Photo courtesy of  PJG, thanks!

With this bread, I completed the BBA CHALLENGE!

For a PDF version, click here (breads are ranked from one to five stars)

A big thank you to Nicole for setting up this event, and of course to Peter Reinhart for his wonderful book.  I’ve had it many years, but never imagined that one day I’d say that “…I baked them all!”


This last bread took 3 days to prepare.  The sourdough sponge, made on the first day, was mixed and shaped on the second day, and  after a night in the fridge it was topped with roasted onions and grated asiago cheese, then finally baked.   I made a half  recipe, which was still  enough for one  big round loaf.

The onions can be prepared the day before…

and added to the bread 30 minutes before baking ….

The dough contains a lot of grated asiago cheese,  so each bite acquires its sharp flavor, mellowed  by the sweet roasted onions.   What a beautiful combination!

You can check the Roasted Onion Asiago bread made by Oggi (the first baker to complete BBA Challenge) by clicking here….

Our five favorite breads from the challenge were:
Potato, Cheddar, and Chive Torpedo
Roasted Onion and Asiago Miche
Vienna Bread
New York Deli Rye
Potato Rosemary Bread

To all my virtual fellow challengers baking along this tasty path, have fun with it.   I’ll be watching and cheering for you!  😉


…. Get out of the steak you’re in! 😉

We don’t often dine out, simply because we prefer to cook at home:  it’s less expensive, less caloric and more satisfying.  The only real exception is sushi, which I don’t attempt to make.   But,  if a restaurant menu offers “seared tuna,”  then that’s usually my selection!   I like  it served cold (our local sushi restaurant makes a killer seared tuna salad with creme fraiche and wasabi dressing), I like it served warm (over pasta, rice, or soba noodles), and I feel great after eating it.  Seared tuna is a fantastic, weeknight-friendly dish:   ten minutes tops from the refrigerator to plating.

I slightly adapted this recipe from “The Improvisational Cook“, by Sally Schneider, and served it with a crispy potato / spinach / escarole salad based on this recipe.   It’s a healthy, tasty dinner, that reinforced my infatuation with seared tuna.

(adapted from Sally Schneider)

2 ahi-tuna steaks (sushi-quality)
3-inch piece of ginger, sliced very thin
3 Tbs peanut oil
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup cracked coriander seeds
1/16 cup nigella seeds
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil over medium heat in a small saucepan. Add the ginger slices and cook over low heat for 7-8 minutes until the ginger is crisp. Transfer to paper towels with a slotted spoon, season lightly with salt, and reserve the ginger slices and the oil.

Place the sesame seeds, cracked coriander, and nigella seeds in a plate. Season the tuna steaks with salt and pepper, then press both sides of the steaks on the seeds mixture.

Heat the ginger oil in a non-stick skillet until hot, but not smoking. Place the steaks in the oil, and cook for 90 seconds on each side for medium-rare. Transfer to a cutting board, slice with a sharp knife, scatter the crispy ginger, and serve.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: If you can’t find top-quality tuna steaks, then don’t attempt this recipe.  The fish will be nearly raw in the middle, so only the best quality tuna will rise to the challenge. If you prefer it a little more cooked, then give it an additional 30 seconds on each side, but avoid over-cooking.

To crack the coriander seeds I placed them in a small ziplock bag and used a meat mallet. Be gentle because they crack easily; you don’t want to turn them into powder.   Other mixtures also work well, like cracked black pepper or mustard seeds.  Nuts easily burn, but the searing takes less than 2 minutes,  so it’s not a problem as long as the oil isn’t smoking hot.

I’d never tried crispy ginger, and my husband thought it was a bit strong, but I liked it a lot.  Cut the slices as thin as possible.  The mandoline didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, so I ultimately used my chef’s knife.  Amazingly enough, I still have all ten fingers. 😉     Even if you don’t like the fried ginger, it is worth making it for the infused oil.

And now for something completely different…. savor this!


Like many other cookaholics, we love dinner parties with friends and colleagues. It’s fun designing the menu, fun to shop for the ingredients, and fun to plan the preparation/presentation strategy for the meal.  Over the years we’ve learned some “tricks” that make life easier:  advance preparation; practicing the exotic dishes beforehand, so as to avoid using guests as guinea pigs; balancing the  labor-intensive and easy dishes.   This appetizer – that I found at Stephen Cooks! –  falls into the “trouble-free” category, to the point that, as Stephen put it  “it’s so simple that it feels like cheating“.

The secret is the use of commercial puff pastry, a life-saver in the kitchens of those who enjoy entertaining.   By all means, make your own if you prefer – but,  in this recipe the pastry is only a “crostini”, so the frozen product works well and saves time and effort.

(adapted from Stephen Cooks!)

1 sheet frozen puff pastry dough
4 Tbs shredded Parmeggiano Reggiano cheese
2 Tbs tomato paste
1 clove garlic, minced
8 black oil-cured olives, minced
2 Tbs minced parsley (or other fresh herb of your preference)
1 egg yolk
1 tsp water
salt to taste
4 medium sundried tomatoes, chopped

Allow the pastry sheet to thaw at room temperature, until flexible enough to unfold. Cut in 12 rectangles. Place the cut pieces on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, Silpat, or use a non-stick baking sheet.

