Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday Baking - 12.23.08

The past few weeks have been rather hectic. I've been juggling finishing my first semester of graduate school, Christmas shopping and doing what in hindsight appears to be a ridiculous amount of baking. Here's an overview of my culinary activities over the past few weeks:

Very Veggie Chili

My sustenance for the past week was a very veggie chili. After cooking some onion in garlic and oil, I added canned tomatoes, pinto beans, corn, chopped cilantro, cumin, salt, and pepper. At the end (since meat is a very prominent staple of my diet), I added some rotisserie chicken that I got at the local grocery store. This turned out to be one of my better chilis and it was very simple to put together. The recipe called for hominy, but I could not find any, so maybe next time. Now on to the good stuff...

Limoncello Cookie Dough

Limoncello Ricotta Drops

While in Italy this summer, we found out how to make limoncello, a delightful lemon liqueur (if done right). Some of my family made a batch and gave it to me for my birthday. Since I'm not a heavy drinker (I failed binge drinking 101 at UF), I decided to put the limoncello to better use: in baking. The cookie itself has a base of ricotta cheese, giving it a cakey texture. You can see in the above pictures how much the cookies puffed up from the small dough balls on the baking sheet. The limoncello in the dough is backed up by vanilla and lemon extracts as well as some lemon zest. The glaze on top is a basic confectioner's sugar glaze with limoncello to make it spreadable. I was very happy with this cookie and it took me back to our enormous afternoon lunch in Rome where we first had this delightful drink. Warning: limoncello may induce napping.


To continue our world cookie tour, the next stop is Germany for some lebkuchen. The cookies themselves contain a base of toasted nuts (hazelnuts and almonds), cinnamon, cardamom, orange and lemon zests, and cocoa powder. After baking the cookie is accompanied by a simple glaze of confectioner's sugar and milk. These cookies came out dense, nutty and full of holiday spice flavors. For the recipe, see the January 2008 Cooks' Illustrated.

Potato Chip Sandies

Now for an American twist on a classic favorite. These are potato chip cookies, in the family of pecan sandies. In fact, the probably are pretty much pecan sandies with crushed potato chips replacing some of the pecans. Don't worry about them being too salty or oily. These cookies bake up nicely with a salty undertone that is great for those who can't get enough of the salty-sweet combination (like chocolate-covered pretzels).

Gingerbread Blossoms

For those who want a quicker holiday cookie that is still a step above store-bought, these are the cookie for you. Anyone who enjoys peanut butter blossoms will recognize the general idea behind them. You can either use pre-made gingerbread dough, a gingerbread cookie mix, or you can start from scratch. I decided to try the first choice to save myself some time this year. After baking the cookie, you place a Hershey's chocolate kiss (or hug if you want something different) in the middle. You may notice the cookies in the picture have two different textures - this is what happens when you forget to roll half the dough balls in sugar before baking. Oh well, they were delicious anyways, but the peanut butter blossoms will still be my favorite.

Thumbprint Trios

If you've ever had thumbprint cookies and wondered, "Why do I only get to have one flavor of filling?" these are your cookie. You prepare three mini thumbprint cookies and add a small dollop of three types of jam - raspberry, apricot and strawberry. If you can fit it in your mouth at once (might be difficult), you can enjoy all three at once. Even if you can't, though, you still get to have a nice triplet of fruit flavors.

Red Velvet Crinkles

I love the look of crinkle cookies, and for the holidays, what better compliment to the white of the powdered sugar than a healthy red from a red velvet cookie? These cookies come out cakey with a slight chocolate flavor (red velvet technically is a chocolate cake, after all). Be warned, however, if you have allergies to red food dye, you should definitely avoid this cookie. I used 1 full ounce (4 little bottles) of red food coloring to get this color. But the end result is a cookie that I think Santa would enjoy.

