Friday, October 31, 2008

Saturday Dinner - Rotini Pasta with Vegetable Marinara, Banana Cake, Miniature Pineapple Upside-Down Cake (Special Edition)

Tonight was a special edition of Jade and I's Saturday night dinners, being that it's Friday. That's because tomorrow is my birthday! And I'm going to my cousin's for some fresh boiled crab. Mmm.

But back to tonight! We made a version of a dish that I used to make a lot when I was a poor legislative correspondent on Capitol Hill, making peanuts. This was a favorite meal because it was fast, cheap, filling, and had some nutritional value. But back then I only ever used pasta sauce that came in a jar, and usually made it with long pasta such as spaghetti or fettucini. Tonight, however, I made my own sauce, and as I was out of long pasta, used rotini -- which actually might have been a better choice.

We each made different desserts -- I made what was supposed to be a low-fat banana cake, except I didn't have milk, so used canned coconut milk instead, so the low-fat thing kind of went out the window, which is okay for me since I'm not restricted to having 10 grams of fat per meal, as Jade is. Predictably, the cake was soft, moist, and delicious, which means I'll probably have to continue to make it with the coconut milk! Still, I think it would still be great with the nonfat milk the recipe originally called for. Jade made miniature low-fat pineapple upside-down cakes, which looked so yummy I wish I could have had one! They were made in honor of her mother's birthday, which happened to be today.

All in all, a very simple, satisfying meal that was good and low in fat! Well, more so if you were at Jade's house instead of mine.

Rotini with Vegetable Marinara

  • 1 28oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 8oz can tomato paste
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine (I used Merlot)
  • 1 zucchini, cut into 1/4" rounds and then cut in half
  • 1 celery rib, peeled and cut into small pieces
  • 5-6 white button or cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp marjoram
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups cooked rotini
  • 8oz fresh broccoli
  • 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil, divided


  1. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a saucepan or Dutch oven.
  2. Toss in the diced onion and stir to coat. Add the sugar. Cook onions until they're translucent and getting soft. If it seems there's not enough oil for the onions you have, add a little more -- you don't want them to turn brown and burn.
  3. Carefully pour in the red wine, and cook for a few minutes until it's reduced a bit.
  4. Add the can of tomatoes, juice and all. If you're pressed for time, mash the tomatoes a bit so they're not quite so chunky. If you plan to let this simmer for a couple of hours, you can skip that step.
  5. Mix the tomato paste with the water, and add to the sauce. Bring it to a boil.
  6. Toss in celery, zucchini, and mushrooms, and stir to coat. Let that cook for a couple of minutes.
  7. Add the garlic, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Let the sauce simmer for 2-3 hours on low heat, stirring once or twice. The resulting sauce should be chunky, but the vegetables should be soft and there should be plenty of sauce.
  9. About half an hour before you're ready to serve, make the pasta as directed on the package.
  10. In another saucepan, heat 1/2 tbsp of olive oil. When it's hot, add the broccoli and stir fry until the broccoli is bright green and just about done. If you need to, add more oil as you definitely don't want the broccoli to burn.
  11. Add cooked rotini and stir a bit, but don't actually cook as it'll stick to the pan.
  12. Ladle in the vegetable marinara sauce and stir until all the pasta is coated. Add more if your preference is for more sauce.
  13. Cook for a minute or two, then ladle into a pasta bowl and serve. We left out the cheese to keep this low fat, but you can sprinkle some parmesan on at the end.

I had to wait for the steam to dissipate to take this photo -- and even then some remained. I didn't want it to get totally cold, though, since I still had to eat it!

Banana Cake

  • 2 cups unbleached flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 c bananas, mashed
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk (or nonfat milk for low-fat version)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Prepare a 9" square baking dish with cooking spray; set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
  4. In a mixing bowl, combine bananas, milk, oil, eggs, and vanilla extract.
  5. Add dry ingredients and mix well.
  6. Spread batter into prepared pan.
  7. Bake for 35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (If you use nonfat milk, it may only take 25 minutes as originally directed, so watch the cake to make sure it doesn't overbake!)
  8. To prepare glaze, combine honey and cinnamon in a small bowl. Mix well. Drizzle over warm cake.

If you make the low-fat version, you can check out specific nutritional information here, which is the recipe I adapted.

Miniature Pineapple Upside-Down Cakes


For the cake:

  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 15oz can's worth of drained pineapple juice (see topping)

For the topping:

  • 3 to 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 7 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • 1 15oz can of crushed pineapple, drained (save the juice)


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients.
  3. Slowly stir in the eggs and milk to the dry ingredients. Add some of the crushed pineapple to the batter if desired.
  4. To make the topping, melt butter in a sauce pan.
  5. Slowly add brown sugar until you get a nice-looking glaze. Pour the glaze into a pan (or distribute evenly among mini pans, if making small cakes).
  6. Add the crushed pineapple, spreading it evenly in the pan(s).
  7. Pour the cake batter over the glaze and pineapple.
  8. Bake for 35 mins if making a large cake, 15 to 20 if doing minis. You can slice and serve directly out of the pan(s), or turn over so that the pineapple glaze is on top, for upside-down cake!

