Ah, the Old Reliable: Piping Hot Chicken Soup! July 29, 2009

Filed under: Meals — sotsil @ 7:59 am
Tags: ,

chicken soup1 Is chicken soup really good for the soul?  Writers have waxed sentimental and produced books about it.  It’s been chosen as the complement to psychological wellness, comfort food that can’t be beat.  Plus it’s your all-season dish.  Whether it’s lazing about during the dog days of summer or seeking warmth after trudging through blowing snow outside, chicken soup has got to be the answer to the question, “what’s a delicious, classic dish to whip up at short notice?”.

For a more defined taste, I boil chicken breast the night before with 2 chicken bullion cubes.  When the chicken is cooked, I cut it up into bite-size pieces and put them in the fridge.  The broth – with sauteed onions, garlic and ginger, is kept in the fridge for the next day.

The complete recipe follows (although I’m sure you’ve got your own special way of making this popular home staple).


Almost forgot:  salt and pepper, to taste.


The day before:

1.  With a bit of canola oil, saute onions, garlic and ginger, 2 minutes.

2.  Add your water and chicken.  Let chicken boil for first 10 minutes and then let simmer for 15 minutes more.

3.  Save the water and let it cool.  Slice chicken into bite-size pieces.

4.  Cover the broth and put in refrigerator.  Do the same for the chicken pieces.

Next day:

5.  Cook pasta as directed, using the broth from the day before.

6.  When pasta is almost cooked, throw chicken pieces and carrots.

7.  Salt and pepper to taste.

8.  Just before serving, sprinkle cut-up spring onions over soup.

You can serve with warm rolls or soda crackers.

chicken soup2

My family had arroz caldo on special occasions like Christmas and New Year.  It’s made with parts of chicken (usually the drumstick) and rice, with lots of ginger.  If you were to join a Filipino family for New Year’s midnight dinner after church service, you’ll most likely be served a piping hot bowl of this nourishing (and nurturing) soup – a meal in itself!


Holy Molly Molasses! July 25, 2009

This oats and molasses bread recipe is a keeper and I thank Canadian Living Magazine!

Believe it or not, I have never bought molasses before, but  I saw this recipe for oat and molasses bread on the Canadian Living web site and…I just had to try it. 

Here is the recipe (taken from  I have added my comments for the redlined sections.

canadian living-crop

Two things worth mentioning:  the recipe called for an egg wash.  I ran out of eggs so just used 35% cream.  You can see this on the slide.  I recall having read online that cream or whole milk would make a good alternative if you didn’t want to use eggs or butter.  The cream or milk gives off a golden color, the article said.  When my loaves came out, I was pleased to see that yes, the golden color was there alright.  You can see I had some leftover dough after shaping two loaves so turned it into a sort of challah.

The second thing I wanted to mention – the taste was OMG!  (forgive the teen talk).  I couldn’t get over how tasty this bread was.  It was chewy and soft when it was just “hot off the press” but later in the day, when I put a couple of slices into the toaster oven, there was that unmistakable wholesome crackling crunch.  Matter-of-fact goodness – that’s how I would describe it.

My question:  were the oats or the molasses primarily responsible for the great flavor and silky feel of this bread?  If not, I’d like to think it was my ever religious kneading!

Seriously though, so many principles and theories about bread abound, it’s impossible to keep track of them.   When I learned bread-baking early this year, I wasn’t at all tempted to buy a bread machine or an electric mixer.  My gut instincts told me to do it the old-fashioned way.  It’s not because I’m a slow adapter (as geeks would call me), but because I find that kneading manually is like a baker’s foray into relaxing yoga.

Back to molasses.  This bread had only a slight taste of molasses.  Molasses (I used the Grandma brand) have a strong, sometimes overwhelming taste.  As this was my first time to buy molasses, I wanted to know if it had some special health benefits.  I was reading this article by Loraine Degraff ( and she mentioned that molasses are rich in iron, calcium and manganese.  It can ease anemia and menopause symptoms.  One type of molasses – backstrap molasses – is supposed to contain the highest nutritional value.

Notes on recipe:  I kneaded for 10 minutes, not five.  I extended it to 1-1/2 hours for the first rise.  I reduced baking time to 30 minutes, reducing the temperature to 350 degrees after 10 minutes.  And of course, I used 35% cream as wash!



