29 January 2009

Black Bean and Chard Enchilada Pie

Sorry for the flashy photo- it was the only one of the bunch that came out and as I liked this recipe so much, I just had to post it, even with the bad photo.

K* and I have been attempted to have Saturday study sessions this semester. With roommates stopping by, the Saturday paper inserts and about a hundred other things more interesting than our schoolwork, these sessions are never as productive as we'd want them to be. Especially for me, as I generally spend the last hour trying to decide what to make for dinner that night so I can stop at the grocery store on the way home. Last Saturday was really cold here so I wanted something comforting and warm but not too heavy. I came across an enchilada pie on one of the blogs that I read and decided that would be the perfect thing.

Of course, I'm almost never content to make the first recipe for anything that crosses my path, so I kept searching until I came across one for a chicken and swiss chard enchilada pie on the Food Network website. The chard intrigued me, as it's one of my new favorite vegetables, but I didn't really feel like dealing with chicken. It's not that I have anything against chicken per se but it seems to get thrown in a lot of recipes as a sort of protein filler, without regard to enhancing the flavor of the recipe at all. The chicken in this recipe, just cooked and shredded with no seasonings, filled that role to a T, so I decided to substitute black beans instead. Cheaper, easier and hopefully tastier.

I had the choice of two types of canned black beans a the store- regular and seasoned. Normally I'm skeptical of pre-seasoned products but these black beans only had onion, garlic and oregano added and were 35 cents cheaper than the plain beans so I was sold. When I got home and ready to cook, I noticed the recipe called for frying the tortillas in oil before assembling the pie. While this would prevent the tortillas from getting mushy, it would also add a layer of fat and fuss to the recipe that I really wasn't looking for. Instead, I popped the tortillas in the oven to dry out a bit while it was preheating.

While they were drying, I chopped and cooked the chard with garlic and made the blender tomato sauce and Zach shredded the cheese. Assembly took 5 minutes and after 20 in the oven, dinner was ready to go. I was a little nervous for my first forkful with all the changes I had made to the recipe, but I am happy to report it all went well. The beans had just the right amount of flavor and the chard added a hint of sweetness. The tortillas did get soft, but I sort of like that in a casserole. The sauce had great flavor but I would have liked it with more spice and in a greater quantity, so I've reflected that in the recipe below. This one is definitley going to make a reappearance (it would be great for a pot-luck and is also gluten free).

Black Bean and Chard Enchilada Pie
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine/FoodNetwork
Serves 6

2 t. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch Swiss chard (can close your hand easily around the stalks), leaves and stalks separated
1/4 C (60ml) water
2 cans (14oz/400ml each) seasoned black beans, drained and rinsed (or use plain and add a pinch of cumin and coriander
12 small corn tortillas
I recipe Mexican-style tomato sauce, recipe follows
1/2 C (125ml) chicken or vegetable broth
8oz (225g) sharp cheddar or monterey jack or a blend

- Preheat the oven to 350F. While the oven is heating, spread the tortillas directly on the racks and allows to dry until they are leathery but not brittle. Set aside for later.

- Cut the chard stalks into small pieces. Add the chard stalks, water and garlic to a large skillet, bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Chop the chard leaves into pieces and add to the stalks. Cook for another 3-5 minutes or until the chard is tender. Drain well. Mix the chard with the beans.

- Spread about 1/2 C(125ml) tomato sauce on the bottom of a 13x9 baking dish and top with a single layer of 4 tortillas. Spread on half of the chard and bean mixture, 1/3 of the cheese and 1 C. of tomato sauce. Place another 4 tortillas on top and repeat. Place the last 4 tortillas on top, top off with the remaining sauce and then the rest of the cheese.

- Cover with foil and bake for 10 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 10 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly. Serve immediately.

