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Chicken Fried Steak with Cream Gravy 0

Posted on August 18, 2015 by Sahar

Few foods scream “TEXAS” louder than Chicken Fried Steak. Along with Chili (The Official State Dish of Texas), few things cause more arguments amongst friends and rivals over whose is the best.

By the way, Chicken Fried Steak is the Official State Dish of Oklahoma. Go figure.

The origins of Chicken Fried Steak are a little murky, but conventional wisdom generally believes German immigrants to Texas in the early- to mid- 19th Century invented Chicken Fried Steak as a way to not only enjoy something similar to the Viennese/German dish Wienerschnitzel (traditionally a breaded and fried veal cutlet), but also to make tough cuts of beef palatable. (As we know, bovine back then weren’t the chemically enhanced behemoths we know and eat today; they were just as hardscrabble as the land and the people living on it.)

Another story is that it was accidentally invented by a short order cook in Lamesa, Texas, in 1911. When a waitress turned in an order for “chicken, fried steak”, the cook, Jimmy Don Perkins, misread it. He dipped the steak in the fried chicken batter, and a legend was born.

One of my favorite food writers, Robb Walsh, describes 3 different types of Chicken Fried Steak in his book, Texas Eats:  1) The Southern/East Texas version is dipped in egg and then flour, similar to the way Southern fried chicken is prepared; 2) Central Texas’s version is made with bread crumbs rather than flour, much like Weinerschnitzel; 3) A West Texas version that is made without dipping the meat in egg; this is related to what cowboys called pan-fried steak.

Robb Walsh also talks about the three most common ways people mess up a Chicken Fried Steak: 1) Over- or Under-seasoning  – “If you use a salty seasoned flour for the batter, the steaks end up too salty. Underseasoning is just as bad. Even the batter on a perfectly cooked steak can taste pasty if it isn’t seasoned”; 2) Too much tenderizing – The ratio of batter to meat is crucial, and it’s determined by the thickness of the meat. If you pound the meat too flat, the steak is all batter and the steak is overcooked by the time the crust is done [this also leads to the meat shrinking in the crust].” ; and, 3) Overheating the oil – To cook a Chicken Fried Steak so the crust is golden and the meat is cooked trough, it is critical to keep the temperature of the oil at around 350F.


My recipe is much like the Southern/East Texas Version. It’s what I grew up eating and the one that most people know.


A few notes:

1.  The best cut of meat for a chicken fried steak is going to be round steak. It’s a flavorful, lean, and relatively cheap cut of beef. You can buy it in the grocery already tenderized (where it may also be called “cube steak”). If you buy it un-tenderized, you’ll need to do it yourself with a tenderizing mallet. It looks like a square hammer with spikes on each end of the mallet’s head. You very likely have one in the recesses of your knife drawer.

2.  It’s best to have everything at room temperature before you start. This way, everything cooks at the same speed and there will be less chance of the meat being cooked improperly.

3.  You don’t want to have too much breading on your steak. If you have too much breading, it’ll take too long for it to cook all the way through and the steak will overcook and shrink.

4.  Correct fat temperature is important when frying. If the oil is too cool, the breading will soak up the oil and you end up with a greasy steak. If it’s too hot, the coating will burn before the meat is cooked. The fat but come to a full sizzle when you put the steaks in.  Proper frying temperatures help seal the coating and keep as much of the oil out as possible while still cooking everything evenly.

5.  This goes for overcrowding the skillet, too. Don’t do it. The oil temperature will drop too much and the steaks won’t cook properly.

6.  Purists will be appalled, but if you like, you can substitute chicken (Chicken Fried Chicken) or pork (Chicken Fried Pork) in place of the beef.

7.  Speaking of appalled purists, I genreally do my frying in an electric skillet. It’s much easier for me to control the temperature of the oil. Purists, however, will insist on using a cast iron skillet. It’s up to you.

8.  You have to have gravy. Period. There are no exceptions to this rule.



The Ingredients

Peanut Oil, Vegetable Oil, Shortening, or Lard for frying

2 c. all-purpose flour

1 tbsp. salt

1 tbsp. black pepper

1 tbsp. garlic powder

2 tsp. onion powder

1 tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste


Clockwise from top left: salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder

1 1/2 c. buttermilk

2 large eggs

6 ea. 6 – 8 oz. tenderized round steaks


1.  Mix together the flour and spices in a large, shallow bowl or on a large plate.  Set aside.


The spices waiting to be mixed into the flour.


Done. Be sure to mix as thoroughly as possible; especially if your spices (esp. the cayenne) are a little lumpy.

Beat together the buttermilk and eggs in a large bowl.  Set aside.


Eggs and buttermilk batter. Be sure that you beat the eggs thoroughly so the whites are completely broken down and incorporated.

2.  Take each steak and dip it first in the flour and lightly coat.  Be sure to shake off any excess.


The first dip. This will help the batter adhere to the steak.

Next, dip the steak in the batter and coat completely. Take the steak out of the batter and allow the extra liquid to dip off.


Make sure the steak is completely submerged in the batter.

Dip the steak back into the flour and evenly coat all over.  You want to be sure there aren’t any wet spots.


Nicely coated.

Shake off any excess flour.  Lay the steaks out in a single layer on a rack. (This will help allow air circulation around the steaks and help keep them fairly dry.)


The steaks on a rack. If there are any wet spots, be sure to sprinkle a little flour on them.

3.  Have a 1″ depth of fat in a large skillet. Heat the fat to 375F, or until flour sprinkled in the oil immediately sizzles (but doesn’t burn) or a drop of water will make the oil pop (be careful of oil spatter).

4.  Once the oil has heated to the correct temperature, take the steaks, no more than 2 at a time, for 5 – 7 minutes total, turning once.  The temperature will immediately drop once you put in the steaks, so be sure to adjust the temperature as necessary to keep the fat at 350F.  (This is the optimal temperature to cook the steaks without making the batter soggy or overcooking the batter before the meat is done.)


Don’t overcrowd the pan. The temperature of the oil will drop too far and will result in a soggy, greasy steak.


After flipping. You only want to flip once to maintain the crust.

Take the finished steaks out of the oil and either place back on the rack to drain (my preferred method) or place on paper towels to drain.

After each batch is done, raise the heat back up to 375F before adding the next batch. Again, after adding the steaks to the fat, be sure to keep the temperature at 350F.


Well, hello.

After the steaks are done, carefully drain off all but 1/4 c. of the drippings and saving any cracklings that may be in the skillet and make the gravy.


A note on the gravy: A good gravy can enhance your Chicken Fried Steak and a bad gravy can ruin it. You want a thick, creamy texture (but not pasty), a deep flavor (there are few things worse than a lumpy, bland, pasty gravy), and just the right amount of seasoning (over-salting is a common mistake).

Making good gravy is something that takes patience and practice. If you make this recipe for the first time and are a little unsure, just serve it on the side. You’ll do better next time.


Cream Gravy

1/4 c. pan dripping (if you have some nice cracklings too, great)

1/4 c. flour

2 c. whole milk, room temperature or warm

1 tbsp. black pepper

1 tsp. salt, or to taste



The drained skillet. I left some of the browned flour in with the fat. Just be sure that anything you leave in the skillet isn’t burnt.

1.  Heat the pan drippings over medium heat (about 350F if you’re using an electric skillet).  Add the flour and make a roux.  You’re looking for something between a blonde- and peanut butter- colored roux.


Adding the flour.


Making the roux. You don’t want the roux too dark because the darker the flour, the less thickening strength it will have.

2.  Whisk in the milk and cook the gravy until it smooths out and thickens. Whisk in the salt and pepper.  Taste for seasoning.  If you want a thinner gravy, add a bit more milk.


Whisking in the milk. Be sure to whisk constantly at this point so the roux and milk are completely incorporated.


A nice, smooth, not-too-thick not-too-thin cream gravy.

3.  Serve over (or next to) the Chicken Fried Steak and whatever else is on the plate.


The classic serving suggestion: Chicken Fried Steak, Mashed Potatoes, Greens (in this case, Kale).


Now I’m hungry.




Gingerbread 0

Posted on December 12, 2014 by Sahar

More than once when I’ve made gingerbread, my husband will come home and simply say, “It smells like Fall in here.” I take that as a compliment.

Gingerbread is a confectionary that has seemingly always been associated with Autumn and the Holidays.  In Medieval England, the term gingerbread simply meant ‘preserved ginger’. The name wasn’t for the desserts we’re familiar with until the 15th century.

According to Rhonda Massingham Hart’s Making Gingerbread Houses, the first known recipe for gingerbread came from Greece in 2400 BC. Chinese recipes were developed during the 10th century and by the late Middle Ages, Europeans had their own version of gingerbread. The hard cookies, sometimes gilded with gold leaf and shaped like animals, kings and queens, were a staple at Medieval fairs in England, France, Holland and Germany. Queen Elizabeth I is credited with the idea of decorating the cookies in this fashion, after she had some made to resemble the dignitaries visiting her court. Over time some of these festivals came to be known as Gingerbread Fairs, and the gingerbread cookies served there were known as ‘fairings.’ The shapes of the gingerbread changed with the season, including flowers in the spring and birds in the fall. Elaborately decorated gingerbread became synonymous with all things fancy and elegant in England. The gold leaf that was often used to decorate gingerbread cookies led to the popular expression ‘to take the gilt off of gingerbread.’ The carved, white architectural details found on many colonial American seaside homes is sometimes referred to as ‘gingerbread work’.

Gingerbread houses originated in Germany during the 16th century. The elaborate cookie-walled houses, decorated with foil in addition to gold leaf, became associated with Christmas tradition. Their popularity rose when the Brothers Grimm wrote the story of Hansel and Gretel, in which the main characters stumble upon a house made entirely of treats deep in the forest. It is unclear whether or not gingerbread houses were a result of the popular fairy tale, or vice versa.

Gingerbread arrived in the New World with English colonists. The cookies were sometimes used to sway Virginia voters to favor one candidate over another. The first American cookbook, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, has recipes for three types of gingerbread including the soft variety baked in loaves:

Soft gingerbread to be baked in pans.

No. 2. Rub three pounds of sugar, two pounds of butter, into four pounds of flour, add 20 eggs, 4 ounces ginger, 4 spoons rosewater, bake as No. 1.

This softer version of gingerbread was more common in America. George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, served her recipe for gingerbread to the Marquis de Lafayette when he visited her Fredericksburg, Virginia home. Since then it was known as Gingerbread Lafayette. The confection was passed down through generations of Washingtons.

(Source: History of Gingerbread, The History Kitchen, Tori Avey)


A main ingredient in gingerbread is molasses.  It is basically the leftovers of the sugar making process after the sugar crystals have been removed during boiling.

There are several different types of molasses comercially available: Light Molasses, Dark Molasses, Blackstrap Molasses, Sulphured Molasses, and Unsulphured Molasses.

Grandma's is a good, consistent brand of molasses that's readily available at just about every grocery. It's an unsulphured light molasses.

