From today’s food section of the Los Angeles Times, a very interesting article on the best recipes of the past 25 years.

To read the article, click here

I wonder how many of those will be on my endless list “to try soon”  😉



Most couples have a song, we have a dish, … Beef Wellington.    It was the first special meal that we cooked together, and it’s the recipe that we remember when a festive mood strikes.   For something that’s surprisingly simple to put together (if you use commercial puff pastry), Beef Wellington is an elegant gastronomic statement.   The  rich combination of  mushroom duxelles and foie gras raises the most delicate cut of beef to culinary heaven.  Here’s a crucial piece of advice: use a meat thermometer to determine the cooking time, because overcooking will ruin this dish.

This year we  chose Beef Wellington for our family’s Christmas Eve dinner, served as Evelyn George used to do it in my husband’s favorite restaurant,  “The Carriage House” of South Bend, Indiana: with duchess potatoes and a wine reduction sauce.  Fresh asparagus completed the meal.

(adapted from many different sources)

4 beef tenderloin filets,  1.5 inch-thick
1 T olive oil
salt and pepper

for the mushroom duxelles
4 ounces mushrooms
1 shallot, finely diced
1/2 T olive oil
1 T butter
salt and pepper
dash of nutmeg
1 T Madeira wine (or Sherry)

puff pastry (home-made or good quality store-bought)
slices of foie gras
egg wash (1 egg beaten slightly with 1 tsp water)

Heat oil on a large skillet until it starts to smoke, season the meat with salt and pepper, and sear the filets on both sides over high heat; 2 minutes per side. Reserve.

Prepare the duxelles: finely dice the mushrooms (preferably by hand)  and squeeze 1/4 cup portions at a time in a fine cloth (twist the cloth to tighten the squeeze) to release their bitter juices. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet, add the shallots and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the squeezed mushrooms, saute until fully cooked and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 8 minutes.  Season lightly with salt and pepper, add the nutmeg,  Madeira wine,  and cook for a couple of minutes. Reserve.

Assemble the Wellingtons: roll out the puff pastry to enclose each individual piece of meat.  On the center of the pastry, add a slice of foie gras,  2 tablespoons of duxelles, and set the seared filet mignon on top. Enclose it in the pastry, with the seam facing up, then invert the whole package, so that the duxelle layer is on top.  Brush the surface of the wellingtons with egg wash, placing small cutouts of pastry as a decoration, if you wish. (Wellingtons can be assembled 6 hours in advance, keep refrigerated).

Cut some slits through the pastry, and place the packages in a 400F oven until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 125-130F for medium-rare – about twenty minutes (it will continue cooking a little more while it rests).  Remove from the oven and allow it to sit for 10 minutes before serving.

(to print the recipe, click here)

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1/2 shallot, finely diced
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup veal stock
salt and pepper to taste
2 T butter, cold, in small pieces

Remove most of the fat in the pan that you used to sear the filets, leaving about 1/2 tablespoon.  Sautee the shallots for a couple of minutes, then add the red wine and deglaze the pan well.   Add the veal stock and boil gently until the sauce is reduced by half and slightly thickens.  Season with salt and pepper. Add the butter in pieces, a few at a time, swirling the pan over low heat.   The sauce will get a smooth shine from the emulsion with butter.  Remove from heat and serve alongside the Beef Wellingtons.   If necessary to re-heat, do it over very low flame.

(to print the recipe, click here)

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Post #100 at Bewitching Kitchen!   Pop the Champagne and toast to food!

It’s hard to believe that only NINE breads remain in the BBA Challenge…   If you haven’t been following it, Nicole launched the event months ago with the idea of baking her way through the Bread Baker’s Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart, and invited other crazy bakers to join in.  We bake’em and blog’em, but if you want the recipes, then you’ll have to get the book.

I wasn’t too wild about making a pumpernickel bread, but I prepared my rye starter and mixed the dough. I couldn’t find pumpernickel flour, which is a particularly coarse grind of rye, so I had to use regular rye flour in its place. Sorry, Mr. Reinhart! 😉

I am glad to report that this bread was a winner, even without the correct flour!

