New Year, New Life, New Secret Recipe Group!

Those who follow my blog might be used to my Secret Recipe Club participation on the fourth Monday of each month. However, I’ve been a member for so long that it seemed like a good idea to move to a new group in the club. So, I switched to Group A, and my SRC posts will fall instead on the first Monday of each month.  Of course it is a bit sad to leave the comfort of my old group, where so many ties were made, but I know they won’t be broken. Actually, if I may share something special, take a look at this post written by our wonderful moderator, Sarah Ellis. What a nice surprise it was! She does that type of Gold Member post on a regular basis, but it was my first time in her spotlight… Felt great!

Obviously, I was anxious to get my first assignment of the year, and was overjoyed when I got the email. Why? Because I was assigned to Sid’s site, a blog I’ve been following for a long time, so it felt like the warmest possible welcome for me…  Sid has been blogging since June 2011 (see her first post here), although in fact she used to have another blog earlier, dedicated to pictures and crafts. Then she decided to start Sid Sea’s Palm Cooking to concentrate on food blogging. Well, I am thrilled she did it!  One of the things  I love the most about her site is her energy, upbeat mood, and wit. Every post gives me a big smile. Plus, she cooks amazing stuff all the time. Two features are quite interesting in her site, the “Tapas” and “Boat Club” posts, organized together in a page you can access here.  Those are monthly events she participates (in real life), and then shares with her readers. If you need inspiration for a tapas or cocktail type party, look no further! I had quite a few recipes selected as possibilities for this assignment like her Yorkshire puddings, her Sweet Potato Samosas, her Sweet and Sour Chicken Meatballs, her elegant Leek Pancakes, but ended up settling for the Sunday Gravy with Braciole because it seemed perfect for the weather: luscious, filling, very complex flavors.  Of course, brown food is not very camera-friendly, but it is fantastic for the taste buds. So there!

Braciole with Sunday Gravy


(slightly modified from Sid’s Sea Palm Cooking)

for Sunday Gravy:
1/4 cup olive oil
6 mild Italian Sausages, cut in thirds
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (5 oz) can of tomato paste
1/2 cup dry red wine
3 (28 oz.) cans Italian Plum Tomatoes (San Marzano if possible)
2-3 Tbsp. of equal parts of dried basil, thyme, sage and oregano
1/4 cup rye whiskey (optional, I used regular whiskey)
for Braciole: 
4 slices of round steak 1/2 inch thick pounded to about 1/4 inch thick
4 slices of bacon
2 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tbsp bread crumbs
1 clove finely minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste.
olive oil for browning
Make the gravy: Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed 6 quart pot, preferably non-stick, brown sausages on all sides.  Add onion and garlic and saute until just soft.    Don’t burn the garlic.   Stir in tomato paste and cook gently 15 minutes being careful not to burn or have mixture stick to pot. Deglaze pot with the red wine and reduce out alcohol.Process in blender the tomatoes with their liquid until slightly chunky and puree like.   Add tomatoes to the pot and bring to a simmer.    Stir in seasonings and herbs.  Adjust to taste, especially the salt.  Add whiskey if using. This will cut acidity and make a slightly sweeter sauce.  Simmer partially covered for about 3 hours, stirring occasionally. Sauce can be made in advance.
Make the braciole: Mix the parsley, bread crumbs, cheese, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Lay 1 strip bacon on each braciole, sprinkle cheese mixture evenly over braciole, roll up and tie securely with string.   Heat oil in skillet and brown meat evenly on all sides.   Transfer to the simmering ‘gravy’ and cook at least 2 hours.
My modification: I simmered the gravy for 2.5 hours.  Used 1/3 of it to cook the braciole under pressure for 35 minutes, after browning them. Froze the leftover gravy for later, in two portions.  Sprinkled grated Parmesan cheese over the braciole when serving.
to print the recipe, click here


Comments: I’ve always wanted to make Sunday Gravy. The name promises something delicious, don’t you think? Something that cooks slowly for hours… But, I confess I messed it up really bad. Sorry, Sid, I did. I made it on a Saturday. I know, I know, what was I thinking?

