30 April 2008

Broccoli Frittata

Egg night, once again. I thought about making omlettes but was a bit bored by the idea and then though about a frittata. I could use all the ingredients I was planning to put in the omlettes but in a slightly different form. It had been a while since I had last tried to make a frittata (the last episode ending in a very burnt bottom and runny center) so this time I decided to use the cast iron skillet so it could go under the broiler to finish cooking (most of my pans have plastic handles and are a definite no go for the oven). For the frittata filling I decided to go with a combo that they serve at Kramer's, one of my favorite DC brunch spots.

I chopped up some broccoli and briefly steamed it (for about a minute), then sauteed some onion and Hungarian wax pepper (it's actually way less fancy than it sounds- it just the longish light green pepper that in my grocery store is about a third of the price of bell peppers). While that was cooking away, I microwaved some frozen corn kernels and beat 7 eggs in a bowl and stirred in about an ounce of cheddar cheese that Zach had kindly grated for me (I think he ate about the same amount while he was at it...) and a good measure of salt and pepper. I arranged the broccoli and corn over the onions and peppers in a even layer, then poured in the eggs. After a few minutes over low heat on the stove, I transferred the pan to the broiler and was sort of shocked when, 3 minutes later, I opened the door to find the frittata puffed and golden brown and was so amazed that it looked normal (as opposed to the mess of last time) that I took a picture of it right there before I even took it out of the broiler.

We had it piping hot for dinner, but it's also really good leftover or even at room temperature on a sandwich. The corn adds a bit of sweetness and the broccoli great color but you could mix it up and really add just about anything you have on hand- just cook the veggies about 70% through before you add in the egg mixture.

27 April 2008

Cheesecake Pops

Daring Bakers challenge #2- completed!  This month's challenge was hosted by Deborah at Taste and Tell and Elle at Feeding My Enthusiasms , who chose cheescake pops as our recipe.  I went through a phase a couple of years ago when I tried (for a few weeks) to make a good cheesecake at home and ended up giving up in frustration and haven't thought about attempting one again so I was a little bit nervous about this month's challenge.  It turns out that I really didn't need to be as the batter for the cake comes together really simply and then bakes at one temperature (previous recipes I've used have called for starting at a higher temp and then dropping the oven) and didn't have a complicated cooling process.  The most complicated thing  was wrapping my springform pan with aluminum foil to make it watertight.*

So- the cake batter only took about 10 minutes to make and it went into the oven for about 55 minutes until the cake was set (but it had not turned golden brown but remained a sort of ghostly white).  I took the cake out, let it cool on the counter for an hour and then popped it in the fridge.  After chilling the cake, I formed it into little balls of 1.5oz (45g) as I thought the 2oz. balls the recipe called for were just a bit too big and then skewered them with cut up straws for the pops to add some color (and because I had no idea where I could by lollypop sticks).  I did have some issues when I tried to dip the frozen pops in the chocolate as my chocolate just wouldn't get thin enough. It was the consistency of a thick pudding and therefore coated the pops a bit too thickly for my taste. I rolled some of the pops in crushed graham crackers with a bit of sugar and coconut, as the crust is one of my favorite parts of the cheesecake and I was a bit sad not to have one.

The pops turned out really prettily but I have to say I didn't love them. They were good- perfectly adequate but not fabulous. The cheesecake had a great smooth texture but seemed to lack depth of flavor and the thick chocolate coating overpowered the cheesecake on the first bite. I don't think that I will make this recipe again, but I am really glad that I tried it and I now know cheesecake is not beyond by power, but maybe something I should leave to the pros nonetheless. If you'd like the recipe check out Elle or Deborah's blogs.

Update: I just ate one of the leftover cheesecake pops (I made them Friday and now it's Sunday) and I have to say that they have improved with time.  On Friday I thought they were missing part of that essential cheesecake flavor but it seems like two days in the fridge helped it to develop.  Maybe my problem was serving them the day they were made instead of giving the cake some time to chill- have any of my fellow Daring Bakers experienced this?

