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.