04 May 2010

Cooking: A Love Story

So it is no secret that my sister and I share our passion for eating and food.  And, if you happen to follow her blog, you know that her daughters have been groomed from birth to share this passion.  Laura often includes her daughters while baking, and they are allowed access to all the interesting adult  food she prepares.  I know kids are kids, and my nieces aren't perfect.  I am sure there will be roadblocks where an Indian dal doesn't sound as good to one of them as something dipped in ketchup does, but my sister and her husband have laid the foundation for worldly children who appreciate different foods and cultures. 

Recently, my sweet, favorite oldest niece came to visit for a few days.  There was a trip to the zoo to see baby lions, visits to the neighborhood chickens, lots of ice cream, hot pink slime  and hugs.  It was a lovely visit, but my favorite part of her visit was our last dinner together.  Alex and I were trying to decide what to do for dinner. We talked about going out for pizza, but my mom - her Bauma - wanted to stay in and Alex wants nothing more than to be near her Bauma.  Then I suggested a picnic which definitely got a positive response.  Then I wondered what in the world we would make for dinner.  Oh, and Bauma needed a break! So I needed to come up with something to distract Alex from harassing Bauma and make dinner.  Then it hit me - why not have Alex make dinner?

A light bulb went off.  Alex beamed when I suggested she help me out with dinner.  In fact the story now goes something along the lines of, "I made Aunt Josie and Bauma dinner all by myself! I did it all!"  I wasn't really sure how much cooking Laura has let Alex do since she is only 4 and a half years old. But I threw caution to the wind and figured Alex would let me know if she was outside her comfort zone (the most naturally cautious child I have ever met!). 

The eager Chef goes in for a taste.

We first went to the pantry, where I suggested we start by picking a pasta. We went through all the various pastas that Bauma keeps around, and Alex immediately selected couscous when I pointed it out.  After the pasta, I asked Alex what would taste good with the couscous.  She thought for a moment and then said OLIVES and MUSHROOMS!  Thankfully we had both on hand - even some fancy Greek olives that she loves.  I asked how she felt about roasted Piquillo peppers, and she said SURE!  She also picked some fresh yellow bell pepper, sweet onion and  Romano cheese.  We decided to roast some asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper separately.

I asked Alex to prep the veggies while I got the water boiling for the couscous.  She very carefully used a fork and butter knife to "chop" the olives and Piquillo peppers.  I chopped the onion and yellow bell peppers and sauteed them in a bit of olive oil to take the raw bite off.  We mixed all the chopped veggies together with the fluffy couscous.  I drizzled a bit of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the pasta salad, and we topped with some shredded Romano cheese (I think Feta would have been even better, but we didn't have any).  Alex very carefully plated our dishes, having me place the hot asparagus just so.  She sprinkled the plates with shredded cheese and offered Bauma seconds.   She carefully cleared the plates and helped clean up after cooking.  She was adorable and eager to please.  

I didn't think I could love that kid anymore, but it turns out seeing her enjoy herself so much in the kitchen with me made me fall in love a little bit more.  I don't have my own kids, but I still think it is important to spend time in the kitchen with a child you love.   I feel very lucky that I got to spend that night with Alex (chasing bubbles in the backyard after dinner was pretty fun too!). 

30 April 2010

I Missed You (and Peanut Butter Baked Goods)

I'm baaaaaccckkk.  Most of my frenzied packing and cleaning has been completed.  My house is on the market and looking rather empty.  If you have any good mojo to spare, please send a few vibes my way to encourage someone to buy my house!

In the meantime, I have free reign in my parents' newly remodeled kitchen.  And when I say remodeled, I mean full out, state-of-the-art, amazing, beautiful remodeled.  The counters are humongous.  The stove is gas and has 5 burners *swoon*.  There are two ovens. There is a custom counter made specifically to kneading height, which conveniently, is right at butt height and makes a lovely kitchen perch.  There is enough storage for a small army; although, I come by my love of all things kitchen honestly because my mom filled up her storage spaces without much effort. It is a complete and total pleasure to cook in this kitchen.

Due to my move and my parents' remodel, my mom and I have realized the grand scope of our pantry ingredients. We actually started a list of items that we are not to buy under any circumstance since we have a zillion of them already (barbeque sauce anyone?).  So I was looking to bake something new and interesting, and I had the idea for a spicy peanut butter cookie percolating in the back of my mind.  I remembered a jar of Krema, our awesome, local nut company, Hot & Spicy Peanut Butter in our inventory.   I knew instantly that I would use this peanut butter to create a spicy cookie.  

I also feel like I need to take a moment to apologize for the overwhelming number of peanut butter baked goods of late- I must be craving them or something.  This cookie, however, was so different from the others I have posted recently that it didn't even fit in the same category. The cookies are thick and bakery-style huge (I could only find a big cookie scoop in my mom's drawers).  My dad exclaimed at how spicy-hot the cookies were, but to me they were just pleasantly spicy, with a slow-burn of heat that builds in the back of your throat.  The cookie has the perfect combination of flavors: hot and spicy, sweet and salty. I would like to bake them again and experiment with dipping the fork in a mixture of granulated sugar and cayenne pepper to make the ubiquitous criss-cross pattern on the top of the peanut butter cookie. 

If you do not have access to Krema's wonderful products, I would start by adding a teaspoon of ground cayenne to the dough.  Since I am happy to eat cookie dough, I would take a nibble of dough to see if it had enough kick - if not, I'd add a little more cayenne until I got the ratio right for my palate.