Grandma’s is a good, consistent brand of molasses that’s readily available at just about every grocery. It’s an unsulphured light molasses. Plus, the company sponsors an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee. I’m all about that.

You may be asking yourself, what’s the difference? Or, you may not be.  But, I’m going to tell you anyway.

Light Molasses:  This comes from the first boiling of the sugarcane is generally the sweetest of the molasses. it is also known as “Barbados”, “Sweet”, “Mild”, or “First” molasses.  This molasses is generally used in baking, marinades, rubs, and sauces

Dark Molasses: This comes from the second boiling and after more sugar is extracted. It is generally thicker and less sweet.  it can also be called “Full” or “Second” molasses.  It can be used interchangeably with light molasses for most uses.  It is most commonly used in baking.

Blackstrap Molasses: This comes from the third boiling and is very thick and dark in color.  It has the highest mineral content because of its concentration.  While it can be found in grocery stores, it is most commonly found in health food stores. Some people will use blackstrap molasses (especially vegans) as a health food and supplement to their diets because it contains iron, niacin, and B6, among other minerals that wouldn’t necessarily be in or in very low levels in a vegan diet.

Sulphured and Unsulphured Molasses:  Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) is sometimes added to molasses as a preservative because molasses can ferment and spoil. It does change the flavor of the molasses making it less sweet. Unsulphured is preferred because it is sweeter and is closer to the original molasses flavor. And, because, well, it doesn’t have sulphur.

(Source: Healthy Eating, SF Gate)

Also, molasses can be distilled to make rum. FYI.


My inspiration for this recipe came from an old recipe found in a 1965 edition of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book that I received from my mother-in-law not long after I married. As I was flipping through the book, it reminded me of the book my mother had as I was growing up.  I believe hers was the same edition. (She still has it. I think it’s now held together with rubber bands.) I always remember the notes and McCall’s Cooking School recipes she would save in her book.

The BHG Cookbook my mother-in-law gave me. It's a souvenier edition of the 1965 printing celebrating 10 Million copies sold.

The BHG Cookbook my mother-in-law gave me. It’s a souvenir edition of the 1965 printing celebrating 10 Million copies sold.

My 2nd. edition, 1935 printing of the BHG Cookbook. I don't think it's ever been used.

My 2nd. edition, 1935 printing of the BHG Cookbook. I don’t think it’s ever been used.

BHG 1950 printing. This is about the time the now familiar red-and-white cover was first used.

BHG 1950 printing. This is about the time the now familiar red-and-white cover was first used. I bought this off Ebay. It was obviously loved.

Mom said to me as recently as Thanksgiving that the gingerbread recipe in the BHG book is a great recipe.  In fact, she made it for my sisters and I often when we were kids.


Here is the ingredient list for the original recipe:

1/2 c. shortening

1/2 c. sugar

1 egg

1/2 c. light molasses

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

3/4 tsp. salt

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 c. boiling water

(from Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, 1965 printing)


I will say, though, while I love the original recipe, I have changed it up a little:

* I’ve omitted the cinnamon and added quadruple the ginger.  It’s a flavor preference.

*I’ve replaced the white sugar with either dark brown or maple sugar. Again, it’s a flavor preference. The new sugars aren’t as sweet as white sugar.

*I’m using butter flavored shortening. Because I can.

Now, of course,  you can do whatever you like.  Add or subtract as you see fit.  Other sweet spices (i.e. cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, anise) will work well in this recipe, too.  However, you may want to be somewhat conservative on the amount of extra spice you use.  You’re making gingerbread, not a spice cake. Some people will also add a small amount of finely chopped candied ginger to the recipe as well.


The Ingredients

The Ingredients

The maple sugar. Like most real maple products, it is not inexpensive. But, if you do have some, use it.

The maple sugar. Like most real maple products, it is not inexpensive. But, if you do have some, use it.

Ground Ginger, Salt, Baking Soda

Ground Ginger, Salt, Baking Soda


1/2 c. shortening

1/2 c. dark brown or maple sugar

1 egg

1/2 c. molasses


1 1/2 c. flour

3/4 tsp. salt

3/4 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. ground ginger


1/2 c. boiling water


1.  Preheat your oven to 350F.  Spray or butter & flour a 9″ x 9″ x 2″ baking dish.  Set aside.

2.  Sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, and ginger.  Set aside.

My mom's old sifter that she gifted to me.

My mom’s old sifter that she gifted to me.


Sifted. You can, of course, use a small strainer to sift as well.

3.  With either a hand mixer and medium bowl, or a stand mixer, beat the shortening on medium speed until it is softened.

The softened shortening. It helps the process if you have the shortening at room temperature.

The softened shortening. It helps the process if you have the shortening at room temperature.

4.  Lower the speed to low (otherwise you’ll end up with a mess) and gradually add the sugar.  Once the sugar is incorporated with the shortening, turn the speed back up to medium and continue beating until the mixture is light and fluffy.

A fluffy shortening and sugar mix. This process helps to incorporate air into the shortening and make sure the sugar will mix into the rest of the batter thoroughly and not lump up.

A fluffy shortening and sugar mix. This process helps to incorporate air into the shortening and make sure the sugar will mix into the rest of the batter thoroughly and not lump up.

5.  Turn the heat back down to low and add the egg and molasses.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the ingredients are mixed thoroughly.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: always break your eggs into a separate bowl before adding to the rest of your ingredients. Otherwise, you may be sorry.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: always break your eggs into a separate bowl or cup before adding to the rest of your ingredients. Otherwise, you may be full of regret.

Egg and molasses mixed in.

Egg and molasses mixed in.

6.  Keeping the speed on low, alternately add the dry ingredients and the boiling water.  (I generally begin with 1/4 c. of the boiling water, half of the dry ingredients, the other 1/4 c. water, the other half of the dry ingredients.) By adding the ingredient this way, along with scraping down the sides of the bowl, you are ensuring even mixing as well as jump-starting the baking soda.

After adding the first 1/4 cup water. I know it looks strange, but trust me, it's fine.

After adding the first 1/4 cup water. I know it looks strange, but, trust me, it’s fine.

After adding the first half of the dry ingredients.

After adding the first half of the dry ingredients.

7.  Pour the batter into your prepared baking dish and place in the center of the oven.

Ready for the oven.

Ready for the oven.

Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean when you insert it into the cake.

So, as soon as I tokk this photo, Husband took the piece off the top.

So, as soon as I took this photo, Husband took the piece off the top.



Tabouleh تبولة 1

Posted on June 06, 2014 by Sahar

Tabouleh (or Tabooly, Tabouley, Tabouly, Tabboole, Tabbouleh) is one of those ubiquitous Arabic dishes that has entered the Western diet along with Shish Kebabs, Baba Ghannouj, Hummous, and pita bread.  Few people really give any of these dishes much thought about where they originated, but what they do know is with the ever-popular Mediterranean Diet, these dishes have become almost de rigeur to the Western palate.

Tabouley did originate in the Middle East, namely Syria, and has been eaten since at least the Middle Ages (and quite likely further back than that).  The word tabouleh comes from the Arabic word taabil (توابل) meaning “seasoning”.  There are, of course, regional variations.  In  Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine, it is usually served as part of a meze (appetizer), with romaine lettuce. In Lebanon, cooks use more parsley than bulgur wheat in their dish. A Turkish variation of the dish is known as kısır, while a similar Armenian dish is known as eetch.

(some information from


There are no real hard-and-fast rules to making tabouleh.  Every region, every household, has its own version.  The most common ingredients are:

Bulghur Wheat





Onion (yellow or green)

Lemon Juice

Olive Oil


Some of the variations include:






thyme (za’atar)


I’ve also seen recipes that include:




bell peppers



For me, I like to stick to the classic preparation, with the inclusion of garlic.

The ingredients

The ingredients

So, in my tabouleh, I have (from l-r)

Mint, minced

Parsley, minced

Green Onions, sliced very thin

Cucumber, diced

Lemon juice, to taste

Tomatoes, seeded and diced

Garlic, minced

Olive Oil

Burghul Wheat, rinsed, soaked and drained

Salt to taste


A few notes on the ingredients:

1.  If you use cucumber, use either English (hothouse) or Persian cucumbers.  They have a lower water content and fewer seeds.  Plus, they don’t need peeling.  However, if you must use the standard cucumber, you will need to peel them (the skin is tough and usually waxed) and scoop out the seeds.  I cut mine into a roughly 1/4-inch dice.

2.  Tomatoes will need to be seeded and diced.  Unless you’re using cherry tomatoes.  Just cut them in halves and don’t worry about seeding them.

3.  The traditional parsley used in tabouleh (or any Arabic dish, for that matter) is curly.  However, if you have flat-leaf (Italian), that’s fine.  I happened to already have some on hand, so that’s what I used here.

4.  If you use green onions (scallions), use both the green and white parts.  If you use yellow onion, use a fine mince.  Don’t use red onion – the color will leach out.

5.  If you use garlic, make sure it is finely minced.  And, remember, raw garlic is powerful stuff.  Begin by using less than you think you should use.  Once the salad is finished, taste.  You want the garlic to compliment, not overpower.  Remember, you can always add, but you can’t take away.

The same can be said for any of the seasonings.


I don’t include any measurements in this recipe because, like I said before, there are no true hard-and-fast rules.

That being said, The ratio I prefer of bulgur-to-vegetables is about 1 cup (soaked) bulghur to 2 cups vegetables.


As for the bulghur, I like to use is a medium-coarse grind.  I prefer the chewiness of it, which is especially nice after the tabouleh has been sitting for a while, like overnight.

Bulgher Wheat. Medium coarse.

Bulgher Wheat.  It’s basically wheat that has been parboiled, dried, then cracked. It’s also known as “cracked wheat”.

There are four different grinds of bulghur:

#1: very fine – usually used in kibbeh

#2: fine – usually used in stuffings and tabouleh

#3: medium coarse – can be used in tabouleh, but is also used in soups and pilafs

#4: very coarse – usually used in pilafs, stews, and as a rice substitute


You will need to wash and soak the bulghur before adding it to the vegetables.  There is a lot of dust left on the bulghur during the manufacturing and packaging.  The best way to accomplish this is to place the bulghur in a fine sieve (or a colander lined with cheesecloth) and run it under cold water until the water runs clear.

Rinsing the bulgur.

Rinsing the bulgur.

Once you have rinsed it, transfer the bulghur to a large bowl and cover with water (about 1″ above the surface of the wheat).  Let the bulghur sit for at least 20 minutes (depending on the grind) or until it is al dente.  The wheat will increase in volume by 50% – 100%, again, depending on the grind.

Soaking the wheat.

Soaking the wheat.

While the wheat is soaking, prepare the vegetables & herbs and place them in a bowl large enough for you to mix in when all the ingredients are ready.

The vegetables and herbs ready to go.

The vegetables and herbs ready to go.

When the wheat is ready (taste some to be sure it’s to your liking), drain it thoroughly in a fine sieve or colander lined with cheesecloth.  There shouldn’t be too much water left.  If there is very little water, you can simply squeeze the bulgher in your hands and add it to the vegetables.

The soaked bulghur.  It's hard to see in this photo, but there is a real difference in the volume.

