Who's the Baketard?

Why Baketard? Love to cook, hate to bake. Despite having gone to cooking school and working in some top kitchens, I never learned the baking side of things. I'm building my baking and photography skills, while sharing recipes that rock my world in the mean time.

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Flaky Tartlets with Sauteed Leeks, Pancetta and Sage with Madeira-Poached Cherries

Happy Winter!

Posts have been pretty sparse lately, because we’ve been pretty hard core about dieting for the new year. It has been an exercise in creativity making food low in carbs and calories which still tastes good, but it has been easier than I expected it to be. In the past 7 weeks David and I have both dropped about 20 lbs cutting out a lot of the rich food (and booze) which had become our norm. That doesn’t mean we don’t occasionally have a blowout, however, and splurge a little. We had one of those this weekend.

A friend of mine I met on my cooking school trip to China came up from Miami to visit us, and I wanted to be sure I did my job as a good host, ensuring he’d leave stuffed and hung over. Mission accomplished. We did an Italian dinner Saturday night, with most of the dishes coming from Nancy Silverton’s Mozza cookbook. They were all new recipes (to us) and they were all memorable enough, I’ll be putting them up on the blog in the next couple of weeks. A caprese salad made with Burrata, basil pesto, oven-roasted cherry tomatoes and toasted pine nuts. Quail, marinated in an Italian agrodolce, stuffed with pancetta, herbs and onion, wrapped in thinly sliced pancetta and roasted, served over tangy grilled radicchio with honey and fried sage. Roasted broccolini with balsamic and chile, and as a finale, Torta Della Nonna – probably the most ambitious dessert this baketard has ever SUCCESSFULLY made. It was stunning. More to come on all of that…

This starter is one I’ve been making for years, but never got around to posting on the blog. I started making these during culinary school when I was working my externship/stage at the Herbfarm. These pastries were frequent starters on their multi-course menu, they invariably come out flawless, the dough is easy to throw together in a food processor, and they *always* work.  Always. For a pastry recipe to consistently work for me, it’s got to be foolproof. Trust me, you won’t screw this up if you follow the directions. My friend Becky Selengut does a version with Camembert and port-poached cherries. It’s delicious. You can caramelize onions, shallots, leeks—whatever suits your fancy, and add something herby and some dairy to bring it together. The tart shell recipe is consistent, but the filling can change based upon what you have on hand.

Yes, there are three recipes here but my point is they don’t take a ton of work and they’re all do-ahead tasks: The shells can be made ahead and frozen, unbaked. The braiding of the crust takes a little practice but you can always do a simple crimp too. The filling can be made a few days ahead and the cherries can be made up to a month in advance, so this is a great dish for a dinner party or catering. The assembly is relatively quick, and they’re pretty.

I was fortunate enough to have a friend join us for dinner this weekend who is also a food photographer by profession. Her husband was unable to join us (I think he’s either having an affair or he just hates the gays) so I sent home a doggy bag for him. She surprised me Sunday morning with the gorgeous photo above, with a disclaimer that she’d thrown this shot together before letting him at the tarts, and that it was the best she could do at 2am, drunk and stumbling around the house. Girl, if this is your worst, I am even more in awe. Thank you for the thoughtful gift. (You can find more of Kelly’s gorgeous work at www.kclinephotography.com and http://nommynom.com ).

And now, we return to the previously scheduled salads.


Flaky Tartlets with Sauteed Leeks, Pancetta and Sage with Madeira-Poached Cherries

Modified from a recipe in the Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld

Tart Filling:

6 leeks, sliced

4 ounces pancetta, finely diced

¼ cup duck fat or olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 to 3 teaspoons champagne vinegar

¼ cup chicken stock

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup gruyere, grated

½ cup parmesan, grated


12 4-inch Flaky Pastry Tart Shells (Recipe Below)

Madeira and Sage Poached Cherries (Recipe Below)


Making the Filling: Slice the leeks, removing the tough green ends and root end (You want to have just the white and pale green parts). Slice in half lengthwise and then thinly slice into half rings. Melt the duck fat or heat olive oil, and cook the diced pancetta, stirring often, in a large skillet over medium heat until almost crisp. Add the leeks, garlic and salt and cook, stirring often until the leeks are very soft, about 10 minutes. Add champagne vinegar, reduce the heat to medium-low, and continue to cook until the wine has evaporated, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any caramelized bits on the bottom of the skillet. Add chicken stock, and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes. Add the crème fraiche, chopped sage, and cheeses and stir until you have a thick, spreadable and unified consistency. Season with pepper and additional salt, if needed. Be sure to taste the mixture before adding additional salt, as the parmesan will add quite a bit to the mixture. (The mixture can be prepared up to 2 days ahead and stored covered in the refrigerator.)

