31 October 2008

Weeknight Curry

I love curries. Indian, Thai, East Asian, I love them all. I didn't grow up eating curry and in fact never had it till I was an exchange student in Denmark (strange place for it I know). While I was there I took a Danish cooking class with some of the other students. We made the basics- meatballs, leek stuffed meatballs and anything else you can imagine with ground pork. My strongest memory though is going into the spice pantry and getting the jar of curry at the beginning of every class. My group was a bit obsessed and we put curry in everything. Most of the time it worked out and, well, everyone has to try curried spaghetti sauce once in their life right?

I hope the intervening years have given me a bit more appreciation for the flavors that make up curry and less desire to dump it on anything and everything. I still usually resort to a premixed curry powder but when I was searching for some recipes on the Food Network website last week, I came across one for curry that didn't call for curry powder. Normally, these kind of recipes seem to call for about 10 specialty spices I don't have but this one called for spices I knew I had on had. As an added bonus it also called for a bag of frozen veggies (not usually something I do, but as we just moved and I wasn't sure I could find a knife it sounded perfect).

I made a few small adjustments to the recipe as I most of my spices were ground and not whole and I left out the fennel seed as usual (no anise flavor for me, thank you). To thicken the curry, Alton Brown called for plain yogurt and cornstarch, an idea which I really liked as it would give the curry a creamy flavor without all the fat of coconut milk. I decided to use a low-fat Greek yogurt for extra creaminess, as it's already so thick, I left out the cornstarch called for. The last change was to add a third a cup of raisins since I always like something sweet in curries.

Zach and I both really liked the curry. Easy, cheap and healthy and it had so much flavor. To go with it we had basmati rice and spiced chicken, which I will post about this weekend.

Weeknight Curry
Adapted from Alton Brown
Serves 4 (along with a protein) or 2 on its own

Tip: I think it's helpful to measure out the spices and put them in bowls according to when they get added.

1, 1 lb. bag mixed frozen vegetables
2 t. vegetable oil
1/2 t. mustard seeds
1/2 t. ground cumin
1 t. ground turmeric
1/2 t. onion powder
1/2 t. ground coriander
1/8 t. ground cinnamon
2 cloves garlic, crushed with the flat of your knife and skin removed
2 dried red chiles (stems and seeds removed if less heat is desired)
1/4 t. sugar
1/2 t. kosher salt
2/3 C. (6 oz.) lowfat greek yogurt
1/3 C. raisins or chopped dried apricots or other dried fruit
ground black pepper to taste

- Poke a few holes in the vegetable bag and defrost the vegetables in the microwave.

- Eat the oil in a medium non-stick skillet. Add the mustard seeds and cover with a splatter screen. Cook until the seeds begin to pop.

- Add the cumin, turmeric, onion powder, coriander, cinnamon, garlic and chiles. Cook gently for 3-4 minutes to lightly brown the garlic. Add the vegetables, sugar and salt and cook on medium-high until the vegetables are hot.

- Put the yogurt in your serving bowl along with the raisins. Add the hot vegetables and stir to combine. Add pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

30 October 2008

Mustard Glazed Salmon

For the first night in our new house not eating pizza, I made two recipes I found on the food network website, both from Giada De Laurentiis. The first- spaghetti with chard sounded amazing but wasn't that remarkable but the second, broiled salmon with a mustard glaze that I was ambivalent about making turned out great. It was one of those, 'why haven't I been doing this all along' moments and a recipe I will come back to again. It took about 3 minutes to put the glaze together and 5 to cook the salmon and that was it.

I did change up the recipe a bit... as Zach and I aren't the biggest mustard fans around. I decreased the amount of mustard and didn't add any full grain mustard or mustard seeds. I also used dried herbs and fresh garlic, as that was what I had on hand. And since we had a bottle of bubbly open (well we had to celebrate the house) I added a tablespoon of champagne instead of white wine.

One other note on the fish. I went to the grocery store fully intending on getting fresh fish but the only salmon they had was farm raised with added dyes. As I am really trying to stick to the recommendations on my pocket card (well worth printing out if you don't have one) I decided to buy frozen wild Alaskan sockeye, one of the best choices according to seafood watch. I thought the fish had great flavor and cooked well under the broiler.

