Monday, November 10, 2008

Homemade Bagels

I'm moving overseas in a few months, and found out recently that sadly, bagels are not available in the country I am moving to. Now, I do not eat bagels all that often, but now that I know I will not be able to get them there, it makes me want to eat bagels every day for the rest of my life. Happily, I learned that bagels are not that difficult to make from scratch. I did a search on Chowhound and someone suggested this recipe on a homemade bagel thread from a few years back. I couldn't find bread flour at my local grocery store, so I bought some vital wheat gluten, which increases the protein content of the flour so that the bagels are more chewy.

I used my stand mixer to knead the dough, using the dough hook, since I never seem to get satisfactory results when I try to knead by hand. The recipe calls for 6-8 cups of flour - I started out with 6 cups of all-purpose flour and added another cup while mixing the dough. I probably could have done with less, since my dough was really stiff after I added the additional cup (my stand mixer was starting to overheat, and I was a little worried that I was going to burn out the motor). I added 6 teaspoons of vital wheat gluten (1 teaspoon for each cup of flour - I forgot to add an additional teaspoon when I added more flour, but the bagels turned out fine). I used sugar instead of malt syrup - white sugar for the dough, and brown sugar in the water used for boiling. I just made plain bagels, but you can always add whatever toppings you want.

These bagels turned out great. They were best when they were right out of the oven - nice and crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside. Perfect with a little bit of cream cheese. I stored half of them in a Ziploc bag and half in a brown paper bag overnight - the crust on the bagels in the Ziploc got soft, so the paper bag is the way to go. By the second day the bagels were getting stale - still quite edible but a little too chewy - next time I will freeze half of the bagels right away. I'm quite pleased that now I can have bagels any time I want - now I just need to learn how to make cream cheese. :)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Pizza Sauce from Fresh Tomatoes

I had a bunch of local Roma tomatoes at the end of the harvest season and needed to do something with them. I decided to make homemade pizza sauce. I used the olive oil dough recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day for the pizza dough, which was fabulous and really easy. I found this recipe for the sauce - it was actually kind of hard to find a recipe that did not call for canned tomatoes or tomato puree. I wanted to find a recipe that I could use when we live overseas, where I can't just run over to Walmart for a can of tomatoes.

This sauce was great and pretty easy to make. I used dried oregano because that's all I had, fresh basil from our patio garden, and added salt and pepper to taste at the end. I seeded the tomatoes, but did not bother peeling them, which I liked about this recipe. I used my immersion blender to puree it at the end. My husband was very impressed that you can make good pizza sauce from scratch (goodbye, Walmart pizza sauce! At least when we have good, fresh tomatoes).

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Cranberry-Apple Crisp

My coworker brought in a bucket of apples from her yard a few weeks back. Never one to turn down free local produce, I took a bunch of apples home and figured I would find a use for them. We went to a potluck a few days later so I made this crisp, which was delicious. I still had a bag of cranberries from last Thanksgiving in my freezer, so this was a perfect recipe to use those up.

I made a few adjustments based on reviewer's recommendations - I doubled the topping, halved the cranberries, and doubled the apples. I also added a teaspoon of cinnamon to the topping mixture, and used water instead of cider since I didn't have any cider on hand.

This was delicious. I thought doubling the topping was a little much, though my topping-loving husband thought it was just perfect. Doubling the topping also made it a little too sweet for my taste. I think next time I would use 1 1/2 times the topping rather than doubling it. Other than that, I thought this was excellent, and it went really well with whipped topping or vanilla ice cream.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Wrigley Field-esque Frosty Malt

I have blogged before about my longing for the frozen chocolate malts that you get at Wrigley Field. My first attempt earlier this year was quite disappointing, so I hadn't tried again since then. Now that it's Cubs season again, I decided to give it another try, and found this recipe from Cooking Light. I had to make quite a few modifications to get it right, but I think I've gotten pretty close. The first time I made it, I used water as the recipe instructed, but this makes the end product as hard as a rock, rendering it impenetrable to the requisite wooden spoon (we didn't even try to use wooden spoons the first time). The second time I used all milk, and the consistency is perfect. I used quite a bit less cocoa powder too - with the amount in the original recipe, the frozen malt comes out way too dark and chocolatey - for you Cubs fans, as you know, the real thing is just the palest shade of brown, and the chocolate flavor is there but not overwhelming.

I made so many modifications that I feel like I can consider this my own recipe. Now, I have not had the real thing at the ballpark in over a year, so this may not be an exact replica. I do think the color and texture are very close, and the taste is pretty darn good. You can find malt powder in the coffee and tea section of your grocery store. I used my ice cream maker, but if you don't have one - well, you should get one. But if you want to try to make it without one, David Lebovitz has instructions on his website on how to make ice cream without a machine.

Here it is, fellow Cubs fans!

4 1/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa (I used Nestle)
2/3 cup malt powder (I used the Carnation brand - Horlicks is another good brand. Do not use Ovaltine!)

Whisk together 1 cup of the milk, the sugar, and the cocoa in a large saucepan. Heat the mixture, whisking frequently, until hot but not boiling. Add the malt powder and the remaining milk and whisk until thoroughly blended.