The soaked bulghur. It’s hard to see in this photo, but there is a real difference in the volume. (Compare to the one above.)

Adding the bulghur to the vegetables and herbs.

Adding the bulghur to the vegetables and herbs.

Now, carefully mix together all of the ingredients until they are fully incorporated.  Add the olive oil, lemon, and salt to taste.  Mix again.  Taste again.  If you can, let the tabouleh sit for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Sahtein! سحتين

Sahtein! سحتين

The real beauty of this dish is it can be served with anything or alone.  It can be served cold or at room temperature.  And, anyone can eat it – omnivore and vegan alike.

It will keep in the refrigerator for 3- 4 days.





French Toast 1

Posted on July 18, 2013 by Sahar

French Toast. One of the most decadent meals one could ever hope for. It’s a divine meal for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or, yes, dinner.

Admit it. Breakfast for dinner is the best.

Day-old bread soaked in a custard mixture, cooked slowly on a skillet, and served with butter, syrup, powdered sugar, whipped cream, and, even better, fresh fruit.  It’s the kind of meal that makes you want to go back to bed on a lazy weekend. I know I do.

But, is French Toast really French? Well, yes and no.  No one knows the true origins of the recipe.

Dating back to the 4th or 5th Century, Apicius is credited as having the earliest recipe for stale bread soaked in milk, but not eggs, and served with honey.It was named “aliter dulcia” – another sweet dish.

“Another sweet dish: Break fine white bread, crust removed, into rather large pieces which soak in milk. Fry in oil, cover with honey and serve.” –Cookery and Dining in Imperial Rome, edited and translated by Joseph Dommers Vehling

There are also references to the recipe in a 14th Century German recipe “Arme Ritter” – poor knights.  In the 15th Century, English recipes for “pain perdu” (French) – Lost/wasted bread (a reference to bread that has gone stale).  A similar dish, “suppe dorate” – guilded snippets – was popular in England during the Middle Ages, although the English might have learned it from the Normans (the French who invaded England in 1066) , who had a dish called “tostees dorees” – guilded bread.

“Take slices of white bread, trimmed so that they have no crusts; make these slices square and slightly grilled so that they are colored all over by the fire. Then take eggs beaten together with plenty of sugar and a little rose water; and put the slices of bread in this to soak; carefully remove them, and fry them a little in a frying pan with a little butter and lard, turning them very frequently so that they do not burn. The arrange them on a plate, and top with a little rose water colored yellow with a little saffron, and with plenty of sugar.”
The Medieval Kitchen, Recipes from France and Italy,

The Oxford English Dictionary cites 1660 as the year “French toast” first made an appearance, in a book called The Accomplisht Cook. That preparation, however, left out the eggs, in favor of soaking pre-toasted bread in a solution of wine, sugar, and orange juice. The Dictionary of American Food and Drink contends that the first egg-based recipe in print didn’t appear until 1870; throughout the tail end of the 19th Century, similar recipes appeared under the monikers “French toast,” “Egg toast,” “Spanish toast,” and even “German toast.”

A highly dubious creation myth holds that French toast owes its creation to an Albany, N.Y., innkeeper named Joseph French. Legend has it that French whipped up a batch of the golden-brown treats in 1724 and advertised them as “French toast” because he’d never learned to use an apostrophe “s.”

Some historical information from:,,


In other words, a lot of speculation. But no one really knows.

Now, on to the recipe.


A few notes:

1.  Use any type of bread you like.  When I was growing up, my mom used good old sliced white bread.  And it was delicious.  Now, I use my personal favorite, challah (Jewish Egg Bread).  Buttermilk, sourdough, brioche, and country-style are all excellent choices.

2.  Day-old bread is best.  If your bread is too fresh, it will fall apart when you soak it in the custard mixture.  If it is too dry, you’ll never be able to get the bread soaked through enough to have a moist slice of finished toast.

3.  Whole milk. Please.  Cream and Half & Half are too heavy.  2%, 1%, and Skim don’t have the richness or flavor you want. Plus, they won’t stand up to the heat.

4.  If you like, you can add about 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and/or nutmeg to the custard mixture.  I generally don’t, but, if you want to, go for it.

5.  I like to use my electric skillet to make French Toast.  The temperature is steady and easy to adjust as I need to.  If you prefer to use a skillet on the stove, keep the temperature at medium-low.  Yes, it takes a little extra time.  The results are worth it.


The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Beautiful Challah Bread.

Beautiful Challah Bread.



1 loaf day-old bread, sliced into 3/4″ – 1″ thick slices

6 eggs, well beaten

2 c. whole milk

1 tbsp. sugar

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

Butter, syrup, powdered sugar, whipped cream, fruit for serving (one, some, or all of these; up to you)


1.  Buy your bread a day or two before you decide to make the toast.  A few hours up to the night before, slice the bread into thick slices and lay out on racks.  This will let the bread dry out without over-drying. (If you slice the bread the night before and are afraid it might get too dry, cover the bread with a clean dish towel.  This will still allow for air circulation but keep the bread from over-drying.)

In a pinch, you can have your oven on low and place the sliced bread in there for an hour to quick-dry the bread as well.

Sliced bread.  Nice, thick slices.

Sliced bread. Nice, thick slices.

Drying the bread. The racks help with air circulation so the bread dries evenly.

Drying the bread. The racks help with air circulation so the bread dries evenly.

2.  In a large bowl, beat the eggs.  The need to be beaten well so that the whites, which can be notoriously hard to break down, are completely incorporated with the yolks.

The beaten eggs.  You want to be sure that the whites and yolks are fully incorporated.

The beaten eggs. You want to be sure that the whites and yolks are fully incorporated.

3.  Mix in the milk, sugar, and vanilla.

Adding the milk, vanilla, and sugar.

Adding the milk, vanilla, and sugar.

The custard ready for the bread.

The custard ready for the bread.

4.  Meanwhile, have either an electric skillet preheated to 275F or a non-stick skillet on the stove over medium-low heat.  (f you want to use a little unflavored oil or butter in the skillet, go ahead.  I generally don’t.)

5.  Take the bread, a slice or two at a time, and soak the bread.  Gently press on the bread to make sure the custard mixture is soaking completely through the slice.

Soaking the bread.

Soaking the bread. Gently press down to submerge the bread as completely as possible in the custard. Sometimes, you’ll see air bubbles coming up. That’s a good thing.  It means the liquid is displacing any air in the bread.

Flip the bread over and soak the other side.

Flipping over the bread.

Soaking the other side. When you press down, there should be no spring-back from the bread. Also, the area around the crust is more dense, so you may not get the same saturation as the rest of the slice.  That’s OK.

Carefully lift the bread out, allowing the excess custard to drip back into the bowl.  Lay the bread on a plate and repeat until you have enough to put into the skillet without crowding.

6.  Transfer the bread to the skillet and let it cook until it is golden brown on one side before flipping.  This will help keep the bread from falling apart and cook evenly.

The toast in the skillet. They key to cooking French Toast is low and slow.

The toast in the skillet. They key to cooking French Toast is low and slow.

Ready for its close-up. A lovely, dense, custard-filled slice of Challah. Yummy.

Ready for its close-up. A lovely, dense, custard-filled slice of Challah. Yummy.

Once the bread is browned, carefully flip it over.  Continue to cook the bread until it is golden brown on the other side as well.  It should also “puff” a bit in the center and, when you press it, it should bounce back, like a cake.

After flipping the toast. A lovely golden brown.

After flipping the toast. A lovely golden brown. After a few minutes, the centers should begin to puff up a bit, like a cake.

The finished toast. Notice the density and moistness of the bread. This is what you want.

The finished toast. Notice the density and moistness of the bread. This is what you want.

7.  Keep the toast in a warm oven while you finish cooking the rest.  Serve with any toppings you like and any sides you prefer.

Heated maple syrup and melted butter.  This is my preferred method of dressing my French Toast, waffles, and pancakes. it's just easier.

Heated maple syrup and melted butter. This is my preferred method of dressing my French Toast, waffles, and pancakes. it’s just easier.

Resistance is futile.

Resistance is futile.










Two Pestos 1

Posted on July 11, 2013 by Sahar

While I love to cook any time of year, unfortunately, it’s a little more difficult in the throes of a central Texas summer.  The thought of turning on the oven or the stove makes me want to stick my head in the freezer.  So, while it may not always be possible to avoid the extra kitchen heat, it can be minimized.

And one of those ways is making some pesto.

Pesto originated in Genoa in the northern Italian province of Liguria.  The name comes from Italian word pestare  (Genoese: pesta) meaning “to crush; to pound”.  It is traditionally made with garlic, basil, and pine nuts blended with olive oil, Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan cheese), and Fiore Sardo (cheese made from sheep’s milk).

The ancient Romans ate a paste called moretum, which was made by crushing cheese, garlic and herbs together. Basil, the main ingredient of modern pesto, likely originated in India and was first domesticated there. Basil took the firmest root in the regions of Liguria, Italy and Provence, France. The Ligurians around Genoa took the dish and adapted it, using a combination of basil, crushed garlic, grated cheese, and pine nuts with a little olive oil to form pesto. The first mention of recipe for pesto as it is known today, is from the book La Cuciniera Genovese written in 1863 by Giovanni Battista Ratto.

While pesto was introduced in the US is the 1940’s, it didn’t become popular until the 1980’s.

(some information from and

The pestos I’m showing you today aren’t the traditional recipe that many have come to know and love.  While I’m very serious about traditional recipes, sometimes experimentation isn’t a bad thing.

Now, on to the recipes.


A few notes:

1.  Splurge and buy the freshest ingredients you can.  And that includes buying imported cheeses.  While America makes many wonderful cheeses, we aren’t too good with hard Italian cheeses.  Since pesto is essentially a raw product, you want the best.

2.  I don’t recommend using oil-packed/cured sun-dried tomatoes.  They’re usually flavored and I can’t control the amount of oil in the pesto.  Plus, somehow, they always taste cooked. Buy plain sun-dried and you won’t be sorry.

3.  You’ll no doubt notice in the instructions that I use a food processor for these recipes.  It is simply for ease in preparation.  If you feel like going all traditional, go for it.  But, it’d be a safe bet to say those tomatoes would be a bitch to beat down with a mortar and pestle.

Also, I keep the processor running through most of the prep.  This helps greatly when adding the “harder” ingredients like the garlic and nuts.  If you add them to the bowl and then turn on the processor, you won’t get a fine or consistent chop, which is what you want.

4.  When I serve these pestos, I always have some extra cheese on hand, some minced parsley (for the sun-dried tomato) and some halved cherry tomatoes (for the cilantro).  You don’t have to have these, but I thought I’d pass it along.

5.  As we all know, pesto is good on so many other things than just pasta.  Spread it on bread, use as a dip for vegetables, top grilled meats, seafood, or vegetables.

6.  Pesto will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.  I don’t recommend freezing.

Cilantro Pesto

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

Toasted pine nuts. These aren't inexpensive, so watch them very carefully.

