28 June 2008

No DB for Me But I Did Make...

This month has just been really crazy so I wasn't able to do the DB challenge, but you should check out the blogroll to see everyone elses results. Though I didn't have time for the Danish Braid I did end up baking... My friend A--- and her husband J--- are moving this weekend and since I can't help with the boxes (thanks to my most annoying knee injury) I wanted to do something and since this is me, the best I could come up with is food. A--- can't eat gluten so I wanted to make a treat that she could eat, but I wasn't ready to delve into the world of gluten-free baking quite yet since I think it takes some getting used to and I figure my first attempt probably won't go that well.

Anyway, I wanted a dessert that was naturally gluten-free. I guess I could have made a pudding or a mousse or gotten ice-cream, but I wanted to bake so I decided to make macaroons.

Now macaroons as I know them are not those fancy French cookies that come in multiple colors and flavors. No, macaroons for me are chewy coconut cookies that we always had at Passover. We would get two cans of Maneschewitz brand macaroons which were strictly rationed out to my sister and me over the course of the holiday. They always had a certain mystique to me. I had never had a homemade one and somehow in my mind this meant that they were impossible to make at home. I could not have been more wrong.

I started to look online for a recipe and realized that these may really be the simplest cookie you will ever make. They have only four ingredients and all four are easily found in the grocery store (well I actually couldn't find plain shredded coconut so I adapted this recipe for sweetened shredded coconut which I think should be available everywhere in the US). The steps: beat, fold, drop and bake, involve little preparation and can be done in about 10 minutes. The cookies are even better then I remembered; just slightly golden brown and crisp on the outside and sweet and chewy on the inside. I even dipped a few in chocolate just because. Next time you are looking for a quick, homemade treat skip the tollhouse and try these instead.

Makes about 45 cookies, recipe easily halved or doubled

4 egg large egg whites
1/3 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla
4 c. sweetened shredded coconut
3 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips, optional

- Preheat oven to 350. Make sure there is some room between your oven racks.

- Beat egg whites with an electric beater until foamy. Add sugar and vanilla, continue beating until very still peaks form.

- Gently fold in coconut. The eggs will deflate quite a bit, but be as gentle as you can.

- Drop the batter by rounded teaspoonful onto a parchment lined baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie. Bake for 19-22 minutes or until just beginning to brown. Remove from oven and let cool completely on parchment.

- Optional choocolate step: Melt chocolate in a double boiler. When chocolate is melted, dip in the cookies. 3 oz. chocolate is enough to dip about half the cookies lightly.

What I Have Been Eating

Since I haven't been cooking much, you may be wondering what I have been eating. [Reality check here- I know you have, oh, say three million more interesting things to think about than my lunch, but do bear with me]. On days when I have class the only meal I eat at home is breakfast so I need to pack everything else I'm going to eat that day and this is what I had one day last week:

Two slices of homemade wheat bread.
Some deli sliced turkey with havarti cheese
Greens salad with goat cheese, dried cranberries and calendula
A granola bar for a snack
Shredded Wheat for dinner

Plus I always keep a container of Greek yogurt in the fridge at work and bring in a bag of some kind of crunchy snack on Mondays to last though the week (this week it's Cannonballs

I know it can be tough to pack interesting and healthy things for lunch so I am always looking for inspirations. What do you pack for lunch?

27 June 2008

Lettuce Wraps

I realize that I have been sadly neglecting the blog lately. The truth is, I haven't been cooking much lately. Class three nights a week just sort of kills it and we're usually out on the weekends. I did manage to make these lettuce wraps a few weeks ago and have really *meant to post about them, but they got pushed to the wayside. They really do deserve better than this though, as they were both super-delicious and helped me get over my fear of ground chicken.

Yes, it is true, I had been afraid to use ground chicken. I had a bad incident a few years ago with ground turkey (it gave off a rather putrid smell when cooking and none of us could bring ourselves to eat the lasagna it ended up in) and I assumed ground chicken with do the same thing. I really wanted to make lettuce wraps with the beautiful lettuce leaves that came in the week's CSA veg, but every recipe I came across called for ground chicken. After much hesitation, I decided to take the plunge, fully believing that things would not turn out.

I was skeptical as I cooked the ground chicken meat and when it turned a pale white and didn't brown I thought to myself, "I knew this wouldn't work" but decided to continue with the recipe anyway. I was shocked, really completely shocked when not only did I not hate the finished product but actually liked it. I liked it so much in fact, that I got really mad at Zach when he 'accidentally' ate the entire quantity of leftovers (over half a pound of chicken-- how he though that it was one portion I will never know).