Cover and chill in the refrigerator. Pour mixture into the freezer can of an ice-cream freezer; freeze according to manufacturer's instructions.

When I made this, I was a little dismayed that there was still a bit of liquid in my ice cream maker after it was all churned - I guess because the recipe makes a little more than my canister can handle. However once this goes in the freezer for a night, everything solidifies and all is well. And then you have plenty of frozen chocolate goodness to enjoy. Because there is no cream in this recipe, it does come out fairly hard when you first take it out of the freezer - it helps to let it sit on the counter for 5-10 minutes prior to serving. Feel free to serve in paper cups with wooden spoons if you like!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Five-Minute Artisan Bread

I have had a love-hate relationship with homemade bread over the years. I love the taste of homemade bread, but I hate kneading. I just can't get it right. I have tried using a breadmaker, and also the dough hook on my stand mixer, to avoid the whole kneading problem - but I just haven't been able to make bread with the texture that I want.

Then I found this recipe online. Fancy looking bread that you don't have to knead - really? Am I dreaming? I had to try it. The recipe looked pretty easy, and reviews online made it sound like you couldn't mess it up. I tried it for the first time last week. One word: wonderful. This bread is so easy to make, and it is delicious. Baking it on a pizza stone gives it a lovely crust. We were very happy with the flavor. I love that you make a big batch and just store it in your fridge for whenever you want fresh bread. We had our second loaf tonight, and it was even better than the first. The flavor changes a little over time, becoming more sourdough-like the longer it sits in the fridge.

One tip that I have found helpful - since the dough is pretty wet, it can be difficult to transfer to the baking stone. I don't have a pizza peel, so I just put a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet and put my dough on there to rest. When it's time to put the bread in the oven, I slide the dough and the parchment paper onto the stone. I let the bread bake for three minutes, then open the oven and pull the parchment paper out from underneath the bread.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Chocolate Fondue

My husband and I got a fondue pot as a gift when we got married five-plus years ago. We used it a few times during our first few years of marriage, but then it just sat in the cupboard collecting dust for a while. Until we discovered a few weeks ago how incredibly easy it is to make chocolate fondue. Since then we have had it whenever we have guests over! The recipe we found takes only a few minutes to make, and you just zap it in the microwave and then transfer it to your fondue pot. You really don't even need to use a fondue pot for this, if you are going to eat it right away. We skip the wine, so this fondue only has four ingredients - cream, bittersweet chocolate (we just use Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips), butter, and sugar. We have dipped angel food cake, strawberries, and bananas in it, all of which are very good. This is a great dessert for entertaining - it looks so fancy, but it takes less than five minutes to make.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Baked Northern Pike

My husband went on a fishing trip to Canada a couple months ago, and brought back some walleye and northern pike filets so that I could vicariously experience a part of his trip. I have never had northern pike before, and had no idea how to cook them - and my usual dependable recipe websites did not have any recipes for them. So I took a gamble and Googled for recipes. I decided to go with something simple - I figured that if this fish tasted as good as my husband says it does, then it shouldn't need much to dress it up. I found this simple recipe for baked pike on a fishing in Canada website. There are several recipes on the page I have linked to - I used the last one. I guess soaking the filets in milk helps make the fish less oily, or so I've read.

This was very easy, and the results were great. The simplicity of the ingredients allowed the flavor of the pike to shine through (I don't really like battered, fried fish much for that reason - the coating and the oil usually make it so that you can't really tell what the fish really tastes like) (not that I don't like the taste, but I can't tell walleye from cod or perch when it's cooked like that). I served this with white rice and fresh green beans. A nice, quick meal with simple, delicious flavors. We still have four pike filets in the freezer, and I think I know how I will make them the next time....

Friday, August 15, 2008

Phyllo-Wrapped Salmon with Leeks and Red Bell Pepper

Would you believe that I had all the ingredients for this in my kitchen? I guess that marks me as a total foodie. I have had some salmon filets sitting in my freezer for a while. I also got leeks in my CSA basket, and a search on Epicurious came up with this fabulous recipe. This could easily be served at a fancy romantic restaurant for much more than the ingredients cost. The flavors and textures melded beautifully, and the phyllo packets make for a classy presentation.

I was just making this for the two of us for dinner, so I halved the red pepper and leek mixture. Since I have baked with phyllo before, it wasn't nearly as intimidating to work with those thin sheets as it used to be. I served this with wild rice, and corn on the cob because that's what we had. I think this would go well with asparagus or a salad of field greens instead. This is now one of my favorite ways to prepare salmon.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Peanut Butter Crisscrosses

I was in the mood to bake cookies this weekend. I haven't made peanut butter cookies in my adult lifetime, but when I found this recipe from Dorie Greenspan, suddenly I had this overpowering desire for peanut butter cookies. I followed the recipe exactly, using creamy peanut butter. I was able to get 4 dozen cookies, plus enough dough left over to please my dough-eating, lack-of-Salmonella-fearing husband.