* I decided to only make half a recipe as I had no idea who I would feed 40 cheesecake pops too. I took Elle's advice and decided to measure a smaller pan by the amount of water it would hold but the water immediately started pouring (I was using a springform pan). Before baking the cheesecake, I double wrapped the pan in aluminum foil till about 3/4 way up the sides which worked out fine- just be really careful when you take the pan out of the water bath if you do this, as some water may accumulate in the bottom of the aluminum and could pour out and burn you.

24 April 2008

Drunken Chocolate Cake

Sometimes the simplest ideas will just hit me. Ideas that I'm sure nearly everyone else has thought about long ago but seem like breakthroughs of epic proportions to me. I am not a frosting person. Pretty much full stop on that one. I think buttercream is just too rich and cream cheese frosting a bit wonky. (Chocolate ganache, on the other hand, may be one of the most delicious things in the world.) So, a few weeks ago my friends M-- and S-- (because I really am feeling too clever by half today I will now call them M&S) invited me to dinner and I said that I would bring a cake. That cake was supposed to be my last Daring Baker's Challenge but as I had the Econ Midterm of Doom to deal with that weekend, Dorie's Perfect Party Cake wasn't going go happen, but I did manage to make a box mix chocolate bundt cake that I added a few handfuls of chocolate chips too.

After I flipped the cake out of the pan, I could tell it needed some sort of topping. I can been in a rush greasing and flouring the pan and hadn't knocked the flour out well enough, so there were small pale patches all over the cake, leading to a sort of sickly impression. I didn't have the supplies on hand to make a ganache but I did have a box of powdered sugar so thought a glaze would do [Here comes the eureka moment- get ready for it] and thought that instead of using water for the glaze, I would use a flavored liquor (oh, wait, you have been doing this for years? It's as I suspected- that I am the last person ever to get it). I raided M&S's liquor cabinet and came out with a bottle of Razzmatazz (please do not ask me what this actually is as I have no idea, it's one of those DeKuyper liquors in a brown bottle, with pictures of raspberry on the label). I put about a cup of powdered sugar in a bowl and then sprinkled in a little Razzmatazz and mixed and kept adding the liquor till it got to a pourable, but thick consistency. Then we drizzled it over the cake.

The result- surprisingly good. The glaze had a very strong raspberry flavor that complemented the chocolate cake and made it seem much fancier than a plain old box mix. S-- had a great idea for the future (and also took this picture for posterity) which is to glaze the cake twice- once when it's hot, so the glaze soaks in and flavors the cake itself, and a second time when cooled, to make it pretty. I will definitely try it in the future but make the first glaze much thinner and less sugary than the second.

22 April 2008

Thai Curry

Zach and I both really like Thai style curries and over the years we have tried to make them at home, varying the recipes and amounts of curry powder but to no avail. The curries were always edible, just not that good.  I had all but given up on making curry at home when a recipe appeared in the food section of the Washington Post a few months ago... (I can't fight with Blogger anymore- the middle of this post is somehow hidden so if you would like to read it please click hereLocal chef Sak Pollert had a green curry recipe that looked good and could be made in 30 minutes (even better) which he served over linguini.  I never ever would have thought about using linguini with curry before this recipe, but it works (although to be honest I do prefer rice). 

The first time we made the curry we used Thai Kitchen brand curry paste and ended up adding nearly the whole jar as the curry just seemed bland otherwise but we happened to find the Maesri brand paste that Pollert recommends (and at less then half the price of Thai Kitchen-- I think we bought 8 tins of it...) and needed the recommended amount, so tasting the curry as you go along is a must to get the spice level right.

After making the recipe a few times I've changed things up a little bit. I use low-fat coconut milk (but still cook the curry in the coconut milk before adding other ingredients- it seems to really deepen the curry flavor) and tofu in place of chicken (if you want the original recipe with chicken click
here) and this time we used red curry instead of green and brown sugar instead of white. It's really easy to have all the ingredients on hand for this curry and it's definitely a good change from pasta with red sauce, our usually standby on night we need something quick and I'm not feeling creative.