Mexican Style Tomato Sauce

1 35oz (1000ml) can plum tomatoes with their juice
1 onion, chopped coarsely
2 garlic cloves, chopped coarsely
2 fresh jalapeno chiles (use more or less depending on your spice preference)
1 tablespoons vegetable oil

- Blend first 4 ingredients in your blender until smooth.

- Heat oil in a large skillet. Pour in tomato sauce and cook for 5 minutes on medium heat. Use in recipe above.

No DB For me

Time just seemed to get away from me this month and all of a sudden its posting day and I have nothing to show for it...

Luckily, my fellow Daring Bakers are much more organized that I am and have have a great job with this month's challenge. Please check out the the link below to see some of their creations.

The Daring Bakers January Challenge

26 January 2009

Healthy Desserts Week: Choco Cupcakes

Ok- maybe I shouldn't be ending healthy desserts week with a recipe for chocolate cupcakes but hear me out. One small cupcake is not the end of the world, or even the diet if you happen to be on one. Yes, a commercially made, baseball sized, trans-fat packed cake with a mountain of whipped Crisco, oops, I mean frosting, is not remotely healthy or tasty. But, one small homemade cupcake at the end of a week of eating healthily, well, it just makes sense. Why deprive yourself of all chocolate or baked goods, when all that's really needed is a bit of moderation.

One of my biggest problems with baking (other than straight up disasters) is the leftovers. Since Zach and I are just two, there is always way too much just sitting around the house, even when I cut recipes in half, as I often do with Daring Bakers challenges. I either have to plan to have people over or I end up eating way too many sweets. Well, this time I decided to cut back, way back, on a recipe to only make 3 cupcakes (why 3? well the recipe originally made 12 cupcakes so 1/4 of it makes 3, though it would have made a bit more sense to do a third of the recipe and get 4 cupcakes out of it...). This would solve the problem of leftovers and, as I said earlier, one cupcake is not a bad thing.

I chose a recipe from 500 Chocolate Delights, a cookbook my friend D-- gave me a few years ago, for Mississippi Mud Cakes. The book is definitley British in origin, so I was a bit curious as to the name of the cupcakes but they looked very chocolaty so I thought I'd give them a try. The batter comes together in just a few minutes and uses ingredients most people have in the cupboard.

The cupcakes weren't quite as chocolatey as I had hoped, but I think the addition of some cocoa powder (I've added it as an option in the recipe below) should fix that. The small portion size and total number of cakes worked out really well so I think I will be sizing down more baking recipes in the future.

Small Batch Choco Cupcakes
Makes 3

1/4 C (40g) chocolate chips
3 T (40g) butter
1 T cocoa powder
1 egg
2 t (10g) sugar
3 T. (22g) self raising flour (or 2.5t flour + 1/4t. baking powder)

- Preheat oven to 325. Grease your cupcake tins or use silicon molds.

- Melt the chocolate chips and butter in a small microwave safe bowl. Add the cocoa powder and stir to combine. Lightly beat the egg in another small bowl. While stirring, slowly pour the chocolate mixture into the egg [this could potentially scramble your egg so if the chocolate mixture is too hot to touch, wait a few minutes until is cooled down]. Add sugar and flour and mix well. Divide mixture between the three cupcake tins/molds and bake for 17-20 minutes or the tops are mostly dry and set. Serve immediately or let cool for later.

Healthy Desserts Week: Italian Pear Cake

After a brief break, healthy desserts week is back for two last posts.

I decided to get the new year off to the right start (it seems a bit old already, doesn't it?) by making this pear cake for dessert on New Year's Eve. I was flipping through The Essentials of Italian Cooking when I came across this recipe, in the book called "A Farmwife's Pear Tart" and was intrigued (or as intrigued as I could be as I read out the name to Zach and he started laughing). More pear than batter and the batter itself had no fat or leavening agents. It sounded a bit strange, but as Marcella Hazan has never led me wrong in the past, I thought I'd give it a try.

