Tag Archives: Recipe testing

General Tso’s Chicken by Appetite for China

Cooking via computer

A couple of weeks ago, at the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference, I had the pleasure of meeting lots of writers, editors, and authors.  One person I had the chance to talk to was Diana Kuan from the site Appetite for China and the recently published The Chinese Takeout Cookbook.  During the season for Chinese New Year, she’s put together a virtual potluck of seven of the recipes from the book.  Each of the bloggers who make one of the dishes before the end of the festivities is entered into a drawing for some really great prizes.  I haven’t had much chance to participate in blogger events recently with culinary school studies, so I decided to take some time over the holiday weekend to throw together one of the dishes from the book.

Plated dishGeneral Tso’s Chicken

General Tso’s Chicken is one of my favorite Chinese restaurant dishes, and it was great to find an easy recipe to make this at home.  The crispy chicken had the perfect balance of sweet-tart-spicy when dressed in the sauce.    It was difficult for me not to munch on the searing hot chicken pieces the moment they came out of the fragrant sauce, leaving nothing to plate for the photo.  I used chicken thighs, as the recipe called for, but I also wonder about using chicken breasts or both the next time.  This dish would be a great addition to the Chinese New Year’s celebration table.


Chicken marinating

Chicken in cornstarch

Frying the chicken

Scooping chicken out of the fryer

Pile of crispy fried chicken

Sauce ingredients mixed together

Sauce reducing

Chicken dressed with sauce

General Tso’s Chicken

Buon appetito!

Guest Post on A Culinary Journey

Indian Fry Bread TacosIndian Fry Bread Tacos

It might have seemed like it’s been a little bit quiet this week, however, that’s far from the truth around here.  After Pig Island, I was deep in study-land cramming for an exam for my culinary class.  I was also preparing a guest post for Chef Dennis Littley who is the author of the fantastic recipe and cooking information website A Culinary Journey.  The tagline for his site is, “Yes, Virginia, there is more to life than takeout and the microwave,” echoing my own sentiments about making great dishes in your own home.

Great summer vegetables from the Greenmarket

Chef Dennis and I first met face-to-face at The Big Summer Potluck a little over a month ago.  We had actually “met” via Google+ and a mutual food blogger friend, the fabulous Mango Queen, prior to that.  He’s been an invaluable resource for me with some of the issues I’ve faced from time-to-time on my website, and I just thoroughly enjoy reading what he’s been getting up to in his kitchen.  It’s also just been such a pleasure to get to know someone equally passionate about cooking and food and who is an integral part of the food blogging community.

Herbivoracious by Michael Natkin

So, please head on over to A Culinary Journey to check out my post about the Indian Fry Bread Tacos from Michael Natkin’s terrific vegetarian cookbook Herbivoracious.  I’d been hanging onto this recipe to make when all the tomatoes, squash, peppers, and corn hit peak season.  This is a fantastic way to use up your summer produce, especially, if you are like me and just can’t resist loading up on all of it, knowing that it will only be around for a brief moment before we head into fall and winter.

Buon appetito!

White Chocolate-Lime Puddings from “Desserts In Jars” by Shaina Olmanson

Desserts in Jars bookDesserts in Jars

Last week I had the chance to meet the author of Desserts in Jars at a book release event hosted by the publisher.  Lately, it seems as though there’s been a plethora of “in jars”-themed books and recipes: salad in jars, meals in jars, gifts you can give in jars, craft projects in jars, toys in jars.  O.K., I might be making a few of those up.  After I thumbed through Shaina Olmanson‘s spiral-bound volume, however, I discovered that she had created some mouth-watering dessert ideas and unique ways of making portable sweets that would work for dinner parties as well as outdoor excursions.

Recipe page

I decided to test-drive one of the recipes that looked easy enough to scale down: the White Chocolate-Lime Puddings.  It also turned out that I had all of the key ingredients for these already in my kitchen so that was another factor in choosing to make this.  Instead of using jars, I actually put the puddings in wide-mouthed cocktail glasses, which I think worked just as well for this purpose.  Many of the recipes in this book look as though they could be served in jars or not, making these sweet treats possible menu options for casual as well as more formal dining situations.

White Chocolate-Lime PuddingWhite Chocolate-Lime Pudding

This dessert is simple and quick to make.  The longest part of the process is waiting the two hours for it to set, spoon at the ready to dig in the minute the clock hits the 120-minute mark.  I might have taste-tested this batch just a few minutes before it was completely finished, but that didn’t take away from the flavor of the pudding.  The refreshing tartness of the lime zest cuts through the richness of the white chocolate so that it doesn’t hang too densely on your tongue.  These are definitely best served in small portions as they are rather sweet.