20 June 2008

Sushi Taro

Yesterday my friend S-- and I went for lunch at Sushi Taro, a Japanese restaurant on 17th Street that I had been hearing about for years but had never actually managed to get to. It's claim to fame is the $9.95 bento box lunch (which you see above). Maybe some of you are questioning the $9.95 part, but in DC where a plain turkey and cheese sandwich that has been sitting in a refrigerated case for what seems like days since can cost upwards of $7, a real sit down lunch that covers all the food groups for under $10 is sort of amazing.

I went into Sushi Taro thinking of the bento box lunches I had enjoyed with my friend I-- when I went to visit her in Japan a few years ago. There the bento boxes impressed me with their artful presentation and variety, keeping with the Japanese tradition of eating 5 colors and something sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami with each meal. I ordered the sushi bento box and it came with everything you see above, plus a salad and bowl of miso soup to start.

The tempura was the best that I have had in the States- the delicate coating wasn't greasy at all, and the warm dipping sauce enhanced the flavor of the shrimp and zucchini rather than masking it. The dumplings were crisp and perfectly seasoned (I could have eaten a whole plate). The pickles made for a good palate cleanser and the sushi was good, although the chef did put a lot of wasabi on the pieces of nigri and I did for a second think that my nose was going to explode with the spice. I only wish I worked in the neighborhood so I could go for lunch more often.

Sushi Taro
1503 17th St. NW (17th and P)
Washington DC, 20036

Salade avec Cerises, Fleurs et Fromage de Chèvre

Why the French title? Well, this salad of mixed greens, fresh cherries, flower petals, toasted almonds and goat cheese seemed too special to get just an ordinary title and French makes everything sound so much fancier and more 'culinary', doesn't it? The inspiration for this one was really just what I had on had in the house and it turned out so well, I wanted to post it right away. It does take a few more minutes than just mixing pre-bagged lettuce with a bottled dressing but the results are like comparing apples and oranges.

The greens are fresh and crisp and the cherries decadent. When you get a forkful with everything on it the flavors just pop- creamy cheese, tart cherry, crunchy almond and fresh greens. The flower petals don't have a very distinct flavor but they add such pretty color to the salad and would totally impress your guests if you decided to serve this as a first course. Recipe after the jump.

Salade avec Cerises, Fleurs et Fromage de Chèvre
Serves 1 for dinner

A few handfulls of fresh greens, washed, dried and torn into pieces
6 cherries
scant 1 oz. goat cheese (about a fifth of the normal US size log)
1 T. toasted almond slivers
3 calendula flowers, 1 whole, 2 with petals removed
Sweet balsamic dressing (recipe below)

- Put the greens in a large bowl. Cut three of the cherries in half and remove the pit. Cut the remaining cherries into fourths. Add cherries to greens.

- Use a fork to flake about 3/4ths of the goat cheese into the greens, reserve the rest. Toss the greens mix with the dressing and plate. Sprinkle the almonds, remaining goat cheese and calendula petals. Top with the whole flower and serve.

Sweet Balsamic Dressing
For dressing one salad

I don't measure ingredients for dressings because I hate to dirty a set of teaspoons for such a little thing. I've given approximate values here but the best thing to do it make it then taste it and decide if you'd like more of any one ingredient.

1/2 t. balsamic vinegar
1 t. red wine vinegar
1 t. honey
1/4 t. dijon mustard
2 t. highest quality olive oil
salt and pepper to taste.

- Add everything but the olive oil to a bowl and wisk well. Add the olive oil and wisk again. The mustard should hold the oil in an emulsion and the dressing will get a little thick and opaque. Taste then add salt and pepper. If the dressing is too sweet, add more vinegar. Not sweet enough, add more honey. If it just won't come together (meaning the oil and vinegar don't want to get along) add a touch more mustard.

Scallion Pancakes

In this episode I attempt to do something will some of the masses of scallions we have in the fridge. I've never used scallions for much besides topping soups and sauces, or maybe adding to few in a stir-fry. These methods, while tasty, weren't going to use enough of the scallions to even make a dent in the supply. As I was running through ideas in my head (scallion salad, scallion eggs, pasta with scallion) I hit up scallion pancakes.

I sort of remembered having scallion pancakes once and liking them so set off in search of a recipe. I settled on one by Ming Tsai posted at the food network but couldn't help but make a few little changes. I substituted a third of the white flour for wheat flour, and reduced the oil from over half a cup to just 3 tablespoons and added a bit of baking powder. The pancakes were easy to make but the dough does need an hour to rest before rolling out.

