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January 31, 2006

Off the Shelf: Milk Puddings with Rosewater Syrup

Here's the first recipe from Off the Shelf that I haven't been terribly thrilled with. There nothing wrong with this simple dessert of milk, gelatin, vanilla, and syrup. It's just a little bland, and almost seems like nursery food.

If you like panna cotta, you may want to give this pudding recipe a try. The texture isn't quite as silky-soft as panna cotta, but the flavor is very similar. I used whole milk, and the texture of the puddings was slightly rubbery. For a lusher dessert, try half-and-half. Don't use milk with a fat content lower than 2%, as the puddings will be too lean.

The rosewater syrup isn't necessary, but it does add a nice extra flavor to the dessert. Rose flower water can be found in well-stocked grocery stores and health food stores. It has a strong floral aroma, but the flavor isn't overpowering. It's a common ingredient in many Middle Eastern and Indian desserts.

Prep Time: 5 minutes, plus chilling time
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 6 servings

1 1/2 Tbsp plain gelatin
3 Tbsp water
3 cups milk
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1/3 cup superfine sugar

3/4 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp rose flower water

Place the gelatin and 3 Tbsp water in a small saucepan over low heat and stir until the gelatin is dissolved. Add the milk, superfine sugar, and vanilla bean and heat for 5 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean and pour the mixture into six 1/2-cup capacity ramekins or molds. Refrigerate at least 4 hours, or overnight.

To make the syrup: Place the 3/4 cup water and the 1/2 cup sugar in a small saucepan and stir over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Simmer for 3 minutes. Add the rose flower water and let cool.

To serve, unmold the puddings onto plates and spoon some of the syrup over the top.


January 31, 2006

Off the Shelf: Balsamic and Tomato Roast Chicken

A very attractive-looking dish from Donna Hay's Off the Shelf . It tastes great and couldn't be simpler to put together: slice up an eggplant, top the slices with chicken breasts, tomatoes, capers, and a balsamic sauce, and bake for 20 minutes. An excellent idea for a cold, wintry day.

I've made a couple of small changes to the recipe: first, I recommend covering the dish while the chicken is baking. When the breasts were uncovered, the ends dried out before the centers were cooked through. Covering the baking dish with foil helped keep the chicken moist and prevented overcooking. Secondly, rather than mixing the tomatoes up with the sauce, I simply arranged them over the chicken and then topped them with the balsamic sauce mixture. This made it easier to whisk the sauce together, and helped keep the rather fragile tomatoes intact. I've also added the suggestion to baste the finished chicken with the sauce before serving.

Hay recommends using capers that are packed in salt, since their flavor and texture is superior to those packed in brine. If you can find salted capers, definitely use them. Just be sure to thoroughly rinse them before using. If you only have brined capers available (these are the standard capers available at the supermarket), they work fine as well.

I couldn't find whole peeled tomatoes in a 14 or 15-oz. sized can. I bought a 28-oz. can and saved half of the tomatoes for another use.

Hay recommends serving this dish with an arugula salad. I found it paired well with the Garlic Roast Asparagus. It would also be great on a bed of couscous, to absorb the tangy-sweet balsamic sauce.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 to 25 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

4 thick slices eggplant (about 1/2-inch thick)
4 chicken breast fillets
14 or 15-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and quartered
2 Tbsp capers, rinsed if using salted capers
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup whole basil leaves
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the eggplant slices in the bottom of a large baking dish and top each slice with a chicken breast. Arrange the quartered tomatoes over the chicken. Combine the capers, vinegar, oil, and sugar and spoon over the tomato-topped chicken. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Spoon up some of the sauce and baste each chicken breast with it, then sprinkle with the basil leaves and grind some fresh pepper over each.

Off the Shelf: Beef and Caramelized Onion Couscous Salad

Another tasty offering from Off the Shelf . The warm couscous and beef wilt baby spinach leaves slightly, creating a delicious warm salad. I had one minor quibble with proportions; otherwise, this is an easy, yummy lunch or dinner idea.

Donna Hay calls for 4 onions in the ingredients list, which seems like way too many. There's no indication of size, just "4 onions," so if we're talking about standard yellow onions, 4 of them sliced up would overwhelm the couscous that they're stirred into. As it was, I made this dish with only 2 onions, and still felt as though they were a bit too much. In my revised recipe, I've called for 1 large or 2 medium yellow onions. I've also increased the cooking time slightly, since the original instruction to cook the onions for "8 to 10 minutes" wasn't sufficient to soften them fully and turn them golden.

The recipe was very good with Dijon mustard. As a variation, you could try a heartier English or German grain mustard.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

1 to 1 1/2 pounds beef filet or strip steak, fat trimmed
1 Tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 bag (about 6 oz.) baby spinach leaves

For the couscous: 4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 large or 2 medium yellow onions, sliced about 1/4-inch thick
2 cups plain couscous
2 1/2 cups hot chicken or beef broth
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a nonstick frying pan or grill pan over high heat. Rub the steak with the 1 Tbsp olive oil, then sprinkle well with pepper. Cook the meat to desired doneness (time will depend on thickness; about 5 minutes per side for medium-rare, 2-inch thick steaks). Set aside, covered, when done.

Heat a sauté pan over medium heat. Add 2 Tbsp olive oil and the sliced onions and cook, stirring occasionally, about 12 to 15 minutes, until onions are soft and golden brown. Place the couscous in a medium bowl and pour the hot broth over it. Cover and allow the liquid to absorb for 5 minutes.

Combine the mustard, the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil, the lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Fluff up the couscous with a fork, then toss with the olive oil mixture. Add the onions and stir to combine.

To serve, place spinach leaves on the bottom of the plate. Top with the couscous and onions. Slice the steak on the diagonal and place the slices over the couscous. If any beef juices have collected in the bottom of the pan, pour them over the top. Serve with extra mustard on the side, if desired.