Filling and baking. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Divide the filling among the tart shells and spread it evenly with the back of a spoon. Bake in the upper third of the oven until the filling is set, about 15 minutes. The filling should still be soft but not runny. Let cool slightly, then transfer the tarts to a cutting board using a large spatula. Just before serving, top with 2-3 Madeira and sage poached cherries. Serve warm or at room temperature.


For large tarts, prebake 2 10-inch Free-Form Tart Shells. Divide the leek mixture between them and bake the tarts until the filling is set in the center, 20 to 25 minutes. Using a large spatula, transfer them to a cutting board and cut each into 12 wedges.

Herb Substitutions

In place of sage, use an equal amount of finely chopped rosemary, marjoram, savory, English thyme, or lemon thyme.

Flaky Pastry Tart Shells:

Makes 12 4-inch shells or 2 10-inch shells

2 cups bleached all-purpose flour (spoon and level; 9 ounces)

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 to 8 tablespoons ice water

Egg wash made with 1 egg yolk and 2 teaspoons water


Place the flour, butter, and salt in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse about 24 times, then open the machine and lift a handful of crumbs. The largest pieces of butter should be the size of raw grains of rice or barley. If there are larger pieces, continue to pulse the mixture. When the butter pieces are the correct size, transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of ice water onto the dough. Spread the fingers of one hand as if you were about to grab a large ball, and using your rigid fingertips as if they were a large fork, stir the dough quickly and briefly until the liquid is incorporated. Squeeze a handful of the dough in your palm. The dough should have just enough moisture to stay together. Break the piece in half. If it seems dry and crumbly, cautiously add more water a few teaspoons at a time until you can squeeze it into a ball that will not crumble when broken apart. If your kitchen is reasonably cool, the butter was cold, and you used ice water, the dough should be at just the right stage of malleability for rolling out, and it will be easiest to work with immediately. If your kitchen is very warm, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for about 15 minutes.

Rolling the dough:

Turn the pastry dough out on a lightly floured board and divide it into quarters for small 7-inch tart shells or in half for large 10-inch shells. Shape 1 piece into a disk and dust the top lightly with flour. Begin to roll out the dough, using quick but gentle strokes with the pin. Start with the pin in the middle of the round and roll to the top, then to the bottom. Rotate the dough 1/4 turn each time you roll to be sure the dough is not sticking and use additional flour as necessary. When the round is larger than 9 inches for a small tart, or 12 inches for a large tart, and about 1/8 inch thick, turn a 9- or 12-inch plate or bowl upside down on the dough as a template and cut around it with a sharp knife. Remove the plate or bowl.

Forming the edge:

Fold 1/2-inch edge of dough all around to form a decorative rim. Begin by folding a 1-inch-long section over by 1/2 inch, then overlap the fold by half and roll another piece of dough over, pinching it firmly in place. Continue to roll and pinch, and a twisted rope pattern will. Form. Roll out the remaining dough and crimp the edges in the same manner. Transfer the pastry shells to baking sheets lined with parchment paper and poke the interior of the shells all over with the tines of a fork. Refrigerate the pastry for at lest 30 minutes or up to 24 hours. If you wish, you can freeze the shells on the baking sheets, and when they are frozen, stack them inside freezer bags. Bake the shells without defrosting first.


Preheat the oven to 375°F. Brush the rims of the tarts with egg wash. Bake the tart shells (1 baking sheet at a time) for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350°F and continue to bake until they are an even golden brown, 8 to 12 minutes longer. Lift a shell with a spatula and check that the underside is evenly brown. If the tart shells puff up during baking, press down the center of the pastry with the back of a large spoon. Let cool on the baking sheet.

Madeira and Sage Poached Cherries

1 cup dried cherries

2 cups Madeira

¼ cup sugar

1 bunch sage


Place all ingredients into small saucepan, stirring occasionally and simmering until cherries are plump and liquid is reduced by 2/3, about 30 minutes. Liquid should be thick and there should be just enough left to coat the cherries. Remove the sage sprigs and store in a covered container in the refrigerator, up to one month.