I chose fairly firm Anjou pears, according to Marcella's instructions, peeled them, cut them in half and used a teaspoon to scoop out the core. Then I sliced each half into about four thick slices lengthwise. I mixed all the other ingredients into a rather thick batter (with the addition of some vanilla extract though I would have preferred to use almond had I had any- pear and almond make such a nice combination) and sent in the pears, giving everything a few good turns with the spatula. I poured, well pour isn't really the right word, since at this point the cake was more like pear slices thinly covered in batter; in any case, I got the batter into the pan and attempted to even it out as best I could, then dotted on about 2 teaspoons of butter (which the recipe said was option but I didn't want my guests to be in diet dessert purgatory) and baked till puffy and lightly golden.

The cake is moist and dense, yet as it's still mostly pear, wasn't too heavy. The fruit hadn't become too soft and still had a pleasant texture which the soft cake contrasted well with. Everyone like it, so this will definitley be on the menu again. Yes, it does have a fairly high amount of sugar, but I think that is to keep the cake moist in the absence of fat. Next time I will probably try cutting down on the sugar and seeing if it still works out.

Italian Pear Cake
Adapted from The Essentials of Italian Cooking
Serves 8

Note: Because of the high moisture content this cake needs to be stored in the fridge if you are not eating it right away.

2 eggs
1/4 C (20ml) milk
1 C (200g) sugar
1 t. (5ml) almond or vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1.5 C (180g) all-purpose flour
2 lb. (900g) firm, but not rock hard, winter pears
2 t butter (optional)

- Preheat oven to 375F. Butter and flour a 9in round pie plate or cake pan.

- Beat together eggs, milk, sugar, extract and salt. Wisk in flour. Set aside.

- Peel pears. Cut in half and scoop out the core. Cut into thick 1/2 (1cm) slices lengthwise. Stir sliced pears into batter.

- Pour pear mixture into the pan and spread out as evenly as you can. Dot with the butter (if using-- it will help the top brown) and bake for about 50 minutes or until puffy and lightly golden. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then remove to a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

21 January 2009

Presidential Inaguration

Sorry for the disappearing act in the middle of healthy desserts week. I didn't realize just how crazy things would get in the middle of DC during inauguration weekend and that, combined with still no internet at home, kept me offline for 4 days.

So- as you can see above, I had a ticket to the blue zone of the inauguration. My friends and I (no Zach, he had to work) spent the night in the District, had our recommended 3+ plans for getting to the inauguration (which we used as they kept shutting down metro stations as we were in the train) and got to our security line. After going to the concert on the Lincoln on Sunday (amazing) we were expecting more of the same- neatly organized security lines that were long but moving. What we found instead was chaos. There appeared to be a large crush of people that extended toward the Blue Gate. The people in the crowd had blue tickets and believed they were in line, but no one official could confirm that for us. After standing for an hour and a half and moved approx. 100 yards toward our goal (that was still about 2 blocks away) we made the decision to abandon ship.

All of us were really disappointed not to make it in, but we decided the next best thing would be to make a run for a bar to at least see it on tv. Luckily a friend used to live in the Capitol Hill area, so I knew where we should head and we managed to get a table, a hot drink and access to a real bathroom while watching the inauguration on tv. The atmosphere in the bar was pretty cheerful considering pretty much everyone else were blue ticket-holders like us and overall I had a great time. It was an amazing day and I'm glad I could be there for a part of it.

I've heard from and about quite a few other blue ticket holders that couldn't get in yesterday either. It seems like it was a combination of very bad planning, too few security staff and a possible power generator breakdown. It's just too bad that with all the time and money spent on the inauguration so many people who had traveled so far couldn't get in.

15 January 2009

Healthy Dessert Week: Grilled Pineapple and Ice Cream

Second in the series of posts about healthier desserts.

