About The Saturday Chef

Midwest, United States
I am NOT a professional chef. I am what I affectionately dub a Saturday Chef—a weekend warrior of the culinary variety, fortified by the education I have gleaned from two high school cooking classes, the Food Network and my own gastronomical experiments. While I’m not ashamed to spend all day making bagels by hand, and proudly call myself a foodie, I’m not a food snob. I enjoy an Extra Value Meal as much as the next girl. My culinary escapades are still relegated to the weekends, but my love for cooking is stronger than ever, galvanized by more successes than failures, and the beautiful fact that the more I cook, the more people there are to feed. So please stay tuned for fun recipes, inevitable disasters and hopefully, a lot of good food.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever


I’m actually embarrassed to make the forthcoming confession, but I’m going to do it anyway, because this is a safe place of sharing. 

Here it is:  I went to one of those yuppy suburban high schools, the kind that’s very similar to West Beverly High on “90210,” where the kids go to a school with uniforms and the scoreboards provided by Pespi, and have an Olympic-sized swimming pool and a field house with joint-cushioning springs underneath.  

I’m not ashamed of my high school, because I got a great education and had a great time.  More than that, I had some amazing lunches.  Because our cafeteria was awesome.  It was better than the food served in college, and even in some restaurants.  I had access to salads, burgers, fries, hot pretzels, chicken sandwiches, fried cheese on Tuesdays, and even had two different flavors of low-fat ice cream twice a week.  It was ‘til this day some of the best food I’ve ever had…and 11 years later, I still crave two things: salty French fries and nacho cheese, but mostly, the chocolate chip cookies.  

I am a Cookie Monster.  I inherited the gene from my grandmother, and the cookies I had at that school, the cookies I could smell baking in the hallway around the start of fourth period, were the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had.  And the reason my dessert of choice, my treat after a crappy day, my favorite snack to sneak into the movies is chocolate chip cookies.  

A year ago, I set out to find the best chocolate chip cookie recipe, one that rivaled my high school’s freshly baked delights.  

The recipe on the back of the Nestle Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chip bag was a good start, but I knew I could do better.  And I tried a few others that were good, but they just weren’t right.  I also refused to make a recipe by Jacques Torres that requires bread flour, a chocolate so fancy  I couldn’t even find or afford it and 24 hours. After awhile, I felt like the Goldilocks of Chocolate Chip cookies.  

Until I discovered this recipe.  

And they are by far, the most perfect chocolate chip cookie that’s ever come out of my kitchen.  They’re easy to make, chewy, chocolaty, decadent and with a little pinch of sea salt, they are a bit more complex than the average cookie.  

So I might not use calculus or chemistry, but this is one lesson from high school I'll never forget.  Go Highlanders!

Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Ever
Adapted from Savory Sweet Life
Yield: About 3 dozen

1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ cup dark brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract

2 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. smallish-medium coarse sea salt, plus more for sprinkling (do not use table salt)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 360 degrees. 
Cream butter, white and dark brown sugar until it is nice and fluffy, about 3 minutes on medium-high.  Add both eggs and vanilla and beat for another 2 minutes. 
In a separate bowl mix in flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder.  Whisk to combine.  Add half of flour mixture to sugar and eggs and beat just enough to incorporate.  Scrap down the sides with a spatuala and add the rest of the dry ingredients and blend again.  
Add the chocolate chips.  Mix until well-distributed.  The batter should be somewhat thick but airy. 
Drop about 2 tablespoons (or you can use a medium cookie scoop) onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Gently pat or shape cookies into a smooth round shape.  Sprinkle cookies with a scant amount of sea salt.  This is optional, but it adds great texture and the burst of salt both highlights and contrasts the flavors. 
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or just until the cookies are a light golden broken.  Remove from the heat, but allow cookies to remain on the baking sheet for another 5 minutes, and then transfer to a cool, non-porous surface lined with parchment paper.  Allow cookies to cool for another few minutes. It will take the willpower of a saint, but try anyway.  ;)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Baked Salmon with Sautéed Corn and Black Bean Salad