Liquore di Anice Arancia (Blood Orange and Star Anise Liqueur)

It’s that time of year when we’re on our New Year Diet Plan, so not a whole lot of food or new dishes to blog about. Who wants to hear about salads, salads and more salads? Salad is what FOOD eats. Lots of stir fries (one with Dan Dan flavors may be worth blogging about later), chicken and seafood dishes. Meh. We have pretty much gone dry in the process too, which has been easier than I thought. With all this healthy crap, I’ve been twitchy on the weekends. Saturdays are usually when I go nuts on the more time-consuming meals, fresh pastas, more interesting sauces,…you know. Fun-cooking!

A couple of weeks ago I was digging through the refrigerator, trying to find something interesting and healthy (oxymoron) to do with broccoli, and stumbled across the last few drops of Liquore di Anice Arancia, an orange and star anise liqueur we brought home from Italy earlier this year.  It was the most amazing thing either of us had ever tasted, but we didn’t bring home much in the way of souvenirs and the bottle we did bring home was quickly shared with friends and gone. I saved the bottle in the freezer, just so I wouldn’t forget about it and in case I could coerce one of my traveling friends to bring back a bottle if ever I ran into anyone going to the Amalfi coast.

Our friend Judy, whose blog Over A Tuscan Stove provides constant inspiration, was helping me with a purchase I was trying to negotiate from here and I mentioned the liquor. When I showed her the label, she clarified that what I loved so much was the faint star anise note in the background of the drink, and that it would be child’s play to make at home. She also advised me to get the purest alcohol I could procure, so I ordered a big jug of Everclear online.

What the hell, right? Another new (to me) website I’m really enjoying is La Tavola Marche, from which the Rosemary and Lavender Cake I mentioned in my last post originated. They have a recipe for a Blood Orange Arancello, so I figured it would be pretty simple to add the star anise, triple the recipe and make it my own…..hoping it would taste like what remember.

We finished the liquor last night, and you know what? It tastes EXACTLY like what we remember! This is most definitely a recipe I'll repeat until they wheel my poor, pickled corpse away. Fortunately, in the meantime we have enough orangy, boozy goodness to last at least a week when we’re off these damned diets.

A few notes about the recipe: You will need to skin the oranges carefully, with a very sharp knife. You don’t want to get the bitter pith in with the peel. It took me about 45 minutes to fully peel 20 blood oranges and remove any last bits of pith. Consider it a labor of love. When storing this mixture, both throughout the process and when you have assembled the simple syrup with the infused alcohol, store it in a cool, dry place. The amount of simple syrup used here makes for a liqueur which goes down pretty smoothly. If you want it a little bit boozier, reduce the syrup mixture at the end.

Liquore di Anice Arancia (Blood Orange and Star Anise Liqueur)

Adapted and shared with permission from the kind folks at La Tavola Marche

The two week boozy peel soak


1.75 liters Everclear, or as close as you can find to pure grain alcohol. In a pinch, use vodka. 1.75 liters is the huge handled jug. (For professional drinkers)

The skin of 20 blood oranges. 

10-12 (about ¼ cup) star anise

1.75 kilo (3.85 lbs) granulated sugar

3 liters (~12 ½ cups) water


In a large jar with a lid, soak the orange-rind peels and star anise in the alcohol and leave in a cool dark place for about 14 days.

After it has sat for 14 days or so, filter the rinds from the alcohol. Boil the water & sugar, making a simple syrup, stirring to dissolve all the sugar in the water. Then add the orange flavored alcohol. Bottle.

Arancello, like limoncello will last a year or more in proper storage.

If the alcohol is too strong, it is also nice to serve it with a drop of heavy cream or dollop of whipped cream atop - then it is referred to as Crema di Arancello.



Chicken Crostone with Liver and Pancetta Sauce, and Rosemary Cake with Lavender Glaze

Happy New Year!

It’s the time of year when we all have to sit back, reflect on the past 365 days, cringe at the weight we gained over the holidays and make a bunch of healthy eating resolutions we will keep for precisely 16 days before we say, “Screw it” and go out for Mexican food after a rough day at work.