I've seen TV chefs grill fruit on and off for the past couple of years and always thought it looked interested but never really thought to give it a try myself. Now that I'm looking for fruit based desserts, however, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. For my first attempt, I decided on pineapple since Zach and I have eaten enough pears and apples to come out of our ears at this point in the winter. Thinking of cost, and also the amount of time and mess it takes to break down a fresh pineapple, I picked up a can of rings at the grocery store.

Actual grilling wasn't quite an option since 1) it's the middle of winter and 2) we don't own a grill. I thought about using the grill pan, but it's sort of annoying to clean so I turned to the broiler. I fished some rings out of the can, patted them dry with paper towels and placed them in a row on the broiler pan. Then I popped them in the oven and broiled till the top side turned golden (well in some cases rather more black than golden- I got a little distracted) and flipped them over to cook the other side.

Arranged on a plate with vanilla ice cream,* the rings made a rather Olympic presentation. It looked rather pretty and would have been even better if I had a tiny ice cream scoop or melon baller and could have made little scoops of ice cream to put in each ring. On the first taste, I was surprised at how much sweeter broiling made the pineapple. The sugars really concentrated and caramelized with the broiling and I have to admit, became a bit too sweet for me. The hot pineapple did go well with the cold ice cream though, and I think that a lot of people (I'm thinking of a few friends in particular) who have more of a sweet tooth than me, would really like this.

* Ice cream? During healthy desserts week? How is this possible you ask? Well, non-premium ice-cream (at least the store brand I buy) has about 120 calories and 5 grams of fat per half cup serving which is really not much at all. Combined with the pineapple rings, the total calorie count for the dessert is under 200 and it has some calcium, lots of vitamin C and a bit of fiber as well, which makes it count as a healthy dessert in my book.

14 January 2009

Healthy Desserts Week: Poached Pears

I think most of us are trying to make lighter food after the holidays but if you've anything like me, it's really hard to give up having dessert after having treats every day during the holidays. One of my mini-resolutions (I think the whole resolution thing is sort of silly but at the same point the new year does seem like a good time for some re-assessment), well, back to the point. One of my mini-resolutions is to make more healthy and fruit based desserts.

For me, dessert has always meant something sweet, quite possibly creamy and most likely involving chocolate. I love cookies, candies, ice cream and everything else like that. I also know that denying myself dessert in an attempt to 'eat more healthily' will cause near instant demoralization coupled with a constant desire to eat whatever sweets I see, no matter how processed they might be. So, I have decided to try to expand my definition of dessert to things made mostly of fruit and less sweet things in general. Not that there isn't a place for chocolate (there will always be a place for chocolate) but perhaps in more moderate quantities.

So, for the rest of this week, I will be bringing you healthier desserts that I've made recently, starting with these white wine poached pears.

These pears are so easy and elegant I can't believe I've never made them before. This was also the first time I've had pear and chocolate together and I was sort of shocked at how well it works. Of course, you don't have to do the chocolate and could just serve the pears but since this dessert includes a whole serving of fruit and only a little bit of added sugar, the chocolate is totally worth the extra calories.

These pears would be perfect after a richer dinner and would also be a great dessert if you need something gluten free. Plus, you can poach the pears ahead of time so there's almost no prep once your guests arrive.

Wine Poached Pairs with Chocolate
Serves 2, easily multiplied to serve more

2 pears, ripe but still a bit firm (I used Anjou)
1 C. (250ml) sweet white wine
1-2 C. water (250-500ml)
1/4 C. sugar (25g)
juice of 1/2 a lemon
4 snack size dark chocolate bars (20g)
sliver of butter

- Peel the pear and slice off just enough of the bottom so the pears can sit upright without being wobbly.