Off the Shelf: Garlic Roast Asparagus

From Off the Shelf comes a tasty recipe for asparagus. This roasting method would work particularly well with asparagus that's a bit past its prime. Slow roasting brings out the flavors and mellows the garlic, especially if you use elephant garlic.

This recipe can be served warm, at room temperature, or chilled. Donna Hay suggests adding a squeeze of lemon juice and a few shavings of Parmesan, which would be fantastic additions.

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 25 to 35 minutes
Yield: 2 to 4 servings

2 or 3 bunches of asparagus (about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds), tough ends snapped off
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 cloves garlic, OR 1 clove elephant garlic, sliced very thin
Zest of 1 lemon, shredded
Pinch salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the asparagus in a baking dish. Drizzle with the olive oil, add the garlic slices and lemon zest, and toss it all together with your hands. Cover the baking dish and bake until the asparagus is soft, about 25 to 35 minutes depending on the thickness. Serve with a squeeze of lemon juice and/or shaved Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Off the Shelf: Caramel Fig Loaf

This fantastic recipe for quick bread comes from Donna Hay's Off the Shelf . The deep brown sugar flavors meld beautifully with the musky sweetness of dried figs. It's very good, and would be delicious for Christmas brunch.

The recipe calls for demerara sugar, a less-refined type of brown sugar. If you can't find demerara sugar, use turbinado sugar, which is widely available in grocery stores. Don't substitute regular brown sugar.

Hay also uses golden syrup, a common product in the U.K. and Australia/New Zealand. If you have a specialty market that caters to British expats in your area, you might be able to find golden syrup. If you can't find it, substitute Karo Brown Sugar corn syrup.

I made a couple of changes to the fruit; the original recipe says to slice the figs, but I found that simply slicing them left the pieces too big. Chopping them into smaller pieces made the bread easier to slice and eat. I've also reduced the amount of figs, since the original 8 oz. was overwhelming. I used dried Mission figs, which taste fantastic.

The bread can be made 1 day ahead. It's particularly nice if toasted, so if you're serving it for brunch, slice it and then toast the slices in a toaster oven, or on a rack in the oven for a few minutes before serving.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 50 to 60 minutes
Yield: 10 to 12 slices

4 oz. butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup demerara or turbinado sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup golden syrup or brown sugar corn syrup
4 to 5 oz. soft dried figs, chopped

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 8-by-4-inch loaf pan with nonstick spray.

Beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and creamy. Add eggs and beat well.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon. Add the flour mixture and the golden syrup to the butter mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until the flour is all moistened, then stir in the figs. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly (it's a thick batter, so get it as even as you can, but don't fret if it's not completely even or smooth). Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert the loaf out of the pan and continue to cool on the rack. Slice and serve, or wrap tightly in plastic and store at room temperature for up to 1 day.

January 24, 2006

Sara's Secrets: Rick's Black Beans

A very good rendition of black beans. Flavored with onions, garlic, and a smoked ham hock, these beans taste great and get even better after a day or two in the refrigerator.

This is another recipe from the "Cooking Ahead" chapter. The eponymous "Rick" is Sara Moulton's brother-in-law, who developed the recipe.

I had two minor issues with the recipe: first, it's a good idea to seed the tomatoes. I've added this instruction to the recipe -- the seeds weren't a huge problem, but the beans would be better without them. And second: even after the beans had cooked for the time specified in the recipe, they were still very soupy. I took the lid off the pot and cooked them until a lot of the excess liquid had evaporated, and they were fine. Try them with the Cuban-Style Roast Pork. The beans will keep for several days in the refrigerator, and can also be frozen.

Prep Time: 30 minutes, plus ovenight soaking
Cook Time: about 2 hours
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

1 pound black beans
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
9 garlic cloves, minced (about 3 Tbsp)
One 3/4 pound smoked ham hock or meaty ham bone
4 cups chicken broth
2 tsp ground cumin
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
12 oz. plum tomatoes, cored, seeded, and diced (about 1 cup)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano or 1 tsp dried
1 1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried
1 1/2 tsp chopped fresh basil or 1/2 tsp dried

The night before cooking, pick over the beans and rinse thoroughly. Combine with water to cover by 2 inches, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, drain the beans and rinse under cold water. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat; add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.

Cut crosswise slashes through the skin of the ham hock and add it to the saucepan along with the beans, chicken broth, cumin, bay leaves, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 hour 15 minutes.

Transfer the ham hock to a plate and set it aside to cool. Add the tomatoes and herbs to the saucepan. Cook, uncovered, until the beans are tender and the mixture isn't too soupy, about 30 to 40 minutes. When the ham hock is cool enough to handle, remove the meat. Discard the skin, fat, and bone. Coarsely chop the meat and return it to the beans. When beans are tender, discard the bay leaves. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Sara's Secrets: Cuban-Style Roast Pork

Another recipe from the "Cooking Ahead" chapter of Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals . The flavorful marinade makes for a tasty, tender pork roast.

Sara Moulton doesn't give a whole lot of information about the different styles of pork roasts with this recipe, merely saying to use a "pork shoulder." But there are several different types of pork shoulder, and it's important to use the kind that's most suitable for braising. I recommend that you use a Boston butt, also known as a blade roast, shoulder blade roast, or pork shoulder butt. This cut is superior to the picnic roast, which also comes from the shoulder of the pig.

Moulton also specifies "adobo seasoning," without bothering to give any details about this product. Adobo can be a dry spice mixture, a sauce, or a paste. Depending on how well stocked your market is and where in the country you are, you might find several different types of adobo-style seasoning. I'm assuming that Moulton probably means dry seasoning here. But you can easily use the paste or sauce types instead. All of them have excellent flavor.

