"Fast Food": Penne with Chorizo, Portobello, and Spinach

When I make pasta, it's usually "tossed" rather than "sauced." For one thing, my family just prefers pasta that way. Fresh tomato sauce tends to be a bit acidic and cream sauce is a little heavy. (However, mix those two together to get a "rose" sauce and I'd eat it any day.) A good bolognese/meat sauce is delicious, but I get impatient when it comes to letting it slowly simmer for hours on the stove.

This pasta is flavourful and light enough for a summer supper. It is so easy that you really could just wing it. But the general idea is...

Penne with Chorizo, Portobello, and Spinach
-2 chorizo sausages, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
-3 portobello mushrooms, halved and sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
-garlic, 2 cloves minced
-3/4 lb spinach leaves, washed and coarsely chopped
-1 lb penne pasta, cooked until al dente

-Place chorizo in a dry frying pan over medium heat. Brown sausage and remove. Reserve oil from sausage.
-Add mushrooms and garlic to pan. Brown mushrooms on both sides. (Add thyme if you've got some. Red chili flakes would also be nice.)
-Return sausages to the pan and add the spinach. Turn the spinach until it wilts.
-Toss ingredients with cooked penne.
-Finish with shaved parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil.
Serves 4

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Honey Whole Wheat Bread

I want a sandwich... and as delicious as that bread was, a BLT on brown sugar raisin bread just won't fly. Which is why it's time to make some good whole wheat bread.

The old recipe I used to use called for the dough to be shaped into a round and baked on a baking sheet. The resulting loaf was dense (or I guess you could call it "rustic") and it was awkward to slice and fit into a toaster. So off I went to find a new recipe.

When there seems to be a thousand recipes floating around out there for the same thing, I often turn to allrecipes.com. Plugging in "whole wheat bread" into their search yielded 83 recipes. This 5-star "Simple Whole Wheat Bread" was rated 414 times. I had to try it, of course.

The results are a big improvement over the old doorstop of a loaf I used to make. Brushing the top with melted butter before and after baking creates a pillow-soft crust, rather than the crisp shiny one an egg wash creates. The bread smelled like warm honey and butter when it came out of the oven and had a mildly sweet flavour. Delish. I added some sunflower seeds to it, but I like my bread "seedier" so there's room for improvement next time. I'd probably also let it rise longer for a lighter texture. But for now, please excuse me. My ham and swiss on whole wheat is calling.

Simple Whole Wheat Bread

Yield: 3 loaves


  • 3 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 5 cups bread flour
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted


  1. In a large bowl, mix warm water, yeast, and 1/3 cup honey. Add 5 cups white bread flour, and stir to combine. Let set for 30 minutes, or until big and bubbly.
  2. Mix in 3 tablespoons melted butter, 1/3 cup honey, and salt. Stir in 2 cups whole wheat flour. Flour a flat surface and knead with whole wheat flour until not real sticky - just pulling away from the counter, but still sticky to touch. This may take an additional 2 to 4 cups of whole wheat flour. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to coat the surface of the dough. Cover with a dishtowel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled.
  3. Punch down, and divide into 3 loaves. Place in greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pans, and allow to rise until dough has topped the pans by one inch.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 25 to 30 minutes; do not overbake. Lightly brush the tops of loaves with 2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine when done to prevent crust from getting hard. Cool completely.
Recipe from allrecipes.com (Nita Crabb)

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The Breakfast Club: Cinnamon Raisin Bread

I was in a bread baking mood today so I decided to make this loaf of cinnamon-swirled goodness. It's a cross between raisin bread and cinnamon buns. The dough is leaner than a typical sweet dough recipe because it uses less butter and sugar, which I like because it makes eating one or two thick slices of this for breakfast a little more sensible. It's absolutely divine toasted and buttered up, or even better, spread with some cream cheese.

I kneaded the dough by hand since I'm not prepared to fry the motor of the electric mixer. It takes about 15 minutes to work in enough flour to develop the gluten in the dough. You can tell you're done kneading with the "windowpane test": take a small piece of dough and stretch it out. If you can stretch it into a thin, translucent "window" without the dough tearing, you're good to go. 15 minutes of kneading is a lengthy arm workout, but it's totally worth it.

The recipe makes two BIG loaves, but I made cinnamon buns with half of the dough. Those were consumed straight out of the oven. Unfortunately, no physical or photographic evidence remains.

