24 December 2011

Steak & Potatoes

Every once in a while I feel a need to impress with something incredibly tasty yet simple. "Simple" means few ingredients and minimal prep time, and by "impress" I mean all pieces can be put out to eat at the same time while hot, and I can still talk while putting it all together. Because some nights, just chilling out maxing, relaxing all cool with someone over a killer meal and a few glasses [sic] of pinot noir (btw, thanks Charlie and Jenny for that bottle of La Crema!) is the best gift of all.
Notes on short cuts and timing:
1) I got the small bag of prepped green beans from Wegmans -- the kind where all you have to do is microwave them to steam them. Major time saver right there. 
2) Put the cast iron skillet onto the bottom rack of the oven so you can preheat that while the potatoes roast. 
3) Also, put the steak out while that's happening so it can come up to room temperature while the potatoes roast. 
4) Start cooking the steak when there's 10 minutes left on the potatoes, because...
5) After the steak is done, you need to rest it for 5ish minutes. While the steak rests, prepare the green beans. 
6) Take the taters out, season the beans, and serve the steak all at the same time!

Roasted Potatoes

1 lb red potatoes, cubed so pieces are about the same size (i like 1-2 bite size pieces) 
1 tbsp canola oil
about 1 tbsp Montreal steak seasoning, or enough to lightly coat the potatoes

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil (so you don't have to clean the pan later). Arrange the potatoes on it in a single layer, and drizzle with the canola oil. Make sure that they're evenly coated with the oil - you may need to use your hands. Sprinkle with the steak seasoning and just a LITTLE more salt (there's salt in the steak seasoning). Place in oven and roast for about 30 minutes, stirring/flipping so it browns evenly every 10 minutes. They're done when they're fork tender. 

Pan Seared Ribeye Steak
adapted from Alton Brown

2 ribeye steaks, about 1-1 1/2" thick
canola oil
Special equipment: cast iron frying pan big enough to hold steaks

(If you followed the hints, the cast iron skillet should already be preheating in the oven and the steaks are at room temperature now.) Take the pan out of the oven and place on the range over high heat. 

Pat the steaks dry with a paper napkin. Brush oil onto each side of the steak. Generously sprinkle with salt and then grind some pepper onto it. 

Place steaks on the skillet and cook for 30 seconds without moving. Use tongs to turn them to the other side and cook another 30 seconds. Put entire pan back into oven and cook for 2 more minutes. Flip one more time and cook 2 more minutes. 

Remove steaks from pan and allow to rest for about 5 minutes for juices to redistribute. 

NOTE: this is for rare-medium rare done-ness, which, btw, is THE way to eat steak. Well done? Hellz no. If you MUST have medium, add 1 more minute on each side when steak is in the oven.

Lemon Parmesan Green Beans

1 small pack of green beans
1/4 lemon
parmesan cheese
few grinds of red pepper flakes (optional)

Steam the green beans according to the package directions. Drain out the water, then place into a bowl. Squeeze the juice of the lemon and add about 1/4 tsp of the zest into the beans. Grate some parmesan cheese -- however much floats your boat. Add a pinch of salt and a few grinds of the red pepper flakes if you like spicy, and toss. 

21 December 2011

scallops au gratin

Christmas is around the corner, yay! My tree is up and pretty. Cookies are baked. Parties are in full swing so I'm seeing lots of friends and family. It really is the most wonderful time of year.

The Christmas party I went to over this past weekend was with The Girls (check out Jenn's blog), and we went for an Italian theme -- Feast of the Seven Fishes. Sure it's normally celebrated on Christmas Eve, but hey we made it work. This time of year is about friends and family being together, right, so got that part down pat! There were mussels and baked salmon and crab dip and ceviche and a shrimp pasta and tons of cookies and desserts. My contribution to this potluck was baked scallops, or scallops au gratin. I saw Ina Garten make it on Food Network once and finally got my chance to make it.
Instead of the bay scallops Ina used, I used giant (10 per pound count) sea scallops. I didn't write down the quantities of the ingredients before I left my house for Jenn's, so I kinda winged it. I wish I'd baked a bit shorter and then broiled them longer for a crisper crust (recipe reflects that change), but it still turned out great!

Scallops Au Gratin
adapted from Ina Garten

12 big scallops
6 tbs butter, softened
5 small cloves garlic, minced
2 small cloves shallots, minced
2 or 3 slices proscuitto, diced
1 tbsp parsley, chopped
1-2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 C panko bread crumbs
2 or 3 Tbsp white wine

Preheat oven to 425. Remove the little tabby thing on the scallops (I had the guy at the fish counter do it for me), then wash and pat dry. Arrange in a baking dish.

Mix together the butter, garlic, shallots, proscuitto, parsley, and lemon juice. Sprinkle some salt on it an mix again. (The proscuitto is already salty so don't get too overzealous there.) Spread evenly over the scallops. Sprinkle with the panko. Pour white wine into dish.

Bake for 6-9 minutes. Turn to broil and broil another 3-5 minutes or until the tops are golden and crispy. Enjoy!

10 December 2011

Christmas cookie staple: chocolate crinkles

Here's an oldie but goodie: choco crinkle cookies.
I haven't made this since 2008, and I don't know why... they're so good. Pretty, too. To get those contrasty cracks, you roll the dough in powdered sugar before baking, and then they spread in the oven to reveal the chocolatey goodness. Take a bite you get sweet and a deeply chocolate numminess with a hint of Christmas spice. The insides are almost fudgey, and the edges just crisp enough.
Chocolate Crinkles

3/4 C flour
3/4 C sugar
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
4 tbsp butter
1/3 C cocoa powder (NOT dutch processed)
1 egg
1 tsp instant espresso that's been dissolved in 1 1/2 Tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 C chocolate chips
1/2 C powdered sugar

Combine first 5 ingredients (flour through cinnamon) in a large bowl and set aside. Melt butter and mix in the cocoa powder until smooth. Whisk in the egg, espresso, and vanilla. Pour over the dry ingredients and use a wooden spoon to mix until combined. Mix in the chocolate chip cookies. Refrigerate while the oven preheats to 350. (Chilled dough will make it easier to scoop and roll around in the powdered sugar later.)

Put powdered sugar in a small bowl. Scoop a cookie and drop into the powdered sugar. Roll to coat. Place on cookie sheet. I bake 12 evenly placed on a sheet. Sprinkle just the tops with a bit more powdered sugar. Bake for 9 minutes. Allow to rest on the baking sheet about 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.

This recipe makes exactly 24 when using a 1" scoop.

04 December 2011

saved shortbread snafu: cacao nib lace cookies

On Wednesday when I came into a box of Sharffen Berger cacao nibs. I was soooo excited! I spent 3 days looking for recipes, and ultimately decided to use the Nibby Shortbread Cookie Recipe provided on the side of the box. For one of the only times in my life, I followed a recipe ingredients exactly. Do these look like shortbread? Nope! Because they so weren't. Clearly there was too much butter/not enough flour, because look how much they melted and spread. But thankfully they turned into something else, something delicate that still pack a wallop of flavor. So, I present to you... cacao nib lace cookies :-) 
Not what I expected, but sooo delightful. Light, crispy, super buttery with that punch and bite of cacao nib.

So what's a cacao nib? It's basically raw chocolate - the chocolate before it's processed with milks and sugar and other flavors to become the chocolate bars/chips you know and love. They're teeny little pieces that don't melt, so they stay crunchy in a recipe. Because it's unsweetened chocolate, there is a distinct chocolate flavor but it gives way almost instantly to a complex almost but not quite bitterness reminiscent of espresso. The flavor sings when added to something sweet, and these do exactly that.

