Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Lamb & Couscous - 3/25/08

After a busy week, it was nice to be able to put this meal together very quickly, but still have it be very enjoyable.

Lamb & Leeks

The lamb technically needs to marinate in some soy sauce, sherry, vinegar, sugar, cornstarch, salt, and pepper for an hour, but I only did it for 15 minutes and it came out quite good. Some sliced leeks are then cooked in some sesame oil until tender and removed from the pan/wok. The lamb is then cooked with minced ginger in more sesame oil until it is no longer pink. The leeks are added back in with more sherry. All of this came together nicely and the flavors melded.

Lemon Couscous

As a side dish, I wanted something Greek to go with the lamb. I chose couscous salad since it is very easy and flexible. This recipe has you prepare plain couscous with red onion in the pot. This is then tossed with kalamata olives, golden raisins, feta cheese, parsley, and pine nuts. For a dressing, equal parts of lemon juice and olive oil are whisked together with chopped garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper. This dressing is then mixed into the couscous. This salad was absolutely delicious. I did not expect the raisins to go well with the salty ingredients, but their sweetness was muted. Couscous salad can be made with all sorts of other flavors, including basil, lime, curry, tomato, eggplant, dill, and pretty much anything else you want. It is a pasta, though, so don't think it is a healthy, whole-grain rice. This salad would also be good cold or at room temperature, but I prefer it piping hot.

Goan-Style Chicken - 3/20/08

I had a busy week last week, so my food updates are coming today.

Goan-Style Chicken

This is Goan-style chicken with a side of rice. Onion and garlic are first stir fried with cumin and coriander (I didn't have any coriander when I made this, so I added some turmeric). The chicken is stir-fried separately until golden. The onions are added to the chicken with orange zest, orange juice, and a little brown sugar. The heat is reduced and some plain yogurt is added to make a nice sauce that adheres well to the chicken. On top, for garnish, are crushed, toasted almonds. I liked this dish because it was simple and the flavors blended well. I was not expecting yogurt to go well with cumin and turmeric, so this was a pleasant surprise.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bread Gnocchi - 3/18/08

For those of you who have not heard of gnocchi, it is made with potato flour to give a nice, dense pasta. I found a recipe for this version of gnocchi that is handy if you have some extra bread around.

Bread Gnocchi

I took a loaf of ciabatta, pulled it apart into small pieces and let it soak in water for about 30 minutes. Then I squeezed out any excess water from the bread. To this, I added 2 eggs, garlic salt, pepper, oregano, and parsley. After mixing this well with my hands, I formed it into balls and dropped each ball into a greased pan over medium heat. I browned the balls on each side and removed them from the heat. On top is a canned tomato sauce (sweet pepper, to be exact). In the background, you can see some ciabatta pieces I served on the side. While this is a far cry from classic gnocchi, it was a fairly quick, easy and delicious meal.

St. Patrick's Day - 3/17/08

I had not planned on doing anything for St. Patrick's Day, but then inspiration struck me on my way home. I went to Fresh Market and here's what I managed to put together:

St. Patty Melt

For lunch I made these St. Patty Melts. I found a nice Irish soda bread at Fresh Market. It had some raisins in it, but I figured that would not throw the flavor off too much. On top of this, I put a few slices of corned beef and some spinach. On top of this, I put some shredded Irish cheddar. I grilled this sandwich up and, as a garnish, I placed a few more spinach leaves on top.

Bangers & Mash

For dinner I made a classic British dish: bangers and mash. The bangers (sausages) were Irish for those purists out there. To the mashed potatoes, I added some more spinach for a nice green color. Admittedly, I should have used cabbage instead, but I like spinach better. As a beverage, I made some green (ginger) ale. May the luck of the Irish be with you all!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Devil's Food & Rose Cupcakes - 3/12/08

I bought a new cookbook from Williams-Sonoma titled "Cupcakes." The recipes make very delicious and visually pleasing cupcakes in an effort to get rid of the idea that all cupcakes are super sweet and blandly flavored. I enlisted the help of my friend, Christian, who encouraged me to make this into more of a photo journal through our afternoon of baking. We decided to make a batch of devil's food cupcakes and a batch of rose-flavored cupcakes.

Rose Petals

The rose cupcakes contain rose water, an ingredient that can also be used in baklava (a delicious Greek dessert with honey and nuts). The rose petals themselves are apparently edible, but I'm not sure about commercially grown roses. We chose this color because it was very vibrant and we thought it would give the cupcakes a nice "pop" of extra color.


The cupcakes themselves cooked up very nicely. As you can see, the chocolate ones rose more than the rose-flavored ones. The rose-flavored ones contained a stick of butter split between them. The chocolate ones, on the other hand, called for half as much. We substituted apple sauce for the butter in the chocolate ones to cut out some fat.


For chocolate, it's hard to beat Ghirardelli. The recipe for the frosting of the devil's food cupcakes called for 8 ounces of semisweet, but I thought it would be better to use 4 ounces of semisweet and 4 ounces of bittersweet (60% cacao).

Chopped Chocolate

To chop the chocolate, it is easiest to use a serrated knife and let the teeth press down into the chocolate. No need to saw back and forth. Just press the knife through the chocolate at about 1/2 inch intervals to break up the chocolate into small pieces.

