February 29, 2012

Cucumber and Tomato Bruschetta

In December, one of my good friends had a super fancy party for her 25th birthday.  She and her boyfriend constructed a whole bunch of appetizers that everyone went crazy over, myself include.  I have no shame, I was parked right next to the app table.  Her party and leftover baguette from my french onion soup inspired my foray into bruschetta.  I just used what I had in my fridge (some tomatoes, cucumber, lemon, capers, etc) to come up with my quick week night answer to bruschetta.

Bruschetta is an antipasti that consists of garlic rubbed crostini topped with anything from tomatoes, veggies, meats, olives, etc.  When most people think of bruschetta (self included), they think the tomato salad.  So, I attempted to make something that was bright and a little briny.  I skipped the garlic rubbing step because I added grated raw garlic to the salad.  I smeared on a mixture of goat cheese and ricotta cheese before adding my salad.  It was a fun way to use up extra bread and vegetables!

February 28, 2012

Ricotta Potato Gnocchi

The first time I made gnocchi epitomizes the name of this blog: I am a hurricane in the kitchen.  It was summer and I was interning during the day and taking a microbiology night class.  One afternoon, I had an hour home between the two and was vegging out food network style.  Giada was making gnocchi and made it look so easy, so of course I had to attempt!  I managed to cook and eat it within the remaining 50 minutes, without anytime to clean up.  Imaginably, there were dishes EVERYWHERE in the kitchen, a counter covered in flour, and brown butter splatter all over the stove.  But gosh they were delicious!

Now that I don’t have a ginormous used-to-be-two-rooms-and-now-it’s-one kitchen at my regular disposal, I have to work a lot cleaner.  But sometimes a little mess is required for a great dish, and this is one of those times.  I had baked gnocchi a couple of weeks ago at Sabatino’s in Baltimore (go there now.) and they had the lightest texture of gnocchi I had ever tasted.  I thought I could emulate the smoothness and lightness by supplementing the potato base with ricotta cheese and adding extra flour, as compared to Giada’s gnocchi.

I baked the potato in the microwave (revelation!) and mashed it in with the ricotta and the salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  The beaten egg was used to bind the dough.  Then I added enough flour to bring the dough together, until it was just past sticky, and kneaded for about a minute.  I rolled the dough into logs, cut up bite sized gnocchi, and let sit for an hour under a low-speed fan a la Michael Chiarello.  I skipped the fork roll step because I don’t care.  I get that it’s traditional and pretty and holds sauce, but it’s an extra however many minutes longer and the flavor is exactly the same!  I cooked them in boiling water, pulling them 2-3 minutes after they floated to the surface, and finished in a nutmeg brown butter sauce with a sprinkle of GOOD parmesan cheese on top.  You could put them in red sauce, alfredo sauce, bake them, or just put cheese on top!

February 27, 2012

French Onion Soup

My favorite food, hands down, is caramelized onions.  I don’t care what it’s on, I will eat it.  So it’s no surprise that one of my favorite soups is french onion.  Tons of onions carmalized until they turn a deep brown color, half a bottle of wine, and gooey melted cheese on top?  Done and done.

This is a lazy weekend project; after adding the wine and stock it sits simmering for a few hours to intensify the flavors.  I like to use a mix of sweet yellow onions, red onions, and shallots with a slightly spicy Shiraz (3 buck chuck brand works fabulously).  Sprigs of thyme leaves are tossed in with the onions, balsamic vinegar is used to sweeten the base, and Dijon mustard adds a hmmm what’s that flavor to the dish.  While beef stock is used traditionally, I only ever have chicken stock on hand in my pantry so this is how I’ve been making it for years and I love it anyway!

After the soup has simmered away, it’s topped with toasted baguette slices and shredded gruyere cheese, melted under the broiler.  This is the epitome of comfort food for me: complex reduced flavors topped with carbs and cheese.  What’s not to like?