The mustard glaze provided just enough bite to enhance the flavor of the salmon without overpowering it. I went really lite on the glaze as I was a bit afraid of the mustard flavor but I found myself wanting to put more on.

Mustard Glazed Salmon
Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis
Serves 2

2, 4-6 oz. sockeye salmon fillets
1 T. quality mustard (not the kind that comes in the yellow squeeze bottle)
1 t. vegetable oil
1/4 t. crushed dried rosemary
1/4 t. crushed dried thyme
1 t. white wine

- Preheat broiler to high. Grease a sheet of tin foil, place it on the broiling tray thenplace the salmon on it and season with salt and pepper. Mix remaining ingredients in a small bowl.

- Broil the salmon for 2 minutes then spoon on the mustard sauce and broil for another 3-6 minutes, or until the salmon is cooked to your liking. Serve immediatley.

29 October 2008

Daring Bakers- I Love You or How I Made the Best Pizza Ever

Well the title pretty much said it all. I had given up hope of ever making a decent pizza at home but thanks to Rosa from Rosa's Yummy Yums, host of this month's challenge that's all changed. This was the easiest dough to put together-- the recipe even calls for cold water so there's no chance of accidentally killing the yeast. The overnight rise in the fridge allowed the flavor of the dough to develop but I think the secret was patting the dough (in pizza size balls) out into disks before the second, room-temperature rise. That made it so much easier to toss the dough into a the pizza form. I say toss the dough like I'm a piazzola or something but the truth is that my first attempt at tossing the disk on my knuckles to stretch it out went a bit too well too quickly resulting is a torn mess that was paper thin in some parts and an inch thick in others.

I was a bit disheartened but just mashed it back into a ball and started on the second dough. This time I treated the dough very carefully as I realized how light and delicate it was. I floured my hand and very gingerly picked up the dough disk and set it on top of my folded knuckles and started using a gentle outward and upward motion of my hands to stretch and rotate the dough. Once it was thin enough (which for me is pretty much paper thin) I set it down on a floured cookie sheet and topped it with olive oil, fresh chopped tomato, torn fresh basil and mozzarella cheese, all in very small quantities.

The pizza stone was fired up in the oven and I attempted to transfer the pizza from the sheet to the stone. That attempt was quickly thwarted as the pan was too big for the oven (ah the joys of my old kitchen). I didn't know what to do but felt I had to make a quick decision before I let all the heat out of the oven so I stepped back and sort of threw the pizza off pan and onto the stone. It made it about 2/3 of the way on the stone and the rest was on the floor of the oven and hanging out the door. There was no way I could move the pizza at that point, so I just folding over the part that was hanging out and left it to cook.

After about 5 minutes the toppings were bubly and more importantly, the crust had achieved the much vaunted state of crispy blackness**- you know, the one where the crust is crispy and golden-brown except for a few spots that have gotten black and crisp? Not burnt-- just so crisp I never thought I could achieve them in my home oven.

Well-- to sum up this long story-- this dough is amazing and you must make it at home. Also-- do yourself a favor, get a pizza stone.* My cost about $15 at Target and now I'm planning to bake all sorts of yeast breads on it.

*Well, after my incident, you may want to invest in a pizza peel too.

** I was so impressed by the crispy blackness I though it should be the picture for this post. Oh- my kitchen table is not usually so messy but I made the pizza a few days before we moved...

Pizza Dough
Original recipe taken from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart.

Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter)

4 1/2 C. (607.5 g) bread flour or all purpose flour
1 3/4 t. Salt
1 t. Instant yeast
1/4 Cup (60g) Olive oil
1 3/4 Cups (420ml) ice water
1 Tb sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting (I just used AP flour)


1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl.

2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky.

3. Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

4. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.

5. You need to refrigerate the dough overnight. Your options are to place the dough on a oiled baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap or to put each dough ball into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. The point is that the dough must be separated into individual balls and shouldn't touch each other.

6. Put the dough into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days.

NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil(a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.


7. 2 hours before you make it the pizza, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

8. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C).

NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

9. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time.
During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping.
In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again.
You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.

10. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter - for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.

11. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

NOTE: Your crust is very thin-- it can't support a 'pizza hut' set of toppings. Less really is more here.

12. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for abour 5-8 minutes or until toppings are bubbling and the bottom is brown and crisp.

13. Remove from oven and eat!

21 October 2008

Some news

Some of you might have noticed a distinct lack of new posts on this blog in the last month. I can almost always make time for cooking but the past few weeks have been so hectic there have been a lot of pasta nights and straight up spoonfuls of peanut butter instead of balanced meals. I have been waiting for something to go wrong before telling you this but it finally seems like everything is really going to work out; Zach and I are buying our first house! After months of looking everything suddenly came together and then started happening so fast I was completely knocked off guard. I hope this will excuse me from the lack of posting recently and I hope to make it up once we are in the new house. We move this Saturday so there probably won't be much blog activity for another week or so-- but do check back then.

Tortellini Soup

I went up to Boston this weekend to visit D-, my best friend from high school. Whenever we're together we make all of our favorite foods and since my visit coincided with Canadian Thanksgiving (D-'s boyfriend is Canadian) we got to have biscuits and green bean casserole and roast chicken. That, combined with homemade cookies, candies and everything else we ate made me promise to keep things light in the kitchen this week.

D- had mentioned she was going to make tortellini soup for dinner one night this week, so I decided to follow her lead. I'd never made tortellini soup but since I love all things pasta, it sounded good plus it had the added bonus of being really easy to fix. I honestly felt a little Sandra Lee (shudder) when getting everything together since I used store bought broth (with added onions, carrots, celery, garlic, peppercorns and a bay leaf) along with package tortellini. It really felt like cheating but after letting the soup simmer for an hour and then adding in the tortellini (which I cooked separately so I could evenly divide them for leftovers) it really tasted as close to homemade as possible. Well- I thought it did taste homemade but Zach detected some slight hint of packaged broth. His palate must just be more developed than mine. Recipe after the jump.

Tortellini Soup
Serves 8

2 qts. packaged chicken (or vegetable) broth
1 qt. water
1 T plus 1 t. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 heart of celery, chopped (I buy the whole thing then pull it all apart- then I have the stalks for snacking and the heart for cooking)
1 fat clove garlic, smashed
10 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs fresh dill, divided
1 package premade cheese tortellini (I used Barilla brand shelf-stable kind)

- Heat 1 T. olive oil in a large soup pot. Add the veggies and garlic and cook over medium heat until softened, but not browned, 7-10 minutes.

- Add the stock and water along with the peppercorsn, bay leaf and 3 springs of dill. Bring to a boil then turn down to a simmer and cook for at least 20 minutes or an hour if you have time.

- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil and cook tortellini according to package instructions, making sure to keep them al dente. If you will be serving all of the soup right away, drain the pasta and add to the soup before serving. If you are saving most of the soup: put the drained tortellini in a bowl and mix with 1 t. olive oil to prevent sticking, measure out the pasta into 8 equal portions (I did this by the divide and conquer method on my cutting board). If you are really averse to soggy pasta in your soup like I am, wrap all the portions you are going to save in plastic wrap and store along side the soup. Then when you are ready to heat the leftovers, you can heat the soup and tortellini separately and they won't get soggy.

16 October 2008

Virginia Wine Country

Every once in a while, there will be a thing (food, activity, ect.) that I don't try for the longest time thinking that I just won't like it. I like to think that most of the time I'm proven right when I finally do get around to it- like the time I tried straight up fennel (too licoricey) or mussels, which weren't bad but I just couldn't really understand why they were good, other than the butter sauce. Other times, I'm horribly and terribly wrong about my supposed aversion and end up kicking myself that I've spent so much time not eating or doing something.

I've been in the DC area for a while now and for the past few years I've known that Virginia is a wine producing state. Having lived briefly in Austria and having had the chance to go wine tasting in Sonoma, I thoroughly looked down on Virginia wine. It certainly didn't help that all the examples I had tasted were more Hawaiian Punch than something you'd serve at a dinner party; however, when A-'s mum came to town and invited us to go wine tasting with them, I thought 'why not?'

