March 29, 2012

Spinach and Artichoke Strata

Over Christmas, I was finally introduced to the wonders of strata.  There is a new bakery by my parent's house and we had a surplus of bread laying around as well as extra bacon from the butcher behind our house (spoiled, I know).  The bread was going stale so I made some french toast and a big pan of strata!  Basically a strata is like a savory bread pudding, with layers of bread, veggies, and cheese topped with a savory egg custard.  A new french bakery opened in my neighborhood, so I decided to grab a baguette and give it another go!

Because strata is a great way to use up leftovers, I stuck with that theme while constructing mine.  I had two lonely slices of bacon, opened packages of frozen artichoke hearts and spinach, half a container of sliced cremini mushrooms, and asiago cheese leftover from an attempt to stuff a deboned chicken thigh.  All beautiful ingredients that needed a home, and the deliciously fresh french bread was the perfect palette!

A custard of egg and milk is poured over the layers and allowed to mellow in the fridge over night.  This is the step is what makes this a perfect brunch dish!  I let it come to room temperature, while the oven was heating up, and baked it off in about 30 minutes.  Cheesy and eggy with crispy bacon on top?  This one is a winner!

March 27, 2012

Strawberry Meringue Cookies

I'm starting to get fancy!  In name only, I promise, these cookies were a snap to make!  Meringue is made from stiffly whipped egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar to stabilize, and flavorings.  I have never made a meringue before whether pie or otherwise so I tried out a traditional sugar and vanilla extract version on Sunday.  Too sweet, too vanilla-y, and just not right for my taste.  I made a tangy yogurt dip with some macerated strawberries to make the puffy cookies more palatable and ended up dreaming of a more understated strawberry version.  Hence, strawberry meringue cookies were born!

Macerated strawberries are super simple, just hull and slice up some strawberries and add a little sugar.  Not only does this help the berries last longer in the fridge but they create a delicious strawberry syrup.  I reduced the amount of vanilla extract then added the strawberry syrup to the egg whites.  I used a hand mixer with regular beater attachment to whip up the eggs until soft peaks were formed, adding the sugar a tablespoon at a time during the process.

As the egg whites were almost ready, I added a pinch of salt.  Adding the salt any earlier will make beating the eggs more difficult.  Once the egg are shiny and have stiff peaks (you should be able to hold the bowl over your head), spoon carefully into a piping bag or large zip top bag.  Squeeze out as much air as you can for even piping of silver dollar sized cookies.  Baking low and slow ensures an impossibly light and airy texture with the taste of strawberries.  Delicious!

March 26, 2012

Mango Beef Stir Fry

First beef dish!  I'm trying to ease into this whole cooking meat thing by using a quick cooking meat that I couldn't screw up!  I got inspired by the grocery store sales, 10 for 10 on oranges and champagne mangos as well as discounted stir fry meat.  Done and done.  So, I mixed up a sweet and spicy stir fry perfect to put on top of soba noodles or lettuce as a salad.  And look, it's so colorful and exciting!

I've been very into the combination of agave, sriracha, soy sauce, and toasted sesame oil.  Last week I used it in a quick salad dressing as well as combined with tamarind concentrate to marinate the chicken pieces.  I made enough stir fry sauce to enjoy for the rest of the week, which is why only a 1/2 cup is incorporated into the stir fry.

Word to the wise - this is the kind of dish to prepare everything before you start cooking.  I cut up all of my vegetables, prepared my sauce, and seasoned the beef before even turning the pan on.  I used coconut oil, which can be used 1 for 1 for olive oil, because it is great for high heat cooking and frying like stir fry.  It can be found at asian markets and in the baking aisle at Whole Foods.

March 25, 2012

Breaking Down a Chicken

When I was putting together my recipe directory, it put my avoidance of cooking meat into black and white.  I have never had an vegetarian inclination, I've just never been a meat and potatoes kind of girl.  Granted, there are some times where I crave a burger or "still mooing" steak but it is definitely a rarity.  Most of the meat I consume is out of the house, mainly because I don't want to pay for meat but also because I don't think I'm as skilled at cooking meat.  So I think I need to institute one meat dish a week rule as well.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a cooking class through LivingSocial in their new DC space.  They have this gorgeous new commercial kitchen where local chefs can come in and do a two hour cooking class slash chat, drink, and eat.  I went to the class with Erik Bruner-Yang, the chef at the infamous H street ramen shop Toki Underground.  People will wait HOURS to get into his tiny restaurant, so I thought this would be a great experience.