The only thing I can possibly think of that I did wrong is over mix the batter. Oh, and I refrigerated the dough before baking, but I do that with all of my shortbreads to excellent results. But hey, if you follow this word for word, maybe yours will end up like shortbread. If they end up like these, though, you'll be just as lucky.

Cacao Nib Shortbread Lace Cookies
directly from the Scharffen Berger Cacao Nib Box

1 C butter, slightly softened
3/4 C sugar
1/4 tsp salt
3 oz (1/2 package) Scharffen Berger Cacao Nibs
1 1/2 C all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Use paddle to cream butter, sugar, and salt just until incorporated. Mix in cacao nibs. Gradually add flour until combined. Do not over mix.

Using the palm of your hand, roll into 1" balls and flatten.

Place on cookie sheets, and bake 10-15 minutes or until golden brown.

01 December 2011

Holiday Throwbacks

When the holiday parties start, particularly if they're potlucks, there are usually three types of people. 1) There are those who make that one signature dish, that one perfect cake or candy or casserole recipe that the party just will not be complete if it's not there. Then there's 2) The people who want to outdo what they did last year, so they're always trying something new each year. And 3) the people who don't cook, and bring booze. We love you #3, haha.

But the discussion I've been having these past few weeks has been about if it's "better" to be a 1 or a 2. I'm very clearly a 2. There are SO many recipes out there that I have to keep exploring/trying new ones. But I also get a twinge of jealousy when people fawn all over that One Signature Dish that someone else brings, oh it's soooo good I'm soooo glad you brought it! I suppose what most gets to me is... were all those old things I made in the past just simply... forgettable? Or do I make them forgettable because I always bring out a newer younger model treat each year?

Anyways, in an effort to honor the definite #2 side of me, I'll continue to post new recipes for this season. But in an effort to honor recipes gone by (and also because I haven't started baking those new things yet and it IS December and I want a kick off post for the month) here are 6 throwback recipes that would STILL make a great gift or addition to a cookie tray this year.

Try the classic wintery flavor combination: iced choco peppermint snaps:

I'll be making these tender, lovely rugalech for my friend's Hanukkah party later this month:

This was one of my first posts on this blog: spicy molasses cookies. I color coordinated them for Christmas, but they'd be just as nice with clear sanding sugar for some sparkle.

Want to make something extra special? Try French macarons. They scream special. They'll make an impressive gift.

Oh and remember the hot 4 chocolate mix I made just the other day? These fluffy peppermint marshmallows will be awesome in it.

Last but not least, you can never go wrong with a classic. These are seriously my absolute most favorite chocolate chip cookies:

I hope to make new classics, but I don't ever want to forget these oldies but goodies!

26 November 2011

Hot 4 Chocolate Mix

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and didn't get pepper sprayed while shopping on Black Friday! So now that that's all behind us, we are 100% full into The Holiday Season. This is my favorite time of year... the cheery Christmas music, out of town friends coming home to visit, parties, count down to my birthday, and of course lots and lots of treats! So, if you're having people over, or heading to others' homes for the holidays, why not have some Hot 4 Chocolate Mix on hand.
This particular mix is made with cocoa powder plus 3 kinds of chocolate... Chocoholics rejoice! It starts sweet and ends with just a touch of bittersweet-ness, with espresso and cinnamon adding a depth of flavor not found in most commercial mixes. Use the best quality chocolate you can find - Guittard, Scharffen Berger, Valhrona, for example. It makes a great gift, so share share alike!

Hot 4 Chocolate Mix
adapted from Simply Cooking School

2 C sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped (save the pod, only use the seeds)
12 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 oz dark chocolate, chopped
4 oz white chocolate, chopped
1 C dutch processed cocoa powder
4 tsp espresso powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt

Split the vanilla vertically, scrape out the seeds. Mix seeds into the sugar*. Combine the sugar and chocolates into a food processor and pulse until finely ground. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse to combine. Store in an airtight container.

To make Hot Chocolate: Heat 8oz of milk (definitely use milk for the creaminess) until very hot - about 2.5 min in microwave, or until scalded using a stovetop. Whisk in 4 Tbsp of the cocoa mix until all the chocolate is melted. Top with whipped cream or home made marshmallows.

* Don't throw away the vanilla pod. Put it into a small jar of sugar to allow the scent of it to permeate the sugar. After some time, you'll have delicious smelling vanilla sugar.

19 November 2011

Hot Spiced (and sometimes spiked) Cider

Apple cider is the epitome of fall drinks. Heat it up and add spices and you've got a nice party drink. Top it off with sweet wine and you've got a real winner!
I was making this for a crowd, but you can easily divide or multiply the recipe to suit how many people will be drinking it. Also, you can either heat it up in a saucepan (bring to a simmer, let it simmer about an hour to allow the spices to infuse the liquid) or use the slow cooker. The longer it's on the heat, the more intense the spices get. Adding more cider will keep it balanced.

Hot Ginger and Spice Apple Cider
adapted from Weight Watchers via the girl with the little black cat

8 C apple cider*
2" fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into discs
4 cinnamon sticks
12-16 whole cloves
peel of 2 lemons -- remove only the peel (not the white pith) with a veggie peeler
4 Tbsp brown sugar
sweet red wine** (optional)

Combine all the ingredients in a slow cooker. Heat on high until hot, stirring every once in a while. Turn down to low and keep it hot through your party.

* Note: Buy a gallon of cider. I started with 8 C so it fit in my slow cooker and kept adding at about the halfway point until we finished it all.

** Alcoholic version note: I'd fill the cup about 2/3 of the way with the cider then top off with the sweet red wine. My wine of choice was Lakeside Red by Lake Anna Winery, a Virginia vineyard. I actually liked it better with the sweet wine because it mellowed and rounded out the spiced cider.

16 November 2011

Cranberry Apple Sauce

There are certain things that just belong on a Thanksgiving table: turkey, stuffing, green beans, mashed potatoes... and cranberry sauce. Truth be told, I've never been a fan of the stuff. My favorite turkey day foods are the salty and buttery Stovetop or potatoes. Heck, I can only vaguely recall cranberry sauce at any of our Thanksgivings growing up. BUT I understand how important cranberries can be to the holiday table for others, so I grabbed a bag intending to use it only as decoration, lol. But that nagging feeling that some people just love it led me to turn that decor into a last minute addition to our holiday table.

Look how red and pretty!
I'm still not sure about the eating it with turkey thing, but I really liked this! It was tart and just sweet enough. It was received nicely as a side, but next time I'm going to use it to top a brie en croute as an appetizer. Oh look at that, it's a yummy AND versatile holiday dish.

Cranberry Apple Sauce
loosely adapted from Food Network

12 oz bag fresh cranberries
1/3 C vanilla sugar (to taste)
3 Tbsp Grand Marnier
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1 honeycrisp apple, peeled and diced

In a food processor, combine the cranberries, sugar, and Grand Marnier, and lemon zest and pulse a few times to chop up the cranberries and incorporate all the ingredients. Put cranberries into a small saucepan and mix in the apple. Cook over medium heat until cranberries soften, tasting along the way to add sugar if necessary, until it becomes the consistency you want. (I did add about 2 tbsp of water because I lost track of it for a bit and wanted to loosen it up, and it turned out great.)

13 November 2011

Holiday Season Kick Off Post: Pumpkin Roll

This week is my official start of the holiday party season. I have no less than 3 Thanksgivings to celebrate this month, then Hanukkah, Christmas, my birthday, New Years, and my company holiday party... all in the next 8 weeks! I'm sure your holidays will be just as full of parties... and you can't show up to many of them empty handed! Through the end of the year, I'll be posting (no seriously, I'll post!) treats you can bring to all the upcoming potlucks or give as food gifts.

