Always listen to Lucinda!  It is such a great, basic sauce, and I can easily see myself adding ground beef, meatballs... anything.  The recipe also notes that you can add it to any recipe that calls for tomato sauce, such as lasagna, baked ziti, etc.

Once again, I didn't use whole tomatoes.  For one, I didn't feel like busting out a food processor.  Second, the cost per can.  I used petite diced tomatoes, although after watching the video, I might have been better off with tomatoes closer to a puree, or mashing the tomatoes down smaller, as I had large chunks of tomato in my sauce.

A second note - I forgot to get basil.  Woe is me!  I didn't have dried basil either.  I kept my cool and added oregano at the beginning of the simmering process.  Tasted great, actually.

Definitely a winner though.  Maybe I won't buy jarred tomato sauce again.

Pomodoro Sauce by Lucinda Scala Quinn of Mad Hungry

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling.
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 28 ounce can best quality whole tomatoes, lightly pulsed in a blender (I used two 14 ounce cans of petite diced tomatoes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt (a good pinch)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • small pinch of sugar
  • 1 sprig fresh basil
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese, optional.

1.  In a sauce pan over medium heat, heat the olive oil and garlic.  Swirl the pan to coat the garlic with oil and heat until garlic sizzles but doesn't turn brown, about 30 seconds.  Add red pepper flakes and stir. 

2.  Add the tomatoes, salt, black pepper, and sugar and stir to combine.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Cook for at least 20 minutes, but no more than 30.  Add the basil the last five minutes of cooking.  Remove basil before serving.

Serve with your favorite pasta, or use as a sauce in other dishes.  Either way, enjoy!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Spinach and Two Cheese Ravioli

A month ago, I'm in the grocery store and I see wonton wrappers on sale.  Because I'm a sheep for sales, I grab them and throw them in my cart without a plan on how to use them.  (Well I guess I could make wonton...)

Two weeks ago I notice I'm nearing the expiration date and start making plans for the wonton wrappers.  Since I didn't feel like making wonton, I decide to make ravioli instead.  Wonton wrappers are a good stand-in for ravioli wrappers, especially if you don't feel like making a ton of dough.

I wanted to make a non-meat based ravioli that wasn't butternut squash.  I couldn't think of anything until I stumbled on Tyler Florence's Spinach and Three Cheese Ravioli.  Awesome!  The thing I really enjoyed about this recipe is that it is very similar to the cheese filling I make for lasagna. 

First, I want to apologize for the quality of the pictures - I had my P&S camera on hand, and I didn't want to unearth my DSLR.

Second, Tyler Florence is going to hate me because I monkeyed around with his recipe to suit my needs.  A lot.  The base of the recipe came from his however, and this is where the credit should be given.


A quick note on making ravioli with wonton wrappers - I used one wrapper per ravioli.  After they cooked up, I realized that was probably not the brightest idea.  You need a thick wrapper for the ravioli to stand up to the boiling, and the two wrappers should be strong enough.  Ooops. 

Spinach and Two Cheese Ravioli, adapted from Tyler Florence's Spinach and Three Cheese Ravioli with Sugo Sauce.  My changes are in parenthesis.

  • 1 15 ounce container ricotta cheese
  • 2 8 ounce balls of fresh buffalo mozzarella, water drained and shredded.  (I used 4 ounces of already shredded Mozarella out of a bag.)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan (I completely forgot this step and didn't add it, but feel free to add it if you wish!)
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach, chopped. (I used 1 package of frozen spinach, thawed and drained of all liquid.) 
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • salt and pepper.
  • 1 package of wonton wrappers (about 48 wrappers a package)

1.  Combine cheese, spinach, egg, salt and pepper in a large bowl, mixing thoroughly.

2.  Take one wrapper, and place a teaspoonfull sized amount of cheese in the wrapper.  Add more if you think you can seal it without it bursting or popping out the sides. 

If you use less filling, use water to dampen the edges and fold over, making a triangle.

If you use more filling, use water to dampen all four edges, and place another wrapper on top.

I went with the half sized ravioli.

3.  When you have filled all the wrappers, set water in a large pot to boil.

4.  If you are not going to eat all your ravioli immediately (this recipe makes a lot...) lay the ravioli on a parchment lined sheet pan.  Make sure they are not touching each other.  Place in the freezer, and freeze for at least 30 minutes, but preferably one hour.

After an hour, remove from the freezer and place inside of plastic baggies for storage.  You can boil from frozen in the future.