Toasted pine nuts. These aren’t inexpensive, so watch them very carefully. If they begin to small like popcorn when you’re roasting, you’ve gone too far.


4 -6 cloves garlic, depending on size

1/2 c. pine nuts, roasted (350F for 3 – 5 minutes)


1/4 c. raw, unsalted pistachios

1/4 c. walnuts

1 tsp. red pepper flakes

1/4 c.  Romano cheese, fresh grated

1/2 c. Parmesan cheese, fresh grated

2 – 3 bunches cilantro, depending on size, large stems removed (It’s OK to have some stem. No need to pick the leaves.)

Juice of 1/2 lemon (approx. 1 1/2 tsp.)

1/4 c. olive oil, more if needed

Salt & pepper to taste


1.  Have your food processor running.  Drop the garlic through the feed tube and chop. Add the pine nuts and pepper flakes.

The garlic, pepper flakes, and pine nuts in the food processor.

The garlic, pepper flakes, and pine nuts in the food processor.

Turn off the processor, remove the lid, and add the cheeses, salt and pepper.  Turn on the processor again and let the cheese mix in.

The cheese has been added. I could spread this on toast at this point.

The cheese has been added. I could spread this on toast at this point.

2. Again, with the processor running, push the cilantro down the feed tube.

The trimmed cilantro. Seriously. Just make sure you discard any brown or slimy leaves. Oh, yeah. And wash it, too.

The trimmed cilantro. Seriously. Just make sure you discard any brown or slimy leaves. Oh, yeah. And wash it, too.

Pushing the cilantro down the feed tube.

Pushing the cilantro down the feed tube.


Add the oil and lemon juice.

Adding the oil.

Adding the oil.

Continue processing until the mixture becomes a paste.  Add more oil if you want a thinner pesto.



3.  Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking.


Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto

The ingredients

The ingredients


Sun-Dried Tomatoes ready for their close-up.

Sun-Dried Tomatoes ready for their close-up.

Shredded Parmesan and Romano.

Shredded Parmesan and Romano.

Toasted pecans.  Again, nuts aren't inexpensive, so take care when roasting.

Toasted pecans. Again, nuts aren’t inexpensive, so take care when roasting.

3/4 c. sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed; see note above)

1/2 c. roasted pecans (350F for 5 – 7 minutes)

4 cloves garlic

1/4 c. Parmesan cheese, shredded

1/4 c. Romano cheese, shredded

1/4 c. olive oil, more if needed

Juice of 1 lemon (approx. 1 tbsp.)

Salt & Pepper to taste


1.  Place the tomatoes in a medium bowl and cover with boiling water.  Let the tomatoes sit for 20 minutes.

Soaking the tomatoes.  Reserve some of the soaking liquid when you get ready to drain them.

Soaking the tomatoes. Reserve some of the soaking liquid when you get ready to drain them.

Drain the tomatoes, reserving some of the soaking liquid. Set aside.

The soaked tomatoes.

The soaked tomatoes.

2.  Have a food processor running and drop the garlic down the feed tube.  Let it chop.  Add the pecans the same way.

Adding the pecans to the garlic.

Adding the pecans to the garlic.

Turn off the processor and add the cheeses, salt and pepper.  Again, process until everything is mixed.

3.  With the processor running, add the tomatoes down the feed tube.

Adding the tomatoes.

Adding the tomatoes.

Pour in the oil and lemon juice.  Turn off the processor and check for seasoning and consistency.  If the pesto is too thick, add a little of the soaking water  or oil and process until it becomes the consistency you like.



The most common way to serve pesto is over pasta.  So, cook your pasta of choice according to the directions.  Be sure to save some of the pasta water before you drain the pasta.

I generally like to place a serving of the pasta in a medium bowl, spoon over the amount of pesto I want, and begin to toss them together.  I’ll use some of the pasta water if I need to.

I’ll place the pasta on the plate, garnish a little, and serve.

The completely optional garnishes:  Tomatoes for the Cilantro Pesto; Parsley for the Tomato Pesto; Cheese for both.

The completely optional garnishes: Tomatoes for the Cilantro Pesto; Parsley for the Tomato Pesto; Cheese for both.

Serving Suggestion #1

Serving Suggestion #1

Serving Suggestion #2.

Serving Suggestion #2.


Enjoy! Buon Appetito!









A Take On Low-Country Shrimp & Grits 0

Posted on May 14, 2013 by Sahar

Shrimp & Grits. For most Southerners, this sounds like ambrosia. It’s almost a religion. For everyone else, an odd combination at best.

Now, some people are wondering, what exactly are grits?  Here’s an excellent quick explanation from

“Grits (or hominy) were one of the first truly American foods. The Native Americans ate a mush made of softened corn or maize. In 1584, during their reconnaissance party of what is now Roanoke, North Carolina, Sir Walter Raleigh and his men met and dined with the local Indians. Having no language in common, the two groups quickly resorted to food and drink. One of Raleigh’s men, Arthur Barlowe, recorded notes on the foods of the Indians. He mad a special not of corn, which he found “very white, faire, and well tasted.” He also wrote about being served a boiled corn or hominy.

When the colonists came ashore in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, the Indians offered them bowls of this boiled corn substance. The Indians called it “rockahomine,” which was later shortened to “hominy” by the colonists. The Indians taught the colonists how to thresh the hulls from dried yellow corn. Corn was a year-round staple and each tribe called it by a different name.”

Shrimp & Grits started off as a breakfast staple among the fisherman of South Carolina’s coastal low country during shrimp season (May – December).  It was a simple dish called “breakfast shrimp” that was usually cooked in bacon grease or butter. In recent years, however, it’s been “fancified” and is now seen in restaurants all across the South and is eaten at any time of day.

Now, on to the recipe:


Now, admittedly, my recipe differs from traditional style Shrimp & Grits in that I use cornmeal, cheese, and parsley.  It’s one of those “fancified” versions.

A few notes:

1.  It’s important that you don’t use instant or quick-cooking grits.  They don’t have the flavor or texture of slow cooked grits.

2.  If you can’t find grits, then you can use stone-ground cornmeal.  In fact, that’s what I use in this recipe.

3.  For my readers who don’t eat pork, you can substitute turkey bacon.  Just add 2 tablespoons oil or butter to the pan. The bacon will flavor the oil or butter which in turn will flavor the shrimp.

4.  The cheese in the grits wouldn’t have been found in the earliest recipes.  It’s a more modern addition.  If you don’t want to add the cheese, feel free to omit it.

5.  Use large or (insert oxymoron here) jumbo shrimp.  They are just better in this recipe.

The ingredients

The ingredients


4 c. water, chicken or shrimp stock

2 c. whole milk or half & half

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper

1 1/2 c. grits (not instant or quick-cooking) or stone-ground cornmeal

2 tbsp. butter

2 c. sharp cheddar cheese


6 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into roughly 1/2″ pieces

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 lb. large shrimp, peeled & deveined

4 scallions, thinly sliced

1 tbsp. or juice of 1 lemon

1/4 c. parsley, minced


1.  Make the grits:  Bring the water or broth, and half & half to a boil.  Add the salt and pepper.  Whisk in the grits or cornmeal 1/2 cup at a time.

Whisking in the cornmeal.

Whisking in the cornmeal.

It’s very important to keep whisking as you add the grits or cornmeal until they come back to the boil; otherwise, they’ll become lumpy and no amount of whisking will fix it.

All the cornmeal in the pot and whisking until it comes back to a boil.

All the cornmeal in the pot and whisking until it comes back to a boil.

When the all the grits are added and come back to a boil, lower the heat to low.  (Be careful, there will be some splatter.  This should calm down as you lower the heat and the mixture thickens.)  Stir often.

The boiling cauldron.

The boiling cauldron.

Continue cooking until all the liquid is absorbed and the mixture becomes very thick, about 20 – 25 minutes.


After about 20 minutes.

After about 20 minutes.

Remove the grits from the heat. Stir in the butter and cheese.

Stirring in the butter.

Adding the butter.


Adding the cheese.

Adding the cheese.

Once the butter and cheese have been mixed in, cover the saucepan and set the grits aside.

2.  Heat a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the bacon and cook until browned.

Cooking the bacon.

Cooking the bacon.

Once the bacon is cooked, remove it from the skillet with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Increase the heat to medium-high and add the garlic.  Cook for 1 – 2 minutes.

Cooking the garlic. Be sure not to let it become too brown.

Cooking the garlic. Be sure not to let it become too brown.

Add the shrimp and cook until they turn pink, about 5 minutes.


Cooking the shrimp. You just want them to turn pink at this point.

Cooking the shrimp. You just want them to turn pink at this point.

Add the scallions and cook another 1 – 2 minutes.

Adding the scallions.

Adding the scallions.

Add the lemon juice and cook another minute.  Take the skillet off the heat and stir in the parsley and reserved bacon.

Adding the parsley and bacon.

Adding the parsley and bacon.

3.  Serve the grits with a generous helping of the shrimp on top.

Anytime meal. Yum.

Anytime meal. Yum.




p.s.  One of the great things about leftover grits (regular or cornmeal) is when, when cooked properly, they solidify as they cool.  While to the uninitiated, it sounds unappetizing, for a Southerner, it’s great.

Take any leftover grits and put them into a small loaf pan or in a square or rectangular container and make as even as possible.  The next day, take the “loaf” and cut it into pieces about 1/2-inch thick.  Fry in oil or butter until browned on both sides (they will soften a bit).  Take off the heat, and serve with some syrup or jam.

Oh. Yeah.





Oven Roasted Tomatoes with Orecchiette 4

Posted on March 31, 2013 by Sahar

The humble tomato. One of our favorite  nightshade family fruits used as a vegetable. It’s hard to imagine now how it was once considered at best a trash food, and, at worst, poisonous.


A brief history (via

Aztecs and other peoples in Mesoamerica used tomatoes in their cooking. The exact date of domestication is unknown; however,  by 500 BCE, it was already being cultivated in southern Mexico. The large, lumpy tomato, a mutation from a smoother, smaller fruit, originated in Mesoamerica, and may be the direct ancestor of some modern cultivated tomatoes.

There is some specualtion as to whether it was Christopher Columbus or Hernán Cortés was the first European to transfer the small yellow tomato to Europe. The earliest discussion of the tomato in European literature appeared  in 1544 by Pietro Andrea Mattioli, an Italian physician and botanist, who suggested that a new type of “eggplant” had been brought to Italy that was blood red or golden color when mature and could be eaten like an eggplant—cooked and seasoned with salt, black pepper, and oil. However it wasn’t until ten years later that tomatoes were named in print by Mattioli as pomi d’oro, or “golden apple”.

The earliest discovered cookbook with tomato recipes was published in Naples in 1692, though the author had apparently obtained these recipes from Spanish sources. In northern areas of Italy, however, the fruit was used solely as a tabletop decoration before it was incorporated into the local cuisine in the late 17th or early 18th century.