Leftover lime peel in strainer

My only tiny quibble with the editors and recipe testers is that I found that when I strained the pudding mixture as instructed, just before pouring the liquid into the glasses, I lost almost all of the lime zest in the sieve.  I ended up scraping it out and then adding it back into the puddings before letting them set.  This is a recipe that you might also want to dress up a bit before serving it, maybe with the addition of some extra lime zest on top.  I could see adding some type of burnt-sugar cookie or tuile to the plate for balance of textures and tastes as well.  Hmm…this book is starting to get me thinking about other options for Desserts in Jars that might be good entertaining ideas.  

Buon appetito!

Potato and Green Bean Salad with Arugula Pesto from Michael Natkin’s “Herbivoracious”

Potato and Green Bean Salad with Arugula Pesto

With barbecue season now in full force, I’m on the look out for some portable, flavorful dishes that I can contribute to the buffet tables at these get-togethers.  Yesterday, some friends had located a space where we could grill outdoors, not an easy thing to find in New York City, and had asked everyone to chip in with desserts and salads.  I’d earmarked this recipe for Potato and Green Bean Salad with Arugula Pesto from Michael Nakin‘s recently published cookbook Herbivoracious as one to try out, so this gathering seemed like the perfect opportunity to make it.


I’d first seen this book at the IACP Conference Taste of 5 Boroughs event on the publisher’s table.  After flipping through it briefly, I was taken in by all the gorgeous, colorful photos of the tasty-sounding vegetarian dishes that Natkin had created.  At Eat, Write, Retreat last month, I had a chance to hear him talk about the book and how the community of people who have followed him and his blog Herbivoracious had helped and inspired him along the way.  I also had a chance to taste some of the recipes from his book at an event held in New York by his publishers.

Michael Natkin

Filled with seasonal ingredients and bursting with lively flavors, this salad turned out to be an ideal accompaniment to the grilled meats my friends had prepared.  It’s also relatively simple and quick to prepare.  The potatoes are boiled, green beans get a quick blanch, and the components for the pesto can easily be whipped together in the food processor.  The vibrant, verdant colors pop on a picnic table laden with other salads, chips, and nibbles.


The arugula gives the pesto a peppery upfront bite.  The mint provides lift of freshness while the cheese brings it all together and adds a slightly mellow note to the mix.  My only regret was that I didn’t make an extra portion of the pesto to enjoy on other vegetables, maybe even on the shell peas that are also now in season or to spread on toasted bread or to toss with pasta.

Arugula Pesto

I think I would also have carried the cooked potatoes and green beans to the party separately from the pesto and have added that at the last minute, as the color of it started to change from being more preppy kelly green to forest hued after a while.  I think that tossing everything together in advance also took a way some of the intense, bright taste of the pesto as a contrast to the creamy potatoes and slightly crisp beans.  I opted not to add the extra black pepper and walnut pieces, as I thought that the dish worked well without them.

Potato and Green Bean Salad with Arugula Pesto

Everyone at the party seemed to enjoy this dish.  It was devoured very quickly, making me realize that I could have probably quadrupled the recipe (I had doubled it.).  This is definitely one that I’ll be keeping on hand in my files for upcoming potlucks or even just as a light side dish for a hot summer evening.

Buon appetito!

Red Lentil Dal with Tamarind and Asparagus by Naomi Duguid

It’s asparagus season, here in New York, which is one of my favorite times of year.  I never liked these tender green stalks when I was growing up, as I’ve mentioned, but now I look forward to seeing them when they arrive in the farmers markets.  It also means that I start pulling ideas from magazines and website as to how to prepare them aside from the usual steaming, grilling or sautéing.  In this month’s issue of Food & Wine magazine there was an article about Naomi Duguid with a recipe for Red Lentil Dal with Tamarind and Asparagus


The colors in the photo of the dish, plus the fact that I enjoy eating dal combined with the fact that I can now get my hands on some fat, juicy asparagus, made me tear out the recipe to try it.  I found the asparagus at the Greenmarket, had a few of the spices in my kitchen already, and sourced the other ingredients from my neighborhood stores.  The tamarind concentrate proved to be the hardest component to find, but I did locate it after going to about three places.

Asparagus cooking with the spices, garlic, and onions

I’m trying to get more vegetables into my diet and am also attempting to eat less meat in general, so this dish fit those criteria.  It was also a snap to pull together making it an ideal weeknight dinner or quick lunch.  I cut this recipe in half, which gave me about two portions for a light midday meal.

Lentils added to the pan to cook down for a few minutes

As a side mention, if you, like me, religiously follow the list of ingredients in putting together your shopping notes, you will forget to pick up the limes that are listed in the recipe headnotes and at the end.  I’m not sure why, but somehow they aren’t included with the main ingredients, even though Ms. Duguid mentions them as integral to the balance of flavors in the dish.  I bring this up, as I thought that the freshness of the lime juice really brought the whole meal together.

