My second “assignment” at the Secret Recipe Club was the blog “I am a Honey Bee”. I had a lot of fun browsing through its pages, starting on the “About Me” chapter with a list of 25 things about her. A few matched me so well I had to smile:  “I hate the cold, REALLY hate the cold…”   or “I went to Greece, fell in love with everything I saw, ate, smelled, touched…” …. and  “I get frustrated too easily, I’m sorta working on that one”   (good to know I’m not alone in this!  😉

Even though I spent quite a bit of time reading her blog,  it took me about 35 seconds to choose her  Wild Mushroom Risotto.  It is the perfect time of the year for it, plus I had two special ingredients already at home: porcini mushrooms, and home made chicken stock. All I needed was to stop at the store for two more types of mushrooms  (fresh shiitake and white), and I was ready to have some serious fun.   On a small departure from her recipe, I used the pressure cooker to make it, and with this statement I just irritated all serious risotto enthusiasts, but trust me: it is a nice trick to have up your sleeve.  Still, I’ll give you the two variations, as not everyone has a pressure cooker at home.

(Traditional Method)
(adapted from “I am a Honey Bee“)

1 cup very hot water
1/4 ounce dried wild mushrooms, such as porcini
9 ounces assorted fresh mushrooms
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped shallots
1 cup Arborio or rice
8 sage leaves, finely julienned, divided
1/2 cup dry white wine
5 – 7 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
4 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup grated Parmegiano cheese, plus more for serving
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Soak the dried mushrooms in 1 cup of very hot water for 30 minutes.  Remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon, chop them finely.  Filter the water through a sieve to remove any grit, and add it to the chicken (or veggie) stock in a medium size pan, keep it at a simmer on very low heat.

Chop the fresh mushrooms.   Heat 2  tablespoons of oil in heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until translucent. Add the mushrooms, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook until tender and all moisture has been absorbed.   Add half the sage and the rice, cook stirring, until the grains are well coated, and start to get some color – 3 to 4 minutes.

Add wine. Cook, stirring, until wine is absorbed by rice. Using a ladle, add 3/4 cup hot stock to rice. Stir rice constantly, at a moderate speed. When rice has absorbed most but not all of liquid and mixture is just thick enough to leave a clear wake behind the spoon when stirring, add another 3/4 cup stock.

Continue adding stock and stirring constantly, until rice is mostly translucent but still opaque in center. Add the porcini mushrooms, and continue cooking until rice is al dente, but not crunchy. Remove from heat, stir butter, remaining sage leaves, and Parmigiano cheese. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and serve, with additional shaved cheese on top, if so desired.

to print the recipe (traditional method), click here

(Pressure Cooker)

1 cup very hot water
1/4 ounce dried wild mushrooms, such as porcini
4 tablespoons olive oil
2  tablespoons butter, divided
1/2 cup shallots, diced
9  ounces assorted fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 cup Arborio rice
8 fresh sage leaves, finely julienned, divided
3 + 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano cheese

Soak the dried mushrooms in 1 cup of very hot water for 30 minutes.  Remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon, chop them finely.  Filter the water through a sieve to remove any grit, and add it to the chicken (or veggie) stock in a medium size pan, keep it at a simmer on very low heat.

In a pressure cooker, heat 4 tbs Olive oil and 1 Tbs Butter. Add the shallots and saute until translucent and fragrant. Add the mushrooms, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook until they start to get soft.

Add half the sage and the  rice, cook stirring until all grains are well coated with the oil/mushroom mixture (about 3 minutes).  Pour all the hot stock and wine  in the pan, close it, and bring to full pressure. Reduce the heat or use the specific instructions from your pan to keep the pressure constant for 7 minutes.  Immediately take the pan to the sink, run some cold water over the lid to reduce the temperature, and when the pressure is down, open the pan.  If there’s still too much liquid, cook gently, stirring until it reaches the consistency you like.  Test the rice to make sure it’s cooked through, add the tablespoon of butter, the remaining sage leaves, and the Parmigiano  cheese, adjust seasoning, and serve.


