In the middle of winter, there is nothing better than finding organic basil for $3 at Trader Joes. Since basil doesn’t like to be refrigerated, I immediately made pesto! The smell takes me straight to summer basil harvests in my garden. It is so easy to make and delicious on everything!
Organic basil
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
2-4 T. cup pine nuts
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Combine the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add 1/2 cup of the oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

If using immediately, add all the remaining oil and pulse until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese.

If freezing, transfer to an air-tight container and drizzle remaining oil over the top. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw and stir in cheese.

Hazelnut Toffee Cake

A showstopper dessert from The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak. I highly recommend this new baking book as everything I have made has been delicious! I used 8″ pans as that is what I had. Also, I had no problem with the caramel which can be difficult and think using Baker’s fine sugar may have helped. Be sure to let your cakes cool before frosting. I did add 1/2 t. of brandy to the icing. Trader Joe’s sells skinned hazelnuts which is a huge plus!
Hazelnut toffee cake
For the Sponge
12 oz. dates, pitted and chopped
5 oz. hazelnuts, toasted and chopped medium fine
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. + 2 T. oil
1 c. plain flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
7 T. plain yogurt

butter for greasing the tin
Hazelnut Praline
For the Toffee Topping
1 1/2 oz. toasted hazelnuts, skins sloughed off
3 T. water
1 c. sugar (I used bakers fine sugar)

For the Icing
4 tablespoons water
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
Brandy or cognac, to taste (optional)

Heat the oven to 340 degrees. Butter two 7″ cake tins and line with parchment paper. First, prepare the sponge. Combine the dates and the toasted nuts in a bowl and set aside.

Using an electric mixture, whisk together the eggs, vanilla and sugars until light and fluffy. Continue to whisk as you slowly drizzle in the oil.

In another bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add this to the egg mixture and whisk for a few seconds to combine. Add the yogurt and whisk to combine then fold in the dates and hazelnuts.

Divide the mixture between your prepared tins and bake for about 35-45 minutes, until the cakes are baked through and set, but not dry. The tops of the cakes will not spring back as much as other cakes do because the dates make the mixture moist and dense in the best possible way. Leave the cakes to cool in their tins while you make the topping.

Line a baking try with parchment paper and spread your toasted hazelnuts on the tray. Place the tray on your worktop, near the stove. Have your icing ingredients nearby, as they will be needed as soon as the caramel is ready.

Put the 3 T. water in a small, heavy-bottomed pan and sprinkle in the sugar. Bring to the boil and just as the sugar starts to caramelize watch it very closely, then as soon as it starts to brown, pour half of the hot caramel over the hazelnuts. Leave to cool and harden and then break into shards.

To make the icing, add the four tablespoons of water to the remaining caramel in the pan. Pour the runny caramel from the pan into the icing sugar and whisk to a smooth paste. Add more water or icing sugar until it has the consistency of soft buttercream.

TASTE: Does the icing taste too sweet? It might need a splash of brandy or cognac to mellow it out. The cake itself is not too sweet so it can handle a fairly sweet icing, but cutting it with a little booze can work well here.

To finish, spread the icing on the cooled cakes and top with the shards of praline.