Apart from that, I followed the recipe to a T, and loved the outcome! The change in the sauce as it simmered down for 3 hours was a pleasure to witness. I made the gravy on Saturday, saved it in the fridge, removed the congealed fat from the surface on Sunday, and made the braciole that afternoon. Most important step? Browning them well before simmering with the sauce. A process that should not be rushed, allow the browning to take place and it will reward you with amazing flavor later. I promise.



Another small change I made was to cook the braciole in the pressure cooker. I had the gravy ready, so after browning the little rolls of meat I transferred them to the pressure cooker, added the sauce and cooked under pressure for 35 minutes. After cooking I tasted the sauce and adjusted seasoning just lightly with a bit of salt and pepper.

There you have it, a fantastic meal, meat falling apart tender, a sauce that tastes almost sweet from the long simmering. Comfort food, all the way…

Braciole with Gravy Served


I enjoyed it with some spaghetti squash, but of course you can go the more authentic route of polenta, mashed potatoes, pasta, risotto…  I prefer to balance a heavy dish with a lighter side. Do what feels right for you.


Dinner is served! You won’t even need a knife….


Sid, I had a great time stalking your site, it was a thrill to get your blog as my first assignment with the new group… I hope you had as much fun as I did this month!
To see what my new friends cooked up this month, click on the blue frog at the end of this post.


ONE YEAR AGO: In My Kitchen, February 2015

TWO YEARS AGO: Avocado and Orange Salad with Charred Jalapeno Dressing

THREE YEARS AGO: Green Olive, Walnuts and Pomegranate Salad

FOUR YEARS AGO: Romanian Flatbreads

FIVE YEARS AGO: Ziti with Artichokes and Meyer Lemon Sauce

SIX YEARS AGO: Blasted Broccoli, Stove-top version



Am I talking about the dogs again?
No, this time it’s a veggie thing…


As far as vegetable purees are concerned I tend to be very conservative to allow the main ingredient to shine in all its glory. Yes, I’ve been known to mix two veggies together, for instance Broccoli & Spinach,  Carrot & Sweet Potato , or Cauliflower and Celeriac, but those are exceptions rather than the rule. However, the other day I was staring at the bag of parsnips I got with the intention of roasting them and faced a disappointing state of affairs. You’d think that those bagged creatures would all be more or less similar in size and shape? Don’t get your hopes high! They place one or two gorgeous specimens with a bunch of pencil-thin cousins. Pathetic.  I learned a lesson, of course, will never buy bagged parsnips again. I’ll pick them myself, thank you very much, and they will be all chubby.  But, I digress. I was staring at the parsnips and decided that they could work better in a puree of sorts. Since I did not have enough for a side dish, I also grabbed some carrots. And then, the tiny orange cauliflower winked at me.  So there you have it, not one, not two, but three veggies cooked together in harmony. I must tell you, this turned out much better than I expected, especially considering I kept it very simple. No exotic spices, no garlic confit, not even chicken stock… I let the veggies sing, and the music was gorgeous!


(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

1 tablespoon butter + smear of olive oil
3 celery stalks, diced
1 small head of orange cauliflower, florets only
5 parsnips, cut in chunks
4 carrots, cut in chunks
salt and pepper (go heavy on the pepper)
2 cups water

Heat the butter and oil in a large pan, add the diced celery, season lightly with salt and pepper and cook until translucent and fragrant. Add all the other veggies and cook in medium-high heat stirring occasionally for a few minutes. If necessary, add a tiny amount of olive oil to prevent the veggies from scorching.

