Sunday, March 31, 2013

Experiment # 24: Chicken Marsala

Several years ago, when my husband was then my boyfriend, he took me to a restaurant in Sunnyvale, CA called Villa Napoli.  The decor was certainly dated with 80s fabric scalloped window treatments and our waitress had blue eye shadow. I was not sure what I was getting into that night, but when we ordered the Chicken Marsala, my eyes were opened.  It was the most succulent chicken, perfectly cooked and the sauce was heavenly.   Since we don't live near there any more, it's been a long time since we had chicken marsala.  I believe we tried it a few years ago at a local restaurant and it was just ok. We were disappointed.  It was nothing like that amazing Chicken Marsala from Villa Napoli.

A few months ago, my husband and I were thinking about that chicken marsala and wondered if we could make it as delicious as that night at Villa Napoli.  At that time, I even thought of posting the results of that meal, but there was a mishap with some tomato paste and the results were not chicken marsala.

My brother and his wife were visiting yesterday and the story of the chicken marsala came up.  We thought it would be a perfect opportunity to try to correct the mistake from months ago and actually follow the recipe. Well, of course with a few modifications.

The recipe comes from America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, a cookbook that I just love.  If you have ever seen the show on PBS you would know that they test each recipe with various iterations until they derive the perfect recipe.  Chicken marsala normally is made with chicken breast as in the original recipe from this cookbook, but we prefer chicken thighs for the flavor so that's what I used.  Here's what I did:

Chicken Marsala from America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
3 oz. pancetta, chopped fine
8 oz. white button mushrooms, sliced thin
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. tomato paste
1 1/2 cups sweet marsala
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, cut into 2 pieces
2 tbsp. minced fresh parsley

Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 200 degrees.  Spread flour in a shallow dish.

Pound the chicken thighs until they are more even.  Pat dry with paper towels then season with salt and pepper.  Dredge through the flour to coat and shake off any excess.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium high heat.  Add the chicken and cook until light golden brown on both sides, about 10 minutes.  Transfer the chicken to a plate and keep warm in the oven.  I had to do a few batches with all the chicken.  I added a little bit more oil to help the chicken brown.

Add the pancetta and mushrooms.  Cook until the pancetta is crisp and the mushrooms are brown about 10 minutes.

Stir in the garlic and the tomato paste.  Cook until the tomato paste begins to brown, about 1 minute.  Stir in the Marsala, scraping up any browned bits and simmer until reduced and slightly syrupy, about 8 minutes.  ( I found the reduction took a lot longer than 8 minutes. Maybe it took 12 minutes?)

Stir in the lemon juice and any accumulated chicken juice.  Turn the heat to low and whisk in the butter, one piece at a time.

Off the heat, stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Spoon the sauce over the chicken before serving.

The chicken was cooked perfectly.  It was moist and delicious and this may be due to the finishing in the oven while the sauce was cooked.  We enjoyed it with a delicious fresh salad with lettuce from our garden.

We thought it was delicious and we will definitely be making this again.  The only critique would be that my husband and I thought the recipe could use more sauce and more mushrooms. The ratio of sauce to chicken might have been a bit off because I used more chicken than the recipe called for: 2 1/2 pounds of chicken thighs instead of 2 pounds of chicken breasts.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Experiment #23: Chinese Almond Cookies

Every year, my extended family gets together to celebrate Chinese New Year.  This year we are celebrating late and so this is way past the Chinese New Year, which was Sunday February 10th.  For the past several years as our family has gotten bigger, our Chinese New Year Celebrations have become potlucks.  I decided that this year I would bring Chinese Almond Cookies.

I can't remember exactly when it was, but I made Almond cookies a few years ago.  The recipe escapes me and now I can't remember how I modified the recipe.  This year I will take good notes.

The recipe I though I used a few years ago was from Cooking for Engineers.  When looking for the recipe again, I realized this was not exactly right.  The recipe for Almond cookies on the Cooking for Engineers web-site contains shortening, an ingredient that is pretty typical of most Chinese Almond Cookies.  I knew this was not the recipe I used since I stopped using shortening many many years ago. So with some more web searching I found the recipe that I had used.  It comes from the Use Real Butter blog and it was adapted from the Cooking for Engineers web-site.  So, I remembered partially right where I got the recipe before.