Chai Shortbread Cookies

Chai is a wonderful tea that has some strong, spiced flavors from cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and a variety of others (including but not limited to allspice, vanilla, anise, clove, and orange). While this version of shortbread cookies contain no actual tea, they do utilize some of the flavors, including cardamom, cinnamon, clove, and even a dash of black pepper. Feel free to substitute in your favorite holiday spices to add some punch to your holiday treats.

Orange Poppyseed Cookies

Though my favorite type of cookie is the drop-and-bakes, this set of cookies is a slice-and-bake. Poppy seeds are combined with orange juice and the zests of an orange and a lemon for a more refreshing, light cookie. Be careful about eating too many and taking a drug test, though (don't worry, you would probably pass unless you ate the entire batch of cookies...though that is a definite possibility).

Lemon-Rosemary Trees

Another type of cookie is the cut-and-bake, seen here in the shape of Christmas trees. The difference in these sugar cookies is the lemon zest and chopped rosemary to give the cookies a woodsier, earthier taste. Feel free to decorate them as you wish. I opted for simple white icing and some dragees (the edible silver balls...don't worry, I did not know what they were called either).

Chocolate Souffle Cookies

For a lighter cookie, here is a set that is similar to a meringue. After melting some chocolate, whip up some egg whites with cream of tartar, vanilla extract and sugar. Fold in the chocolate and some chopped walnuts. Bake the cookie until shiny and cracked. These cookies almost melt in your mouth and have a decidedly bittersweet chocolate flavor. Thanks to Fine Cooking magazine for the recipe.

GF Apple Butter Sugar Cookies

Gluten addicts look away. This batch of sugar cookies has two surprises: first, there is no gluten in this recipe. I used a gluten-free (GF) baking mix so my mom could eat them. The second surprise is that they are stuffed with apple butter. You can make these cookies normally. Just take your sugar cookie dough, roll it out a little thick, and sandwich two cutouts around some apple butter, sealing the edges before baking. You can add some glaze to these if you want to hide the pocket of apple butter.

Pomegranate Arils

Pomegranate-Chocolate Chunk Cookies

I bought a pomegranate and was looking for something to do with all of the arils (first picture, above). I had been using them as part of snacks and desserts for myself throughout the week as the fresh pomegranate is a lot sweeter than the juice you buy in the store (be careful because they will stain like nobody's business). Then I found a recipe for a chocolate chunk cookie using the pomegranate seeds. Be sure to delicately fold the pomegranate arils into the dough, otherwise you will end up with something that looks like the red velvet cookies. The pomegranate added a nice, fresh, fruity flavor to brighten up the basic cookies.

Brown Candy

Here ends the cookies, but now begins the parade of other confections. In the south, the above are only known as brown candy. They taste like a cross between fudge and a pecan praline. I was wary of making this because I recently failed at making caramel, but these candies came out very nicely. Be sure to toast your nuts if you can because the flavors are much more intense.

Pecan Candy

If you want an easier pecan candy, here it is. You simple melt together some candy coating (vanilla or chocolate) with sweetened condensed milk, salt and vanilla, then add in chopped pecans. Simply let it cool in the fridge then cut. Even though you did not slave over the stove for an hour to make this candy, they still come out quite nice.

Peanut Butter Fudge

Speaking of easy recipes, here is the world's fastest and tastiest peanut butter fudge, courtesy of Alton Brown. You microwave 1 cup of butter with 1 cup of peanut butter in the microwave until it is all melted. Stir in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1 pound of confectioner's sugar. Pour into a pan and refrigerate until it is cool, et voila! This recipe used half of a regular jar of Jif peanut butter (is there any better). I don't normally keep peanut butter in the house, just because I finished off the other half of a jar in about a week.

Pumpkin Cider Bread

Those who have followed this blog for a little while know I like to make fruit and nut breads. I found this recipe on foodnetwork.com and had to make it. The bread features pumpkin puree, raisins and apple cider, along with some extra cinnamon to bring together many of the holiday's best flavors. While I could not taste it myself (the one drawback of gifting someone a bread is you can't taste it without making it obvious), I hear the bread turned out nicely.