Red Curry with Carrots, Peas and Pasta

Adapted from a recipe by Sak Pollert published in The Washington Post
Serves 4

8oz. linguini
1 brick extra firm tofu
2t. vegetable oil
8oz. fresh/frozen snap peas (defrost the frozen kind, if that's what you're using)
8oz. baby carrots, cut into halves or quarters, depending on size
1C lowfat coconut milk (the fat rises to the top, so I usually end up using a wisk on it)
1/4 C curry paste
2T brown sugar

-  Bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta.

-  Cut the tofu into bite size cubes or triangles and pat dry with a paper towel.  Heat a skillet over medium high and add a teaspoon or two of oil and add the tofu.  Cook until golden brown and then flip over to cook the other side.  Let the tofu hang out while you start the curry.

-  Heat 1/2C of the coconut milk in a large skillet over medium heat, when it begins to simmer add the curry past and stir well.  Cook mixture until it darkens, 3-4 minutes.  (your pasta water is probably boiling now so it would be a good time to salt the water and drop it in)

-  Add the rest of the coconut milk and the sugar; stir.  Add the vegetables and stir to coat and pop on a lid and set your timer for 10 minutes (the heat should be medium high).

-  Drain the pasta when it is done cooking.  When the veggies are done cooking, stir in the tofu and check for seasoning, adding salt and pepper if needed.  

-  Serve with the curry atop the linguini.

11 April 2008


Last week I happened upon Cynthia's blog about Guyanese and Caribbean food at Tastes Like Home. I have to admit that I had no idea what constitutes Guyanese cuisine but was interested to learn that Guyana has a large Indian community and its food reflects its multicultural heritage. This chickpea dish, called Channa, is no exception. Cynthia's photo is much more appetizing than mine and her description of the spicy beans sounded so good I decided to make last week. Cynthia recommends using dried beans so I decided to give it a try. Unfortunately I remembered that dried beans need to soak at about midnight so poured half a bag into a bowl (without regard to the amount listed in the recipe since I hadn't printed it out yet) and covered them with an inch of water and went to bed.

The next evening I was very pleased when the chickpeas only took about 20 minutes to cook. I drained them, then added them to some onion that had been cooking, along with cumin and some cayenne pepper. I let it cook for a few minutes, had a taste and decided to add a bit more cayenne and cumin. I added the chopped scallions and then we ate. The channa was good, but it was missing something. You know that taste- it's good but you know it's just missing some little flavor that would make it amazing. We couldn't figure out what that 'secret ingredient' was- I tried adding a little lemon but it didn't seem to help. I would really like to try to make channa again and try to tweak it a bit (or maybe just try with a fresh jar of cumin as mine is a little old).

This is also my entry into the Tried and Tasted challenge that Zlamushka is hosting. If you'd like to take a look at Cynthia's original post, you can do so here.

Note: Cynthia was kind enough to stop by and pointed out something that I had completely forgotten to do- I didn't add any salt to the chickpea cooking water! No wonder they turned out bland. So- make sure you salt the water for the chickpeas if you are using the dried variety and cooking them yourself.

Adapted from Tastes Like Home

8 oz. dried chickpeas (don't forget you have to soak them overnight)
1 T. olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 t. cumin
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
4-5 scallion, dark and light green parts only, finely diced

- Soak the chickpeas overnight overnight.

- Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the onion, cook till translucent.

- Add the chickpeas, cumin and cayenne and stir to combine. Cook for about 5 minutes, till heated. Add the scallion and lemon juice and combine. Serve immediatley or at room temperature.

10 April 2008

A Dumpling By Any Other Name

Last time I was at Trader Joe's my eye happened upon a bag of frozen dumplings, labeled as Gyoza. I don't know if any of you have had this experience at TJ's but sometimes their frozen/prepared items look amazing and then you get them home and make them, they're less then impressive. Well, I love dumplings and hoped, rather than expected, that these would be good and tossed a bag of pork gyoza into my cart.