I must confess that when I first started cooking I was extremely nervous to work with seafood.  It’s expensive; it cooks quickly and if you ruin it, you’ve wasted the ingredients as well as the money used them buy them. When I fry shrimp, I cook them on high alert with a little knot in my stomach.  
I've also learned that with seafood, especially something as luxuriously rich as salmon, less is more.  When I splurge on salmon fillets, I simply bake it and pair it with a baked potato or a light vegetable salad.  I had inspiration for this dish, Baked Salmon with Sauteed Corn and Black Bean Salad, for months and I finally cobbled it together with different recipes and my own baked salmon.  It’s light, refreshing, impressive and deceptively simple.  In other words, it’s perfect for summer!  Especially if you’re in the middle of this brutal heatwave!  

Baked Salmon
1 ½ pound fresh salmon fillet
Seasoning Salt such as Lawry’s
Garlic Salt
Olive Oil

Corn and Black Bean Salad
adapted from recipe at epicurious.com
2 cups sweet corn, removed from the cob or thawed if frozen
1 15 ounce can black beans, thoroughly rinsed
¼ cup green onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chopped
Salt, Pepper
Olive Oil
1 tablespoon of lime juice (from about 1 lime)
2  tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Pinch ground cumin

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. 
Line baking sheet with aluminum foil, drizzle with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and spread evenly.  Place fish on baking sheet. 
Season fish moderately with seasoning salt and pepper and conservatively with garlic salt.  Cut 2 pats of butter and cut or break it into pieces with your fingers.  Dot fish with butter. 
Place fish in oven and bake for 13 to 17 minutes or until fish is an opaque pink. 

Corn and Black Bean Salad
Heat skillet over medium heat and add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  When oil is hot, add corn.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.  Toss or stir frequently until corn is begins to brown, about 5 to 7 minutes. 
Remove from heat and set aside to prepare vegetables and herbs. 
Add corn, black beans, green onions, cilantro and basil to medium bowl and mix to combine.  Season with salt and pepper. 
Mix lime juice, orange juice, pinch of cumin and olive oil in a smaller bowl. Add most of dressing to corn salad and stir to combine.  Taste.  Salad should be moist, but not wet.  Add the rest if needed.  Set aside for 10 minutes. 
Place a portion of salmon on place about spoon on corn salad.  Drizzle with remaining dressing if you wish.  Enjoy! 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Chocolate Cheesecake Cupcakes


I have already spoken about the Power of Ganche, how I believe it has the ability to heal many things.  Life, especially in these charged times, can be hard.  It’s hard dealing with things like prolonged unemployment and all of the frustration that comes with it.  I have been without a paying job for more months than I can share without shame, and some days—usually the ones when I know a job I was cautiously excited about is filled—are especially maddening. 
Early one morning, I stumbled across a peppy, can-do woman hosting a Food Network show called “Chic and Easy.” She whipped up these cupcakes in a flourish of movement and optimism. 
At a more reasonable hour, I did the same, needing to accomplish something that day.  The result was one of the best desserts I’ve ever had.  They were rich and decadent and not overly sweet.  I don’t like messing with sticky frosting, because I manage to get it everywhere, but coating these fudgy gems was a mess-less breeze. 
So when life is bearing down a little too hard, try out these Chocolate Cheesecake Cupcakes and let the ganache do its job.


Chocolate Cheesecake Cupcakes with Ganache Frosting
by Mary Nolan


1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt 6 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
1 egg, at room temperature
2/3 cup milk, at room temperature

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons mini semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons chopped pecans

Ganache frosting, recipe follows


Place rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.
Line 12 muffin cups with cupcake papers.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt, and set aside. Using a mixer, cream the butter and 3/4 cup sugar until pale yellow, about 1 minute. Add the egg and stir until just combined. Gently add half of the flour mixture and stir until just incorporated. Mix in the milk. Add the remaining flour mixture and stir until combined. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix together the cream cheese, 2 tablespoons sugar, and vanilla.
Stir in the chocolate chips and pecans.
Fill prepared cupcake liners with enough chocolate batter to just cover the bottom. Add a dollop of the cream cheese filling to each (about a tablespoon), then top with remaining batter.  Filling cream cheese filling should not be visible.
Bake for 20 minutes. Let cupcakes stand in the pan for 3 minutes and then remove and allow to cool completely on a rack.
Dip each cupcake into the ganache, forming an even layer of frosting. Top with chopped pecans if you wish.  Place in the refrigerator to set, about 15 minutes.