Peanut Butter Cookies
adapted from Joy of Baking

3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (105 grams) light brown sugar
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated white sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups (260 grams) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

additional granulated sugar mixed with a pinch of cayenne pepper to dip fork in to make criss cross pattern on cookie 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and place rack in center of oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy (about 2 - 3 minutes). Beat in the peanut butter. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat to combine. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to the peanut butter mixture and beat until incorporated.  (If the batter is too soft to form into balls, place in the refrigerator for about an hour or until firm.)

Roll the batter into 1 inch (2.54 cm) balls. Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheet, placing about 2 inches (5 cm) apart. Then, using the tines of the fork that has been dipped in white granulated sugar, make a crisscross pattern. 

Bake the cookies for about 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly browned around the edges. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Can be stored at room temperature, in an airtight container, for about a week. Freeze for longer storage.

Makes about 20 large, bakery style cookies (or 40 smaller cookies)

31 March 2010

April Showers Bring... New Living Arrangements?

 So I have gone silent, but I promise I have not forgotten you or my blog.  I am in the midst of utter chaos.  I am getting my house ready to put on the market.  In a word: AGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!  I haven't cooked myself a decent (blog-worthy) meal in a few weeks, and it may still be a few more before I get back in a kitchen.

So I wish you all a lovely April Fool's, Easter and Passover and whatever else you may be celebrating (like today is my big brother's birthday! Happy Birthday Chris!).   I promise to be back soon with actual food!

20 March 2010

More Peanut Butter Chocolate Goodies?

I have been on a peanut butter chocolate tear lately.  As much as I enjoy the flavor combination, it isn't a favorite of mine so it is kind of funny that I keep on baking with it. I recently took a weekend trip to Cleveland to visit one of my best friends.  This friend used to be a frequent recipient of my baked goods since we shared an office. Unfortunately for me, but fortunately for her, she moved to Cleveland to be with her boyfriend fiance. Since I knew I would be crashing on her couch, I figured a baked good was in order.

Last time I visited her, I brought these delicious peanut butter chocolate "brownies".  She and her fiance were quite enthused with the flavor combination, so I decided to try a new peanut butter chocolate recipe out on them.  I think they were quite happy with my offering. 

The blondies bake up very chewy and crazy-rich. Speaking from personal experience, they make a lovely 2 a.m. post-bar nibble.  The bars were easy to transport and hold up well over a few days. 

The addition of peanut butter keeps the blondies really moist. I think pushing whole peanut butter cups into the top of the hot-from-the-oven blondies was gilding a pretty darn spectacular lily, but it got them out of my house so I wouldn't snack on them.  I found the recipe over at my sister's blog, The Spiced Life.  (If you have a hankering for chocolate and peanut butter, her blog is a great place to start - she has a lot of reviews posted!)

 Rich & Chewy Peanut Butter Squares A.K.A. Best Peanut Butter Blondies EVER
Adapted from Baking By Flavor via The Spiced Life

1 cup (126 g) AP flour
1/4 cup cake flour
3/4 t baking powder
1/8 t salt
1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to tepid
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 t vanilla
1 cup chopped Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, plus more for topping (optional)
3/4 cup peanut butter chips
1/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Spray an 8X8 baking pan and line it with parchment paper or foil that overhangs the sides (you will use it to lift the blondies out of the pan). Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Sift together the AP flour, cake flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a medium sized mixing bowl (this is easily done by hand) whisk together the melted butter and peanut butter. Whisk in the brown sugar, egg, egg yolk and vanilla. Switching to a wooden spoon or a spatula, mix in the sifted flour mixture. Stir in the chips and peanut butter cups. The dough will be thick and chunky.

Scrape the dough into the prepared pan and spread it in evenly. Bake for 25-30 minutes, rotating front to back halfway through. The bars are done when the dough is set and golden. Optional: you can press as many peanut butter cups as you want into the surface of the blondies while they are still warm. Let the pan and bars cool completely on a cooling rack. Slice the bars into 4 quadrants--and then slice each quadrant into 4 squares. Try not to eat them all.

11 March 2010

David Chang is a Pork God.

I have no idea if David Chang, of Momofuku fame, would be thrilled with me anointing him a Pork God, but honestly, it is one of the biggest compliments I could pay him. I have never been fortunate enough to actually eat at his restaurants.  And I don't even own the cookbook where this recipe can be found.  But I do believe that this one experience with a Momofuku recipe, following excruciatingly simple instructions (that I still muddled with), transforming a cheap piece of meat into something sublime, qualifies him for the title. 

I found this recipe on Sticky Gooey Creamy Chewy, a visually stunning blog that inspires me regularly.  In fact her header design actually helped inspire my recent renovation to my blog.  I recommend adding her to your must-read list.  The instructions for this pork are so simple, it was hard not to tinker with them.  In the end, I was forced to tinker slightly but only minor cooking time/temperature changes to make my life easier.  The original recipe was written to be cooked throughout the day, and I adjusted it so I could cook it overnight by lowering the cooking temperature and extending the cooking time.  The end result is the most tender, succulent shredded pork.  

The brown sugar creates a delectable crust that I found myself seeking out.  The long visit with a salt and sugar rub beautifully flavor the pork.  In fact, the pork was so perfectly seasoned that I didn't salt the end result it at all.  The shredded pork tasted just like the salty-sweet perfection of bacon.  Seriously. A pork shoulder transformed into bacon.  Pork God, I told you.