February 26, 2012

Lemongrass and Coconut Brown Rice

I am not a fan of prepared food.  As busy as I am, I want to cook every part of my meal.  One of the only prepared foods in my pantry is 90 second microwavable rice.  Don't get me wrong, I love rice but I don't have the patience to cook it most nights and it pretty much tastes the same to me (horrible, I know).  Pasta take 12 minutes, couscous takes 5 minutes, and this rice takes 90 seconds.  So why would I waste time on a 45 MINUTE rice?  This is why:

Brown rice cooked in coconut milk has the consistency of risotto with the sweet taste of coconut.  I seasoned my rice with a stalk of lemongrass, an ingredient used in asian cooking that tastes like a slightly spiced lemon.  It can be found in asian markets, but I got mine from a friend in my bocce league.  I used my coconut milk can to bruise the lemongrass enough to tie it into a knot.  Saveur did a great video tutorial of this process here.  The bruising releases the flavor and the knot allows the lemongrass to fit in the pot to infuse into the liquid while the rice is cooking.  I finish the rice with a lime juice and cilantro.  It is a delicious change from plain rice and pairs well with spicy dishes.

In terms of preparing the rice, I used the directions found on the package.  Thus, your cooking times and amounts may change.  To thicken up the rice at the end, I stirred it uncovered for 3-5 minutes.

February 25, 2012

Orange Carrot Bread

My apartment smells amazing right now.  I've just pulled my orange carrot quick bread from the oven, scented with orange zest, cinammon, and vanilla.  It was born out of a bag of baby carrots, a sale on oranges during a trip to get garam masala, and a desire to experiment with baking.  This is the first time that I have taken a baking recipe and completely changed it based on what I know about baking and not reading a million recipes on the internet.  BIG step, guys!  It is a play on my family's Zucchini Bread, replacing the oil with yogurt, the zucchini with carrot, and some of the cinnamon with orange zest.  I topped it with an orange and sour cream drizzle to echo the flavors of the bread.

Special thanks goes to my upstairs neighbors, who loaned me a cup of flour.  Yet another example of how I am not a baker, I forgot to check that I had everything before I started!  Luckily, I got my flour and found someone to give my extra bread.  That's what I call a keep Sarah skinny win!

This would be a perfect weekend breakfast, either with the sour cream drizzle or a smear of cream cheese!

February 24, 2012

Citrus Tarragon Salmon en Papillote

Nothing is better than the first warm day of the year.  During my bike ride across DC yesterday, it made me so happy to see Dupont circle and M street full of people again.  I got out of class early to "enjoy the rest of the day" and that meant a stop at my favorite frozen yogurt shop to people watch before picking up something spring-y to cook for dinner.  I have been really good about not buying food for lunch so I thought I would splurge on a piece of salmon for dinner.  I wanted to try something different than my typical sear on both sides and throw in the oven to finish, so I picked up a roll of parchment paper to experiment with the en papillote technique.

En papillote is french for "in parchment."  Basically, you get a giant sheet of parchment paper, butter every space you think you will use, put down a layer of vegetables, top with the fish, and add a little liquid before wrapping up and baking.  A space is left in the packet to allow the fish to steam.  I chose to use what I had leftover in my fridge to line the parchment (zucchini, red bell peppers, and green beans) with a filet of salmon and paired it with a citrus, tarragon, and dijon mustard sauce.  Bright and tangy, a great spring dish.

Best part?  It cooks up in under 15 minutes and took me only the time to preheat the oven to prepare my pouch.  It was a perfect single person meal, with leftovers for lunch the next day.  Double it for an impressive date night, cut open table side.  Get creative, this is more of a technique than a recipe!

February 21, 2012

Wasabi Pea Soup

I love sushi.  LOVE it.  When I first tried sushi in high school, I was hooked.  I especially loved plopping the entire blob of wasabi into soy sauce and dipping to my heart's content.  Wasabi peas became a great way to get my favorite sinus clearing flavor without the high cost of sushi.  Problem?  I eat them like potato chips and don't really like to do a lot of mindless snacking.  So, I thought I would try to translate the flavors of wasabi peas into a soup to get my fix.