The first recorded history of tomatoes in Italy dates back to October 31, 1548 when the house steward of the de’ Medici family wrote to the Medici private secretary informing him that the basket of tomatoes sent from the family’s Florentine estate at Torre del Gallo “had arrived safely.” Tomatoes were grown mainly as ornamentals early on after their arrival in Italy. The Florentine aristocrat Giovanvettorio Soderini wrote how they “were to be sought only for their beauty” and were grown only in gardens or flower beds. The tomato’s ability to mutate and create new and different varieties helped contribute to its success and spread throughout Italy. However, even in areas where the climate supported growing tomatoes, their proximity of growing to the ground suggested low status. They were not adopted as a staple of the peasant population because they were not as filling as other fruits already available. Additionally, both toxic and inedible varieties discouraged many people from attempting to consume or prepare them.

Tomatoes were not grown in England until the 1590s. One of the earliest cultivators was John Gerard, a barber-surgeon. Gerard’sHerbal, published in 1597, and largely plagiarized from continental sources, is also one of the earliest discussions of the tomato in England. Gerard knew the tomato was eaten in Spain and Italy.  Nonetheless, he believed it was poisonous.  Gerard’s views were influential, and the tomato was considered unfit for eating (though not necessarily poisonous) for many years in Britain and its North American colonies. By the mid-18th century, tomatoes were widely eaten in Britain, and before the end of that century, the Encyclopædia Britannica stated the tomato was “in daily use” in soups, broths, and as a garnish.

The tomato was introduced to cultivation in the Middle East/Asia by John Barker, British consul in Aleppo circa 1799 to 1825. Nineteenth century descriptions of its consumption are uniformly as an ingredient in a cooked dish. In 1881, it is described as only eaten in the region “within the last forty years”.

The tomato entered Iran through two separate routes; one was through Turkey and Armenia, and the other was through the Qajar royal family’s frequent travels to France. The early name used for tomato in Iran was Armani badenjan (Armenian eggplant). Currently, the name used for tomato in Iran is gojeh farangi [French plum].

The earliest reference to tomatoes being grown in British North America is from 1710, when herbalist William Salmon reported seeing them in what is today South Carolina, where they were introduced from the Caribbean. By the mid-18th century, they were cultivated on some Carolina plantations, and likely in other parts of the Southeast as well. Possibly, some people continued to think tomatoes were poisonous at this time; and in general, they were grown more as ornamental plants than as food. Thomas Jefferson, who ate tomatoes in Paris, sent some seeds back to America.

Alexander W. Livingston was the first person who succeeded in upgrading the wild tomato, developing different breeds and stabilizing the plants. In the 1937 yearbook of the Federal Department of Agriculture, it was declared that “half of the major varieties were a result of the abilities of the Livingstons to evaluate and perpetuate superior material in the tomato”. Livingston’s first breed of tomato, the Paragon, was introduced in 1870. In 1875, he introduced the Acme, which was said to be involved in the parentage of most of the tomatoes introduced by him and his competitors for the next twenty-five years.

When Alexander W. Livingston had begun his attempts to develop the tomato as a commercial crop, his aim had been to grow tomatoes smooth in contour, uniform in size and having better flavor.  After five years, the fruit became fleshier and larger. In 1870, Alexander introduced the Paragon and tomato culture began at once to be a great enterprise of the county. Today, the crop is grown in every state in the Union. He eventually developed over seventeen different varieties of the tomato plant.


And… thus  the birth of the  homoginization of the tomato.

Luckily, that’s changing rapidly as heirloom varieties are now becoming more readily avilable.


This recipe is one of my favorites not only because of its ease of preparation and the fact that it’s delicious, but because of its long cooking time.

Yes. You read that right.

This is a recipe that requires a very long cooking time.  At least 6 hours.

I know what some of you are thinking. What?! That’s insane! What do you mean by this being a good thing?

Trust me.  It is.  Because I can put this in the oven on a low, slow cook, walk away, and forget about it for a few hours. I can get on with my day.

Now, admittedly, some of you don’t feel comfortable leaving your oven on all day without someone at home to monitor it.  And that’s fine.  You can certainly roast the tomatoes over a weekend day and save them until later in the week for a quick weeknight supper.


Now, to the recipe:


A few notes:

a) I generally use Roma tomatoes in this recipe.  This particular variety of tomato is meant to be cooked because of it’s meatiness. (It’s typically used in sauces and pastes.) They’re also available year-round.

b) Feel free to use whatever spices and herbs you like for this.  However, due to the long cooking time, I recommend using dried herbs.  If you’d like to use fresh herbs, mix them into the roasted tomatoes and pasta at the end.

c) Feel free to use what ever pasta you like.  I like to use orecchiette (meaning “little ears” in Italian) because the shape of the pasta holds so much of the sauce that comes from roasting the tomatoes.  However, if you would like to use another pasta, I would recommend using a shaped pasta as opposed to a straight pasta like spaghetti or pappardelle.

d) You can roast the tomatoes in advance and keep them in the refrigerator for 4 – 5 days.  Just heat them up slowly as you cook the pasta, then, mix them together when the pasta is done.

e) If you like, you can mix in a little protein to the tomatoes and pasta just before you serve.  Spicy Italian sausage works well.

The ingredients

The ingredients


5 – 6 lb. Roma tomatoes, seeded, stem end cut out

1/2 c. olive oil

Assorted herbs and spices, as much or as little as you like

Seasonings I used. Clockwise from top: Sugar, Black Pepper, Salt, Red Pepper Flakes, Italian Seasoning Blend

Seasonings I used. Clockwise from top: Sugar, Black Pepper, Salt, Red Pepper Flakes, Italian Seasoning Blend


1 lb. Orecchiette, or other shaped pasta

Grated Romano cheese



1.  Turn on your oven to 200F – 250F (depends on how fast you want to cook your tomatoes). Take a very large baking dish (mine is 12″ x 18″), and, if you like, give it a quick spritz with some non-stick spray.

2.  Cut the blossom end off and cut the  tomatoes in half along their equator. Give each of the halves a squeeze and use your fingers to remove as many of the seeds as possible.

Cleaning out the tomatoes. Not a pretty job.

Cleaning out the tomatoes. Not a pretty job.

The cleaned tomato.

The cleaned tomato.

Take the discarded seeds and use them in the compost pile or save for seeds for the garden.

3.  Place the cleaned halves in the baking dish.  Try to make sure you have a single layer.

Tomatoes in the baking dish ready for seasoning.

Tomatoes in the baking dish ready for seasoning.


4.  Drizzle the olive oil over the tomatoes.

Drizzling over the olive oil

Drizzling over the olive oil

Sprinkle over the seasonings.  Again, use as much or as little of what you like.  Carefully toss the tomatoes to completely coat them in the oil and seasonings.

Tomatoes ready for the oven.

Tomatoes ready for the oven.

5.  Now, bake the tomatoes for at least 6 hours.  You can go as long as you like, depending on your oven temperature and how roasted you want your tomatoes.

I generally bake my tomatoes at 225F for about 8-10 hours.  I like them pretty well reduced.

With the amount of tomatoes you are roasting, unless they are very dry (and some may be, especially in the winter), you will end up with a lot of juices in the pan.  Embrace that.  Makes a great natural sauce for the pasta along with the tomatoes.

6.  After the tomatoes have roasted for at least 6 hours, check them.  Stir if you like. At this point, you can take the tomatoes out of the oven or continue to roast further.

The roasted tomatoes.

The roasted tomatoes.

7.  After the tomatoes are out of the oven, cook your chosen pasta according to the package directions until al dente.  Drain and put back into the cooking pot.

8.  Meanwhile, cut or chop the tomatoes.  I like doing this with a pair of kitchen shears.  It’s just easier and a whole lot less messy.

Cutting the tomaotes

Cutting the tomatoes

9.  Pour the tomatoes and juice into the cooking pot with the pasta and mix together.

Pasta and tomatoes ready to eat

Pasta and tomatoes ready to eat

If you like, sprinkle on some Romano Cheese.  I find it works well with the roasted flavor of the tomatoes.










Croissants 0

Posted on November 15, 2012 by Sahar

We’ve all eaten a croissant at one point or another. Or many times.  Usually at a bakery, from the grocery store,  or as part of a (usually mediochre) “Continental Breakfast”.  Sometimes, they are made fresh, but more often than not, they’re made as part of a production line and simply reheated from frozen.

When I can find the time, I like to make them from scratch.  Yes. Scratch. From start to finish.

They’re always better. If I do say so myself.

Making croissants are not difficult, but they are time consuming.  This is not a recipe you can simply wake up one weekend morning and decide “I want fresh croissants for breakfast” and begin making them.  If you put in the work, you could have them the next morning, though. So, in other words, you can start them on Saturday and have them Sunday.


As always, a little history lesson.

Crescent-shaped food breads have been made in Europe since at least the Middle Ages.

 The Kipferl – ancestor of the croissant – has been documented in Austria going back at least as far as the 13th century, in various shapes.  The Kipferl can be made plain or with nut or other fillings (some consider the rugelach [a filled, rolled pastry of Jewish origin] a form of Kipferl).

The “birth” of the croissant itself – that is, its adaptation from the plainer form of Kipferl, before the invention of Viennoiserie (Viennese yeast-risen pasteries) – can be dated with some precision to at latest 1839 (some say 1838), when an Austrian artillery officer, August Zang, founded a Viennese Bakery (“Boulangerie Viennoise”) at 92, rue de Richelieu in Paris. This bakery, which served Viennese specialities including the Kipferl and the Vienna loaf, quickly became popular and inspired French imitators (and the concept, if not the term, viennoiserie, a 20th century term for supposedly Vienna-style pastries). The French version of the Kipferl was named for its crescent (croissant) shape.

Alan Davidson, editor of the Oxford Companion to Food (an excellent reference book) found no printed recipe for the present-day croissant in any French recipe book before the early 20th century; the earliest French reference to a croissant he found was among the “fantasy or luxury breads” in Payen’sDes substances alimentaires, 1853. However, early recipes for non-laminated croissants can be found in the nineteenth century and at least one reference to croissants as an established French bread appeared as early as 1850.

The first true croissant recipe didn’t appear in print until 1906 in Nouvelle Encyclopédie Culinaire. So, the history of the croissant, as we know it, as a symbol of French cuisine, is a 20-century invention.

The Viennoiserie technique was already mentioned in the late 17th century, when La Varenne’s Le Cuisinier françois gave a recipe for it in the 1680 – and possibly earlier – editions. It was typically used, not on its own, but for shells holding other ingredients.  But it does not appear to be mentioned in relation to the croissant until the twentieth century.

Fanciful origin stories of how the Kipferl—and so, ultimately, the croissant—was created are widespread and persistent culinary legends, at least one going back to the 19th century.  However, there are no contemporary sources for any of these stories, nor does an aristocratic writer, writing in 1799, mention the Kipferl in a long and extensive list of breakfast foods.

The legends include tales that it was invented in Europe to celebrate the defeat of the Umayyad (Muslim) forces at the Battle of Tours by the Franksin 732, with the shape representing the Islamic crescent; that it was invented in Vienna in 1683 to celebrate the defeat of the Ottomans by Christian forces. (However, according to Davidson, ther is no truth to this origin.)