I served this dish plain in a bun alongside coleslaw.  The original recipe calls for a variety of other goodies to make a Korean Lettuce Wrap of sorts. I am not sure if the name of the recipe, Bo Ssäm, refers to the lettuce wrap or the pork, but be sure to check out the Momofuku Cookbook or Sticky Gooey Creamy Chewy for the original serving suggestions.

Shredded Pork
Bo Ssäm adapted from Momofuku via Sticky Gooey Creamy Chewy


1 (4- to 6-pound) bone-in pork shoulder or pork butt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon coarse salt
4 tablespoons light-brown sugar


1.  Place pork in a large bowl or roasting pan. In a medium bowl, mix together granulated sugar and 1/2 cup coarse salt. Rub sugar mixture all over pork and cover bowl with plastic wrap; transfer to refrigerator for at least 6 hours and up to overnight.

2.  Preheat oven to 270 degrees.  Discard accumulated juices from roasting pan that pork is in. Transfer roasting pan to oven and cook, tightly covered, for approximately 9 hours (overnight).

3.  In the morning, increase oven temperature to 300 degrees.  Uncover pork and baste meat with accumulated juices every 10-15 minutes for about 1 hour.

4.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together remaining tablespoon coarse salt and brown sugar.  Rub mixture all over pork.

5.  Increase oven temperature to 500 degrees. Return pork to oven until sugar has melted into a crisp crust, about 10 to 15 minutes.

6.  Shred pork with forks and serve as barbeque pork or in Korean Lettuce Wraps, or just eat it like it is bacon - be careful not to burn your fingers! 

05 March 2010

Spring Fever? Make Slaw!

Apparently I am in the midst of a bout of spring fever, which I doubt is all that unusual.  Are you itching for flip flops and mud?  Yearning for the first crocus and daffodil to poke through the earth? Rolling your window down because it is sunny (and who cares that it is only 38 degrees out)?  I can answer yes to all these questions and more.  I am ready for sunshine and longer days.  The ugly brownish snow from our record-setting-February can take a long walk off a short pier. Bring on the wicked rain storms that mean spring in Ohio. 

Oh, and the food, bring on the barbeque and coleslaw!

I may not be able to control the weather, but I can control the food.  So I whipped up a meal of pulled pork and coleslaw that tasted like summer. I will start by sharing the coleslaw, which I found on Smitten Kitchen, while searching for basic creamy slaws.  I have made some killer Carolina vinegar based slaws, but I have never been able to master a creamy coleslaw.  To be fair, I wasn't sure I liked creamy coleslaw until fairly recently, so I haven't been trying for that long.

 Nonetheless, this recipe tasted exactly how I wanted - a little tangy, lightly saucy, not too creamy and just a hint of sweetness.  The best part is that the tangy-ness and sweetness are totally controllable by adjusting slightly to your taste.  The slaw retained a lovely crunch even after a day in the refrigerator.  It was the perfect side dish to the pork sandwiches, which I will soon share.

Now if only I could control the weather, I'd be a perfectly content blogger...

Simple Slaw
adapted from Gourmet, June 2008 via Smitten Kitchen
serves 4-5

1 to 1 1/2 lb green cabbage, finely shredded (1/2 of one large head)
1 large red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 large carrot, coarsely grated
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3-4 T cider vinegar, to taste
2-4 t sugar, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste

Toss all vegetables in a large bowl with salt and pepper. Whisk together mayonnaise, vinegar, and sugar, then toss with slaw. Be sure to taste dressing and adjust vinegar/sugar to own preference. Chill, covered, stirring occasionally, at least 1 hour (for vegetables to wilt and flavors to blend). 
Slaw can be chilled up to 1 day.

27 February 2010

Salted Cashew Brittle - Better Late Than Never

Remember how I promised to share the most amazing Cashew Brittle with Fleur de Sel back in December? Yeah, well, time got away from me and I never got around to typing up this post.  I am sorry.  But maybe now the sugar shock of the holidays has worn off, and you will be interested in actually making a candy recipe?  This brittle would make a lovely addition to an Easter Basket or a sweet surprise for someone with a spring birthday.  It is a pretty straightforward, easy candy to make.  Be sure to have a candy thermometer before you try to make this recipe!  I also found it was best to have all the ingredients measured and ready to go.  When caramelizing sugar hits the desired temperature, it waits for no one.  It also can burn the heck out of you - so be very, very careful while making this candy.

The cashews are amazing in this candy, and they are the perfect match to the fleur de sel.  I used salted cashews because I prefer a rather strong salty contrast to my sweets, but any unsalted or salted nut would probably work fine in this recipe.  I highly recommend using fleur de sel or another interesting sea salt.  It really stands out in this candy.  My parents more or less threatened each other over who got the last bite of this brittle, insisting I make a second batch.  We all burnt our fingers in our eagerness to taste nibbles of the brittle as it was cooling- delicious.

