Praline Pecan Butterscotch Oatmeal Cookie

Pecan cookiesPraline pecan butterscotch oatmeal cookie! It’s a mouthful to say, but ooey gooey and delicious! If a cookie and a pecan pie had a baby, I imagine this would be it!

On a recent trip to New Orleans, we became addicted to Donald Link’s Cochon Butcher restaurant. We spent a week having lunch there everyday. How could we resist menu items such as Le Pig Mac? On the second day, I decided to try one of the their cookies. Oatmeal Pecan Butterscotch! OMG! One of the best cookies we’ve ever had!

I was immediately in search of the recipe. Alas, Google did not turn up a Donald Link or Cochon Butcher Oatmeal Pecan Butterscotch cookie recipe. However, I came home to a the new Milk Bar Life cookbook which contained Christina Tosi’s Grandma’s oatmeal cookie recipe. I used that as a starting point for my version of the cookie I fell in love with. With a lot less granulated sugar, but keeping all the brown sugar for the caramelley flavor and other tweaks: Ta Dah! A wonderful ode to the Cochon Butcher cookie.

Don’t even think of replacing the praline pecans with plain pecans. That’s what makes the cookie! The praline will turn into delicious goo when baked, you’ll see :)

14 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cup all purpose sugar
1 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 cup of butterscotch chips
1 1/2 cup praline pecan (recipe follows)
1 cup powdered sugar

Praline Pecans
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons water
2 cup pecan halves

Praline pecans instructions

  1. In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine all ingredients except for pecans
  2. Place over medium-high heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until mixture reaches the softball stage, 238 to 240 degrees
  3. Pull the pan off of the stove and add pecans
  4. Continue to stir the candy vigorously until the candy cools, and the pecans have a nice thick coating of the praline
  5. Spread the praline pecan out in a single layer on a parchment, foil or Silpat lined cookie sheet
  6. Cool completely and break into individual pecan pieces before using in recipe

Cookie instructions

  1. In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, salt and baking soda
  2. Combine butter, sugars and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment
  3. Cream together for 3-5 minutes on high until light and fluffy, stopping mixer and scraping sides down with a spatula occasionally
  4. Add eggs one at a time, mixing for a minute after each addition to thoroughly combine
  5. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture and mix until combined, about 30 seconds
  6. Add butterscotch chips and praline pecan and mix for another 30 seconds until well distributed throughout dough
  7. Scoop about 2 Tbsp. of dough onto a parchment, foil or Silpat line sheet. Place scoops right next to each other. You won’t bake them just yet
  8. Cover and cool dough balls for 30 minutes in refrigerator (this will make it easier to work with)
  9. Preheat oven to 375 degrees (350 if convection)
  10. Put confectioner’s sugar in a large bowl.
  11. Roll each dough ball between the palm of your hands and gently roll each piece in confectioner’s sugar to coat
  12. Place cookies about 2” apart on parchment, foil or Silpat lined cookie sheet
  13. Bake for 13-16 minutes until golden brown and crackled
  14. Cool for 5 minutes before moving from the baking sheet

Creamy Green Spaghetti

PastaEver get a little ambitious shopping in the vegetable aisle and find yourself with produce that has to be used up ASAP? Well, I found some zucchinis and asparagus in my fridge today that needed to be eaten, but didn’t want to go with the old sautée stand-by. Then, I remembered a pasta recipe in Tyler Florence’s new book, Inside the Test Kitchen (which I highly recommend) that was squash-centric and used it as a basis for the dish below.

It turned out delicious and the execution was simple! The blended vegetables made a creamy, flavorful sauce that tasted decadent without any added dairy. The asparagus and pine nuts added great texture and flavor as did the basil and Parmesan. I used brown rice spaghetti to make it healthier, but feel free to use your favorite brand.

