Category Archives: Recipe Review

This is a review of a recipe published in a magazine, cook book or on-line.

Recipe Review of Dried Apricot-Pecan Bread, in The Best Quick Breads (2000) by Beth Henspergen

Apricots are important icons to several cultures around the world. The stone fruit is as important as olives to other cultures. Like olives in some places in the Middle and Near East, intentionally destroying an apricot tree is such an extreme insult over which people that are willing to kill. The apricot we know today may have been developed in Armenia up to 8,000 years ago. Apricots have been identified as cultivated in India 5,000 years ago. Spanish Missionaries carried apricot seedlings west across North America as they carried the Gospel and sought golden salvation in the Mediterranean-climate of California. The pale orange fruit dries into a golden bronze coin when not treated with preservatives. Apricots were an important commodity in along the Persian and Silk Road trade routes. Today, Turkey is the largest producer of dried apricots.

Two loaves of Dried Apricot-Pecan Bread from The Best Quick Breads (2000) by Beth Hensperger

Two loaves of Dried Apricot-Pecan Bread from The Best Quick Breads (2000) by Beth Hensperger

The recipe for Dried Apricot-Pecan Bread is one of my favorite quick bread recipes. I shared it at work several times a year. My English and Irish co-workers called it a wonderful tea bread. I considered this the best critique available. It is best served cool and sliced thin with a very sharp knife. Sweetened butter is best.

I need to first say I love this cookbook, but that does not mean the recipes do not need to be tweaked to bake the best bread.  I have been using the cookbook for over ten years and each recipe has its own adjustments.

I recommend the Turkey apricots over the California apricots. I use kitchen scissors to cut the dried fruit into not quite match stick size, but maybe two match sticks wide pieces. When you hydrate the 12 oz chopped, dried apricots, you can use 8 oz water, or orange juice, or orange liqueur.

There is nothing special to the mixing of the dry ingredients. Use the best flour you can afford. It really does make a difference in the finished bread. The 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour which the recipe called for and I used in the photographed loaves here was ground by my father from wheat berries he purchased from King Arthur Flour at their office in Atchison, Kansas in a Vitamix food processor. My family takes flour quality very seriously.

The recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar which is included in the first step when you marinate the apricots. I used a half cup of finely granulated sugar and in this batch I think that was to much. The surface of the bread was much to brown, in my opinion. That said, I had a nice center crack on one loaf, which indicated good expansion during baking. The recipe calls to allow the dough to rest 15 minutes before placing in the pre-heated oven. I allowed the dough to rest 20 minutes before baking.

It has been suggested if I want to avoid the quick bread from cracking on its top surface I need to allow the dough to rest before baking. I think this is important especially when dealing with quick bread recipes that rely on baking soda for expansion, such as this recipe. The 4 oz plus a little orange juice added at the end provides the acidity to trigger the baking soda and any expansion that occurs before and during baking.

When combining liquids, mix the two eggs with the 4 oz orange juice, then add to the rest of the ingredients. I do not recommend substituting orange liqueur. You need the orange juice acidity to interact with the baking soda.

My main complaint about the recipes in the cook book is that they consistently do not call for enough liquid to adequately combine the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients. I have had the best results in hand mixing this recipe. It is very important to not over-mix but the dry ingredients do need to be evenly moistened. Add more liquid, here orange juice, a tablespoon at a time until the flour does not stick to the mixing bowl. The recipe calls for 60 minutes baking time, but this recipe is done, provides a clean toothpick when inserted into the top of each loaf, right at 50 minutes.

Dried Apricot-Pecan Bread is wonderful at a brunch, on a picnic served with paper-thin slices of honey ham and a small amount of marmalade, or as a mid-afternoon snack with cream cheese. This quick bread can be as sophisticated or as simple as you desire.

The recipe book I use is The Best Quick Breads: 150 Recipes for Muffins, Scones, Shortcakes, Gingerbreads, Cornbreads, Coffeecakes, and More published in 2000 by The Harvard Common Press. ISBN: 1-55832-171-3  It appears the book was republished in 2012.

Recipe Review of “Perfect Baked Eggs” by Celeste Rogers, in Cook’s Illustrated, November/December 2012

Figure 1 A baked egg in a cream-spinach bed in a 10-ounce ramekin.

The recipe and article “Perfect Baked Eggs” by Celeste Rogers (no relation to me that I know of) in Cook’s Illustrated, November/December 2012 is an attempt to demonstrate how to bake an individual egg with a spinach filling (Fig 1). For the most part this is about as good of instructions on how to bake an egg without overcooking it that I have seen. The ingredients are basic ingredients already in the kitchen and freezer.