To build flavors, I used my mortar and pestle to grind up white peppercorns and wasabi peas.  White peppercorns are unripened black peppercorns and although are typically used for aesthetics (mashed potatoes, cream sauces, etc) the milder flavor hits the palate in the back of the throat and creates a warming sensation.  I especially liked it for this soup because the wasabi hits at the front of the tongue and nose so the white pepper balances the heat.  Sauteed onions and shallots are browned then the crushed pepper and wasabi peas get added with lime zest and juice and a little prepared wasabi.  At the end, the soup is buzzed up with an immersion blender and a little greek yogurt is added instead of cream to lighten up the texture and add protein.  The finishing touch is a squirt of agave nectar, a little of more prepared wasabi, and snipped chives.

The soup is spicy, satisfying, and vegetarian!

Gruyere and Speck Souffle

I have seen so many cooking shows and books and articles telling me not to be scared of souffle.  And I'm not one to back away from a challenge, especially in the kitchen.  I read a whole bunch of recipes and articles until I figured out what I wanted my souffle to be, picked up a set of baby ramekins, and dove right in!

This souffle contains gruyere cheese, asparagus, and speck ham.  Speck is kind of like prosciutto, but has a pronounced flavor of juniper berries.  You can even see the pieces of juniper berries still in the slices.  I had gotten sick of prosciutto (yes, I realize how ridiculous I am) and wanted to try something new.

Not Prosciutto!
The most important technique in souffle construction is tempering, which is the slow addition of one substance into another substance to make the two more equal.  In this case, the hot thickened milk will be added slowly to the beaten egg yolks to bring them up to temperature before adding it all to the hot milk, avoiding scrambled eggs.  Another example is thoroughly incorporating one quarter of the fluffy egg whites to the thick souffle base to lighten the texture and allow for easier addition of the rest of the whites.  These are crucial steps to ensure a light souffle without chewy bits of egg yolk.

So here it goes, guys . . . Nervous?

February 19, 2012

Roasted Duck Leg with Pomegranate Cherry Glaze

I have days where I need to clean everything in my apartment.  When I will not be satisfied until everything is in its place because I am convinced that having nothing to clean will make me more productive.  And with two major assignments coming up, today was one of those days.  When I got to the freezer, I found a duck leg I had frozen from a month ago and a bag of frozen cherries.  That got my mind working to create a decadent glaze for a slow roasted duck, the perfect complement to the dark meat in the leg.

The whole process will take about 2 hours but it is worth it!  Once I had trimmed, pierced the fat layer, and thrown the duck in the oven I started my glaze.  The glaze reduced for about 30 minutes over low heat and was cooled before coating the duck for the last 15 minutes of cooking.  The glaze consisted of pomegranate juice, frozen pitted cherries, and balsamic vinegar balanced with dijon mustard and fresh thyme.  I used the trimmings from the duck leg to saute shallots and cherry tomatoes as a quick side.  The acid in the tomatoes cuts the fat in the duck and was a surprising compliment to the glaze.

Sometimes, you just need to treat yourself.  And this meal was definitely a treat!

February 18, 2012

Baby Nutella Cheesecakes

In my family, cheesecake means celebration.  Thanksgiving, birthdays, crab feasts, you name it and it was on the table with a can of whipped cream.  Even though I've never really been a chocolate person, I've never been able to resist my Dad's chocolate cheesecake.  When one of my close friends turned 21, I took his recipe and shrunk it to mini-muffin size to bring to the birthday party.  They were a hit!  I made plain ones for my 21st, pumpkin spice for my housewarming last year, and won a bake off at my old job with another batch of the classic chocolate.  Today, I'm going to a jewelry party with a bunch of my girlfriends and I thought I would try something new.  Enter baby Nutella cheesecakes!

I finally joined pinterest a couple of weeks ago and all of the delicious looking Nutella recipes inspired me to experiment with my baby cheesecake technique.  I basically replaced the semi-sweet chocolate chips in my Dad's recipe for the same amount of Nutella.  

The other surprise is the tang and texture that comes from the addition of mayonaise to the cream cheese base, one that you wouldn't think would work but now I can't imagine it any other way.  A dollop of vanilla flavored sour cream replaces the traditional whipped cream (and I think makes them look even more adorable).  A drizzle of Nutella finishes the baby cheesecakes, utilizing a plastic zip top bag snipped in the corner as a makeshift pastry bag.