We set out on the most gorgeous fall day with sunny skies and crisp air and drove west to Loudon County. After only 40 minutes in the car we were transported to a rural town not unlike the one I grew up and and totally different from downtown DC. To get to the first winery, we turned off the main road and bumped down a single lane dirt track for two miles before turned onto Willocroft's driveway.

We parked next to an old barn with the sign 'tasting room' by the open doors and then wandered in. For $2 we tried seven wines (beat that California). Some I liked better than others but to have the person who makes the wine explaining everything and talking about winemaking in Virginia was great. He asked about what we like and what we could taste in the wine and even though we were all far from professional in our descriptions, we had fun doing it.

After a rather circuitous detour we stopped at Doukenie Winery. This one backed onto a mountain and we drove through fields of vines on the way. Besides the usual reds and whites, we tried two dessert wines, one made of blackberries (along with grapes) and the other one made just with raspberries. We even got a piece of dark chocolate to try with the raspberry wine, to see how it would work off the taste of the berries. It was amazing and something I could definitely get used to.

We hopped back into the car and headed to the poshest tasting of the day. Hillsborough Vineyards does have a million dollar view and a gorgeous tasting room in a converted stone barn, but being rushed through a tasting of tiny pours didn't exactly endear us to the place. Neither did the wines for that matter. All of them were blends with names like 'moonstone' and 'serafina' but they didn't have that much individual character.

For the last stop of the day was at Loudon Valley Vineyards and by then I was definitely feeling the effects of all of the tasting and decided to share with Zach. The staff at Loudon Valley was so friendly and you could tell the really cared about the wines. After tasting a rich, port-like wine we decided to call it quits and head back to the city but I am already planning my next trip to the Virginia wine country.

If you're interested in wine making in Virginia, check out this website.

10 October 2008

Thai Style Cucumber Radish Salad

The other night I made teriyaki salmon for dinner (I shouldn't really say made- more like heated since it came pre-marinated from Trader Joe's) and I wanted something sour to have with it to cut the sweetness. There was a cucumber in the fridge, along with a bunch of CSA radishes which made me think of the pickles sometimes served at Thai restaurants. After a quick online search I had a few recipes that could be made in around 5 minutes. I sliced the cucumber and radishes and poured over the the juice? sauce? pickling liquid? well, whatever i should call it. It pickled for about an hour while we took a walk and baked the salmon and then it was done. Very quick and easy- crunchy and sour with just a hint of sweetness.

Recipe after the jump.

Thai Style Cucumber Radish Salad
Serves 2 

1 small cucumber, sliced very thinly
2 small radishes, scrubbed well and thinly sliced
1/3 C. seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 T. sugar
1/4 t. chili sauce
1/2 t. red pepper flakes

- Mix last 4 ingredients in a small bowl then add the cucumber and radishes. Let sit at least 30 minutes and serve.

Autumn Gallette with Better For You Crust

After making the butternut squash ravioli, I had about two cups of roasted squash left over. Since the ravioli didn't wow me, I wanted to do something sort of exciting with the rest of the squash. I resolved on making a sweet butternut squash galette for desert. I went as far as making the pie dough before realizing that I wasn't particularly hungry and Zach wasn't home so it was rather pointless to bake. The next day at work, I was thinking of how to turn the sweet galette into something acceptable for dinner (only on my breaks, of course). I started talking with my co-worker S-- about ideas. I suggested goat cheese to balance out the sweetness of the squash and add some visual color contrast and she suggested craisins (dried cranberries) for more flavor. We both agreed that walnuts would be an excellent addition for some crunch (and a little bit of healthy fat to balance out the pie crust) but I knew they would have to be easily removable since Zach has an aversion to nuts.

The resulting galette came together in about ten minutes and was on the table 40 minutes after that. Along with some green beans, it was a totally satisfying dinner. Very comfort foody and rich with the pie crust, but not totally unhealthy since I had made a lower-fat crust* and butternut squash packs a Vitamin-A power punch. I will definitely make this galette again, maybe without the crust for something a bit healthier. With the crust it makes a great option for a vegetarian dinner, or as a side dish for a dinner when you have both meat-eaters and vegetarians in the crowd.