Brown Sugar Raisin Bread:


1 Tbs. active dry yeast

3 Tbs. granulated sugar

1 1/4 cups warm water (105° to 115°F)

1 cup warm milk (105° to 115°F)

3 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted

1 Tbs. salt

1 egg, lightly beaten

6 to 6 1/4 cups bread flour, plus more
as needed

3/4 cup golden raisins

3/4 cup dark raisins

For the filling:

2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
mixed with 4 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon


In a bowl, sprinkle the yeast and a pinch of the granulated sugar over 1⁄2 cup of the water and stir to dissolve. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, combine the remaining 3/4 cup water, the milk, butter, the remaining granulated sugar, salt, egg and 2 cups of the flour. Beat on medium speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Add the yeast mixture and 1⁄2 cup of the flour and beat for 1 minute. Add the raisins, then beat in the remaining flour, 1⁄2 cup at a time, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Switch to the dough hook. Knead on medium-low speed, adding flour 1 Tbs. at a time if the dough sticks, until smooth and elastic, about 4 minutes. Transfer the dough to a greased deep bowl and turn to coat it. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1 1⁄2 hours.

Lightly grease two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Divide the dough in half and roll or pat each half into an 8-by-12-inch rectangle. Lightly sprinkle each rectangle with half of the filling, leaving a 1-inch border on all sides. Beginning at a narrow end, tightly roll up each rectangle into a compact log. Pinch the ends and the long seam to seal in the filling. Place each log, seam side down, in a prepared pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until the dough is about 1 inch above the rim of each pan, 1 to 1 1⁄2 hours.

Preheat an oven to 350°F. Bake until the loaves are golden brown and pull away from the sides of the pan, 35 to 40 minutes. Turn the loaves out onto wire racks and let cool completely. Makes two 9-by-5-inch loaves.

Adapted from Williams Sonoma-Bread

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Chicken Pot Pie Goes to India

Last night's dinner turned out to be one of those happy flukes. I had leftover butter chicken and no basmati rice to eat it with, so I decided to make this chicken pot pie with a twist.

Considering the fact that the curry is fairly rich (how could it not be, given its name), the usual pie crust pastry seemed a little over-the-top. Topping it with some phyllo pastry instead makes a lighter crust. The thing I love about phyllo is that it bakes really light and crispy, and contrary to what is written in many recipes, you don't have to brush each layer with melted butter to get flakiness. It is a little more work to layer each paper thin sheet, but the end result is delicate layers without the heaviness of shortcrust/pie pastry, or the grease of puff pastry.

There's no actual recipe for this, but the general idea is:
-Fill an oven-proof dish with curry chicken
-Tear a sheet of thawed phyllo pastry so that it extends about 1" over the sides of the dish
-Lightly scrunch and place on top of curry
-Repeat with 3 more layers of phyllo dough. Brush between the layers with melted butter if desired.
-Brush top layer of phyllo with melted butter (for browning)
-Bake in a 375F oven for 20 minutes

Served with some sauteed spinach and naan bread, this experiment was a success. Not entirely surprising though because what wouldn't taste good with a pastry crust on top?

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Paella: Holiday in a bowl

Paella is on the menu for tonight's dinner. It's a dish from Spain's Valencia region consisting of saffron scented rice, meat, seafood, and vegetables. It is typically made in a paellera pan (a round, flat-bottomed, two-handeled pan), but I don't make this nearly often enough to warrant investing in one, so a frying pan will do. I will be using chicken, prawns, and spicy, smoky Spanish chorizo for some kick.

Saffron is what gives the rice a slight golden colour. Saffron threads are the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus (flower). They need to be harvested by hand in the two week window that the flower blooms. It takes 150 flowers to produce 1 g of dried saffron, granting it the title as the world's most expensive spice. It is often sold in matchbox-sized containers, rather than in large jars like cinnamon. Luckily, a few threads are all that's needed to infuse the dish with a distinct flavour that can be described, if possible, as warm and sunny. Actually, I'm not too sure if that's due to the saffron's flavour or simply the dish's association with the Spanish Mediterranean.

The trickiest part of making paella is toasting the rice in contact with the pan to get a crispy caramelized base (called socarrat) without burning it. I tend to chicken out and pull the pan off the heat earlier than is necessary, but even without it, this paella is a sunny (and delicious) holiday in a bowl.