Cashew Brittle with Fleur de Sel
adapted from Food & Wine via Eggs on Sunday

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 stick unsalted butter
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
12 ounces salted cashew pieces
Fleur de sel or crushed Maldon sea salt

Measure out your nuts and baking soda and set near the stove. On a heat-proof surface, set a rimmed sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
Combine the sugar, water, butter and corn syrup in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until the caramel is light brown and registers 300 degrees F on a candy thermometer (approximately 10 minutes).
Turn off the heat and carefully stir in the baking soda (the mixture will bubble).
Stir in the nuts, then immediately scrape the brittle onto your parchment-lined baking sheet. Use the back of a large spoon (oil it lightly if it sticks) to spread the brittle into a thin, even layer. Sprinkle evenly with fleur de sel (don't be shy!) and let cool completely, about 30 minutes.
Break the brittle into large shards.
Makes 2 pounds of brittle.

20 February 2010

Easy Triple Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies to Impress a Crowd

Let me say right off the bat that this recipe for Triple Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies makes a LOT of cookies.  After scooping 3 dozen cookie dough balls, and not really seeing a huge dent in the dough, I decided to freeze the remainder of the scooped dough balls. This was the right decision.  This recipe makes at least 5 and a half dozen cookies (using a tablespoon size scoop). 

I made these cookies for my good friend's birthday celebration.  Last year I made her some amazing Irish Car Bomb Brownies, and I asked her what she wanted this year- a cookie with peanut butter was her reply. So I started my hunt for the perfect peanut butter cookie recipe. Naturally the first person I turned to was my sister since I know she loves peanut butter cookies and baking in general. I found this cookie recipe on her blog, and I knew that it would be the recipe I would make for my friend.  I baked 3 dozen cookies for her celebration and shared the remaining frozen cookie dough with her (to continue her birthday celebration sometime in the future) and my dad.  

The cookies come out moist and so incredibly rich.  One is more than enough to satisfy your craving for a sweet, peanut buttery, chocolaty, thick and chewy cookie. I took the time to unwrap a bag of Reese's peanut butter cups and chop them since it doesn't look like Hershey's is selling the peanut butter baking pieces anymore (please bring them back!).  Of course, they wouldn't be triple anything cookies with just the chopped peanut butter cups, so I also included peanut butter chips and semi-sweet chocolate chips.  I think dark chocolate chunks would be nice in these cookies as well.  

If you are looking for a go-to peanut butter chocolate chip cookie, this is the recipe for you.  Also, my dad reports that the frozen cookie dough cooked up beautifully.  So the next time you need cookies for a crowd or just feel like freezing some cookie dough to have on hand, give these a try whether you take the time to chop the peanut butter cups or not.

Triple Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup (2 sticks, 8 oz) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups (11 7/8 oz) creamy peanut butter
1 cup (8 oz) dark brown sugar
1 cup (7 oz) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 t vanilla extract
2 2/3 cups (11 1/4 oz) AP flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1 t kosher salt
2 to 2 1/2 cups chips - any combination of peanut butter chips, chopped peanuts, chocolate chips or peanut butter cups

additional peanut butter cups or sea salt for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone.

Cream the butter and peanut butter together until well blended. Add the sugars and cream until blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the eggs and the vanilla and blend thoroughly. Stir in the dry ingredients and then the chips, being careful to not over-stir.

Using a tablespoon cookie scoop, drop rounds of cookie dough onto the baking sheet--I fit 12 per sheet. Sprinkle some sea salt on top of each one (optional- I skipped and instead popped a peanut butter cup into the top of the warm cookie when it came out of the oven). Bake for 11-14 minutes; the cookies are done when they are set and are just starting to brown at the edges. Remove and let cool on the pan for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to a cooling rack.

17 February 2010

As Promised: Stir Fried Chicken with Peppers and Onions

So what did I serve with those mouth-watering potatoes and peas that helped to convince my boyfriend that Indian food might be pretty tasty?  Murah Jalfrezie or Stir Fried Chicken with Peppers and Onions also from Betty Crocker's Indian Home Cooking by Raghavan Iyer.  According to Raghavan, this dish is popular across America, but I have never seen nor heard of it before.  Maybe that's because I only love eating at one particular, vegetarian Indian restaurant.  Regardless, I understand why this dish has gained popularity here - it is incredibly accessible, delicious and doesn't have any "scary" ingredients.  I think my boyfriend saw the picture of this dish and thought it looked like chicken and vegetables- nothing too far off his radar- so he was willing to give it a try. 

I liked this dish for something simple and tasty with a touch of Indian flair.  My yogurt broke a little bit in the sauce, and I don't know if that should have happened.  It didn't impact the flavor but made it a tiny bit unappealing to me visually.  The chicken was perfect with the potatoes and peas, and I think it would be equally good with fluffy basmati rice or naan.  I did make the simple adjustment of using red bell pepper instead of green but any color would work.  I also think you could mix up the vegetables a bit - maybe add some zucchini or peas or cauliflower.  I am happy to report another totally positive experience with a Raghavan Iyer recipe.

Stir Fried Chicken with Peppers and Onions (Murgh Jalfrezie)

2 T vegetable oil
1 medium yellow or white onion, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
1 T coarsely chopped gingerroot
2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 T coriander seed, ground
1 t cumin seed, ground
1/2 t salt
1/2 t ground turmeric
1/2 t ground red pepper (cayenne)
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium green bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (1 cup)
1 medium red onion, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 medium tomato, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (3/4 cup)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 T finely chopped fresh cilantro

1. Heat oil in wok or deep 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add yellow onion, gingerroot and garlic; stir-fry 3 to 4 minutes or until onion and garlic are deep golden brown.
2. Stir in tomato sauce, ground coriander, ground cumin, salt, turmeric and ground red pepper; reduce heat to low. Partially cover and simmer 5 to 7 minutes or until a very thin film of oil starts to separate from sauce.
3. Stir in chicken.  Simmer uncovered 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until chicken is partially cooked.
4. Stir in bell pepper, red onion, tomato and water. Cover and simmer 8 to 10 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink in center.
5. Stir in yogurt. Simmer uncovered 1 minute, stirring occasionally, just until yogurt is warm.  Serve sprinkled with cilantro.

