Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Sweetest Wishes for 2011...

Gingerbread house made from template downloaded @ Bon Appétit. Visit  Building The Perfect Gingerbread House for recipes, step-by-step photo guides, and helpful tips on everything you need to know about gingerbread house construction from royal icing to decorating tips.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Cookies

For as long as I can remember, my mom and I have helped Aunt Jo make and wrap Christmas cookies a few days before the holiday. Aunt Jo makes tons of delicious cookies every year, and it just wouldn’t be Christmas without them. When I was little, I would leave a few out for Santa; now, there’s more for me!

Aunt Jo bakes off hundreds of cookies, but waits for us to make the candy cane and butter cookies or “Fa La La La Las.” The candy canes are a classic favorite that everyone enjoys. Taking their position right at the top of the cookie tins, they are the first to be seen and the first to go.


I especially look forward to the tradition of making (and eating) the candy cane cookies each year. Using the recipe from her junior high home ec. class (!), Aunt Jo prepares the dough the night before, and my mom and I roll them into shape.

To form candy canes: take a small amount of each color and use your hands to roll each out into two long, fairly-thin logs. Join the logs together and twist. Lightly roll the twisted dough with hands to smooth out; form cane shape.

Cousin Jake hung out in the kitchen while we baked--with his reindeer antlers on. :-)

For the butter cookies, I make the dough, and using an electric cookie press we squish them into festive shapes like Christmas trees and snowflakes, and then decorate with sprinkles. They are super simple and just melt in your mouth. In a well-timed operation, Christmas music plays over the hum of the cookie press as one tray gets decorated, another goes into the oven, and another comes out.

Once everything is cooled, Tupperwares and Tupperwares of cookies are placed onto the kitchen table. In addition to the candy canes and butter cookies, there’s traditional chocolate chip, chocolate with peanut butter chip, Snicker bar and Hershey Kiss-filled, sesame, amaretto, and more! It’s hard to pick a favorite because every one is so good. All are then put into tins and wrapped up for friends and family.

Other than, of course, the cookies themselves, the best part of our Christmas cookie bake is honestly just being together and getting into the spirit of the season; throughout the years, many memories have been created over the butter cookies and candy canes.

Below is the recipe for the candy cane cookies, so that you can enjoy them too!

Candy Cane Cookies:

Yield: about 2 dozen

- 1 cup butter/ 2 sticks
- 1 cup sifted confectioners sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 ½ tsp almond extract
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 ½ cups flour
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp red food coloring

• Preheat oven to 374 degrees F.
• Mix butter, sugar, extracts and egg in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, combine flour and salt; gradually stir flour into butter mixture.
• Divide the dough and mix half with red food coloring. Wrap dough halves individually, and refrigerate overnight.
• To form candy canes: take a small amount of each color and use your hands to roll each out into two long, fairly-thin logs. Join the logs together and twist. Lightly roll the twisted dough with hands to smooth out; form cane shape.
• Bake at 375 degrees for 9 minutes.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Eat Like A Star: The Brown Derby Cobb Salad

The legendary Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood was a celebrity hotspot in the twenties. During the Golden Age of Hollywood, movie stars would summon one another to dine at the upscale hat-shaped establishment, saying “Meet me at The Derby!”

Illustrious faces that passed through were captured as caricature drawings which were then adorned along the restaurant’s “Hollywood Wall of Fame.” And while the Brown Derby is particularly well known for these sketches and its star-studded clientele, it is perhaps most coveted for being the birthplace of the Cobb Salad.

In 1937, owner of the Brown Derby, Bob Cobb is said to have first created the Cobb Salad as a late-night snack. As recorded by the Brown Derby, one evening, Mr. Cobb raided his restaurant refrigerator and whipped together the now-famous salad with whatever he pulled out: a head of lettuce, an avocado, some romaine, watercress, tomatoes, cold chicken breast, a hard-boiled egg, chives, cheese, and French dressing. After chopping everything up, he completed his creation with some bacon that he swiped off of a busy chef.

On his website,, culinary connoisseur, Arthur Schwartz informatively describes the story of how the Cobb Salad first came to be. In the article, he writes, “It is most often the dish you slap-dash together out of desperate necessity (and usually leftovers) that is the biggest triumph.” So true!

Quoting the Brown Derby’s records, Scwartz shares its instant rise to fame. Apparently, Sid Grauman of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was with Cobb the night he created the salad. It was so good that he ordered it the next day, and it was soon put on the menu. Cobb Salad became an instant hit at the Brown Derby, requested by the likes of Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart. Actor, William Holden orders one in this episode of I Love Lucy:


Since it was first put on the menu, the Brown Derby Restaurant Group has reportedly sold more than 4 million Cobb Salads! The two original Hollywood locations have since closed, but sold their name to Disney, who opened a recreation at their Hollywood Studios theme park in Orlando. Disney later signed an agreement to open one in all their locations.

The Hollywood Brown Derby in Disney is where I had my first authentic Cobb Salad. From the celebrity caricatures surrounding the restaurant to the original recipes of signature dishes, Disney—as with anything—brings you as close to the real Brown Derby as you could ever get.

Like Cobb, I made my version of the salad with whatever I had in my refrigerator: grape tomatoes, feta cheese, iceberg lettuce, slab bacon, and eggs. I skipped out on a lot of the original ingredients, but the dressing recipe which I acquired from Schwartz’s website, is really what made it taste authentic.

Now that I’m famous, I might as well eat like it. JUST kidding! Here are the original recipes for the Brown Derby Cobb Salad and dressing, so that we can all eat like stars!