After a quick cooking in a very hot pan, the pancakes were ready to eat. It seems to me that these pancakes would qualify as Chinese comport food. They have a very delicate flavor which I initially thought was bland but then after another I began to appreciate the scallion flavor in the crisp yet chewy dough.

I've uploaded this recipe into the Key Ingredient collection. If you'd like to check it out there you can click here.

Scallion Pancakes
Adapted from a recipe by Ming Tsai
Makes 4, 6in pancakes

1 and 1/3 C. white flour
2/3 C. wheat flour
1/2 baking powder
1 cup boiling water
2 T. vegetable oil, divided
1 T. sesame oil
3/4 C. finely chopped scallion
Dipping sauce (recipe below)

- Mix flours and baking powder in a medium bowl. Slowly add the boiling water, stirring constantly. The dough should for a very loose ball. It won't come together like bread dough, but should for a few balls and stick when you press them together. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside for an hour.

- Mix 1 T. vegetable oil with the sesame oil. On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough trying to make it rectangular, until it is 1/4 in. thick. Top with the oil (I found it easiest to pour the oil on and use my hand to spread it around, sprinkle on a few pinches of salt then top evenly with the scallions.

- Roll the dough up, started at a long end (if you have one) like a jelly roll- the tighter the better.

- Cut the roll into 4 equal pieces. Pick up a piece and make 3 twists in it, like you are making a spiral out of it, the roll it into a ball. Roll the ball out to a pancake slightly thinner than 1/4 in. Repeat with the remaining dough pieces.

- Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Have ready the remaining 1 T. oil and a pastry brush. When the skillet is hot, brush on a bit of oil and put in 1 pancake. Cook 2-3 minutes, until it is seared and golden brown. Flip and cook again (adding more oil if needed). Repeat with remaining pancakes.

- Cut pancakes into wedges and serve with dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce

2 T. soy sauce
2 T. seasoned rice wine vinegar
1/4 c. thinly sliced scallion
1 t. grated ginger
1 t. sugar
1/2 t. chili sauce.

- Combine all ingredients and serve with scallion pancakes.

17 June 2008

Broccoli Cheddar Mac

Last week we got our first CSA delivery (well Zach went to pick it up, but that's another story) and since it had been so hot here, we got an extra helping of most of the vegetables as they had started to grow so quickly. While it was exciting to suddenly have a fridge full of vegetables it was also a little daunting, as we'd need to come up with some way to eat them all in one week, a challenge slightly complicated by the fact that I'm in class three nights a week at the moment.

Among our vegetable bounty was several pounds of broccoli. This wasn't your average broccoli- the color was much lighter and the stalks were very fine and almost delicate, instead of the short stumpy tree like broccoli you get in the grocery store. As I was thinking about cooking possibilities it suddenly became Saturday and the pressure was on to use as much broccoli as possible before our next pickup on Monday. I was flipping through a Rachel Ray cookbook (while I was avoiding my homework) and came accross a recipe for macaroni and cheese with broccoli.

The recipe caught my eye and I decided to give it a try, with a few modifications, for dinner. I lowered the amount of pasta and quadriupled the broccoli. The recipe also seemed like it would make an obscene quantity of cheese sauce, so I cut it back a bit too. I did use the recommended ammount of spices though, but thought that the cayenne and smoked paprika overpowered the cheddar, so I have adjusted the recipes accordingly in the recipe below. One last note- our broccoli was so tender I didn't cook it, just let it heat through with the pasta and sauce. If you're using regular grocery store broccoli, you will probably want to drop it into the pasta water for the last minute or two of cooking.

Broccoli Cheddar Mac
Adapted from Rachel Ray, 365: No Repeats
Serves 8-10 for a light dinner

10 oz. whole wheat elbow pasta
4 heads of broccoli, tops cut into florets and the stalk trimmed and cut into 1 in. pieces
2 T. butter
1/3 C. chopped onion
2 T. flour
pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 t. smoked paprika
3 C milk
8 oz. very sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
salt and pepper to taste

- Put the broccoli in a large bowl (the one you will serve in).

- Cook pasta according to pasta directions, drain and pour over broccoli.