14 February 2010

Of Romance and Indian Food

After all my raving about what a fantastic gift 660 Curries was from my sister, my boyfriend completely surprised me and gave me another Raghavan Iyer book: Betty Crocker's Indian Home Cooking.  This book is probably less intimidating for a new-to-Indian-food home cook than 660 Curries.  It is full of beautiful pictures, and, as usual, contains Raghavan's approachable, witty writing. I was absolutely charmed that my boyfriend was paying such close attention to my ramblings about Indian food (and Raghavan Iyer, in particular) that he thought to buy me this book. 

Even better, my boyfriend was excited to have me cook him something from the book - a big step for him since he wasn't too sure how he felt about Indian food. I knew if he was involved with picking the recipes and some of preparation, he would enjoy an Indian meal.  Fortunately my instincts were right on target, and he really loved the dinner we made.  The spices and flavors in the dishes we selected were familiar to him from Mexican food: cumin, coriander, cilantro.

This potato dish is very basic, and it makes a pleasant alternative to serving a curry with rice.   The original recipe called for adding the peas a little earlier in the cooking, but I opted to add them closer to the end so they stayed a spring green (a little lost in these pictures because I photographed the meal the following day at lunch, when there was a lot of natural light). 

Check back soon to see what we ate with the potatoes and peas.

Potatoes with Peas (Aloo Mutter)
adapted from Betty Crocker's Indian Home Cooking by Raghavan Iyer

1 T vegetable oil
1 t ground cumin
½ cup finely chopped red onion
2 medium tomatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces (1 ½ cups)
1 t salt
½ t ground cayenne pepper
¼ t ground turmeric
3 medium red potatoes (1 pound), cooked and cut into 2-inch pieces (2 cups)
1 cup frozen green peas
1 cup water
2 T finely chopped fresh cilantro

1. Heat oil in 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add cumin; sizzle 15 to 30 seconds.
2. Add onion; stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes or until golden brown.  Stir in tomatoes, salt, cayenne pepper and turmeric; stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes or until tomatoes are softened.
3. Stir in remaining ingredients except frozen green peas.  Heat to boiling; reduce heat to medium.  Cover and simmer 5 minutes.  Uncover and add the frozen peas; simmer about 5 minutes longer or until sauce thickens slightly. 

11 February 2010

Snowpacalypse Greetings

No new recipes to report - the pups just wanted to say hi!

I think this is the best picture I have ever taken of Millie.
The snow really sets off her black coat.

Millie taunts Crash (she desperately wants him to pounce so she can attack).

Crash also wants Millie's attention, but...

...she's way too focused on eating snow.

**Please ignore the fact that my deck is littered with overturned chairs and tables. Thank you!**

07 February 2010

Jalapeno Cream Sauce? Yes, Please!

For those of you who blog about food, are you ever hesitant to share a recipe because it just isn't photogenic? This recipe nearly didn't make the cut because I just haven't taken a decent picture of it to save my life.  But, honestly, I don't care.  The dish is just that freaking good- who cares what it looks like?

Truthfully, I have never been tempted by any spaghetti squash recipe.  I think when my dad was going through a low-fat kick sometime several years ago, my mom heard about spaghetti squash as a substitute for pasta with marinara sauce.  So she made it.  I hated it (I assume my other family members did as well, since I don't remember her ever making it again). It just didn't work for me as a stand-in for pasta.  Then I saw a discussion on the CLBB about Spaghetti Squash with Jalapeno Cream Sauce.  Esqueeze me? Jalapenos? Cream? Cheese? Yes, yes, yes! I decided I needed to get over my bias against spaghetti squash and give it another try.  I am very happy that I did (as are my dad and boyfriend, both of whom have eaten this dish and thoroughly enjoyed it).

The spaghetti squash is microwaved or baked to release the flesh into short strands that will make up the bulk of this recipe.  The squash is tossed in a creamy, cheesy, spicy sauce, thickened with a blonde roux and flavored with jalapenos. A dusting of panko breadcrumbs provides a contrasting crunchy bite to the creamy, rich squash baked in the cream sauce (think macaroni and cheese).  I have made this dish several times, adjusting it to suit my tastes in a variety of ways.  It is nice with some red bell pepper and mushrooms mixed in, or maybe a little zucchini and lots of extra jalapenos.  I will never ignore spaghetti squash again unless you try to serve it to me with marinara sauce.

Spaghetti Squash with Jalapeno Cream Sauce
adapted from Sunset, October 2008

1 spaghetti squash (about 3 lbs.)
2 cups milk
4-5 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, and chopped

1 small-medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter, plus more for pans
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup shredded jalapeno jack cheese

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 small zucchini, quartered and chopped (optional)*
1 bell pepper, chopped (optional)*
1 cup sliced mushrooms (optional)*
additional cheese for sprinkling on top

1. Preheat oven to 375°. Cut squash in half lengthwise (can microwave squash for several minutes to soften slightly to make it easier to cut in half) and use a spoon or melon baller to remove seeds and surrounding fiber. Put squash, cut side down, on a lightly buttered baking sheet and bake until tender when flesh is pierced with a fork, 30 to 40 minutes. Or poke several holes in skin of squash with a fork and microwave it on high 10 minutes. Squash should be tender when pierced with a fork; if it isn't, microwave on high in 1-minute intervals until tender. Let sit until cool.