If you grew up eating peanut butter cookies you will love these. They are exactly what a peanut butter cookie should taste like - a little crunchy, but a little chewy on the inside. And of course they have the obligatory crisscross pattern on the tops of them. Somehow that makes them taste better.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

I know for the uninitiated this cake doesn't sound that appealing. Chocolate and zucchini sound like two foods that should never go together, but in reality they make a really delicious cake. Our friend gave us some zucchini from her garden and I needed to use it for something. We were going to a party and needed to bring a dish, so I decided to try this cake out on some unsuspecting party-goers. I found this recipe (appropriately) on the Chocolate & Zucchini blog. I used Droste cocoa powder (available at gourmet grocery stores, and better than the Nestle or Hershey's stuff), and used Tollhouse semisweet chocolate chips. I didn't have a 3 quart springform pan (which is a 10" pan for those of us in America), so I used my 9" springform pan which worked out fine.

This is one fabulous cake. You can't even tell that there is zucchini in it. The zucchini just makes the cake extremely moist. Now, I'm not going to kid myself and say that this cake is good for you just because there are vegetables in it. There is still a stick of butter, a cup of sugar, and several eggs in it. But it is a lot lighter than some of the other chocolate desserts I have made, and still very chocolatey. Next time (and there will be a next time) I'll try bittersweet chocolate chips instead to make the flavor a little richer. (I like my chocolate cakes rich). My brown sugar topping got a little burnt, so I might skip that and just use hazelnuts only or skip that and just dust the top with powdered sugar.

Luckily, we had to leave the party early before too many people had gotten dessert, so we got to take a lot of the cake home and enjoy it for ourselves. Some might say that's selfish, but I would call it being smart, wouldn't you? :)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Penne With Zucchini and Basil

If there's one vegetable that we almost always have in our refrigerator in the summer, it's zucchini. We get zucchini or yellow squash in our CSA basket most weeks now, and we also got a few zucchini from a friend who has an abundance of them growing in her garden. I found this recipe for a quick weeknight dinner this week. I used penne because that's what I had on hand. I used three medium sized zucchini, but really should have used four. I also only used one cup of fresh basil, since that's all I had in my garden (my basil plants are still teeny). We just used Parmesan cheese in a bottle - cheap, and yes, not as good as the freshly grated stuff, but I am not that picky about the type of cheese we use and don't want to spend a lot of money on cheese.

This was a great, easy weeknight dinner. The fresh basil really makes this dish - it would have been nice to use more of it if I could!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Rosemary Garlic Roasted Potatoes

We got two new items in our CSA basket recently: fresh rosemary, and a variety of small potatoes. Now I know potatoes do not sound new and exciting, but they gave us an assortment of white, red, and purple potatoes - I have never seen purple potatoes before so this was a fun little treat. I have made this recipe before, but was not wowed by it - but now that I had fresh rosemary I figured I would try it again.

This time I was wowed. Fresh rosemary makes all the difference. The first time I made it I used dried rosemary - the dried leaves are so firm that you feel like you are biting into little twigs. The flavor is also different when it is dried. I loved these potatoes, and would definitely make them again. This was also really easy - you cut up potatoes and garlic, chop up the rosemary, drizzle with olive oil, add salt and pepper, and roast them! This is my new favorite way to make potatoes.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Unstuffed Cabbage Roll Casserole

I'm taking the next step in learning how to cook - limiting myself to cooking with only what I have on hand in my kitchen. This is born partially out of my desire to simplify my cooking and my life, and partially out of gas being $4 a gallon and not wanting to make special trips to the grocery store.

We got a head of cabbage in our CSA basket a couple weeks ago. I have never cooked with plain cabbage (I have used Napa cabbage before though), so this also sat in my fridge for a while as I tried to figure out what to do with it. I found this recipe and it fit the bill. I do like cabbage rolls - my parents used to make them when I was younger - so the fact that this was a "lazy man's version" was very appealing. I had some ground turkey and ground beef leftover from recipes gone by in the freezer, so I mixed those together to brown. I doubled the vinegar and brown sugar to give it a little more flavor. I didn't have crushed tomatoes, so I used a can of whole tomatoes that I cut up, and a can of diced tomatoes. Instead of garlic powder I sauteed a clove of garlic and threw that in.

This was good, for cabbage. I wouldn't go out and buy a cabbage just to make this recipe, but if I found myself in possession of another cabbage, I would make this again. I think I overcooked the cabbage, and it was a little too wilted. I think if the cabbage was more firm I would have liked this more. The caraway seeds definitely give this that "cabbage roll" taste - the flavor took me back to my parent's kitchen. So - for those of you who like cabbage rolls, this is a nice way to enjoy the flavor with much less of the work.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Spaghetti with Sauteed Kale, Walnuts, and Garlic Scapes

In our last CSA basket we got two things I have never eaten or cooked before: kale and garlic scapes. I had never even heard of scapes before so I had no idea how to use them. Apparently they are the little green shoots that come up before the garlic bulb develops cloves, and you can chop them off and eat them. Kale is a dark leafy green vegetable (i.e., really really good for you). They all kind of sat in my fridge for a little while as I tried to find some recipe to try them in.