Ganache Frosting:
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder, optional
Place a heat-proof bowl over a pot of simmering water, and whisk together the chocolate, cream, and espresso powder (if using). Continue whisking until chocolate is melted and the mixture is thick, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes.

Photo Crisis Averted!

You could only imagine my surprise when I checked out my blog one day on my brand new, awesome iPhone, and discovered that all of my pictures had been replaced with a really annoying "Bandwidth Exceeded" image (it's worse than the Twitter Fail Whale).  Apparently people took my photos and a really hot animation of "Supernatural's" Jared Padalecki doing shirtless chin-ups and linked them to their own sites without uploaded it to a separate account, thus draining my bandwidth.  Grrrrrr.

All of that unpleasantness has been remedied, so enjoy the restored pictures and recipes.  A new post will be up ASAP, and it's an awesome one!

Kira, Saturday Chef

Monday, June 6, 2011

Veggies At Last: Asian Chicken Salad

I was perusing my blog last week, tweaking older recipes and deleting some embarrassing ones, and I noticed that there was nary a vegetable side dish or entrée posted.  And I worried if people thought that I didn’t like vegetables or if I had scurvy.

While I don’t crave the sweet crunch of a carrot, I am pretty partial to vegetables.  Thus, I immediately looked for a scrumptious veggie-only dish to post.
For the record, I actually love salad, especially a good Greek one with no anchovies and lots of feta and black olives.  But I digress. This salad is different as it uses Napa Cabbage, which is a new, and pretty awesome, ingredient for me.   I really loved the idea of using a peeler to shave ribbons of carrots and how the whole thing came together rather quickly with the work of my Ginsus.  This salad is very refreshing and sweet, and while I didn’t photograph it with the low mein noodles, they are the perfect addition of crunch and texture.  The dressing is tangy and a little sweet, and compliments all ingredients wonderfully. 

Don’t worry, fellow Saturday Chefs, this might be the first veggie-centric post, but it will not be the last!  

Asian Chicken Salad
Adapted from recipe by Giada De Laurentiis
1 large carrot, peeled
3 cups shredded napa cabbage, about ½ of a cabbage
3 cups shredded romaine lettuce, from 1 small romaine heart
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and deveined, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, chopped
2 cups chicken breasts, cooked
Chow Mein Noodles, optional
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
Black Pepper, optional

For the salad: Using a vegetable peeler, shave the carrot and add to a large salad bowl. Stir in the cabbage, lettuce, red bell pepper, mint, and chicken. *If you're a vegetarian, just nix the chicken.
For the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar until smooth.  Season with pepper, to taste, if using.
Plate salad in a mound, spoon a bit of the dressing over the salad and toss. Garnish with the chow mein noodles and serve.
Chef’s Note:  I only dress an entire salad if I know the majority of it will be eaten.  Otherwise, I just dress the salad on the plates just before serving. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Blueberry Crumb Cake

When I was fifteen, I used to listen to my parents’ old comedy tapes.  Yes, the NSYNC and Christina Aguilera obsession would come years later as I was a late-bloomer in every regard.  On my favorite tape, Bill Cosby famously boasted about the nutritious benefits of chocolate cake for breakfast (EGGS!!!  MILK!!!!  WHEAT!!!), and I have taken it to heart as wisdom and truth.  If a decadent, gooey chocolate cake is satisfactory for breakfast, then certainly a Blueberry Crumb Cake has to be even better, because it has fruit!  FRUIT!
Like a lot of my favorite recipes, I made this cake on a whim.  My mom needed a dessert for a party at work and didn’t remember until the last minute.  I went through the cabinets and found I had all of the ingredients to make this cake, and it was in the oven twenty minutes later (I cannot make a decent layer cake from scratch to save my life, so if I can make this and share it with you all, you can do it too!).
My mom later told me that the cake was gone in less than fifteen minutes after she sat it out.  After I had a decent slice, I understood why.  The cake is lightly sweet; the streusel is spicy and sweet and the blueberries provide a sharp tang.  It’s the perfect contrast of taste, and it’s surprisingly light, making it perfect for breakfast or dessert, if you must to be traditional.