We just got back from a holiday trip to Mexico with friends where we ate too much, drank too much, and came back bloated and full of self-loathing (Ah, holidays). Fortunately, I convinced our trainer Anna the Horrible to help us with our New Year’s fitness challenge this time, so hopefully we’ll make it past the 16-day mark because this time we have greater incentive.  Here’s the deal: We want a 3-month challenge. There are four of us who train with her, all of whom want to lose some weight before the summer so we don’t have to go swimming in t-shirts, puffy coats and parkas. We will weigh in with her this week and she will set aggressive goals for each of us for the three month period. If/when we succeed in our goals, our reward will be that we get to set up a workout for her to do, including all the most torturous exercises she makes us do—VersaClimber, throwing a goddamned bajillion pound medicine ball at the wall while doing squats, medieval torture positions to be held while doing a Plank, etc. While she does these things, we will sit in the private training room, comfy on padded yoga mats, EATING FRIED CHICKEN. (I thought this was a brilliant incentive, if I do say so myself).  After some negotiation, she agreed. What we don’t know yet is what the penalties will be for those who DON’T make it, other than having to join her in the workout.

David and I are weighing in with her on Friday, which leaves us only a couple of days left to eat real food. With this in mind, I made a New Year’s Day delicious hangover dinner last night from a couple of different sources.  First, from the Mozza Cookbook, we made Chicken Crostone (It’s supposed to be guinea hen, but who has that lying around—HELLO) in a chicken liver and pancetta sauce.  It’s one of those slow braises which takes a while to make, but the active time is pretty minimal. It was rich, delicious and completely comforting on a cold, dark, hung over Seattle night.

Next, I made a recipe I found this weekend while bored-bored-bored on an airplane, surfing the web for Italian chef websites. It’s a rosemary cake, which is pretty typical for northern Italy, with a lavender glaze. Two of my favorite herbs in one dessert? SOLD! The recipe came from a website called La Tavola Marche. (Out of respect for their blog, I won’t post the recipe here, but you can get it by clicking this link).

Both dishes came out great, but were tough to photograph. There was little light left by the time I ran outside to take a photo glazing the cake, and the frosting looked a little bit nasty so I couldn’t help myself. I’m immature. Sue me. 

Bukcake or Cakekkake?

The chicken wasn’t done until it was pitch black outside (which is about 4pm) so by the time we had dinner there was no way to take a natural light photo. Oh, and the chicken, the sauce and the bread on which it rests are all shades of beige or brown.  This is basically my way of saying DON’T JUDGE. The photos are crap but the dishes were both relatively simple, hugely satisfying, and absolutely delicious.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did, and good luck with your new year’s resolutions. I’ll still be thinking of these recipes next week when we are dining on air with a side of dust and a slice of lemon (all of which are part of a healthy Gluten Free diet).

Guinea Hen Crostone with Liver and Pancetta Sauce

Adapted from the Mozza Cookbook, by Nancy Silverton

4 servings


  • 8 guinea hen thighs* (we used skin-on chicken thighs)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Flour for dredging
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, more as needed
  • 2 1/2 cups diced pancetta
  • 3 cups diced Spanish onion
  • 12 cloves garlic, sliced thin
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • 4 cups dry white wine
  • 4 cups chicken or guinea hen stock, plus an additional 1 cup for the crostone
  • 1 pound (about 2 1/2 cups) cleaned chicken livers, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar
  • 2 lemons, zest removed in long strips, and juiced
  • 4 (2-inch thick) slices peasant bread, such as ciabatta, each slice about 7x3- inches
  • 1/4 cup whole celery heart leaves, for garnish
  • 1/4 cup whole Italian parsley leaves, for garnish


*Note: You'll probably have to buy guinea hen whole legs rather than thighs. In this case, cut the drumsticks off and make a stock with them, just as you would a chicken stock. Use in the recipe instead of chicken stock.

With a clean kitchen towel or paper towel, pat the guinea thighs dry. Season them with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Dredge in the flour and pat off all excess flour. Meanwhile, heat a large (12-inch) saute pan over medium heat for one minute, and then add the olive oil. It should be hot but not smoking by the time you are done flouring the guinea thighs.

Brown the thighs, skin side down first, adjusting the heat and adding more oil so that the meat sizzles at a nice pace. Cook until golden, 2 to 3 minutes, and then turn the meat and cook another minute or two to color the other side. If your pan is small, cook the thighs in two batches. Transfer the thighs to a plate.