* I really didn't set out to make a low-fat pie crust. I was all set to make make a regular one when I took a look at the recipe. There was no way I was going to put a whole stick of butter into a cup of white flour. I decided to go with a two to one ratio of white to wheat flour and decreased the butter from eight to five tablespoons and told the little voice in my head to be quiet. The crust turned out way better than I expected- it was still flaky and crumbly and the addition of wheat flour went really well with the butternut squash. The best part- I didn't feel nearly as guilty eating something in pie crust for dinner as I normally would.

Autumn Galette
Serves 4

2 C. butternut squash, cut into 1 in. cubes and roasted (see below)
1 recipe pie crust (see below)
2 oz. goat cheese
1/4 C. dried cranberries
2 T. walnuts, chopped

- Preheat oven to 450F.

- Roll out pie dough in the plastic bag (see below) to a circle about 12 in. in diameter. Leaving a 2 inch border on the outside of the circle, add the squash then sprinkle on the goat cheese, cranberries and walnuts. Carefully fold up the sides of the galette to cover the outer edge of the filling. If the crust breaks just pinch it back together.

- Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Allow to cool for 5 minutes and serve. The galette keeps very well in the fridge for a day or two. Reheat in the toaster oven.

Better for You Pie Crust

2/3 C. (4 oz.) white flour
1/3 C. (2 oz.) wheat flour
1/2 t. salt
5 T. butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
1/4 C. ice water.

- Mix the flours and salt in a bowl. Add the chilled butter cubes. Use the tips of your fingers to work the butter into the dough using a rubbing motion between your thumb and index fingers (like you are feeling a piece of fabric) until the butter is is evenly distributed and the mixture looks like coarse sand.

- You want to be able to form the dough into a ball using the least amount of water possible which will depend on your flour and the humidity of your kitchen. Start by adding two tablespoons of the ice water and stir together. Add more water only if needed.

- Form the dough into a ball and then place it into a gallon size ziploc bag. Flatten the dough into a disk and (if you have time) refrigerate for 30 minutes before using. The dough can be made several days ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator- just take it out about 30 minutes before you need to use it or the butter have made it a solid mass that is impossible to roll out.

01 October 2008

Butternut Squash

I was so good about getting my reading done this weekend that by the time Sunday afternoon rolled around I had finished nearly all of it and was mentally wiped out. I had been planning to make a butternut squash soup for dinner that night but then decided I needed a culinary challenge instead since it had been so long since I'd actually cooked anything besides pasta for dinner. I was thinking of things to do with butternut squash and my mind wandered in the pasta direction. I love getting butternut squash ravioli out in restaurants and the weather has turned decidedly fall-late, so I I decided to try making it at home. After searching around for some recipes on the internet, I decided to go with a Giada de Laurentiis recipe from the food network website, with a few minor modifications.

Though tempting, I decided not to try to do the dough by hand, mostly because we don't have a pasta roller and I didn't particularly want to cover the entire counter in gummy pasta reside. Instead, I opted for the wonton skins recommended by Giada. The recipe itself was quite simple- roast the squash, combine with ricotta cheese, onion and garlic and fill the ravioli. The hardest part was peeling and cubing the squash. My method is to cut the round part of the squash off first, leaving me two pieces with flat sides. Then I put each piece flat side down, and cut it in half again from top to bottom, than in half once again until I have eight pieces. I usually use a knife to cut off the skins, but this time decided to try using a vegetable peeler. It took a little while to do since I had to go over it a few times but I think I wasted less than with the knife method.

Once the squash was cubed I roasted in a a bit of olive oil and then combined it with the other ingredients. Then I called in the reinforcements to shape the ravioli. The recipe said it would make about 36 but we filled all 48 wonton skins with a lot of leftover filling. I cooked about 18 for us immediately and froze the rest for later. Giada suggested a brown butter sauce for the ravioli and I complied- using about half the recommended butter. We were out of cranberries so I substituted raisins and omitted the walnuts since Zach really doesn't like them.

Overall the ravioli were good but missing something. I'm not quite sure what, maybe our squash wasn't as sweet as others, or the texture of the wonton wrappers wasn't quite the same as pasta dough. Making ravioli once has made me want to try it again and hopefully the filling will turn out better next time. I'm not giving the recipe here- as I didn't really love this one but you can find Giada's recipe