I just love the Web. I did a search on scapes to figure out how to use them, and not only did this recipe call for scapes, but wouldn't you know it, calls for kale too. Now, cooking a recipe off of a random blog is a little out of my comfort zone (no ratings, no comments by seasoned cooks... a little more of a gamble than cooking off of Epicurious or Food Network. Kind of like cooking from a cookbook.) (Did I just give away what generation I am from?). But sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind.

To my delight, this was actually quite delicious. I found the recipe a little hard to follow (starting on low heat, then going to medium, then going to low again seemed a little unnecessary). I ended up sauteing the scapes and garlic on medium heat, then I added the kale and left it on medium for a few minutes. When the kale started getting a little tender I decreased the heat to medium-low. I wasn't really sure when the kale was officially done, so I just let it get tender and tasted it. I would have never thought of adding toasted walnuts and leafy green vegetables to spaghetti, but the mix of flavors in this recipe complemented one another. I would happily make this again (and my husband would happily eat it). You could probably substitute shallots, garlic or scallions for the scapes if they are not available.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

My old college roomie graciously shared this cookie recipe with me after reading my lament about my lack of cookie-baking prowess. She makes this cookie all the time and seemed pretty confident that I would adore it. Now, I trust this friend, more so than some random blogger who recommends a recipe to me, so I rushed to the kitchen (okay, I thought about rushing to the kitchen, then made the cookie a week or two later).

My first attempt to make this cookie was a little bit disappointing. The original recipe says to bake the cookies for 20-25 minutes. I baked mine for about 19-20 minutes and they came out a little too crispy and dry. I know everyone has their cookie consistency preferences (chewy/crispy/cakey/raw/etc.), but I prefer chewy. Of course, that didn't stop me from eating all of the cookies. Oh, just kidding, not all of them. I let my husband have a few.

Now usually when I try a recipe once and it doesn't knock my socks off, I don't make it again. But like I said, I trust this friend and her judgment. If the cookie didn't come out as I had hoped, it was probably my fault and not the recipe. So I tried it again - this time letting the butter soften a little more, and cooking them for 15-16 minutes (just long enough for the edges to brown a little). The first sheet spread a little too much, so I put the rest of them in the fridge for 5-10 minutes before they went in the oven. I also just baked one sheet at a time (the first time I baked two sheets at once and rotated them halfway), and made the cookies a little bigger than I did the first time.

The result? Oh so chewy and delicious. I'm glad I didn't give up on this one. The cookies are substantial given all the oatmeal in them. They make a perfect dessert or afternoon snack. The first time I made them, they were still good 4-5 days later (and actually had softened up a bit), so they last a fair amount of time. So to my roomie - thanks for the recipe! I owe you one.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Spaghetti with Broccoli and Garlic

Sometimes you just want a simple meal. I lack simple meals in my culinary repertoire. I usually like a challenge in the kitchen and learning new things - but there are some nights when you just want something easy that is healthy and tastes good. There are also some nights when you have a head of broccoli in your fridge from your CSA and need to figure out some way to use it. Well, if you are in similar straits, I have just the thing for you - Spaghetti with Broccoli and Garlic. (Doesn't it seem fancier than it really is when you capitalize the nouns? I think so.)

I've never had broccoli rabe which is what the recipe calls for, but I think you can reasonably substitute regular broccoli (you will just have a milder flavor and more florets than leaves). Well even if you can't, we did, and it turned out just fine. I only used 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes, because our tastebuds are wimpy. Next time I would use a 1/2 teaspoon. I also used less olive oil, as 1/2 cup just seemed excessive. This was a great, easy one-pot meal. My husband helped me, so it was on the table in about 20 minutes. (He boiled the water and put the spaghetti in the pot. I know that does not seem like a great amount of help, but I am terrible at measuring out spaghetti and never make enough - so I prefer to let him do that step and that way I don't get scolded when we don't have enough spaghetti.) I'll make this again when I don't have time to cook something more elaborate. I like having pasta recipes that don't require a tomato sauce - it's nice to have a little variety.

Panfried Tofu with Asian Caramel Sauce

I am always looking for new ways to cook tofu - we like the taste and are both vegetarian sympathizers (we prefer eating vegetarian meals, but I will never turn a good steak down). I found this recipe and was intrigued by the prospect of making caramel sauce. I have only made caramel once - when I made praline for Thanksgiving and kind of burned it - but I was armed with experience this time and knew to watch the sugar more closely.

If you have never had Vietnamese-style caramel sauce, here is your chance. It is not anything like candy caramel, if you are concerned about that. It is a nice mix of sweet and savory. I didn't have shallots so I substituted the white parts of scallions, which turned out just fine. I skipped the fried shallots/scallions and didn't miss them. I also skipped the fresh basil and mint - I usually have those growing out on my patio, but I got lazy this year. I steamed the bok choy for about five minutes. I have always wanted a steamer but have never gotten around to buying one - then I read a tip online to just use a metal strainer over a pot of water - why didn't I think of that? Well, whoever did - genius! Thanks for saving me money.