Zucchini Spaghetti
Serves 2-4

4 zucchinis, cut into 1/4″ slices
1 large onion, cut into 1″ pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed, steamed and cut into 1″ pieces
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
Fresh basil
salt and pepper
olive oil
1lb. package spaghetti

  1. Heat olive oil in large sautée pan over medium-high heat, add all vegetables except for asparagus. Season with salt and pepper
  2. Cook until vegetables are soft, but not falling apart
  3. Add sautéed vegetables to blender and process until it becomes a smooth sauce
  4. Transfer sauce into a saucepan, re-season with salt and pepper if needed and keep warm over low heat
  5. Cook spaghetti al dente, drain, return to pot over medium heat, add sauce and asparagus, heat through
  6. Serve garnished with basil, Parmesan and pine nuts

Delicious and Healthy: Garam Masala Quinoa Chicken Salad

quinoaAfter two weeks of non-stop travel and eating out, we were craving something healthy. Don’t get me wrong, we ate good… Oh. So. Good! There’s nothing like southern food! That’s a story for another post. Recommendations to come soon!

I came up with this recipe a couple of years ago. I was challenged to come up with something for an elimination diet I was doing. No dairy, no eggs, no pork or red meat, no wheat, no sugar, no white rice …the list goes on. The idea is to not eat anything that you might be allergic to and then slowly reintroduce food groups. It wasn’t easy, but it forced me to cook out of my comfort zone and rely more on spices for flavor.

The recipe below came out of that period and is a mainstay during our hot Tucson summer and whenever we need a break from heavy foods. It’s flavorful and hearty. You won’t miss the carbs. It can be served hot or cold. I personally think it’s tastier at room temperature. Also, if you’re feeling lazy, buy the pre-cut pre-washed bagged kale from Trader Joe’s. Enjoy!

1 ½ cup quinoa
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch kale, stripped from stem and cut into 1″ pieces
1 can (15 oz.) garbanzo bean, drained
2 skinless, boneless chicken breast
Canola or vegetable oil

1 lime, juice of
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. garam masala
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. fresh cracked pepper

1 avocado, halved, pitted and sliced
¼ cup Italian parsley, thinly sliced

  1. In saucepan, combine quinoa, chicken broth, water and salt to taste (Alternatively: cook in a rice cooker on the white rice setting)
  2. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer, covered for 15 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed
  3. Set aside
  4. Split chicken breasts. Season with salt and pepper
  5.  In skillet, over medium-high heat, add 1 Tbsp. oil until hot
  6. Add 1 minced garlic clove and cook for 30 seconds
  7. Add chicken breast to skillet. Cook 3-4 minutes on each side or until done
  8. Remove chicken from skillet, let cool and shred
  9.  Add another tablespoon of oil to same skillet, add remaining garlic and cook for 30 seconds
  10.  Add kale with a little salt and pepper and sautée for approximately 3 minutes or until soft
  11.  Add garbanzo beans to kale mix and warm in pan for 2 minutes
  12.  In small bowl, mix dressing ingredients together
  13.  In large bowl, combine quinoa, kale mix, dressing and chicken. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste if necessary
  14. Serve warm or cold, garnished with avocado and parsley

My Favorite Chicken and Dumplings

chicken and dumplingsThis dish is on my top ten most crave-able food list as well as being one of my cousin, Hiep’s favorites.  His last response to my texting him a photo of the pot of chicken and dumplings I had stewing, “So, are you going to share the dumpling recipe or continue to torture me?” Alright! Alright! Here you go, Hiep.

I’ve experimented with several renditions of this classic over the years. The recipe below is by far my favorite one. This take elevates the standard boring chicken, gravy with oftentimes too gooey dough that passes as chicken and dumplings. It’s based on Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc Chicken and Dumplings Soup. I’ve changed the the proportions of the ingredients so that it has a thick gravy rather than a soup base and is heartier overall, but retained the flavors. Why mess too much with a master’s recipe?