And it was!  I finally learned how to break down a chicken!  Then we made an amazing stock with using every single part of vegetables, with some chopped and used in dumplings, karaage chicken, and baked and basted chicken legs and wings.  Soooooo good, definitely need to drag someone down to H street to try his ramen!

I wanted to practice my new skill and thought I would share it with you.  The whole chicken I bought ended up being the same price as the typical package of breast meat and I got at least 4 meals out of the bird!  I will be breaking down chickens from now on!

March 23, 2012

Green Beans with Shallots

Have you ever had pollo a la brasa?  It's ridiculously amazing peruvian chicken smothered in spices and roasted on spits over charcoal in these crazy ovens.  My favorite is this place Sardi's in College Park, their 10% student discount Tuesdays is the only reason why I have kept my student ID from UMD.  They have amazing sides as well, from yucca fries and plantains to peruvian corn and these amazing green beans with onions and LOTS of black pepper.  Since I'm a bike-only person, my life has been sadly bereft of all of these amazing dishes.  So, I thought I would try to replicate the green beans at home...

To outstanding results!  I used a combination of butter (that I made) and saved bacon fat to first saute thinly sliced shallots then added the green beans and fresh cracked pepper.  Just five simple ingredients come together to make such an amazing side dish, enough to tide me over until my next trip to College Park!

March 22, 2012

Orange Saffron Olive Oil Cake with Whipped Marscapone

Yesterday was one of those days.  My body still hasn't caught up from midterms and my schedule is certainly not letting me forget it.  After a stressful TA session until 10, I needed to do something fun just for me.  Since I made my baking resolution, I'm starting to love watching my doughs rise to success.  So I thought I would try out the ridiculous cheap saffron I found at Trader Joe's.  I love a punch of something savory and unexpected in desserts, so I thought it would be perfect in something like an olive oil cake.  Having never made one but salivating every time I see one on food network, so I wanted to find a recipe that I didn't need to mess with too much.  Hence, this little gem of a recipe from Melissa d'Arabian, who I totally rooted for on Next Food Network Star.

Olive oil cake is a rich cake that ends up with great crispy edge.  Orange brightens the cake while saffron echos the savory, earthy flavor of the olive oil.  In order to incorporate the saffron flavor, I steeped the orange juice with a good pinch of saffron by nuking it for 30 seconds in the microwave and letting it stand for 5 minutes.  I topped the cooled cake with a whipped marscapone topping flavored with orange zest and juice, delicious!

March 21, 2012

Cheesy Smashed Red Potatoes

NO MORE MIDTERMS EVER!!!!  I still have one last bout of take homes for finals, but I am so happy to be done!  To celebrate, I had a little fun at Trader Joe's and Target then came home to cook up a STORM and clean up the mess that exam weeks always leave behind.  It felt so incredible to be domestic and not be at a computer!  I broke down a chicken, made stock, put together a marinade for the chicken pieces, sauteed up some green beans in my homemade butter, and made amazing smashed potatoes with Irish cheddar.

This was something I had wanted to do last week for St Patricks Day.  I was hunting for buttermilk for the soda bread and saw the (reduced price) spread of Irish cheddar and knew I had to play with it!  Irish cheddar is more mild than the typical sharp cheddar, with almost a sweet undertone.  Baby red potatoes, with their slightly spicy skins, were a great compliment to the muted cheese.  However, this would also be delicious with any other melty cheese!  Remember to bring your potatoes and water to boil together to ensure even cooking of the potatoes.  The spuds are done when a fork easily slides out after being pierced.  Smash while the potatoes are still hot so the cheese will melt, seasoning after adding in the salty cheese.