5.  When the water boils, drop in the ravioli one by one.  Allow to boil for at least 4 minutes.  They will float to the top when ready.  Remove from the water one by one with a slotted spoon and place on the plate.  DO NOT DRAIN IN A STRAINER.  They still stick together and it's a pain to separate them.  (experience here...)

6.  Serve with your favorite sauce.

My favorite sauce is a simple tomato sauce from Lucinda Scala Quinn, which will be a future post.

If you have a great, crusty bread to go with this meal, or even some garlic bread, serve along side the ravioli and enjoy.

Lesson from today:  get a better Point and Shoot camera!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Turkey Chili

It's not a secret that I worship before the altar of Martha Stewart's empire.  I subscribe to Martha Stewart Living, Everyday Food, and when I was planning my wedding I purchased Martha Stewart Weddings the day it hit the newstands.  Although Lucinda Scala Quinn is threatening to move into the altar, Martha is number one.

The January/February issue of Everday Food is traditionally the "Light" issue to go along with resolutions of losing weight and eating healthier (and by the time we reach October it's all about savory meals and desserts...) I love this issue as I usually get the most ideas for meals from it.  It looks like a well worn in book!

I love chili... to a point.  If it's spicy, then I won't eat it.  It cooks such a large amount, it's hard for me to eat it by myself.  Mr. Unoriginal Chef is picky, so I figured he wouldn't eat it.  But I just had to make the Turkey Chili from the January/February issue.  Calorie count per serving:  171.  AWESOME. 

I also thought chili was difficult to make, but it was really pretty easy.  The hardest part was making sure my pot was big enough (I used a 3.5 quart saute pan with a lid, just big enough!) You should have seen me adding up the contents of all the ingredients to make sure it fit in my pan.

Math + cooking = friends when it's easy.

Also, a quick note on tomatoes.  America's Test Kitchen and EDF/MSL recommend using whole canned tomatoes, and then breaking them up in a food processor, with a spoon, whichever.  I understand the reasoning behind it (more flavorful tomatoes) however my grocery store only carries whole tomatoes by Muir Glen.  Each can is 3.99.  That gets pricey after a while, especially when I had a promo for the store brand canned tomatoes for 0.49 a can.  For me, it's a no brainer just to buy the already diced tomatoes, especially when they say to break up the tomatoes during cooking anyways.  Am I losing flavor?  Maybe, but the dishes still taste fine to me.  I'm going for simple, everyday meals that are affordable.  A 4.00 can of tomatoes versus 0.98 for two cans might not be much, but I'm looking at things in the long run.  (And to think I sucked at studying economics.)

The flavor of the chili on day one and two was intense.  It was so flavorful, a great mild kick without being spicy, and so hearty that I didn't think that this was a lower fat recipe.  Day three and four, the chili powder flavor started to wane, so definitely eat this within the first two days.  Also, I substituted the cut up pieces of turkey with ground turkey (NOT turkey breast, regular ground turkey) as I was too lazy to cut up turkey (and try to find turkey pieces.)  The ground turkey worked fine.

So much deliciousness.

Turkey Chili, Everyday Food, January/February 2011

  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless turkey thighs, cut into 1/2 inch pieces.  (I used 1.25 pounds ground turkey)
  • 1/2 large white onion, diced small.  (I used 1 small yellow onion, diced finely.)
  • 2 garlic cloves, diced small
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 tablesppons ancho chili or regular chili powder (I used regular chili powder.)
  • 1 bottle amber lager beer or 1 1/2 cups of low sodium chicken broth (I used chicken broth)
  • 1 can (28 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes, pureed.  (I used 2 14-15 ounce cans of peeled diced tomatoes.  Do not get the lower sodium tomatoes.)
  • 1 can (15.5 ounces) pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • Coarse salt and pepper (I found this to be optional, it had plenty of flavor.)

1.  In a large heavy pot, heat 1 teaspoon oil over medium high.  Add turkey and cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through.  Transfer turkey to a bowl with a slotted spoon and pour off juices.  (Since I used ground turkey, I kept stirring to cook the slab of ground turkey all the way through... and I didn't pour off the juices.  I just threw it in the pot for more "flavor.")

2.  Add 1 teaspoon of oil to the pot.  Add onion and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes.

3.  Add garlic, cumin, oregano and chili powder.  Cook until fragrant, one minute.

4.  Add beer (or broth) and cook, scraping up bits from the bottom of the pot until liquid thickens, about five minutes.

5.  Add tomatoes, turkey, beans, and 1/2 cup water.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium low, partially cover, and simmer until chili is dark and thick, about 45 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  (I don't think this is needed, as there is a lot of sodium in the tomatoes and also with the beans.)