Some Boston butt roasts are cut into smaller portions for retail sale. If you find a Boston butt that's only 4 or 5 pounds, and you don't need to cook a huge 8-pound roast anyway, feel free to use it. The smaller roast may cook in about 4 hours. You can tell when it's done by the tenderness: the meat should almost fall off the bone when poked with a knife.

This pork goes well with Rick's Black Beans. Sara Moulton also recommends serving it in Cuban-style sandwiches with sliced ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard.

Prep Time: 20 minutes, plus overnight marinating
Cook Time: 4 to 5 hours
Yield: 8 servings

One 8-pound bone-in fresh pork shoulder with skin (preferably a Boston butt or blade roast)
3/4 cup fresh lime juice
6 garlic cloves, minced (about 2 Tbsp)
1 1/2 Tbsp kosher salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp dried oregano
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1/4 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 Tbsp adobo seasoning

Using a small knife, make 1-inch-long incisions in the skin of the pork shoulder about 2 inches apart. Combine 3 Tbsp of the lime juice, the garlic, salt, pepper, and oregano. Rub the mixture into the slashes and along the underside of the pork. Combine the remaining lime juice, the vinegar, grapefruit juice, orange juice, and adobo seasoning in a bowl large enough to hold the meat. Add the pork, skin side up. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before cooking.

To cook, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Transfer the pork and its marinade to a roasting pan. Cover the pan with a lid or aluminum foil and roast until very tender, 4 to 5 hours. Let cool slightly in the liquid, then transfer to a cutting board and discard the skin and excess fat. Slice and serve.

January 23, 2006

Sara's Secrets: Cider-Braised Chicken

My reaction to this dish was, "Eh." It's really not all that exciting, and for the amount of work it takes, not worth the effort. Chicken thighs are braised in cider until tender, and the sauce thickens itself because the thighs are dredged in flour before being browned. There are a lot of steps to get this dish ready, and the payoff doesn't reflect all the work.

You've got to chop up some bacon, fry it, dredge the chicken, sauté it, braise the whole thing in cider, then add chopped apples and let the sauce reduce. Sara Moulton's recipe says that there's 15 minutes of "hands-on" time with this recipe, but it's more like 45 minutes.

If the end result were really tasty, all the effort would be worthwhile. But the chicken is bland, the apples don't add anything to the dish, and the flabby bits of bacon had an unpleasant texture. Off the top of my head I can think of three different quick ways to cook chicken thighs that are much less work than this recipe, and taste much better:

1. Marinate 2.5 to 3 lbs of bone-in chicken thighs in about 2 cups of balsamic vinaigrette (a high-quality prepared one is fine) for about 15 minutes. Cook on a grill, in a grill pan, or under the oven broiler until cooked through. Grill some sliced onions and bell peppers alongside and serve with couscous.

2. Pour a bottle of mesquite-flavored barbeque sauce over 2.5 to 3 lbs bone-in chicken thighs in an 8-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees until cooked through, about 35 minutes. Serve with steamed green beans and corn bread.

3. Sauté bone-in chicken thighs in 2 Tbsp olive oil until golden. Add a thinly-sliced red onion, about 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth, and about 1/2 to 1 tsp dried thyme to the pan. Cover and simmer until cooked through, about 30 minutes. Remove chicken and reduce sauce to about 1/2 cup. Add a spoonful (1 to 2 Tbsp) of seedless raspberry jelly and a dash of sherry or balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve sauce atop the chicken. Serve with buttered pasta and roasted asparagus or green beans.

Any one of these quick dinner ideas is a better choice for chicken thighs than this recipe from Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals.

Prep Time: about 45 minutes
Cook Time: about 45 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

4 slices bacon, chopped
1/3 cup Wondra or all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
8 bone-in chicken thighs (about 3 pounds), skin removed
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary or 1 tsp dried
2 cups apple cider
1 unpeeled Granny Smith apple, cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Cook the bacon in a large, heavy skillet until crisp, about 6 minutes. Transfer to paper towels, leaving 1 tsp bacon fat in the pan (drain off excess fat). Combine the flour, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper in a pie plate or soup plate. Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture, turning to coat evenly and shaking off excess flour.

Add the oil to the skillet. Add the chicken and cook over medium-high heat until golden, about 5 minutes per side. Remove the chicken to a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium; add the onion and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the rosemary and cook for 1 minutes. Return the chicken to the pan. Add the cider and bring to a boil; reduce heat to low, cover tightly, and simmer for 25 minutes. Add the apple and cook 10 minutes longer. If the sauce is not thick enough, remove the chicken and reduce the sauce over high heat. Stir in the lemon juice and reserved bacon. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Chez Panisse Desserts: Cinnamon Apple Ice Cream

"Tastes like apple pie!"

That's what everyone at my house thought about this tasty ice cream from Chez Panisse Desserts . It's a nice dessert all by itself, and would also make an excellent partner to an apple pie or tart.

Lindsey Shere, never one to give a lot of detailed instructions, tells the reader to cook the apples until soft and then "whisk into a slightly chunky apple purée." I gave this a try, but the whisk is really not the best tool for the job. I got a fairly smooth mixture by using a potato masher, but ultimately I decided that I'd probably prefer the ice cream to be smooth, so I put the apples in a blender until they were completely smooth. If you'd like discrete apple chunks in your ice cream, use a mashing tool. But if you're like me and prefer your ice cream to be smooth, process the fruit into a uniform purée.

Shere recommends Gravenstein or McIntosh apples; I used Golden Delicious with excellent results. They're not my favorite apples for eating out of hand, but when cooked, they've got a concentrated, pure apple flavor.

Prep Time: 20 minutes, plus about 2 hours to chill
Cook Time: about 30 minutes
Yield: 1 generous quart

1 1/2 pounds apples
3 Tbsp water
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp sugar
1 2/3 cups whipping cream (not heavy cream)
3 egg yolks
Vanilla extract and calvados (optional), to taste

Peel, quarter, and core the apples. Slice thin into a nonreactive saucepan and add the water and cinnamon. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until very soft, about 15 minutes. Mash with a potato masher or purée in a blender or food processor, then measure out 1 2/3 cups and stir the sugar into it (if you've got extra apple purée, reserve it for another use).