Mix the cheese, tomato paste, garlic, olives and herbs. Season to taste. Beat the egg yolk with the water and brush the egg wash on the pastry rectangles.

Spread the cheese mixture on each and then top with a few pieces of the sundried tomato. Bake in a 400F oven for 12 minutes or until the pasty is golden brown. Allow to cool five minutes before serving.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: When I prepared the cheese mixture  it seemed a little too heavy on the tomato.   But, it wasn’t a problem, and I slightly increased the black olives;   otherwise I kept the recipe as Stephen posted it .    This spread will also work on “real” crostini, of course, but the puff pastry makes the recipe special.

Here they are, ready to go into the oven.  I cut the pastry using a ravioli cutter like this one.


With my heart beating fast in anticipation, I am thrilled to say:   forty-two breads down,  ONE to go!

This bread is definitely one of my favorites, for several reasons. First,  it uses a sourdough starter, which already makes me pretty excited about it.  Second, it contains potatoes, a great addition to this kind of bread,  as they give it moisture and a texture hard to reproduce in any other way.    Third, it takes cheese rolled in the middle of the loaf.  No need to explain the positive aspects of this.  Too obvious for words.   Did the recipe rise to my expectations?

Oh, YESSSS!  😉

This was not a difficult bread to make.  Because the dough takes a mixture of sourdough starter and commercial yeast, it rises quite fast: the whole process – from mixing the dough to baking – took just a little over 3 hours!   I used the full amount of potato water called for, hoping for a more open crumb.   Instead of kneading, I folded the dough twice, at 20 and 40 minutes, then allowed it to rise undisturbed for another hour.

Here are a couple of shots from the loaf right after shaping, and before going into the oven.

I am sure I’ll be making this bread again and again.  At first, my husband said he would prefer it without chives, but after a few bites,  he agreed that they add a special flavor, quite unique.  This is an impressive loaf, that would be perfect with an Italian-inspired meal.

Please visit these links to see my fellow friends who already baked #42:

For Oggi’s blog, click here.

For Paul’s blog, click here.

I am submitting this post to Susan’s Yeastspotting event, Special Holiday Edition.


Cornish hens always create a special occasion: they are festive and elegant, but simple to prepare.  After a long session of browsing through cookbooks the pistachio dressing in a recipe from Pam Anderson grabbed my attention.  Pistachio nuts.  I adore them so much that I actually avoid buying them, because after opening the bag with the intention of having just three or four, I usually end up eating them until my fingers are bruised from opening the shells! They are the antithesis of “Everything in moderation”.   Now, imagine a recipe that pairs pistachio nuts and dried apricots… Irresistible!

(adapted from Pam Anderson)

2 Cornish hens
1 cup kosher salt
salt and pepper for seasoning
2 T olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 cup dried apricots, diced
1/4 cup apricot jam (I substituted fig jam)
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup pistachio nuts, chopped
1/2 cup minced parsley

Heat the oven to 450F.

Butterfly the hens but cutting through the middle of the backbone and removing it.  Lay the hens on a cutting board, breast side up, and flatten them using the palm of your hand.

Dissolve the kosher salt in 2.5 quarts of cold water to make a brining solution.  Brine the birds in the fridge for 1.5 hours.   Remove them from the brine, rinse, and dry them.

Sautee the onions in oil until very soft. Stir in the apricots, then spread the apricot-onion mixture in a baking dish.  Season the hens with black pepper, and lay them on top.  You may tie the legs together to keep them in a nice shape.

Mix the jam and balsamic vinegar in a small bowl, then brush most of the mixture on the hens.  Place them in the oven, add a little water to the baking dish to prevent burning the apricot mixture.  Bake for about 45 minutes, brushing with the leftover jam mixture as well as the liquid accumulating in the roasting pan.  After 45 minutes turn on the broiler to crisp the skin, but watch closely, because the sugar in the jam will easily burn.

Remove the hens, tent them with aluminum foil, and if you find the apricot mixture too watery, then return it to the oven or transfer it to a pan and reduce it slightly on top of the stove.  Stir in the pistachios and parsley, and serve with the hens.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: A few weeks ago I bought a pair of kitchen shears, and wish I’d done so long, long ago… Butterflying hens (or chickens) with a chef’s knife has always been too difficult, but my new toy made this step fast and easy. The backbones and wing tips are in the freezer awaiting their opportunity in my next batch of homemade stock.

Many side dishes jive with this recipe: mashed potatoes, soft cooked polenta, saffron rice or couscous, but this time I just cooked some orzo, served with a light olive oil and lemon dressing. Homemade crusty potato bread was a perfect complement.

Word of caution: the dressing is quite sweet, so go light on the amount you spoon alongside the meat. I intend to play around with the recipe a little, to come up with a slightly less sweet version.

Apart from shelling the pistachios (a tough job when you need 1/2 cup but they keep disappearing in thin air), the recipe is a breeze to make, and will certainly impress whoever is sharing the meal with you…

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