Add the two cups of water, season with salt and pepper again, and cover the pan. Simmer for 25 minutes in low-heat. When veggies are tender, remove them to a food processor, leaving most of the water behind. Process and add more water if too thick.  Adjust seasoning, and serve right away.


to print the recipe, click here

We were both quite impressed by how complex this puree tasted.  I think parsnips adds a lot with their distinctive taste: spicy, peppery, a bit citric almost. They change completely the flavor of the carrots and cauliflower. This mash has great texture and just the right amount of sweetness. Plus, the color is not too shabby either… When processing, don’t go overboard, I think having some chunks here and there add a lot to the dish. You might even skip the processing and mash it all by hand, whatever rocks your boat…


Dinner is served!  Simple grille chicken breasts, mashed veggies, and a salad.
Very delicious way to end a busy Monday.


ONE  YEAR AGO: Mini-quiches with Duxelles and Baby Broccoli

TWO YEARS AGO: Quinoa and Sweet Potato Cakes

THREE YEARS AGO: Pumpkin Bolo de Fuba’ Cremoso

FOUR YEARS AGO: Citrus-crusted Tilapia Filets

FIVE YEARS AGO: Bran Muffins, not just for Hippies

SIX YEARS AGO: Flourless Chocolate Cake





Bread bakers are a very passionate bunch. The passion can become obsessive, particularly once you get into baking with wild yeast and slowly reach that snobbish point of view that baking with commercial yeast is “for sissies.”  Granted, I am not that snobbish, but I admit that once you start down the wild path, it’s hard to turn back.  The flavor of bread leavened with wild yeast is more complex, and the whole process a lot more elusive, therefore so much more fun! Some days your bread will be spectacular, others not so much, even when everything seems to be the same.  Last month I stumbled onto this post by a super passionate baker named Maurizio.  Of course,  a post entitled My Best Sourdough Recipe got my attention right away, and what I found inside was a very detailed picture-loaded tutorial of the making and baking of a superb sourdough loaf. If you are new to bread baking, then dive into his article, read it carefully, and go to work.  I am sharing with you just the basic recipe, but insist that you should visit his site for the full details. He’s got a ton of great bread recipes! In fact, just as I type this post, I have another recipe from his site undergoing its bulk proof. One hint: it has walnuts…  Are you in love yet?  What if I say it has a particularly tasty dry fruit too?


Best Sourdough2


(slightly modified from The Perfect Loaf blog)

for the liquid levain starter:
(make 12 hours before making the dough)
35 g liquid starter (at 100% hydration)
35 g whole wheat flour
35 g bread flour
70 g water

for the final dough:
402 g white bread flour
37 g whole wheat flour
375 g water at about 90 degrees F (divided, 350 g + 25 g)
9 g sea salt
75 g levain (made as above)

Build the liquid levain 10 to 12 hours before you want to make your final dough. Leave it at room temperature (around 72 F).

Next morning, mix flour and  350 g of water very well in a bowl and cover. Ensure all dry flour is hydrated. Leave it to autolyse for 1 hour.  Add the levain with the reserved water and hand-mix it into the dough until it is very well incorporated.  Leave it 30 minutes at room temperature, or if you have a proofer, set it to 78 F and keep the dough at this temperature all the way through. After 30 minutes, add the salt, and mix well.

After the salt is incorporated perform folds for about 2-3 minutes in the bowl. Grab under one side, pull up and over to the other side, then rotate the bowl a bit and repeat. Do this about 30 times or so (it goes fast and easy). At the end the dough should still be shaggy, but it will be a little more smooth and will slightly start to hold itself together more in the bowl. Now you are ready to start bulk fermentation.  If your home is at 78 to 82 F, bulk fermentation should last 4 hours.

During fermentation, do 6 sets of stretch and folds, the first three at 15 minute intervals (it will take you to 45 minutes of bulk fermentation), the last three at 45 minute intervals (by the time you do the last one you will be at 3 hours, with a final hour in which the dough is left undisturbed). If your dough is too “weak”, seeming to lack structure, add one more cycle of folding after 30 minutes and leave the dough undisturbed for another hour.