Heat the cream over medium heat until very warm. Whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl, then slowly add about 1/2 cup of the hot cream, stirring constantly. Return the egg mixture to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until the custard coats the spoon, about 3 minutes. Strain into a container and stir in the apple purée. Refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours. Taste the mixture and flavor with a few drops of vanilla extract, and a few drops of calvados, if using. Freeze according to your ice cream maker's instructions.

January 20, 2006

Sara's Secrets: Pecan Pie Squares

Wow, where to begin? This one's a disaster from start to finish. The concept is intriguing: take pecan pie components and turn them into bar cookies, using graham crackers as an ersatz crust. But the execution fails utterly. What I ended up with was a pan of sticky pecan pie filling, pecan halves that were too big to cut through neatly, and a crust layer that was so thin, it melted into nothingness. Not a successful recipe.

There are a couple of major problems with this recipe as written; the crust, which consists of a single layer of graham crackers lining the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch pan, is way too thin. Under the weight of the brown sugar and pecan filling, the crackers dissolved completely, providing no support or structure. The other major problem is the use of pecan halves. For a pecan pie, this isn't such a big deal -- you cut the wedges as best as you can, and sometimes an errant pecan half will mess up the perfect triangle shape. But for bar cookies, which need to be square or rectangular, it's a disaster. Trying to slice cookies out of this mess of sticky filling and large, irregular nuts was a comedy of errors.

Moulton tells the cook to line the pan with "generously greased" foil before adding the ingredients. I can only assume that the purpose of this step is to make it easier to remove the cookies. This was not the case, however. The foil stuck to the filling and wouldn't let go, making it almost impossible to pry the cookies out of the pan. Truly, this is a dessert that just plain doesn't work, and as always when confronted with such baffling failures, I'd love to be able to ask Ms. Moulton if anyone actually tested the recipe before it ended up in the book. From where I'm sitting, it sure doesn't seem so.

I've tried a couple of different ways to make this recipe work. First I used a double layer of graham crackers as the crust, hoping that this would provide a better base for the filling. No go -- the crackers still just melted away as though they weren't even there. Then I decided to try making an actual graham cracker crust, with crumbs and butter pressed into the pan and baked off before filling. This was somewhat more successful. The pieces around the edges of the pan held together nicely and came out of the pan without falling apart. The center pieces, however, were still very sticky and had a tendency to crumble when poked with a spatula. Be careful when you spoon the filling on top of the crumb crust. Make sure to evenly dollop the filling, since too much spreading with a spatula will disturb the crumb layer.

I used pecan pieces instead of halves, which made it a lot easier to cut the cookies into bars. Diamond makes a product called pecan "chips," which are fairly finely chopped. If you can find these, use them. Otherwise, chop your pecans yourself, and make them pretty fine.

My revised recipe is first. The original recipe is at the bottom of the page. I offer the revision with reservations (I definitely don't recommend the original recipe); if you love pecan pie and don't mind if some of your cookie bars fall apart, go ahead and give it a try. It's not a perfect recipe, but it tastes good and will satisfy a sweet tooth.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 15 to 20 minutes
Yield: about 16 bars

Pecan Pie Squares , Revised Version
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
8 oz. pecan chips or finely chopped pecans (about 2 cups)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spray a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with nonstick spray. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in a medium bowl, and stir until the crumbs are moistened. Turn the mixture into the prepared pan and use a spoon to press the crumbs firmly into the pan. Bake until the crumbs begin to be fragrant, and the edges are slightly brown, about 8 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly.

Combine the brown sugar, eggs, corn syrup, butter, vanilla, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk until smooth, then stir in the pecans. Carefully dollop the filling mixture evenly over the crumb layer in the pan, gently smoothing with a spatula if necessary for even coverage. Bake until the filling looks set and the edges of the crumbs are deep golden, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and let cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then cut into squares. Allow to cool for another 15 minutes before serving. If any squares are left over, store in the refrigerator. Reheat, if desired, before serving.

Pecan Pie Squares , from Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals
16 to 18 graham crackers (2 1/2 by 2 1/4 inches)
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
8 oz. pecan halves (about 2 cups)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with aluminum foil; very generously grease the foil. Arrange the graham crackers in the pan, crumbing some to fill in any spaces.

Whisk together the brown sugar, eggs, corn syrup, butter, vanilla, and salt in a medium bowl; stir in the pecans and pour the mixture over the graham crackers. Bake until the filling is set in the center, about 20 minutes. Set the pan on a rack for 10 minutes before cutting into squares. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store remaining squares in the refrigerator and rewarm slightly before serving.

January 19, 2006

Sara's Secrets: Basic Yellow Cake

Sara Moulton says of this cake, "What an exciting idea to be able to whip up a cake from scratch on a weeknight in only ten minutes." I guess so...I'm not really a "cake for cake's sake" person. I don't get the point of whipping up a plain cake for dessert. That's not terribly exciting to me.

If, however, you really like cake and want a quick recipe, this one's fairly good. The texture is rather coarse and the flavor is blandly vanilla, but if you follow Moulton's recommendations for toppings (berries and/or chocolate) this is a serviceable dessert.

Sara Moulton suggests sprinkling chocolate chips on top of the cake when it's warm right out of the oven. This makes for a very simple icing; just be sure to let the chips sit on the cake for about 10 minutes, or until they're completely melted. Miniature chips melt faster than regular ones, so use them if you've got them.

The cake becomes dry and stale very quickly. It's not terribly tasty the next day, so eat it up fresh out of the oven.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 to 35 minutes
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

3/4 cup sugar
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups self-rising cake flour, OR 1 1/2 cups cake flour plus 1 3/4 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan.