Chapeaux bas! Lalime’s Restaurant – Berkeley July 20, 2009

lalimes4 My sister and her hubby are in Berkeley (CA) for the summer to tidy up their house for the next tenants from the university.  They bought a fixer-upper about four years ago and it still needs a lot of work.  Living full time in the east coast, summer’s the only time they can roll up their sleeves and get “down to the gutters” and continue with the upgrades to their Berkeley house.

I was going to mail a pair of bermuda shorts to my sister for her birthday last week but thought, hmm, this must be the umpteenth pair of bermudas I’m giving her and I’m sure she hasn’t gotten around to wearing the last pair I sent…use your imagination!

Decision:  my birthday gift will be dinner out at a French restaurant.  I am aware that they love ethnic food, but I figured that when they’re back east, they can go to all the ethnic digs they like. 

Google gave me several options in the Berkeley area but I decided on Lalime’s for two reasons:  they had just re-modeled the restaurant and were opening on the 11th of July.  Second reason was exceptional customer service.  I spoke to Ali Wagner of the restaurant and she said they would mail the gift certificate on Saturday.  My sister actually got it that day which means they made an effort to mail it a day earlier.



So what’s Lalime’s like?  These keywords should give you an idea, but visit the links I provided as well:

  • organic ingredients only (see restaurant’s “mission statement” here:
  • French Mediterranean cuisine  (see menu here:
  • quality pre-fixed menus (for their meal on Bastille Day, they were served a salad with Rocquefort cheese and bacon.  This was followed by seafood soup and then the main dish was rack of lamb on greens.  Dessert was a pear and peach tart.  See photos below.  The menu offered three different wines (white, red and rosé), but my sister and hubby opted for  a bottle of Cabarnet Sauvignon instead).
  • crowded, even on week days
  • substantial repeat business (as my sister and her hubby waited for their table, the people behind them were regulars who had been dining at Lalime’s for years and were eager to see what the new restaurant looked like)
  • unpretentious, homey ambiance

Lalime’s is on 1329 Gilman Street, phone number 510-527-9838.  Reservations recommended for weekend dining.  They were featured on  station KTVU in March this year.  Watch the video here:

Hats off to Lalime’s!  My sister and hubby enjoyed their meal and my brother-in- law said, looks like you did some good research there.  Actually, no.  But I must say search engines like Google did their algorithm, spybot crawling and indexing tasks to a T!
















My thanks to Ari Wagner who made my sister’s birthday celebration with her favorite person/husband/friend a delightful experience.  Their friendly waiter Aaron said they work hard at Lalime’s to be as good, if not better, than Chez Panisse, also an organic-themed Berkeley restaurant – their main competitor.

PS:  you’ll have to forgive the blurry quality of the photos above.  How do you expect intoxicated diners to hold their camera with a steady hand?


Testing my Baker’s Scissors July 17, 2009


pain d'epi

The first time I was smitten with bread making (my “dough odyssey” started early this winter), I didn’t want to go all out for baking gadgets because I was afraid it might be just another passing fancy.  Baking one loaf alone takes about 3 to 4 hours so I wasn’t sure my new bread hobby would stick.

One of the first baking tools I spent money on was a good pair of baker’s scissors. The shape of the pain d’epi (wheat stalk bread), which requires the use of scissors, seemed like a challenge especially for a bread novice.

The pair of scissors was rather expensive, but I thought it was a good idea to invest in good quality tools if I wanted to create acceptable bread shapes.

pain d'epi1

Now my confession:  the first picture you see isn’t a real pain d’epiPain d’epi, like the baguette, is a crust bread.  What I used to practice my “cutting skill” was a regular recipe for bread rolls.  Like I said in an earlier blog, I have not yet ventured into crumbs, crusts, rye and sourdough.  I like to make plain white loaves, rolls and sweet breads. I’m sure there’ll be another time for learning how to achieve excellent crust breads.

If you want to try a genuine pain d’epi recipe and want clear instructions on how to shape it, go to this link:  The owners of this web site wrote Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day which I enjoyed.  Their pain d’epi looks a lot more attractive and authentic than mine does.  You can certainly see the huge difference.  Their pain is a lot thinner with a much better crust (and bite). 