2. When squash is cool enough to handle, use a large spoon to scrape the strands out of the skin and into a large bowl.
3. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt 2 tbsp. butter. Add chopped jalapenos and onions and saute for 3-5 minutes.   Whisk in flour and cook, whisking, until flour smells cooked (like piecrust), about 3 minutes. Slowly pour in milk while whisking. Reduce heat to medium and continue whisking until mixture thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Add cheese to cream sauce and turn off heat, stirring to melt cheese. Taste and adjust salt.  Pour mixture over squash and stir to combine. Transfer mixture to a buttered 2-qt. baking dish. Sprinkle with additional jack cheese and panko crumbs and bake until bubbling and brown on top, about 30 minutes.
*Optional - Saute any optional vegetables in about a tablespoon of olive oil or butter over medium-high heat to caramelize slightly, 4-7 minutes.  Stir in to squash and cheese sauce mixture before baking. 

03 February 2010

Heavenly Cranberry Butter

So this post is a little late in the game, but I still think it is something worth sharing, especially since I just mentioned it in my oat cookie post. A couple autumns ago, my friend and I were confronted with baskets and baskets of apples.  She wanted to learn to make apple sauce, and I figured I could teach her.  So what did we do?  We made Cranberry Butter!

Doesn't make much sense, does it?  Oh well, I never promised to be logical.  We did make apple sauce that day, as well as some caramel apple butter (revolting!), cranberry butter and crapple* sauce.  It was a productive day in the kitchen, and it was fun to share whatever canning knowledge I have with my friend.  So what is Cranberry Butter?  First of all, get any notions of dairy out of your head.  Think apple butter - a thick, luscious concoction of sun-ripened fruit at its peak, cooked down into a soft, buttery pulp, perfect for spreading on toast.  Now replace those apples with cranberries, add a bit of sugar and some ginger, and you have a meltingly soft, buttery, tart, cranberry spread perfect for toast or oatmeal cookies (for breakfast, of course). 

This autumn, I realized I had to make some Cranberry Butter- STAT! I was all out, and the previous Christmas, I decided that Cranberry Butter made the most divine filling to a layered Hungarian Shortbread.  I absolutely had to have that filling for this year's Christmas cookies. So I bought some cranberries and got my butt in gear.  A few hours later, I had a dozen or so beautiful, ruby-red half pint jars filled with the delectable fruit butter.

I know we often speak in hyperbole about food, but trust me when I tell you that if you are going to can just one jam/jelly/fruit butter this year, it needs to be Cranberry Butter.  The best part is that cranberries aren't readily available until autumn which means you are canning when it is no longer 95 degrees outside. 

So if you have a bag or two of cranberries in your freezer that you were hoarding from this autumn's haul, pull them out and make something truly special.  You can use this in place of cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving, as a unique spread on a turkey sandwich, or for toast and cookies.  It makes a beautiful and unusual gift since most people have never heard of Cranberry Butter.

*Crapple Sauce: The little-known concoction of cranberry butter mixed with apple sauce and canned to create a delightful pink sauce with a sweet-tart edge.

Cranberry Butter
adapted from Blue Ribbon Preserves by Linda J. Amendt

Yield: about 4 half-pint jars

2 12-oz packages cranberries, fresh or frozen
1 cup water
zested peel of 1 lemon
zested peel of 1 orange
3 cups sugar (can adjust slightly to taste)
1-2 teaspoons powdered ginger

In an 8-qt pan, combine cranberries, water, orange zest, and lemon zest.

Over medium heat, bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until all the berries have popped and are soft, 15-20 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Remove pan from heat. Skim foam.

Press mixture (berries and juice) through a food mill or fine-mesh sieve. Discard skins and seeds. Rinse and dry pan. Return cranberry pulp to pan. Stir in sugar.

Over med-low heat, heat the mixture, stirring constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Increase heat to medium and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. Reduce heat and simmer until thick, 10-15 minutes. Stir constantly to prevent sticking or scorching. Remove pan from heat, skim foam.

Ladle hot butter into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process half-pint jars for 10 minutes, pint jars for 15 minutes.

27 January 2010

Comforting Oat Cookie (Perfect for Breakfast)

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is the assortment of random cookbooks I acquire from friends and family.  Since my loved ones know I adore all things cooking-related, I am often on the receiving end of a spur-of-the-moment purchase, great sale purchase or it-has-food-on-the-cover-so-I-knew-you'd-love-it purchase.  I am always entertained by these gifts because I always discover something I might have otherwise missed.  I received a few cookbooks that fall into this category this year.  One of which I had never heard of, but I have loved looking through is Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros.

Homemade Cranberry Butter made a delightful filling to the cookies.