Of course I'm going to start with dessert :-)
They say the holidays are not a time to try a new recipe because of risk of stress or things not working out. Pshaw, this is the perfect time to play. Case in point... I wanted to make something pumpkin, but I didn't want to make the same cheesecake I do every year. Thus: I made a pumpkin roll. At midnight. The midnight before my first Thanksgiving meal. I made the icing in the morning after it cooled and assembled it while the turkey was in the oven. It can even be made ahead up to a couple days before an event, so it's both good as a pre-planned or sort of last minute treat!

First things first, though, you need a jelly roll pan - 10"x17". I always wondered about that slightly smaller than normal baking sheet I had... turns out it wasn't a rejected half sheet pan after all, lol. You'll also need a clean dishcloth (not a thick or terry cloth one, just a thin one) because you'll use it to roll the cake while it's hot - if you cool it flat and attempt to roll, there's a much higher chance of it cracking, so best to do it while it's hot/pliable.

Pumpkin Roll with Cream Cheese Frosting
adapted from Libby's

3/4 C flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp powdered ginger
1/8 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
1 C minus 1 Tbsp vanilla sugar*
2/3 C canned pumpkin

Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease a 10x17 jelly roll pan. Line with parchment paper, and then lightly butter and flour the paper.

Combine dry ingredients (flour through salt) in a small bowl and whisk to combine. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until thick - it should be light yellow and almost fluffy looking. Add pumpkin and beat until combined. Fold in the dry ingredient mixture. Pour into prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake 13-15 minutes or until the middle springs back up when you gently press on it.

While it's baking, lay out a clean dish cloth and sprinkle or sift some powdered sugar on it. When the cake is done, immediately loosen edges and turn directly on to the sugared dish cloth. Carefully peel off the parchment. While it's hot, roll (with the towel) into a tight log.

* Note about the sugar: I love vanilla, and I had vanilla sugar on hand, so I used it. You can sub plain sugar.

1 8oz bar cream cheese, room temp
4 tbsp butter, room temp
1/2 tsp vanilla
3/4 C powdered sugar

Blend the cream cheese and butter. Add in vanilla. Slowly blend or stir in the powdered sugar and beat until well combined.

To assemble the pumpkin roll:
Unroll the cooled roll. Spread the icing evenly. Reroll. Chill for an hour or so to firm up the icing to make it easier to cut later. Enjoy!

16 October 2011

hello fall

Why hi there. Been quite a while. Where've I been? Well.... The important thing is I'm back, and I bring muffins!
The muffins themselves are lightly spiced and mild. You know me... I don't like things too sweet. Then the choco chips add the nuggets of sweetness and texture that create a nice balance in the muffins. I doubled the original recipe so I could use a whole can of pumpkin, so be prepared for at least 2 dozen muffins when making these!

Pumpkin Choco Chip Muffins
Adapted from A Farm Girl Dabbles

3 1/2 C flour
1 1/2 C sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
1 C butter, melted
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 C semi sweet choco chips

Preheat oven to 350. Spray or line standard size cupcake pans. (Note: if you fill them about 3/4 of the way, you'll get about 32 cupcakes. If you fill them almost all the way up, you' can get an even 24.)

Whisk together the dry ingredients - flour through cloves - in a large bowl until well combined. Create a well in the middle. Scoop 1 tsp of the dry ingredients into a small bowl and toss the chips in it. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine wet ingredients - pumpkin through vanilla - and whisk so thoroughly combined. Add to the dry ingredients and stir until just moistened. Fold in the choco chips.

Scoop into prepared muffin pans. Bake 17-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool, and enjoy!

05 September 2011

sweet and spicy watermelon salad

Happy Labor Day! Celebrate the end of summer with a perfectly summery dish:
To Jenn's bbq today, thought I'd bring a classic summer side to the table, but with an out of the ordinary twist. I caught wind of the idea when perusing the new Food Plate Guide the gubment put out to replace the food pyramid. Sweet watermelon and spicy red pepper flakes? Niiice. I tucked this recipe away until I started seeing all the melons at the farmers markets. I of course googled it and saw a bunch of different variations, so played with it to end up with a watermelon, yellow cherry tomato (which I find to be the sweetest), cuke, and onion version. The balsamic and red pepper flake dressing enhances the flavors without overwhelming. I love that the heat just lingers on your tongue and lips, but is immediately cooled by the next bite of watermelon. And it's so colorful... this salad look so happy! And I'm all about bringing the happy :-) So again, Happy Labor Day!

Sweet and Spicy Watermelon Salad
adapted from da gubment (scroll down for recipe) and One Perfect Bite

2 1/2 lbs seedless watermelon, cubed in 1" pieces
1 pint yellow cherry tomatoes
1 9" seedless cucumber, diced into1/2" pieces
1/2 C vidalia onion, sliced into very thin 1-2" long strips
mint leaves from 2-3 sprigs, rolled and sliced thin (chiffonade)
3 Tbsp white balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp extra light olive oil
5 grinds red pepper
1 pinch red pepper flakes

Combine watermelon, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and mint in a large bowl. Whisk together the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and red pepper until emulsified. Pour over the watermelon mixture and toss to combine. Garnish with more mint leaves if you like.

A few notes about this recipe:
1) If you don't like raw onions, and I generally don't, a nifty trick to dull that raw bite: dunk the sliced onion in ice water for 2-3 minutes then take out.
2) This salad releases a LOT of water given the nature of the ingredients. I don't mind draining some of it off through the day.

24 August 2011

Lime-y Shrimp Tacos

Day after the earthquake dinner: shrimp tacos!
I can't believe we had an earthquake here in VA. I've spent a lot of time in LA and never once felt one. I read that Santorini is accustomed to feeling earthquakes, too, but I didn't feel one while I was there either. My mom just told me she grew up with them in the Philippines, but I had no idea there were quakes there. So when everything started shaking like a freight train was coming at us... very surreal! To be honest, one of the first things I thought was What happened in DC that we can feel it here? Oh these times we live in. *shakes head* Anyways, we got evacuated and had to head outside. Thankfully it was wasn't raining, so we got to all freak out in nice weather :-)

It was that nice weather that made me think of grilling. Today was pretty much glorious, and I wanted to take advantage of that before Hurricane Irene makes it up the coast this weekend. I originally thought of getting a steak, but then I remembered the leftover black bean salsa from this weekend. And the lone avocado begging to be made into guacamole. So THEN I thought I'd grill up some fish for tacos. But hey why buy fish when I have frozen shrimp, thus how I came to these awesome flavored shrimp tacos.

The lime and garlic make the flavor pop, with just a hint of heat so it paired nicely with the slightly thicker flour tortillas and salsa. I would have loved some cabbage slaw on it for more texture, but Alan broke up some tortilla chips for the crunch and that worked just fine! This was enough for 3 or 4 tacos, so scale as necessary. BTW I never did end up grilling these, haha, I just sauteed them, but I have no doubt they'd be better actually grilled.

Shrimp Tacos 
adapted from http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/grilled-shrimp-tacos/detail.aspx

1/2 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
juice of 3/4 lime (or 1 lime)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced (about 1/2 tbsp)
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp red chili flakes
a few grinds of white pepper

Combine lime juice, olive oil, garlic, cumin, chili flakes, and white pepper. Add the shrimp and marinate for about 5-10 minutes. The shrimp will start turning pink because the citrus is "cooking it". Add them to a skillet on medium high heat and toss until they are pink and form an almost closed C.