The Brown Derby Original Cobb Salad and Dressing:

- ½ head lettuce, about 4 cups
- 1 bunch watercress
- 1 small bunch chicory, about 2 ½ cups
- ½ head romaine, about 2 ½ cups
- 2 medium tomatoes, peeled
- 6 strips of crisp bacon
- 2 breasts of boiled chicken
- 2 hard cooked eggs
- 1 avocado
- ½ cup crumbled Roquefort cheese
- 2 tablspoons chopped chives
- About 1 cup Cobb Salad dressing
• Cut lettuce, half the watercress, chicory and romaine in fine pieces and arrange in a large salad bowl.
• Cut tomatoes, bacon, chicken, eggs, and avocado in small pieces and arrange, along with the crumbled Roquefort cheese, in strips on the greens.
• Sprinkle finely cut chives over the Cobb salad and garnish with the remaining watercress.
• Just before serving, mix the salad with the Cobb salad dressing.

Dressing: (makes 1 ½ cups)
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¾ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- ½ teaspoon dry English mustard
- 2 small cloves garlic, finely minced
- ½ cup full flavored olive oil
- ¾ cups salad oil
• Blend all ingredients together, except oils. Add olive and salad oils. Mix well.
** A note from the Brown Derby: "The water is optional, depending upon the degree of oiliness desired in the dressing."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cook's Book on "The Delicious Story"

Last Saturday, December 4, I was a guest on “The Delicious Story,” an all-things-food podcast hosted by husband and wife duo, Sherry and David Borzo. The friendly couple conducts interviews every Saturday on internet radio station, Des Moines Local Live.

With the motto, “Food conversation that feeds the soul,” the show’s dialogue is focused not only on food itself, but on the stories behind dining experiences. Guests include cookbook authors, journalists, home cooks, business owners, professional chefs, and bloggers.

Sherry contacted me a few months ago, with an invite to be on “The Delicious Story”, and I was thrilled. Looking at the archives of past guests, I am even more flattered that they took enough of an interest in Cook’s Book to want to talk with me.

Watch the entire show below, and get to know me a little bit in person:


During our discussion, we spoke about my background, family, life on Long Island, photos and culinary tips. I have never done anything like this before--the thought of stepping out from behind the safety of my written words and speaking on camera was both exciting and a little intimidating. Thankfully, Sherry and Dave are great hosts; with such fun personalities, they were very easy to talk to. They made me feel famous, if only for a half hour!

Check out the accompanying blog post here: TDS 57 Marisa Musto Cook’s Book

For archived and upcoming shows, follow Sherry and Dave at The Delicious Story, and stay updated through Facebook and/or Twitter @delishstory.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Here a Chick, There a Chick

There were chicks all over the kitchen last night: chickpeas, chick-en, and this chick right here, whippin’ it all together.

In a crisis of craving, the can of chickpeas in my cabinet needed to be used ASAP. You see, my grandma makes this amazing pepper salad with sweet peppers, artichokes, and olives; she calls it “Marisa’s Pepper Salad” because I love it so much. About a week ago, Grandma made some for company and gave me the leftovers; but something was different this time. In a surprising new twist, there were chickpeas in there, kicking back in the juices with all the regulars.

I find chickpeas to be addictive in a potato chip kind of way—once you get a taste for them, it’s hard to stop. One meaty little pearl at the tip of my fork prong, and like a fish to a lure, I get hypnotized with stomach grumbling desire. Once discovering them in the pepper salad, I was set off on a foraging spree for more, picking over and pushing around anything in my way, just to feel another bean squish between my teeth.

Chickpea Salad
Even after the very last chickpea had been scoped down and chomped up, I wasn’t finished. Like a hungry giant, I stomped over to raid the tiny town of tin cans inside of the cabinet; kneeling down, I opened the door, shedding light on my shadowed victim who stood tall among the rest. “What are you looking at, can of garbanzo beans? You’re next.”

As I’ve posted in the past with Greek and Mediterranean chicken, I’m always trying to think of ways to make boneless, skinless chicken breasts more interesting. Since I had both "chicks" on hand, I came up with this chicken in lime sauce with chickpea salad. While I don’t think I would call this a Moroccan dish, the chickpeas and cilantro along with the spice blend of cumin, paprika, tumeric, and cinnamon definitely showcase an underlying Moroccan influence.

This dish only takes about a half hour to make from start to finish, but it's sauce, essence, and substance make it seem as if it has been cooking for hours. Served with a side of simple couscous with white raisins, this was so good!

Chicken in Lime Sauce with Chickpea Salad:

Yield: 3-4 servings

- 1, 15 oz canned garbanzo beans, drained
- 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
- 1 heaping tsp tahini
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tsp fresh ginger, minced or grated
- 1 teaspoon shallot, minced
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1/8 teaspoon each, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, paprika
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
- About 1 cup flour seasoned with salt and pepper for dredging
- Olive oil to sauté chicken
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 ½ cup chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons flour

• In a medium bowl, mix together tahini, garlic, ginger, shallot, red wine vinegar, and spices. Slowly whisk in olive oil to form an emulsion. Add cilantro to dressing, season with salt and pepper. Toss garbanzo beans and tomatoes with dressing; set aside.
• Dredge chicken cutlets in seasoned flour. Heat oil in a medium-large skillet and cook chicken through; reserve. In the same skillet, melt butter and whisk in flour to make a roux; add chicken stock and lime juice, continuing to whisk and scraping up all browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add chicken back to the pan until it is thoroughly cooked through and the sauce has thickened. Plate chicken with sauce, and top with chickpea salad. Serve with couscous if you would like.