Combine the sugar and butter in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a chopping blade. Process until fluffy, about 1 minute. Add eggs and vanilla and process until combined. Add the flour and milk; pulse once or twice, just until the flour is moistened. The mixture doesn't have to be smooth.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake in the upper third of the oven until the center springs back when gently pressed, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then cut into wedges and serve, or invert onto a rack and continue to cool. If frosting with chocolate chips, invert the cake onto the rack and then top with about 1 cup of chips. Let sit for 10 minutes, then smooth with a knife or offset spatula.

Sara's Secrets: Egg, Canadian Bacon, and Cheddar Biscuit Sandwiches

Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals has a chapter titled "Breakfast for Dinner," which features omelettes, quiches, and other breakfast staples that also make a quick dinner. This sandwich, says Moulton, is "a takeoff on you-know-what served by that fast-food restaurant." In other words, an Egg McMuffin. Instead of the English muffin, however, Moulton serves this scrambled egg and cheese combo on a rich cream biscuit.

The biscuits couldn't be easier to make, and they taste fantastic, albeit extremely rich. The sandwich is a vast improvement over the Egg McMuffin you'll find at McDonald's, especially if you use thin-sliced Canadian bacon and sharp Cheddar cheese.

If you don't feel like making the biscuits, English muffins would make a fine substitute.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

8 thin slices Canadian bacon
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
8 large eggs, lightly beaten
Salt and pepper
4 oz. Cheddar cheese, grated (about 1 cup)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease a cookie sheet.

To make the biscuits: Stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Pour in enough of the cream to just form a shaggy dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface (it does not have to be a cohesive mass, but the flour should be mostly all moistened) and knead several times until the dough forms a smooth ball. Divide with a bench scraper or knife into 4 balls. Pat each ball into a 3-inch round, and flatten slightly. Place the balls onto the cookie sheet and bake about 20 minutes or until pale golden. Transfer to a rack.

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon, turning once, just until golden. Transfer to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Reduce the heat to low, add the butter, and melt. Add salt and pepper to taste to the eggs and pour them into the pan. Scramble until eggs are set, then sprinkle the cheese on top, cover the pan, and set aside for cheese to melt, about 2 minutes.

To assemble the sandwiches, cut the biscuits in half horizontally with a serrated knife. Top the bottom halves with a slice of bacon and one-fourth of the scrambled eggs. Top the eggs with another slice of bacon and the biscuit tops.

January 17, 2006

Sara's Secrets: Salmon with Black Bean Sauce

What should be a very flavorful sauce for fish becomes amazingly bland with the treatment that Sara Moulton gives the black beans in this recipe. Remove the unnecessary soaking step, and the sauce is vastly improved.

As Moulton explains in the introductory paragraph to this recipe, fermented black beans are small black soy beans that are preserved in salt. You can buy them in the Asian section of well-stocked supermarkets, or at an Asian market. Many American recipes will tell you to soak the beans in water for 10, 15, or even 30 minutes before using them. My chef-instructor at cooking school, however, told me that Chinese cooks do not soak black beans, preferring instead to merely rinse them off. Soaking definitely removes a lot of their pungent, salty flavor.

When I soaked the beans for this recipe, the end result was a bland, boring sauce. I remade the sauce with rinsed beans, and the end result was much tastier. Simply put the beans in a strainer, rinse them well under cool running water, and then drain and chop. No need to soak.

The recipe did take a bit longer to prepare than Moulton's notes indicated, but it's still a quick dinner that can be on the table within about 30 to 40 minutes. Times given below are my adjusted estimates.

Try the salmon with the Butter-Steamed Broccoli with Soy and some steamed white or jasmine rice.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: up to 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

2 Tbsp fermented black beans, rinsed thoroughly, drained, and chopped
Four 6- to 7-oz. pieces center-cut salmon fillet
2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, minced (about 1 tsp)
2/3 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 Tbsp rice wine or dry sherry
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp sugar
4 scallions, thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a shallow roasting pan.

Arrange the salmon in the roasting pan, skin side down. Drizzle 2 Tbsp of the oil over the salmon and bake for 10 to 12 minutes for medium-rare, 15 to 20 minutes for well-done.

Heat the remaining 2 tsp oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the rinsed and drained black beans, ginger, and garlic; cook for 1 minute. Whisk together the broth, 1/3 cup water, the wine, cornstarch, and sugar in a bowl and add to the black bean mixture. Bring the sauce to a boil, stirring constantly, and simmer for 2 minutes. Serve each portion of salmon topped with some of the sauce and sprinkled with some of the scallions.

Sara's Secrets: Butter-Steamed Broccoli with Soy

A very simple, very tasty treatment for vegetables. Steam them in a mixture of water, butter, and seasonings until crisp-tender. It takes one pan and about 15 minutes from start to finish. What's not to love?

Sara Moulton recommends that this dish be served with the Asian-style Salmon with Black Bean Sauce, but the broccoli isn't terribly Asian in its flavor profile. The soy sauce adds a nice flavor without being overwhelmingly "Asian," so you could serve this dish with other types of cuisine without worrying about a clash of styles.

If you use the times given in the recipe, the broccoli will be quite crisp. If you'd like it to be a bit more tender, increase the cooking time by a few minutes.

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

1 large head broccoli (about 2 pounds)
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp soy sauce
Salt and pepper

Cut the broccoli into florets, reserving the stems for another use. Combine the broccoli with the butter, soy sauce, and 1/4 inch of water in a skillet just big enough to hold the broccoli in one layer. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 3 minutes.

Remove the cover and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir until all the florets are coated with the butter mixture, and serve.

January 16, 2006

Chez Panisse Desserts: Coffee Ice Cream

Chez Panisse Desserts has over 60 ice cream recipes. If you like ice cream and find yourself wishing you could make flavors other than boring old cookie dough, I recommend that you get an ice cream maker and start experimenting with your own flavors. This book has some excellent ideas.