I halved the recipe, mainly because I didn’t expect us to love it, but, in retrospect, that was a mistake: two of these loaves would be more than welcome in our home!

I had no problems whatsoever with this recipe.   I skipped pictures of the dough rising, because it didn’t seem to rise much, but this photo shows the slashed loaf, just before the oven.

The bread did have some oven bounce, which always makes the baker happy!   The crumb was tight and  lighter than that of the bread in the book .  I used instant coffee in the dough, maybe cocoa powder would make it darker.  It was tender, moist,  and had perfect balance of sweetness and sourness.  A piece of sharp, aged Cheddar cheese was declared the winning match for this bread …

Note to self:  next time, make the full recipe!  😉


The BBA Challenge arrives at the “King of Breads”,  Pain Poilane, the most traditional bread in Paris!

Of course, pain Poilane brings us great memories! Every couple of weeks, we slightly changed our normal walking route from home to work, in order  to stop at the Poilane Boulangerie on Rue Grenelle in the 15th  arrondisement, and grab one of those huge “boules”, that we enjoyed to the last crumb on the succeeding days.

Lionel Poilane himself  trained each of the bakers that worked in his boulangerie, a process that started by making sure they could not only properly light their wood ovens, but also know when the oven temperature was correct for baking without a thermometer,  by using just their bare hands to “feel” the heat inside.    Each baker was responsible for the entire process of making each loaf, beginning to end.    This kind of passion and commitment fascinates me.

To mimic the great Poilane bread, Peter Reinhart uses 100% whole wheat flour, and a sourdough starter fed with whole wheat flour before being incorporated in the dough.  It makes a huge loaf, but I divided it in two and baked them on consecutive days, retarding one of the “boules” in the fridge overnight.  Kneading this dough is not for sissies.  It’s impossible to knead the full recipe in a KitchenAid mixer, no matter how powerful.  He recommends kneading by hand – which I’ve done in the past, but had to reconsider this time – my wrists simply could not take handling such  a large amount of dough.

So, I improvised – divided the dough in 4 small portions and… used the food processor to knead it.  Twenty to thirty seconds per portion did the trick, the dough ended up very smooth and elastic, with clear gluten development.

Here are some photos of the process, which, fortunately, went quite smoothly….

The whole wheat starter….

The dough, ready to rise for 4 hours….

The final shaping and slashing…. right before going into the oven…

And the result: a dough with impressive oven spring (I wasn’t expecting that, because I was a little too enthusiastic with my blade and probably slashed it too deeply), tight crumb, complex flavor  (you’ll have to take my word on that one…)…

Don’t you love a happy ending? 😉

as to the second bread:   it did not have as much oven spring, even though I kept it at room temperature for a full 4 hours before baking.   But the flavor was better than the first loaf.

I am submitting this post to Susan’s Yeastspotting….

If you want to see the “real” Poilane…. jump to next page….

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Fruitcakes have a bad reputation because many people find them dry, tasteless and chock full of artificially colored and flavored “fruit” ingredients.   I was  among the anti-fruitcake group, until my beloved introduced me to his recipe,  that originated from Juanita Neilands, the wife of his doctoral adviser, the biochemist Joe Neilands at UC Berkeley.   They’re completely natural, which is consistent with their popularity in the hippie era of the San Francisco Bay area.   Each year Juanita and friends would bake a big bunch of these incredible cakes and distribute them to each of Joe’s lab members.

The remarkable man Joe Neilands passed away a little over a year ago at age 87.  He was an outstanding scientist and political activist, a true free-spirit.   You can read about him here.   In our current lab we still continue the research that he began  decades ago, and in our kitchen we still bake this favorite fruitcake, “an old Southern family recipe”.