March 17, 2012

Irish Soda Bread

Happy St Pattys from a half-Irish!  When I perused my local grocery and only saw already seasoned brisket for corned beef (the nerve!) I knew I wanted to tackle something authentically Irish for this, the holiday of green beer.  None of which I get to consume during the Saturday bar crawls due to aforementioned midterms, but that's neither here nor there.  I called my mother because I figured she would have some old recipe for soda bread lurking in the cook book cabinet - no such luck!  "I don't like soda bread, is that terrible?"

No, madge, it's not terrible because most people think of the Americanized soda bread, sweetened and full of raisins, nuts, and/or spices.  Irish soda bread is like most Irish food in that it is peasant food.  White soda bread contains just four ingredient: flour, salt, baking soda, and buttermilk.  That's it.  No eggs, no sugar, no butter.

Speaking of butter, I was disappointed to find that my local grocery store had no buttermilk.  So what's a girl who loves a project to do?  Make butter and buttermilk.  And let me tell you, without a stand mixer it is definitely a PROJECT.  I had a quart of heavy cream and split it into quarters in tupperware containers and shook in front of the season finale of Jersey Shore (merp) until I got about 1 3/4 cups of buttermilk and 1 3/4 cup of butter.  I added a pinch of salt and a little honey and stashed it in my freezer so it wouldn't go bad.

Homemade Butter and Buttermilk!
What you end up with is a dense bread that is perfectly paired with your corned beef and cabbage or a little bit of Irish cheddar with a touch of honey for after dinner.  On a whim, I split the batter and added a scant half cup of raisins to one half.  This produced two manageable loaves, instead of a massive round behemoth, so I could freeze one and use one right away.

March 15, 2012

Exam Week Bacon Scrambled Eggs

It is that time of year again, midterms!  This being my last midterm season as a student as well as it coinciding with my last spring break, I am having a little bit of "senioritis."  So, I thought I would motivate myself with a bit of college nostalgia: my favorite exam time comfort food of slowly scrambled eggs.  My junior year I was living in my first apartment and had a little dinky electric stove that took forever to heat up.  As frustrating as electric was compared to the ridiculous Viking gas stove that lives in Baltimore, it made me appreciate slow stove top cooking.  And the best application for slow stove top cooking is scrambled eggs.  I would always make these during exam weeks because I would get tired of delivery and wanted to feel like I was cooking something without taking my usual sweet time.

Slow low heat is essential for creamy scrambled eggs.  There is a method that I have yet to attempt in which you scramble the eggs in a double boiler, just as you would melt chocolate.  While it's on my culinary to do list, you can get just as delicious results on very low heat in a non stick pan.  The point is to avoid any burnt pieces in the final product.  The Kitchn recently did a post on using chopsticks to stir the eggs during cooking to create small and tender curds and it was a revelation to these eggs!  Light, fluffy, and pulled just before completely done; these eggs are the perfect 10 minute comfort food.

I do my eggs just like my Dad, a splash of cream and a pinch of sugar.  If you want your comfort food a little more comforting, fry up two slices of bacon in the pan first to act as the fat instead of butter or cooking spray.  This left amazing little specks of bacon fat throughout the eggs!  I let my pan cool before pouring out excess fat and turning it back on low heat to scramble.

March 14, 2012

Blueberry Sour Cream Cake with Cream Cheese Ribbon

I know blueberries aren't technically in season yet, but seeing them on sale right as I walked into the grocery store was too tempting.  So, I decided to take a Barefoot Contessa classic (Lemon Yogurt Cake) and tweak it to display the blueberries.  Previously, I had played with this recipe (Blood Orange Yogurt Cake) so I had more confidence to change it up with sour cream instead of vegetable oil and added a ribbon of cream cheese throughout.

I love the combination of lemon, blueberry, and cream cheese.  All three are tangy in their own unique way and pair so perfectly together.  Because the cake is sweet, I chose to keep the cream cheese a little more muted to accent the flavors in the cake.  Instead of Ina's soak or glaze, I made a quick blueberry sauce with lemon juice to pour over the cake slices.  The lemon makes it springy and the blueberries make me think of summer!

Plus the cake ended up looking like it was smiling, always a good sign . . .