Serve on tortillas. I recommend The Farm at Red Hill black bean salsa with it, which is spicy and bold - it's what I'm trying to duplicate, so whenever I get it just right I'll add that recipe to the blog, too. I also topped with guac and chips a la Alan.

21 August 2011

my most loved kitchen equipment

In recent months I've been on a slow but steady trek to upgrade my kitchen tools. As I get older, I want more high quality stuff that I can keep with me for I hope the rest of my life... Also, I've learned a LOT about kitchen tools recently because I have been working at a part time job at a large kitchen place**... and I'm taking advantage of that discount :-)  To give you an idea of how much stuff I've bought in attempts to "upgrade" my kitchen, I feel like I've put my entire paycheck back into them! Granted I have bought gifts for people, and I've bought some decorating food (i.e. sprinkles) for my cookies/cupcakes, but the bulk of what I've bought is equipment/tools. 

Can I tell you a secret? Some of the things I've bought I still haven't taken out of the box, lol. Don't get me wrong, I'll use them... but not all the tools are as essential as I thought they'd be (I'm looking at you, gorgeous and reportedly awesome All Clad 4qt covered saute pan). What's essential, you ask? Well, what a great time for me to discuss the tools I use the most! These are things that I use regularly, and I suspect you would too. These are things you'll want to be high quality so they last long and stand up to the use. These are things that I'd suggest for a registry if you were making one, or the things I'd recommend to give as gifts to friends starting out (or looking to upgrade). 

The things I use almost daily: 
~ 8" or 10" nonstick pan* -- perfect for eggs (I love eggs) or bacon or one piece of fish or a single serving of shrimp
~ 7" santoku* (or a similar sized chefs knife would do) -- I can cut almost everything with this
~ 3" paring knife* -- because sometimes a santoku is too much knife for slicing strawberries or other small fruit/veggies
~ medium and large saucepans -- for making hard boiled eggs or a serving of pasta
~ locking tongs -- I use it to flip bacon, but also to grab things off high shelves!

Tools that work for cooking and baking:
~ set of nested glass mixing bowls -- used to hold prepped food, tons of popcorn, and sometimes even as serving bowls for chips
~ silicone spatulas -- great for scrambling eggs or folding dry ingredients into wet
~ wooden spoons -- they won't scratch my stuff, they're sturdy, and don't retain heat so if you're stirring a simmering soup you're not going to burn your hand grabbing the handle
~ a microplane -- for shredding parmesan or zesting citrus (and I do both quite often!)
~ fine mesh strainer -- draining, rinsing, or sifting
~ bamboo cutting boards with a well to catch juice
~ loaf pan, an 8x8 glass baking dish, and a 9x13 glass baking dish 

Baking equipment I use the most:
~ my mom's hand me down Kitchenaid mixer -- no clue how old it is, but it's powerful, reliable, sturdy, and all around awesome
~ half sheet pans -- I have at LEAST 4, probably more, and whenever I bake cookies I use 3 sheets at any given time - 1 in the oven, 1 sitting out cooling with the cookies on them, and 1 cooling without cookies on them so that I have a cool pan for the next set of dough
~ parchment paper -- cookies come off the sheet WAY easier using this, and also essential for making fish en papillote
~ 1", 1.5", or 2" diameter dishers/cookie scoops -- if you haven't noticed, I make cookies a lot, and I like them to be the same size
~ thick oven mitts -- getting burned does not feel good at all
~  2 sets each of measuring cups and spoons -- I hate to wash stuff out and dry it while making one recipe, it's just faster to have 2 sets
~ 2 sets of regular and 1 set of jumbo muffin tins

Daily items that make life in the kitchen easier:
~ nylon scouring pads -- they're cheap, colorful, and are great for scrubbing without scratching
~ absorbent kitchen towels -- they can double as pot holders or trivets

Things that I'm glad I have when I need them, but don't use often:
~ meat thermometer
~ candy thermometer
~ 6qt enameled cast iron dutch oven (mine's a Staub, though Le Creuset is probably more common)
~ bundt pan, pie plate
~ kitchen scale (absolutely essential when I make macarons)
~ food processor, blender
~ straight rolling pin

So there you have it -- a relatively short list (compared to the # of items you CAN buy for a kitchen... really, who needs a banana slicer?) of my most used and loved kitchen tools. What are the things you can't live without?

* One other thing I've learned regarding your pots/pans and knives -- go to the store and hold them. They have different balances and weights. You want what feels comfortable in YOUR hands. What you feel comfortable with you'll use most. Plus it's fun to play in kitchen stores!

** It's not important where since I have no intention of getting into any sort of mess where they call me into the office one day to "discuss" something I said on the blog about them. Not that I'd ever say anything negative about them, but I just don't want to get into it, so I'm officially saying that what I write is in no way a representation of the company. Except this: I genuinely enjoy being there for the time I am there, and I'm amazed at the knowledge I've picked up since working there. It's a fantastic mental break from my normal gig behind a desk because I get to spend x amount of time talking to people about one thing I really am passionate about: food and food accessories. 

11 August 2011

another easy weeknight dinner

Being Filipina, I love me some rice. But, like most food, it's really hard to cook exactly one serving of rice when I'm making myself dinner. Even the frozen rice packets at Trader Joes serves 2. I'm really bad about eating leftovers, so having foods that I can make exactly one meal at a time is ideal. This is one reason I often go to pasta as my starch of choice. Measure out 1/2 C of dry pasta, boil, add seasonal veggies and some kind of sauce... golden.
This dinner took me all of 12 minutes to make, which is the amount of time it took the pasta to boil. While the pasta was boiling, I sauteed some minced garlic in olive oil just long enough to take the bite off of the garlic. Burnt garlic is terrible. I sliced up some heirloom cherry tomatoes, both I got from the farmers market over the weekend. Drain the pasta, toss it all together, top with parmesan cheese, and viola! Dinner for one. No waste. Oh yeah. 

Simple Summer Pasta Dinner for 1

1/2 C pasta  
1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced
3-4 leaves basil, rolled then sliced (chiffonade)
1 C cherry tomatoes, halved
parmesan cheese, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste

Bring water to a boil in a medium sauce pan. Add pasta and cook according to package directions.

In the mean time, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and sautee for a minute or two, or until it starts to get soft. Take off heat. Slice tomatoes. 

Drain the pasta. Add olive oil, basil, and tomatoes. Toss. Season with salt and pepper. Toss together and taste. Add as much parmesan as you like. Eat!

You can, of course, customize the heck out of this. I've made pasta with sauteed zucchini and squash. I've added frozen peas and corn. I've added shrimp or diced chicken. Pasta is a fantastic blank canvas that you can play around to your heart's content.  

09 August 2011

Crunchy Granola Bars

I have no idea why I've had a major itch to make granola bars. I don't even eat granola regularly in any form on a regular basis! I probably saw it on Tastespotting or Foodgawker recently. It could also be because I've been eating yogurt and berries for breakfast a LOT lately, and adding granola would make it a cute lil parfait. Or it could be that I just saw granola on Down Home with the Neely's on Food Network the other day. Whatever the reason, I've had granola bars on my mind for the last couple weeks, and I finally made it correctly tonight.
Notice how I said correctly, haha. My first attempt was last week and I added dried apricot and figs to half a batch, but it didn't really stick together, so I crumbled it and turned it into the loose granola. The other half of that batch... flavor was great, but I forgot to grease the bottom of the pan and used wax paper and that got very stuck to the granola, so I ended up crumbling that one trying to pull it off the paper. Oops.
(Parchment paper this time, and I remembered to butter it!)