I have looked for a recipe to successfully make little, single egg dishes for years. I have tried several recipes including Scott Peacock’s “Eggs with Cream, Spinach, and Country Ham” in Gourmet, January 2008. Peacock’s “Eggs” recipe should work but never has. I have since traipsed along tinkering with the egg dish every fall and winter looking for something I can use as a contribution to a holiday breakfast. Rogers’ “Perfect Baked Eggs” worked well so that I would not have to tinker with it if all I wanted was a simple egg dish. I will have to jazz it up to make it Christmas Morning material.

What I will criticize is the size of casserole recommended for the dish. Rogers recommends “6-ounce ramekins with a 3 ¼-inch diameters, measured from the inner lip.” I think this is to small. I only have 4 6-ounce ramekins and had to use 2 10-ounce ramekins in order to fill out the six servings the recipe made. The difference surprised me (Fig 2). The 10-ounce containers did not overcook the eggs after the 6 minutes in a 425 degree oven followed by the ramekin siting 10 minutes on a wire rack. The eggs in the 6-ounce dish are firm after cooling and will be fine to eat, but with the 10-ounce casseroles the soft egg will nicely mix with the spinach filling.

Figure 2 Side-by-side comparison between the baked egg cooked in a 10-ounce ramekin and a 6-ounce ramekin.

I recommend the use of Parmesan cheese. It is a dry cheese that will not make the dish greasy or watery like cheddar or any other generic cheeses in the dairy section of the average grocery store. If you can spend the money to purchase the good Italian Parmesan cheese, do that. You will not be disappointed.

The oven time Rogers recommends, 6 to 8 minutes at 425 F if using a metal pan to hold the ramekins and 500 F if using a glass backing dish, is to long. The 6-ounce ramekins were overcooked. Temperatures are correct, I think. Since the demise of Gourmet I have had to look to Cook’s Illustrated for good recipes. I have noticed Cook’s Illustrated recipes tend to recommend times that will overcook the dish. I have wondered if this is an effort to make sure the food is fully cooked, even when the writer and recipe recommend checking the internal temperature. This is a recipe where, in order to prevent overcooking you will be standing or kneeling in front of the open oven door watching the eggs cook until the egg whites are just full white.

I will make the “Perfect Baked Egg” recipe again. I will also tinker with it. What I have found with these egg casseroles is 5-ounce spinach and 5-ounce finely chopped “woodsy”-tasting mushroom is good. What I like is adding, per ramekin, a half slice home-smoked bacon, frozen firm then sliced into 1/8-inch slivers with kitchen shears, then fried with grease discarded (bacon grease does not add anything good to the taste of the egg casserole no matter how fresh the smoked bacon is so stick with Rogers’ 2 tablespoons butter to cook the shallot in at the beginning) and two large, cooked shrimp, frozen firm then sliced into less-than ¼-inch pieces added to the spinach/mushroom/shallot/half-and-half/Parmesan mixture.

Recipe and demonstration video can be found at the Cook’s Illustrated website if you are a online member by searching for “baked egg” .

I served the baked egg with French Onion Soup (Gourmet magazine recipe), milk, and for dessert Chocolate Pudding Cake.

Recipe Review: Beef and Mushroom Pot Pie

Beef and Mushroom Pot Pies

I like this recipe. I am always on the look-out for new pot pie recipes. Some work, some do not work, and this one worked just fine. Historically, I have disliked “Taste of Home” main meal recipes because they, in my opinion, tend to involve opening a couple of cans of this and that, stirring, and heating at 375° F for twenty minutes for something rather fattening, salty, and unappetizing. Perhaps this is unfair. I do prefer to use fresh ingredients from local farmers so that my money supports the families I run into at the public library or a community event instead of the money disappearing into an anonymous, international food processor.

This pot pie recipe is very filling. It would be ideal on a winter, or dreary spring or autumn evening. I could envision reheating a ramekin after shoveling the driveway.

The pot pie recipe was easy to put together. Preparation time was exactly 40 minutes like the recipe says. The needed ingredients were accessible if not already in the kitchen. I did purchase the prepared beef gravy, sour cream, fresh mushrooms, a baking potato and tube of refrigerated crescent rolls.

The recipe starts off by calling for boiling the cut-up potato in a microwave. I boiled the potato on the stove-top because I do not have a microwave. I used 1-lb ground beef instead of the called-for 1-lb beef top sirloin steak cut into 1/4 inch pieces. It has been my experience steak cuts cooked in small pieces turn out tough unless you marinate them overnight, and even then they are chewy. After cooking the ground beef, I sauteed the vegetables. I used a large, white onion instead of the red onion. White onions are not as bitter, I think, as most red onions you find in a store. I did not use ketchup. I do not keep ketchup on hand. Ketchup is high in sugar, and if it is necessary I will substitute organic tomato sauce.