Note: To make low fat, use 1% low fat milk, and substitute 4 egg whites for the eggs -- it makes the cake a little heavier than is ideal, but the fat to taste ratio remains intact.

Miniature pineapple cakes, with a cell phone to show size.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pizza -- Daring Bakers Challenge October 2008

I felt guilty doing this month's Daring Bakers Challenge -- Peter Reinhart's method of making pizza. Why? Well, first, because I LOVE pizza and any excuse to make it is fine by me. (In fact, it was the subject of my very first post on this blog.) Second, making pizza at home is quite fun. And finally, I've made this particular pizza before, several times, with great success. If you're like me, and have failed to make good pizza for many years, finding a great recipe that produces a wonderful thin-crust pizza is a godsend. All those reasons are why making this pizza -- while fulfilling the challenge at the same time -- seemed like cheating.

The biggest roadblock I faced is that it's fall in Seattle, and a particularly cold one at that. It's fairly difficult to do anything with yeast when your room temperature is far below what it needs to be for optimal yeast activity.

But I managed to "cheat" even here. I used my homemade proofing box! It's basically just a styrofoam cooler with a hole cut out of the bottom, into which a 25-watt light bulb/socket is inserted. It's then flipped upside down over the cooler's lid (though a table or the floor would work fine), and an instant thermometer is inserted into the side. The light switch is one of those sliding kinds, so that I can change the brightness of the bulb to adjust the temperature inside the box (during colder months, it needs to be brighter to maintain the right temperature). The light bulb heats up the inside of the box so that it gets to a balmy 75-85°F -- the perfect environment for yeast to have a relaxing little vacation, encouraging them to multiply themselves. And best of all, I don't have to heat my entire house to do it. I got the instructions for fashioning one from Ed Wood's Classic Sourdoughs book. Since my home stays fairly cool even in the summer, I use it all the time.

Here's my proofing box, which is the key to my success with yeast-related baking.

I've been a fan of having broccoli as a pizza topping since I first discovered the Spinoccoli pizza at Uno Chicago Grill, which is, sadly for me, mostly on the east coast (and none in my state). It's a fairly rare topping, even at pizza establishments that have a wide range of other toppings. That makes making my own pizza even more worthwhile. The difficult part is that I prefer thin crust pizza, and broccoli's kind of heavy (Uno serves deep dish pizza). But hey, I like the challenge! The key to using broccoli on pizza is that you have to use raw broccoli (not frozen or cooked), because that, combined with an olive oil base, keeps it slightly crunchy and chewy -- which is what makes it delicious.

Broccoli, garlic, and mushroom pizza, fresh out of the oven.

This month's Daring Bakers Challenge required that we make a pizza with both sauce and toppings, and toss two pizza crusts the way Peter Reinhart describes in his book. I tried to take photos of me tossing the pizza, but it just didn't work out -- way too hard to capture on film when I'm just me in my kitchen. :-P I'm still a complete novice at it; I can successfully toss it a couple of inches, but no higher than that without compromising the integrity of the dough. I did stretch the pizza dough solely with my knuckles/hands -- no rolling pin -- so hopefully one day I'll be able to toss like a pro.

I suppose I could have made one pizza and simply tossed a second without fully dressing it, but why would I do that? So I made two pizzas. (I still really need to learn how to make pizza dough form a perfect circle. Mine always seem to come out rectangular.) First, of course, I made my favorite broccoli, garlic, and mushroom pizza.

For the second pizza, I decided to try a bit of an experiment.

If you happen to live in Washington like me, then you're likely lucky enough to have one of The Rock's locations at least within driving distance of you -- their pizzas are fabulous. I've always been intrigued by one of their appetizers, the "Brown Sugar Mozz Bread," which claims to be their garlic mozz bread sprinkled with brown sugar. I've never been there with anyone who really wanted to try it (to be fair, their pizzas are so large and delicious that ordering appetizers seems the height of gluttony), but I love sweet/salty combinations, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

The Rock describes their garlic mozz bread as: Our legendary dough, brushed with crushed garlic, extra virgin olive oil, pecorino romano AND topped with mozzarella then baked in our brick oven.

And the Brown Sugar Mozz Bread as: The same garlic mozz bread sprinkled with brown sugar, topped with mozzarella then baked in our brick oven.

Well, I was missing the brick oven, but creating a reasonable facsimile of their garlic bread seemed easy enough, and all I'd have to do was sprinkle it with brown sugar.

The garlic and brown sugar pizza, before being sliced.

Both pizzas were very tasty. I only used a modest amount of sugar, but it was enough for me -- the combination of flavors blended very well together. The only change I'd make the next time would be to take the garlic and brown sugar pizza out of the oven a minute or two sooner. I usually like browned cheese, but I think for this particular pizza you just want the cheese to melt and take it no further.