Vin Santo & Grape Cakes

Lastly, one of the first things I did upon arriving in Florida for the holidays was to bake. This month's Gourmet magazine had a recipe that, like the limoncello cookies, reminded me of our trip to Italy. Vin Santo is a grape-based, sweet wine that can be served with biscotti. This recipe, though, pairs Vin Santo with red grapes and orange zest. The batter is baked in cupcake molds (1/2 cup- or 1 cup-sized) and served warm. The Vin Santo flavor permeates the cakes and gives them a wonderful, fragrant flavor.

After all that, you would think I would take the rest of the year off, but my family has enlisted me to assist in making various dishes this year, including Pietro's cheese bread. I hope everyone has a safe, fun holiday season. Look for more cooking in 2009!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Birthday Dim Sum - 11.29.08

For my birthday, Mom and Moe took me to a Chinese-Vietnamese restaurant in Pinellas Park that serves dim sum. Dim sum is a plethora of small dishes that most restaurants only serve for a limited time during the week. This restaurant, however, serves it all the time. I will apologize for the quality of the pictures as I used my phone to take them.

Chicken Feet

We started with a peculiar oddity that seemed to be a favorite of the Asians in the restaurant: chicken feet. They were marinated and cooked in a sweet-spicy sauce. They had good flavor, though the edible portion of the feet is mostly skin and softer tissues, not so much muscle meat. They were nicely tasty once I got over the weirdness of eating them.

Spare Ribs

Next off of the cart was some spare ribs. They are pork ribs (I think) that are chopped through the bone into small pieces, then slow cooked until tender and exuding savory flavor.

Sticky Rice Wrapped Sticky Rice Unwrapped

In order to get some carbohydrates going, we ordered some sticky rice. It came wrapped in lotus leaves, which gave it an earthy tone. The rice was very sticky (glutenous) and was made more delicious by the addition of mushrooms, pork and Chinese sausage slices (not too much but just enough). Other carby dishes that I did not photograph were some rice noodles wrapped around shrimp and drizzled with sweet soy sauce, shrimp tempura sandwiched between slices of Japanese eggplant, and steamed shrimp-chive dumplings.

BBQ Pork Bun

On the slightly sweeter side, we had some buns filled with chopped, barbecued pork. The pork was mostly sweet, but not overwhelming as a filling in the bun.

Fried Taro

Lastly, we had deep fried taro. I have no idea how this was made or how taro was used in the dish, but the end result were some football shapes with a crispy, delicate exterior, a soft, taro-flavored interior, and a shrimp-mushroom stuffing. Even after all of this food (and a bubble tea for dessert), I was not overly full, but I was definitely very content.

Thanksgiving - 11.27.08

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I'm sorry to say I did not do a lot of cooking while I was back home (then again, it was very restful). My only real contribution was a zucchini salad.

Zucchini Truffle Salad

This is a salad we had in Italy. Use a carrot peeler to thinly slice some zucchini. Top it with broken up parmesan, toasted pine nuts and a healthy drizzle of truffle oil. Truffle oil is a little pricey, but, used sparingly, it is a delicious addition to the salad.

Blue Velvet Cake

My mom surprised me with a birthday dessert on Thanksgiving. She would not tell me what kind of cake it was. To my surprise, while cutting the cake the knife started showing a blue-green tinge. After I cut a few slices, I figured it out: she had made a blue velvet cake. She took a red velvet cake recipe and substituted blue food coloring for red. She did it in honor of my new school colors. Even given the difference in color, the flavor of the cake was the same (delicious) with the classic cream cheese frosting to boot.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fakesgiving - 11.23.08

The other students in my program decided to follow through with my Fakesgiving idea (the one that my friends and I have been doing for the past 4 years). We had a great get-together with all sorts of classic and non-typical Thanksgiving fare. Here are my contributions:

Tomato Bread Pudding

I found this idea in Gourmet Magazine (where they also tend to take pictures of food in its more natural state, hence my half-eaten photo). It is for a savory tomato bread pudding. You start by roasting some halved plum tomatoes that have been coated in olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs de Provence for about 45 minutes until they are cooked down and the flavors are concentrated (tomato confit). Next, cube one loaf of French or Italian bread, coat with some olive oil and cook on a cookie sheet until they are golden brown on the edges, like underdone croutons. Let everything cool once it comes out of the oven. Place the bread into a buttered baking dish. Mix together 1 cup of heavy cream, 2 cups of whole milk, 8 eggs, a head of roasted garlic, 2 cups of grated Fontina cheese, and 1/2 cup parmesan cheese. Pour this mixture over the bread. Top it all with the tomatoes, inserting some of the tomatoes in between the bread. Bake this for about an hour, let cool slightly and enjoy. Warning: though delicious, almost no bread pudding is by any means healthy. They usually involve lots of cream and, in the case of the sweet ones, lots of sugar. One of the best bread puddings I've had was one made with chocolate and croissants instead of normal bread. If you don't care about calories, cooking is a simple equation: delicious = fat + sugar.

Mocha Marble Cake

We had a birthday at Fakesgiving, so I took it upon myself to make a cake. I was going to be very fancy, but decided to go more straightforward with it. I made a marble cake (vanilla batter + chocolate batter + butter knife swirling) with mocha frosting (confectioners' sugar, cocoa powder, coffee, vanilla, butter, and a little half-and-half). Marble cake is not one of my favorites, but this one came out moist and the frosting's deep chocolate and coffee flavors made it all the more delectable.

Fall Flavors and Mock Falafel - 11.23.08

I've been cooking so much that I haven't had the energy to update the blog in the past couple of weeks. So here is my pre-Thanksgiving update:

Chicken Curry in Squash

I have wanted to cook with squash and I decided to go through with it. First is chicken curry in a roasted acorn squash. While baking two halves of an acorn squash in a 450 degree oven, you saute chicken, red bell pepper, and onion with curry powder, some milk and golden raisins (those with good eyesight will notice in the picture that I could not find golden raisins so I used regular raisins). As always with any milk-based sauce, you want to make sure not to overcook it and "break" it. After everything is done, serve the chicken inside the squash halves and garnish with chopped cilantro. I found this recipe in Men's Health Magazine, so it is reasonably healthy, very filling if you can finish an entire half of an acorn squash (I may quarter it next time) and has decent flavors.

Pumpkin Ravioli

The second dish is one you could make year-round since it does not rely on fresh squash. I combined pumpkin puree with toasted pumpkin seeds, lemon juice, asiago cheese, a lot of arugula, peppercorns, and salt in a food processor and blended until smooth. If you, like me, does not always want to make fresh pasta dough for ravioli, you can use wonton wrappers. The recipe I used called for cornstarch dissolved in water to seal up the ravioli. This worked very well and the ravioli did not burst when I boiled them (only for a few minutes until they float). For a sauce, I combined 6 tablespoons each of butter and chopped sage. I may have cooked the sauce a little too long, but the end result was a nice butter sauce with crispy sage in it. I used some shaved asiago cheese at the end as a final touch.

Steak with Olives

As an accompaniment to the ravioli, I made a very quick and easy steak dish. Start by patting the steaks dry and seasoning them with salt and pepper. Cook them in a pan with oil until they reach the desired doneness. Remove the steaks from the pan and add 4 sliced garlic cloves and about a cup and a half of coarsely chopped olives. This time around I used a combination of black and pitted kalamata olives. Cook this until the garlic is browned and everything is heated through. Top the steaks with the olives and garnish with chopped parsley. I've discovered I like my steak medium rare to give it a nice juiciness and flavor. The olives add a simple, rustic flavor that matches the steak well.