This is a very tasty rendition of coffee ice cream, and Lindsey Shere gives a couple of interesting ideas for variations. I tested the Coffee Caramel Ice Cream and found it to be delicious. She also gives instructions for Coffee Caramel Swirl and Coffee with Chocolate Truffles.

The basic coffee recipe is fantastic too. No adjustments were necessary to the recipe, although I've expanded on the instructions, which in the book are very bare-bones.

Prep Time: about 45 minutes, plus about 2 hours chilling time
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Yield: about 1 quart

1 cup half-and-half
2 cups whipping cream (not heavy cream)
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup plus 1 Tbsp coffee beans
6 egg yolks
1 to 2 tsp vanilla extract

Warm the half-and-half, cream, sugar, and coffee beans in a nonreactive saucepan over medium heat. Let it steep over low heat for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the coffee flavor is strong enough for you. Do not let the mixture simmer or boil.

Whisk the egg yolks in a medium bowl. Temper the egg yolks with about 1/2 cup of the warm cream mixture, pouring it into the yolks slowly and whisking constantly. Return the warmed yolks to the cream mixture and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer and chill in the refrigerator until cold, at least 2 hours.

Add vanilla extract to taste and freeze the mixture according to the directions with your ice cream maker.

Coffee Caramel Ice Cream
Follow the above recipe, omitting the sugar from the steeping mixture of half-and-half, cream, and coffee beans. Instead, caramelize 1 cup sugar in a heavy, light-colored saucepan with 3 Tbsp water. Cook over high heat until it begins to turn a light caramel color. Working quickly, set the saucepan in the sink (so it doesn't spatter you) and add 1/4 cup warm water. Return the pan to the heat and cook over medium heat to dissolve the caramel, adding a little more water if necessary. Add the caramel to the half-and-half mixture after it has steeped, and then proceed with the instructions above.

If you have never worked with caramelized sugar before: Get ahold of a book with good basic candy-making instructions, such as The Joy of Cooking , and read about caramel before attempting this recipe. Making caramel can be an exercise in frustration, so it's good to know exactly how it works before attempting it.

January 11, 2006

Sara's Secrets: Creamy Cauliflower Soup with Chorizo and Greens

Here's a hearty main-course soup from Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals . It took a bit longer to cook than Moulton's instructions said it would, but the end result was very tasty.

Sara Moulton gives a handy explanation of the different kinds of chorizo on the opposite page from this recipe. Basically, it boils down to Spanish-style, which is dry-cured, and Mexican-style, which is fresh. Either will work in this soup, although I recommend that you try to find a Spanish-style sausage, since the fresh Mexican kind is almost impossible to cut into slices.

The cauliflower took longer to get tender than Moulton stated in the original recipe. I've used my times, not hers, in the recipe. I also recommend that you chop the greens, rather than simply slicing them. It's easier to eat the soup if you're not trying to wrangle long slices of mustard greens or kale onto your spoon. Moulton recommends serving the soup with garlic bread. I think cornichons and rye bread or crackers would also makes nice accompaniments.

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Yield: 6 servings

2 Tbsp olive oil
8 to 10 oz. chorizo or andouille sausage, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced (about 1 cup)
1 medium head cauliflower (about 2 pounds)
1 small Yukon Gold potato (about 4 oz.)
32 oz. chicken broth
1 bunch mustard greens, kale, or spinach, or a mixture; tough stems discarded; rinsed, dried, and thinly sliced OR chopped into bite-sized pieces
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Paprika (preferably smoked) for garnish

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the chorizo and cook, stirring occasionally, until sausage is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer the chorizo with a slotted spoon to a plate. Add the onion to the pan and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

Cut 2 cups of small florets from the cauliflower and set aside; chop up the remainder. Peel and thinly slice the potato. When the onion has softened, add the chicken broth, chopped cauliflower, and potato to the saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until cauliflower and potato are very tender, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a blender in 3 or 4 batches and purée until smooth.

Measure the puréed soup and return it to the saucepan. Add water, if necessary, to make 7 cups (I needed to add 1/2 cup of water). Stir in the reserved cauliflower florets and simmer for 10 minutes, or until tender. If you are using mustard greens or kale, add it to the pot along with the florets. When the florets are tender, add the chorizo and lemon juice. If you are using spinach, add it to the pot with the chorizo.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls, sprinkle with paprika, and serve with desired accompaniments.

January 10, 2006

Sara's Secrets: Baked Alaskan

In her introduction to Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals , Sara Moulton says about the dessert chapter, "If you try nothing else, you must make the Baked 'Alaskan.' It is a knockout." So I made the Baked Alaskan, and my reaction? "Huh."

Conceptually, it's an interesting idea. Make ice cream sandwiches, coat them with meringue, and brown them in the oven. It's a take-off of the famous Baked Alaska, a combination of cake, ice cream, and meringue that's washed with rum or brandy and then flambéed. But the execution just...wasn't all that great.

The proportions are way off, again. The amount of meringue that this recipe produces was about 2 times what I needed to coat the ice cream sandwiches. The excess went straight down the drain, a big waste. I made the recipe with a couple of different types of cookies, and found that only soft-baked ones worked; crisp cookies were too hard to eat. Moulton doesn't caution the reader to use soft-baked cookies in the recipe, which is an oversight.

The technique is described in breezy, vague terms: Moulton says simply to "frost each [sandwich] with some of the beaten egg whites." After I "frosted" with "some," I still had more meringue than I knew what to do with. A photo of the finished dish would have been extremely helpful, but alas, none is provided. I mounded the meringue around the ice cream sandwiches as best as I could, and then baked them off. Admittedly, the finished mountains of meringue look impressive when they come out of the oven, all golden and pretty. Unfortunately, Moulton's instruction to freeze the ice cream sandwiches for only 25 minutes, and then set them out at room temperature for 10 minutes before frosting and baking, meant that the sorbet got too soft, and it all leaked out of the sandwiches while they were in the oven. So the end result was a mess of melted sorbet, heaps of meringue, and a few bites of cookie. Not the most successful dessert I've ever made, I have to say.