Here we have minced garlic soaking in olive oil, and broccoli that's been mixed with a bit of olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper, along with some mushrooms, who are just there for the ride.

Recipes for dressing both pizzas are below. Both require that you make the pizza dough as described in Peter Reinhart's recipe, which can be found here. When you're ready to dress the pizza, here's what I did for each of mine.

Broccoli and Mushroom Pizza

I prepare the vegetables while the pizza dough is doing its 2-hour proof out of the fridge and while the oven is preheating so that I finish at about the same time the dough is ready to be tossed and shaped.


  • 2 oz fresh broccoli florets
  • 2 oz fresh white button or cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • red pepper flakes (optional)
  • pizza sauce
  • mozzarella cheese
  • a hard cheese, like parmesan or pecorino romano (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to as high as it will go (mine caps at 500°F).
  2. In a small bowl, combine broccoli, olive oil, and garlic until the olive oil is well distributed. Season as desired. (You can also add in the sliced mushrooms on this step if you like, but I usually leave mine unseasoned.)
  3. Toss pizza dough and fashion into desired shape.
  4. As directed in PR's method, I put the dough right on the peel so that it can be easily transferred from there (and I use a SuperPeel, to make it even easier).
  5. Spread tomato-based pizza sauce over dough. Evenly distribute the broccoli and mushroom toppings onto the sauce. Sprinkle desired amount of mozzarella cheese over the vegetables, followed by the hard cheeses, if using.
  6. Sprinkle semolina flour onto the baking stone just before you're going to put the pizza in.
  7. Slide pizza onto the hot baking stone in a quick motion and close the oven.
  8. Check pizza after 2 minutes and see if it needs to be rotated. It should take 5-8 minutes to bake.
  9. Remove from the oven and wait a few minutes for the cheese and sauce to set a bit before slicing (makes it less messy). Serve and eat hot!

Brown Sugar and Mozzarella Pizza


  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • mozzarella cheese
  • a hard cheese, like parmesan or pecorino romano (optional)


  1. Combine garlic and olive oil in a small bowl and mix well. (This is probably a good place to use crushed garlic that comes in a jar, but since I didn't have any I minced mine.)
  2. Toss pizza dough and fashion into desired shape.
  3. Place the dough on a peel.
  4. Using a pastry brush, brush dough with olive oil/garlic mixture. Be careful here, as the dough is thin and might tear with rough handling. Use as much or as little as you like. I usually use up all the garlic and enough oil to cover the surface area of the pizza.
  5. Top with mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.
  6. Using your fingers, lightly sprinkle brown sugar over the top of the cheese. Do your best to evenly distribute, but little pockets of brown sugar here and there isn't a bad thing.
  7. Slide pizza onto the hot baking stone in a quick motion and close the oven.
  8. Check pizza after 2 minutes and see if it needs to be rotated. It should take 5-8 minutes to fully bake.
  9. Remove from the oven and wait a minute or two for the cheese to set a bit before slicing (makes it less messy). This one is especially important to serve and eat hot, as the sugar seems to make the cheese harden a bit more than usual when it cools.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tu Casa Es Mi Casa?

Tu Casa is one of my favorite standbys. It's good, it's inexpensive, and they bring your meal out in a jiffy. At lunch, $7.75 gets you a huge plate featuring an enchilada, a taco, rice, and beans, with melted cheese strewn liberally about.

And of course, there's the requisite all-you-can-eat chips and salsa (with a decent amount of heat).

It's always way too much food for one person, but then, that's part of the experience. I like knowing when I walk in that I'm going to walk out totally stuffed, with a box of food that's filled with enough food for an entire second meal.

With every entree you're able to choose between cheese, chicken, ground beef, and shredded beef picadillo (which is what I recommend). Some call it Mexican, though others contend that it's more accurately called Tex Mex, it's comfort food in a comfortable setting. And sometimes, that's all you need.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Why I Do, Indeed, Love Sushi

I don't think I've been to any sushi joint in Seattle that gives you the same kind of value that I Love Sushi does -- at least during lunch. Their food is always fresh, beautifully prepared, and delicious. The service is friendly, and the prices are reasonable. The atmosphere is comfortable and unpretentious, but clean and bright. What more could you want?

Every lunch comes with a bowl of hot miso soup loaded with seaweed and tofu. Their salad greens are fresh and lightly dressed with a miso dressing that's slightly sweet and full of umami. These, along with a cup of hot green tea, are brought to you without any prompting.

They have a large lunch selection, from tender sashimi to crunchy tempura to soupy udon -- and if you can't decide, their I Love Bento is always a sure bet. My personal favorite is the sashimi lunch. At $12.75, it comes with 2 pieces of hamachi, 2 pieces of salmon, 2 pieces of octopus, 3 pieces of albacore tuna, and some white fish.