I specifically wanted crunchy granola bars because my Favorite Convenience Granola Bar (FCGB) are those great honey and oat ones that come in green packaging. They're so simple, not overly sweet, and that was my goal. Well, the goal was crunchy, not too sweet, and healthier. After reading through a few dozen recipes, I decided to add to the oats: almonds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, and puffed kamut. (I had never even heard of that last one until looking at granola recipes. It tastes like unsweetened honey smacks, and is a good low cal source of fiber and protein, so perfect addition!) And to legitimately call these "healthier" than my FCGB, and because I wanted to procrastinate going to the gym tonight (yup, I detect the irony), I looked up the nutritional info for all the ingredients and did some basic math (thanks, Excel). While this homemade granola bar has twice as many calories, it has 3x the fiber and almost 3x the protein. They've got crunch, but don't fall apart the minute you bite into it. It's a great grab and go breakfast or snack.

Crunchy Granola Bars
adapted from Brown Eyed Baker and Alton Brown

2 C old fashioned rolled oats
1/4 C raw sunflower seeds
3 Tbsp flax seeds
1/4 C honey
1/4 C agave nectar
1/4 C brown sugar
3 Tbsp butter + 1 Tbsp
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
2 C puffed kamut
1/2 C blanched almonds
4 tbsp flax seed meal

Preheat oven to 350. Line a 9"x13" pan with parchment paper, then butter it with the 1 Tbsp butter.

Combine oats, sunflower seeds, and flax seeds. Toast in oven for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. While the oats are toasting, combine the honey, agave, brown sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Stir until brown sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat.

Take the oats out of the oven, then drop the temperature to 300. Transfer oats to a large bowl. Add the kamut and almonds to the oat mixture and stir until combined. Add the wet ingredients and stir until evenly combined. Turn mixture out into the prepared pan, spread until it's an even layer, and press down. Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven. Allow to cool completely. Take out of pan and cut into 16 bars or squares.

Wrap in parchment paper cut to size and keep in an airtight container up to a week.

03 August 2011

Ceviche a la Cabo

It's. So. Hot. NoVA (and the DC metro area in general) has some brutally hot summers. It's not necessarily the temps, it's the humidity that makes it stifling. And sometimes when it's really hot, you want something cool to eat that's not a dessert. Ceviche would be one of my favorite cold foods.

The first time I had ceviche, I was in Lima and my gracious hosts ordered like 3 plates of multicolored marinated seafood. Not going to lie, I wasn't too much a fan of it. I was slightly weirded out by how it was "cooked"... and why was it different colors? I partially blame ignorance for that poor first impression. Flash forward 3 years and I was in Cabo, and the ceviche was one of the first things we ordered. It was AWESOME. The tart was tempered by sweet mango and cooling avocado. It was bright and balanced, and I knew it would not be the last time I'd eat it. Fortunately for me, I wasn't the one who figured out how to make it, haha. My girl and travel buddy, Danielle, attempted to make it one night, said it was great, and sent me the recipe. I've made it a couple times since, and it still brings back the memories every time.

Since this is a recipe that takes a considerable amount of wait/marinating time, and because this is how Danielle gave it to me, I'm writing it in steps.

Cabo Ceviche
thanks Danielle!

Combine the following and marinate for a 2-3 hours, tossing/mixing 2 or 3 times:
   1-2 lbs red snapper, skinned, cut into bite size pieces
   2-3 limes, juiced
   1 lemon, juiced

Add the following to the marinating fish, and marinate for another 2 hours.
   1 small red onion, diced small
   1 jalapeno, diced small
   1 tomato, seeded and diced
   1 mango, diced
   1/4 C cilantro (or more/less to your taste)

Mix this in just before serving:
   1  avocado, diced

Serve with tortilla chips.

11 July 2011

chimichurri sauce over grilled steak

Well isn't this a pretty sight! Bright green chimichurri sauce over a chimichurri marinated grilled steak. I had it for the first time in years just a few weeks ago (hi Joyce and co!) and had been thinking about it ever since. And thus, last night's delicious dinner!
What's chimichurri, you ask? In a word, awesome.  In a few more descriptive words, it's a parsley-based Argentinian condiment that's a lot like a pesto sauce... herby, fragrant (garlicy awesomeness), fresh. This is a bit different from a traditional pesto because it's also tangy and quite spicy. It's an excellent topping for pretty much anything, and most commonly it tops grilled steak.

Oh and gee did I mention I got a new grill this year? Because I did! I got a Weber, and it's the first charcoal grill I've ever used. I invited my Cabo girls over for a grilling potluck as an opportunity to practice. I grew up with gas grills, so charcoal is a whole different ball game for me. A smoky, delicious ball game! The steaks came out perfectly and we supplemented with shrimp, corn, potato and pasta salads, and topped off with grilled peaches for dessert. I served my strawberry lemon-limeade, also. It was a delightful Sunday evening!

Chimicurri Sauce
adapted from chef blade

1 bunch flat leaf parsley
6-8 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp diced onion or shallot
1/3 C red wine vinegar
2/3 C olive oil
1/2 lemon - zest and juice
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper
pinch or freshly ground red pepper flakes

Pulse parsley in a food processor to chop. Add remaining ingredients and blend. (Or you can chop it all up and blend by hand.) Divide into 2 equal parts - half for marinade, half for topping. Allow to sit for at least 2 hours for flavors to marry. You can refrigerate it, but make sure to bring it to room temp before serving.

Marinate steak 2 hours up to overnight. Grill to desired tenderness. (For a guide to steak doneness, see here.) Allow steak to rest for at least 10 min for juices to redistribute. Slice on the diagonal for pretty presentation, and top with the chimichurri.

04 July 2011

Red Velvet Cookies

Happy 4th of July!
I love holidays - Give me a reason to make or bake up something theme-y, and I'm thrilled. One of these days when I have a family of my own, I'm so going to be That Mom who makes the tastiest little treats for back yard BBQs and t-ball games. I'll be That Mom who sends delectable home made goodies to school for birthdays (and to suck up to the teachers). One of these days...

Til then, I'll experiment here and there with fun themed things, like these red velvet cookies with a cream cheese icing and red and blue sprinkles. Patriotic, yay - just right to bring to a rooftop gathering to watch the DC fireworks tonight. You can use 2 of the cookies and sandwich the icing to make whoopie pies, but right now the individual cookies will do just fine. I doubled the original recipe, so this will make about 48 cookies or 24 sandwiches.
Red Velvet Cookies
adapted from Paula Deen

2 2/3 C flour
3 Tbsp cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 stick butter
1 3/4 C sugar
4 eggs
4 tbsp buttermilk
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp red food coloring

Preheat oven to 375.

Mix together the dry ingredients - from the flour to the salt. Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar together until thoroughly combined and fluffy. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Using a silicone spatula so nothing gets stained, mix in the buttermilk, vanilla, and food coloring until well combined. Mix in dry ingredients until combined.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a medium cookie scoop (to scoop batter onto sheet, leaving at least 2" between each. Bake for 7-8 minutes or until top springs back when touched. Allow to cool on pan.

Cream Cheese Frosting
2 bars cream cheese
1 stick butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 to 2 C powdered sugar

Beat the cream cheese and butter together. Mix in the vanilla. Mix in powdered sugar -- taste along the way to get your desired sweetness.

This was submitted for the Sweets for a Saturday post over at Sweet as Sugar Cookies.