You will now need a 4-quart straight sided saute pan or an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven. This pan should be wide enough to have the thigh pieces fit in single layer and deep enough to hold at least 4 quarts of liquid (a stock pot will work in a pinch). Put this pan over medium-high heat. Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the pancetta and sweat for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the onions and garlic and sweat for another five minutes or so, so that the onions are soft and translucent. Add the rosemary, sage, and a small pinch of pepper. (The pancetta should add enough salt to the sauce so don't worry about salting yet.) Sweat for one more minute. Add the wine, 4 cups of the stock, livers, capers, vinegar, and lemon juice. Add the reserved guinea thighs and bring the braise to a simmer. There should be well more liquid than is needed to cover the meat. This is a good thing, as this dish is all about having plenty of sauce and it will reduce as you cook it. Simmer until the guinea is fork-tender and the meat pulls away from the bone easily, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Carefully remove the thighs and reserve on a plate.

Turn up the heat and boil the sauce, stirring from time to time to make sure it isn't sticking and burning, until it reduces by half. To thicken it slightly, use a blender to puree 1 cup of the reduced sauce and add it back to the pan. Stir and taste for seasoning. Add a couple drops of lemon juice if needed. Salt is probably not needed, but use your judgment for final seasoning.

The dish can be made up to this point a day ahead.

To finish, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Put the bread slices in a small baking dish that has been generously coated with olive oil. Ladle the remaining 1 cup of stock evenly over all of the bread. Set two thighs on each slice, skin side up. Toast in the oven until the bread has turned a crispy golden brown on the bottom, about 10 minutes; use a spatula to check and be careful as the toast tends to stick. Reheat the sauce.

Remove the thighs from the toasts, and carefully remove the crostones from the pan and turn them over so that the brown side is up.

To plate, set one slice of toast on each plate. Remove the thigh bone from the meat and place the meat from two thighs on each toast. Spoon some of the warmed sauce over each thigh and a little more to run off the crostone. Garnish with celery leaf (inner yellow leaves only), Italian parsley leaf, and long strips of lemon zest.


Gongbao Diced Chicken (Chicken with Peanuts) 宫保鸡丁

Ok, I'm tardy on this one.  I’ve been back from the adventure of a lifetime for about a month now. I’ve been meaning to blog about it, and kept promising to do so, but do you ever have one of those experiences where you have so much to tell, you don’t even know where to begin?  Ok, then. QUIT JUDGING ME!!!

As both of you who read this blog know, I’m obsessed with Chinese food—ESPECIALLY Sichuan food. When Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty was published over ten years ago, I became addicted to the balance of chile-fire and citrusy, mouth-numbing Sichuan pepper this cuisine brings. While not all Sichuan food carries these flavors, the dishes which most appealed to me did. I cooked my way through Fuchsia Dunlop’s book, scribbling notes about what I liked, and pestering my Chinese boss and colleagues at work with questions and requests to smuggle some of the more esoteric ingredients to me in between my own trips to China. When Ms. Dunlop’s second book about the cuisine of Hunan came out, I had a similar experience. The recipes work, they’re authentic, they taste of the dishes I’ve had when I’ve traveled, and her books make accessible techniques and flavors I never would have been able to make otherwise. Her third book, Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, was an autobiography of her time in China, being the first westerner to attend the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine. The book explained the challenges she faced and chronicled her journey from being a westerner to truly being immersed in the food and culture of Sichuan province. I dreamed of getting to experience this for myself. Because of the popularity of her books and Sichuan Cuisine, I was constantly on the lookout for the means to make it happen for me.

In October of this year, I went to Asia for three weeks. While this isn’t uncommon for me with work, it’s the first time I’ve done it alone, purely for fun. A few years back, I stumbled upon a website called Cooking School in China. This site detailed a two-week culinary immersion at the same institute where Fuchsia Dunlop studied. I drooled over the monthly recipes in the newsletter as it was released, and thought, “Some day…” This year, thanks to a supportive spouse who didn’t mind me going off on an adventure without him (he probably relished 3 weeks of peace and quiet), I finally decided to give it a shot. As the date of the trip approached, Diane Drey, the owner and facilitator of this adventure sent us tidbits about the city, things we would see, helpful tips on menus, items we needed to bring along, and finally recipes which began with an authentic Gung Bao (Kung Pao) Chicken challenge for us to try at home before the trip. I followed her recipe and make the chicken along with some other Asian dishes for a dinner party, understanding that what we learned in Chengdu might be a bit different. (It was, but only slightly—it really depends on which chef you have which day). It was DELICIOUS, and drove my excitement through the roof.