The one thing I Love Sushi does not have is meat. You'll find salmon teriyaki on the menu, but not beef or chicken. I promise you won't even miss it. The tempura is a surefire winner -- for something a bit unique try the avocado one -- and shioyaki hamachi kama (with some lemon squeezed on top) is also a favorite. For the longest time they served udon but didn't have it on the menu; that's been changed recently. Try the nabeyaki udon for a bit of everything.

As for the rolls, skip everything that has the word "spicy" in it. A lot of people like it for some reason, but the overpowering spicy mayonnaise completely cloaks the taste of the fish -- and isn't that why you're having sushi in the first place? It also means they can use this-is-the-end-of-the-piece fish for it, the parts that don't make up a whole piece for sashimi or sushi, or worse, fish that isn't as fresh. I'd also skip the crunchy roll here, because it's just got too much mayo. (If you like crunchy rolls, it's unsurpassed at Kirkland's Rikki Rikki.) The roll I recommend? The caterpillar roll, which is a bit pricey at $11.50, but worth it. It's filled with eel and topped with thin slices of avocado. It's gorgeous and delicious.

Depending on the sushi chef who prepares this, it might come as carefully sliced roll on a long platter. It might come artistically arranged on a square plate. It might be snaked, resembling a real caterpillar, complete with antennae made of two sprouts. However it's arranged, you're still getting a fantastic roll.

Don't miss this place. It's a treat you'll remember for a long time.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Noodle Soup

After making dinner last night, I had a large pot of leftover chicken broth. While there are plenty of recipes that use chicken broth, I was in the mood to have it straight up -- after all, there are few things better in life than a hot bowl of pure chicken essence.

While I could have easily enjoyed the soup plain, with no enhancement, I was also realistic. While delicious, a bowl of broth will only fill me for so long. So I turned to a staple in Chinese households: noodle soup.

There are thousands variations to this hot, filling, comforting meal, and this is just my take on it this particular day. But there are two basics that provide the foundation and never change: soup and noodles. What else you put in can and probably will change, depending on what you have on hand. And that's why I love making noodle soup so much: as long as you have a base for soup (even water + soy sauce will do, if you're really pressed), you have noodle soup. Everything else is an improv, and depending on the maker can be teeming with meat and vegetables, or an austere experience, with few if any additions.

Since not everyone is fortunate enough to grow up with a mother who made noodle soup fairly consistently on a weekly basis when they were young (as I did), it might not be second nature to quickly and efficiently whip up this delicious meal. But once you have the right equipment and ingredients on hand -- and it doesn't take much -- I guarantee any feelings of hesitation or intimidation will go away, and you'll make it all the time.

Here are some of the basics.

1) You need a soup base. This can be leftover homemade stock, canned/boxed stock, a water-based sauce mixed with water, a quick broth made from boiling shrimp shells, or even, as mentioned before, water mixed with some soy sauce. Heck, you could even rip open a package of ramen and use the soup base from that. Use your imagination; it doesn't take a lot to create a usable stock for a bowl of noodles. Of course, the higher quality the soup base, the better your soup noodles will taste. :-)

2) You need noodles. I like soft noodles with medium thinness, somewhere between spaghetti and capellini. But you need the Asian kind, not Italian pasta, in order to make proper noodle soup. You wouldn't make pasta with Asian noodles, and the reverse is true as well. If you go to an Asian supermarket (such as 99 Ranch), the variety of noodles -- both dry and fresh -- can be overwhelming (rice, egg, flour, round, flat, thick, thin, everywhere in between). You can try each one, of course, to find your favorite, but as a quick recommendation for those who don't want to bother, this is the one I'm currently using and like it quite a lot:

Asian Taste Shandong Ramen (Thin), 5lb box

I like the size and consistency, as well as the simplicity of the ingredients: wheat flour, water, salt.

Sometimes I like much thinner noodles to have in broth, in which case I turn to these Japanese dried noodles, which has the same simple ingredients as the one above:

Japanfood Tomoshiraga Somen, 3lb box.

3) You may want to add additional ingredients to the noodle soup to liven it up a bit. The possibilities here are endless, but the key is that you want ingredients that cook fast: leafy vegetables, shrimp, sliced fish, mushrooms, fish balls, tofu, thinly sliced meat, cooked leftovers from previous meals (you'll have to use your judgment), or even crack a whole raw egg in (an excellent standby, as nearly everyone has eggs in the fridge).

The sky is the limit when it comes to personalizing your own bowl of noodles -- it will be delicious regardless of how much or how little you add to it. :-)

4) You may want to have additional condiments on the side, such as spicy chili sauce, seasoned tofu, pickled turnips, century eggs, again the possibilities here are endless. Roam the aisles of an Asian supermarket and you'll find a large selection to choose from. Again just to help you narrow things down if you're making this for the first time, here are my two staple condiments for noodle soup:

Some kind of chili sauce is essential to me, and I absolutely LOVE this one; I could eat it all on its own. Though I can and do eat very spicy foods, this particular chili sauce is fairly mild -- but it has a wonderful flavor. The pickled chili radish is also a favorite of mine, though again very mild.