I usually roast a large organic chicken in the morning, serve the legs for lunch and save the rest for this recipe. The best, easiest and most versatile roast chicken recipe is the Thomas Keller one posted here. Do use the best chicken stock you can get if you’re not going to make it yourself. I like Pacific Organic and surprisingly the Costco Kirkland Organic Chicken Stock is good. Also, I’d keep Wondra flour on hand in case you like your gravy even thicker than I do and extra stock in case the opposite is true.

My Favorite Chicken and Dumplings

Shredded meat from one medium roasted chicken, homemade or store-bought.
Reserve bones and skin for gravy.

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup thinly sliced carrots
1 cup coarsely chopped celery
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
1 cup coarsely chopped leeks
6 whole peppercorn
2 sprigs of thyme
2 Qt. (64 oz.) of good quality chicken stock
Reserved bones and skin from roasted chicken
10 Tbsp. butter
10 Tbsp. All purpose flour
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
Champagne vinegar
1/4 cup of thinly sliced fresh chives

1 cup water
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1 1/3 cup all-purpose fl our
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
4 large eggs
2 heaping Tbsp. thinly sliced chives

8 stalks celery, peeled and thinly sliced
8 large carrots, peeled and cut into even bite-sized pieces
2 teaspoon honey
1 bay leaf
2 thyme sprigs
1 large garlic clove, crushed, skin on
6 black peppercorn
kosher salt

chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves to garnish

Gravy instructions

  1. In large pot, melt 1 Tbsp. butter over medium heat
  2. Add celery, carrots, onions and leeks and season with a little salt and fresh cracked pepper
  3. Lower heat, cover and cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally or until vegetables are softened
  4. Add stock, peppercorn, thyme, chicken skin and bones and bring to a simmer
  5. Cover and let simmer over low heat for 30 minutes
  6. Strain broth through a sieve into a heat safe dish, pushing on solids to get all the juices out
  7. Discard solids and set broth aside
  8. In your largest pot (this is where you’ll be combining your chicken, vegetables, dumplings and gravy), melt 10 Tbsp. of butter
  9. Add flour and cook over medium heat stirring the whole time until a you get a medium brown roux
  10. Whisk in stock and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes to thicken gravy, stirring occasionally
  11. Season while thickening with about 1 Tbsp. of Champagne vinegar, salt and fresh crack pepper to taste
  12. Optional- whisk in Wondra a little bit at a time for a thicker stock or broth to thin according to taste
  13. Take off heat, stir in chives and set aside

Dumplings instructions

  1. In medium saucepan, bring water, butter and salt to a simmer
  2. Add in flour all at once stirring vigorously to incorporate. A thick dough will form
  3. Cook over medium-low heat for an additional 3-5 minutes, stirring dough the whole time. A thin layer of dough will form in pan, this is normal
  4. Immediately move dough ball to a mixer bowl with a paddle attachment
  5. Mix on medium-high for 3 minutes to cool down dough
  6. Reduce speed to low and add one egg at a time, incorporating each egg completely before adding the next one
  7. Add mustard and chive and mix to combine
  8. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper
  9. In a large pot bring generously salted water to a strong simmer
  10. Using two soup spoons shape dough into quenelle shape (this instructional video comes in handy) and drop into simmering water
  11. Without crowding the pot with too many dumplings, simmer dough 5 minutes per batch to cook dough through
  12. With a slotted spoon, remove quenelles and let cool on parchment paper
  13. With a pair of scissors, trim any rough edges off dumplings
  14. Cover and set aside

Vegetable instructions

  1. In medium saucepan, bring salted water to a simmer
  2. Stir in celery and cook for 2 minutes or celery is al dente
  3. Strain through a sieve and rinse with cold water and set aside
  4. In medium pot filled halfway with cold water, salt generously and add carrots, honey, bay, thyme and peppercorns and bring to a simmer
  5. Cook for 3-5 minutes until carrots are cooked but still a little firm
  6. Drain water, discard bay, thyme and peppercorn and set aside