Blueberry Crumb Cake
Ina Garten

For the streusel:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

For the cake:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature (3/4 stick)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2/3 cup sour cream (full or reduced-fat)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup fresh blueberries
Confectioners' sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9-inch round baking pan. 

For the streusel:
Combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a bowl. Stir in the melted butter and then the flour. Mix well and set aside. 

For the cake:
Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high speed for 4 to 5 minutes, until light. Reduce the speed to low and add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla, lemon zest, and sour cream. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the batter until just combined. Fold in the blueberries and stir with a spatula to be sure the batter is completely mixed.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and spread it out with a knife. With your fingers, crumble the topping evenly over the batter. (NOTE:  You probably won’t use all of the streusel topping.  I’ve made this cake a few times, and always had a little left over.  It does taste delicious, so feel free to use it all for an extra-crumby cake).  Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool completely and serve sprinkled with confectioners' sugar.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Saturday Chef's Easy Marshmallow Pops

When I was little and bored, my dad and sister and I would play the taste-test game.  We would close our eyes and try to guess the item of food we were given.  Looking back, I think it was just a way for my parents to get more fruit and veggies in our systems, but back then it was wholesome family fun.  (At least until my dad gave me vinegar and we retaliated with liquid soap.  Needless to say that was the end of the taste-test game). 
I think that’s where I learned that playing with your food could be fun.  Thus one day when it was raining and hailing in late April, and my niece was visiting, I decided it was time to play with chocolate and marshmallows and whatever toppings I could find.  Marshmallow Pops are just now starting their fifteen minutes of culinary fame, and I see why.  They are delicious, easy and fun to make, and did I mention they are delicious.  The combinations of toppings are endless and they are perfect for entertaining.   
Going to a friend’s baby shower?  Use pink or blue sprinkles.  Have a boyfriend who loves S’Mores?  Use graham crack crumbs.  Want something fabulous and unique?  Try chopped bacon if you’re nasty!  

                                                       28 marshmallows and 28 lollipop sticks. 

                                                               Ready for a chocolate bath. 

                                                                Yes, I went there, and it was delicious!

Marshmallow Pops
12 ounces milk chocolate
25 to 30 large marshmallows
chopped, toasted nuts
toasted coconut
graham cracker crumbs
bacon, cooked and chopped
Special Equipment:
25 to 30 lollipop sticks or popsicle sticks
Wax Paper

Push sticks into marshmallows.  Line a baking sheet with wax paper.  To toast coconut or chopped nuts, toss lightly in a skillet over medium heat.  Remove from heat and skillet when coconut is a light brown and/or when nuts darken slightly and are fragrant, about 3 to 5 minutes.
You will need to make a double-boiler.  Find a medium sized pot and heat-proof bowl.  Make sure you can set the bowl just inside of the pot.  There should be room between the bottom of the bowl and the bottom of the pot. 
Add some water in a pot and simmer it over low heat.  Place chocolate in a heat-proof bowl.  When water simmers, place bowl of chocolate inside the pot, making sure the water does not touch the bottom of the pot.  Stir chocolate frequently.
When chocolate is melted, remove from heat.  Submerge marshmallows in chocolate.  If necessary, use a spoon to coat the entire marshmallow.  Holding by the stick, remove the marshmallow, shaking gently to remove excess chocolate.  Immediately coat with desired toppings.  Place stick-side up onto baking sheet lined with wax paper.  When all marshmallows are coated, place in the fridge to harden chocolate.  Serve!  
NOTE:  I generally keep my chocolate over the pot of water so it will stay warm for longer.  If it cools and becomes too thick for dipping, simply place make-shift double boiler over low heat to re-melt chocolate.