We both really enjoyed the flavor of this dish. The bok choy goes wonderfully with the tofu and sauce - I have never made bok choy but I love the flavor. I would make this again, but unfortunately the recipe failed the dishes test. There were too many pots and pans that my husband had to clean, and he was not that thrilled with that. One pot for the sauce, one pot for the bok choy, and two skillets for the tofu (I don't have one that's big enough for all the slices). And of course a chopping board or two. So - when we live overseas and have a househelper to clean our dishes, yes, I would make this one again. Until then I think my hubby would prefer my one-pot meals.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Peach Strawberry Smoothie

Hot days just make you want a smoothie. I have not had much luck making smoothies at home - they seem easy enough to make, but for some reason I could never make one that I was really satisfied with. My husband thought it was silly that I would look for smoothie recipes online ("Just take some fruit and yogurt and throw it in the blender Ruth"), but I didn't want to waste good fruit on a so-so smoothie.

I bought peaches and strawberries from the farmers market yesterday (from South Carolina, so at least they were kind of local...) and wanted to make a good smoothie out of them. I found this recipe that is so simple, yet made an excellent smoothie. Previously I had been using fruit, ice, and yogurt to get the texture that I wanted, but the smoothie always tasted diluted. I want my smoothies to burst with fruit flavor. Then I found this recipe and I realized - duh! Frozen fruit. I could achieve the consistency and coldness that I wanted if I just used frozen fruit. So I cut up a cup of strawberries and a peach, froze them for an hour, and then blended them with some soy milk and some vanilla extract. Delish! I've found what I have been looking for in a smoothie recipe. We always have soy milk and vanilla, so I don't have to buy any extra ingredients when I'm hankering for a smoothie. The freezing the fruit thing does require a little planning, but worth it to avoid adding ice and getting a more intense fruit flavor.

Tip: One kitchen item that I love having, especially for smoothies, is a stick (handheld) blender. I got one for Christmas and I love it. It's so easy to use, and you can make smoothies quickly and with little effort. I have one that comes with a beater attachment and a food processor attachment, and also used it this weekend to make homemade whipped cream and to chop up fresh cranberries for scones. I highly recommend one if you use a blender, hand mixer, and/or food processor on a regular basis.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Mozzarella, Tomato and Basil Salad

When we were on vacation in Colorado, one of our friends made this delicious appetizer. The other name for it is Insalata Caprese, and it is a classic dish from the Italian region of Campania (thanks Wikipedia). We loved it and it is a very easy, yet elegant dish to serve. Here is a paraphrased recipe:

Fresh mozzarella
Tomatoes (I used grape tomatoes. You can also use cherry tomatoes, or sliced tomatoes)
Fresh basil
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

Put the mozzarella and the tomatoes in a serving dish. Cut the basil up (I stacked the leaves, rolled them up, and then cut them into slivers), and sprinkle the basil on top of the mozzarella and tomatoes. Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar on top. I mixed it all up at this point to evenly disperse the oil and vinegar. Viola! You are done.

I brought this to an Italian themed potluck tonight and people raved. And it only took me about 5-10 minutes to make this! We served it with slices of French baguette but you could eat this by itself too. You can also thread them onto toothpicks, but that takes too much work in my opinion. This is a great, easy dish you can quickly throw together for a party, and people think you are a fabulous cook because of it.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Key Lime Pie and Key Lime Pie Ice Cream

I've made key lime pie a ton of times, but have never blogged about it. It's one of the easiest desserts I've made, and this recipe makes a pie very similar to what I've eaten when I've been in Florida, the famed birthplace of the key lime pie. The recipe tells you to make your own graham cracker crust, but I just use a store-bought crust. I use bottled key lime juice (I use the Nellie and Joe's brand, which you can get at some grocery stores). I've tried making it with real key limes, but squeezing all those tiny limes made my hand hurt, and the pie didn't taste any better than it does with bottle juice. I'm all for making things from scratch if it makes things taste better, but if it doesn't, well, my mother didn't raise a fool. I've also tried making it with Persian limes (the regular limes you find at the grocery store) - do not do this. It's a totally different taste and not nearly as tart. I also just use Reddi-Wip (the generic version of course, because even though I'm a foodie, I am still cheap) instead of whipping my own whipped cream, because that's what I'm used to having on my key lime pies. This makes a nice, tart pie. Cut back on the juice if you don't want it as tart, or just add more whipped cream on top.

I had to use up all my key lime juice, so I decided to try this new ice cream recipe I found. It was great when it was right out of the ice cream maker and was still soft, and my husband immediately declared that it was the best ice cream I've ever made. However, the next day it was not nearly as stupendous. The texture was kind of icy and gritty... the flavor was good but I could not get past the texture. It was kind of a let down, as I was really looking forward to homemade key lime pie ice cream. Maybe this recipe would be better with more cream and less milk, or throwing some eggs in there. Or maybe I should just make key lime pie and just freeze it. Oh well. I will keep experimenting.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Best Cocoa Brownies

