Chicken breasts… mushrooms…  Marsala wine… what’s not to like? This classic Italian dish is a breeze  to prepare, and a perfect option for a romantic dinner for two.

(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

4 boneless chicken breast filets
salt and pepper
1 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs butter
1 shallot, minced
3 cups of mushrooms, sliced thin
1/2 cup Marsala wine
1/2 cup chicken stock (or water)
minced Italian parsley

If the chicken filets are too thick, slice them in half running the knife parallel to the cutting board, and pressing the filets gently down with the palm of your hand.  Pound them slightly to even the thickness.   Season with salt and pepper.

Heat the butter and olive oil in medium-high heat on a large skillet, when the butter foams and starts to get golden, add the chicken filets and cook until they develop a nice color on both sides (about 4 minutes per side, depending on your stove).  Remove them to a platter, tent with aluminum foil.

Add the diced shallot to the pan (if necessary add a little more olive oil, but you probably won’t need it), cook in medium heat for a couple of minutes, add all the mushrooms and cook stirring every once in a while until they start to get soft. Season lightly with salt, add the Marsala wine, and cook until almost fully absorbed, about 5 minutes.   Add the chicken stock (or water), place the chicken filets back in the pan, cover, and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes or until fully cooked through.

Remove the chicken to a serving platter, increase the heat to reduce the mushroom sauce to the consistency you like.  Optional step: add a couple of tablespoons of cold butter in small pieces, swirling the sauce after each addition.  Adjust seasoning, spoon the sauce over the chicken and sprinkle parsley on top.   Serve immediately.


to print the recipe, click here

I didn’t give a precise source for this recipe, because I’ve been making it for years, the first time I probably got it from one of my cooking books back in Brazil, decades ago.   Some recipes will instruct you to coat the filets in a little seasoned flour.   I prefer the texture of the meat seared without it.  The flour coating does help thicken the sauce in the end, but I don’t mind skipping it.  Similarly, most recipes call for a final addition of butter.  Depending on my mood, I might add it or not.  For this dinner, I omitted it, the sauce was plenty flavorful without it.

I only had regular mushrooms, but if you find creminis or other types of  mushrooms, add them to the party.  Would you be considering a final swirl of truffle oil?  A word of caution:  truffle oil is made by infusing olive oil with  bis-methylthio-methane, a chemical that mimics their taste.  I never buy the stuff, being exposed to enough organic chemicals in my work.  Still, some shaved truffles (the real thing)  on top of this dish could turn that dinner date into “An Affair to Remember”  😉

ONE YEAR AGO:  Home, sweet home

TWO YEARS AGO: Levain Bread with Caramelized Onions

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For the past 14 years I’ve bought a page-a-day dog calendar. I keep it over my desk, and rip the pages as the days go by without ever peeking at what comes next. Arriving at the lab this morning, I was thrilled to finally see the photo we submitted back in 2010.   It is bitter-sweet, we wish Pits was still around, but it’s been almost exactly one year we had to say goodbye to our friend.

PK and SN explain that these goofballs bundle up together as soon as the weather gets a bit chilly. On the ground level is PITS, a Dalamatian, and on the second story is CHIEF, a Jack Russell.


Inspired by Celia, and her monthly edition of “In My Kitchen”,  I join this  virtual party once again with this post.

In my kitchen lives a rice cooker (working on quinoa in this photo)…

When we were in Los Angeles, cooking in the nano-house had a few challenges. One of the things we bought to help us out was a small rice cooker. At first, I did not want to bring it back to our regular home, thinking there would be no need for it. But, the truth is, this little gem of an appliance makes life so easy! I don’t remember last time I cooked rice on the stove top. I rinse the rice in the insert of the cooker, fill it with the appropriate amount of water, season with salt, and flip the switch on. Farro? No problem… Quinoa? Perfect every time. I am so glad Phil twisted my arm to bring it with us! ;-

… and speaking of quinoa,  I must show you one of my favorite gadgets ever!  I bought it many years ago, a simple serving utensil labeled as a couscous server. It is perfect for couscous, but I also use it to fluff rice, quinoa, and other grains.  Here it is, sitting next to two very recent acquisitions: an ice cream scoop on the far right (also great to portion muffin and cupcake batters), and a cookie dough dispenser in the center.  The cookie scoop will be highlighted in a post in the near future, Nutella drop cookies…  (nothing like a little self-advertising!).