Master Sauce Chicken

There are many versions of this wonderful recipe. Originally I used the late Barbara Tropp’s recipe from the old China Moon restaurant in San Francisco. I didn’t have the ingredients needed so I used Splendid Table recipe which came from Fuchsia Dunlop. I love the story about saving the Master Sauce and reusing it after freezing and passing it on to others!
The Story: I read that in China you cooked in a sauce, using it again and again for different meats, until it was your personal ambrosia. Then, in your final hours, you passed it on to your kin. The sauce never died, it went on for decades, and it was always becoming something more – at least that was the story.
The story was true. Master sauce, under different names, changes from one part of China to another, but all share a quintet of soy sauce, rice wine, ginger, star anise and sugar. In the traditional Canton-style sauce of Chinese author Eileen Yin-Fei Lo’s, the quintet joins up with a caravan of spices including a nutmeg-like Chinese seasoning, licorice root and Sichuan peppercorns along with a big piece of pork shoulder for extra richness.
This simpler Master sauce chicken is one place to begin. Utterly uncomplicated, this is the chicken for all seasons — the do-ahead Chinese feast dish, your summer picnic chicken, and the bird you do once a week for sandwiches and salad.
**Note: I am not that particular about the amount of liquid and you can see from my picture that I punctured the skin when I turned the chicken. It always tastes delicious and your house will smell wonderful while it cooks! Sorry about the weird photo-this recipe is worth making!
Master Sauce chicken
Master Sauce:
1/2 cup light soy sauce(Kikkoman works well here)
1/2 cup dark or double soy(I used the easy-to-find Koon Chun brand)
1 cup Shao-Hsing (aka Shao Xing) Chinese rice wine, or dry sherry
1/2 packed cupbrown sugar
2-inch long piece of fresh ginger, peeled and the whole piece crushed
4 whole scallions, coarse chopped
2 star anise, bruised
about 1 to 1-1/2 cups water**
3-1/2 to 4 pound chicken (organic, if possible)
1. In a 4-quart saucepan with good heat distribution (which should hold the chicken snugly with just enough room to turn it over), combine the soy sauces, wine, sugar, ginger, first quantity of scallions, star anise, and 1 cup of water.

2. Bring to a boil. Using a long fork or cooking chopsticks in its cavity, carefully, so as not to splash yourself, slip the breast-up chicken into the liquid. Tuck it down into the pot so the liquid almost covers the bird. Add more water if needed. Baste the liquid over the breast 3 or 4 times. Adjust the heat so a bubble surfaces every 4 or 5 seconds. In so many words, have it at the barest simmer.

3. Cover the pot (don’t worry if the lid doesn’t seal) and cook 20 minutes. Put the pot on a work surface and turn over the chicken from top to bottom using the fork or chopsticks in its cavity. Try not to break the skin. Cook at the barest bubble another 10 to 15 minutes, or until an instant-reading thermometer inserted in the thigh reads 160ºF.

4. Take the pot off the heat and let cool, covered, for 20 minutes, or until thigh reads 170ºF. Refrigerate the chicken in its sauce 12 to 24 hours. Baste and turn every few hours to have the chicken color evenly. The chicken keeps about 3 days, but if left in the sauce that long, it overwhelms the meat. So remove the chicken from the sauce after 24 hours, strain the sauce, and refrigerate the two separately.

5. Serve the chicken close to room temperature. Warm gently in the sauce to just heat through. Cut it into quarters, then slice each breast crossways into 4 or 5 pieces. Separate the legs and thighs. Assemble the pieces, skin side up on a platter. Sprinkle with the sliced scallions. Spoon about a 1/3 cup of defatted master sauce over the meat. Accompany with rice and optional sauces below.

Saving the Master Sauce: Strain the sauce, chill, and remove the fat. Then freeze. Cook any meat, whole eggs, or poultry in the sauce, replenishing ingredients as needed. Fish should be cooked in a separate master sauce.

Hardy Beef Stew

From Williams Sonoma blog and could be one of the best beef stews I have ever made!
Two things set this old-fashioned beef stew apart from its rivals: browning the beef in bacon fat and adding lots of vegetables to the pot, both of which add flavor to the velvety sauce. The result is comfort food, grandmother style. This grandmother didn’t cook with wine, but if you want to, substitute 1 1/2 cups (12 fl. oz./375 ml) hearty red wine, such as Syrah or Zinfandel, for an equal amount of the beef stock.
Hardy Beef Stew
Hearty Beef Stew

3 lb. (1.5 kg) boneless beef chuck
2 Tbs. canola oil
4 thick slices applewood-smoked bacon, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 carrots, cut into chunks
3 celery stalks, cut into 1/2-inch (12-mm) lengths
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
6 Tbs. all-purpose flour
4 cups (32 fl. oz./1 l) beef stock or broth
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme
1 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 1/4 lbs. (675 g) red-skinned potatoes

Position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 325°F (165°C). Cut the beef into 1 1/2-inch (4-cm) cubes and set aside. In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, warm the oil. Cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is crisp and browned, about 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain and set aside. Pour the fat into a heatproof bowl. Return 2 Tbs. of the fat to the pot and heat over medium-high heat. Season the beef cubes with salt and pepper. In batches to avoid crowding, add the beef and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes per batch. Transfer the beef to a plate.