to print the pressure cooker method recipe, click here

Comments:  One of the reasons I like the pressure cooker method is the ability to know exactly when the recipe will be ready, as it makes entertaining a lot easier.  I’ve made risotto using this basic method many times, and it never failed me.  In seven minutes, the rice is perfectly cooked, and usually the amount of liquid remaining in the pan is very close to perfect.   My main problem with risotto is taking the picture, I am a bit slow and the rice goes on absorbing the liquid. By the time I am satisfied with the photo, it’s a little passed its prime.. .  😉

This recipe is delicious, no matter the method you choose to make it.  Porcini will always turn any meal into a festive occasion, and I think the sage goes well with it too.

Make sure you stop by “I am a Honey Bee” to check all her other recipes, and if you want to see all other posts in today’s reveal day follow the links by clicking in the icon below (the little blue toad).

ONE YEAR AGO: Tartine Bread: Basic Country Loaf

TWO YEARS AGO: Pumpkin Pie, Light as a Feather

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This post could also be called “How We Spent Thanksgiving,” although the order of events would be reversed … in that the turkey came last.  😉

Tryptophan and Sleep.  Everyone is familiar with that sleepy feeling after the big Thanksgiving meal, that’s often blamed on the presence of the amino acid tryptophan in the bird’s meat. Tryptophan can be metabolized by our body to produce melatonin and seratonin, and both substances have known calming effects.  However, for tryptophan to cause sleepiness, it must be consumed in pure form and on an empty stomach, a situation far from reality at the Thanksgiving table. Oddly enough, turkey meat contains about the same amount of  tryptophan as other types of poultry, and actually less (on a percentage basis) than items such as chocolate, oats, milk, or peanuts.  Its bad reputation is unfair!  😉

The sleepy feeling associated with a big meal in fact results from a combination of factors, in which the tryptophan only plays a partial role.  Meals with a high carbohydrate content induce the production of insulin, which is responsible for the control of sugar metabolism, but also for changes in the way amino acids are absorbed from the bloodstream.  In the presence of insulin some amino acids are preferentially removed from circulation and absorbed by muscle cells, but tryptophan is not part of that group, so its relative concentration in the blood increases. Some of the tryptophan is converted into serotonin, and this compound makes a person sleepy.  Of course, a large, carbo-loaded meal coupled with a few glasses of wine (or other alcoholic beverages) just adds to the overall desire to take a nap.

Tryptophan and Fluorescence.  Tryptophan has an interesting characteristic: it is fluorescent!  When it is excited by light, a fluorescent substance subsequently emits light.  It’s almost like a happy diner opening a huge smile when the turkey is served… 😉   All proteins contain tryptophan, some in higher proportions than others.  By purifying a particular protein we can measure its fluorescence in the laboratory using a fancy, $150,000 instrument called a fluorometer.   Here is the little station where I spent a few hours on  Thanksgiving Day:

A close up of the computer screen shows what the fluorescence measurement looks like:  a curve with a peak, a “mountain-like”shape, and the height of the peak is related to the amount of light emitted by the  protein.

The whole idea is to study the protein by adding different substances to it and  observing how the fluorescence changes.  The purified protein, as well as anything else added to it, is placed inside an expensive, transparent cell called a “cuvette,”  made of an optical-quality quartz glass that allows the passage of light without any interference.

But, after the work was done, the equipment was shut down, and the reagents were put away, we enjoyed a great Thanksgiving meal!  We met many interesting people and had fun with four strong-willed golden retrievers, one of whom had a remarkable ability to jump up and gently steal a cracker with brie cheese from your hand.    😉

ONE YEAR AGO: The Ultimate Apple Cake

TWO YEARS AGO: Trouble-Free Pizza Dough

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For those in the US, who celebrate the date, have a wonderful day!   I wish I had a lot of cooking to share with you, but we will be pampered guests this year again.  I heard our boss’ daughter will be bringing her signature butternut squash soup to the get-together, and his wife will make her family’s turkey recipe and the usual side dishes.  Can hardly wait!