As I started writing this, I began to wonder what exactly the difference between dumplings and gyoza actually is (TJ's had both in the freezer case). With a few clicks of the mouse I have learned that gyoza is the Japanese version of the Chinese word for a type of dumpling, and that gyoza typically have a thinner wrapper and more garlicky filling than Chinese style dumplings (hmmm... I definitley like both- sometimes you're in the mood for a chewy, doughy dumpling and sometimes for a crispy, thin skinned one). Well, last night we needed a quick dinner and decided to give them a try.

In the five minutes it took to prepare the dumplings, I made a quick dipping sauce out of soy sauce, mustard, honey, a little squirt of Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce (otherwise known as cock sauce for the rooster on the label) and sprinkled some scallions on top for color. The dumplings were garlicky and quite tasty, though I think we overcooked them a bit, and the dipping sauce added some extra flavor and a bit of spice although next time I think I'll add some rice wine vinegar as the sauce could have been a bit thinner (and a little less soy sauce flavored).

09 April 2008

Pasta with Spinach, Feta and Soy

I seriously debated putting 'soy' in the title of this post, thinking it might scare some people away, but I decided to do it- I will say here in the first sentence that you don't have to use soy, but more on that later. I have been making some variety of this dish since I was in high school and decided to become a vegetarian (as you can see by some of my other entries, I'm not vegetarian now but I try not to eat a lot of meat). I first made this dish when I was trying out all the soy based meat substitutes and while I made some pretty strange things in that period- this pasta dish was a keeper. Since it´s one of my favorite pasta dishes, I've decided to enter it into this weeks Presto Pasta Roundup, hosted by Ruth at Once Upon a Feast.

It starts with about 2 oz. of pasta per person. While the water for the pasta boils, you chop up some garlic and spinach. Then when you add the pasta to the water, put the garlic in a separate pan with a little bit of oil and start to heat it. When the garlic is just golden, add the soy protein (or ground beef, chicken, or turkey, or just skip the protein) and the spices (in this case oregano as I was going for a greekish flavor). SauteƩ till browned and wait for your pasta to cook. Save 1/2 cup of the pasta water and then drain it. Put the spinach on top of the soy protein, then add the pasta, pasta water and a bit more olive oil. Mix the whole thing on medium heat for a few minutes until the spinach wilts, then crumble in the cheese and mix to combine. It's that easy' and the best part is you can change up the flavors for variety. Some of my favorite combos are basil, oregano and parmesan cheese and herbs de provance with a soft goat cheese.

Though the dish doesn't have a sauce per se, it's not dry as the spinach gives it moisture and the cheese gives it a ton of flavor. The feta I used was really creamy and melted slightly to coat the pasta and I added a few grates of fresh nutmeg at the very end, which added another level of flavor. It's really quite healthy too, especially if you use a whole wheat or multi-plus pasta. The leftovers reheat well too.

Pasta with Spinach, Feta and Soy
Serves 4

8 oz. whole wheat penne
1 T. olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 t. dried oregano
8 oz. meat substitute (I use Gimme Lean Ground Beef Style)
4 oz. spinach, roughly chopped, or the same amount of baby spinach, whole
4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
freshly ground nutmeg
vegetable or chicken bullion (optional)

- Bring a large pot of water to boil. Chop the garlic and the spinach.

- Add the pasta to the boiling water, set timer for the recommended cooking time (the pasta should be quite al dente).

- In a large pan, put garlic and half the olive oil. Heat over medium low till the garlic is golden then add the soy protein and oregano. Use a wooden spoon to break the soy up into little chunks and brown.

- Reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking water and drain pasta (you can add a pinch of bullion to the reserved cooking water for extra flavor). Put the spinach over the soy in the pan, then pour the pasta on top. Add a bit of the pasta water and the remaining olive oil and mix everything together over medium high heat till the spinach wilts. Turn off heat and add crumbled feta. Serve immediately.

05 April 2008

At Last

You might remember that back in February I attempted to get cupcakes from a shop that had just opened in Georgetown.  It was sold out that day and every subsequent time I walked by their was a sign on the door that said "Sold Out: Reopening at 5" or "Closed for Private Event Today".  I had pretty much given up hope on ever getting a cupcake as their business model seemed to be "create high demand by artificially restricting supply and creating hype."  Yesterday, as I was down on M St. to drop something off for work, I decided to walk by but without much hope of success. 