I adapted the recipe a few years ago and again I can't remember the exact modifications, but I most likely reduced the sugar.  I can't imagine doing anything else to this recipe.  Adding whole wheat to these cookies might be an interesting experiment. I think I'll add a cup of whole wheat.  This recipe is a splurge recipe for sure.

Chinese Almond Cookies adapted from Use Real Butter adapted from Cooking for Engineers
2 cups flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup ground almonds (I just used raw organic almonds and ground in a food processor)
12 oz. butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 oz. water
1 tsp. almond extract
42 whole almonds, blanched *See note

1 egg for egg wash
Sugar for sprinkling

Whisk the flour, baking soda, salt, and ground almonds together in a bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy.  Add the egg, water, and almond extract and beat until incorporated.

Beat in the dry ingredients until just combined.

Form 1-inch balls of cookie dough, place a few inches apart (for spreading) on a baking sheet.

Top each dough ball with half an almond and brush the top of the cookie with egg wash.

Preheat oven to 350F. (Depending on how fast your oven heats up.)
Refrigerate the dough for 15 minutes.

Bake the cookies for 20 minutes of baking time.

Makes 45 cookies.

*Note: I can never find organic blanched almonds.  So, I followed this easy way to blanch almonds.
Place almonds in a bowl.  Pour boiling water to barely cover almonds.  Let the almonds sit for 1 minute and no longer.  Drain, rinse under cold water, and drain again.  Pat dry and slip the skins off.
(From web-site:

The cookies turned out very crumbly and buttery.  The white whole wheat was not noticeable.  I did think that I reduced the sugar too much, but I still enjoyed them.  I will definitely make these cookies again, but with more sugar and maybe more almond extract.

By the way, the Use Real Butter blog has great recipes and beautiful photos if you want to be inspired.

Link to recipe:

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Experiment #22: Shiitake Mushrooms and Bok Choy over Chow Mein Noodles

I have been making the shiitake mushrooms and bok choy this way for a while now.  The recipe comes from Nigella Lawson's book Nigella Bites.  It is a side dish she makes alongside salmon.

When I feel like a quick vegetarian meal, I often cook the mushrooms and bok choy and serve it over rice or noodles like tonight.  It is surprisingly satisfying, delicious and easy.  

The measurements for the shiitake mushrooms and the bok choy are rough guidelines and I often use more shiitake mushrooms, because I like them.  Make sure to use egg free noodles if you want this to be a vegan dish. 

Shiitake Mushrooms and Bok Choy adapted from Nigella Lawson's Nigella Bites
Peanut oil for pan
3/4 cup chopped onion
1 clove of garlic
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1/2 cup shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
3 or 4 heads of baby bok choy, washed, roughly chopped with stalks separate from the leaves
3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 package chow mein noodles
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Saute the onion, garlic and ginger in peanut oil over medium low heat until the onion is translucent but not brown.  Add sliced mushrooms with the stalks of the bok choy and stir for 1 minute.  Cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes. 
Remove lid and add the bok choy leaves, tamari or soy sauce and toasted sesame oil.  
Let cook for another 2 to 3 minutes until the leaves have wilted.  

For the chow mein noodles, over medium heat, place noodles in separate pan with a tablespoon of toasted sesame oil and some water to loosen stirring so that noodles do not stick.  

Serve mushrooms and bok choy over noodles.  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Experiment #21: Deconstructed Shepherd's Pie

I was talking with one of my friend's the other day around St. Patrick's Day and we were noting that both of us had not ever made Shepherd's pie.  Since then I have been thinking about making it and decided that today was the day.

With some research around the web, I found Alton Brown's Shepherd's Pie recipe.  Although his recipe had ground lamb, I decided to make the dish with ground beef as it is more available.  I also decided that the large casserole was not exactly what I wanted to make so I decided to make the beef filling and mashed potatoes separately and then just serve it (not bake it.)