If they had allowed us to bring something to the meal, I’d probably make this delicious sweet potato and carrot puree, so I leave you with a little flash-back from a previous post in the Bewitching Kitchen.

For the full post with recipe, click here


My favorite fish is Chilean Sea Bass, but it’s not at all easy to find. If you are fortunate enough to live in a place that carries this delicacy, use it in this recipe.  If you face the same fishy situation we do  (sorry, could not resist the pun)  cod,  or any firm-fleshed white fish will work well here.  Including the prep work, this delicious main dish will be ready in 20 minutes tops.  My kind of weeknight meal.  And, since we are on the subject, here is a link to an article listing the 5 seafood items you should never eat, that I first saw over at Chucrute com Salsicha (thanks, Fer!).  Keep that in mind when you go shopping.

(from Cooking New American, Martha Holmberg)

1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
2 Tbs chopped fresh tarragon
2 tsp grated lemon zest
1 Tbs melted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cod fillets  (about 1 inch thick)
1 tsp Dijon mustard

Heat the oven to 450°F.

Mix the crumbs, tarragon, lemon zest, melted butter, and a little salt and pepper in a small bowl.

Spread each fillet with 1/4 teaspoon mustard and season with salt and pepper. Carefully pat the crumb topping over the surface of each fillet, pressing lightly so it sticks.

Brush a little oil onto a small baking sheet or shallow baking pan and set the fillets on the oiled spot (or cover the pan with parchment paper). Bake the fish in the hot oven until the topping is golden brown and crisp and the fish is tender  (10 to 15 minutes). If the topping seems to be getting too dark before the fish is cooked, turn the heat down to 375°F.

Serve immediately, and… ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  For this recipe, you must use fresh tarragon, the dried version would not deliver the same flavor. We were amazed to find out that our tarragon plant had survived our absence during the last year in Los Angeles, when it was completely ignored outside, enduring a very harsh winter.  Maybe it is added proof of our lousy gardening skills: the less we mess with a plant, the better it thrives.  Something to consider for next year…

This recipe is a keeper.  Other herbs and spices can take it in slightly different directions, so have fun with it, using panko crumbs and melted butter as your white canvas.  I imagine olive oil would work just as well, and intend to use it next time in place of butter.  The fish is protected by the crumbs from the high heat in the oven, ending up moist and tender. The crumb crust is so delicious I had to resist peeling it off the second piece, leaving the fish naked for my lunch next day.  😉

ONE YEAR AGO:  Soba Noodles: Light and Healthy

TWO YEARS AGO: Potato-Rosemary Bread

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We are back in California, to work for two weeks in the lab at UCLA, continuing  experiments in our collaboration with Dr. Kaback.  Thanksgiving week will be a little unusual, instead of taking some time off and preparing a nice dinner, we will be working, but  it is for a good cause, so we don’t mind.  Plus, we got to be invited for Thanksgiving dinner at the boss’ home, and of course we look forward to it!

Last year, when we were in the nano-house, I often took the dogs for a walk up and down the many hilly streets around Beverly Glen Blvd.  We managed to rent a guest house (another tiny place, but with a much better kitchen ;-)) on a street in the hills.  When we arrived here, I was thrilled to see that I used to walk all the way up to this very house, and admire the view.   It is a very  quiet spot, nothing around except the woods and the view of the Beverly Glen canyon below.

The Bewitching Kitchen might have a small slow down, but nothing too serious. I’ve got a couple of posts to publish from last week in our own kitchen, and might be able to pull one or two meals made here. Who knows?  Stay tuned!