I started the trip with a few days in Bangkok with good friends we don’t see nearly enough, where we did our best to drink every drop of liquor and wine in the city in between bouts of power-shopping, eating at some amazing restaurants (I love you, David Thompson), and taking a Thai cooking class at the Oriental.  When my hangover and I arrived in Chengdu, I checked into my hotel, met my colleagues for the trip, and embarked upon the most exhilarating culinary adventure I have ever experienced. We lucked out, really…typically these classes have around 15 people from all over the world. This time, there were only 4 of us. We all had similar political (this was right before the presidential election) and social views, compatible personalities, and we just really clicked well together. This is important when you’re in a long commute each day, immersed in conversation and trying to ignore thinking about how you’re weaving in and out of insane Chengdu traffic).

The Culinary Institute itself is vast, and full of eager, curious kids excited to practice their English skills and find out why these big ol’ white boys were there wearing chef whites at the school.

The main entrance to the school

So shy.

Because there were only 4 in our group, we received an even higher level of individual attention from the chefs and staff than the norm. We had two interpreters named Betty and Nancy who were our culinary experts and liaisons throughout the program, and who were a real highlight of the trip. No matter how random or detailed our questions (and I had a LOT of questions), they either knew or researched the answer to ensure we were getting what we needed. (Fortunately, they were as passionate about increasing their English vocabulary as we were about increasing our culinary skills). 

Oh, how I love getting photos when they're eating.

On the rare occasion we couldn’t land on the English name for an ingredient, I’d take a photo of it on my iPad, send it out on twitter to the girls back home, and get an answer usually within minutes. It was also good for taking photos and scrawling out the names of the ingredients over the picture with your finger (there's an App for that) on the fly as not to forget anything. Gotta love technology!

Hasty finger scribbling

The chefs moved quickly, speaking even faster, and the girls quickly got used to me asking them to stop to ask how much of this or that ingredient went into the pot, what it was called, why they were doing it this way vs. that way, etc. I was pretty much the same pain in the ass I was when I went to culinary school in the US, but I looked at it like this: I’m here to learn everything I can possibly wring from this experience, and I want to be able to fully reproduce every nuance of this at home for my arched-eyebrow-of-judgment Chinese friends, and if I don’t take excruciatingly detailed notes I’m going to forget most of this because it’s so exciting. They were good sports and my colleagues in the class and I came to a compromise where I’d be the chief scribe and they would make sure everything was detailed at the right level, photographed thoroughly, and understood by all. It was a great arrangement for all of us, I think.

Classes typically followed a routine of 3 hours of chef demonstrations in the morning, showing us what we’d be making later in the day, followed by a break for lunch where we’d avoid the school cafeteria and beg the girls to take us to noodle shops outside the campus. These noodle shops were small, dark, and not something the Department of Health at home would be excited to see, but the food…OH MY GOD THE FOOD….it was breathtaking. And cheap. Lunch typically cost us around a dollar per person. We had Dan Dan noodles (one of my favorite Sichuan specialties), Yibin Kindling Noodles (a typically vegetarian dish with a great deal of fire), hot soups with hand-pulled noodles…the list was endless.

Street shop noodles. Amazing!

The proprietors of the shops were fascinated with us and our need to photograph EVERYTHING (I took about 4,000 photos on this trip. Truly). They were also very accommodating when I asked if I could take pictures of or with them and ask (through our saviors, Nancy and Betty) what they were doing or what the ingredients were. Naturally, I’d then scribble down the recipes they gladly shared. In the afternoons, we pulled out our cleavers and cutting boards and then it was our turn to try and reproduce what the chefs had shown us in the mornings.

A very patient chef and an annoyingly enthusiastic student

Fortunately, they were also very helpful and ensured we were successful in our endeavors. After cooking, cleaning and eating the fruits of our labors, we headed back to the city and when we could manage to stuff more food down, went out to local establishments to try the Sichuan fare we wanted most to explore. For me, it was trying to find street food: Dan Dan Noodles, Zhong’s Pork Dumplings in a spicy-sweet sauce that brings tears to your eyes, Ma Po Tofu.  Some nights, we’d all just go back to our rooms and collapse or head out to find a drink. It was magical.

Practicing Garnishing the Plates

I have a lot to share about this trip, and will go into it more as I explore and duplicate more of the recipes at home, but for now let me tell you about the Gong Bao Chicken. This dish is a classic, and one which every restaurant does differently. In the Seattle area where we have a variety of Sichuan options, my favorite comes from a restaurant called Spicy Talk. Their version is very similar to this one: It’s spicy with dried chiles, has the aforementioned mouth-numbing zing of Sichuan peppercorns, and is stir fried with crunchy roasted peanuts and silky bites of chicken “velveted” in a cornstarch mixture with cooking wine, vinegar and a hint of sugar added at the end to pull the flavors together. This chicken recipe will (hopefully) rock your world like it has mine. If you’d like more information about the cooking program, check out their website or mail me and I’m happy to tell you more. It’s the best money I’ve ever spent!