Cookies… I’ve been on a cookie mood lately.   Even got a couple of special molds, to make one of my favorite types of cookie – spicy, sweet, crisp, addictive. Stay tuned!  😉

From cookies, let’s talk tea…   While having lunch with my dear friend Cindy at Couscous Cafe, we were both blown away by how good their hot Moroccan tea was.  I am not too wild about sweetened tea, but at some point I stopped paying attention to how much tea I was pouring for myself. I probably drank 90% of the teapot, leaving Cindy to watch, certainly a bit frustrated  with my rude manners.  It was just too good!  They had a tea set for sale, and I brought it home.

In my kitchen…  a bowl of farmer’s market yellow cherry tomatoes, plump, sweet, juicy, totally delicious!  I love to incorporate them in recipes, but sometimes I just grab one and pop in my mouth, no salt, nothing.  Just its pure flavor.

In my kitchen…  a great thing that unfortunately will come to an end. This Trader Joe’s kalamata olive oil will be enjoyed to the very last drop.  It traveled all the way from L.A. with us, and now I wish I had brought two bottles. Or three…   (sigh)

In my kitchen… a sign of the times.  Fall is the season of apples, and with apples come apple cider.  Great stuff, that I had not tried until Phil introduced me to it.  We always go through several bottles this time of the year.  And, for a change of pace, I intend to follow the footsteps of Fer, from Chucrute com Salsicha, and brew some tea using cider as the basis.  She mentioned it recently in her blog. Those who read Portuguese (or you can always use Google translate) can take a look at her post here.

and, finally… in my kitchen these days, an attempt at organization.  I’ve decided to keep only my issues of Fine Cooking.  All other publications I will read, cut out the recipes that appeal to me, and glue them in a notebook.  The rest: recycle bin.  I’ve tried many methods to organize my recipes before, with very limited success.  But, no big deal,  I have a lot of fun trying!   What matters is the journey, not the destination.   Right?    😉

ONE YEAR AGO:  Creamy Broccoli Soup

TWO YEARS AGO: Marbled Rye  (how NOT to make it, that is… 😉

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A lightning-fast dinner to prepare, your best friend on a busy weeknight! At first, I wanted to call it “Healthy Salmon Dinner” or something along those lines, but I am a bit tired of the constant labeling of recipes as “healthy” or “good for you.”  Anything can be good for you if approached the right way.   A slice of apple pie?  No problem.  A slice of apple pie with two scoops of vanilla ice cream drenched in caramel sauce, after a dinner of fried chicken with biscuits and gravy?  Well, not your best option, but if you do it only once in a blue moon, even that is not a crime!  Eat sensibly and enjoy your food…  😉

For this dish, I combined two different recipes, one from Fine Cooking, another  from Food and Wine. As you may have noticed, I cook often from both publications, love them!  Joining salmon, spinach, kalamatas, and raisins might seem like a stretch, but we were both swooning over our plates. Since a little starch never hurt anyone, I made some orzo perfumed with lemon zest as a side dish. Awesome dinner!

(adapted from Fine Cooking & Food and Wine magazines)

4 salmon filets, skin on
1/4 cup honey
4 tsp soy sauce
1 + 1/2 tsp Chinese five spice powder
3 bunches of spinach (16 to 18 oz)
1 shallot, diced
1/3 cup Kalamata olives, halved or diced
1/4 cup golden raisins
squeeze of lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Combine the honey, soy, and five-spice powder in a small bowl, mixing it all well. Put the pieces of salmon, skin side down, on a plate or baking dish just large enough to hold them side by side.  Pour the honey mixture over the salmon, flip them over, so that the skin is now up.   Let them sit in this honey glaze for 15 minutes as you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Meanwhile, turn your oven broiler on.