As I promised in my review of “Short and Sweet,”  here is the recipe I selected to break in the book, so to speak.  Most people would imagine I’d choose a bread, and indeed many were calling my name. But when I set my eyes on this recipe,  I became like a Jack Russel chasing a squirrel, oblivious to everything else.  How could I possibly resist?  In his opening remarks, Dan states that if Carmen Miranda had some ripe bananas laying around, she would bake these blondies.  The rich, white chocolate & banana cake hide little jewels inside, toffee bits made with Brazil nuts.   Cannot go more Brazilian than that, unless you throw in some coffee, but I suppose that would give the blondie too much of a tan.  😉

(published with permission from Dan Lepard)

to make the toffee:
75g superfine sugar
2 Tbs cold water
75g Brazil nuts, chopped

for the blondies:
100g unsalted butter
250g fine sugar
200g white chocolate
1 egg
2 ripe bananas, peeled (200-250g)
2 tsp vanilla extract
200g all purpose flour
¼ tsp baking powder

Lightly coat with oil a small baking sheet. Reserve. Place the fine sugar and the water inside a small pan. Turn the heat to medium, bring the water to a boil, and gently let it boil until the sugar turns a very dark golden color, but don’t let it burn.  Immediately drop the chopped nuts inside, and stir with a silicone spatula or another appropriate tool.  Carefully but quickly pour the mixture over the prepared baking sheet, spreading it around.  Let it cool completely, then chop the toffee into small bits. Reserve.

Resist the temptation to try the toffee. Do not touch it!

Line the base and sides of an 8 inch (20 cm)  square baking dish with parchment paper and heat the oven to 375 F. If using a non-stick pan you can skip the parchment paper, but coat the pan with a little butter to prevent sticky issues.

Heat the butter and white chocolate stirring gently in a pan over very low heat until melted (or use the microwave in short 10 second cycles of heating), then transfer to a medium size bowl. Add the remaining (250g) sugar and beat with the egg, bananas and vanilla until smooth. Sift the flour and baking powder, add to the batter together with the toffee bits, folding it all gently.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and bake for about 35 minutes, until golden on top.   If you shake the pan slightly, the center portion should still be slightly wobbly, but mostly set. Cool it completely before slicing in small squares.


to print the recipe, click here

This was my first time making toffee, and quite likely the first time tasting some made from scratch.  I had no idea it would be so amazing!  I am not that fond of Brazil nuts,  so I tried a small bite of the toffee to decide whether to add it or skip it.  The stars in the sky had never been so bright!  It was unbelievably tasty: sweet, crunchy, nutty, enough to make me lose all my composure and disregard my own motto of “everything in moderation.”   Moderation and this toffee don’t match.

Back to the blondies. These  are certainly worthy of Carmen Miranda‘s approval, tropical bits of tender cake, with intense banana flavor, the creaminess of the white chocolate, and the sweet crunch of the toffee surprising the palate at every bite.

Pointers for success:  Check the weight of the banana(s) so that you don’t go over the 250g mark.  Do not use over-ripe bananas from the freezer, because they tend to release too much liquid and the cake may not set properly.

Here’s what Carmen would tell you:

Make a double batch of the toffee.  Sprinkle some over vanilla ice cream.
Close your eyes and take a spoonful.

Carmen Miranda (1909-1955)

ONE YEAR AGO: Show-stopping Spaghetti and Meatballs

TWO YEARS AGO: Magical Lamb Stew with Parsnips, Prunes, and Chickpeas

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No, this is not an autobiographic post!  😉  Even though I like to think the name fits me to a T, “Short and Sweet” is actually Dan Lepard’s new cookbook. The moment I learned of its upcoming publication, I pre-ordered it at   Do I live in England?  No, not even close.  Would I wait for its US printing?  No way!  And I am thrilled to have it.

My first surprise was its size: 561 pages!    On the cover, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall summarizes my own impression after a couple of very late nights reading it: “Dan demystifies the baker’s art… all kinds of seductive treats become instantly achievable.”    This is the essence of Dan Lepard, particularly evident on the subject he is best known for: breads.  He dedicates the first 100 pages of the book to them, starting with a must-read  introduction that covers all the basics, from flour to yeast, proofing temperature, kneading,  shaping and baking.  One by one, he destroys all the misconceptions and the rigid (often snobbish) advice so widespread in many publications by other authors.   Then he offers a long list of recipes for white loaves, whole wheat, rye, quick breads, rolls, flat breads, wrapping up the chapter with some sweet and fruit breads, and a quick tutorial on how to make a sourdough starter.  In one of the recipes, called “Flash Loaf,”  Dan puts all his expertise into designing a recipe that will give you a fantastic loaf of bread in two hours from start to finish.  I have it on my list to try in the near future.