Lightly shape the dough into a round, cover with inverted bowl or moist towel, and let rest for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes remove the towel or bowl and let the dough rest 5 more minutes exposed to air. This step helps dry out the dough just a bit so it’s not too sticky during shaping.  Lightly flour the top of your dough rounds and flour the work surface. Shape into a batard or boule. Place in a banneton very well floured, leave it at room temperature for about 20 minutes, then retard in the refrigerator  for 15-16 hours.

Heat oven at 500ºF. Bake 20 minutes at 500ºF with steam, and an additional 25-35 minutes at 450ºF, until done to your liking. Cool completely on a rack before slicing.


to print the recipe, click

I made this bread a day before our dear friends from Brazil arrived for their visit. They loved it, and were actually quite interested in the process of sourdough baking. So, I decided to refresh my starter and make a second loaf with them, this time shaping it as a round loaf instead of slightly oblong. The second loaf, much to my delight, had even better oven spring…

best sourdough boule

That loaf traveled all the way with us to Colorado, and made our first evening in Silverthorne quite special… nothing like a nice loaf of  bread to make you feel home and cozy….

So, is it the best sourdough recipe ever? I think the best bread recipes are the ones that work consistently and fit your schedule well. It also helps to have a method that is easy to follow, so that by the time you make it for the third or fourth time, it becomes second nature. I don’t have the exact same flours Maurizio used, so every time I baked this bread I felt that as written the formula had a tad too much water.  It was hard – for my level of technique with the folding – to obtain good gluten structure. Once I held back a little of the water the dough turned out perfect, it had more “muscle”, which ultimately gives a better oven spring and crumb structure.  You will have to play with it a little. I published the recipe the way it worked best for me.

The schedule is perfect for my style of baking. I can start mixing the dough early in the morning on a Saturday or Sunday, by 3pm maximum it is in the fridge and I don’t need to think about it until next day. I am usually up at 5am, so I can turn the oven on and have the bread ready before it’s time to go to work, if I made the dough on a Sunday. So, all things considered, it is a GREAT recipe that I intend to use often and play with to add goodies to the dough. Walnuts, seeds, cheese, olives, herbs… you just wait and see!

ONE YEAR AGO: Two Appetizers for those who like it hot

TWO YEARS AGO: Baked Ricotta, Take Two

THREE YEARS AGO: Pumpkin Uncanned


FIVE YEARS AGO: Friendly Kuri Squash

SIX YEARS AGO: Celery and Apple Salad



My last post featured the main dish I chose for Phil’s birthday dinner. Now it’s time to share with you a nice appetizer from the same evening: salmon rillettes. When we lived in Paris, rillettes were a favorite item we ordered in restaurants. Often pork, sometimes duck rillettes. In one of the little neighborhood bistrots, Aux Artistes, they would serve them (as well as their country terrine) family style. A big dish would be brought to the table, so you could serve yourself some, then the waiter would take it away for others to enjoy. Very civilized in that unique French way. Hard to imagine the same situation in the US. What? You expect me to eat something that was already on someone else’s table?  Manipulated by other human beings? You must be out of your mind!  I say “Vive la différence!”  And pass me the rillettes, will you?

I found this recipe in Karen’s site. She loved it so much that she confessed to having it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner several days in a row. That, my friends, is what food endorsement is all about.  I knew I had to make it sooner rather than later.

Salmon Rillettes2

(from Karen’s Kitchen Stories)