Add another 2 Tbs. of the fat to the pot and heat over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Stir in the butter and let it melt. Sprinkle with the flour and stir well. Gradually stir in the stock, and then stir in the tomato paste, the 1 Tbs. parsley and the thyme, rosemary and bay leaf. Return the beef to the pot and bring to a boil. Cover, place in the oven and cook for 1 1/2 hours.

Cut the unpeeled potatoes into 1-inch (2.5-cm) cubes, add them to the pot, stir, re-cover and continue cooking until both the meat and potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes more. Season the stew with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, garnished with parsley and the reserved bacon. Serves 6.

Goat Cheese Rosemary Biscuits

This recipe is from a local chef, Jennifer Jasinski in her book The Perfect Bite. You will need a kitchen scale to make this as you weigh the flour and cheese. The dough makes quite a few biscuits but it refrigerates or freezes well. Don’t be overwhelmed by the amount of dough-it is a little messy but press it into a lump and start rolling it out. You can use all of the scraps to make more biscuits.
1 1/2# all purpose flour
2 T. baking powder
1 t. kosher salt
1/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 T. chopped fresh rosemary
6 oz. cold butter, diced
8 oz. goat cheese, crumbled small
1 1/4 c. buttermilk, plus extra for brushing
3/4 c. whole milk

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a bowl, mix together the dry ingredients including the rosemary. Add the cold butter, rubbing it into pieces with your hands so it is pea sized. Do the same with the goat cheese. Add the buttermilk and milk all at once, mixing enough to make the dough come together. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll it out about 1″ thick. Make a 4 fold by turning the 2 outside edges together into the center and then fold up like a book. Roll out again to 1″ thick and do a 3 fold (like a trifold wallet). Roll out one more time to 1″. Using a 3″ cutter, cut the biscuits. Transfer to a parchment lined pan. Brush with some buttermilk and sprinkle the tops with salt.
Bake until puffed and golden brown-about 19-20 minutes.

Marmalade filled Walnut Squares

Another wonderful recipe from the cookbook, Sweet and Tart! I made these with a yuzu marmalade that the author suggested but you can use any marmalade or jam of your choice. The recipe calls for 2 cups but I would only use **1 or 1 1/2 c. next time as they are a little moist and crumbly. You could use almonds, pecans or hazelnuts instead of walnuts. Makes at least 30 2″ squares.
3 c. chopped walnuts
2 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
2 c. sugar
zest of 2 lemons
2 large eggs
4 c. unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 t. kosher salt
1-2 c. marmalade or jam** see note above

Preheat the oven to 325. Line a 9″ by 13″ baking pan with parchment paper.
Spread the walnuts out on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, stirring once. Check to see if they have been to brown and toast, they should be fragrant. If needed, bake a few more minutes, checking frequently as they can over brown quickly. Let nuts cool completely.
Beat the butter and sugar in mixer on high speed until light and fluffy. Beat in lemon zest and eggs, one at a time until well combined. Turn speed to low and beat in the flour, salt and walnuts until combined.
With lightly floured fingers, press half of the dough into the prepared pan. Spread the marmalade over dough, leaving a 1″ border around the edges. Flatten the remaining dough into pieces with your hands and lay over the top, leaving open spots (as they will spread and fill in as it bakes).
Bake for one hour or until set and browned. Let cool on wire rack for an hour and then turn out of pan and cut into squares. Store covered at room temp. for up to one week or freeze up to 6 weeks.

Coffee and Cardamom Shortbread

I have been on a cardamom kick ever since I made garam masala at Christmas. There is nothing better than toasting fresh green cardamom pops and painstakingly husking them to get the super aromatic tiny seeds. For this recipe, I used ground cardamom as it is so much easier but next time I will try it with the fresh seeds. I love the texture and flavor the ground coffee adds to the shortbread. This recipe comes from book, The New Sugar and Spice.
Coffee+Cardamom Shortbread
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, nearly room temp
2 teaspoons ground coffee (a light or medium roast)
1 tsp. cardamom seeds (or 1 1/2 teaspoons cardamom)
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. almond or hazelnut meal
1/3 cup confectioners sugar
1/4 cup packed muscavado sugar (or dark brown sugar)
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325′. Butter 9″ fluted tart pan or spring form pan.