The second chapter of the book is dedicated to cakes (my nemesis). Once again, he introduces the subject by going over the ingredients and techniques, and even though I always get a rapid pulse while reading about cakes, by the end of the introduction I felt I could tackle any of the recipes that followed.  That’s probably not a smart thing to say, considering some of the messy situations I’ve faced in the past.   Some examples included in this section are: Apple, Walnut & Custard Cake (the photo is enough to make me swoon), Cinnamon Cake with Blackberries (oh, my!), Brown Sugar Chocolate Cake (sigh), Caramel Christmas Cake (double sigh).

Next in line is a full chapter on “Small Things.”  These are small like Chocolate Custard Muffins…. Blueberry Creme Fraiche Cupcakes…. Pumpkin Ginger Cupcakes…. Madeleines….Sweet Buttermilk Scones….  you  get the picture.

Biscuits & Cookies follow the party. As in every chapter, an initial introduction helps set the mind frame for the recipes ahead.  If titles such as Passion Fruit Melting Moments, Banana Fudge Cookies, Ginger Macadamia Biscuits, Blue Cheese and Oatmeal Biscuits appeal to you, you’ll have enough to bake for a long time thanks to those 38 pages of goodies.

A small chapter for doughnuts, batters, and babas, assembled together because, as Dan puts it “they are eaten the moment they’re golden and set after cooking….”    Doughnuts, blinis, pancakes, the famous Crepe Suzette Tour d’Argent (that one brought me memories of an outstanding dinner with my beloved back in 2003), closing with babas (a treat I’ve never had, but after Dan’s description I wish I had a few right in front of me right now! ).

Next in line comes “Sugar Sugar.”  Cute name for an impressive collection of techniques and recipes, the chapter opens with Making Caramel,  and I must transcribe Dan’s remark about it:  “be careful and organised and stay relaxed.”  I might just print this phrase and frame it.  😉 Butter Caramels, Olive Oil and Black Pepper Caramels, Vanilla Fudge, Chocolate Truffle Cubes…  A full section on icing, sweet sauces, and a few ice cream options close this sweet chapter.

Desserts comes next. Whoever is afraid of making tarts must get this book and indulge in this chapter.  By the time you are done reading his “tips and techniques,”  you’ll want to get into the kitchen and put in practice all his sensible advice.  A few teasers for you: Malted Chocolate and Caramel Tart, Banana Caramel Cream Pie, Soft Crust Apple Pie, Black Forest Eclairs (I’ve always wanted to make eclairs, will definitely try this recipe), Prune and Armagnac Sponge Puddings, Blueberry Cocoa Meringue Pie

If you think that’s all, then you would be wrong.  The final chapter assembles a series of savory recipes such as Ham, Egg, and Potato Pie, Sweet Potato Crescents, Goat’s Cheese and Celeriac Tart, Black Olive Gougeres (triple sigh by Sally, the Kalamata Cheerleader), and many savory doughs, including Dan’s take on a few types of pizza dough.

One very nice touch is the index in outline form, with minor headings in bold. It’s a simple detail that makes finding recipes a lot easier!

Just as his previous book, “The Handmade Loaf,” I can’t recommend “Short and Sweet” highly enough.  Together, these two books cover all the techniques and recipes to keep a baker busy and happy.  Phil, who rarely opens a cookbook, saw it on the kitchen counter and started flipping through the pages.  His words: “…this book is great!  In just a quick glance I see at least 30 recipes you must  make for us,  I mean….. for the students in the lab, of course!”   😉

If you want to order the book, click here

If you want to follow the progress of people baking all recipes in it, click here for the Sweet and Tweet Challenge…

If, like me,  you can never get enough recipes from Dan, check his column at The Guardian by clicking here, or his discussion forum.

If you want to know which recipe I chose to inaugurate his book…
come back for my next post…  😉

ONE YEAR AGO: Ciabatta, a Classic Italian Bread

TWO YEARS AGO: Portuguese Sweet Bread

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