- Just before you put in the pasta, melt the butter in a saucepan and add the onion. Cook for 3-4 minutes to soften. Add the flour and spices and stir very briskly for 1 minute to create a blond roux. Add about half the milk and stir continuously until it comes to a boil. Add remaining milk and continue stirring until it comes to a boil. Take the pan off the heat and stir in cheddar cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.

- Pour cheese sauce over broccoli and pasta and stir to combine. Serve immediately.

This reheats much better than I thought it would. The sauce is on the thinner side so doesn't make a congealed mass the next day.

15 June 2008

Eggplant Rolatini

A few weeks ago I happened to catch Molto Mario on the Food Network.  The show's theme was eggplants, a vegetable that I don't generally love but since Mario can make anything sexy (including orange Crocs) I decided to try my hand at his eggplant rolatini, stuffed with frittata.

I didn't want to deep fry the eggplant so I decided to lightly brush it with olive oil and then broil it instead (putting it on the grill would be a great option for those of you that have one).  Then I made a frittata with peas and Parmesan for the filling, though you could put whatever you like in the frittata or even just leave it plain egg.  I rolled them up and topped them off with a some homemade tomato sauce
and then popped them in the oven for 15 minutes or so.

Zach and I were both surprised at how much we actually like the rolatini.  They were light, yet substantial enough for dinner and an individual one would make a really pretty appetizer.  The peas gave the rolatini an unexpected sweetness and the eggplant wasn't bitter at all (thanks to Mario's suggestions to get the smallest ones possible) and the tomato sauce ties everything together.  They are best straight out of the oven but will keep for a day or two in the fridge.

Eggplant Rolatini
Adapted from Molto Mario
Serves 4-5 as a main course or 8-10 as an appetizer

1 Frittata, made with 4 eggs (click
here for a recipe if you need one)
2 smallish eggplants
olive oil for brushing
salt and pepper
2 c. tomato sauce (click
here for a simple recipe)
Parmesan cheese for topping, optional

-  Preheat oven to 425F.

-  Slice the eggplant longways into 1/4-1/3 in. thick slices.  Brush slices on both sides with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

-  Broil slices until tender and lightly browned.  Set aside.  Prep a 9x13 in baking dish by pouring a bit of the tomato sauce into the bottom.

-  Cut the frittata into the same number of pieces as you have eggplant slices.  The frittata pieces will all be different shapes- that ok.

-  Place a piece of frittata onto on end of an eggplant slice and start rolling from the short end up.  Place the rolatini in the baking pan.  Repeat with the remaining frittata and eggplant slices.  Top with the remaining sauce and some Parmesan cheese, if you'd like.

-  Bake for 10-15 minutes or until heated through.  Serve immediatley.

08 June 2008

The Best Tomato Sauce

This isn't just hyperbole- this really is the best tomato sauce ever. It has only 3 ingredients (which is a lot of reason I think I'm drawn to Italian cooking, it's simplicity): tomatoes, onion and butter and could not be easier to make. The sauce is not very thick but has such a bright flavor, not too acidic or too sweet, that you won't miss the thick texture of store bought sauces. It's perfect for spaghetti, pizza or pretty much another other use or you could be like me, and just eat it with a spoon.

I found the original recipe
in the Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan and have modified it over time to use only canned tomatoes and to decrease the amount of butter. Try this recipe and I think once you realize that homemade tomato sauce doesn't have to take all day, you'll be converted. One note though- I do find that the sauce has a much better acid balance and flavor if you use Italian plum tomatoes. If you feel like splurging go for a can of the San Marzano's from Italy, but I have had really good success with Cento brand whole Italian style peeled tomatoes (they have a little picture of a plum tomato on the can). If you end up using regular tomatoes, you might need to add a spoonful of sugar towards the end of the cooking process to help balance out the acid.

The Best Tomato Sauce
Adapted from The Essentials of Italian Cooking
Yields approx. 2.5 cups

1 28oz. can whole peeled italian (plum) tomatoes, with or without basil
1 white onion, skin removed and split in half
3 T. butter

- Pour the contents of the tomato into a saucepan and use your hands to squish the tomatoes into piece. Add the onions and the butter, bring to a simmer.

- Continue to simmer for 1 hour, using a wooden spoon to mash the tomato pieces against the side of the pan every 15 minutes or so. (If you used regular tomatoes, give it a taste now. If the sauce is too acidic, add some sugar, a small spoonful at a time until you like the taste)

- Remove and discard onion.  Serve the sauce with your favorite pasta, use in a recipe or freeze for later.