Baby Nutella Cheesecakes
1 package (about 8 full squares) of graham crackers
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 a stick of butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Using the food processor, grind up the graham crackers into crumbs.  Add the sugar and salt, pulse 3 times, then add the melted butter.  Pulse a few more times and transfer to a small bowl, being sure to scrape any butter trapped under the blade.

Add 1 teaspoon of graham cracker crumbs to each well of the 24-mini muffin pan.

From trial and error, I figured out the best way to make a perfect crust for the baby cheesecakes.  Using a second pan, I press down on the first pan to create a compact and even crust.  Bonus points if some of the crumbs come up the sides.  Repeat with the second pan.

Bake for 5 minutes at 350 F.  Let cool while you prepare the cheesecake.

1 8oz package of cream cheese
1/2 cup of mayonaise (Hellman's preferred, if only for nostalgia's sake)
1/2 cup of sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
6 oz of Nutella

Let the cream cheese, mayonaise, eggs, and nutella come to room temperature.  For best results, let cream cheese sit overnight and the mayo and eggs brought out 1 hour before you want to bake, just to come to room temperature.  Combine the cream cheese and mayonaise with a hand mixer.  Add the sugar then add the eggs one at a time.  Add the vanilla extract and 6 oz of nutella.

Pour the cheesecake mixture into a large zip top bag in order to even distribute the batter.

Cut a small hole in the corner of the bag.  Fill the wells almost to the top.  Lightly tap the pans to get rid of any bubbles.

Bake for 12 minutes at 350 F.  The tops will be puffed.  Let cool while you prepare the sour cream topper.

Sour Cream Topper:
1 cup of sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients and spoon into a sandwich sized zip top bag

Cut a small hole in the bag and fill the divets in the cheesecakes created from cooling.  Bake for 2 more minutes, let come to room temperature, then refrigerate for 2 hours.  To remove, use a butter knife slightly warmed with hot water to most cleanly retrieve your baby cheesecakes

Serve chilled to your party guests.  I added a little drizzle of nutella to the top to echo the flavor in the cheesecake (okay, because it was cute).  These are adorable, festive, and delicious!

February 17, 2012

Pantry Raid - Pan-Roasted Garlic Pasta

At any time in my fridge, I have at least 4 heads of garlic.  Whenever I'm at the grocery store, I always forget how many I have and just say ehhh you never know?  One of my favorite uses for garlic is split and roasted in the oven for an hour (found here).  But when I'm craving sweet roasted garlic and pasta, I love making this 30 minute meal inspired dish.  Rachel and I were buddies in college, I would always leave food network on in the background when I didn't have a kitchen (and was dying a little inside everyday).  When I saw her episode where she made garlic pasta by steeping garlic in olive oil for the whole show and coating pasta in the flavorful oil, I knew I needed to try.  Years later, it is still my go to for when I'm feeling stressed because I always have garlic, olive oil, cheese, and pasta in my pantry and nothing makes you feel better like a bowl of pasta.

I like to change it up whenever I make it.  For this time around, I had a jar of sundried tomatoes in oil in my fridge.  I've put lemon zest, shallots, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, steamed broccoli, peas, and anything else I could think of to throw in the dish.  Low heat slowly poaches the garlic, releasing the sweet roasted flavor without the hour in the oven.  Just be sure to watch the pot, if the garlic burns the bitter flavor will predominate in the oil.

Pan-Roasted Garlic Pasta
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup garlic, rough chopped
1/4 tsp red chili flakes
1 tbsp oil from sundried tomatoes
4 sundried tomatoes, rough chopped
salt and pepper

In a small sauce pan, heat the oils on medium low.  Rough chop the garlic and sundried tomatoes and add to the oil.  Before adding the red chili flake, rub them in your palms to release the oils.  Add salt and pepper.

Pan-roast on medium low for about 30-35 minutes, until the garlic gets a light brown color.  Avoid burning the garlic; watch closely starting at about 25 minutes in.

Add the oil to your favorite pasta.  I used a whole wheat fettucini and put a little sprinkle of parmesan cheese on top.  It feels decadent but is so easy!