Left: Kimlan Chili Radish; Right: Yonk Sing Chili XO Sauce

There's really not much to putting it all together.

First, boil a large pot of water. When the water's boiling, throw in some dried noodles. You can put just enough in for however many servings you're making, or enough for several extra servings if you have a lot of broth to use up. Generally I like to make extra, for the energy-saving benefit (you're boiling a pot of water either way) and also for the time benefit. Subsequent bowls of noodle soup will take half the time or less than it took to make the initial bowl.

When the noodles are soft and cooked through (about 6 minutes, or as instructed), turn off the heat and pour everything into a colander. The hot water will drain away and you'll be left with a bunch of hot noodles. Rinse the noodles with cold water to stop the cooking (you don't want them mushy), using your hands or chopsticks to move the noodles around to make sure they all get hit with cold water. Let that drain for a bit, then transfer the noodles to a large bowl. At this point, if you're ready to make the noodle soup, you can just portion out what you'll need, or if you're planning to make the meal later, stick the noodles in the fridge.

Regardless of what kind of noodles you choose, you should do this "wash." This step, though it might seem extraneous, is actually very important. Boiling the noodles washes out extra starch and any impurities, and perhaps more importantly, also reconstitutes the noodles, which soak up a lot of liquid. In this case, they'll soak up the water. If you throw dried noodles in with your soup base, they'll use that liquid to reconstitute, and you'll be left with no broth. When I was on my own and making this for the first time, I skipped this step, and the resulting bowl of noodles wasn't nearly as good as the ones my mother and grandmothers served. The initial boil-wash solved that. Also, it lessens the prep time for making subsequent meals if you've made extra noodles, as later on all you're doing is warming up the noodles in the soup rather than cooking them.

In a pot with plenty of room, start heating up enough broth to supply however many bowls of noodles you're serving. At this point I usually add ingredients that might take a little more time to warm through but that don't need to be cooked quickly (like raw eggs), such as large pieces of tofu, cauliflower, sliced fish, shrimp, fish balls, thickly sliced meat, mushrooms, etc., so that they're warming up at the same time as the broth.

When the broth comes to a boil, add items such as leafy greens, thinly sliced meat, or crack a whole raw egg or two into the soup. In this case, I used cooked chicken (from making the broth), cooked carrot (ditto), sliced mushrooms, and a few fish balls, all of which I added to the broth as it was warming up. Once it was boiling, I added a handful of spinach. Once you've made this a few times, you'll get a sense for when to add your additional ingredients. The one thing you want to avoid is adding too much at the end, after you've already included the noodles, because the longer the noodles cook in the soup (remember, they're already cooked), the softer they'll get and the more they'll soak up the liquid, which might leave you with a bunch of fat, mushy noodles and no broth.

Lastly, add the cooked noodles to your soup base. Bring it to a boil and let it simmer for a minute or two -- not much longer. Turn off the heat, portion out the noodles, ingredients, and soup, and you're done!

If you've made extra noodles, the next time you make this meal it will go even faster. Just start heating up the broth and any extra ingredients, and when it's boiling, take the cooked noodles out of the fridge and toss them in. Unless you've got some really complicated additions (but why would you? The beauty of this is how delicious yet fast it can be), it should take you 10 minutes tops to put a hot, steaming bowl of noodle soup on the table -- a meal that's filling, satisfying, and easy.

I should also note that adding ingredients and extra condiments to instant ramen noodles -- the kind you cook on the stovetop, not the kind you microwave -- is also a tried and true method for a fast and satisfying (though less healthy) meal. Ramen soup base is usually ideal for cracking in a raw egg once the soup is boiling -- you can then let it cook whole, or swish it around a bit and you've got an egg drop soup going.

Homemade Mayonnaise

I have now made mayonnaise 3 different ways. Quite an accomplishment for someone who doesn't even really like it! Actually, the homemade version tastes pretty darned good. If all mayo tasted like this, maybe I would never have developed an aversion to it!

Most people who like mayo find it to be a flavor enhancer. I've generally found that it does the opposite -- detracts from the other flavors with its goopy texture and unpleasantly mayo flavor (usually because there's too much of it). I do like the way mayo binds ingredients together, such as in chicken/egg/what have you salad, and the occasional sandwich when the person making the sandwich doesn't cake on the mayo -- then it truly serves as an enhancer to food. However, it takes a light touch, which most sandwich makers don't seem to care about (even if you tell them to take it easy on the mayo, they still put on way too much -- it's easier just to nix it entirely. For me, it's better to do without that small bit of enhancement than ruin the whole sandwich with too much mayo). And there's also the health benefits: it packs a lot of extra calories (being made of essentially oil and egg yolk), so why not just do without?