Now in France, croissants are split into two types:  “Croissant” – usually meaning croissants made with cheaper ingredients like margarine because butter is so expensive; and “Croissant au Beurre” – croissants made with butter only (or are supposed to be).

(information from and The Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson, ed., 1999)


A few tips on making croissants:

  • The most important thing to remember about croissants is that you must start off with quality ingredients – especially the butter.  If you can, always use European-style butter (available just about everywhere now).  It has a higher butterfat content (generally >80%) and less water than American-style butters (i.e. Land-O-Lakes).  This will give your croissants the flavor you are working so hard to strive for.
  • DO NOT use “light” butter or margarine. They are useless for baking; not to mention they taste awful. After all the work you’re going to put into this recipe, you want your croissants to taste great.
  • The same goes for the milk. Use whole milk.  Half-&-Half and Cream will be too heavy; 2% or Skim are good for drinking, but lousy for cooking.
  • Always keep your dough and butter cold.  The coldness of the butter in the layers will help create the lightness and layers in the dough as it bakes.  As the butter melts in during baking, the steam released will help create the flakiness and layers.
  • If your dough becomes too soft, or if the butter begins to break through the outer layers of dough, rub a bit of flour into the “wound”, wrap the dough tightly in plastic or place in a large zip bag, and place the dough back in the refrigerator for at least an hour to let the dough rest and the butter harden.
  • DO NOT SKIMP on the number of turns and rest periods.  This is a dough that takes time.  If you do not take the time, then you won’t get the results you’re looking for.
  • You can freeze the dough at any point during the process.  Be sure to keep it tightly wrapped and lay it flat.  It can keep in the freezer for up to 3 months.  Be sure to thaw it out in the refrigerator for 24 hours before either rolling or shaping.  (If you try to quick-thaw on the counter, you’ll destroy the texture of the dough.)
  • You can freeze already baked croissants.  Make sure they are in an airtight container or wrapped tightly.  Bake then straight from the oven at 350F for 10 – 12 minutes or until hot through.


Now to the recipe.


After much trial and error, I settled on a mixture of all-purpose and bread flour for the croissants.  I felt that a recipe of only all-purpose flour made the croissants too soft with not enough body; all bread flour, they were too tough.

You can use instant or fresh cake yeast in this recipe. Most home cooks, however, prefer to use dry instant.  It keep longer and is easier to use.  However, if you bake yeast breads often and are used to it, then go ahead and use the fresh.  However, it does have a relatively short shelf life compared to the dry.

The Ingredients


3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour

2 c. unbleached bread flour

2 pkg. instant yeast


2 ea. .6oz  fresh cake yeast (add to the milk while it’s heating and be sure to keep the milk 90 – 95F)

1/2 c. packed light brown sugar

3 tsp. salt

1 3/4 c. whole milk, warmed to 95F – 105F (for dry yeast)


1 1/4 lb. cold unsalted butter

3 tbsp. unbleached flour


3/4 c. unsweetened  cocoa powder (for chocolate croissants only) – I like to use to use Dutch processed because it has a deeper, mellower flavor.  If you have natural cocoa powder and prefer to use it, go ahead.


1.  Make the dough: a) in a mixer bowl – mix together the dry ingredients on low speed with the dough hook attached. (If you are using fresh yeast, be sure to heat it with the milk.)

The dry ingredients.


As the mixer is running, slowly add in the warmed milk.

Adding the milk.

Continue mixing the dough on low speed until the dough comes together and forms a ball (trust me, it will), about 5 – 7 minutes.  It should be soft, pliable, and a slightly sticky.  Resist adding any additional milk or flour unless the dough is too sticky or too dry, otherwise the dough will become too dense.  If you need to, add only 1 tablespoon at a time of either.

But, like I said, please resist the urge.  The dough will come together.

b) By hand – mix together the dry ingredients and make a well in the center.  Add the milk to the center to the well in the well.

Getting ready to mix the dough by hand.

Toss the dry ingredients towards the center

Tossing the dry ingredients and the milk together.

This will take a little patience and elbow grease, but mix and knead the dough until it’s smooth and slightly sticky.

Mixing the dough.

The dough coming together.

The finished ball of dough. I didn’t add any additional flour or milk.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead the dough for 2 -3 minutes until smooth.  (If you want to knead the dough for longer, you can.  The longer you knead it, the more “tooth” the dough will have.)

The kneaded dough. It’s a little less sticky. It’s OK if it’s not 100% smooth. You really want the dough to have an even texture.

Shape the dough into a slightly flattened oval and put into a large (2-1/2 gallon) zip bag. Be sure to squeeze out as much excess air as possible. (You will be using the bag through the whole process.)

The dough in the bag.

Alternately, you can loosely wrap the dough in a double layer of plastic.  The looseness will allow the dough to expand.  However, there is a danger of the dough breaking through the plastic as it rises (it’s happened to me), so I highly recommend the bags.

Place the dough in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.


2.  Prepare the butter: a) In the mixer – Cut the butter into 1/2″ pieces and put them into the mixer bowl with the 3 tablespoons flour. (The flour helps to give the butter some extra body.  However, if you forget to use it, it’s all right.)

Butter and flour in the mixer bowl.

Beat the butter on low speed until the butter is softened .  It’s alright if there are a few pieces of butter.  It doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth.

After beating the butter and flour. It’s softened, but not completely smooth.

Turn the butter out onto a piece of plastic wrap and form into rectangle or rounded disk that’s about 1/4″ thick.

The finished butter packet. Not exactly a rectangle or round. More like a flat egg shape.

b) By hand – Way #1: Lay the butter on a piece of plastic and loosely wrap.  With a rolling pin, beat the butter until it is flattened into a 10″ x 12″ rectangle (don’t worry about the butter with this method.)

The butter for the packet.

Flattening the butter with the rolling pin.

Done! It’s also a great stress reliever

Way #2:  Soften the butter slightly, cut into 1/2″ pieces, and place in a bowl.  Sprinkle the flour over the butter and mix together with either your hands (the best method) or with a rubber spatula.  Again, wrap the butter and form into a rectangle.

Place the butter in the refrigerator at let sit for at least 2 hours.


For Chocolate Croissants:  You make the dough the same way as you would for the butter croissants.  The cocoa powder will be incorporated into the butter.  You will make the butter mixture in either the mixer or by hand (in the bowl) the same way.

Butter and chocolate ready to be mixed.

Mixing the cocolate and butter together by hand. (Yes, I’m wearing a glove.)

The finished chocolate butter.

Let the chocolate butter sit in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

3.  After the dough’s initial rest, place it on a lightly floured surface (cold marble or granite is ideal), lightly flour the top,  and roll it out to an approximately 20″ x 16″ rectangle. (again, it’s OK if it’s not exact).

Note: the dough will be a bit sticky when you unwrap it or take it out of the bag. Just flour your hands a little to keep it from sticking to you.

Rolling out the dough.

Rolling out the dough. It’s fairly soft, so rolling it should be easy.

Rolling the dough.


To make sure you have the dough rolled out enough to cover the butter, place the wrapped butter in the center and fold the dough over the butter packet.  At least 2 of the sides should overlap in the center over the butter.  If it’s not large enough, continue to roll out the dough until it is.

Once the dough is large enough, unwrap the butter and place it in the center of the dough.

Even though it seems like common sense, be sure your butter is unwrapped before you start to incorporate it into the dough. I had a student in a class once who forgot that step. Luckily, we were able to rescue her recipe.

The butter and the dough. Getting ready for enveloping.

Fold the extra dough over the butter.  If you have two sides that don’t meet or overlap in the center, be sure they are underneath the sides that do meet.

Folding the dough over the butter.

Folding the dough over the butter. Note how the dough isn’t meeting in the center. These are the sides you want to fold in first.

Folding over the top layers of dough. These two sides should overlap in the center.

The enveloped butter. Note how the center of the upper layers of dough overlap.

This is called enveloping the butter (in case you missed it before).


4.  At this point, you can either wrap or bag the dough and place it in the refrigerator to rest, or you can continue to roll the dough and do the first turn.

I usually press on.

But, if your kitchen is very warm, it would be best to let the dough rest so the butter and dough don’t get too soft.

With the seam side up, lightly press on the dough to help seal the seam.

Sealing the seam.

Add a little flour to your rolling surface and to the top of the dough if needed to keep it from sticking.

Rotate the dough and continue rolling until you reach a roughly 20″ x 16″ rectangle.

Rolling out the dough and butter. Take care not to press down too hard on the dough or you will risk the butter breaking through.

The rolled dough. The lighter spots are the butter. The seam is running up the center of the dough.

Have the dough laying with one of the long sides facing you.  Brush off any excess flour.  Take the left side and fold it towards the center (basically, the left 1/3).  Do the same with the right side (the right 1/3)  and have it overlap on the side already folded.  This is called a letter fold.

Folding the dough. Be sure to brush off any excess flour.

The folded dough. This is the first turn.

You have now completed the first turn.  Wrap the dough loosely in a double layer of plastic or put it back in the large zip bag and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. (The dough will continue to rise, so wrapping it loosely in plastic will give it room. However, I do recommend the 2-1/2 gallon zip bags. They’re far more reliable and, ultimately, less wasteful.)

Brief Notes:

a) If the butter begins to break through the dough (which more than likely will happen, especially with the chocolate dough), pack a bit of flour into the break to help seal it.  Be sure to check the bottom of the dough frequently as well because, sometimes, the butter will break through the bottom as well.  Before you fold the dough and put it back in the refrigerator, make sure you brush off the excess flour.

However, if the dough and butter are so soft that no amount of patching will currently fix it, then fold the dough and place it back in the refrigerator until it firms up; at least 1 hour.

The chocolate butter breaking through the dough.

Patching the break with flour.

b) The chocolate dough will be a bit more difficult to roll out because the butter is stiffer due to the extra cocoa.  I will generally let the chocolate dough sit for about 10 minutes before I begin to roll it out just to make it easier.

c) When you are rolling the dough, take care to only take the rolling pin right up to the edge, but don’t roll over the edge.  (This is a common mistake bakers make.)  If you roll over the edge, you risk having the layers sticking together.

5.  Once the dough has had its rest time, lightly flour your rolling surface, and take the dough out of the refrigerator.  Unwrap or take it out of the bag.

The dough, after the first turn, and after its rest time. Note how it rose again.


To begin rolling the dough for the second turn, have the long side facing you. Once again, roll the dough to a roughly 20″ x 16″ rectangle and fold the dough into a letter fold.  Wrap or bag the dough, and place it back into the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Do this again a third time.  These will be your first three turns.

The butter dough. A close-up view.

The chocolate dough. A close-up view.

6.  Now for the fourth and final turn. Again, roll out the dough as before and have the long side facing you.

However, the dough will be folded differently.

Fold the left side towards the center and then the right. Keep a gap between the ends of the dough.  You will then fold over the dough.  This is called a wallet fold.

Wrap or bag the dough, refrigerate, and let rest for at least 2 hours.

Folding the dough for the fourth turn.

Folding the dough for the fourth turn. Note how there’s a gap between two ends of the dough.