Place a colander over a bowl or plate near your stove top. Pour a little water on a large non-stick skillet set on medium-high heat.  When the water is very hot, add half of the spinach leaves, and move them around quickly using tongs until they start to wilt.  Transfer them to the colander, and wilt the rest of the spinach leaves the same way. Add them to the colander, and wipe the skillet dry.

Start broiling the salmon.  Place the pieces skin side down on a baking dish lined with foil and slightly coated with a spray of olive oil to prevent sticking.  Brush the top of the salmon with a little of the honey glaze, saving the rest in a small bowl.  Total broiling time will be 5 to 6 minutes, depending on how thick your filets are, and how you like them cooked.

Heat 2 Tbs olive oil in the skillet, when the oil is very hot add the shallots and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the kalamata olives, the raisins, stir them all together for a minute or so. Add the spinach, toss around to warm up, squeeze a little lemon juice all over, and season with salt and pepper.  Remove the spinach mixture to a serving platter, add another squeeze of lemon juice to the honey glaze in the small bowl, add to the skillet over medium heat, until it bubbles and heats through.   Place the broiled salmon over the bed of spinach, drizzle with the honey marinade, and serve.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  You know those bags of baby spinach that sell in the grocery store for 4 bucks (or more), and you must cook at least two bags to feed you and your partner?  You don’t need those.  😉  Recently, a remark by  Rachael Ray in one of her shows perked my interest.  She said that those humble looking spinach bundles, tied together with a  nasty metal string, will work nicely in many preparations.

I got three of those – each for $1.30 – and was very pleased by how they wilted but kept some structure and a more intense taste than their organic baby cousins.   Simply use a large knife and cut them above the string very close to the leaves, to get rid of all the stem part (compost those, if you can).  Drop the leaves in a large bowl (or sink) full of water, swirl them around a few times, and dry in a salad spinner.  They are ready to use.

The salmon – my first time oven-broiling it, by the way – cooked to perfection, the honey in the marinade giving it that irresistible copper tone, and the spinach combined with the olives and raisins, raised the bar of this meal quite a bit.  If you are watching your carbs intake, you can always omit the orzo.

ONE YEAR AGO: Butterscotch Brownies

TWO YEARS AGO: Vegetable Autumn Soup

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Another example of a recipe that blew the doors of the competition once I spotted it at The Fresh Loaf forum. They highlighted this bread on their front page, since it is so unique and gorgeous. My starter was eagerly waiting for a chance to shine, I had wheat germ in the freezer, the only departure from the original recipe was the use of sage instead of rosemary.   Not for gastronomic preference, but because a “certain dog” – who used to wander the streets of Hollywood – destroyed our rosemary plant. The dog has a good lawyer, and is presently free on bail.

(adapted from Ross’ recipe at The Fresh Loaf Forum)

150 g starter (white, 80% hydration)
335 g  water
490 g bread flour
20 g toasted wheatgerm
2 Tbs  fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
9 g  salt
Mix all ingredients, except the salt, until they form a shaggy mass, no need to worry with kneading yet.   Let it rest undisturbed for 40 minutes at room temperature.

Place the dough on a lightly oiled surface,  open flatten it out slightly, sprinkle the salt all over, and knead a few times to distribute the salt.  Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover, let it sit for 1 hour.    Knead by stretching and folding a few times –  it will feel very smooth and easy to fold – put back in the bowl and let it rise 1 hour.   Repeat the stretch and fold one more time, cover the dough and let it rise for 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Form the dough into a ball, place it in a floured banetton type container, cover it and place in the fridge overnight.

Remove from the fridge 1 hour and 30 minutes before baking.  Bake in a 450F oven, using your favorite method to generate steam.  After 20 minutes, reduce the temperature to 425F, and bake for a total of 40-45 minutes. If you baked the bread covering with a roasting pan, remove the cover after 30 minutes.