Mock Falafel

The last dish I've made is a little out of left field. It's a non-traditional version of falafel using pinto beans instead of favas. Combine mashed pintos with monterey jack cheese, tortilla chips or breadcrumbs, green onion, cilantro, cumin, and egg whites. Form this odd mixture into patties and cook in a pan with olive oil until the patties have a nice, crispy outside. I wanted to make an avocado spread for this, but my avocado went bad prematurely, so I combined sour cream with lime juice, onion, and tomato for a cool topping. I served these inside of pita with shredded iceberg lettuce. These falafel may not be as crispy as the usual ones are, but they turned out to be quite enjoyable anyways.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Turkey Cutlets with Caper Sauce - 10/28/08

A little more entertaining this week, so I thought I would give a new recipe a try since I had a guinea pig who was reading, willing and able.

Turkey Cutlets with Caper Sauce

You may notice some similarities in the preparation of this dish with chicken parmigiana (parmesan). Start by finding some turkey breast cut into slices between one quarter to one half of an inch thick. Wrap each slice with a thin piece of prosciutto. Coat each piece with seasoned breadcrumbs. Alternatively, you can cover each with flour, dip into an egg wash, then the breadcrumbs. I chose the simpler route because a) it was easier, and b) I was out of eggs. Cook these up in a pan until they are golden brown. While they are cooking, chop 3 cloves of garlic with 1 small bottle of capers, 1 tsp red wine vinegar, and a few tsp of olive oil. Once the meat is done (be sure it cooks all the way through), plate it and top it with the caper sauce (mixed well). I served it with some colorful pasta I bought in Italy as well as some garlicy bread. This sauce was very good, nicely salty and the vinegar gave it some depth of flavor, though I'm sure the prosciutto helped too.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lots of Updates - 10.26.08

I've been staying busy busy for the past couple of weeks, so I haven't gotten around to updating the blog. But now I've found some time, so here's what I've been up to.

Shepherd's Pie

One of my pseudo-Scottish favorites, shepherd's pie is an easy casserole for entertaining friends or for a quiet evening at home. While boiling some potatoes for the top portion, cook ground beef in a pan, adding some onions, carrots and garlic. Once it's all cooked, stir in some flour to let it combine with the fat in the pan. Gradually stir in some tomatoes and beef stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Add Worcestershire sauce, sage, salt, and pepper, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes. While it's simmering, mash the potatoes with some butter, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Adjust the consistency with some milk.

Stir mushrooms into the meat and cook until tender. Turn the mixture into a shallow ovenproof dish. You can either pipe the mashed potatoes with a star tip (fancy version) or you can delicately spread them over the top of the meat mixture (time and energy efficient version). Bake in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes. Let cool a bit, slice and serve.

Grape-Mascarpone Upside-Down Cheesecake

I wanted to make a slightly different dessert, so I opted for this grape and mascarpone upside-down cheesecake. You puree some grape juice concentrate with some grapes, then simmer this in a saucepan with some whole grapes, sugar, raspberry vinegar, and cornstarch, cooking until it is thickened slightly. Pour this into the bottom of a springform pan (this will form the bottom of the cheesecake, which will be served as the top). With an electric mixer, combine cream cheese and mascarpone cheese with some sugar and flour. Pour this mixture over the grape mixture and bake until the center is just set. Allow to cool completely, then refrigerate for 4 hours. When ready to serve, invert onto a serving dish and remove the springform pan. This dessert came out nicely balanced: not artificially grapey and not overtly sweet, which were my main concerns. The last thing anyone wants for dessert is a diabetogenic cheesecake that tastes like Dimetapp.

Mushroom-Rice Soup and Red Wine Steak

With winter at our doorstep here in North Carolina, I was in the mood for soup, so I wanted to re-make some mushroom rice chowder I prepared about 3 years ago. You start by cooking mushrooms, leeks, shallots, and garlic in a pan with butter until everything is tender. Add 4 cups of chicken stock, 1 cup of wild rice, marjoram, thyme, and pepper. Simmer, covered, for about an hour until the rice is cooked. Slowly stir in 1 cup of half-and-half, cream cheese or sour cream (depending on how creamy and fattening you want your soup). Heat soup through but do not boil. Serve in large bowls and savor the warmth and flavors at your leisure.