Green Papaya Salad

City living has introduced me to so many new cuisines.  One of my new favorite comfort foods is Thai food, with it's impossibly delicious balance of salty, sweet, sour, and spicy.  There is a hole in the wall place near my old apartment that I fell in love with.  Green curry with jasmine rice, crispy soft shelled crab, tom kha gai soup, and my favorite side dish green papaya salad.  Green papaya is just unripened papaya, the perfect vehicle for the spicy dressing of the salad.  I haven't been able to find the unripened fruit anywhere in DC, so I was ecstatic to bring some home from Baltimore.

The papaya should be peeled, seed, and shredded before using.  I prepared the papaya, carrots, and cucumber with the shredding blade of my food processor, but the large holes of a cheese grater would work fine in a pinch.  The shredded vegetables are combined with blanched green beans and sweet cherry tomatoes then dressed with a spicy tart balanced sauce.  It's best to let the salad soak in the dressing for a few hours before serving to allow the flavors to really pack a punch.

February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day Blood Orange Yogurt Cake

If you haven't already noticed, I'm not really a baker.  I like the freedom of adding as I go along and not having to worry about the chemistry of the dish, just the flavor.  But tonight, I was inspired by the cheap bag of blood oranges in the front of my Trader Joe's.  I waited a half hour in a line wrapped around the store (ohhh foggy bottom) and thought I deserved a treat!  Plus, this cake is a twinge pink and Valentine's Day perfect!

My love affair with blood oranges began when i was 9 in Belgium.  I was visiting my aunt and I pulled what I thought was an orange out of her fruit basket.  To my surprise, there wasn't the typical sunny interior but a deep red color with a taste that was a mixture of orange and berry.  Years later, I remember the first bites and always look for them in the winter when they're in season.

I tried to stay a little healthy with this dish, which is why I chose to adapt Ina Garten's Lemon Yogurt Cake.  Greek yogurt acts as the fat along with vegetable oil.  Blood orange and lemon zest scent the whole cake with a blood orange juice simple syrup soaked into the cake.  A simple glaze punched up with blood orange sorbet (told you I was obsessed) and/or berries macerated in lemon and pomegranate juice are a great accompaniment.

February 13, 2012

Roasted Chickpeas

This was a lovely addition to my roasted eggplant soup as protein-packed croutons, but these would also be a perfect finger food at any party.  The chickpeas are roasted until browned and crispy then salted and covered in spice while still warm.

Tamarind Spiced Roasted Eggplant Soup

I do not tolerate the cold.  My teeth chatter at the slightest hint of a temperature dip.  Since I'm stuck with DC winters for at least another 3 years, I figured I should find a culinary respite in the mean time.  This tamarind spiced eggplant soup is so comforting to me.  The first layers of flavor are created by roasting eggplants, tomatoes, and garlic.  The spices are sauteed before any liquid is added to allow their flavor to permeate every bite.  The silky coconut milk is a nice change to stock and cream based soups and adds sweetness to contrast with the spices.  Finally, the tamarind gives it a delicious and unexpected underlying tang.  All in all, a balanced, hearty, and warming soup perfect for a dreary winter day.

Tamarind Spiced Roasted Eggplant Soup
Tamarind is the fruit pulp of an african tree with notes of sweetness and tartness.  I used a tamarind concentrate that I found at my local asian market.  It is used in thai, mediterranean, indian, and mexican dishes, but you may know it best as one of the bajillion ingredients in Worcestershire sauce (affectionately, whatsinhere sauce).  The flavor is concentrated, so a little definitely goes a long way.

Concentrated Tamarind: The Unsung Hero!

As a note, this is my first post with my new big girl camera.  I was inspired to upgrade based on this picture from Deb at Smitten Kitchen, so I thought this would be an appropriate ode to her and her inspiring photography.

February 06, 2012

Chickpea and Jicama Citrus Salad

I'm a poor grad student and meat is expensive, so I try hard to get protein into my diet in other ways.  My go to is chickpeas - in salads, dips, or crisped up with spices.  For this salad, I combined the chickpeas with crunchy jicama and colorful bell peppers and then dressed it with a citrus dressing.

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