03 July 2011

Blueberry Zucchini Bread

Can I tell you a secret? Before this week, I don't recall ever eating zucchini in my life. The squash family in general isn't one that often makes an appearance at my table, but I'm trying to expand my horizons. And oh look at that, zucchini bread is on my Hit List this year.
I had no idea what to expect when I added zucchini bread to the Hit List. Would it be sweet? Would it be plain tasting? Would it be zucchini-y? Oh, right, I didn't know what zucchini tasted like. Lol turns out that it's a lot like pumpkin bread (oh right, they're related!) in regards to the zucchini adding moisture and healthy goodness, and generally doesn't add much of its own flavor. So I guess the trick is in what you put into it. I had blueberries in the fridge, found an a recipe using both, and it's viola! Sweet, juicy berries bursting inside a nicely spiced bread. Great use of summer produce.  

Blueberry Zucchini Bread
adapted from Allrecipes.com

3 C flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 eggs
1/2 C canola oil
1/2 C applesauce
1/2 C white sugar
1/2 C brown sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla
2 1/2 C zucchini, shredded (about 2 7" zucchini)
1 pint blueberries 

Preheat oven to 350. Spray muffin tins or small loaf pans with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In a small bowl, toss the blueberries with about 1 tbsp of the dry ingredients. Set both aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, applesauce, vanilla, and sugars until well combined. Fold in the zucchini. Mix in the dry ingredients until mostly combined. Gently fold in the blueberries. 

Fill loaf pans 3/4 of the way and/or muffin tins almost to the top. If using an 8"x4" loaf pan, bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes. If using jumbo muffin pans, bake for 45 minutes. If using a regular muffin pan, bake for 30 minutes. 

29 June 2011

tonight's dinner: baked snapper

If you're anything like me, you don't eat enough fish. I know you can buy it frozen, and I currently have 2 salmon fillets in the freezer, but I prefer fresh. But then most of the times I do get fresh fish, I don't use it soon enough and I've wasted some cash money. No one likes to waste cash money in this economy!
I just so happened to have a piece of red snapper, and determined not to let it go to waste, this was tonight's supper. I baked some zucchini along with it in my attempt to eat more veggies, too. I paired it with brown rice for a well balanced meal.  An awesome well balanced meal, by the way. The fish was perfectly cooked and not dry at all. The panko topping was so crunchy and is where most of the flavor comes from. Good mix of texture and taste right there. I'm definitely adding this to my dinner rotation.

Baked Snapper
adapted from about.com

1  4-6oz red snapper fillet
1/2 tbsp butter
1 tsp olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced
3 drops Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp Cajun seasoning
few grinds black pepper
1 tsp freshly minced parsley
2-3 Tbsp panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400.

In a small pan, combine butter and oil over med-low heat until butter is melted. Add the next 5 ingredients and  mix over the heat for 1 more minute.

Lightly sprinkle fish with a bit of salt, then brush both sides of it with the oil mix and place in a glass baking dish. Toss the panko to the remaining oil mixture. Top fish with the panko mixture. Bake for 12 minutes.

If you plan on making the zucchini: Before you prep the fish, cut a small zucchini in half. Cut one of the halves in half again, lengthwise. Cut into 1/2" half moon slices. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and a bit extra of the cajun seasoning. Put it into the oven at the same time as the fish, stirring/flipping the pieces halfway through cooking.

19 June 2011

a toast to my family!

Happy Father's day to all you proud pops out there. That includes you, Dad. You rock. Today is also my kid brother's birthday, thus the dual celebration. Cheers to the two of you!
I love this drink almost as much as I love my family. Slight exaggeration? Maaaaybe, lol. It's bright and tangy thanks to the citrus, then the strawberries adds summer sweetness. I didn't add that much extra sugar since I don't like my drinks overly sweet, but that just made it that much easier to drink. This recipe makes about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 quarts which was perfect for the 3 of us, but if you're planning it for a larger picnic or BBQ, double (triple?) it and put in a large beverage jug. Then just kick back and enjoy it on a hot summer day.

Strawberry Lemon-Limeade

3 limes
2 lemons
2 C hulled strawberries
1/3 C sugar
1/2 C plus 6 cups water

Make simple syrup -- Combine sugar with 1/2 C water in a pot over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Then set aside to cool.

Juice the limes and lemons. Pour juice into a blender. Add strawberries. Blend. Add simple syrup and blend again. Pour into a pitcher* and add water. Refrigerate until cold.

Garnish with a strawberry and/or wedge of citrus.

* There'll be some strawberry seeds at the bottom, but you can easily get rid of those if you strain before storing.

12 June 2011

Carne Machaca in taquitos and nachos

This month's Girls Potluck theme made up for the Cinco de Mayo celebration we didn't have last month, lol. Thus, it was Mexican Month! There were berry mojitos and carne asada (thanks Julia!) and shrimp veracruz (thanks Ang.!) and plaintain chips and watermelon margaritas (thanks Jenn!) I wanted to make tamales, per my 2011 hit list which I am horribly behind on, but I realized I don't have a steamer. So what're my other favorite Mexican restaurant meals? Easy: the carne machaca from The Torilla Factory, and my take on machaca is what I brought to the table.
What is machaca, you ask? In a couple words: spiced, shredded beef. It's full of flavor thanks to overnight marination, then cooking with onions and peppers for hours (translation: plan ahead, this recipe takes time!)... then it's shredded and cooked down even longer. It makes an excellent filling for burritos, tacos, or enchiladas, or you can eat it with eggs and/or potatoes for breakfast. I didn't use it in any of those ways today, though... today I used them to make oven taquitos and nachos, and they were AWESOME.
adapted from David Bulla

1/4 C Worcestershire sauce
juice of 2 limes
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 C canola oil

3 lbs chuck roast (or skirt steak), fat and silver skin trimmed, cut into 3/4 - 1 lb pieces
2 tbsp oil
1 large Spanish or Vidalia (or other sweet yellow) onion, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded then diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, deveined and diced
1 serrano pepper*, seeded, deveined and diced
1 10oz can original Rotel tomatoes with green chiles
1 or 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/4 C beef broth
1 Tbsp dried Mexican oregano
1 Tbsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp tabasco sauce
few grinds of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper

Prepare the marinade - combine all ingredients and whisk to form an emulsion. Pour into a 1 gallon zipper bag, and add meat. Massage so meat is evenly coated. Put bag in a bowl or baking dish in case it leaks. Refrigerate overnight.

Make the machaca - Take meat out of the fridge and leave out for about 30 minutes to come to room temperature. Remove from marinade, pat dry, and discard the marinade. Prepare all your veggies.

In large pot (I used my 6 qt. dutch oven), heat oil over medium high heat until hot. Add meat and sear - you want each side to be a rich caramelized brown. You may have to cook in batches if there's not enough space in the pot for all pieces. Set aside on a plate.

Add the onions and peppers to the same pot and saute for about 3 minutes, scraping all the brown bits from the bottom. Add the garlic and saute another 2 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Add the meat back into the pot. Bring to a simmer then reduce heat to low. Cover and cook for 2 to 2.5 hours.
(mmm look how brown the meat got)

Remove beef to a cutting board and shred with 2 forks. It should be tender and pull apart easily. Add back to the pot, then simmer, uncovered, until there's almost no liquid left. This took almost an hour for me., and I had it on low heat.

Taste again and add any additional seasoning/heat to your liking. (*This recipe is pretty mild with just a hint of heat from the peppers. It's a friendly recipe for people who don't like spicy stuff. Personally, the next time I make this I'm adding at least 1 more serrano pepper.)

One note - this makes a LOT of machaca, about 8 cups worth. I used half between the taquitos and nachos, then packed and froze the rest for future use.

Oven Baked Taquitos:
6" flour tortillas
cooking spray

Preheat oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with foil for easy clean up later.