Chocolate Icing

The easiest way to make a ganache or chocolate icing is to pour boiling cream over chopped chocolate. Bring the cream (and in this case cream with some salt and light corn syrup mixed in) to a full boil and pour it into a bowl containing the chopped chocolate. Allow this to sit for about 1 minute to start softening the chocolate. Then start mixing it together with a spatula or wooden spoon. Start with small circles in the center of the mixture and slowly work your way outward. Your overall goal is a rich, dark sauce with a smooth consistency. If you see small chocolate bits still floating around, keep stirring to make a full emulsion.

Rose Cupcakes

The rose cupcakes have some rose water in the cupcake and a lot more in the icing (made with confectioners' sugar and milk). On top are mostly rose petals and raspberries. the cupcakes only come up about 3/4 of the way up the cup, leaving room for the icing to sit.

Devil's Food Cupcakes

The devil's food cupcakes are topped with a decent layer of the ganache. Then an edible flower dusted with sugar is placed on top for extra elegance.


This is the final product with some extra showy presentation thanks to Christian. These cupcakes came out quite nicely and they tasted as nice as they look. If you want a fun way to spend an afternoon, plan out a meal/dessert with a friend and carry it out. It was fun to balance the science of baking with the art of food presentation.

Chicken-Sweet Potato Stir-Fry - 3/11/08

While at the Webster flea market (the largest in Florida), I picked up some sweet potatoes and bok choy, along with some other cheaply-priced produce. I thought, "Would I be able to combine the sweet potatoes and bok choy together?" The answer, apparently, is yes.

Chicken-Sweet Potato Stir-Fry

I started off by cutting the sweet potatoes into cubes and microwaving them for about 5 minutes. I next cooked the chicken over high heat in sesame oil, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, and seasoned rice vinegar. I removed this from the heat and set it aside. Then I cooked some shiitake mushrooms in more sesame oil, then added the sweet potatoes. To this, I added more seasoned rice vinegar, soy sauce and teriyaki sauce along with some hoisin and duck sauce. If you don't know, hoisin is a dark sweet sauce used in Asian cuisine and it has a hint of plum flavor to it. I mixed this all together, then added the bok choy to allow it to soften and wilt. I added the chicken back in along with some bean sprouts.

As a side, I made some "Asian" rice, which is pretty much jasmine rice cooked with turmeric, sugar and dry mustard. It came out yellow thanks to the turmeric (saffron can do the same thing). The flavors in each dish melded well, so I would consider this experiment a success.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Banana Crunch Muffins - 03/07/08

What do you do with ripe bananas that you don't have time to eat (or at least that you do not want to eat for fear of potassium overload)? You bake with them!

Banana Crunch Muffins

I originally wanted to make banana bread, but I did not have enough bananas. I found this recipe on the Food Network website from Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa). She is the second chef on Food Network known for using a lot of butter, and these muffins are no exception. They have mashed bananas as well as chopped bananas to add extra texture. She recommends granola, nuts and coconut both in and on top of the muffins. I chose to only use the granola and I added some leftover chocolate chips to them. They turned out quite delicious and kept pretty well over time. I displayed them on my cupcake/muffin tree, pictured above. For some reason, they designed the tree to have 13 spots and regular-sized muffin tins make 12 muffins (like this recipe), so I suppose I'll have to make double batches in the future to be able to use the tree properly. I'm sure my friends would not object to that.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Chicken Chili with Tostones - 3/4/08

So here's the story. This meal started out greatly different than it ended up. The original idea was to make a yuca-chicken chili with tomatoes. Then my yuca was freezer-burnt. Then my tomatoes had mold on them. I was just going to omit them, but the meal looked so plain. I found some green beans in the freezer and put them in to add some color. So here's what I ended up with.

Chicken Chili with Tostones

I sauteed some onions and garlic until they were tender. I added two cans of chick peas plus their juice and let this simmer for a bit. I cut up the meat from one of those Publix rotisserie chickens (this one was mojo flavored) and added that to the pot and let it simmer with a bay leaf, cumin, turmeric, Adobo seasoning, and garlic powder for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, I cut up some plantains (they were a little riper than the should have been) and placed them on a greased cookie sheet. I baked them at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. When I took them out of the oven, I smashed them down with the bottom of a 1 cup measure. Then I baked them for about 10 minutes more until they were a little crisp. Once I removed them from the oven, I salted them. Traditional tostones are made the same way, except they are fried instead of baked.

To bring this all together, I put the chili in a bowl, added a couple of tostones and garnished it with some cilantro and scallions. I am disappointed I was not able to use the yuca (it tastes delicious after it is boiled in lime-water for about 40 minutes), but this result was a good alternative.

On a personal note, I am done traveling, so I should have more updates coming on a more regular basis. I have decided to go to Duke Graduate School. Durham, North Carolina was just an awesome place to live and I feel it will be a great fit.

Steak with Onion-Tomato Relish - 2/29/08

Here's the first of two updates for today.

Steak with Onion-Tomato Relish

The steak is cooked just with some pepper rubbed into it. Then, after cooking the steaks, the onions were sauteed in the juices. Tomatoes were added with some salt, pepper and sage. This was all cooked until it was tender and heated through. On the side is some whole wheat rice pilaf. I liked this meal because it turned out good with not a lot of work.