Gongbao Diced Chicken (Chicken with Peanuts) 宫保鸡丁


7 ounces (200g) Chicken (leg and thigh meat, preferably)

4 1⁄2 tablespoons (40g) Crispy peanuts (roasted)

2 dry chilis (10g) Dried chili - chopped into 3”-long pieces

(add more chili if you prefer it hotter)

2 teaspoons (4g) Sichuan pepper

1 1⁄2 tablespoons (8g) Ginger, - chopped

1 1⁄2 tablespoons (10g) Garlic - chopped

1 scallion (15g) - chopped finely

4 tablespoons (60g) Cooking oil

Spices A: - coating

Pinch (0.5g) Salt

2 teaspoons (5g) Shaoxing Cooking wine

1⁄2 teaspoon (3g) Soy sauce

1 tablespoon (10g) mixture of water and corn starch

Spices B: - thickening sauce

1/8 teaspoon (1g) Salt

1 teaspoon (5g) Shaoxing Cooking wine

1 teaspoon (7g) Soy sauce

2 teaspoons (10g) Black Vinegar

2 teaspoons (10g) Sugar

Pinch (1g) MSG

1 tablespoon (15g) Mixture of water and corn starch

4 teaspoons (20g) Stock


1. Prepare Spices A

2. Dice chicken into 1.5c cubes, (2/3” cubes) and blend in Spices A and mix well to coat chicken.

3. Prepare Spices B to make thickening sauce.

4. Heat oil in a wok to 140 degrees Centigrade (285 degrees Fahrenheit)
. Add dried chili chunks and Sichuan peppercorn, and stir-fry until aromatic (chiles will become bright red), about 20 seconds. 
Drain and remove.

5. Add a small amount of oil to the wok and add the diced chicken, stir-fry until al dente, about 1 minute. Add ginger slices, garlic slices, chopped scallion and after about 30 seconds add Spices B, the thickening sauce. Cook until chicken has lost its raw color. 
Add crispy peanuts when the sauce is thick and luscious, and season to taste with a little additional vinegar. Mix evenly and then transfer to a serving dish.

Features: brownish and reddish color; tender chicken; crispy peanuts; a rich medley of sour, sweet, salty and zingy tastes pepped up with Sichuan pepper and chili

History: The dish was originally made for Ding Baozhen, the governor of Sichuan during the Qing Dynasty, whose official title is “Gongbao”.

Recipe © Diane Drey, Modified and Reprinted with Permission.


Chilled Grapefruit-Caramel Meringue Pie

I haven’t posted on the blog in a while. It hasn’t only been because I’ve been a slacker, really! 

I was basically out of town the entire month of October. I went to Brazil for a conference and business trip (don’t even get me started on how amazing the food was, once I had some time on my own to go and find it) and then to Bangkok and China for the cooking adventure of a lifetime. Since returning home, I have been buried at work and honestly, I have so many photos and so much I could write about the trip to the Sichuan Culinary Institute, I haven’t known where to begin. I’ll try to jump into that this week, and share some of the recipes and experiences with the people who read this blog from time to time.

Yes, I’m speaking to both of you.

Since coming home, I’ve been trying out the Sichuan fare I learned on David and some of our friends, and to my delight, so far every recipe has been delicious. I’ve found little tweaks here and there, scribbled notes in the margins of my notebook on how I’d adjust the recipes in the future when I bite the bullet and make them for my mean, cruel, judgy Chinese girlfriends (you bitches know who you are), but overall have been completely thrilled.

Typically when I’m focusing so much on the savory courses, I cheat with dessert. Ala Mode Pies in Seattle delivers, (Did you hear me? THEY DELIVER. TO YOUR DOOR. SAME-DAY. Put down your bong for a moment and contemplate that) and their pies are out of this world. More than once I’ve had to call these guys at the last minute to have something amazing delivered, and they always come through. (My personal favorites, the apple and ginger pear pie and the coconut cream pie. Watch out, Tom Douglas—you have some competition here.)