I was in the mood for brownies the other day. I find brownies to be a little easier to make successfully than cookies. I can buy a better cookie than I can make. But I can make good brownies pretty easily. I have been meaning to try this recipe for a while and finally had a good cocoa powder to make them with. These were great - very rich and chocolately. I have been disappointed so many times with chocolate cake and brownies that look really chocolately, but when you bite in there is almost no chocolate flavor. If I wanted brown cake, I would order brown cake, not chocolate cake. These brownies, however, will not disappoint. I didn't get a candylike crust like the recipe described, but I did get some really good brownies. Yum.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Cheesy Potato Soup

I've taken the next step in learning how to cook - I made up a recipe today. Well, okay, this soup recipe is not completely original - I looked at a few recipes and got some ideas for a base for it - but it's different enough from the ones I looked at that I feel I can say this one is my own. We had this for dinner tonight. I haven't gone grocery shopping yet this week, so I just used what I had on hand. We thought this was pretty good. It is a nice, creamy, comforting soup for a cold day. I added two secret ingredients - Louisiana hot sauce and a little Worcestershire sauce - and they added some depth of flavor without being too prominent.

1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp butter
5 medium potatoes, diced
1 1/2 cups water
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2-3 tsp Louisiana hot sauce
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Saute onion and garlic until onion is transparent. Add potatoes, water, and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes until potatoes are tender. Add milk and flour and increase heat to medium. Heat until starting to bubble and thicken. Mix in cheddar cheese until melted. Add hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. Makes 2-3 servings as a main course.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Roasted Asparagus

Roasted asparagus doesn't really go with arroz caldo, but I bought some asparagus on a whim this week and what better day to eat it than yesterday? I followed a recipe in the Joy of Cooking. Roasting the asparagus on high heat gives it a delicate flavor. My hubby said that the heads tasted like pumpkin seeds (which was a good thing). I'll make this my go-to asparagus recipe. Here it is, paraphrased:

1 pound of asparagus
Olive oil
Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Trim the ends of the asparagus. Place in a shallow baking pan in one layer. Drizzle olive oil onto the spears. Roast for 8-10 minutes, until they are getting tender but still a little firm. Transfer to serving dish and season with salt and pepper. Top with a little Parmesan cheese.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

One-Step Lasagna with Basil

Last week was "Use Up All The Ingredients In The Kitchen Week". One such an ingredient was ground beef. I had a couple pounds of ground beef in my freezer from when I made sloppy joe's for a work potluck, which was many moons ago. I found this recipe for lasagna and thought this was a perfect way to use up that brick of ground beef that was taking up room in my little freezer. I skipped the Italian sausage and just used all ground beef, and used Walmart brand spaghetti sauce, which we like just fine. I also threw in some oregano, marjoram, salt and pepper while I sauteed the beef. I thought this was pretty good, but a little too meaty for us. Maybe if I had used Italian sausage I would have liked it more. For ease of preparation, though, this recipe cannot be beat. This was a lot simpler to make than my usual butternut squash lasagna (which is delicious but very labor intensive).

I would use this recipe again, but maybe cut back on the meat (this is just personal preference since we are not big meat eaters). I would also try adding spinach or some other veggies just for variety.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Super Bowl Sunday

This year's Super Bowl wasn't quite as exciting for me as last year's since the Bears weren't in it, but we still had fun having people over and eating a lot of food. This year we had about twenty people over, some of those being kids. I made way too much food, but now I have lots to eat this week. Next time I'm going to let other people bring more, and I'll scale back a bit. You know, the problem with preparing for a Super Bowl party is that there's no time to relax afterwards. You spend all weekend in the kitchen, have your party, clean up, and then it's back to work the next day. At least with Thanksgiving I had three days to recover!

All in all we had a great time. Here was the line-up:

Buffalo Wings
I made these last year, and they were so good that they deserved repeating. I made about six pounds of wings and made 1 1/2 times the sauce. These were eaten up and I only had about eight wings left at the end of the party. I served them with blue cheese dressing. Just like Hooters wings, but without the degradation of women.
Sweet Chili-Glazed Chicken Wings
I made these last year also, but this time I cooked them in my roasting pan with the wire rack so they didn't get soggy. I baked them for 30 minutes, then broiled them for a few minutes just to get them a little crispy. I left out the chili-garlic sauce and most of the crushed red pepper since kids would be eating them.
New England Clam Chowder
I was rooting for the Giants but I still liked the idea of making this to go along with the New England Patriots. This clam chowder was delicious - thinner than I'm used to, but what flavor! This was an excellent recipe, especially given that it calls for canned clams and bottled clam juice! Unfortunately, I discovered that chowder is just not a popular Super Bowl food. Most people went for the wings and other things that could be picked up and eaten with their hands. But I would definitely make this one again, for ourselves or for company. I used 1/2 cups of flour, and added the reserved clam juice at the end so that I could control how thin it would end up - otherwise I followed the recipe exactly.
Deviled Eggs
Same recipe as last year, always a crowd pleaser. No matter what fancy appetizers you make for a party, deviled eggs are always the first to go.
I stuck with Alton Brown's recipe that I used last year, but doubled it this time. We had a lot left over - we didn't have as many guacamole fans as we thought we would. My avocados were not the best, but this was still very good.
Hummus and Pita Chips
I've made this hummus before and blogged about it here. Very good, but didn't get eaten much at the party, likely because I had way too much food out there. Well, that just goes to show you that I'm a good Filipino. Better to have too much food at a party than not enough! That would be a Filipino host's worst nightmare.
Veggie Tray
I did the same as I did last year, and made my own tray of baby carrots, grape tomatoes, and celery sticks. I made Ranch dip using a Hidden Valley ranch dressing packet and a 16 oz. tub of sour cream.
Believe it or not, this may have been the most popular item on the buffet line. Kids love grapes. And when you are full but want to keep eating, a handful of grapes goes down pretty easy. I had a large bowl full of red and green grapes. My husband was sure to cut up the bunches so that guests could grab a handful easily.
Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch
I follow David Lebovitz's blog, and was excited to see this recipe this past week. His pictures on his blog just made it look so delicious! This was pretty good, but not knock-my-socks-off. I think it would be better if I had some sea salt sprinkled on top of them like he suggests. This is not very difficult to make, so if you happen to have matzoh crackers laying around, this is a good use for them.
Cinnamon-Scented Devil's Food Cupcakes
I think I have a standard rotation now for the Super Bowl - wings, guacamole, deviled eggs, and cupcakes. These are my building blocks. I made a different type of cupcake this year. I've had this one bookmarked for years, and finally tried it this weekend. I didn't want to use all of my precious Droste cocoa powder (that I had to buy in Wisconsin because they don't sell good cocoa powder in east Tennessee!), so I used half Nestle's and half Droste. I colored the frosting so that 1/3 of the cupcakes had white frosting, 1/3 had red, and 1/3 had blue (since those were the colors for both teams). I used regular cupcake liners instead of panettone molds, and ended up with about 45 cupcakes. These were excellent cupcakes - moist, rich cake, and the frosting has a subtle almond flavor. These were a lot of work, but I've realized that all cupcakes made from scratch are a lot of work. For special occasions they are worth it!

Some of my guests also brought a spinach dip with crackers, chocolate chip cookies, and another veggie tray. Needless to say, we all left with full bellies and happy hearts, celebrating the Giants win and enjoying some good party food.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Horchata Cupcakes

Since I had made horchata already, and I needed something to bring to a Mexican themed potluck that night, I made horchata cupcakes. I found this recipe online while searching for an horchata recipe and was intrigued. I love horchata... I love cupcakes... this made sense to make them. I just took some of the horchata that I made (after blending it but before diluting it and adding sugar) and used it in this recipe.

The cupcakes themselves are fairly easy to make if you already have horchata made. These cupcakes had a subtle horchata flavor (I don't know if you could tell what they were unless you were told... especially since horchata isn't an everyday flavor). I was disappointed in the frosting - you couldn't really taste the horchata, and you tasted the butter too much. I had to add more and more powdered sugar to get rid of the overwhelming butter taste.

I can't say that I'll be making these again. These cupcakes were good, but not fabulous, and when you already have a fabulous cupcake recipe why reinvent the wheel?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


I can remember the first time I had horchata. I was in medical school and went to a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant on the west side of Chicago with a friend for lunch. She ordered horchata, and I had never heard of it. I went ahead and got one too, and I was pleasantly surprised at how delicious it was. Horchata is a traditional Mexican drink made of rice, sugar, and water. This weekend I was hankering for horchata, and had some time on my hands, so I decided to make it.

Making horchata from scratch, I discovered, is a long, drawn-out process. First, you have to pulverize rice into a fine powder. Based on the recipes online that I found, the best way to do this is using a spice or coffee grinder, neither of which I own. One recipe said to use a food processor, so I pulled out the Cuisinart and processed the heck out of one cup of rice. It took a long time and was very noisy, and didn't get all the rice totally ground. Then you put the rice into a bowl with water, almonds, and cinnamon and let it soak for six hours. After that you blend it again, and then strain it with cheesecloth.

So much work. Was it worth it? Of course. I learned from it, and satisfied my inner desire to make horchata from scratch. Would I do it again? Well, if I have a Mexican restaurant close by where I could just go and buy horchata, then no. Plus my husband didn't really like it, so unless I was with someone who loved horchata and really wanted to have some, I probably won't make it again. I thought the final product was pretty tasty though.

Oh another thing. I didn't realize almonds were so expensive. Two cups of almonds cost me about seven dollars! That makes this drink a little cost-prohibitive. I'll need to search around for an horchata recipe that doesn't call for almonds. I could also try substituting almond extract.

I found a few recipes and adapted them to my liking. Here it is. It's pretty close to the Gale Gand recipe, but maybe next time I would try the Rick Bayless version.