  1. Add chicken, dumplings, carrots and celery to gravy pot and bring to a low simmer and let cook for a few minutes to reheat
  2. Serve garnished with Italian parsley

A Taste of Saigon: Warm Beef and Watercress Salad

Beef Watercress SaladOne of the most memorable meals from our trip to Vietnam last year was at a restaurant called Cu Gach Quan (translates to ‘piece of brick’) in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).  The company was wonderful: Billy, my cousin Michelle and her husband Vinh. The restaurant was eclectic, but authentic. The cuisine was familiar and delicious Vietnamese comfort food, served on charming hand-made plates and bowls, with little dipping dishes of blue and white porcelain full of nuac mam (Vietnamese dipping sauce) and soy sauce. Fried tofu with crunchy garlic was served alongside sautéed local greens, braised sweet and spicy clay pot fish, brown rice and what turned out to be our favorite dish of the evening: bo xao sa lat song or warm beef and watercress salad.

Hot, garlicky, stir fried beef served on top cool peppery dressed watercress with tomatoes and marinated onion slivers. Delicious! Since traveling to Vietnam every time we craved this dish was not practical, I questioned our waiter and promised Michelle I’d come up with a recipe replicating this dish for us. Below, you’ll find what I came up with based on our server letting us in on the main marinade ingredients: garlic, lime and fish sauce.

If you ever find yourself in Ho Chi Minh City, I highly recommend you have at least one meal at Cu Gach Quan. Be sure to go to the original. We hear it’s better. They’re so popular, they opened one directly across the streetyes, really! In the meantime, try this recipe at home. It’s perfect with a bowl of jasmine rice.

Warm Beef and Watercress Salad (Bo Xao Sa Lat Song)
Serves 2-4 people

Stir fry beef
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. fish sauce
½ tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. rice wine
1 lb. of thinly sliced lean beef
1-2 Tbsp. of canola oil
3 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4  tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. lime juice
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced (1/8″)
1 bunch watercress, washed
1 medium tomato, halved and slice

Garnish (optional)
fried garlic bits
fresh cracked pepper

  1. Mix first 5 ingredient together, add beef, allow to marinate, refrigerated for between 30 minutes to 2 hours
  2. About 10-20 minutes before serving, in a small bowl, mix sugar, salt, pepper, lime juice and olive oil together.
  3. Add onions to dressing. Do not let onions sit in marinate for more than 30 minutes, it will get too soft.
  4. Toss watercress in onion dressing.
  5. On a serving plate, layer watercress, then tomato slices on the outer edges of plate. The hot beef will go in the center of dish, on top of watercress. Avoid placing hot beef on tomatoes as they will get soft and lose their bite.
  6. Heat canola oil in wok over high heat until very hot.
  7. Add minced garlic, stir fry for 30 seconds.
  8. Add beef with marinate and stir fry for 3-5 minutes or until beef is cooked through.
  9. Serve beef over watercress, topped with pan sauce.
  10. Sprinkle with fried garlic and a few crack of fresh pepper.

Christina Tosi is a Genius!!!

An endorsement for the Milk Bar Cookbook

MilkBarI was introduced to Milk Bar cookies a couple of years ago when a box arrived at our door as a gift. Individually wrapped in cellophane were cookies named Compost, Corn, Blueberries & Cream and Cornflake. These were familiar names for things such as muffins and breakfast cereal, but these were very exotic flavors for cookies.

Perplexed, Billy and I inspected each cookie carefully before tasting. “Hum, feels soft and chewy… What’s this on the ingredient list? POTATO CHIPS??? Huh? …” Well, we were sold after the first bite. All the flavors were strangely familiar and comforting. The Compost cookie was a perfect combination of sweet and savory. The love child of the classic chocolate chip and of any and all (it seems) the snack foods you could think of. Chips, pretzels, butterscotch, even coffee! The Corn cookie tasted like what cornbread would be if it were reincarnated as a dessert. We finished half the box in short order and froze the rest for special occasions.