Since I was going to try to see if my little one would enjoy it, I left out the worchershire sauce and reduced the herbage (rosemary and thyme) a little bit.  Also, I wasn't to excited about corn in my shepherd's pie, so I just stuck to peas.

The results were delicious.  The beef filling was so flavorful that the potatoes did not need anything.

Deconstructed Shepherd's pie (aka No Bake Beef with Mashed Potatoes) adapted from Alton Brown's recipe on Food Network
1 1/2 pounds Gold Potatoes, peeled and 1/2 inch diced

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped Onion
2 Carrots, peeled and diced small
1 garlic clove
1 pound organic grass fed Ground beef
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 teaspoon Pepper
2 tablespoons all purpose Flour
2 teaspoons Tomato Paste
1 cup Chicken broth
1 teaspoon freshly chopped Rosemary
1 teaspoon freshly chopped Thyme
1 cup frozen peas

Mashed Potatoes
Place peeled and diced potatoes in a medium saucepan over high heat, cover and bring to boil.  ONce boiling, uncover, decrease the heat and simmer until tender about 10 to 15 minutes.  Add milk, butter, and salt to taste.

Beef filling
Place olive oil into a 12 inch saute pan and set over medium heat.  When the oil shimmers, add the onion and carrots and saute just until they begin to take on color approximately 3 to 4 minutes.  Add garlic and stir to combine.  

Add the beef, salt and pepper and cook until browned and cooked through, approximately 3 minutes.  Sprinkle meat with flour and toss to coat, continuing to cook for another minute.  Add tomato paste, chicken broth, rosemary, thyme, and stir to combine.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer slowly 10 to 12 minutes or until the sauce is thickened slightly.
Add the frozen peas and cook until they are tender 2 to 3 minutes.  

The beef filling with mashed potatoes on the side:

I enjoyed this recipe, but the next time I would add more salt and cook the beef separately from the onions, carrots and garlic.  It added a bit too much fat to the dish.  I patted the beef down after it was browned to get some of the oil out of the dish.

Link to original recipe:

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Experiment #19 & 20: Slow Cooker Corned Beef & Irish Soda Bread

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  For the last ten years or so, I have celebrated St. Patrick's Day by cooking corned beef and vegetables.  This year for some reason, I have been thinking about my grandfather that passed away last year and how about 5 years ago I found out how much he loved corned beef when I was at his house for St. Patrick's day.  I hope he gets some wherever he is this year and that it is as delicious as the corned beef he prepared years ago.

This year I decided to try my hand at Irish Soda Bread as well since I've never made it before and I wanted to do a little more to celebrate St. Patrick's Day this year.

Slow-Cooker Corned Beef and Vegetables
Uncured Corned Beef (I had a 3 lb.)
Carrots, cut into matchsticks
Gold Potatoes, cut into quarters

Place cut carrots and potatoes on the bottom of a slow cooker.
Pour over corned beef and contents of package (the spices and juice.)
Cover with water and cook on low for 8 hours.  

If you want you can also place a peeled onion that has been quartered in with the carrots and potatoes and if you would like cabbage (which I usually have, but I didn't this year) you can place wedges of washed cabbage into the slow cooker a half an hour before you are done cooking the corned beef.  I enjoy my corned beef with mustard.

 Irish Soda Bread 
There are many different recipes for this bread, but I was looking for a recipe with more whole wheat than white and an easy recipe as well.  I found this recipe on the Food Network web-site.  It is from Claire Robinson's show 5 Ingredient Fix.  The recipe is quite simple and I thought it looked easy enough to do in a short amount of time.  It does not have raisins, which I found in other recipes and so I decided to add 1/3 of a cup, a little amount of raisins, but not to overpower the bread.  Apparently, soda bread is normally without raisins and caraway seeds unless it is a special occasion.

Updated March 17, 2015: I increased the raisins to 3/4 cup, because I didn't think there were enough the last time I made this recipe and I added them to the flour first before adding the buttermilk. I also increased the kosher salt because it seemed like it was lacking it the last time I made it.