As I turned onto Potomac St., I saw a line of people snaking out of the shop. I was rather amazed and, as I had no desire to get back to my desk, decided to join the queue. After a few minutes, someone from the shop came out and told us, "Well- we think we have enough cupcakes for you all, but if anyone else comes, tell them we're sold out." Making the customers do the dirty work-- not a good sign.

Finally I made it into the shop and could see the flavors listed on the board; coconut, several varieties of chocolate and lemon blossom. Sadly, when the man in front of me was ordering, a staff member came out of the back and said "We're all out of lemon blossom" so chocolate coconut, coconut and chocolate hazelnut it was for me. 

We had dinner at a friend's house and I brought the cupcakes for dessert. They were good, but not amazing. The tiny pieces of candied hazlenut that topped my chocolate cupcake and were held on by a thin layer of chocolate ganache was the best part. The crunch of the hazlenuts gave the cupcake great texture (I think I will be stealing this idea in the future) and the ganache itself had a good chocolate flavor but wasn't overwhelming in quantity. The cupcakes themselves tasted just like Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker box mix. I don't say this as a bad thing in and of itself- box mixes are generally pretty tasty, but if I'm paying $2.75 a cupcake, I want something I can't make at home for 1/10th of the price.

Georgetown Cupcake
M and Potomac, just across from Dean & Deluca's

02 April 2008

Penny Pinching Potato Soup

Kat from A Good Appetite had an interesting recipe for potato soup up the other week. I can't say that potato soup is something that I think about often but this one caught my eye (it may have had something to do with the half sack of potatoes that had been sitting on my counter catching my eye every morning as I made my lunch). The original recipe came from a money blog called Get Rich Slowly in a frugal recipe feature- a strange source for a recipe, I know. Anyway- I was intrigued because the recipe called for cooking the potatoes in the microwave before adding them to the soup, and it had no cream but used fat-free evaporated milk instead.

I made a few slight changes to the recipe along the way, leaving out the butter than the original recipe called for in place of 1T of the bacon fat (that sounds terrible when actually written out, does't it? Since the recipe called for bacon it seemed natural to use the bacon fat as a base for the soup and skip adding the quarter cup of butter it originally called for). I also decreased the flour (for a thickening roux) to 1T and think that you could skip this step entirely- the potato itself makes for a rather thick soup. I did use the season salt to spice it, but I don't think I would again as I thought it had a sort of strange flavor. I think smoked paprika would be a particularly nice substitute.

The soup was thick, so thick I hesitate to call it a soup. It was sort of a cross between mashed potatoes and potato soup but it was comforting to have a bowl full of it on a cold and windy night.

Penny Pinching Potato Soup
Adapted from Get Rich Slowly and A Good Appetite
Serves 4

1.5lb/700g baking potatoes
3 slices bacon
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1T flour (optional)
1/4C white wine
2C chicken stock
1, 12oz. can fat free evaporated milk
2t season salt, smoked paprika, or your favorite
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced for garnish

- Clean the potatoes and pierce each several times with a fork. Cut very large potatoes in half and microwave until soft (8-15 minutes depending on the strength of your micro).

- In a heavy bottomed pot cook the bacon until crisp over medium low heat. Remove the bacon to a paper towel lined. Remove all but 1T of the bacon fat.

- Add the onion to the pot and raise the heat to medium, add garlic and cook till onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. If you are using the flour, add it here and stir well to create a roux.

- Add the wine and use a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan to get up the brown bits (if you used flour, stir vigorously, it will form a thick paste). Add the stock and evaporated milk (until it come so a boil, if using flour).

- Carefully scoop out the flesh of half of the potatoes and mash it with a fork till smooth, add to the pot. Roughly chop the remaining potato and add to the pot (skins on or off- your choice). Add seasonings and bring to a simmer.

- Serve immediatley, garnished with crumbled bacon and scallions.