Apples for Jam is one of the most visually appealing books I have ever perused. There are beautiful doodles and family snapshots, lots of personal writing in adorable fonts, and of course, tons of eye-catching photographs.  Did I forget to mention the colors?  Well the colors used in this book are incredibly important - the entire cookbook is organized around color!  With sections such as Orange, Gold, Monochrome, White and Brown, you realize how important color is to food.  Personally, I would have thought the first thing I wanted to cook from this book would have come from the Orange or Yellow or Stripes (!!!) sections, but surprisingly, the first recipe I tried is from the Monochrome section.

It is a very simple recipe for Oat Cookies.  Tessa Kiros writes, "These are plain, healthy, and good.  You could serve them for breakfast instead of oatmeal sometimes, with a mug of warm milk."  I couldn't agree with Tessa more.  The cookies are very simple, with a clean oatmeal flavor shining through in every bite.  I threw them together in a snap with pantry ingredients.  I think the only change I would make in the future would be to allow the dough to sit for a couple hours or overnight before baking - the oatmeal and whole wheat flour have a slightly raw flavor that would be reduced with a rest period. I liked these cookies best with a tart schmear of homemade Cranberry Butter (I promise to post the recipe soon!).  I also think using this recipe as a basic oat cookie to add dried fruit or chocolate chips to would be great.  My last kudos to Tessa on this recipe? It only makes 25 cookies (I think I got more like 18-20 out of the recipe)!  As a single gal, I really appreciate a small baking recipe.  I do not need 5 dozen warm cookies taunting my from their cooling racks.

If you enjoy the visual aspect and design layout of books, I highly recommend picking Apples for Jam up to browse.  It is a very unique, pretty cookbook with lovely writing.  Thanks to my parents for randomly giving me this book for Christmas!

I was inspired to play with Monochrome - 
cookie dough in black and white looks interesting!

Oat Cookies
from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros

1 egg
2/3 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
1 t vanilla extract
5 1/2 T butter, softened
1/2 cup AP flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 t baking powder
1 cup quick cooking oats (I used old-fashioned)
1 1/2 T milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Whip the egg, sugar, and vanilla together until the sugar has dissolved.  Beat in the butter and then sift in the all-purpose and whole wheat flours and baking powder.  Add a pinch of salt and the oats, and mix well with a wooden spoon. Stir in the milk.  With lightly moistened hands, shape the dough into walnut-sized balls and put them, well spaced, on the baking sheet. Flatten them a bit so they look like mini-hamburger patties.  Bake for about 15 minutes until they are golden around the edges (they might still be a little soft on top).  Cool on a wire rack and then keep in your cookie jar for up to 5 days.

24 January 2010

Warm and Hearty Almost White Chili

While recently browsing the internet, reading blogs and bookmarking recipes, I noticed the Pioneer Woman's recipe for White Chili. Now for those of you who live under an internet rock and don't know, Pioneer Woman is one of the rock stars of blogging.  Her entire site is homemade and incredible.  I am so impressed by her willingness to learn and adapt to create such a popular site.  Why don't I have her drive to learn photography?? Anyhoo, before I turn into a total fan-girl here, I just have to say that you should visit her blog and at least read Black Heels to Tractor Wheels (her love story) if nothing else.

Back to that chili- PW's recipe appealed to me because it was simple and looked like it would be the perfect meal for a frigid night. We had plenty of frigid in early January, so the time to make this meal came sooner rather than later.  I ran into a bit of a hiccup with this chili, but it was not due to the recipe.  My crappy marrow beans would not cook through!  Literally I left this pot on the stove for a solid 9 hours, hoping that the beans would be as luscious and creamy as I imagined they should be. They never quite made it.  My dried beans must have been old. It happens.  Next time I will use canned beans or fresher dried beans.

 The god-forsaken beans that wouldn't cook!

Since the beans never cooked as quickly or nicely as they should have, some steps were skipped and some modifications were made.  I was so pissed off at the chili by 10:00 PM that I completely forgot to add the thickening milk and masa (one of the parts of this recipe I was most excited to try!).  Of course, my chili was quite thick from cooking for so long, so I am not sure if it needed the thickener.  Also, since I didn't eat the chili for dinner on the night I had originally intended, I never bothered to add the chicken in to the beans.  So it turned into a vegetarian meal, which I was completely happy to eat.  I would definitely make this recipe again, but I would first offer up to the Bean Gods that my beans actually cook!

I happened to enjoy this chili most with a big spoonful of homemade guacamole on top.  The creamy, spicy avocado really melted into and complemented the chili.  Here is my recipe for guacamole, which I make almost weekly.

Simple Hearty White Chili
adapted from Ree Drummond/The Pioneer Woman

1 whole large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 27 oz can Hatch green chiles, drained and chopped
8 oz dried marrow beans (any white bean should work, could used canned)
8 cups chicken stock
2 jalapenos, chopped
1 1/2 T ground cumin
1 t smoked Spanish Paprika
1/2 t cayenne pepper
salt to taste
pepper to taste
Optional Garnishes: Sour Cream, Cilantro, Guacamole, Pico de Gallo, Tortillas

In a dutch oven over medium-high heat, saute onions, jalapenos and garlic for 2 minutes. Add chopped green chilies, then rinsed beans. Pour chicken broth into the pan. Add all the spices except salt. Place lid on pot and reduce heat to low.
Cook for 2 hours or until beans are done.(or 9 hours!)
Check seasoning and adjust, adding salt and cayenne to taste.
Garnish as desired.

20 January 2010

Indian Comfort Food: Parsi Spicy Squash and Legume Stew

The love affair with Indian food continues...