But I consider myself a foodie. And it always rankled a bit that this common condiment was not one that I found enjoyable. What did other people taste that I didn't? I wondered if perhaps, like so many things, it tasted better made fresh at home. Luckily for me, it was an easy experiment. If I failed, not much time or ingredients would be lost. The ingredients to mayo are few and inexpensive, and the process is simple (though very particular).

Egg yolk, apple cider vinegar, salt, and ground mustard ready to be blended. Ignore the fact that they're in a food processor -- pretend it's a blender or a bowl with a whisk, which are better methods.

The first time I made mayo was in a blender. It came together easily, with none of the problems other people online were lamenting about with regard to the emulsification process. The second time was in a food processor. I admit that my food processor is one of those bottom-of-the-line versions, but it has always served me well. However, the lower blade was not close enough to the bottom of the container (which perhaps would not be a problem with a better food processor), so the ingredients -- minus the oil -- weren't being touched at all. In my overconfidence (after all, I'd successfully done it my first time out), I just poured the oil right in, without first getting the yolk well mixed or doing the careful drop-by-drop procedure for the oil. You guessed it: disaster. The mixture didn't emulsify (of course), and was just an oily, yolky mess that was the consistency of water, instead of being creamy like mayo is supposed to be. I didn't feel like dragging my blender out when I already had to clean the food processor, so I opted to try making it by hand -- arguably the most difficult method, but I figured I might as well give it a try.

It came out beautifully. The key is patience -- you can't rush the part where you're introducing the oil to the yolk mixture. All the instructions everywhere for making mayo cautions that you must put in the oil drop by drop for the first 1/3 cup or so, and with good reason. If you hurry this step the ingredients won't emulsify, and instead of mayo you'll have oil + yolk.

The good news is that once I got my second, handmade attempt to successfully turn into mayo, I was able to save the previous disastrous attempt by trickling it into the the already-emulsified mixture, which miraculously turned it all into creamy, glossy mayo. Of course, I ended up with 3 times more mayo than I had originally intended, but the important thing was that I learned quite a bit from the experience. First, for fool-proof mayo made at home, do it in a blender. Second, handmade mayo is possible, it just takes a bit of patience. Third, failed mayo attempts can be salvaged by successfully making another portion of mayo separately, then blending the failed attempt into the successful one.

Creamy, homemade mayo. This is what it looks like when properly emulsified. I added the non-emulsified mixture to this, and it was miraculously fixed.

As far as my experiment goes, I find that I do indeed prefer homemade mayo to any other kind. And sure, it's partly because I can control the amount of mayonnaise that goes into my salads and sandwiches, but it's more than that. I've gotten store-bought mayo before and never thought it actually enhanced my food, so I never used it (usually it was purchased either because I had guests coming over for a meal in which they enjoyed it as a condiment, or because I was making ranch dressing). With homemade mayo, I actually find myself reaching for the jar. There's also the health and nutritional benefits. With homemade mayo, I can ensure that only healthy oils -- such as olive and canola -- are used in the final product.

I should also mention that the first time I made mayo, it was actually aioli -- I added garlic to the yolk in the first step. I'm not sure if it's possible to make true aioli by hand, since it requires the garlic to be well-blended with the mayo, but I suppose you could use crushed garlic, either pressed by hand or from a jar, and it'd probably accomplish the same thing. I definitely recommend aioli over plain mayo, being that I'm a garlic nut. This time, I saved a small portion as plain mayo, and used the rest for ranch dressing.

Now. Are you ready to make your own?


Makes about 1/2 cup


  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice (lime juice, white wine vinegar, and apple cider vinegar work as well)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground mustard
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup canola oil


  1. Mix the two oils in a measuring cup or small squeeze bottle -- something with a spout is recommended, as it's easier to control how much oil gets poured that way.
  2. Add yolk, lemon juice or vinegar, salt, and ground mustard to a separate bowl or blender.
  3. Whisk/blend the yolk mixture until the ingredients are well incorporated and the yolk is glossy, kind of sticky, and bright yellow.
  4. Add the oil drop by drop into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly. An extra drop or two is okay, as long as you make sure it's well blended with the yolk before adding any more. You want to keep the mixture in a state of emulsion, and overwhelming the yolk with too much oil too early will ruin it.
  5. When you've blended in about 1/3 cup of the oil, it's safe to start trickling in a thin stream of oil, still constantly blending. Stop a few times to make sure the oil you've added has been incorporated before adding more.
  6. Keep whisking until the mayo is thick and glossy. Add more oil, up to an additional 1/4 cup, to desired thickness.

Note: I like using a mix of canola and olive oils because one dilutes the flavor of the other, resulting in a mayo that doesn't distinctly taste of one particular oil. You can just use one type of oil if you prefer, or mix and match, and see what combination produces a mayo you like most. You'll just want to keep it to about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of oil per yolk, as that's about the maximum amount of oil that 1 large egg yolk can bind.