Folding over the dough. This is called a wallet fold. This is the final turn.

I have been asked in classes if it’s OK to do more that 4 turns.


However, 4 turns are the traditional amount.  And, believe me, you really won’t want to do more than 4.


7.  At this point, you can cut as much or as little of the dough as you like and either refrigerate the rest (for up to 3 days) or freeze (up to 3 months).

A cross section of the layers of dough and butter in the chocolate croissant dough.

Roll out the dough to an approximately 1/4″ thickness. (I don’t want to give a rectangle size since I don’t know how much dough each of you will be using.)

If you are rolling out the whole, well, loaf, of dough, then you’ll end up with the approximately 20″ x 16″ rectangle. Then fold it in half lengthwise (if you want a standard sized croissants) and cut it along the fold.

The rolled out dough. Ready for cutting and shaping.

Folding the dough for cutting.

It’s kind of hard to see, but there’s the fold line in the center of the photo. This is where you trim the dough.

However, if you want dino-sized croissants, don’t worry about folding and trimming the dough before cutting and shaping.

Using a very sharp knife or a pastry/pizza cutter, trim the outer edges of the dough so you’ll have clean edges.

Trimming the dough.

Keep the scrap pieces.  I like to make cheese straws or just experiment with shapes.

Cook’s treat.

Once you have trimmed the dough, begin cutting the dough into triangles.  Make them as thin or as wide as you like. The standard size is about 3″ to 4″ at the base.

Cut triangles of croissant dough. Frankly, I’m surprised they’re as even as they are.

8.  Now, take each triangle and roll it out just a little more to thin it out. This helps make it easier to roll and helps to give you the correct number of layers. (Traditionally 7.)

Rolling out the croissant triangle.

Time to roll.

Some chefs like to place a small piece of the scrap dough at the wide end of the triangle before rolling.  This helps to support the roll and give it more volume. If you forget to do this, don’t worry.  I always forget.

Starting at the base of the triangle, roll it until you reach the tip.

Getting ready to roll the croissant.

Starting to roll the croissant.

Rolling the croissant.

The rolled croissant. Traditionally, there should be seven layers. But, I didn’t achieve that here. Oh, well.

After you roll the croissant, place it onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Continue until you have rolled as many as you like.  Be sure the tips are tucked underneath.  Brush them with egg wash (1 egg beaten with 2 tbsp. water).

Croissants, brushed with egg wash, ready for the oven. Admittedly, there are too many on the tray. Stick with no more than 6 – 10, depending on the size of the croissant and your sheet pan.

Let the croissants sit for about 1 hour before baking to let them rise.


9.  Preheat the oven to 400F.  Once you put the croissants in, immediately lower the heat to 350F and bake for 12 minutes.  Then, rotate the baking sheet and bake the croissants for a further 8 – 12 minutes, depending on the size and the number of croissants you have on the sheet.

Some butter will melt out of the dough. It’s inevitable. However, most of it will be re-absorbed by the dough.

Freshly baked croissants. Mmm…

I know it’ll be difficult, but let the croissants sit for about 30 minutes before eating.  The layers need time to set.


10.  If you’d like to make filled croissants, there are two ways to shape the dough.  You can do the traditional crescent shape.  Place about a teaspoon of filling about 1/2″ away from the top edge of the triangle.

Filling a chocolate croissant with almond paste and bittersweet chocolate.


Or, you can cut a piece that’s 4″ x 6″.  Roll it out to 6″ x 8″.  Place any filling you like inside (keep the amount reasonable; otherwise, the inside of the croissant won’t bake), tuck in the short sides first, then fold over the long sides. Place the croissant, seam side down, on a baking sheet.   Brush with egg wash.  Let them sit at room temperature for 1 hour before baking.

(Baking instructions below the next recipe.)

One of the favorites in this house is ham & cheese. Take about 1 to 1-1/2 oz. each of ham and cheese (Gruyère is the best) and roll it into the croissant.  Yummy.


Here’s the recipe for the Spreadable Almond Paste:

Almond Paste ingredients.

1 tube almond paste

2 egg whites

6 tbsp. powdered sugar

2 tsp. vanilla or almond extract.


Break the almond paste into small pieces and drop them into the bowl of a food processor.  Turn on the processor to chop the paste fine.  Through the feed tube, add the egg whites and mix well.  Add the sugar and vanilla or almond extract.  Continue processing until smooth.

The finished Almond Paste.

It will keep in the refrigerator for a week in an airtight container.


No matter which shape you choose, filled croissants must be baked differently than regular unfilled croissants. They have to bake at slightly higher temperatures to be sure the center is baked through.

Preheat the oven to 425F.  When you put the baking sheet in the oven, immediately reduce the temperature to 400F and bake the filled croissants for 10 minutes.  Rotate the baking sheet, reduce the temperature to 375F, and bake another 8 – 12 minutes.

Let them sit for about 30 minutes to let the layers set and for the center to cool slightly.


Whew. Enjoy!
















Cajeta Cheesecake 1

Posted on November 09, 2012 by Sahar

I love cheesecake. It has everything I enjoy in a dessert: rich, sweet, and decadent (if you do it right).  Therein lies the beauty of cheesecake – you don’t need much to be satisfed.

Cheesecakes can be sweet or savory.  Chocolate, Vanilla, Citrus, or Nut.  Blue Cheese, Crab, Sun-Dried Tomato, Chipotle.

They can be baked or no-bake.  With or without a crust.  Serve it with a sauce, fruit, or by itself.

As I have said of a few other foods (chicken, pasta), cheesecake is one of the great blank cavasses of the culinary world.


Here’s a very good brief history (paraphrased) of cheesecake that I came across from

The first “cheese cake” may have been created on the Greek island of Samos. Physical anthropologists excavated cheese molds from circa 2,000 BCE.  In Greece, cheesecake was considered to be a good source of energy, and there is evidence that it was served to athletes during the first Olympic games in 776 BCE. Greek brides and grooms were also known to use cheesecake as a wedding cake. The simple ingredients of flour, wheat, honey and cheese were formed into a cake and baked.

The writer Athenaeus is credited for writing the first Greek cheesecake recipe in 230 A.D. (Greeks had been serving cheesecake for over 2,000 years but this is the oldest known surviving recipe.) It was also pretty basic mix the pounded cheese in a brass pan with honey and spring wheat flour – heat the cheese cake “in one mass” – allow to cool then serve.

When the Romans conquered Greece, the cheesecake recipe was one of the spoils of war. They modified it by adding crushed cheese and eggs. These ingredients were baked under a hot brick and it was served warm. Occasionally, the Romans would put the cheese filling in a pastry. The Romans called their cheese cake “libuma” and they served it on special occasions. Marcus Cato, a Roman politician in the first century BCE, is credited as recording the oldest known Roman cheesecake recipe.

As the Romans expanded their empire further into Europe, their cheesecake recipes came with them.  Later, Great Britain and Eastern Europe began experimenting with ways to put their own unique spin on cheesecake. In each country of Europe, the recipes started taking on different cultural shapes, using ingredients native to each region. In 1545, the first  English cookbook was printed. It described the cheesecake as a flour-based sweet food. Even Henry VIII’s chef did his part to shape the cheesecake recipe. His chef cut up cheese into very small pieces and soaked those pieces in milk for three hours. Then, he strained the mixture and added eggs, butter and sugar.

It was not until the 18th century, however, that cheesecake would start to look like something we recognize in the United States today. Around this time, Europeans began to use beaten eggs instead of yeast to make their breads and cakes rise. Removing the overpowering yeast flavor made cheesecake taste more like a dessert. When Europeans immigrated to America, some brought their cheesecake recipes along.

Cream cheese was an American addition to the cake, and it has since become a staple ingredient in the United States. In 1872, a New York dairy farmer was attempting to replicate the French cheese Neufchatel. Instead, he accidentally discovered a process which resulted in the creation of cream cheese. Three years later, cream cheese was packaged in foil and distributed to local stores under the Philadelphia Cream Cheese brand. The Philadelphia Cream Cheese brand was purchased in 1903 by the Phoenix Cheese Company, and then it was purchased in 1928 by the Kraft Cheese Company. Kraft continues to make the same Philadelphia Cream Cheese that we are  familiar with today.

Of course, no story of cheesecake is complete without delving into the origins of the New York style cheesecake. The Classic New York style cheesecake is served with just the cake – no fruit, chocolate or caramel is served on the top or on the side. This famously smooth-tasting cake gets its signature flavor from extra egg yolks in the cream cheese cake mix.

By the 1900s, New Yorkers were in love with this dessert. Virtually every restaurant had its own version of cheesecake on their menu. New Yorkers have vied for bragging rights for having the original recipe ever since. Even though he is best known for his signature sandwiches, Arnold Reuben (1883-1970) is generally credited for creating the New York Style cheesecake. Reuben was born in Germany and he came to America when he was young. The story goes that Reuben was invited to a dinner party where the hostess served a cheese pie. Allegedly, he was so intrigued by this dish that he experimented with the recipe until he came up with the beloved NY Style cheesecake.

New York is not the only place in America that puts its own spin on cheesecakes. In Chicago, sour cream is added to the recipe to keep it creamy. Meanwhile, Philadelphia cheesecake is known for being lighter and creamier than New York style cheesecake and it can be served with fruit or chocolate toppings. In St. Louis, they enjoy a gooey butter cake, which has an additional layer of cake topping on the cheesecake filling.

Each region of the world also has its own take on the best way to make the dessert. Italians use ricotta cheese, while the Greeks use mizithra or feta. Germans prefer cottage cheese, while the Japanese use a combination of cornstarch and egg whites. There are specialty cheesecakes that include blue cheese, seafood, spicy chilies and even tofu! In spite of all the variations, the popular dessert’s main ingredients – cheese, wheat and a sweetener –remain the same.

No matter how you slice it, cheesecake is truly a dessert that has stood the test of time. From its earliest recorded beginnings on Samos over 4,000 years ago to its current iconic status around the world this creamy cake remains a favorite for sweet tooths of all ages.


History lesson over, here are a few tips for making a successful cheesecake.

  • Make sure you have read the recipe completely before starting.  Have all the ingredeints prepped and measured.
  • Make sure your dairy – eggs, cream cheese, etc. – are at room temperature.  This will ensure there that the ingredients will mix evenly.
  • Use the paddle attachment, not the whip, when mixing the ingredients.  Be sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl as you add ingredients.  This will ensure even mixing.
  • Beat the cream cheese until it is smooth.  Make sure it doesn’t have any lumps.
  • Add the eggs one at a time.  Mix thoroughly after each one.
  • Preheat your oven for at least 15 minutes at 350F.  Be sure the rack is in the center of the oven.
  • Take the cheesecake from the oven when it still has a slight jiggle in the center.  If the center is hard when you take the cheesecake from the oven, it’s overcooked.



  • To prevent cracking, be sure all the ingredients at room temperature.  As stated above, add the eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each one is added.
  • To prevent a grainy texture, be sure the dairy products are at room temperature.  Slowly add the sugar, mixing thoroughly and making sure the sugar is dissolved.
  • Be sure to scrape the sids of the bowl to be sure there are no lumps. And, again, making sure the ingredients are thoroughly mixed.
Obviously, making sure the ingredeints are mixed is important.