1 lemon
1/2 cup vermouth
1/2 cup water
1 bay leaf
1 jalapeno pepper, sliced in half, one half minced
5 to 10 white peppercorns
5 to 10 coriander seeds
2 to 3 green onions, cut into 3 inch slices
1/2 pound salmon fillet, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
6 ounces smoked salmon (peppered coho smoked salmon, if available)
3 tablespoons unsalted and softened butter
salt and pepper to taste
1 large shallot, peeled and minced
1/2 tsp pink peppercorns, crushed
1/2 tsp crushed red peppers
With a vegetable peeler, cut off a strip of the peel of the lemon.  Finely zest the rest of the lemon and set the zest aside. Set the lemon aside.
Place the unchopped half of the jalapeno into a small saucepan. Add the vermouth, water, bay leaf, peppercorns, and coriander seeds. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Add the green onions and fresh salmon cubes. Reduce the heat to low, cover,  and simmer for three to five minutes. Drain in a colander. Discard the vegetables and place the salmon in a medium bowl.
Mash the salmon roughly with a fork. Add the smoked salmon and mash with a fork.  Add the butter and blend with a fork.  Add some of the juice from the lemon, the lemon zest, along with some salt and pepper to taste.  Add the shallots, minced jalapeno, crushed pink peppercorns, and crushed red pepper. Mix thoroughly. Stir in more lemon juice, to taste.
Pack the mixture into a canning jar or other container. Press the top with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to a day before serving for the first time. The rillettes will last up to 3 or 4 days.


to print the recipe, click here



Comments: This was incredibly tasty, just as Karen promised it would be, and got better each day.  The mixture of smoked salmon with the lightly poached fish, the lemon, the spices, everything works together in perfect harmony. It is surprisingly mild in flavor. Plus, what a fun recipe to make!  I don’t know why I never attempted rillettes at home, but now that I did, I feel like trying my hands at some pork rillettes, served ‘comme il faut’, with those small cornichons, and a crusty baguette. I will be catapulted straight back to Aux Artistes, although between you and me, the place brings mixed feelings. Yeah, the food was awesome, prices affordable, great atmosphere. but the owner, a gorgeous blonde, tall, bright-blue-wandering eyes, could not – I repeat – could not stop flirting with Phil. Oh, well… as a mentor of mine used to say… attractive people attract.  I took it all with my best smile, sips of Bordeaux, and a few discreet but assertive kicks under the table.  Let’s keep in mind though, that two can play that game. Not that I would ever… you know, I am just not the vindictive type…


I hope you try this recipe on your next dinner party. Not only it is unusual and elegant, but you will be better off making it in advance. It’s the hostess’ dream come true!

Karen, once again I should thank you for the constant inspiration!


ONE YEAR AGO: Special Important Announcement

TWO YEARS AGO: Pear, Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad

THREE YEARS AGO: Keema Beef Curry

FOUR YEARS AGO: Pork Tenderloin with Soy, Ginger, and Lime

FIVE YEARS AGO: No-Fuss Coffee Cake

SIX YEARS AGO: Swedish Limpa



It is hard to beat duck confit when you want to have a memorable meal. I will never forget the first time I had it, actually. I was all alone in Paris (my first trip to Europe!), having flown from Brazil to take part of a scientific workshop sponsored by The World Health Organization. The 2-week workshop launched the sequencing of the whole genome of Mycobacterium leprae. In those days, sequencing DNA was a cumbersome, slow, and painful process, nothing to do with what it is today. I was one of the lucky people invited to participate of that initial workshop. I knew very little about automated DNA sequencing, but even less about duck confit. On my first evening, very tired and a bit insecure to walk around town, I crossed the street and bravely entered a restaurant near Institut Pasteur (Le Pot au Feu). The special of the day was duck confit, so that’s what I ordered. I thought I had died and gone straight to heaven, arriving at dinner time. Unforgettable experience, even if all alone sitting at my table, staring at couples in love all around me. Or so it seemed…  Paris and romance go always hand in hand.