(from Juanita Neilands, an old Southern family recipe)

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup flour
4 eggs
1 T vanilla
1/2 cup white grape juice
1 t baking powder
1 lb pitted, chopped dates (unsugared)
(or 1/2 lb dates + 1/2 lb mixed dried fruits of your choice)
1/2 lb dried apricots, chopped
1 lb pecans, chopped
3/4 lb walnuts, chopped (about 3 cups)
optional:  Tawny Port wine

Beat the eggs and sugar together.  If you can only find chopped dates that are coated with sugar, then reduce the sugar by 2 T. Mix in the flour and baking powder, then add vanilla and grape juice.  Dust the dates and apricots with flour, add them to the batter, then add the chopped nuts.    The batter will seem very dry, do not worry about it.

Prepare six mini-loaf pans by greasing them with butter.  Line with 2 layers of parchment paper, greasing each layer.   Spoon the batter into each pan, and decorate the cakes with half walnuts or pecans on top.

Bake at 350F for 50 minutes to 1 hour, and remove the loaves from pans as soon as you can touch the cake.  Remove the parchment paper, and put cakes on a rack over a pan.  Pour Tawny port (or brandy or bourbon), about 2 T each,  over the fruitcakes and and allow them to cool.  Add more Port later, if you desire, and wrap for storage.   Enjoy the cake right away,  or store for several months, if Port wine (or brandy) is added.

Happy Holidays!

to print the recipe, click here

This post will be my first submission to “Bread Baking Day”, this month’s theme is “Baking Under the Tree

for step by step photos and comments, read on….

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You say CAKE, they say “CAAK”

Or…”I say tomato, you say tomaato.” When we lived in Paris our great friend and co-worker sometimes invited us for dinner at his place. We relished those special evenings with he and his wife, who is a beautiful, elegant French woman, and a fantastic cook. The French culture is quite private, so an invitation to dine in someone’s home is a true gesture of friendship. Before the meal she often prepared some “cake“. Cake? To start a meal? Well, it wasn’t a typical American cake, which in France would be a “gateau“. Instead, this kind of cake  (which the French pronounce more or less as “caak” )  is a rich and savory loaf with the approximate texture of a banana bread, usually leavened with baking powder.

We loved those dinners, from the first to the last course (the latter always being a selection of cheeses), but the opening “cakes” were likely my favorite part. When I left France I brought along photocopies of her recipes, and also managed to buy two cookbooks that exclusively describe those savory loaves. Yes, that’s how much I loved them! So, I dedicate this post to our friends, Alain and Corinne!

This version comes from “Sophie’s Sweet and Savory Loaves.” It’s a delicious blend of zucchini and feta cheese. As you can see from the photo, I leave the feta in large chunks… for little bursts of sharpness and flavor.

(adapted from Sophie’s recipe)

2 T olive oil
1 medium zucchini, cut in 1/3-in slices
3 large eggs
1 cup + 2 T all purpose flour, sifted
1 + 3/4 tsp baking powder
salt and black pepper to taste
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk, hot
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
3 T cilantro leaves, minced

Heat the oven to 350F. Grease a loaf pan with butter or shortening.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet and saute the slices of zucchini until they get soft and golden on both sides. Remove from the pan, drain over paper towels to remove excess fat. Reserve.

Combine the eggs, flour, baking powder, 2 pinches of salt and pepper, and beat with an electric mixer until well combined. Add the hot milk and the oil, and beat until smooth. Add the Gruyere cheese, zucchini, feta, and cilantro, mixing well with a wooden spoon or spatula.

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan, bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack, allow it to cool for 15 minutes, then remove the loaf from the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Savory cakes embellish the cooking repertoire of anyone interested in entertaining, potlucks, picnics, brunches, or late night munchies… They are simple to make, and you can add almost anything you wish in the basic mix. Leftover roast chicken? Dice it and add it, maybe with some roasted red peppers and basil… Smoked salmon, ham, black olives, sundried tomatoes, roasted eggplant… they all have their place in such recipes. Just combine flavors that match together, to the delight of your guests.

For this loaf, I prepared the zucchini the day before and saved it in the fridge. Next day, I only had to assemble the ingredients…
… eggs, milk, oil,  flour, feta cheese, sauteed zucchini…

Add them to the prepared loaf pan….

and bake it!

Allow the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes, remove it, slice it, and serve it to your lucky guests!