This weekend I decided to man up and try one of the bajillions of dessert recipes I have found and saved in my cooking file. This recipe from Food and Wine Magazine caught my eye, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I breezed through the recipe while making my shopping list for the weekend and thought, “Even this baketarded idiot can pull this one off”, not thinking about the time factor. This isn’t a recipe you can pull off in a few hours. There’s not a ton of active work, but there are a lot of delays in between steps as you wait for components to cool and freeze. When you’re executing an ambitious menu and are as easily distracted OH LOOK! A BUTTERFLY!!! as I am, it’s not the ideal.  Turns out, it was completely worth it. This dessert looked great when it was completed, and I was fascinated by how quickly the meringue colored when using a brulee torch. It was magical for someone who had never done that before. I even had to call David into the kitchen to watch. The slightest touch of heat colored the meringue in broad brushstrokes, like painting on the computer.

I know, the real bakers out there are going, “Get over it, Mary, it’s meringue for fuck’s sake”. Yeah, yeah…I know. It was still cool.

You can adapt this with any citrus you like for the curd. I thought it was amazing with pink grapefruit juice as the base, but anything will work. You can also flavor the caramel with something like, oh I don’t know, marijuana butter if you want to add a little something special to finish off dinner. Allegedly.

Naturally, since it isn’t legal here until next month, I wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing. I just want both of you to have options, should you choose to take them.

Happy thanksgiving, kids. Next up, I promise some insights into cooking in Chengdu.

Chilled Grapefruit-Caramel Meringue Pie



Food and Wine Magazine. Recipe by Deborah Snyder.





1 cup fresh pink or Ruby Red grapefruit juice

Coarsely shredded zest of 3 pink or Ruby Red grapefruits (1/2 cup)

1 dozen large eggs, 6 eggs lightly beaten, 6 eggs separated

3/4 cup plus 1 1/3 cups sugar

2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter, softened, plus 4 tablespoons melted

9 whole graham crackers

1/2 pound cream cheese, softened

Caramel Sauce (Recipe Below)

3/4 cup heavy cream


1) Bring a medium saucepan filled with 2 inches of water to a simmer over moderate heat. In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the grapefruit juice and zest with the 6 whole eggs, 6 egg yolks and 3/4 cup of the sugar. Set the bowl over the saucepan and cook, stirring frequently, until a thick curd forms, about 15 minutes; don't worry if the curd looks slightly curdled. Strain the curd through a fine sieve set over a bowl, pressing on the solids; discard the solids. Whisk the softened butter into the curd until blended. Place a sheet of plastic directly on the curd and refrigerate until set, about 3 hours.

2) Meanwhile, in a food processor, crush the graham crackers; pour in the melted butter and pulse just to combine. Pat the crumbs over the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

3) In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Beat in 3/4 cup of the Caramel Sauce. In another medium bowl, beat the heavy cream until soft peaks form. Fold the heavy cream into the caramel cream cheese.

4) Spoon the grapefruit curd into the springform pan and tap gently to form an even layer. Spoon the caramel cream on top in a smooth, even layer. Drizzle the remaining 3/4 cup of Caramel Sauce all over the caramel cream and freeze until slightly set, about 1 hour.

5) Meanwhile, bring a medium saucepan filled with 2 inches of water to a simmer. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, combine the 6 egg whites with the remaining 1 1/3 cups sugar, set the bowl over the simmering water and whisk over low heat until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot to the touch. Transfer the bowl to the mixer fitted with a whisk and beat at medium-high speed until the whites are stiff and glossy, about 8 minutes. Spread the meringue over the caramel. Swirl decorative peaks in the meringue. Freeze the pie until firm, at least 4 hours.

6) Before serving, preheat the broiler and position a rack 8 inches from the heat. Broil the meringue just until it begins to brown, about 2 minutes, shifting the pan for even browning. Alternatively, brown the meringue with a propane torch. Carefully remove the ring and transfer the pie to a platter. Let stand in the refrigerator for 30 minutes before serving.

MAKE AHEAD The pie can be prepared through Step 5 and frozen for up to 2 weeks. Cover once it's frozen solid.

Caramel Sauce


4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt


1) In a medium saucepan, combine the butter with all three sugars and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook over moderately high heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the cream and boil for 2 minutes longer. Transfer the caramel sauce to a pitcher. Stir in the vanilla and salt and refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours.

MAKE AHEAD The caramel can be refrigerated for up to 1 week. Whisk to combine before serving.



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