Simmer baby, simmer!

Serve with tortilla chips (mmm), sour cream, greek yogurt, diced onion, jalapeno, cheese, anything that floats your boat.  If you cook it down thick enough, you can make some monster nachos out of this chili!


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Almond Cookies

Ahhh almond cookies.  My memories of almond cookies come from a pink box from the Golden Phoenix Bakery (I think that's what they're called... don't quote me.  It's a pink box!) that were always such a delicious, crumbly treat. 

A food blog I follow daily is Food Gal by Carolyn Jung, who used to be the Food Writer at the SJ Mercury News.  She posted a recipe the other day for New Years - a roasted chicken with soy and whiskey.  I usually do not cook with alcohol, but as I salivated over her roast chicken picture, I noticed a link to almond cookie recipes.


I had a New Year's event coming up with a group I joined at work and we were to bring desserts.  Awesomer!  I could bring these cookies!

When I first glanced at the recipe, I was terrified of the word "shortening."  I hated the idea of having to buy another type of "fat" to make a batch of cookies.  Unlike beautiful butter, I can't use it in other recipes easily, or spread it on toast in a pinch.  However, after reading the results of the two types of cookies, I went with the shortening recipe since it achieved the type of cookie I wanted - fluffy.

Ok fine, not fluffy.  I'm not a perfect baker.

The cookies didn't zoom me back to my childhood - no crazy preservatives - but the taste was consistent with a great crumble.  There's something about almond extract that has that lingering aftertaste... but everyone at the event LOVED the cookies, so I think they may make a return appearance in the future.

I was initally concerned that this recipe didn't contain salt, but it wasn't needed.  The almond extract seriously takes care of everything.

Almond Cookies from Food Gal, from Blonder and Low's "Every Grain of Rice"

  • 1 cup shortening (or lard) (ew)  You can purchase shortening in packs of three sticks, which is definitely preferable if you don't use shortening often.  You can use the other sticks in pie dough ... or to make these cookies again.
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract (it's VERY strong!)
  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 36 blanched almonds

1.  Blanch your almonds!  Unless you purchase blanched almonds, almonds come with their skin still on (which is probably where most of the fiber of the almond comes from.)  I use Blue Diamond all natural almonds, as nothing is added to them - preferable for baking.  To blanch, boil water in a pot.  When the water comes to a boil, throw the almonds in and let it boil for 1 minute, and no more than 1 minute, 30 seconds.  (Anything longer than this, and the almond starts to cook.)  Remove from the heat and drain.  Rinse with cold water immediately! 

The almond should look shriveled.  You can easily peel the skin away, or pinch in one corner and the almond will pop right out, although it's very likely the almond will pop out across your kitchen, under your fridge.  Not like I have any experience...

Blot dry with paper towels once you remove the skin, and allow to rest on the paper towels.

2.  Preheat your oven to 375.

3.  In your mixer, cream together shortening and sugar until fluffy.  The nice thing about shortening is you don't have to bring it to room temperature, so you can start working with it right away.

4.  Add the egg, minus one tablespoon.  You will use this egg later as an egg wash on the cookies.

5.  Add the vanilla and almond extracts.  Mix until well combined.

6.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda and baking powder.  Add to the creamed mixture in no more than three additions and stir until just mixed together.  The dough will seem crumbly but when you squeeze it together, it holds up.

7.  Form 32-36 one inch diameter balls and place 2 inches apart on cookie sheets lined with parchment.  Press one blanched almond into the middle of the ball, and brush with the reserved egg. 

Awaiting a trip to the oven...

8.  Bake 12-15 minutes (I did it for 13 minutes.)  I always let my cookies cool on the sheet first and then I remove it to a rack after five minutes to cool.

My cookie still wound up flat - I have no idea why - but they were still delicious beyond belief.  And gobbled up quickly.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Gaeran Mari (Korean Egg Roll Up)

At one of our favorite Korean restaurants, it's a treat when one of the banchan winds up being Gaeran Mari, which looks like an omelette.  It's extremely easy to make - the difficult part is folding the egg.

This simple gaeran mari I made only had onions, but you can add almost anything to your gaeran mari - shredded carrots, green onion, a sheet of nori, anything you can chop/shred finely and allows you to roll up the egg.

Gaeran Mari - a semi original recipe.