Also bizarre: the rambling introduction to the recipe, in which Moulton name-checks Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys (no, really). The shout-out doesn't seem to serve any purpose, other than for Moulton to say, "Hey, check me out, I'm down with the rappers." Oookay. That's nifty, I guess, but it doesn't help to make this recipe work any better. More information about ingredients and technique are what I need, not hipster name-dropping.

I've given the recipe as it's written in the book. If you decide to try it, I recommend that you make less meringue; try 2 Tbsp of dried egg whites, 1/3 cup water, 1/4 cup of sugar, and 1/2 tsp of vanilla. I also recommend that you freeze the sandwiches for an hour, and do not let them sit out before coating with meringue and baking.

Prep Time: 15 minutes, plus 1 hour to freeze ice cream sandwiches
Cook Time: 4 to 6 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

Eight packaged 3-inch diameter soft-baked chocolate chunk brownie cookies OR four 3-inch square brownies
1 cup raspberry sorbet
1/3 cup dried egg whites, such as Just Whites
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar

Place 4 cookies upside down on a work surface, or split the brownies and place the bottoms, cut side up, on a work surface. Spoon 1/4 cup of sorbet on each cookie and spread to the edge. Top with another cookie or the brownie top right-side up. Wrap and freeze until solid, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Combine 3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp warm water, the egg whites, vanilla, and salt. Beat with an electric mixer until frothy. Gradually beat in the sugar until soft peaks form, about 4 minutes.

Remove the sandwiches from the freezer and place 3 inches apart on an oiled baking sheet. Frost each with some of the meringue. Bake 4 to 6 minutes, or until nicely browned. Serve immediately.

January 06, 2006

Sara's Secrets: Quick Grape Crumble

I can never resist a fruit crisp or crumble recipe. This one, however, suffers from a case of "How many grapes?" The proportions are way off — so much so that I find it hard to believe that anyone actually prepared this recipe before it found its way into the finished book.

The ingredients list calls for "2 cups seedless red or green grapes." Which are first cooked in a saucepan with jelly and port before they're ever baked in the oven. When I first read the recipe, I thought, "Hmm. That doesn't seem like enough grapes." But I went ahead and measured out 2 cups, then cooked them as instructed in the recipe. The yield, after the grape filling had boiled and thickened, was a scant 1 cup. Which is then supposed to be placed in a 1-quart or 8-inch baking dish, and covered with about 2 cups of streusel mixture.

How a recipe with proportions that are so clearly off makes it into a cookbook, I don't understand. I doubled the amount of grapes, and still felt as though they weren't quite enough to have a good balance between fruit and topping. 5 cups of grapes is the amount you need to make enough fruit filling to cover the bottom of an 8-inch dish.

I've adjusted the amounts for some of the other filling ingredients as well; the amount of cornstarch called for to thicken 2 cups of grapes will suffice for the increased amount, since it WAY overthickened the filling with the lesser amount of fruit. The end result is a tasty example of a fruit crisp, although it's not the best rendition of this type of dessert that I've ever tried. Jacques Pépin's Shortbread-Raspberry Gratins still hold pride of place as my favorite quick fruit crumble.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 to 25 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

5 cups seedless red or green grapes, or a mixture
1/2 cup red currant jelly
1/4 cup port wine, muscat, Sauternes, or other dessert wine, OR grape juice
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp water
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup sliced or slivered almonds
To serve: vanilla ice cream, yogurt, or crème fraîche, optional

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Combine the grapes, jelly, and wine or juice in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the grapes burst, about 10 minutes. Whisk together the cornstarch, lemon juice, and water. Add the mixture to the grapes and stir until the mixture thickens, about 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the filling to a shallow 1-quart baking dish or 8-inch round pan.

In a food processor, pulse the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt to combine. Add the butter and pulse until coarse crumbs form. Add the oats and almonds and pulse once or twice to combine. Sprinkle the streusel mixture over the fruit filling and bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until the topping is golden. Let rest at least 30 minutes before serving.

Sara's Secrets: Green Posole with Chicken

A recipe from the "Shop and Serve" chapter of Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals . In this section of the book, Moulton gives several ideas for recipes that can be put together with the help of convenience products from the supermarket. Here she uses a rotisserie chicken for a hearty, tasty soup.

This recipe is easy to put together, and can be garnished with any of the suggestions given below (I've added a couple of ideas to the suggestions offered in the book) or none at all -- the soup tastes great all by itself.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 cup bottled salsa verde
4 cups chicken broth
1 rotisserie chicken, skin and bones discarded and meat shredded
Two 15-oz. cans white hominy, rinsed and drained
Salt and pepper
For garnish: chopped onion, avocado, or tomatoes; finely sliced radishes; shredded cucumbers or napa cabbage; tortillas or tortilla chips; chopped cilantro; lime wedges; queso fresco or shredded Jack cheese

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the salsa and cook for 5 more minutes.

Add the chicken broth and simmer, partially covered, for 10 minutes. Add the chicken and hominy and simmer until heated through. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. To serve, ladle into bowls and offer garnishes on the side.

January 05, 2006

Sara's Secrets: Asian Spiced Roasted Baby Carrots

I didn't love this flavor combination. There are too many competing ingredients, which resulted in a muddled, somewhat unpleasant end product. The idea of roasting a bag of baby carrots in the oven is a good one, however. A less aggressive flavor profile would work well.

Sara Moulton's flavor combination here strikes me as a bit too much -- she's got soy sauce and ginger and cumin and vinegar and sesame oil all combining to overpower the carrots. I recommend that you leave a few of these ingredients out. Your taste buds will thank you.