- Select a small pot that will just hold the pears (you may want to try a few out before you peel so you don't get them dirty). Add the wine, sugar and 1 C of the water and bring to a boil. Add the lemon juice and the pears. Add additional water if you need it to either cover the pears (if they are upright) or to allow the pears to roll around a bit (if they are on their sides)

- Simmer for 15 - 20 minutes or until the pears are tender. Carefully fish the pears out of the poaching liquid (a wire spider or silicon oven mitt works best) and set down to cool for a few minutes. [Stop at this point if you are making the recipe ahead of time. Wrap and refrigerate the pears and reserve 1T of the poaching liquid for later]

- Melt the chocolate in a small bowl in the microwave. Add the butter and 1 t. of poaching liquid and stir until a smooth sauce is formed. (Tip- if you add too much liquid the chocolate sauce will break and turn weirdly clumpy, just stir in another sliver of butter and stir and that should fix it).

- To serve- pool a little bit of chocolate on each plate and set the pear on top.

13 January 2009

Quick Carrot Soup

It seems like I have this idea every winter but not much ever comes of it-- I decide to make more soups. They're economical, generally healthy and make great leftovers. Usually I make a soup as the main dish, but this time I decided to have a soup as the vegetable with dinner. This carrot soup comes together in about 5 minutes of prep and cooks for only 20 minutes. It's very carroty tasting so if you like carrots you'll like this soup. You can vary the herbs you sprinkle in at the end depending on your taste or what else you're serving at dinner. Plus it's a not your typical vegetable side dish and is really vibrant orange color and very cheery on a cold winter day. Recipe after the jump.

Quick Carrot Soup
Serves 4-5 as an appetizer
Adapted from French Women Don't Get Fat*

1 lb. (450g) carrots
1/2 T. butter
1 T. fresh chopped parsley or dill or any herb you like
salt and pepper to taste

- Slice carrots into 1/4 in. (1/2cm) thick rounds. Place in a soup pot and add water to just cover the carrots. Bring to a boil and cook for about 20 minutes or until carrots are tender.

- Use a stick blender (if you've got one) to puree the soup or carefully transfer it in batches to a blender and puree (making sure to remove the vent in the lid and cover it with a kitchen towel or silicon potholder so steam can escape) and then return it to the pot.

- Stir in the butter, herbs and salt and pepper to taste and serve. You could add a dollop of sour cream to make it a bit more fancy if you'd like.

*Ok- yes, I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I got this book from the library but I did and it's actually really reasonable and has a lot of very sensible advice and recipes.

08 January 2009

Bahn Mi

Before we left for the holiday's, Zach and I had to run some errands in an area of suburban hell called Seven Corners. While I hope I haven't offended anyone who lives there, I don't feel that bad as it is a literal intersection of at least 7 roads, is completely pedestrian unfriendly and always takes about 3 times as long to drive around as you expected. Generally, I end up going in the exact opposite direction as my destination and have at least two fits of road rage before I end up getting to where I am going.

That might explain why I have only been to the Eden Center a sort of little Vietnam in a strip mall in the suburbs only once... Before we left I remembered reading about Bahn Mi, a kind of Vietnamese-French fusion sandwich in the Post food section ages ago so we decided to give it a try for lunch.

We ended up at Song Que, a huge bakery/deli/market that had 6 or 7 types of Bahn Mi for under $3.25. Zach chose meatball and I picked braised pork and we looked around at the French style breads, durian fruits, unknown sweets and prepared foods while we waited for our sandwiches. As you can see from the pictures, the Bahn Mi is served in a fresh (still warm) baguette, with thin slices of meat and pickled vegetables on top. It looked so good that I couldn't wait to take a bite. The bread was crisp, the veggies had the perfect amount of tartness and the meat, well, I know a lot of people find pork fat to be delicious, but I am not one of them.

The braised pork was mostly slices of pork fat and I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I pulled them off the sandwich and left only the small pieces of meat on the bread. Even so- the Bahn Mi was delicious with just the pork flavor and the veggies and I am already thinking of heading back to try another kind... Zach's meatball Bahn Mi did look good.