Here is the recipe:
Soda Bread Recipe adapted from Claire Robinson's 5 Ingredient Fix recipe
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour, plus more for kneading surface
3 cups white whole wheat flour (the original recipe just used whole wheat flour)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups buttermilk
3/4 cup raisins, golden or black

Preheat oven 425F.

Whisk together flours, baking soda and salt.  Add raisins if using and mix until they are coated with the flour mixture.   Pour in most of the buttermilk stirring until a soft dough forms. Then add the rest of the buttermilk.  It will be sticky!

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and lightly knead into a shapeable dough.  Avoid overworking the dough, just until it is a nice round shape.  Shape the dough into a round disk shaped loaf and cut a deep X into the top with a serrated knife. If you cut a shallow X, the bread will not cook properly, and that's no good. :)

Place the dough onto a parchment lined baking sheet (I used my silpat mat) and bake for 10 minutes at 425F.  Lower the oven temperature to 375F and bake another 30 to 40 minutes. (The time really depends on how you shape your bread. If you want to bake it less, divide into two loaves and bake for less time.)  Remove bread from the oven to a cutting board.  Cool slightly before cutting and enjoy warm.

The results:
I thought the bread was pretty good.  The bread is dense and did not have too much flavor in it.  The raisins definitely helped, but maybe it needs more salt?   During my research, I saw that Ina Garten added orange zest to her Irish Soda bread.  Maybe I'll try that next year.  I enjoyed it with butter, which is the way Jacques Pepin likes his soda bread.

Update March 19th, 2013:  I found out through the last few days that I didn't distribute the raisins very well.  They were mostly on the outside edges of the bread.  I read a few recipes and it looks like I should have added them when you add the buttermilk for optimal distribution.  That's for next time.

Link to the recipe:

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Experiment #17: Bagels

My Mom was visiting me this week and what we usually do when we are together is cook.  Since we were at my house, we went through my cookbooks and looked at what was interesting to try to plan our daily meals.

I had once talked with her about a book my husband bought me for Christmas a few years ago,  Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day and so I was looking through the book with her to find something to teach her the method that is used for this type of bread, a no knead bread.

I find myself looking through this cookbook and I am interested in making several of the recipes.  I suggested making bagels which my mother approved of since she had never made them before.  I made bagels once years ago with my friend's housemate's bread machine.  I remember freshly made bagels were sublime.

The bagel recipe in the Artisan Breads in 5 minutes a Day book are Montreal bagel which the author explains has malt powder and honey added to the dough.  I really didn't want to have a Montreal bagel so I opted to omit the malt powder.

Additionally, I saw that the recipe called for honey and malt powder in the boiling water, which I didn't remember doing so I looked up recipes for new york bagels and found what I remembered doing years ago. Baking soda and kosher salt was in the boiling water.

I had not looked through the recipe quite clearly enough and when my mother and I went to make it I noticed it had a lot of sugar in the recipe and decided to omit the sugar but keep the honey.   As for the toppings, my favorite bagels are everything bagels.  I don't know exactly why, but I just love them.  Just what is on top of an everything bagel: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried onion, dried garlic, and caraway seeds.  We purchased everything except the caraway seeds.

Bagels adapted the Montreal Bagel Recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day By Dave Hertzberg, M.D. and Zoe Francois
Makes a Dozen Bagels
The dough
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water (I use 105 to 110F.)
1 tablespoons granulated yeast
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
2 tablespoons honey
1 egg
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
4 1/4 cup bread flour

Boiling Water adapted from Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day
2 to 3 quarts of water
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Poppy seeds, sesame seeds (I could only find black sesame seeds in bulk), dried garlic, dried onion, kosher salt

Mixing the bagel dough:
In a 5 quart lidded (not airtight) food container, mix yeast, salt, honey, egg, oil and water.

Mix the flour without kneading, using a spoon until all the flour is incorporated.  You may need to use wet hands to incorporate the last bit of flour.

Cover (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (flattens on top), approximately 2 hours.  It was late when I made this with my Mom so I made the dough and immediately put it in the refrigerator.

The dough can be used immediately after the initial rise, but it is easier to handle when cold.  Refrigerate in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 10 days.

Making the bagels:
Preheat the oven to 400F with a baking stone near the middle of the oven. Place an empty broiler tray on a lower shelf.