Grind your spices until very finely ground. In a large bowl, whisk together the spice mixture, flour, nut meal, powdered sugar, muscavado or brown sugar and salt to mix. Into a stand mixer or with an electric mixer, beat in the butter and vanilla to combine.

TIp the dough into the prepared pan using wet fingers. Press it into an even layer on the bottom, all the way to the edges. Freeze it until firm, about 15 minutes.

Bake the shortbread on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any leaking butter. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the top is golden brown. Immediately, and while the dough is still warm, use a sharp paring knife to score the shortbread into wedges or slices as you wish. Set on a rack to cool completely. When it’s cool, remove the cookie and gently break it apart along it’s edges.

Store the shortbread in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days or in the freezer for a month.

Poulet au Vinaigre (Chicken in vinegar sauce)

A wonderful dish from Peggy Knickerbocker’s Simple Soirees. It is very easy to make and you can make it ahead and reheat it gently. In fact, it gets better if you let it rest in its juices. You can make a half recipe of this easily.
Poulet au vinaigre
12 chicken thighs (about 3 to 4 pounds), bone in
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 shallots, minced
6 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1½ cups dry white wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1½ cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
½ cup chopped Italian parsley
Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper to taste. In a large, deep skillet (big enough to hold all chicken fairly close together; or use two skillets) melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium high heat. Brown the chicken for about 8 minutes, turning so both sides get nicely browned. Transfer the chicken to a deep, broad, ovenproof casserole that can go from the oven to the table. Remove the skillet from the heat and pour off most of the fat.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Place the skillet back over medium heat and add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the shallots and garlic and cook for about 1 minute, or until they become translucent. Add the vinegar and wine, and stir up the crispy bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Allow the liquids to cook down a bit, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes. Whisk in the tomato paste and let the sauce simmer and condense, about 5 minutes more. Then add the chicken stock, a little at a time. Keep stirring to mix well.

Pour the sauce over the chicken. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until the chicken is very tender, turning the chicken pieces midway through, so that both sides are infused with the sauce. Remove one thigh and cut into it to make sure it is done and no red juices flow from the cut.

Remove the casserole from the oven, sprinkle the parsley on top, and serve.

If you are making this dish for a large crowd, remove the skin from some of the thighs, as they could provide too much fat. Be sure to pour off the chicken fat as you go.

Heavenly Lemon Squares

From a new cookbook called Sweet and Tart, that is full of great recipes! The almond shortbread like crust topped with lemon curd is beyond belief delicious!
Heavenly Lemon Squares
1 c. unsalted butter, divided in half, cut into chunks, softened
1 c. ground almond meal or finely ground almonds
3/4 c. unbleached all p flour
1/2 c. powdered sugar, plus more for dusting the top
3/4 t. kosher salt-divided 1/2 t. and 1/4 t.
4 large eggs
1 c. granulated sugar
zest of 2 lemons, plus 3/4 c.fresh lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8″ square baking pan with parchment, letting the excess hang over the edge of the pan. (The overhang will help you lift the bars from the pan.)
Beat 1/2 cup of the butter, almond meal, flour, powdered sugar and 1/2 t. salt in a mixer bowl on medium high speed. It will be crumbly but will hold together when compressed.
Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared baking pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool. Leave oven on.
Whisk the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and 1/4 t. salt together in a small saucepan. Add the remaining 1/2 c. butter and cook over medium high heat, stirring gently but continuously with a heat-proof rubber spatula or wooden spoon, until the butter melts and the mixture thickens and coats the back of the spatula or registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. This should take 5-10 minutes. Watch closely and don’t let the mixture boil as it will curdle. Transfer to a bowl and stir for a few minutes to cool down.
When crust is cool, spread the lemon curd over the top. Bake for 10-15 minutes. Edges of the curd will be set but the middle is still wiggly. (The bars will firm up as they chill.)
Cool completely on rack and chill, covered for at least 4 hours or overnight. Lift the bars from the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Cut the bars with a large knife, wiping the knife clean with a damp towel in between cuts. Dust with powdered sugar. Store, covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Indian Feast