4 cups chicken stock

1 tsp. coarse sea salt

1 tsp. saffron threads

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

6 chicken thighs, boned

1/2 lb. pork sausages

1 cup olive oil

1 yellow onion, thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch

1 lb. ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely

1 tsp. sweet red paprika

2 1/2 cups risotto-type short-grain rice, such as

1 cup shelled English peas, fresh or frozen

12 medium shrimp, peeled

Fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish


In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the stock to a gentle simmer and maintain over low heat.

Using a mortar and pestle, grind the salt with the saffron until a powder forms. Add the garlic and grind with the salt and saffron. Set aside.

Cut the chicken thighs and sausages into 1-inch pieces.

Place a 16-inch paella pan or a large, wide, heavy-bottomed fry pan over high heat (or over a metal ring set on a rack over coals) and pour in the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the chicken, and sausages and sauté until golden, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat and squid to a plate and set aside. Reserve the pan with the remaining oil.

Add the onion and bell pepper and sauté over medium heat until the onion is translucent and beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Return the meat to the pan and add the tomatoes, stirring to evenly distribute the tomatoes. Add paprika and 2 ladlefuls of the hot stock and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes.

Stir a little stock into the mortar with the saffron mixture and mix well. Pour the contents of the mortar into the saucepan of stock.

Add the rice to the paella pan, followed by the peas and all but 1⁄2 cup of the remaining stock. Stir everything together thoroughly.

Arrange shrimp on the top of the rice. Return the paella to a simmer and cook until the meat and fish are cooked through and the rice is tender but not too soft, about 20 minutes. If the paella is not yet done and all the liquid is absorbed, add a little of the reserved stock as needed.

Turn the heat on high and allow rice to toast for 5 minutes (do not stir). Turn off the heat and cover the pan with a clean, dry kitchen towel. Let stand for about 10 minutes to allow the flavors to mingle thoroughly and the rice to absorb any remaining juices. Serve warm, not hot, garnished with the parsley. Serves 8.

Adapted from Williams Sonoma-Barcelona.

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The recipe that started it all... The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

At the risk of sounding dramatic, this is THE recipe that sparked my interest in cooking, baking, and all things food. I was bored and hungry one summer day many years ago and found this recipe on the back of a bag of chocolate chips. These chocolate chip cookies are simple to make and simply amazing.

I am all for using butter in baking. The flavour cannot be beat. However, I am a fan of chewy chocolate chip cookies. Butter tends to make the dough spread and creates a crispier cookie. This particular cookie recipe uses shortening. It melts more slowly in the oven, allowing the cookie to set a little puffier. While there are probably thousands of recipes for chocolate chip cookies, this one has yet to fail me. To boost flavour, I used half butter and half butter-flavoured shortening today, so the cookies came out a little flatter than usual. I also threw in some Skor toffee bits along with the chocolate chips. Yum.

Original Chipits Cookies

Cream together 1 cup Golden Flavour Crisco Shortening, 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar and 1/2 cup granulated sugar. Beat in 2 eggs and 2 teaspoons vanilla.

Combine 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon salt. Gradually blend into creamed mixture.

Stir in 300 g chocolate chips and 1 cup of chopped nuts (optional). Drop small spoonfuls on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375F for 10 to 12 minutes.

Makes 6 dozen cookies.

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The Breakfast Club: French Toast

In typical Pacific Northwest fashion, it's a little grey and drizzly out this morning. In other words, perfect french toast weather.

I had some good crusty french bread left over from paninis the other day. I sliced it up thick and let it dry up overnight--the staler the bread, the better it soaks up the custard.

I decided to try out a new recipe today. allrecipes.com has a recipe called "Fluffy French Toast" and (at last count) the 559 reviews and 4.5/5 star rating was enough to convince me to try it out. What made this recipe a little different is its use of flour. The flour gives it an excellent texture: hearty and not at all soggy. It turned out great; in Alton Brown terms, it was GBD (golden brown and delicious).