Now to the recipe.

To begin with, in this example, I’m using bottled cajeta.  If you want to use homemeade cajeta (and I have), my blog post from Jan. 29, 2012, will teach you how to do that.  Also, just to let you know, the bottled cajeta will set up more quickly than the homemade when it’s spread over the cold cheesecake.

Also, instead of graham crackers, I’m using “Maria” (Goya ® ) cookies.  I like to use them because they are less sweet and don’t compete with the cheesecake. (If you live in a town with a large Hispanic population, Maria cookies will be readily available at most groceries.) However, you can use graham crackers if you like.


The ingredients


4 pkg. cream cheese, room temperature

3 lg. eggs, room temperature

2 tsp. vanilla extract (preferably Mexican)

1 c. cajeta

1 tsp. canela (cinnamon, ground), optional


1 pkg. Maria cookies or graham crackers, ground

1/2 c. unsalted butter, melted

2 tbsp. brown sugar


1/2 c. cajeta

1/2 c. toasted chopped pecans


1.  Make sure your rack is in the center of the oven and preheat to 350F.  Wrap the outside of a 8- or 9-inch spingform pan in a double layer of heavy duty foil. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit in the bottom of the pan.

The wrapped springform.

2.  In a small bowl, mix together the cookies or graham crackers, butter, and sugar.  Press the mixture into the bottom and halfway up the sides. (Try to make the thickness of the crust as even as possible.)

The crust in the springform pan.

3.  Place the pan in a baking dish large enough for the pan to sit flat in the bottom.  Fill the pan with enough water to come halfway up the sides of the springform.  Set aside.  (The foil prevents the water from seeping into the bottom of the pan and making the crust soggy.)

 4.  In a mixer using the flat beater, beat the cream cheese until smooth.

Cream Cheese. Ready to go.

Add the eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated.

After the eggs have all been incorporated. A nice, smooth mixture.

Add the vanilla and canela (if using).  Mix well.  Add the cajeta and, again, mix well.  Be sure to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl so the batter is evenly mixed.

5.  Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan.

Cheesecake ready for the oven.


Bake for 45 – 60 minutes.  If you have a hotspot in your oven, rotate the baking dish about halfway through the cooking time.

6.  After the initial 45 minute cooking time, check the doneness of the cheesecake. Gently shake the pan.  The center of the cake should have a slight wobble.  If the center seems almost liquid, let the cheesecake continue to cook.  At 1 hour, check again.  If the center is still too liquid, continue baking, checking every 5 minutes.  Take care not to overbake.  If the center of the cheesecake is solid when you take it out, then the cake is overcooked.

The cheesecake right out of the oven. It has a slight wobble and has a raised center. The cheesecake will settle as it cools.

Take the cheesecake out of the waterbath and allow to cool on a rack.

Once it is cooled, remove the foil and discard or toss in the recycling bin.  Wrap the cheesecake (still in the springform) thoroughly in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours to set.

7.  When you are ready to serve, run the blunt edge of a knife (a butter knife is ideal) between the crust and sleeve of the springform.  Carefully unlatch the springform sleeve and release the cake.

At this point you can leave the cake on the base of the springform, or, if you’re feeling confident, slide the knife between the cake and the base to help release it.  (I prefer to leave it on the base and put it in a cake holder. I’m too afraid I’d drop it otherise.)

After you’ve released the cake, spread the reamaining 1/2 cup cajeta over the top and sprinkle over the toasted pecans.

The finished cheesecake. Yummy.

A cross section of a lovely, creamy cheesecake. I ate the piece I cut for lunch.

Of course, be sure to remove the parchement paper from the piece of cheesecake before you serve.

Be sure to carefully wrap or cover any leftover cheesecake and refrigerate.


I almost forgot…  Cheesecake can be frozen. Just be sure to wrap  it (completely cooled) tightly in plastic wrap and again in foil.  It will keep for 3 months in the freezer (be sure to date it).  Let it defrost in the refrigerator for 24 hours before serving.









Mole Verde 5

Posted on October 09, 2012 by Sahar

I love mole. For me, it’s another one of those comfort foods that always make me happy. It’s also one of the great things about growing up in a state where the Mexican influence in food is so prevelant.

 One of the origin myths of mole has the nuns of Convent Santa Rosa in the 16th Century anticipating a visit from the Archbishop.  They were a rather impoverished convent and had nothing to serve him.  In their panic, they cooked together what they could find – seeds, chocolate, day-old bread, nuts – and cooked it for hours into a sweet, thick sauce.  They added the only meat they had, an old turkey, and served it to the Archbishop.  He loved it.


Little did the nuns of Santa Rosa know, they invented the National Dish of Mexico.  While it is mostly prepared for the holidays, it can be eaten any time of year.

All moles are very time consuming, labor intensive, and require many ingredients. Some sources state that some moles have as many as 100 ingredients, but that’s almost certainly an exaggeration (but, who knows). However, 30 ingredients isn’t unheard of, and some mole recipes can list 10 different varieties of chiles. Other ingredients can include: peanuts, almonds, fried bread, plantains, lard, sugar, chocolate, cinnamon, and cloves.

It is said there are seven types of mole:

Mole Poblano – The most popular of mole sauces used today is mole poblano. It is what is considered the “national dish” of Mexico throughout the world. mole poblano originated in the state of Puebla and is made up of more than 20 different ingredients. The main ingredients are chili peppers and chocolate (which gives mole poblano its distinctive flavor and dark color). It has a slight sweetness to it.

Mole Negro (black)  –  While the region of Oaxaca is considered “the land of the seven moles,” its main mole is mole negro. This version of mole  is darker than the traditional mole poblano, but has the same rich flavor. Mole negro is known for being the most difficult mole sauces to make, due to its large ingredient list that contains chili peppers, chocolate, onions, garlic, seeds, spices, nuts and hoja santa. Hoja santa is a plant that gives mole negro is distinctive flavor and color.

  It is also generally sweeter than Mole Poblano.

Mole Verde (green) – Mole verde originated in the region of Oaxaca and gets its name from its green color. This color is achieved by using toasted pumpkin seeds, romaine lettuce, cilantro and tomatillos. Mole verde is has a milder flavor than most of the other mole sauces, and is popular in dishes that contain chicken.

Rojo (red) – Can be made from guajillo chiles, ancho chiles, pecans, tomatoes, peanuts, chocolate, garlic, onions and spices.

  It has a medium-heat depending on the amount and types of chiles used.

Mole Amarillo (yellow) Made from ancho chiles, guajillo chiles, tomatillos, spices, cilantro, and the aromatic herb hoja santa.

Mole de cacahuate (peanut) –  Made from peanuts and chiles.
Mole chichilo is made from pasilla chiles, tomatoes, tomatillos, spices and masa harina.

Mole coloradito (red Oaxacan) – Made from ancho chiles, almonds, tomatoes, seeds, bananas and spices.

(information sources:;;

One of these days, I’m going to make all of these.

Now, on to the recipe:


The ingredients


Mole Verde is a pipian-style mole from Puebla.  The ingredients are all fresh, there’s no chocolate, and there are seeds (usually pumpkin) in the sauce.

3 lbs. chicken

Chicken broth or water

1/2 c. pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds, unsalted)

2 tsp. cumin seeds

2 tsp. Mexican oregano (I used dried)

1 1/2 tsp. Marjoram (I used dried)

Salt & pepper to taste

1 med white onion, peeled, stem end left on, cut into 1/4’s

4 lg. garlic cloves, peeled, stem end cut off

3 jalapenos

3 poblano peppers

8 tomatillos, papery skin removed and rinsed

1 c. packed spinach leaves

1 bunch clantro, large stem ends trimmed off

1/2 c. chopped parsley


1.  Place the chicken pieces into a large pot with just enough chicken broth or water to cover.  Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat, turn the heat down to medium-low and let the chicken simmer until done.  Remove the chicken from the broth and set aside until cool enough to handle and shred.  Discard the skin and bones (unless you want to save the bones for stock).

2.  Heat a heavy skillet on high.  Dry roast the pepitas and cumin seeds.  Stir frequently to keep them from burning.  As soon as the pepitas begin to brown and pop and the cumin seeds begin to have a fragrance pour the seeds onto a plate and let cool.

Dry roasting the pepitas and cumin seeds.

Using a coffee grinder (one that you use only for spices), grind the seeds into a powder.  You’ll need to do this in batches.

The ground seeds. They smell great. Really.

3.  Have a bowl covered with plastic or a large zip bag nearby.  Dry roast the jalapenos and poblanos in the skillet on all sides until the skin is blackened and blistered.  It’s OK if the skin isn’t blistered evenly and there’s still some green.  (Alternately, don’t leave the chiles on the heat for too long or they’ll turn gray.  At that point, you’ve gone too far.)

Dry roasting the chiles and garlic.

Dry roasting the poblanos.

Place the chiles in the bowl and cover or place in the bag and seal.  Allow the chiles to steam to loosen their skins.  Leave until cool enough to handle.

4.  Continue dry roasting with the onion (cut off the stem end after you’ve roasted the onion), garlic, and tomatillos.  Again, you just want to have some black spots.  Make sure you don’t overcook the tomatillos.  You don’t want them to come apart in the skillet.

Roasting the onion.

Roasting the tomatillos.

5.  Remove the chiles from the bag or bowl and peel off as much of the charred skin as you can.

The peeled chiles. Ready for seeding.

Remove the stems and seeds from the poblanos and the stems from the jalapenos.  Depending on how mild or spicy you would like the mole, keep or remove as many of the seeds and membranes from the jalapenos as you like.

5.  Add the oregano, marjoram, salt, pepper, onion, garlic, jalapenos, spinach, cilantro, and parsley to 4 cups of the chicken broth.  Cook over medium heat for 30 minutes.  Remove the pot from the heat and let the mixture cool slightly before pureeing.

The ingredients cooking away.

7.  Meanwhile, if you haven’t done so already, shred the chicken.  Discard the skin.  Discard or save the bones for stock.

8.  Heat the skillet over medium-high heat and add the ground pepitas and cumin.  Add 1/2 cup of the stock and make a paste.  Take the skillet off the heat and set aside.

9.  In a food processor or blender in batches, or with a stick blender in the pot, puree the broth and vegetables until as smooth as you prefer.  Place the pot back on the stove over medium-high heat and add the paste into the mole mixture.  Mix well.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat to medium, and cook for 15 minutes.  The mole will thicken slightly.  Taste for seasoning.

10.  Add the chicken back into the mole and cook another 5 minutes to heat the chicken through.  Serve with rice and tortillas.


Note:  I somehow lost some of the photos I took while I was making this dish.  However, you can see the finished mole here:

Yes. I did a TV spot.  And I was very nervous.

If you would like to see even more mole recipes and even some cajeta cheesecake, I’ll be teaching this class on Friday, October 19 at Central Market North Lamar.






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