Ingredients (for two people)
  • 2 whole eggs + 1 egg white (or one egg yolk, whichever you prefer.)  Two eggs alone are good for a 10" frying pan.  If you have a 12" one, you can go with 2 eggs + 1 yolk/white, or even 3 eggs.  Experiment to see which cooks up the best for you.
  • green onion (three stalks)
  • shredded carrot (2 tablespoons, just about.)
  • pinch of salt and pepper
1.  Crack eggs into a bowl.

2.  Cut green onions into the bowl.  Add the shredded carrots.  Add a pinch of salt, and a dash of pepper.  Mix to combine.

3.  NOTE:  If you are using regular onion, use half of a small onion.  Dice finely, and caramelize before adding eggs to the pan.  They need extra time to get soft.

4.  Heat up your frying pan over medium heat and lightly grease the pan with cooking spray or vegetable oil.  Add the egg mixture to the pan, and swirl around the pan to distribute evenly.

5.  Cook until the egg sets.

6.  If using nori, lay the sheet of nori on top of the egg and allow to get warm.

7.  Going from left to right (or right to left, whichever is more comfortable for you) roll the egg over in one inch sections, like you're rolling a roll-up.  

8.  Remove from the heat, and cut into one inch pieces.  Serve as a side dish with other korean banchan dishes, or as part of a lunchbox as a main dish.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Fish Maw and Crab Soup

Shark fin soup used to be all the rage (and delicious) and the ultimate topper in "we spent a lot of money on this meal" at many Chinese weddings.  Lately, my conscience has been getting to me, with stories of how the fins are cut off the sharks and the shark is thrown back into the water to die.

A cheaper, friendlier alternative is fish maw, which is the part of the fish that fills with air and allows it to remain buoyant.  After being fried, it can be soaked to be softened and used in soups in place of shark fin.  (Another alternative is to use fried pork skin.)

Traditionally at New Years, my mom will make a sea cucumber soup, but this year she elected to go with a fish maw and crab soup.  (Thank goodness too, I HATE sea cucumbers!)

This recipe is courtesy of Leann Chin from Food Network.  It is very close to my mom's recipe, except where it says to add chicken, replace it with crab.  My mom also does not add mushrooms or chives to the soup.

Fish maw and crab soup simmering on the stove.


  • 2 ounces processed fish maw (hot sandblasted, see Cook's Note)
  • 8 thin slices fresh ginger
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 8 medium dry black mushrooms, rehydrated for 20 minutes, destemmed, and cut into thin strips
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 2 egg whites, beaten with salt and white pepper
  • 1 cup julienned yellow chives
  • 1 cup shredded cooked chicken (or 1 cup of cooked crab)
  • Salt and white pepper


1.  Soak fish maw in warm water for 2 hours.

2.  Place fish maw in a 4-quart saucepan and cover with cold water. Add 4 ginger slices and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes on medium low heat and then drain fish in colander, rinsing with cold water. Squeeze out any excess water.

3.  Cut the maw into 1/2 inch diced pieces, discarding any hard pieces.

4.  Heat the chicken broth and the remaining 4 ginger slices in a large pot until boiling. Add the fish maw and the black mushrooms. Heat to boiling and then turn to medium low heat and simmer 10 minutes.

5.  While soup is simmering, combine the cornstarch and water in a small bowl. Remove the 4 slices of ginger from soup. Turn heat to high and stir in the cornstarch mixture.

6.  When soup returns to a rapid boil, stir in egg white mixture a little at a time, stirring constantly with a fork until egg mixture forms threads. Taste soup at this time to see if salt and white pepper are needed. Add the shredded chicken (or crab) and yellow chives; stir to mix. Turn off heat and serve.

Cook's Note: Fish maw comes dried and processed. If you purchase the dried fish maw that is unprocessed and hard as plastic, you need to deep fry in oil at 375 degrees F for a few seconds until they puff up. Then you can proceed with the soaking process in the recipe.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Happy New Year!

Hi Everyone!

I'd like to wish you a Happy Year of the Rabbit.

May this year be prosperous, happy and healthy.

For the food, I present to you the feast at my mom's house last night:


Noodles represent longevity, so you want the noodles to be long and uncut.

The word "Fish" in Chinese is very similar to the word "year."  Having fish is good for a long, happy year.

We also present offerings to our ancestors and to the Kitchen God so they'll look over us and be happy in the afterlife.

We present food, meats, wine and tea, along with burning incense.  There is a chair at the head of the table so they can sit and feast.  I would get in trouble as a kid, because I didn't know I couldn't sit in that chair!

We also burn paper money and paper with gold and silver printed on them, so our ancestors and the Gods will have money, gold and silver to use... wherever they are.


Happy New Year!