Let it cool for at least 2 hours before slicing.


to print the recipe, click here

What a delicious loaf of bread this one turned out to be!  I used very little sage because it is such a strong-tasting herb, so its flavor was barely noticeable.  This bread would be great at a Thanksgiving dinner.  The wheat germ lends a bit of moisture to the crumb, allowing it to last longer than your regular sourdough.

The crust, hearty and crunchy, was covered with those tiny blisters that make the baker very happy.  Inside, the crumb was open, airy, and light. Cannot ask for much more than that…  😉

I am submitting this post to Susan’s Yeastspotting, please make sure to stop by and marvel at her weekly display of breads. I know my Friday is not complete without it!

ONE YEAR AGO: Polenta-Crust Tomato Loaf

TWO YEARS AGO: Watermelon Granita

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When I married Phil, an avid runner, I started running too, and I got hooked on it.  Back in 2006  we both ran a marathon (my first, his second).   I felt like a million bucks and I hoped to do it again and again… and again.   But, my left knee had a different opinion, and after a few fights with it I had to accept that my days of long distance running were over.  What a bummer.

Sometimes, though, one door closes and another opens.  While struggling with my running blues,  I heard a grad student in our lab talking about this ultra-fitness program called P90X.  I though it could be something fun to try for a change.   Two years and 3 months later its become my main weapon to keep in shape, and to be able to enjoy all the food I like to cook, particularly the breads.  😉   So, if you’ve seen and wondered about the infomercials of featuring Tony Horton, the guru behind P90X (Power-90 days-Extreme),  I invite you to join me  for a virtual walk through the system.

First of all,  is the system appropriate for anyone?
I’ll say upfront that P90X is not suited for those who haven’t exercised in a long time.  From my experience,  to go for it you should be able to jog for 20 minutes, to be capable of at least 20  sit-ups, and to reach the average number of push-ups for your age and gender (consult this table for  the general idea).  It will also help to have some flexibility, but it’s not essential.  I had none to speak of when I started.

P90X comes as 13 DVDs,  a couple of booklets describing the full nutrition program, and a transcript of each video. The exercises progress through Phases I, II, and III, each lasting 4 weeks.  They differ in the nutrition aspect,  and also  the exercises.  I’ll review the exercises of Phase I, which covers the basics;  phase 2 involves heavier weight training and more complex push-ups and pull-ups.  If you are interested then the first thing you must decide is which of the three programs to follow.   I went with the  “Classic”, geared for people who are not necessarily looking to lose weight, only get stronger.  Alternatives are the  “Lean” routine (less emphasis on weight training),  and “Doubles” (with two exercise sessions daily).   Doubles is obviously for those endowed with supernatural powers.

(58 minutes + 15 min Ab-Ripper)
This is a great routine:  a balanced mixture of push-ups, pull-ups and exercises with weights. A pull-up bar is not essential, you can use elastic bands instead, but I tell you that nothing beats pulling up the whole weight of your body, so consider investing in a bar as you improve your fitness level.  Women can do pull-ups by pushing off the back of a chair with one foot to help support the body until they (I mean… we!) develop enough strength to do a few without.

“Don’t say “I cannot do pull-ups…”
say  “I presently struggle with

(Tony Horton, in Chest and Back)

You’ll be doing several  styles of push-ups, including diamonds (my personal favorite!), and dive-bombers (hard but fun).  In between them you go to the pull-up bar and do what you can, using different grips, which targets different muscles on your back, shoulders and arms (chin-ups, wide front pull-ups, closed-grip pull-ups).  When the 58 minutes are over the DVD takes you straight to the abdominal routine, Ab-Ripper X (discussed at  the end of my review).