Since I'm such a fungi (fun guy haha), I continued the mushroominess and made these steaks with red wine and mushroom sauce. Salt and pepper the steaks, then cook them up in a saucepan to the desired doneness. When finished, transfer to a covered, oven-safe dish and place it in an oven set on warm. In the same pan, pour out most of the fat, and add 8 ounces of mushrooms and some shallots, and cook until tender. Add some beef broth and heat until boiling. Mix cornstarch into half a cup of red wine, then pour this mixture into the pan. Cook this mixture until the sauce is thickened and adjust the flavors with salt and pepper. Plate the steaks and spread the sauce on top. The version I made turned out rather bland, so additional spices and maybe a bit less cornstarch would help. It did look nice, though, with some chopped parsley on top.

Zucchini Bread

For a nice treat for my lab, I made some zucchini bread. I have made so much banana bread over the past few years, I decided to try my hand at zucchini bread. I got the recipe from Food Network and tweaked it a bit. After mixing together 3.25 cups flour, 1.5 tsp salt, 1 tsp nutmeg, 2 tsp baking soda, 3 cups sugar, and 1 tsp cinnamon (I also added to this 1 tsp of cardamom, a wonderfully warm and underused spice), I made the wet mixture: 1 cup vegetable oil, 4 eggs, 1/3 cup water, 1 tsp lemon juice, and 2 cups zucchini. To grate the zucchini, you can do it the hard way with a hand grater or, as I found out, you can do it the easy way with the proper attachment to a food processor. I grated 2 zucchini in 15 seconds. Mix the wet mixture into the dry mixture until just mixed together. If you want, fold in 1 cup of chopped nuts (I used pecans). Bake this in 2 loaf pans (I only had 1 regular loaf pan and 3 mini loaf pans) for about 1 hour (or 45 minutes for mini-sized) until a tester comes out clean. I did have a difficult time getting the loaves out of the pans, but after that they were fine. I also used a light vanilla glaze on the large one before I brought it in for my lab to devour like piranha. It had a wonderful spiced flavor to it and the zucchini was more for consistency than for flavor.

In the past couple of weeks, I went to the NC Renaissance Fair as well as the State Fair. I meant to document the wonderful foods at both, but was so excited that I only remembered my camera when I was halfway through gorging. At the Renaissance Fair, we enjoyed a turkey leg, chocolate-covered strawberries, sausage on a stick, hot cider, strawberry shortcake, and fried mac-n-cheese. At the State Fair, we had a soft pretzel, another turkey leg, fried cheesecake, mint chocolate chip ice cream, a foot long corndog, and, the best of the best, fried oreos and Reese's peanut butter cups. The oreos were good, but the peanut butter cups were out of this world. Our original intent was to eat all of the other fried goodness (including, but not limited to, fried pickles, twinkies, Snickers, and Milky Ways), but we did not find the right booths until we were already stuffed. Luckily we carried around our many and varied stuffed animals, so that might come near the number of calories we consumed...at least if you fudge the numbers a bit.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Pane di Formaggio - 10/04/08

Cheese Bread Outside

As I may have mentioned in a previous post, I got the recipe for a wonderful cheese bread from a family in Rome. Today, I decided to finally attempt to make it.

Cheese Bread Inside

Unlike many things you try for the first time, this recipe came out pretty darn close to what I intended. I think I will reduce the baking time a little bit, but other than that minor difference, I consider this a success. Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to disclose the recipe for the bread. I promised Pietro and his family that I would use this only for my personal purposes. All I will say is that there are three kinds of cheeses involved, some metric conversions, and an odd recipe for a bread. I know this is disappointing for those reading this (especially since the bread is wonderfully delicious), but if anything, I'm a man of my word. Grazie, Pietro.

Fettuccine with Goat Sausage - 10/01/08

Last weekend, when I was determining what I wanted to cook for the week, I decided on this recipe. However, I changed my mind about using turkey sausage when I found a block of goat sausage at the local Farmers' Market. It was flavored with sage and I thought what better opportunity to try something new.