The recipe as originally written tells the cook to roast the carrots in a 450-degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes. This was too hot; my carrots would have been blackened if I'd cooked them that long at that temperature. Try a 375-degree oven for best results.

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 to 25 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

Asian Spiced Roasted Baby Carrots, Revised Version
1 pound peeled baby carrots
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp soy sauce (preferably tamari or shoyu, which are milder than regular Chinese soy sauce)
1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine the carrots, oil, and salt in a medium bowl. Spread the carrots on a rimmed baking sheet and roast, stirring once, until tender and starting to brown, 20 to 25 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine soy sauce, butter, ginger, and pepper. When carrots are tender, add them to the soy sauce mixture and toss until the butter melts and the carrots are completely coated. Serve immediately.

Asian Spiced Roasted Baby Carrots , from Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals
1 pound peeled baby carrots
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp sherry vinegar
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Combine the carrots, oil, and salt in a medium bowl. Spread the carrots on a rimmed baking sheet and roast, stirring once, until tender and starting to brown, 20 to 25 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine soy sauce, butter, ginger, vinegar, sesame oil, and pepper. When carrots are tender, add them to the soy sauce mixture and toss until the butter melts and the carrots are completely coated. Serve immediately.

Sara's Secrets: Braised Short Ribs

Well...the sauce is delicious. But for the amount of work that you have to put into this dish, the end result isn't worth it. The problems are easily solved, however: simply use a different cut of meat.

Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals has a chapter titled "Cooking Ahead," in which she offers recipes that are more time-consuming than the other recipes in the book. These are ideas for weekend projects; dishes that you can cook on Saturday and then keep in the refrigerator or freezer for upcoming meals. This slow braise of beef is one of those recipes. In fact, this dish, like most stews or braises, tastes better the day after it is made.

This ribs recipe sounds fantastic, but the reality of ribs is that they're fatty and don't yield a lot of meat. In this rendition, the meat isn't even served on the bone, which to me is the whole point of ribs. The meat is picked off the bones in a time-consuming and annoying last step before serving. I don't see a great reason to use ribs here at all. Another cut of beef that's suitable to a slow braise would work better, requiring less handling after cooking and yielding less-fatty results. Instead of fussing about with ribs and bones, cook a chuck roast in the braising liquid. Then all you have to do is slice the roast and serve it with the tasty sauce.

Sara Moulton gives the braising time for this recipe as 2 1/2 hours. I needed to cook the ribs for 3 hours before they were tender. A chuck roast will also require about 3 hours of cooking time.

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: about 3 hours
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

5 pounds beef short ribs, OR a 3 to 3 1/2 pound chuck roast, tied with string
Salt and pepper
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 medium carrots, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced (about 1 Tbsp)
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 bottle (750 ml) red wine
3 1/2 cups chicken broth (two 14.5 oz. cans)
2 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp softened butter

Pat the roast dry and season on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large, ovenproof roasting pan. Place the roast in the pan and brown on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the roast to a platter or bowl with tongs.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Reduce the heat under the roasting pan to medium; add the onion and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomato paste, thyme, and bay leaf and cook for 2 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to the platter with the roast. Add the wine to the roasting pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until reduced to 1 cup, about 12 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Add the roast and vegetables, cover the pan tightly, and place in the oven. Cook until the meat is tender and falls apart when poked with a fork, about 3 hours.

Transfer the roast to a plate with tongs and let stand until cool enough to handle. Strain the broth into a bowl. Discard the solids and return the liquid to the roasting pan. Skim off any fat, bring the liquid to a boil, and reduce to about 1 1/2 cups.

If using ribs: Remove beef from the bones. Pull off and discard excess fat from the ribs. Discard the bones. Reserve the meat on a plate.

If using a roast: Remove the string. Place the roast on a plate until ready to serve.

Knead together the flour and butter in a small bowl. Add a few tablespoons of the reduced broth, stirring to combine. Whisk the butter mixture into the broth in the roasting pan. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Return the beef to the pan and heat through. Serve the meat topped with the sauce.

January 04, 2006

Sara's Secrets: Fusilli with Broccoli and Prosciutto

A tasty pasta offering from Sara's Secrets for Weeknight Meals . Broccoli and pasta are cooked in the same pot (though not at the same time), and tossed with sautéed garlic and prosciutto. Moulton's time estimates were right on the money, and this would be an easy weeknight dinner idea.

A nice variation would be to make this dish with elephant garlic, and/or asiago cheese. My only quibble with the instructions is that Moulton, who seems very clear about quantities in most of her ingredients lists, here specifies "1 large head broccoli," which is a tad vague. Broccoli is sold at my market in widely varying sizes. I used 2 pounds of broccoli "crowns" -- broccoli with the stalks already cut off, but the heads still intact. If you're buying broccoli still on its stalk, add a half-pound to the weight, since you'll be cutting the stalk off and not using it in this recipe.

Sara Moulton suggests serving this pasta with crusty bread and a tossed green salad.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

1 large head broccoli (about 2 pounds, see note above)
12 oz. fusilli
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, sliced paper-thin (about 1 Tbsp)
4 oz. prosciutto di Parma, sliced into strips
6 oz. Parmesan cheese, coarsely grated (about 2 cups)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Remove the broccoli stalks and reserve for another use; cut broccoli into small florets. Add the broccoli to the boiling water and bring back to a boil; cook for 2 minutes, then remove broccoli to a medium bowl with a slotted spoon. Add the fusilli to the pot and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain, reserving 3/4 cup of the cooking water.

When the fusilli is nearly done, combine the oil and garlic in a large, deep skillet over low heat. Cook until the garlic is fragrant and just beginning to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Add the prosciutto and broccoli and sauté, stirring, about 3 minutes. Add the fusilli, reserved cooking water, cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss to combine and heat through. Serve immediately.




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