As far as shaping the bread is concerned, though, I was pleased with the outcome, considering it was my first attempt.  For the pain d’epi cut, remember to:

  • hold your scissors at a 45 degree angle
  • gently hold one end of the dough as you make a swift and precise cut on the dough, without boring your scissors all the way through.  The recommendation on the web site is to leave a 1/4 inch space from the cutting board
  • after the first cut, gently manipulate it over to one side (that is, away from the dough roll, as if making a leaf)
  • then make another cut at a distance of half an inch from the first cut and gently manipulate over to the other side (if you laid your first cut to the right, the second cut should be to the left)
  • repeat the cutting method until you’ve reached the end of the dough

Here’s a close-up of one cut:

pain d'epi2

If the prospect of spending 3-1/2 to 4 hours to make bread discourages you, I recommend Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  It refutes some of the generally accepted methods of bread making with surprising results that prove the authors know what they’re talking about!  In the link I provided, there is a step-by-step on the cutting procedure with crystal clear photographs.  And, they have very good recipes for no-knead bread.  Yes, no-knead!


Sweet and Sour Sauce: Ever Versatile! July 14, 2009


Like many dishes, sweet and sour sauce is one of those things that taste better the next day…and the next.  I like to make it 24 hours in advance.  This ensures that the vinegar and spices have “settled”.  Maybe a better word is “seeped in.”  It would probably hold for about three days in the fridge, but I don’t know what it would taste like after that.  I have this mild aversion to cooked meals that have been languishing in the fridge for more than three days!

Why do I say this sweet and sour sauce is versatile?  Simple:  it’s a sauce that  complements fried or baked fish, grilled pork chops or chicken.  I like it with fish, but last week I had a craving for meatballs.  Now, it’s rare I make meatballs because the thought of “balling” beef with my bare hands is a turn off.  But some hormones were definitely raging that day and I felt like having deep- fried meatballs with this sauce.

I am aware of what the health experts say about deep frying, but once in awhile I like to disobey the rules and  indulge myself.  I wouldn’t fry everyday, but once a week is fine by me.  Fish, for instance, is good when smoked and baked, but deep fried fish – hmmm…irresistible! 

Notice the meatballs in my picture.  They’re dark.  That’s because I like my beef overdone.   Chefs will label me barbaric, but to each his taste.  My friends used to laugh when I’d order steak and tell the waiter “very well done, please…almost burned.”  They ask me where I learned to eat.

The recipe’s here.

Prepare the meatballs and sweet and sour sauce 1 day ahead:


1 pack of minced meat (about 2 pounds)

5 cloves of garlic, minced

half of a small onion, minced

7 tbsp bread crumbs

1 large egg, beaten

salt, pepper

dash of tabasco

few drops of soy sauce

2-3 tbsp of steak spice (or any spice you have)

Mix above ingredients very well.  Cover with plastic wrap and let it stay in the fridge overnight.

Sweet and Sour Sauce:

4 tbsp canola oil

2 cups tomato juice (or the canned tomato sauce with whole or diced tomatoes.  You can throw in the tomatoes if you wish)

10 tbsp vinegar

2/3 cup sugar

1-1/2 cups of carrots, cut into strips

1/4 of red pepper, sliced into strips (when I say 1/4 I mean cut the ball pepper in half.  Take one half and slice into half again, slicing in thin strips)

1/4 of green pepper (do the same as the red pepper)

3 tbsp of very finely sliced ginger

1 small onion, also cut into thin strips

salt to taste

1/4 cup soy sauce


Saute your garlic, onions and ginger.  Add the red and green pepper strips.  Continue to saute for 2-3 minutes.  Add the carrots.  Saute 1 minute.  Pour your tomato sauce, soy sauce, and vinegar.  Reduce heat and let simmer for 10-15 minutes.  Add sugar and salt.  This is where you should start tasting the sauce  until you get the desired sweet/sour taste.  Keep adding what you think is missing (vinegar, sugar or soy sauce).  Sauce should be ready in 30 minutes.  Set aside and let cool.  When cool, store in refrigerator, covered.

You may wish to add a bit of cornstarch mixed in water to thicken the sauce.  I find that this step isn’t necessary if you intend to serve the dish the next day.  The sauce thickens anyway.

If you need to serve it on the same day, do the cornstarch solution.

The next day, heat your sweet and sour sauce.  When it boils, add your meatballs.  Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Serve over white steamed rice.  It might also go well with couscous.