Dust surface of refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 3-ounce piece of dough (about the size of a small peach. Dust with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball.

Repeat to form the rest of the bagels.  Cover balls lightly with plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Prepare the boiling pot:
Bring a large stockpot full of water to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and add baking soda and salt.

Punch your thumb through the dough and form the hold.   Stretch the hole rotating until the hole's diameter is triple the width of the bagel wall.  The hole will look kind of ridiculous but the bagel will pull back on itself.  If you don't make the hole big enough, you might not end up having the hole.

Drop the bagels into the water one at a time, making sure they are not crowding each other so they do not touch or misshapen.  Simmer for 1 minute, and then flip them over with a slotted spoon and cook the other side for 30 seconds.

Remove the bagels from the water, using a slotted spoon and place on a wire rack. (The original recipe instructs you to use a towel lightly dusted with flour, but then the toppings won't stick to the flour side of the bagel.)

Dredge each bagel in your toppings on both sides. (I love this idea of the seasonings on both sides.)  I found that making a plate with the toppings mixed together for everything bagel worked.  To have the toppings stick, I found that you really had to press the bagels into the toppings on a plate.

Place bagels directly on hot baking stone.  Pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler tray and quickly close the oven door.

Bake with steam for about 20 minutes, until richly brown and firm.

Enjoy slightly warm.

These bagels were awesome!  The only thing that I found was that they need more salt.  This has happened to me a few times when I made other recipes from this book.  I guess I'll try more salt next time.

The book on a whole is really awesome and very inspiring.  I would recommend it to those who want fresh bread and don't have a lot of time to invest.

Updated March 12, 2013: Haha ha..  Hilarious.  I adapted my bagel recipe from the Montreal bagel recipe in the book and just realized there is a bagel recipe in the book.  It doesn't have egg, honey, or oil in the dough.

Link to purchase book: Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day

Link to the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day Web-site:

Link to Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day Bagel Recipe:

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Dinner Notes: Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Sweet Potatoes

This is not really a recipe.  It's just delicious simple food, but I thought I would write about it anyways.

Today I saw some organic brussel sprouts in the grocery store and they looked really good to me.  I remember growing up and not liking them so much, but over the years I've come to appreciate them especially roasted, a cooking method that often gives vegetables a delightful sweetness and concentrated flavor.

Quite simply I cut the brussels sprouts in half or quartered if they are very large.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Roast at 325F for 10 minutes.  Quick and delicious!

For the sweet potatoes I peel the sweet potatoes and sliced them and quartered the slices.  I also drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper and these roast at 325F for 20 - 25 minutes.

The sweet potatoes offset the bitterness of the brussels sprouts.  Delicious!  I felt good about this antioxidant packed side dish.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Experiment #16: Dried Fruit and Nut Bites: Failure

I have been eyeing this recipe on the Martha Stewart web-site while looking for healthy snacks.  It seems easy enough.  Dried fruit of your choice and nuts and seeds of your choice.

There was no real guidance as to which fruits, nuts and seeds they used, so I used for the fruit dried figs, dried cranberries, dried apricots, and unsweetened coconut flakes.  For the nuts/seeds, I chose sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds.  I read in the reviews that the amount of nuts and seeds recommended in the recipe, 2 cups was too much for the amount of fruit, so I reduced it to 1 1/2 cups.

Dried Fruit and Nut Bites from Martha Stewart web-site
2 cups mixed dried fruit (I used 1/2 cup each of figs, cranberries, apricots, and coconut flakes)
1 1/2 cups raw mixed nuts and seeds
coarse salt
1/3 cup raw sesame seeds

In a food processor, pulse dried fruit; transfer to a bowl.

Pulse nuts and seeds in a food processor and add to dried fruit with a 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon and a pinch of salt.
Knead together and form 1 inch balls; roll each ball in sesame seeds.

This recipe did not work at all with my combination of dried fruit.  I suppose I need to use dried fruit with a little more stickiness.  More dried apricots or some raisins next time?  My husband said that it was delicious over cereal so it was not a total failure.  :)

Link to the recipe: