Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Peanut Sauce

Here's a great, classic Cooking Light recipe. It's actually from a recipe called Peanutty Noodles, but I make the sauce separately sometimes. You can use peanut sauce on lots of things, from spaghetti to Asian noodles to chicken satay. You can make a big batch and freeze it; just gently warm it and whisk thoroughly to combine.

Peanut Sauce

1 tablespoon vegetable oil, divided
2 teaspoons grated peeled fresh ginger or 3/4 t. powdered ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice or white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce (such as Lee Kum Kee or Sriracha) add more if you like more heat
1/4 teaspoon salt

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the ginger and minced garlic; sauté 30 seconds. Add chicken broth and the next 5 ingredients (broth through salt); stir until well-blended. Reduce heat, and simmer 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and keep warm.

Peanutty Noodles Variation

Peanut sauce
8 oz. linguine or spaghetti, cooked
1 1/2 cups grilled or roasted chicken, cut into chunks
Vegetables of your choosing: sliced red bell pepper, snow peas (lightly steamed), carrots (peeled into strips), steamed broccoli, etc.
Minced cilantro

Toss pasta, peanut sauce, chicken, and vegetables in a large bowl. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

Peanut Chicken Skewers Variation

Peanut sauce, divided in half
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

Slice chicken lengthwise into 1-in. strips; thread onto skewers (if using bamboo skewers, soak them in water first for at least 20 minutes). Grill, uncovered, over medium-hot heat for 2 minutes (or broil); turn and brush with peanut butter sauce. Continue turning and basting for 4-6 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Serve with remaining sauce.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Fish Tacos

Jack loves fish and seafood almost as much as I do - he cheered when I told him what we were having for dinner tonight. These fish tacos are a healthier version of the ones you get in a restaurant, since they are not deep fried. I ate them with traditional soft corn, and Jack liked hard shell corn tortillas. I tried his, and I think they made the tacos taste a bit more like restaurant ones because they are crunchy and fried.
The toppings for these tacos came from Sara's Secrets, a cookbook I really like.
1 lb. tilapia
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup flour
salt and pepper
1 cup panko bread crumbs (Kikkoman is a common brand)
1-2 T. butter, melted
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
2 chipotle peppers, diced
1 T. adobo sauce (from the chipotle can)
2 T. lime juice
2 cups shredded cabbage
1/4 t. salt
2 T. unseasoned rice vinegar
1 avocado - diced
Tortillas - soft or crunchy corn recommended
Combine flour with 1/2 t. salt and 1/4 t. pepper. Dip fish into flour, coating lightly. Dip into egg, and finish with panko breadcrumbs on both sides. Place on a baking dish and drizzle fish with melted butter. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.
Combine sauce ingredients (mayo through lime juice). Chill until time to serve.
Just before fish is finished cooking, toss cabbage with salt and rice vinegar.
When fish is cooked, cut into chunks. Serve at the table with tortillas, sauce, cabbage, and avocado.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

Update: I made these for Treat the Troops and subbed a large 19-oz. package of M&Ms since chocolate chips melt in transit.

I can't say how many different versions of chocolate chip cookies I've made, but I'd guess it's probably 20 or so. I don't think I've ever had a truly bad CCC, but I have an ideal: crispy outside, chewy inside, balance of salt and sweet. This recipe is the best yet. When you bite into the cookie, it has a shatteringly crisp crust, but the cookie stays chewy and doesn't deflate or turn hard. The light sprinkle of sea salt on top balances the sweetness of the cookie.

I've been storing the dough in the refrigerator and making a sheet of cookies as needed, so I haven't seen one older than a day, but it was still soft and fresh tasting. Don't skip chilling, because the butter in the dough stays cold longer in the oven and your cookies won't spread and flatten. Four hours is probably the minimum chilling time.

I've adapted the recipe (mainly in size of cookies) from Jacques Torres in the NYT. Unfortunately, it's one of those fussy recipes that calls for two specialty flours: cake and bread. Cake has a low protein count and bread has a higher one, so I'm not sure why all-purpose wouldn't be a good halfway point. I'm almost afraid to try the substitution because they were so good as written. Don't miss the five minute butter/sugar creaming; that incorporates air into the dough.

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies (from Jacques Torres)

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 pound chocolate chips or bittersweet chocolate bar cut into chunks (note: I've reduced the amount of chocolate from the earlier version for a chewier cookie.)
Sea salt

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 4 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or just use an ungreased sheet. Set aside.

4. Scoop 1 1/2 inch balls of dough and place on sheet. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 10-12 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Chipotle Chicken Salad

This recipe is actually for tacos, but I liked it even better with the filling used as a salad. You can wrap the filling in any kind of tortillas you like: flour, hard shell, or soft shell corn. I got the original recipe from Recipezaar, but I streamlined it to make it easy for weeknights.

Note: chipotle peppers in adobo sauce are sold with the Mexican products. You can take out the two you need for this recipe and freeze the rest for another time.

Chipotle Chicken Salad

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil, preferably extra-virgin
2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo, finely chopped
1 package coleslaw* mix with carrots (can also used chopped napa cabbage and carrots)
1/2 - 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 rotisserie chicken, meat removed and shredded (or three cups cooked chicken)
1 large ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/3 cup coarsely grated mexican queso anejo or queso fresco (like Romano or feta, respectively)
warm tortillas (if you want a wrap rather than a salad)
*Bagged coleslaw mix is next to bagged lettuce; it won't have dressing on it.
In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil and chipotles.
Season generously with 1/4 t. salt.
Add the coleslaw, onion, cilantro and chicken.
Toss everything together and let stand for 15 minutes.
Taste and season with additional salt if necessary.
Scoop the filling into a wide shallow serving bowl, dot with the cubed avocado and dust generously with the cheese.
Serve with warm tortillas, if desirted.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Black Bean and Corn Enchiladas Verde

This is not a picture of my enchiladas. If I posted my picture, you would not want to make this recipe - green enchilada sauce does not photograph well. If you want to see what I mean, look up green enchiladas in Google images, and you'll see - the pea soup over tortillas look is not very appetizing.

But these were so good! I made them a few days after the 4th of July with some leftover corn salad (made from corn scraped off the cob).

Green enchilada sauce is made from tomatillos and is a little more fresh and tart tasting than red. It's widely available with other Mexican food products.

This is a rare recipe that I developed myself. The amounts are approximate.

Black Bean and Corn Enchiladas Verde

1 T. olive oil

1 T. lime juice

1/c. red onion, diced

1.5 - 2 cups of corn

1 can black beans (or 2 cups), drained and rinsed

1 can Rotel tomatoes, any kind

8-12 flour tortillas

1 large can (28 oz. +) green enchilada sauce (I often make my own, but didn't have time)

1 12-oz. package Queso Fresco (Mexican crumbling cheese - texture of feta)

Mix together corn, black beans, Rotel tomatoes, and diced red onion. Drizzle with olive oil and lime juice and stir to combine. Pour in 1/4 - 1/2 cup of enchilada sauce and combine.

Place a tortilla on a dinner-sized plate, and put 1/4 cup of the filling on one edge of a tortilla. Wrap it up, trying not to spill the filling out. Put the tortillas, seam side down, in a baking dish. Pour rest of enchilada sauce on top of tortillas, trying to cover completely. Crumble and sprinkle cheese on top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Turn on a broiler for a couple of minutes (watching carefully) until enchiladas are slightly browned and bubbly.

Serve with sour cream, cilantro, hot sauce, etc.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


I've mentioned before that I love Mark Bittman, author of How To Cook Everything and the Bitten blog on the NYT website. I use his recipe for pesto because I don't like how much garlic some other recipes I've tried have. Now, I love garlic, but for pesto I want it in the background so the basil can shine!

Pesto is great served over pasta (thin with a bit of pasta cooking water), spread on chicken, or mixed into mayonnaise and served on a sandwich. You can also freeze it - just leave out the cheese until you serve it. If you don't cover it with a thin layer of olive oil before freezing, it won't be as vibrantly green, but it will still taste great.

Next time I make it, I'll add a picture to the post. Oh, by the way - I've tried the butter variation mentioned at the end: wicked.

Pesto (Mark Bittman)

Makes about 1 cup

Time: 5 – 15 minutes

2 loosely packed cups fresh basil leaves, big stems discarded, rinsed and dried
Salt to taste
½ to 1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts, lightly toasted in a dry skillet
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, or more
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan or other hard cheese

(1) Combine the basil, salt, garlic, nuts and about half the oil in a food processor or blender (or mortar and pestle).

(2) Process, stopping to scrape down the sides of the container occasionally, and adding the rest of the oil gradually. Add additional oil if you prefer a thinner mixture. Store in the refrigerator for a week or two, or in the freezer for several months (omit next step/cheese if freezing – and drizzle top with oil to preserve). Stir in the parmesan by hand just before serving.

Pesto with butter: For really special pesto, stir in 2 tablespoons softened butter just before tossing with lean foods such as pasta.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Reese's Sundae

The only time I waitressed was for one summer in college at Friendly's. Friendly's is a family restaurant/ice cream parlor in the eastern part of the US - though not in Georgia! I'm not sure why I worked there: the tips were pretty awful, since 15% of a $1.75 ice cream is . . . not very much. But I did learn that if the sundaes I made for my customers were generous, the tips were better. Here's my version of the best sundae we made - minus the marshmallow sauce, because I don't like it.