Italian Fettuccine

On my trip to Italy, I picked up this fettuccine primavera for all of the wonderful colors. I chose a few of the colors to use in this dish.

Fettuccine with Goat Sausage

While cooking the pasta, cook some chopped onion until it is translucent. Then add the goat sausage, breaking up the meat into bite-size pieces. Cook the meat all the way through and allow to brown on the outside. Add some white wine to deglaze the pan for a couple of minutes. Then add some rinsed cannelini beans and halved grape tomatoes, allowing this mixture to heat through and the tomatoes to soften. Add the sauce to the cooked, drained pasta, tossing to coat. Surprisingly, the goat meat tasted like any other meat with all of the sausage seasonings, but that doesn't mean you should avoid trying it. I like adding to my culinary repertoire whenever possible, if for no other reason but to keep myself interested in food and cooking for myself on a regular basis.

Salmon Agrodolce - 9/28/08

Salmon Agrodolce

Agrodolce, literally translated from Italian, means sweet-sour. This recipe was simple and sweet (...and sour). First step: pan fry the salmon. When I bought my salmon, my only option was to buy the pre-packaged, frozen salmon. I would have preferred some fresh salmon, skin-on that did not have a wonderful fluorescent orange color, but beggars can't be choosers. Anyways, after cooking the salmon on both sides, remove from pan. Saute some red onion that has been wedged until it is golden brown. Stir in a decent amount of balsamic vinegar (2/3 cup), a teaspoon of sugar and some salt, and allow the mixture to reduce down to a syrupy sauce. I served the salmon topped with the sauce and with a mound of couscous on the side. I liked this sauce because of the interplay of the vinegary and the sweet, not to mention the almost black color which is not something you find a lot in your entrees.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Steak au Poivre with Pasta Pesto and Goat Cheese-Walnut Salad - 9/25/08

This menu pretty much created itself after my mom sent me a recipe for a pesto made with arugula and walnuts instead of basil and pine nuts. Arugula has a nice peppery flavor to it, so what better to pair with it than steak au poivre and a salad with walnuts.

Steak au Poivre with Pasta Pesto

Cook up the pasta according to package directions. I used creste di gallo (rooster crowns - they look like large macaroni with some fringes on them) because I liked the multiple colors they come in. For the pesto, combine one garlic clove, salt, half a cup of walnuts (toasted for extra credit), 2 cups arugula, half a cup of basil, 2 tablespoons of parmigiano, and one tablespoon of lemon juice in a food processor. While processing, stream in about one third cup of olive oil until the pesto is smooth. Adjust the flavor with salt and pepper as desired. Toss the pesto over the pasta.

For the steak, salt both sides of the meat and cover both sides with cracked peppercorns. If you want a lighter pepper flavor (or if you start sneezing uncontrollably), you can use ground pepper, just make sure you use a good amount of it. The pepper is the only real seasoning for the steak, so use as much as you can tolerate. You may be concerned that the pepper will be overpowering, but the cooking process dulls the flavors a bit so you probably won't have a problem. Anyways, cook the steak in a pan to desired doneness. If you really want, you can add a little brandy or red wine to deglaze the pan, then add a little heavy cream and cook until thickened. Be careful with the cream, though, because if you cook it too long past the thickened stage, the sauce will break and become more watery. This sauce is not totally necessary to enjoy the dish, though, as the pesto makes a nice accompaniment.

Goat Cheese-Walnut Salad

For a nice side salad, start with a base of fresh spinach and arugula, then add some toasted walnuts and crumbled goat cheese. For the dressing, whisk together some walnut oil, red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and Dijon mustard. Pour a smattering if this dressing on top of the salad and toss to mix.