07 June 2008

Rubdown Chicken

Though our barbeque was sort of a potluck, in addition to the sangria I thought that we should provide the meat.   Now, if you are a semi-regular reader of this blog, you know that I don't cook meat that often so when I do it's a bit of a challenge since I don't have an everyday recipe to fall back on.  

In this case I started with the meat I wanted to use, chicken thighs*, since I thought they would hold up well on the grill, aren't too expensive and are pre-portioned so besides the grilling I wouldn't have to cut them up before serving.  Then I turned to Alton Brown (as I often do when cooking meat since I think his directions really clear and nearly always lead to excellent results) and decided to make a spice rub for the meat... Read More!

I modified Alton's recipe to reflect what I had in the kitchen, then rubbed each chicken thigh with the spice mix and set them in a tupperware container and (here is the important part) let it sit for a little more than 2 hours. If you want the flavors of a spice rub to penetrate the meat and not just form a blackened crust, you need to give the rub time to do it's work. First the rub draws the moisture of out the meat due to its high salt content. "Draw the moisture out of the meat?" you might say, "doesn't this just lead to dry meat?" Well, it would if you cooked the meat while the tupperware was still full of juices, but, if you wait another hour or so, the meat will draw the liquid, which had been flavored with the rub, back inside and your finished chicken thigh (or breast, wing, ect) will have a good spice crust and moist flavorful meat.

This was actually the first time I'd done a spice rub for any type of meat and was a bit shocked at how well it worked. In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that knowing how to cook meat on the grill is really important too and luckily my friend A's husband J is a master at it and timed the cooking perfectly (even though I was begging him to open the lid to take a look every 30 seconds). The recipe below is in terms of parts so use a teaspoon, tablespoon, ice cream scoop or whatever measuring device you desire but keep it consistent for everything but the salt. I used a normal sized spoon and made enough rub for about 3-4 lbs. of chicken thighs.

* I used boneless, skinless thighs since that was what the store had. The rub makes the meat so tasty and juicy you won't even miss the skin and will save a heck of a lot of calories by not eating it.

Rubdown for Chicken
Adapted from "I'm Just Here for the Food" by Alton Brown
Quantities vary depending on your measuring device, all herbs are dried 

1 part coriander
1/2 part cumin
1/4 part fresh ground pepper
1/2 part cayenne pepper (adjust according to your spice tolerance)
1 part sage
1 part onion powder
3/4 part chile powder
1 part confectioners sugar
1/4 part cinnamon
1/2 part smoked paprika
1/2 part hot paprika (can omit if you don't like spice)
Salt (3/4 teaspoon per pound of meat)

- Mix all ingredients together.

- Prep chicken by removing excess fat then coat each piece lightly with the rub. Place chicken in a tupperware container.

- Wash your hands thoroughly after handling the chicken and then place the top on the tupperware and pop it into the fridge. After half and hour, spin the tupperware around to distribute the juices. Spin about every twenty minutes for a total of 2 hours.

- About 30 minutes before you plan to cook the chicken take it out of the fridge. Taking the chill off will help it cook evenly.

- Cook chicken by your preferred high heat method (grill, grill pan, broiler) and enjoy.

06 June 2008

White Sangria

One of Zach's friends (who shall remain nameless) gave Zach a 5 Liter box of Franzia zinfandel for his birthday.*  We had no idea what to do with it, besides use it as a rather large doorstop but when we ended up hosting a memorial day barbeque for some friends (since we were dog sitting and had access to a house and a backyard) we decided to make a white sangria.

While I have consumed my fare share of sangria over the years, I'd never actually made it before so I trawled the net for some recipes.  Common themes were citrus with white wine, and that some kind of sparkling beverage like club soda or Sprite should be added right before serving.

A few hours before the party, I chopped up 2 apples, 1 lemon, 1 lime and two oranges and then we emptied nearly the whole box of Franzia in and added about a third a cup of sugar and into the fridge it went.  Fast forward to guests arriving, the dog running around and me running to 7-11 for something fizzy and it's sangria time.  It went over well, if the rapidly depleting punchbowl and rising volume of the conversation were any indication.  

I really like the idea of serving a sangria or punch instead of having a few bottles of wine for guests.  Dipping into a communal bowl (in our case with a coffee mug since we couldn't find a ladle) adds to the atmosphere, as does serving 5 liters of wine to 10 people...

*Franzia, just in case you weren't in the U.S. in the early/mid 90's, was the first really popular box wine.  Known for zinfandels, franzia is pretty much snubbed by anyone who knows (or thinks they know) anything about wine but it worked perfectly well for our purposes.