I originally had this dish way back in June, when my sister prepared it as part of our vegetarian Indian feast.  I was hooked.  I remember telling her that I didn't want any rice on my plate because it used up valuable stomach space that could be used on this stew (and the delicious cauliflower and potatoes).  My feelings for this stew are no different today after making this dish for myself.  I ate it for dinner, and I immediately knew I would be eating it again the following night for dinner.  In fact, it was so delicious that I invited friends over to dine on my leftovers!  I feel quite confident that they loved this stew as much as I did the first time I had it.

The stew is full of nutritious vegetables.  Feeling more and more confident with Indian food, I did make some changes to the vegetable ingredients based on what I had on hand.  I really think you can adapt the vegetables to anything you have available, as long as they can stand up to some simmering.  Lucky for me, Laura had given me some of the spice mixture she ground for this stew back in June.  It was quite convenient having the pre-made spice mixture in my cupboard from her.  But I know that it really isn't all that hard to grind and blend your own spices if you have a spice/coffee grinder.

I am submitting this post to Shelby over at the Life and Love of Grumpy's Honeybunch who is hosting January's round-up of Family Recipes.  Since Laura originally made this dish for me, and I think I owe most of my knowledge of Indian cooking to her, it seems like an appropriate entry.  I hope to continue cooking and loving vegetarian Indian food with Laura only a phone call away for assistance as needed.  Be sure to check out Shelby's blog for the round-up and details on future Family Recipes events.

Sabzi Dhan Shak (Parsi Spicy Squash & Legume Stew)
Adapted from Julie Sahni, Classic Indian Vegetarian And Grain Cooking and The Spiced Life Blog

This is not at all a complex recipe, although it does take about 1 1/2 hours (including cooking time) to prepare. However, unlike Western soups and stews, it is built by adding layers--first the legumes are cooked, then the veggies are added, and then last the flavoring ghee is added. So while the directions may look complex, as though you are making 3 different dishes, you really are not.

For the legumes:

3/4 cup yellow split peas
1/4 cup split and skinned yellow mung beans (moong dal)
3/4 cup pink or red lentils
4 1/2 cups water (you could add more if you like stews thinner)
2 T minced ginger
1 T minced garlic
2 t Parsi dhanajeera powder (see below; you could sub garam masala)
1/4 t ground cloves
1 1/2 t turmeric
1 t paprika or cayenne, to heat preference
2 bay leaves (I forgot these to no detriment)
2-8 fresh, hot green chilies, minced (I seeded because of kids)
pinch of salt

For the vegetables

3/4 lb chopped tomatoes (I used ~1 cup halved grape tomatoes)
3/4 lb winter squash or sweet potato (I used 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1" chunks)
2 zucchini (grocery store size), cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes (I omitted)
1 yellow squash (grocery store size), cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes (I omitted)
1 large red onion, cut into thick slices
1 sweet bell pepper, cut into 1 1/2 inch chunks (I used 2- 1 red and 1 yellow)
1 cup frozen or fresh corn kernals
I added about 1 cup frozen peas
2 cups water

For Flavoring Ghee

5 T ghee
1 1/2 t black/brown mustard seeds
2 t cumin seeds
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 T minced garlic
juice of half lemon
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Start the legumes: Put all of the legume ingredients into a large (at least 5 qt, I used 6 qt) pot and bring them to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and briskly simmer, partially covered, until the split peas are fully cooked but not mush. This will take about 35-40 minutes.

Add the vegetables: Add all of the prepped vegetables along with 2 cups of water to the boiling legumes (I missed that at first and thought they cooked separately). Continue to briskly simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes until, until the veggies are fully cooked but still hold their shape (Josie requested softer veggies, so we cooked ours longer). When they are done, turn off the heat and add the flavoring ghee (see next).

Meanwhile, make the flavoring ghee: Measure out the all of the ghee ingredients and have them ready by your cooktop (in separate piles). Heat the ghee in a small frying pan over high heat. When it is very hot, add the mustard seeds and cover with a lid. Let them pop for about 30 seconds or until they slow their popping and then add the cumin seeds. When the cumin begins to darken, add the chopped onion and cook it, stirring, for about 5 minutes, or until it turns brown (mine took longer as I was working from too small of a burner). Add the garlic and let it cook an additional 20 seconds. Add the lemon juice and coriander and immediately pour the contents of the pan into the finished stew. Mix gently to distribute the seasoning. Salt to taste.

Parsi Dhanajeera Masala
Julie Sahni, Classic Indian Vegetarian And Grain Cooking

3/4 cup coriander seeds
2 T cumin seeds
1 1/2 t black/brown mustard seeds
1/2 t fennel seeds
1 T white poppy seeds
1 T black peppercorns
1/2 t whole cloves
3 inch cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
1 T whole green cardamom pods
5 bay leaves
1/4 t saffron threads
1 t freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 225 F. Put everything except the saffron and nutmeg in a large roasting pan and spread them out to make a single layer. Place the pan on the bottom shelf of the oven and roast for 30 minutes or until the spices are lightly browned. Mix and turn occasionally to prevent burning. During the last 5 minutes, add the saffron and nutmeg.

Remove the spices to cool. When they are cool, grind the spices in a spice mill, mortar and pestle or coffee grinder. Store in a cool, dry space up to 3 months.  (Obviously I kept the spices longer than 3 months, and it tasted fine.)