I am huge fan of Indian food and although it can be labor intensive, I am always so happy to have made the incredible meal. I rely on Madhur Jaffrey for most of my Indian meals but also have made most of the curries from the original Time-Life series from the 60’s or 70’s. I make my own garam masala every 5 or 10 years-it is a labor of love but so worth it. All of the recipes I made this week came from Madhur Jaffeys’ Indian Cooking, which I highly recommend.
Madhur J Indian
My menu was:
Lemony Chicken with fresh coriander
vegetable oil
2 pieces fresh gingerroot, coarsely chopped (1-inch cubes)
1⁄4 cup water
2⁄3 cup water
2 1⁄2 lbs bone-in chicken breasts, skinned
5 garlic cloves, minced
7 ounces cilantro, minced (this probably equates to a ‘bunch’ of just leaves)
1⁄2 jalapeno, minced
1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1⁄2 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Put the ginger and 1/4 cups water into a blender or processor. Blend until you have a paste; set aside.
Note: The original recipe doesn’t call for seasoning the chicken prior to browning, but I prefer the way the salt and pepper penetrates at this level. Also, I cut the breasts in half-or more pieces depending on size-sometimes 6 pc per breast. Procede by putting the oil in a wide, heavy pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, put in as many chicken pieces as the pan will hold in a single layer and brown on both sides. It’s not necessary to deeply brown because of the additional cook time later and they may become dry. Remove the chicken pieces with a slotted spoon and put them in a bowl. Sear all the chicken pieces this way.
Add the garlic to the hot oil. As soon as the pieces turn a medium-brown color, turn heat to medium and pour in the ginger paste. Stir-fry it for a minute. Add the fresh coriander, jalapeno, cayenne, cumin, coriander, turmeric and salt. Stir and cook for a minute.
Put in all the chicken pieces as well as any liquid that might have accumulated in the chicken bowl. Add 2/3 cup water and the lemon juice. Stir and bring to a boil. Cover tightly, turn heat to low and cook for 15 minutes.
Turn the chicken pieces over. Cover again and cook another 10 to 15 minutes or until the chicken is tender. If the sauce is too thin, uncover the pan and boil some of it away over a slightly higher heat.
Gujerati-style cabbage with carrots
3/4 pound cabbage (about 1/4 of a medium green head)
3/4 pound carrots
1/2 – 1 fresh, hot green chili
4 tablespoons oil
A pinch of ground asafetida (opt)
1 tablespoon whole black mustard seeds
1 whole, hot dried red chili
1.25 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
4 heaped tablespoons chopped fresh green coriander (opt)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Core the cabbage and cut in into fine, long shreds. Peel the carrots and grate them coarsely. Cut the green chili into thin, long strips.
Heat the oil in a wide, casserole-type pot over a medium-high flame. When hot, put in the asafetida. A second later, put in the mustard seeds. As soon as the mustard seeds begin to pop (this takes just a few seconds), put in the dried red chili. Stir once. The chili should turn dark red in seconds. Now put in the cabbage, carrots and green chili. Turn the heat down to medium and stir the vegetables around for half a minute. Add the salt, sugar, and green coriander. Stir and cook for another 4 minutes or until vegetables are just done and retain some of the their crispness. Add the lemon juice. Stir to mix. (Remove the whole red chili before serving
Spiced Basmati rice
2 cups uncooked basmati rice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 fresh hot green chile
1/2 teaspoon very finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Madhur’s Garam Masala Madhur’s Garam Masala
1 teaspoon salt
2 2/3 cups Homemade Chicken Stock Homemade Chicken Stock
Pick over rice, and place it in a large bowl. Wash rice with several changes of water. Drain.
Pour 5 cups of fresh water over the rice, and let it soak for 30 minutes. Transfer to a sieve, and let drain for 20 minutes.
Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add onion. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until onion has lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Add rice, green chile, garlic, Garam Masala, and salt. Stir gently until all the grains have been coated with oil, about 3 minutes. If the rice begins to stick to the bottom of the pan, reduce heat slightly.
Pour in the stock, and bring the rice to a boil. Cover with a tight-fitting lid, and reduce heat to low. Cook 25 minutes more; serve.