You can also use an electric hand mixer if you don't want to whisk it by hand. It's not quite as foolproof as using a blender, though.

Mayo can also be made with whole eggs instead of just the egg yolk, producing a lighter, whiter mayo. You'll need to adjust the other ingredients accordingly to accommodate the extra egg.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Saturday Dinner: Broth-Boiled Kale with Fried Egg on Toast, Apple-Pear Tart

Tonight's dinner was inspired by Orangette, who recently blogged about boiled kale and an apple tart. The boiled kale recipe was actually adapted from The Zuni Café Cookbook, which I probably need to get at some point soon.

In any case, Jade and I were going to make a similar dinner, then sit down and watch the first episode of Gossip Girl S1 together. We plan to do this every Saturday. Except we won't watch the first episode very time, obviously, but continue in the series. She will be at her house and I will be at mine, 1,100 miles apart. Ah, the wonders of technology. The challenge we've imposed on ourselves is that Jade is currently on a restricted diet, due to recovering from surgery, and has to have low-fat meals. So we try to choose meals that are low in fat, or at the very least, easily made into a low-fat version.

Tonight she made a version of the dish that required less oil, and I pretty much stuck to the letter -- but even so, it's a pretty light, healthy meal.

I wasn't actually going to make the tart, except I realized that I had a frozen puff pastry sheet in the freezer that I've been meaning to use, as well as an apple and a pear that needed to be eaten. And since it sounded simple enough to make (made even simpler by the fact that I didn't make the pastry part myself), I decided to go for it.

First I went to the store and bought some chicken and celery for the stock (I had the other ingredients on hand), as well as the kale and some chard for another night. I threw all the stock ingredients into a large pot and let that simmer away for a few hours. In the meantime I prepared the vegetables and made the tart.

Here it is right out of the oven, pre-glaze.

When it came time to prepare the kale, I first sauteed some onions:

Then added the kale, garlic, and pepper flakes:

Finally, I added chicken broth (not pictured). While that was boiling merrily away I finished up the glaze for the tart and cut a generous slice of my sourdough rye to pop in the toaster. When that was golden brown, I rubbed a clove of garlic on both sides (it actually 'grates' it like cheese, even though you can't see the garlic on the toast!):

The instructions called for a "wide soup bowl" and what I used was clearly too big -- I'd say that a saucer or any dish that has uplifted sides would work just as well as a bowl, because it's not actually soup -- you just don't want moisture trickling off a regular plate.

When the kale was nearly ready I fried an egg -- unfortunately a little too well done, but I have plenty of leftovers so I can make sure it's runny perfection next time -- and assembled the whole thing together.

Now, this recipe had obviously sounded good to me or I wouldn't have gone through the trouble of preparing it. But I wasn't sure if it was going to be one of those things that sounded good in theory yet fell flat in practice. So plain and unpretenious -- it was either going to be blah or amazingly good. It was, I am happy to report, amazingly good. It might look homey and plain like peasant food, but it's fit for a king (or queen)!

Apparently you don't have to go through the trouble of using stock at all and can use plain water to boil the kale, but I would strongly advise against this. It's the kale that makes this dish interesting -- otherwise what you have is a fried egg on toast -- and the broth makes the kale rich and flavorful, and livens up the entire dish. Use pre-made broth if you must (if time constraints are an issue, it's definitely a decent alternative, though store-bought stock never tastes the same as the homemade kind), but use broth, not water.

The bread soaks up the broth and provides a hearty contrast to the soft leaves and egg. I opted not to drizzle with olive oil and cheese -- I don't think they would have added that much except a lot of extra calories. :-)

I finished with a slice of apple-pear tart, which was surprisingly good. Light but flavorful, just like the entree that had come before. Though I definitely could have had seconds of everything (happily), I was full without feeling like I was going to burst (as happens all too often with me!), and decided not to put the "too much of a good thing" theory to test.

Broth-Boiled Kale with Fried Egg on Toast (adapted from Orangette)


For the dish (serves 2)

  • 8oz kale, washed, de-stemmed, and sliced into 1/4" ribbons
  • 3-4 cups chicken stock (homemade or store bought)
  • 2 thick slices of toasted bread
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, halved
  • 1 onion, diced
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • salt to taste
  • olive oil to stir fry (about 3 tbsp)
For the stock

  • 2lb chicken parts (I used leg quarters)
  • 2 quarts of water
  • 1 carrot, quartered
  • 1 celery rib, quartered
  • 1/2 onion, cut in two
  • salt to taste

Note: I doubled this because it's cheaper to buy chicken in bulk -- as a whole fryer, for instance -- and chicken stock is always welcome! But it does make a lot of stock.