1 cup long grain white rice
2 cups skinless almonds
2-inch piece cinnamon bark
7 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Ice cubes

Wash and drain the rice. Using a food processor or spice grinder, grind the rice until fine; combine with the almonds and cinnamon bark. Add 3 1/2 cups water and let sit overnight, covered. Blend rice mixture until smooth using a blender. Add 2 1/2 cups of water and continue blending. Add sugar and vanilla extract. Strain horchata into a bowl first using a metal strainer and then a double layer of cheesecloth; finish with up to an additional 1 cups of water until it achieves a milky consistency. Enjoy over ice.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Malted Milk Chocolate Ice Cream

One of my favorite things about going to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field (yes, more than actually watching the game) is getting a frozen chocolate malt and eating it with a wooden spoon. Ever since I started making homemade ice cream, I have wanted to recreate that dessert. This was my first attempt. I looked online and found this recipe on the Desert Candy blog - I think what got me was the pictures of it. It looks just like the stuff at Wrigley! Alas, it didn't quite recreate the taste I was going for. I think a lot of it had to do with ingredients - the only cocoa powder I had was Nestle and Hershey's, neither of which are very good cocoa powders. I used the Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa - which is way too dark. Instead of a pleasant, light brown color, my ice cream ended up very dark brown. I know that doesn't affect the taste, but it affected the entire experience of the ice cream for me... so in a way it did affect the taste. Anyway, I also didn't have any milk chocolate so I used bittersweet chocolate instead. The taste of this ice cream was okay, but not great, and nothing like what I taste when I put that little wooden spoon into that frosty paper cup of goodness at Wrigley Field. I may try this again now that I have better quality cocoa powder (Droste) and some Green & Black milk chocolate.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Chipotle-Black Bean Burritos and Spanish Rice

Here's another one I found when I was looking for good vegetarian meals to make. I like black beans... I like burritos... so this recipe made sense to try. I picked up some Pace chipotle salsa from my grocery store to use for this recipe. I know bottled salsa is not that great, but I live in east Tennessee and I'm pretty sure I would not find good chipotle salsa anywhere (unless I made it myself, which I didn't have the time or the gumption to do). I thought the filling for these burritos was just ok. I am sure that it had to do with the quality of my salsa (the rest of the filling is black beans, corn, sauteed onions, and chili powder... what's not to like?). The avocado-salsa mixture was pretty good, but again, I think it would have been even better with a good fresh salsa. Well I don't think I'll make this one again unless I can get my hands on a good tasting chipotle salsa.

I also made a side of Spanish rice to go with the burritos. I found a recipe on the Simply Recipes blog - a site I've heard good things about, but I've never made anything from her blog. This was good, not amazing, but a good side dish. I used Better than Boullion instead of chicken stock, so that probably had something to do with it. I've never browned uncooked rice before (we Asians don't do fancy things to our rice like that), so that was an entirely new experience. Not life-changing or anything, but a little bit paradigm-shifting.

So... moral of the story? Use good ingredients. The end product will only be as good as your ingredients that you start with. The end.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Lentil Stew With Spinach and Potatoes

I am trying to expand my vegetarian repertoire. I found this one while searching for vegetarian main courses on Epicurious. We really like lentils, and they are a great source of protein. I didn't have vegetable broth, so I substituted chicken Better than Boullion - otherwise I followed the recipe. This was pretty good, a very hearty stew for being meatless. I thought it was a little too minty - mint was definitely the dominant flavor, and I would have liked to taste the lentils a little bit more. I will probably make this again sometime when I feel like I need some protein but don't want meat.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Arroz Caldo

Part two in reclaiming my Filipino culinary roots. I was home for the holidays and my dad made arroz caldo one night. I had not had my dad's arroz caldo in a long time, and it was so delicious and comforting. Arroz caldo is the ultimate Filipino comfort food - it is basically a thick, creamy chicken and rice soup. My dad gave me a Filipino cookbook while I was home, so I used its arroz caldo recipe tonight. I used chicken thighs and just cut them up into smaller pieces. My dad adds chicken bouillon, so I used that tonight too.

Arroz Caldo

1 1/2 pounds chicken, cut up into serving pieces
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp fresh ginger, sliced thin
2 tbsp fish sauce (patis) - I use the Three Crabs brand
1 to 1 1/2 cups rice
6-7 cups water
2 tsp chicken boullion (or 2 cubes)
Chopped green onions (optional)
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, and saute the garlic until lightly browned. Add the onion and ginger and saute for another 3-4 minutes. Add the chicken and fish sauce and cook for a few minutes. Add the rice, water, and bouillon. Season with little salt and pepper. Simmer over medium-low heat for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Continue cooking until the rice is cooked through and has reached the desired consistency (we like it thick). Adjust salt, pepper, and fish sauce to your liking. Garnish with green onions if desired.

Friday, January 4, 2008


We had a South Asian themed dinner one night, and my husband wanted to make naan. Naan is an Indian flatbread and is mighty tasty. We found this recipe and tried it. The ingredients are simple enough, but I am just not a big fan of kneading dough and I am never sure if I have kneaded enough or too much. Yes, I know about the gluten window, but it still doesn't give me much reassurance even when I get the window. I just need to get to know someone who makes a lot of homemade bread and I can learn from them.

Anyway, this turned out pretty good. I thought this naan was a little sweet though, which is not a flavor I am used to tasting in naan. My sister-in-law thought it tasted like Auntie Annie's pretzels - which is a good flavor, but not what I was going for. Regardless, all present really liked it and polished them off. I might try this again but with less sugar.