March 13, 2012

Cherry Chipotle Chutney

As a scientist, even I cannot fathom the amount of ingredients found in most sauces in the grocery store.  From teriyaki sauce to barbecue sauce to ketchup, the first or second ingredient is usually some crazy form of sugar.  After years, I finally got my mom on board to start making her own barbecue sauce last week.  Proud moment.  But for this week's condiment, I wanted to try something a little out of the jar, if you will.  In the summer I always pair fresh fruit salsas with chipotle; I love the smoky flavor in contrast with the sweet fruits.   I took that idea and paired the chipotle with frozen cherries, lemon and lime, and a little agave nectar to create a sweet, spicy, and smoky chutney.

Chutney Pork Chops
A chutney is a relish consisting of fruits, acid like citrus or vinegar, spices, and sugar.  It can be used to brightened up dishes from antipasti, a topping for chicken or fish, or combined in a dressing.  I ended up using mine for a glaze on pork chops and in a simple salad with bitter watercress.  I feel better when I'm eating this straight from the fridge with a hunk of cheese because I made it myself without any crazy preservatives or other chemicals!

March 12, 2012

Brie Creamed Spinach and Mushrooms

Years of spinach salads for lunch has left me wanting more from my spinach experience.  I ate it for the nutritional value (vitamins! iron! antioxidants!) and got bored along the way.  There's only so much vinaigrette a girl can eat.  But cheese?  And caramelized onions and mushroom?  Always room for more!  So to get a little more spinach in my life, I added brie to the steak house classic creamed spinach.

My version of creamed spinach starts with red onion, cremini mushrooms, garlic, and lemon zest.  Brie is melted into 1/3 of a cup of half and half and allowed to reduce until there is almost no liquid left.  Baby spinach is added and delicately wilted into the creamy cheesy sauce.  Nutmeg complements both the cream and the leafy green flavors.  The result is a delicious twist on creamed spinach any steak house would be proud to serve!  I know I was proud of myself when I was eating it . . .

March 11, 2012

Bacon Pancakes

Whenever there was a snow day growing up, my sister and I would jump out of bed and make pancakes. We woke up earlier than a school day and immediately pulled out the premade pancake mix and food coloring.  Yes, we would make colorful pancakes because we were so excited to celebrate the snow day!  She was here in DC this weekend so we hit up all of our favorite places, including my favorite cupcake place baked & wired.  A flavor that caught my attention was the flap jack: maple brown butter cake with maple frosting and candied bacon on top.  It got the wheels in my head rolling to make us a midnight snack of bacon studded pancakes in the name of sister bonding.

I'll be honest, this is the first time I haven't used a mix but I will NEVER use one again after trying it out the old fashion way.  I took a simple pancake recipe from Martha Stewart and doctored it with cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla just like I used to with the mixes as a kid.  I cooked some thick cut bacon until it was crispy, crumbled it into tiny crispy pieces, and sprinkled them on top of a just poured pancake like blueberry pancakes.  This ensured that the bacon would stay as crispy as possible during cooking.  Topped with a little butter and syrup, it is such a treat!  No snow day required!

March 09, 2012

Apple Streusel Muffin Bites

These were supposed to be normal-sized breakfast-type muffins, not adorably tiny.  However, I live in a basement and as such get sprayed for bugs and mice every 3 months.  (God I love city living.)  The genius who came last week ended up spraying my normal sized muffin tins instead of the molding and left a sticky film of poison on the bakeware.  After attempting to scrub it off, I have no sponges or normal sized muffin tins left.  Boo, basement.

I had already made the batter for these muffins, so I figured I would take my own advice and reduce the cooking time.  I shredded a granny smith apple, used a combo of yogurt and sour cream instead of oil, and topped the baby muffins with a quick streusel mixture of butter, brown sugar, and oats.  And do not leave out the allspice!  It adds a warm underlying spice flavor that is unexpected and unbeatable.

March 06, 2012

Tomato Basil Carbonara

Let's call a spade a spade.  Carbonara is basically stove top mac and cheese with bacon.  Oh heck yeah!  Creamy thickened egg yolks loaded with parmesan cheese and an underlying flavor of bacon beats the box mac and cheese any day of the week.  Best part?  It comes together in the time it takes to cook the pasta!  For my version, I added a note of sweetness and acidity with cherry tomatoes and basil.  This is me pretending to be healthy by adding vegetables, but really I just wanted some down and dirty comfort food.