Red Lentil Dal with Tamarind and Asparagus

Served with brown basmati rice and the juice of a sliver of lime, this dish was creamy, tart, fragrant, and earthy, with just a little sweetness from the onions.  The spices provided an aromatic perfume that melted into the lentils, brightening up their sometimes drab nature.  Next time, I might add more of the serrano to the dish to give it some additional heat and a bit of depth, but other than that (and the aforementioned lime issue), this dish seemed to me to be perfect in taste and texture.  It’s definitely one I’ll be having during this asparagus season and many more in the future as well.

Buon appetito!

Herbed Zucchini-Feta Fritters from Lokanta Maya

Have you ever eaten Turkish cuisine?  After I lived in London in the late ’90s, I returned to the United States with a great appreciation for the flavorful dishes of this country with its vast landscape.  So when I saw that as part of the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference a few weeks ago, Didem Senol (photo above), the owner of Lokanta Maya and an alumna of the French Culinary Institute in New York, would be leading a demonstration class about the culture and cooking of her country, I signed up to learn more about it.

Herbed Zucchini-Feta Fritters with Yogurt-Cucumber-Mint Sauce (Mücver)

Among the delicious examples of Turkish cooking that we were able to enjoy during the demo were these crisp, fluffy Herbed Zucchini-Feta Fritters known as Mücver with a cool, creamy yogurt sauce.  Flecked with dill, mint, and parsley with chunks of feta nestled throughout, the fritters were served to us right from the frying oil, hot yet delicate and not heavy at all.  After munching on these tasty bites, a number of hands went up in the air asking where we could get her recipe for these.  Then, the May issue of Food & Wine magazine arrived in my mailbox.  Flipping through it, I saw that Chef Senol and her wonderful fritters were there in a feature about Istanbul and mezze.  Could I make these at home and possibly hope to replicate them?

Salted Zucchini

As Chef Senol explained to us, one of the keys to achieving the light texture of the fritters was to salt the zucchini and then squeeze as much water out of them as possible before adding it to the flour, egg, cheese, and herbs.  That way, the batter isn’t too runny, and the fritters will crisp up nicely.  I used my hands and grasped small fistfuls of the grated zucchini pieces, squeezing them with lots of might to force out as much liquid as possible.  From other recipes that call for this same technique, I’d also recommend your piling the zucchini in a cheesecloth and twist and squeeze that to get the same results.

Dill, Parsley, Mint

One of the other main attributes of these little delights, which comes through the moment your teeth break through the hot crust and settle into the soft interior of the fritter is how the combination of the dill, parsely, and mint complement the zucchini and brighten the flavor of the dough.  There’s a grassy, springlike freshness to these fritters with each bite being lively and slightly complex without being overpoweringly herbal.  I realized about two-thirds of the way through mincing the herbs by hand, running a knife over them multiple times, that I was doing it the hard way.  If you have a mezzaluna, I recommend taking that route instead to save time and give you more uniform results.

Mixture for the Herbed Zucchini-Feta Fritters

Once the drained zucchini and herbs are combined with the feta, egg, and flour, it comes out looking like this.  While the mixture sets in the fridge, it is the perfect time to turn to making the sauce.

Cucumber-Yogurt-Mint Sauce

As you can see from the second photo, my sauce didn’t come out looking anything like the one that Chef Senol had created.  Although the recipe called for everything to be mixed separately into the yogurt, I wonder if it had all been put through the food processor which would then capture more of the color of the mint in the final product.  Also, my cucumber didn’t seem to be as finely minced as hers.  Next time, I’m going to experiment with the sauce a bit more to see if I can get it to be gorgeously silken and light-green-hued as hers.

Frying the first side

I ended up shallow frying these, rather than deep frying them in a saucepan, per the instructions.  This took a bit longer to cook them, but I don’t think the results came out any less perfect.  I don’t have a deep-fryer in my house, so next time, I’ll have to figure out how to use that technique without making a complete mess of my kitchen and setting off the smoke detector.

Flipping them over to the second side

These do cook up quite quickly, with the crust becoming a beautiful golden brown.

First batch is almost ready

I divided the recipe in half, so I was able to cook everything in two batches.  This made about 10 fritters that were about two tablespoons of batter each.  Some were a bit bigger than that, so if you were more precise and uniform than I when dropping the zucchini mixture into the pan, you could get about 12-14 fritters from half a batch.

Herbed Zucchini-Feta Fritters with Yogurt-Cucumber-Mint Sauce (Mücver)

Here’s my results.  While they didn’t come out looking exactly the same as the ones that our group enjoyed during Chef Senol’s demo, they were no less delicious.  The hot, crisp fritters combined with  creamy, refreshing yogurt sauce made a wonderful snack.  I would definitely make these again, especially when faced with the end of the summer bounty of herbs and zucchini.

Buon appetito!