When we ran out of cookies, I looked for the Compost Cookie recipe online and made a batch. I  portioned and froze half the dough so that I could bake a few at a time in my Breville oven when the craving struck. After piece-mealing Milk Bar recipes from here and there, and finding that they produced cookies as good as the ones from the bakery, I decided it was time to buy the book…

Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook is a revelation. Christina Tosi, author of this book as well as chef, owner, and founder of Momofuku Milkbar is a mad, mad genius. The cookbook is full of wonderful desserts that could’ve come from the imagination of a child wearing a unicorn t-shirt on a Lucky Charms sugar high.  Her monologues are friendly and whimsical and recipes exactdown to the gram—with thorough directions. There’s a whole section of what specific ingredients to buy, and where, as well as an equipment guide. A technique section: “the ten minute creaming process, or why milk bar cookies are so damn good.”  Ms. Tosi is a woman after my OCD heart!

I’ve had a great time learning and baking from this book. It’s really inspired me to use unusual ingredients, to be more inventive and has improved my baking. Outside of a minor conversion typogelatin sheet to powder—which caused a runny banana cream pie and a loose batch of panna cotta (in book 1 1/2 sheet silver gelatin= 3/4 tsp. powder. Should be 1 1/2 tsp.), the Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook is a joy. I’d recommend to new and experienced bakers alike.

Gruyère and Thyme Gougères

GougeresI love making gougères as appetizers for my dinner parties. They’re pretty easy to prepare and are always a hit. When my friends ask, “What are these?” and I usually just respond, “Cheese puffs!” Gougères seems to be such a formal name for something so fun and easy to eat.

My recipe is based on an old flyer that was meant to entice you to subscribe to Saveur Magazine. I still have the original copygrease stained and tornin a plastic sleeve, the kind you use to put in a three ring binder. Oddly, it features a portrait of a french writer holding a cat from the 1920s and two sentences about her as an introduction to these baked treats. The flyer never did succeed in selling me a subscription, but, I think the cute cat must’ve sold me on trying the recipe.

I’ve experimented a lot with this base recipe over the years. Below is my favorite variation. What I’ve learned from trial and error is NEVER open the oven while your gougères are baking. They will not bake up as big as they should. I like to bake mine one cookie sheet at time, since I can’t open the oven to rotate them and my oven won’t fit 2 sheets side-by-side. Better to slightly overbake than underbake, which will cause your puffs to deflate soon after they leave the oven and be a little gooey in the middle. Though even when these mistakes were made, no one seemed to notice and they were gobbled up anyway.

I like mine plain with thyme and gruyère, but have piped savory fillings into them as you would a cream puff or cut them in half to make little sandwiches. I’ve never been able to eat just one, and I bet you won’t be able to either.

Gruyère and Thyme Gourgères
Makes about 3 dozen

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup whole milk
5 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup grated gruyère cheese
1/2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
4 eggs

Egg wash
1 egg
1 Tbsp. water

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper or silpat.
  2. In a medium sauce pan over medium-high, combine water, milk, butter, salt, pepper and nutmeg and bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat to low and stir to melt butter.
  4. As soon as butter is melted, add flour and stir vigorously  with a wooden spoon for about 1 minute to combine mixture and cook until dough pulls away from the side of the the pan.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in cheese and thyme. Keep mixing for 2 minutes or so to cool dough slightly before adding eggs. You can also move the dough to a stand mixer with a paddle for ease at this point.
  6. Incorporate eggs, one at a time into batter, making sure that each egg is incorporated completely before adding another.
  7. Spoon about a 1 1/2″ rounds of the dough onto your cookie sheet, setting them 2″ apart.
  8. In a small bowl beat egg and water together for egg wash.
  9. Brush the top of each gougère generously with egg wash. This will add shine and color to your puffs. Optionally, you can sprinkle a little grated cheese or a few thyme leaves on top before baking.
  10. Bake for 18-22 minutes or until gougères are golden brown.