Reese's Sundae

Vanilla ice cream
Peanut butter
Hot fudge sauce
Whipped cream
Reese's Pieces or chopped Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
Maraschino cherries

Heat the hot fudge according to instructions on the jar (you can use homemade, of course!). Put a few scoops of peanut butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat for 30 seconds or until melted. Drizzle a little hot fudge and melted peanut butter in the bottom of the sundae dish and add a few Reese's Pieces. Scoop in ice cream, then pour more hot fudge and peanut butter sauce on top. Sprinkle more Reese's Pieces over the top of the sundae. Top with whipped cream and finish with a few more Reese's and a cherry on top.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Make an Independence Day Cake - and a Memory, Too

This cake is from Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa). Not only is it delicious, it makes a great activity for the kids at a 4th of July barbecue. You bake and frost the cake, then let the kids decorate it with blueberries, raspberries, and more frosting. So what if it doesn't look as good as Ina's? It is sooo good - white cake with cream cheese frosting and berries, and it serves 24 people. If you try it, you might just start a new tradition!

Flag Cake


18 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
3 cups sugar
7 large eggs at room temperature
1 cup sour cream at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

For the icing:

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/2 pounds cream cheese at room temperature
1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

To assemble:

2 half-pints blueberries
3 half-pints raspberries


Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter and flour an 18 by 13 by 1 1/2-inch sheet pan. (You can use an 11x15 jelly roll/rimmed cookie sheet, but don't overfill with batter - put the extra in an 8-inch square pan).

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high speed, until light and fluffy. On medium speed, add the eggs, 2 at a time, then add the sour cream and vanilla. Scrape down the sides and stir until smooth.

Sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda in a bowl. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until just combined. Pour into the prepared pan. Smooth the top with a spatula. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool to room temperature.

For the icing, combine the butter, cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mixing just until smooth.

Spread three-fourths of the icing on the top of the cooled sheet cake. Outline the flag on the top of the cake with a toothpick. Fill the upper left corner with blueberries. Place 2 rows of raspberries across the top of the cake like a red stripe. Put the remaining icing in a pastry bag fitted with a star tip and pipe two rows of white stripes below the raspberries. Alternate rows of raspberries and icing until the flag is completed. Pipe stars on top of the blueberries.

Serve in pan.

Insalata Caprese

This simple salad is one of my favorite things in all the world. I grow extra basil just so we can eat it often - like once a week in the summer.

You can really use any kind of good, flavorful tomatoes. Those ugly heirloom ones from the farmer's market are especially delicious. Tonight I used small Campari tomatoes - I thought I might not have enough because Ben was eating them as fast as I could slice them! They were so sweet.

Insalata Caprese

1 8-oz ball fresh mozzarella, sliced roughly the same size as tomato slices

bunch of basil, leaves detached and washed

2-3 large slicing tomatoes, or 6-8 small ones, sliced

olive oil

balsamic vinegar

sea or kosher salt

fresh ground pepper

You can stack or layer the ingredients in any pattern you like: tomato, basil leaf, slice of cheese. Drizzle with olive oil, then a few splashes of balsamic (not required). Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Regular salt is fine, but I like the crunch of sea or kosher.

Baked Potato Soup

The boys watched Ratatouille on the way home from Florida, so Ben started asking me to make potato soup and eclairs. The French version of potato soup is not like our baked potato version, but we like this better. I hadn't made it in a long time, but it was sooo good - and even Ben ate it!

I found the recipe on the Cooking Light board originally, but it's from a restaurant called California Dreaming.

Baked Potato Soup

1/4 cup onion -- minced
1/4 cup celery -- minced
1/3 cup flour
3 cups chicken stock or broth
2 medium potatoes -- peeled and cubed
1 teaspoon basil, fresh, or 1/3 t. dried
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup heavy cream or half and half
1 cup sour cream
8 strips bacon -- chopped
fresh chives or green onions -- chopped
cheddar cheese -- grated

Cook bacon slowly over medium-low heat until crisp, taking care not to brown the fat. Set bacon aside, leaving 1 - 2 tablespoons rendered fat in the pan.

Add onions and celery and saute until tender. Add flour and mix well. Add chicken stock and stir until all flour is dissolved. Continue to stir and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to a simmer. Add potatoes and let soup simmer until potatoes are tender (about 30 minutes). Add heavy cream, sour cream, basil, and white pepper. Let simmer for another 10 minutes until soup is hot again.

Garnish each portion of soup with the bacon, chives, and cheese.

Our Father's Day Cupcakes

Making the cupcakes with the boys was messy but fun! We couldn't find the black shoestring licorice, and twists didn't work as well. But no one complained - they tasted great!