Plyometrics is jump training.  This workout took me by surprise, because as a runner I thought that any other aerobic exercise would be cake.  Instead, some of the moves  (jumping knee-tucks, guitar jumps, just to name a couple)  left me begging for mercy.  The exercises are grouped in sets of 4;  the first three you do for 30 seconds, the fourth exercise is one-minute long.  Each sequence of 4 exercises is repeated once right away, then comes a little break to collect your lungs from the floor, and a new 4-move routine starts, for a total of 5 different sets.

You can do ANYTHING for 30 seconds, right?
(Tony Horton, in Plyometrics)

Children jump all the time  as they play, but as we get older, we stop jumping.  We might walk fast, jog, even run, but jumping is one activity that disappears from our repertoire.   With plyometrics, you slowly bring that skill back, and your level of fitness will increase quite a bit from doing it.  Plyo is quite a strenuous routine for the back, knees, and ankles, so if you have back or leg problems, then consider modifying all the moves to a lower impact version, demonstrated in the video by the beautiful Pam.  A great review of all exercises  in plyometrics can be found here.

(59 minutes + 15 min Ab-Ripper)
This is the easiest of all the series.  My advice for the ladies: don’t be afraid of using a heavy weight.  Women are in no risk of bulking up, we don’t have enough testosterone to turn into a She-Hulk.   Get a weight that makes the 3 last repetitions really hard to complete.  And once you get comfortable with those dumbells, move to heavier ones.

The exercises are varied, fun, and challenging if you use the right weight.  At the end of this routine, you move to Ab-Ripper, for 15 minutes of final bliss… 😉

(1 h 32 min)
P90X yoga  kicked my butt, shoved my face in the mud and made me feel miserable.  I vividly remember the beginning, when I had to stop and just stare at the screen, shaking my head in disbelief that those people could bring their bodies into those positions and hold them for 30 seconds or longer.   I had little flexibility, and not enough core strength and balance to face any of the moves after the 30 minute mark.  I intensely hated it. Hard to believe it became one of my favorites!

This is not a competition: do your best, and forget the rest!
(Tony Horton, in YogaX)

If you are into “real yoga,”   you may not like the P90 version of it, because Tony takes a few liberties with the concept.  I do it for the physical challenge, and I don’t let the absence of meditation and relaxation components bother me.  It helped me tremendously in overall strength, flexibility, and balance.

(52 min + 15 min Ab-Ripper)
Three words: Not for sissies.  😉 Tony brings back the pull-ups, and you’ll do four different kinds, together with many hard exercises for the legs: lunges, balance lunges, “sneaky lunges” (performed on the tip of your toes for what seems to last an eternity), wall sits (regular and the cruel single-legged variation), and a few aerobic moves similar to those from plyometrics. Next day you won’t be able to take Mr. Horton off your mind. His words will still be burning your ears, but not nearly as much as the burning in your leg muscles, I’m afraid…

As if that wasn’t enough, Ab-Ripper closes the deal. When I do this complete routine I start with the Ab-Ripper because it’s just too hard to do it following Legs & Back.  Keep that in mind, maybe this small adaptation will help you out too.

(58 min)
Kenpo is kickboxing.  The more I did it, the more I liked it! Apart from a long warm up that I skip without even feeling guilty, I love everything about it. Kenpo starts with simple moves involving the upper body, four different kinds of hits, performed 25 times with each arm, but the whole body is engaged at some level, as you are supposed to hit with your hips too. Next come the kicks, in several directions and speeds, and other moves mixing upper and lower body.   When you do Kenpo with enthusiasm – and it’s hard not to, with the music to pump you up –  you’ll experience a full body workout that is fun, intense, and will leave you pleasantly sore next day.

No rest with Kenpo. The five sets of moves are separated by a “break” that is anything but:  you’ll jog in place, jump rope, and do jumping jacks to loosen up before the next group of exercises.

(15 minutes)
I don’t have enough adjectives to praise this one!  I am addicted to the Ab-ripper, having tried many ab-programs before.   In my opinion, no other routine is equally  effective. Tony planned 11 exercises, each performed 25 times, that hit the muscles from different angles, for a fantastic mid-waist workout that will also target your legs.