Fluffy French Toast:
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 12 thick slices bread
  1. Measure flour into a large mixing bowl. Slowly whisk in the milk. Whisk in the salt, eggs, cinnamon, vanilla extract and sugar until smooth.
  2. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium heat.
  3. Soak bread slices in mixture until saturated. Cook bread on each side until golden brown. Serve hot.
Credit to Bonnie and allrecipes.com

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These are just a few people/websites/books that I admire/frequent/use:

  • Nigella Lawson
  • Jaimie Oliver
  • Ina Garten
  • Alton Brown
  • ...yes, I'm a food network freak. So I may as well include:

Favorite Food Network programs (on or off air):
  • Good Eats (all time favourite)
  • Iron Chef America
  • Diners, Drive-ins and Dives
  • Forever Summer, Nigella Bites
  • Oliver's Twist
  • The Surreal Gourmet
  • Ace of Cakes

  • williams-sonoma.com (excellent recipes, and great photos)
  • baking911.com (helpful tips plus everything you'd ever need to know about baking)
  • joyofbaking.com (more recipes, and photos that make you want to make everything)
  • allrecipes.com (some recipes have upwards of 300 5-star ratings=surefire success)
  • foodporndaily.com (enough said.)

  • The Cake Bible by Rose L Beranbaum
  • Joy of Cooking
  • How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson
  • The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider
  • Everyday Food: Great Food Fast
  • Pillsbury Complete Cookbook

What do you get...

...when you blend cream cheese, whipped cream, cake, and coffee?
Possibly the most delicious dessert ever to come from that boot-shaped country, Italy.

Interestingly, tiramisu is a dish that actually originated in the country that it is associated with--Italy (Treviso, to be precise). (For examples of "impostor" dishes, see chicken parmesan, chicken tikka masala, and fortune cookies). The dessert is traditionally composed of a velvety custard layered with sponge cake soaked in espresso and alcohol, granting it the name "Tiramisu" or "pick me up."

One defining ingredient is mascarpone cheese. It is decadent in every way: buttery (it is a triple cream cheese), velvety smooth, delicately flavorful, and... expensive. One tub can set you back $10. I will be making a version that is a little more wallet and waistline friendly (if only marginally).

Since I have had a hankering for a big bowl of this creamy goodness all day, I highly doubt I will have the discipline to wait for it to sit in the fridge overnight. This express version I am making does not use whipped eggs for the zabaglione custard, and substitutes light cream cheese (boosted with good quality vanilla) for the mascarpone. I am not claiming that it will be identical to Italian restaurant quality ones, but once assembled and laced with espresso and Kahlua, no one would be the wiser...

Express Tiramisu

Serves: 8

  • 1/2 pound light cream cheese, softened (1 ~ 8 ounce packages)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoon milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso
  • 1/4 cup room temperature water
  • 3/4 cups Kahlua
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 7 ounces ladyfinger biscuits
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder

  1. Lightly spray 9 X 9 inch glass Pyrex baking dish with vegetable spray.
  2. Count the ladyfingers and divide in half.
  3. Spoon cocoa powder into a sugar shaker, or when ready, use a small strainer or sieve.
  4. Using beater attachment of a high-speed mixer, beat softened cream cheese and sugar on medium to high speed until smooth and creamy. Add milk, vanilla and brandy. Beat again until fluffy. Transfer to large mixing bowl and set aside.
  5. In a small bowl, dissolve instant coffee in room temperature water. Add Kahlua, stir and set aside.
  6. Whip heavy whipping cream on high speed until stiff. Fold whipped cream into cream cheese mixture with spatula and blend well.
  7. One at a time, quickly dip only the bottoms of the ladyfingers into Kahlua. Place the soaked side down and line the entire bottom of the pan with ladyfingers. The ladyfingers soak up the Kahlua very quickly, so be careful not to dip them too long. Just the bottom half should be dipped in Kahlua.
  8. Spread half the cream cheese over the ladyfingers using an off-set spatula or plastic spatula.
  9. Sprinkle or dust with 1/4 cup cocoa.
  10. Repeat with the rest of the ladyfingers in Kahlua and place on top of the cream.
  11. Spread the remaining cream cheese mix evenly on top.
  12. Sprinkle remaining cocoa over the tiramisu.
  13. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill for 6 hours or overnight. You may need to use a few toothpicks to keep the plastic from sticking to the tiramisu.
  14. Use a sharp, thin knife to cut into pieces. Dive in.
  15. Refrigerate any leftovers.
Adapted from: http://bakingdesserts.suite101.com/article.cfm/easy_kahlua_tiramisu_recipe

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...to beets and bites! In this blog I plan to document my adventures in the epicurean world, from my tinkering in the kitchen to the restaurants that I explore.

Stay tuned for the first food post...tiramisu!