While the vegetables cooked, I prepared the refrigerated crescent rolls. I was very tempted to purchase two tubes of refrigerated crescent rolls. I did not see how one tube could adequately supply the 16 slices without squishing the slices. As seen in the picture, the thin slices expanded and worked okay. In my opinion one can never prepare enough refrigerated crescent rolls, so the next time I will go ahead and spend the money and use two tubes with 8 slices from each. Or, you could cut sixteen slices from each tube and have a flower pattern. The exposed meat and gravy is almost unappetizing looking so the larger or more slices of crescent roll dough cooked golden brown will add to the eye appeal of the finished dish.

Using the ramekins or individual casserole dishes is an excellent idea. They are easy to transport and re-heat. I only have two 16-oz round dishes, so I used the 2-cup square dishes, too. The round ramekins are available at Pier One Imports or you can go on-line to QVC and purchase there. Department stores sometimes also carry ramekins.

When baking, make sure to have a tray under the dishes. They will be full enough they will boil over.

I have been thinking of ways to add one more cup of frozen vegetables to the recipe. One ramekin, in theory, has cup potatoes, ¼ a large onion, ½ cup sliced mushrooms, ¼ cup carrots, and ¼ cup peas. In my mind this equates to about one serving of vegetables. Each ramekin also contains ¼ cup sour cream, 1/4 ground black pepper, 1/4 tablespoon cornstarch and ¼ cup store-bought, low sodium beef gravy. The ramekins are boiling over already so I do not there is enough space to add another 8-oz vegetables to each ramekin to reach the recommended 2 cups per meal.

In order to obtain the suggested two servings vegetables per meal, you should prepare a salad, or as “Taste of Home” suggests, serve with assorted fresh vegetables such as carrots, celery, cucumbers, broccoli, and radishes.

Recipe Beef and Mushroom Pot Pie by Macey Allen (Green Forest, Arkansas), published in “Taste of Home” February/March 2012 issue.

Recipe Review: Zucchini Ragout with Bacon and Tomato from The Art of Simple Food (2007) by Alice Waters

for Norma….

Miss Bingley was engrossed by Mr. Darcy, her sister scarcely less so; and as for Mr. Hurst, by whom Elizabeth sat, he was an indolent man, who lived only to eat, drink, and play at cards; who, when he found her to prefer a plain dish to a ragout, had nothing to say to her.” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice



The ragout of Jane Austen wrote about, and we are told enjoyed, was a relatively exotic, spicy dish that I can say was probably nothing like Alice Water’s Zucchini Ragout with Bacon and Tomato found in The Art of Simple Food (2007). Jane Austen’s contemporary, Regency Era readers would have understood the character comparison: Elizabeth Bennet preferred good, common sense, “John Bull” English food whereas Mr. Hurst preferred the exotic, imported food styles of the European Continent. “John Bull” was the patriotic English yeoman used in Napoleonic War propaganda to contrast the solid English people to the floozy Neopoleonic French. Elizabeth’s lack of sophistication that generations of readers, and Mr. Darcy, admire is what has kept Pride and Prejudice in constant print for over two hundred years.

Zucchini Ragout with Bacon and Tomato is not a spicy ragout. I had problems as I made this recipe from what I perceived as the limited use of spices. I eventually learned this recipe is not about decorating and compensating vegetables but celebrating fresh, summer vegetables.

Fig 1. Vegetables purchased at the farmer's market

I purchased several ingredients at the Saturday Farmer’s Market. Zucchini: $5.50. Tomatoes: $2.00. Onion: $0.50 (Fig 1). I did not have bread to toast, as suggested by the recipe, so I prepared brown rice. I roasted several cloves of fresh garlic and added the soft garlic the cooked brown rice.

The bacon from the recipe was home cured and smoked by my father. He used a maple cure. Once you have had fresh, home-made bacon, you cannot eat the stuff sold in the grocery stores. Home-made bacon stands, its broad shoulders straight and shouts as it touches your tongue, “Bacon!” Whereas store-bought bacon slouches into your mouth with its hands in its pockets and mutters “Yeah, I’m bacon.”

Fig 2. Zucchini was just added to tomato/onion mixture

The recipe is very straight forward (Fig 2). I would freeze the bacon firm to make cutting the bacon easier. I would slice and dice all vegetables before starting. The timing is accurate for the preparation steps. Once things start happening, there is no time to prepare ingredients without overcooking the other vegetables.

Fig 3. Zucchini Ragout with Bacon and Tomato served with brown rice

Fig 4. Next day, for lunch. Zucchini ragout warmed in a microwave and served with pasta.