I made duck confit twice in the past, before my blogging years. Even though both meals turned out great, the process was not very pleasant: a lot of fat to deal with, and a pretty intense smell lingering in the house for way too long.  This time, I used sous-vide to cook the duck legs and I have one word to describe it: WOW! I go as far as saying that buying the Anova circulator is worthy it just to make duck confit.  Easy, very little fat needed, no lingering smell, and once the duck legs are cooked, they can go still in the bags to the fridge and stay there for 2 to 3 days until showtime.  Cannot get much better than that…

Duck Confit1

(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

3 tablespoons salt
2 cloves garlic, smashed (optional)
1 shallot, peeled and sliced
6 sprigs thyme (I used dried thyme)
4 sage leaves
Coarsely ground black pepper
4 duck legs with thighs
4 tablespoons duck fat

Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of salt in the bottom of a dish or plastic container large enough to hold the duck pieces in a single layer. Evenly scatter half the garlic, shallots, and thyme in the container. Arrange the duck, skin-side up, over the salt mixture, placing one sage leaf underneath each piece of duck. Sprinkle with the remaining salt, garlic, shallots, and thyme and a little pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.

Rinse the duck pieces well, to remove the coarse salt. Dry the meat with paper towels. Place each piece in a plastic bag, adding 1 tablespoon of very cold duck fat inside, vacuum-seal the bags.  Submerge the sealed bags in a water-bath set at 82 C (180 F) for 10 hours.  When the time is up, chill the pieces in an ice bath and place in the fridge, still sealed.

About 45 minutes before dinner time, remove the duck from the fridge, open the bag and scrape off most of the congealed fat. Place in a roasting pan, skin side up, cover with aluminum foil and warm up in a 375 F oven for about 30 minutes. Before serving, place the pan under the broiler to crisp up the skin. Alternatively, you can warm up the pieces and then sear the skin on a blazing hot skillet.


to print the recipe, click here


Comments: I made this recipe for a very special dinner. First, it was my beloved’s Birthday, and since it falls very close to Christmas, it’s tricky to have a party for him.  Most people are away visiting family, or too busy with the holidays. But, it turns out that two VERY special friends made a trip all the way from Brazil to be here with us on that special day!  And they are amazing cooks, so the pressure was high on me to deliver a nice meal. Needless to say, I did a lot of research on duck confit sous-vide before settling on the method I shared here.

Several things are important. The duck itself. The best kind to get is Moulard duck, so I special ordered it from d’Artagnan (remember my latest IMK post?). Then, the salting to cure the meat before cooking. Some sous-vide methods advise you to do that step in vacuum-sealed bags, but the meat can turn out overly salty. I decided to salt the pieces in a baking dish in the fridge for 36 hours, then rinse the meat well before cooking it. The sous-vide step is another major consideration. I visited a discussion forum (eGullet), and read everything I could find on duck confit before settling on my choice of 10 hours at 82 C (180 F).  As to the amount of fat to use, one tablespoon is enough, but you could even omit adding any extra fat. If you look at the last photo on the composite picture above, you’ll notice that there was a lot more than one tablespoon of fat in each bag. The fat rendered from the leg itself will be more than enough to properly coat it during cooking. So, if you rather  not render duck fat or buy pre-rendered fat, simply go from the salting step to vacuum-sealing. It will work like a charm. Of course, you could get by with olive oil too. The main goal is to cook the meat submerged in some type of fat, duck fat being the best one for flavor.

I feel that I hit the jackpot with that combination of time and temperature, would not change it in the future.  Finally, the last consideration is how to warm up the meat before serving.  I did not want to deal with a hot skillet and searing the skin, making a huge mess right before our meal, so I went with a regular oven. First 375 F for about 30 minutes, then running the pieces under the broiler to crisp up the skin.  Would not do it any other way, it was spectacular!  The meat had the exact texture I remember from my first duck confit enjoyed in Paris! Not too salty, not too greasy, simply perfect!


Dinner is served!  Duck confit and gratin of potatoes…
Life is good!


ONE YEAR AGO: Ken Forkish’s Warm Spot Sourdough 

TWO YEARS AGO: Bran Muffins, Rainbows, and a wonderful surprise!

THREE YEARS AGO: Salmon Wellington

FOUR YEARS AGO: The Green Chip Alternative

FIVE YEARS AGO: Weekend Pita Project

SIX YEARS AGO: Let it snow, let it snow, eggs in snow