Hit the pause button if you need it, stick with us if you can….
(Tony Horton, Ab-ripper) 

Since during the program you will be facing the Ab-ripper at the end of other series, it will never be easy, but if you do it barefoot, it’s a little less gruesome. Sorry, Tony…   I still do my best each time, but my best comes easier without shoes!  😉

It is easy to start the program obsessing about wrapping it up in 90 days, a task that is not easy, both physically and mentally.   The way I see it now, after doing it  for more than 2 years, P90X can be your exercise of choice in the long run.  By following the routines in a more relaxed pace you can get all the benefits from it without inflicting excessive pain to your body.   Take breaks.  Allow your muscles to fully recover, and enjoy the ride.

After completing two series, I now pick and choose the routines more or less according to my mood and what feels “right” that day,  with the goal of training 4 times per week, sometimes I might go for 5, depending on other activities like running. For added variety, I also like the 10 minute-trainer with Tony Horton,  a life-saver in very busy days.

But, I’m saving the best for last: will release P90X2  in December, and I HAD  to pre-order it!  I couldn’t resist it, after reading this review.  I intend to follow my own advice and take a Zen approach to it. Take it easy, and enjoy the ride!   Stay tuned…  😉

ONE YEAR AGOProtocol for a 15 minute dinner

TWO YEARS AGO: Cauliflower au Gratin

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Football season is just starting in this country, so if you tuned into FoodTV last weekend you’d have noticed that most shows featured “game food,” stuff you can serve for friends who come over to watch that big match.  Giada joined the party too, one of the dishes featured in her show was chicken adobo, a recipe from a Filipino friend of hers, using chicken drumsticks.  I liked the marinade with its strong vinegar component,  but changed the method of cooking a bit. After a slow braising, I moved the dish to the oven, blasted it at high temperature to crisp up the skin.  I also included chicken thighs because they happen to be the best part of the bird. By far.

(adapted from Giada de Laurentiis)

3/4 cup white wine vinegar
3/4 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup light brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 dried bay leaves
4  chicken drumsticks
4 chicken thighs
1 + 1/2 cups  chicken broth
2 tablespoons arrowroot
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 2 large limes)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
chopped fresh parsley or cilantro (optional)

Make the marinade by combining in a medium bowl the vinegar, soy, sugar, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Whisk until the sugar is completely dissolved, add the bay leaves.

Arrange the chicken in a single layer in a glass baking dish. Pour the marinade over the chicken and refrigerate for 2 hours, turning the chicken over halfway through.

Place the chicken and marinade in a Dutch oven and add the chicken broth. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 1 hour, turning the chicken every 20 minutes, until cooked through.  Transfer the chicken to a baking dish, add some of the cooking liquid over it, and place in a 450F oven.

Meanwhile, reduce the marinade to make a sauce.  Remove and discard the bay leaves and the garlic cloves.  Whisk the arrowroot in  1/8 cup of water, add it together with the lime juice into the Dutch oven. Cook until the mixture thickens, about 5  minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

When the chicken is well browned, and the skin crisp, transfer to a serving dish, and pour some of the thickened sauce around it.  Sprinkle with fresh herbs, if using.


to print the recipe, click here

I love the slightly acidic kick given by the vinegar in this dish.  At first I was a bit wary of using a 50/50 proportion of vinegar to soy, but it worked quite well for our taste.  The chicken melts apart, but the final blast in the oven ensures that the skin won’t be mushy.  I served it with sauteed zucchini, but a more traditional approach – which I recommend – would be white rice.  Come to think of it, sweet potatoes would complement it well too.  Any chicken leftover can be shredded into tortillas, a little salsa on the side, another great option while watching the big game.  Or your favorite cooking show… 😉

ONE YEAR AGO:  Shrimp in Moroccan-Style Tomato Sauce

TWO YEARS AGO: Golden Zucchini: A Taste of Yellow

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