Carbonara is an Italian dish consisting of egg, cheese, bacon, and black pepper.  Bacon fat is used to saute the onions, garlic, and any other vegetables while the pasta is cooking.  When the pasta is done egg yolks, cheese, and cream are whisked together and quickly combined with the bacon and veggies on low heat, being careful to not scramble the eggs.  The pasta is added to the thickened sauce, adding starchy pasta water to thin the sauce.

Done in 15 minutes, the perfect out-of-the-box weeknight comfort food!

March 05, 2012

Granny Smith and Gorgonzola Scones

Apples and cheese were one of my favorite combos as a kid.  Galas wrapped in deliciously processed american cheese grew up into tart apples with goat cheese or bleu cheese in salads.  I decided to try this combination in a scone, using granny smith apples and gorgonzola cheese.  This is again adapted from the book "Savory Baking" by Mary Cech, from her peppered pear and goat cheese scones.

Gorgonzola is a bleu cheese originally from the Gorgonzola region of Italy.  Salty and full of flavor, it pairs well with all types of fruits.  The slightly sweet dough pairs well with the tart apples and the salty bleu cheese.  I'm going to pretend I'm being virtuous by using yogurt in the dough, but really the stick of butter is what the scones are really about!

You could make this a smaller size, just make sure to adjust the cooking time.

March 04, 2012

Cilantro Cashew Pesto Crusted Tuna Steaks with Mango Avocado Salsa

If you haven't figured this out yet, I love cilantro.  I feel so sorry for anyone who cannot enjoy cilantro because of that pesky gene!  Its brightness perks up almost any dish, including desert.  Today, I decided to use the power of cilantro in a pesto, used to crust a tuna steak.

To top the tuna, I made a quick salsa with champagne mangos and avocado.  I like to use champagne mangos because I can always tell when they are ripe due to their smaller size and yellow flesh.  I have wasted many a mangos cutting in before they are fully ripe, but never a champagne mango!

This meal was easy to prepare and made me think spring!

March 02, 2012

Parmesan Profiteroles with Bacon and Sundried Tomato Filling

I have made a resolution to myself to attempt baking once a week.  This week's attempt was inspired by the book "Savory Baking" by Mary Cech.  I picked up the book last fall during the going out of business sale at Borders (for $2? yes please!) and I was looking through it this week for inspiration.  There was one recipe for a savory profiterole, where mozzarella cheese was combined into the choux pastry dough before puffing up in the oven.  I decided to take that idea and use parmesan cheese instead with a creamy sundried tomato and bacon spread to go in the middle.

Choux pastry dough (pate a choux) is used for eclairs, profiteroles, cream puffs, etc.  Basically, you bring the liquids to a boil over a medium high flame, add in the flour to cook out the raw flour taste, and then eggs are added after slightly cooling.  The resulting dough is light due to the high moisture content, which steams during cooking and creates the puffy end product.  By adding parmesan, the dough is slightly more dense and ends up with a cripsy exterior and a light while slightly chewy interior from the melted cheese.  I made a spread from ricotta and the left over parmesan with sweet notes from sundried tomatoes and smoky, savory notes from crispy bacon.  Not a bad treat for sticking to my baking goal!

March 01, 2012

Garam Masala Roasted Potatoes

I have been thinking about making chana masala for a while now, an Indian chickpea dish with lots of spices.  One of the ingredients, garam masala, has been ridiculously hard to find in DC so I had to put it off.  When I finally got my hands on a bottle, I had no idea what to do with it!  So, I decided to use the spice mixture on a neutral vegetable like potatoes and roast it in the oven.  This way, I could become familiar with the spice mixture and see how it was supposed to taste both cooked and uncooked.

Garam masala is a warm, not hot, spice blend typically containing peppercorns, cloves, mase, cumin, cardamon pods, nutmeg, coriander, and star anise.  The spices are toasted and ground into the "masala" or mixture.  I really got the warmth from the spice blend after roasting the potatoes and I can't wait to try it in other dishes!

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