For the stock

  1. If you're making the stock, throw everything together in a large stockpot and bring to a slow boil. Simmer for at least 45 minutes. I like to eke out every last bit of chicken essence, so if I have the time I will usually let this go for about 3 hours. Salt to taste.
  2. Remove the large solids as best as you can. Unless you used only chicken bones, save the meat for later use (like sandwiches or chicken enchiladas -- half of mine will be mixed with dry dog food for Talis).
  3. Transfer the stock to another stockpot or large bowl using a strainer. The trick I like to use here is to line the strainer with cheesecloth so that all those little bits stay out of the final broth, and I don't have to strain twice. Now it's ready!
For the final dish

  1. Heat up olive oil in a large saucepan (I used my wok).
  2. Saute the onion until tender and nearly translucent.
  3. Add kale, sliced garlic, and red pepper flakes. Saute until the kale is completely wilted.
  4. Pour chicken stock into the kale until it's covered by about 1/2" of broth. Simmer for about 30 minutes, until the kale is tender. Salt to taste.
  5. When the kale is nearly done, toast the bread and fry over easy eggs.
  6. Place one slice of toast into each dish. Top with a generous portion of kale, without being too fussy about wringing the broth out (but don't let it get soupy either). Place the egg on top and serve.

Apple-Pear Tart, the super easy version (for pastry dough recipe, see Orangette -- also creates a larger tart)

Serves 6


  • 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 large apple, peeled and cored (save the discard) -- thinly sliced
  • 1 large, firm pear, peeled and cored (save the discard) -- thinly sliced
  • 1 apple core
  • 1 pear core
  • 1/4 cup + 3 tsp sugar, divided
  • 1/4 cup water


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and place the puff pastry on it.
  2. Lay slices of fruit on the puff pastry, overlapping each other. You should have 3 rows.
  3. Sprinkle 3 tsp sugar over the fruit, 1 tsp per row. Use more if you run out, or like it sweeter.
  4. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the pastry and fruit are golden and just beginning to turn brown. Let cool right on the pan.
  5. While the tart is baking, put 1/4 cup sugar, water, and cores/peels into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and let it simmer until it's reduced to a thick syrup. Remove from heat and strain out solids. If you're not serving right away, you can heat it up again later.
  6. Slice the tart into thirds -- a pizza cutter works well. Then slice each third in half, so you have 6 portions.
  7. When ready to serve, place a tart slice onto a plate, then drizzle with warm syrup.

You could obviously do this with just apples or just pears; I used what I had on hand. The puff pastry doesn't absolutely need to be fully thawed. It's usually folded into thirds, and since you'll be cutting it into thirds anyway, if you unfold it while it's slightly frozen it will probably break at the seam, which would be fine. If you're not paying attention when making the glaze and it's suddenly been boiled down to nothing (this might have happened to me), just add more water and keep boiling it.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bis on Main

One of my favorite places to go for lunch is Bis on Main, in the heart of downtown Bellevue. The food is exceptional -- fresh, high quality, superbly prepared; the portions are generous; the prices are reasonable; and the service is good. As an added bonus, parking near the restaurant is fairly easy to come by. I've always been able to find parking on the street, and even if I can't, they have a complimentary valet service. (Parking is one of those personal nits that determine whether or not I go to a place. The stress of trying to find parking often counters any relaxation or enjoyment I might have gotten from the meal.)

Before your meal begins, the server will bring you a basket of fresh bread and butter. You can almost always tell whether a restaurant will be good by the quality of the bread and butter they serve -- and Bis on Main's is wonderful. The crust is slightly crunchy, while the crumb is soft and moist. The butter is quite good as well.

The pomme frites here are fantastic -- I think the trick is that they're lightly seasoned with truffle oil. Many of their lunch entrees come with them; if you order one that doesn't, order the fries on the side or substitute ... it's totally worth it. The flavor of these french fries is unmatched. Seriously -- I once went with a large group and everyone kept devouring the fries, muttering to ourselves, "What is in these?"

My favorite thing to get is the steak frites for $18. You get a decent-sized hangar steak, the aforementioned pomme frites, and some kind of vegetable (today it was asparagus), along with two sauces: ketchup and garlic aioli (which is divine when you use it to dip your fries).

The steak is very flavorful and cooked to order -- which is so important. There's nothing worse than ordering a rare steak and getting it well done (or vice versa). I prefer mine medium rare, which should be completely pink inside and a warm red in the center of the meat.

I also recommend the kobe beef burger, which is $14.75 and also comes with a generous portion of pomme frites. Add a soup or quiche du jour for only $2.50. If you prefer lighter fare, try the Peppercrusted Ahi Tuna Nicoise Plate from the appetizer section -- the tuna is unbelievably fresh and gorgeous (I wish I had a picture), and the portion is so large that it works well as an entree.

I'm not a big wine drinker but many of the restaurant's patrons seem to order it, so I assume they have a well-stocked cellar. I'm usually so satisfied with my lunch (and stuffed with pomme frites), that I haven't yet even ordered dessert here. Today I overheard a table request ice cream, and when the server brought it I saw that there were 3 scoops and a bit of a waffle crisp as well. It almost made me order my own. Almost.