Warmed up the next day for lunch at work, it tasted fine (Fig 4). The vegetables were a bit watery. I served it with pasta that is supposed to contain a serving of vegetables. I think this dish may be best consumed on the day of cooking.

As I have play with recipes from this Alice Water’s cookbook, I appreciate what she is doing. The quality and tastiness of the ingredients are on display. You could not successfully make this recipe “as-is” in January with anemic, hydroponic tomatoes and imported, cardboard zucchini. This zucchini ragout demands quality ingredients which I am lucky to have access to through my mid-Missouri, local farmer’s market. Go to the library and check the cookbook out.

Publisher: Clarkson Potter/Publishers

ISBN: 978-0-307-33679-8

Recipe Review: Peaches ‘N’ Cream Éclairs with Bourbon Caramel Sauce by Lawrence Karol in Gourmet, July 2007

Several years ago, for the family 4th of July picnic, I made several desserts. The cousins are still talking about the Pavlova. During the U.S. Memorial Day holiday at the end of May, the cousins start asking what dessert am I going to make for the 4th of July this year. Since the Pavlova, my dessert contribution is now expected to be dramatic and tasty.

For 4th of July, 2011, I prepared Lawrence Karol’s Peaches ‘N’ Cream Éclairs with Bourbon Caramel Sauce from Gourmet, July 2007. Because this is my mother’s party, she has always volunteered to buy ingredients. The nice thing about this recipe, and the author states this in his brief write-up, is that most ingredients can be found in a well-stocked pantry and refrigerator. The only ingredients my parents purchased for this recipe were the white peaches ($3.80) and heavy cream ($3.59). One nice thing about cooking at my parents’ house is they have every kitchen gadget you could want to play with.

Following the directions of the recipe, the choux pastry quickly came together with no fuss. After mixing the flour mixture of margarine, water, salt and flour in the sauce pan, I transferred the dough to a metal mixing bowl. It took longer than the recommended five minutes to cool the dough to the point I felt comfortable adding the eggs. I wonder if this isn’t because I was using a metal bowl and not a glass bowl. When I make éclairs at my house, I use glass mixing bowls. Perhaps the metal holds the heat longer than glass.

The recipe only made seven pastries instead of the recipe-listed eight. Before this recipe, I have not used a pastry bag to make éclairs. Usually, I evenly divide the dough into desired number of pieces, use a large spoon to place on the baking sheet and shape (Unorthodox?). The pastry bag was a two person operation: I held the pastry bag and my mother spooned the dough out of the mixing bowl.

Figure 1. Pastries were sliced after cooling.

Baking was easy. Placing the pastries in a preheated oven at 425° F for 15 minutes and then lowering the temperature to 400° F for 15 minutes (30 minutes total baking) produced lightly golden pastries (Fig. 1). Using my father’s silicon-lined baking sheet produced pastries that were the same color on the bottom as well as the top. When using a buttered baking sheet or a sheet lined with parchment paper, I often have trouble obtaining a uniform color on the top and bottom of the pastry.

Figure 2. Eclairs with peaches, whipped cream and caramel.

One disappointment is the pastries were not as puffy as other éclair recipes I like to make (Fig. 1). The pastry tasted rich, but crumbled when sliced. That said, the photograph of the finished dessert on page 20 of Gourmet, July 2007 looks rather not puffy. So, maybe the pastries were like they were supposed to be. The whipped cream seemed to glue the pastries together (Fig. 2).

Figure 3. Bourbon caramel sauce.

I found it difficult to keep the sauce at a constant temperature; the sauce was either to hot or to cool (Fig. 3). However, making the sauce was easy. I would suggest constant stirring. Once the sugar has melted, you need to take care when adding the water and other ingredients. The steam coming off the skillet could be dangerous. I lightly scalded the tip of my right index finger. The hot material splattered until the sauce calmed down.

Figure 4. My cousin holding the served eclair topped with the bourbon caramel sauce.

The finished éclair with the bourbon caramel sauce was amazing (Fig. 4). I was not prepared for the “Oh my God! This is good.” experience. The cousins, aunts and uncles loved it. My mother declared the recipe “a keeper”. Because this was a family pot-luck there was lots of food so only making seven pastries was not a problem like I feared. There were no left overs, yet everyone who wanted was able to have half an éclair.

I felt like I spent more time fretting over the bourbon caramel sauce than any other task involved with this recipe. There was much more sauce than pastries. The bourbon caramel sauce went wonderfully over my brother’s home-made vanilla ice cream.

If you have not made éclairs before, this would be a good introduction. Éclairs are extremely simple and quick to make. For such little effort, you can look good.

Now, the question is what am I going to do 4th of July, 2012?