Chicken Tangine with Couscous - 9/22/08

This past week started off with a Moroccan/Middle Eastern dish, chicken tangine:

Chicken Tangine

I made this with 3 bone-in chicken breasts, but a full chicken would work well. Just make sure you piece the chicken and adjust the cooking time for the individual parts. Salt and pepper the chicken and cook it in a heavy skillet, skin-side down, until browned nicely. Remove the chicken from the skillet and start cooking some chopped shallots in butter in a large pot until soft. Add garlic, ginger, turmeric (careful, it will get under your fingernails and turn them orange), and paprika. Add the chicken to the pot with some saffron and salt, turning the chicken to make sure the chicken is evenly coated. Add about a cup of water and simmer for a half hour. Turn the chicken and add some orange marmalade, cinnamon stick, thyme, cilantro, and chopped apricots. Simmer this, covered, for about 10 minutes, then uncovered for about 10 additional minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

In a small pan, heat some oil in a skillet, then stir in pine nuts, turmeric and paprika. Cook until browned and remove from pan. Also, at this point, I made some couscous according to the package directions (it only takes 5 minutes once the water is boiling). Transfer the chicken to a platter and, if the sauce is not thick, reduce it down. Discard the herb sprigs and cinnamon stick. Stir in chopped cilantro, spoon sauce over chicken, and sprinkle pine nuts over top. One thing I love about this type of cuisine is the balance of sweet and savory, with the nice cinnamon kick.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Shrimp Cakes - 9/10/08

When planning my meals for the week, I was struck by inspiration - making crab cakes with shrimp instead. Here are the results:

Shrimp Cakes

I bought a bag of frozen, cooked, deveined, detailed shrimp and let them thaw in the fridge. I cut them in 3-4 pieces each, then added salt, pepper, breadcrumbs, freshly chopped dill, chopped green onion, lemon juice, mayonnaise, and sour cream (the last two ingredients in equal proportions). I formed these into patties and put them in a hot, oiled pan. After letting them brown nicely, I turned them and cooked them on the other side. While this all cooked, I prepared a homemade cocktail sauce from some ketchup, fresh horseradish and Worcestershire sauce. Lastly, I arranged the cakes on a plate with some sauce and dill for garnish. Though I always have a problem with them breaking apart, they were delicious all the same.

Linguine with Gremolata - 09/09/08

Linguine with Gremolata

School is making me lazy about updating the blog. That ends today. The first update is linguine with gremolata. I cooked some spinach linguine (for the green color). On the side in a pan I cooked shallots (light onion flavor), garlic, zucchini, and snow peas until they are crisp-tender. Add spinach and fresh basil at the end and cook until they are wilted. After draining the pasta, I transferred all of these vegetables to the pasta. In the skillet, I turned up the heat to medium high and placed some sliced chicken breast in it. As it cooked, I seasoned it with salt, pepper, and freshly grated parmigiano. Using high heat sealed in the juices and flavor in the chicken (as long as I did not overcook it). I dished up the pasta-vegetable mixture and topped it with the chicken. Lastly, I prepared the gremolata: chopped parsley, lemon zest, capers, and olive oil. This was placed on top to add a burst of bright flavor to the dish. I also added some more parmigiano on top because I love me some cheese. I liked the freshness and contrasts in this meal and it made me very happy after a long day of research.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Chicken & Sausage Cacciatore - 8/30/08

Chicken & Sausage Cacciatore

The latest creation is a different version of chicken cacciatore (more properly, pollo alla cacciatore or hunter's chicken). Usually, this dish is made with peppers, but this version is more focused on the mushrooms and tomatoes. The sausage adds some extra flavors in addition to the fresh herbs and spices. To start, you season 4 chicken thighs with salt and pepper. You then brown the chicken and sausages on both sides and remove them from the pan. Next, saute some mushrooms until they are brown and remove them from the pan as well. Add grape tomatoes, red wine, garlic, and rosemary to the pan and cook until the tomatoes soften. Using a potato masher, crush some of the tomatoes to add their juices to the sauce. At this point, return the chicken, sausages and mushrooms to the pan and cook, turning the meats occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through. Just before serving, stir in some fresh basil to the sauce. I served this with a side of canned green beans improved with some garlic salt and rosemary, though I omitted it from the picture since it does not look that appetizing (tastes good though).