Song Que Bakery
6773 Wilson Blvd., Falls Church, VA 22044
Open 9am-9pm

07 January 2009

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

Ok, here is the last of the pre-holiday treat foods that I need to post... after this healthier meals are on the way.

When I saw this recipe on A Good Appetite I knew I had to make it immediately. Macaroni and cheese with butternut squash sounded so good on a cold and dark December night. I got cooking and made a few minor modifications along the way. I used a bit less cheese overall and a more equal proportion of cheddar to Gruyere as that's what I had in the house. I accidentally over-roasted the squash so decided to mash some up and stir it directly into the cheese sauce, which gave it a beautiful orange color. I also put a layer of squash on top of the pasta and topped it with cheese in an attempt to get more veggies into the dish.

The mac and cheese was so good and so rich, we got about 7 servings out of the recipe (1 used 10oz. pasta). In hindsight, I wouldn't have added the extra layer of squash as it made the dish a bit too sweet overall but otherwise it great. Check out the recipe link above if you'd like to make it.

06 January 2009

Sour Cream Espresso Cake

Some technical difficulties have kept me off the internet and my first (nearly) two week vacation in years meant I was out of the kitchen but now that I am (sadly) back at work and the normal routine I will be back to posting and visiting your blogs.

There were a few things I made before the break that the internet problems have prevented me from posting that I'll put up now with a slight warning-- this was finally finished with the semester and its the holidays so I can eat whatever I want kind of food. This really hasn't worked out that well for me so you can expect healthier recipes to come.

But back to the task at hand. As soon as I saw Sue's post about Sunny Anderson's mini espresso cakes I knew I had to make them. Immediately. Luckily the semester was winding down so I thought some baking would help me relax and be more focused on my papers (at least that's what I told myself) . I followed the recipe pretty closely with just a few modifications. Instead of using 2 eggs and 2 yolks, I just used 3 eggs as Sue had successfully done. Also, I ended up using freeze dried coffee crystal instead of espresso powder. I had never bought either before and as Trader Joe's had only one kind of instant coffee, that's what I went for.

As I had no idea what the equivalent espresso powder to coffee crystal ratio was, I decided on a third of a cup. The recipe calls for you to mix the coffee with the sour cream to hydrate it and I gave this a taste to try to gauge whether it needed more coffee. It was so bitter I was a bit afraid I had ruined the whole thing! I pressed on though as I didn't want to be wasteful, and the final batter was so good, like coffee ice cream, but thicker and richer that I knew the cake would turn out. Since I didn't have mini loaf pans, I baked three small cakes in three random pans/molds. I brought one to work, gave one away and kept one for home.

Judging by how quickly the cakes disappeared, they went over really well. The cake is incredibly moist and has a strong but not overwhelming coffee flavor. I really should have told people that each cake had the equivalent of 7 cups of coffee though...

One last note-- the sour cream makes this cake so moist it keep fresh for 4-5 days on the counter and would a great one to mail to friends.

Sour Cream Espresso Cake
Makes 3-4 mini cakes
Adapted from Sunny Anderson

2.5 C (300g) flour
3/4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1 C (250 ml) sour cream
1/3 C instant coffee crystals (should have the metric equivalent soon)
1 C (225g) butter, softened
1.5 C (300g) sugar
3 eggs
1 t. vanilla extract

- Preheat oven to 350F and grease and flour your pans.

- In a small bowl mix sour cream and coffee crystals. Set aside.

- In another bowl, combine flour, baking power, baking soda and salt.

- In your mixer bowl,* cream together butter and sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Then add eggs, one at a time and beat until incorporated. Add the vanilla. With the mixer on low, add half the flour mixture. Let in incorporate before adding half the sour cream, then the rest of the flour and sour cream.

- Pour the batter into the pans and bake for approx. 40 minutes or until the cake has pulled slightly away from the side of the pans and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool and eat.

* You certainly don't need a stand mixer to make this recipe but I wasn't quite sure what else to call the bowl.