Spread 2-3 tbsp of machaca in a line about 1/4 the way up the tortilla, then roll. Repeat with as many taquitos as you want to make. Spray with cooking spray. Place on baking sheet seam side down. Bake 10 minutes. Take out of the oven, turn them so the other side browns, and bake another 5 minutes until golden brown.
Take out of oven, cut in half on the diagonal. Serve with guacamole, sour cream, and/or salsa.

Machaca Nachos
tortilla chips
cheddar jack cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread tortilla chips across a baking sheet. Add a spoonful of machaca to each chip. Sprinkle cheese over each chip. Bake until cheese is melted - about 5 minutes. Serve with sour cream and/or guacamole.
(not pretty, but pretty delicious)

07 June 2011

Iced Tea Month: peach and ginger iced tea

National Iced Tea Month is in full swing, which is great because the temps are rising here in NoVA. Supposed to be 100 degrees come Thurs, ew. This week's tea concoction was inspired by the Republic of Tea's ginger peach tea. I figured I'd be able to mimic that using actual ginger and peach. Plus, peaches are one of my favorite fruits (see the peach pocket pies and peach salad recipes), so here's another way to use them.

Here's a nice recipe you can make all year round, even when fresh peaches aren't available. I also used vanilla sugar to give it a nice mellow note, and because vanilla makes everything better, lol, but it's not too sweet. I'd like to hit the farmers market soon and try this again with fresh peaches, too. In any case, this is a very mild, light drink.

Peach and Ginger Tea
adapted from Emeril and Food Network

6 C water
2" section of ginger, peeled and sliced
1/3 C vanilla sugar
8 green tea bags
1 can no sugar added peach slices

Combine first 3 ingredients in a pot and heat until small bubble start to form and water starts to steam. Add tea bags and steep for 13 minutes. In the mean time, pour the peaches and juice into a blender and blend until fine. Remove the ginger from the tea, then add the peaches to the tea. Refrigerate until cold.

If you don't like the bits of peach, feel free to strain it out after it's cooled so the flavors have time to blend. 

01 June 2011

Celebrate National Iced Tea Month

Any time a server asks, "What would you like to drink?" I say, "Iced tea, lots of lemons. Yes, lots please." And the server arrives with a tall glass of tea, usually with one wedge on the rim, and (hopefully) a plate of lemon wedges. I squeeze 3 wedges into the glass, add 2 packets of Splenda (or 3 of sugar), stir, and consume approximately 1/3 of it before I put it down and continue with my conversation. Throughout the course of the meal I suck down 3, possibly 4 glasses (and inevitably hit the little girls room at least 2 times before I leave, lol).

Why the play by play of my drinking habit? Because June is National Iced Tea Month! 
Iced tea is so refreshing and easy to make - at its most basic, all you need is tea, water, and time. It's perfectly satisfying on its own, but you can dress it up any which way you like. I like iced black tea, iced green tea, iced herbal tea... do I sound like Forrest yet? So in honor of National Iced Tea Month, and because every summer shindig should have delightful liquid refreshments,  I shall be sharing some of my favorite recipes each week this month. First up: the classic iced tea you'd get in any restaurant. Try it with 3 lemon slices and some sugar and you'll get a taste of how I <3 it. 

Basic Iced Tea

2 quarts water (preferably filtered)
8 lipton tea bags
*2 tbsp Splenda (or 4 tbsp sugar)

Heat water in a pot over on the stove until the bottom just starts to bubble and it begins to steam. Add 8 tea bags. Steep for 5 minutes. Remove bags. *If adding sweetener (and what I put there is JUST enough to give it a hint of sweetness so if you like it sweet, keep on adding more) mix it in now. Put in a heat proof pitcher. Cool in the fridge overnight (I put it on top of a folded up kitchen towel just in case the heat would do something not so good to the cold glass shelves, but I could just be overly precautious). Enjoy over ice. 

31 May 2011

Happy National Macaron Day

Today is National Macaron Day. Yep, didn't know that macarons had their own day either. Good excuse to use part of my Memorial Day weekend to bake? Yes. BTW, I've also noticed that I've made enough macaron recipes that they should get their own tag. Yay macarons!
For the coffee lover, I made espresso macchiato macarons. A macchiato is a shot of espresso with a dollop of foam, so it's got the bite of espresso softened a bit. To mimic that, these have an espresso shell with a white chocolate ganache filling. (A side note about the ganache - don't let it chill too long or it'll be way too hard to spread like mine was, thus why it's a touch uneven.) The shell's intense and the white choco rounds off the edge. If you want a more mild coffee flavor, cut the espresso back to 1 tsp.

Espresso Macchiato Macarons

For the Shell:
90g aged egg whites
1-2 Tbsp sugar
110g blanced almonds
200g confectioners sugar
1 Tbsp instant espresso powder

For the Filling:
1/4 C heavy cream
6 oz good white chocolate
2 tbsp butter

Special equipment: food processor, sieve/fine mesh strainer

Age the egg whites: keep egg whites in a container in the fridge for 3-5 days, or at room temperature for 24 hours.

Make the shells: Combine the almonds, confectioners sugar and espresso powder and put into food processor and grind until it looks fine. Sift into a large bowl. Dump the stuff that doesn't go through the sieve back into the food processor and repeat. Keep repeating until the majority of if is sifted into the bowl.

In a super clean mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, start beating egg whites at medium speed. When it gets bubbly enough that it looks like bubbly dish soap, up the speed to high. Add the sugar little by little until the foam turns into shiny meringue, the consistency of shaving cream. Stop when you can make slightly stiff peaks.

Fold in half of the dry ingredients until mostly combined. Fold in the rest.  It's done when you can cut the spatula through the batter and it sinks back into itself in 10 seconds. It shouldn't take more than 50-55 strokes  total.

Pipe onto parchment lined baking sheets - about the size of a quarter or half dollar. Make sure to leave at least 1-2" between them because they'll spread. Let sit for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bake shells 14-15 minutes. After they're cool, match up like-size shells to make sandwiches.

Make the filling: Chop chocolate well and put in a heat proof bowl. Heat cream in a small pot over medium heat until the edges start to bubble. Add to the white chocolate. Allow to sit for a minute. Stir until smooth. Whisk in the butter. Allow to cool to room temp. Beat again with a whisk. Fill the cookies.
As usual, all macaron recipes are inspired and adapted from Tartelette.

29 May 2011

homemade mayonnaise

Mayonnaise is a condiment I only got into as an adult. My mom didn't put it on sandwiches when I was in grade school, and I don't recall ever eating a chicken/egg/potato salad that I liked when I was young, so I just never had a taste for it. I didn't know so many awesome dips had it as an ingredient until I started making them myself. Not sure when it all changed, but now I love me some mayo.
I've been buying the stuff in jars for years, not knowing that all along I've always had all the ingredients to make it at home. It took maybe 15 minutes (the manual way) and this tastes WAY better than the jarred stuff. Creamy, a touch of tang and salt. Plus I know where the ingredients came from, so it's "healthier" mayo, lol. That being said, fresh ingredients means that unlike the store bought kind, this will only last about a week in the fridge. So given that burger season is officially underway, use it up on those or sandwiches or salads and enjoy!

Homemade Mayonnaise
adapted from Alton Brown

1 egg yolk, room temp
1/2 tsp mustard powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 pinches sugar
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp cider vinegar
1 C extra light olive oil (or other mild oil)

In a glass bowl, whisk together the yolk, mustard, salt, and sugar until combined. Whisk in the lemon juice and vinegar 1 tsp at a time, beating well after each addition until well combined.

(This is where the patience kicks in, so brace yourself, and your arm.)

Add the oil very little at a time (about 1/4-1/2 tsp), whisking vigorously with each addition, until it thickens and lightens in color. (This is you emulsifying, yay.) When it gets to that point, you can start adding the oil in a little more at a time (like a tablespoon or two), whisking until it all gets incorporated and thickens. If it gets too thick, add a little bit of water to think it out to the consistency you like.