A Pear Dessert to Smile About July 11, 2009

Filed under: Desserts — sotsil @ 6:23 pm
Tags: , ,

It’s called Bartlett Pear and Almond Croustade.  The first time I made this pear dessert, it left an impression on me, and I knew after the first few bites that I would make it again…and again.  First off, this recipe isn’t mine.  It belongs to :  If you’ll look at the picture on the web site, it resembles mine (see slide show).  That means, another culinary effort on my part didn’t end in disaster. 

I took 6 shots of some steps in the recipe although it isn’t a difficult one to follow.  When time permits,  I like using slides.  They bring out the colors.  They also bring out imaginary smells from the kitchen.  It’s as if you could almost smell the freshly-baked aroma of fresh fruit enveloped in a pastry that’s artistically folded – well – sort of.

For those who like to learn by taking the visual approach (as opposed to text), slide shows can make up for the lack of an actual video show like the cooking videos you watch on YouTube.

I followed the original recipe from (I think it stands for California Pears), except for two things:   (a)  instead of Bartlett pears, I used Anjou pears;  (b) instead of 25 minutes, I baked it for 35-40 minutes. I wanted the pie crust to be very brown instead of a pale yellow.  The pie crust I used was Pillsbury pie crust.

Some trivia about Anjou pears:

  • they do have that oval shape, although they’re not a perfect oval.  They tend to look roundish.
  • they come in two colors – red and green – which is why some people call them either “red Anjous” or “green Anjous”.
  • when you use them for cooking, select those that are only beginning to become ripe; that is, they feel firm to the touch.  For the recipe above, I made the mistake of choosing ripe ones.  How do I test a pear for ripeness?  I call it the nail test.  I dig a nail – only very slightly – into the skin – and if the pear bruises easily, then it’s too ripe to cook with.
  • Anjou pears were first discovered in France’s Loire’s Valley.
  • They’re available from October to June.  I bought my pears in July and already the ones in the supermarket bins are beginning to look like they’ve seen better days.
  • If you like eating pears au naturel, they go great with cheese – Gruyère, Brie, Cheddar or Swiss!




King Arthur Says… July 8, 2009

cheese powder1

It was the cheese powder that caught my attention.  I have never used it, and I doubted it would be available in my supermarket.  I decided to make the buns anyway and  find a substitute for cheese powder.

King Arthur Flour called it their cheese burger buns recipe with Vermont cheese powder.  The closest substitute I could find was the Knorr packet for cheese sauce.  I wasn’t sure it would work but I really felt like experimenting.

I followed the recipe to the letter, substituting the Vermont cheese powder with the Knorr cheese sauce packet.  Luckily it came to exactly 1/4 cup (as stated in the recipe).  The dough grew humongous after 1-1/2 hours of proofing.  I formed them into buns.  The recipe said it would yield 12 buns and that’s what I ended up with. They grew even larger after another hour.

My brother loved it.  So did I.  Soft and chewy.  I almost wished I had made hamburger patties. 

Then it hit me.  The macaroni and cheese boxes of Kraft would have that powdered cheese as well!  I bought a box and was delighted that the powder also came to 1/4 cup!  (what is it with packed cheese substitutes anyway?)

For the second attempt, I wanted to be artistic and decided to make twisted rolls.  I tied the basic knot and just made the ends of the knots go over-under.  I baked them at exactly 18 minutes.  The visual treat was that Kraft’s cheese powder gave my rolls a bright yellow color.  When they came out of the oven, I brushed them with melted butter the second time, let them cool on the wire rack for 1-1/2 hours, then put them in a sealed bag, freezing about 6 of the rolls (I ended up with 13).

The next morning, I warmed the rolls in the toaster oven and again…delicious…chewy…cheesy!  This is going to be a keeper.  Thank you, King Arthur.  You’ll be at my table again, even if my table isn’t round!

Here they are fresh from the oven.

cheese powder4

For those who want the King Arthur Flour’s recipe, here it is:

If you have no cheese powder or don’t want to use a substitute, King Arthur does say you can use grated Parmesan or your favorite cheese.

Lessons learned?  One, I’ll be using Kraft’s macaroni and cheese powder in the box.  Two, instead of brushing with butter, I think I’ll use one yolk mixed with cream – sort of give the rolls two tones:  brown on top and yellow on the sides.  Or…here’s an idea:  sprinkle poppy seeds or dried parsley leaves on top for even more color!