Use immediately or refrigerate up to a week.

Be advised that this does use raw egg, so please use the freshest you can find. If you're not comfortable eating raw egg cuz of the risk of salmonella, I don't recommend making this recipe. 

26 May 2011

matzo toffee

Soooo remember how in my tortilla espanola post I mentioned I had a few unfinished posts I promised to publish? This is one of them. So, pretend that it's Passover. Yes that was over a month ago, thus the pretending. Picture me and 2 friends celebrating it with a nice lil Passover lunch. There was matzo ball soup from Jon, and lamb stuffed tomatoes by Ang. And as usual, I rounded it out with a sweet treat: matzo toffee! See the 3 layers... matzo cracker, toffee, and chocolate:
Not gonna lie, this is kinda addictive. It's salty, sweet, crunchy, and in this case, kosher! Plus it was a breeze to make (if, ya know, you're used to making candy... but this is kinda cool because it doesn't require a candy thermometer.) A very popular variation is using saltines instead of the matzo, and I look forward to making that version. Make them for the holidays. Give them to friends. They will like you more. Promise :)

Matzo Toffee
adapted from Turntable Kitchen

6 Passover friendly matzo crackers (or enough to fit a baking sheet)
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp fleur de sal
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups chocolate chips (I used both semisweet and dark)

Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, overlapping over the edges. Arrange matzo crackers into one even layer so edges are touching - you'll probably have to break some to make it fit. Set aside.

Melt butter over medium heat, and mix in brown sugar and salt. Bring to a boil, and cook, stirring, for 3-4 minutes. Take off heat and stir in vanilla. Pour over the matzo and use a silicone spatula to spread into an even layer over the crackers. Bake for 5 minutes or until it looks bubbly.

Take out of oven. Spread chips over the toffee. Let sit for 2-3 minutes or until you see them starting to melt.

Spread the chocolate in an even layer. Allow to cool completely. Break into pieces. Eat!

~ ~ ~ ~

One side note about the chocolate... I used both Nestle semisweet chips (left) and Guttiard 72% bittersweet (right).
The Guttiard melted soooo much smoother than the Nestle, you can actually see the difference in the pic. I don't know if it's because of the % cocoa or the quality of the chocolate itself. Maybe I will try 2 versions of the same brand in the future just to find out. Either way, try to use the best quality chocolate you have on hand... your taste buds will thank you!

15 May 2011

personal fritattas aka egg muffins

I love eggs. They provide such a great canvas for different flavors and meals. Whether scrambled, poached, or whipped up into omelets, I could eat them every day.  Like this morning, I wanted to use the last of the veggies sitting in my fridge, so I made some personal fritattas, which are essentially omelets made in a muffin tin. They're similar to the tortilla espanola I made last week, except smaller and with different veggies... but same general idea.

The beauty of this recipe is threefold: you can use just about any combination of flavors in it, they are easy to make ahead then grab and go as you need, and they're healthy! You can personalize these any way you like. Today I used cheddar, shallots, tomatoes, broccoli and bacon because that's what I had on hand. Leave out the bacon and make it vegetarian. Add more meat. Use onion instead of shallot. You can use spinach and feta, or ham and cheese, or sausage and cheese... use whatever combination floats your boat!

Personal Fritattas
makes 6*

9 eggs
1 tsp olive oil
2 shallots, diced
1 C broccoli florets
1 or 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
3 slices bacon, cooked crispy and cut into small pieces
1/2 C cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste
cooking spray
Special equipment: *large size 6-muffin tin (though you could use average size and eat 2 as a serving)

Preheat oven to 350. Spray the heck out of the muffin tins.

Heat oil in a small pan over medium heat and sautee shallots until soft. Set aside.

Microwave broccoli with a tbsp of water for 1 minute to precook them a little bit. Drain, and set aside.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper - remember your cheese is salty so don't over do it! Mix in the shallots. Pour half of the among the 6 muffin cups. Add the broccoli, tomatoes, and bacon to the muffin tins. Sprinkle with cheese. Add the rest of the eggs.

Bake for 25 minutes. They will rise, and then fall. Eat!

Or refrigerate them - these make a great grab and go meal. These will be my breakfast or snacks for the week. You can freeze them, too, to eat later. Heck if you want, you can make these in average or even mini size muffin tins, and make ahead for a brunch buffet, too.

05 May 2011

tortilla espanola

I can't believe it's May already and I've gone this long without posting! I've been cooking, I swear. I have probably 3 other posts saved to finish later. But really I've spent most of the last couple months working my tail off. And vacationing in the Dominican. But mostly working, lol. My goal this month is to finish those other posts and get back to sharing!

While I know it's Cinco de Mayo today, and that's totally Mexican, I made a Spanish dish last night. As in Spain. As in the tortilla espanola, which is essentially a potato omelet. It's one of the simplest foods out there - eggs, potatoes, onions (if you like), oil, and some salt and pepper. For so few ingredients, the key is in the execution. This took forever to make (so set aside plenty of time!) because I cooked each step low and slow. Each part was soft and tender without falling apart, so each ingredient's integrity is maintained, yet balanced delightfully with the other flavors. See - you can see the different potato pieces in the tortilla. Yum!

Tortilla Espanola (with onions)
adapted from allrecipes.com

1 lb butter potatoes, peeled, halved, and cut into 1/4" slices
1 small Spanish onion, peeled, cut in half, and sliced into thin rings
8 eggs
1/2 C olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Heat 1/3 C oil in a large skillet over medium low heat. Add half the potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until just fork tender. This takes about 20 minutes. Repeat with the rest of the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

If necessary, add a little oil to pan, and turn heat up to medium and cook onions until soft and golden - about 15 minutes. Add to bowl of potatoes to cool a bit. Add salt/pepper if needed.

Turn stove top heat down to low. Add enough oil to lightly coat bottom of pan so tortilla won't stick.

Beat eggs in a large bowl. Add potato/onion mix. Pour into pan and allow bottom and edges to set - about 10 minutes. Loosen edges and bottom with a spatula so it can slide out of the pan easily.

Here's where you need to work pretty quickly so nothing spills: Slide onto a large plate, top with another plate, flip over (so cooked side is on top), slide back into pan. Cook for another 3-5 minutes until cooked through and set in the center.

Remove from pan. Cool. Cut - I find cutting it into 8ths is good for a snack portion, cutting it into 6ths is good for a breakfast/lunch portion, or you can also cut it into smaller pieces if serving as a finger food. I like to eat this slightly warmed, but it's just as good room temp.

21 February 2011

Baby Shower Cookies

Look how cute! They are ALMOST as cute as the mom-to-be :-)
Our girl, Genelle, is preggo. A few of us took on different roles to help throw her baby shower this past weekend, and of course I volunteered to do cookie duty! I wrapped them in individual baggies so guests could take them home as the favors. Since they don't want to know if it's a boy or girl yet, I went with some gender neutral baby shower themed sugar cookies. I am VERY happy with how cute they turned out. With some tweaking and practice, I can totally rock making decorated sugar cookies in the future.
I made sugar cookies with royal icing for a Daring Bakers challenge, but I used entirely different recipes this time around. I'm still tweaking them, so I'm just pictures to post at the moment.
Instead of royal icing, I used glacee icing. It's MUCH better tasting than royal icing and dries to a nice sheen so you can still stack cookies later.
Piping takes patience and practice. I'm still pretty new to it, but I doubt this'll be the last time I do it.
Can't wait to find out if they're having a boy or girl!