Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sweets & Simplicity - 2/22/2009

I had a good deal of leftovers from last week's meals, so I have mostly simple dishes for this post. But don't get me wrong, that does not mean any of this is light on flavor.

Tuna Salad Nicoise

I read in one of my magazines about a salad with tuna and egg, which gave me the idea for this lunch. My tuna salad sandwiches are usually nothing special. But for this salad, I pretty much combined egg salad and tuna salad (why choose, right?). I used one of the flavored tunas, in this case garlic-flavored. To this I added probably about 1-2 tablespoons of mayonnaise, a little salt, pepper, capers, and halved Spanish olives, and mixed everything nicely. While this was going on, I was boiling my eggs. I find if you put the eggs in the water, then bring it to a boil over high heat, then time seven (maybe even eight) minutes, the eggs come out perfect every time: cooked through but nothing is hard or rubbery. The keys for this is to use fresher eggs and to shock them in an ice bath after cooking. That way the eggs peel very easily and do not crack while boiling. Anyways, back to the sandwich. I coarsely cut up my eggs and mixed them into the salad. I put all of this atop some spray-buttered toast in an open-face sandwich (I've never managed to fit all of a tuna or egg salad on a closed sandwhich). The egg whites add some nice protein and a different texture to the salad while the yolk makes it a little creamier and the olives and capers add some nice salty flavor. The end result is what I call tuna salad Nicoise.

Spiced Chocolate Pudding

While I am controlling my portions and appetite, that does not stop my craving for something sweet. I have been eating the low calorie pre-made Jell-o pudding cups, but sometimes the flavor is just not as good. In order to make up for that, I made this small confection. I bought one of the sugar-free Jell-o chocolate pudding mixes and, while preparing it according to package directions (which can really be condensed to "mix with milk"), I mixed in some powdered ginger, powdered cloves and powdered cinnamon to the mix. These warm spices helped to distract my tongue from the weirdness of the sugar substitute, so I would recommend this trick to anyone who wants to add a little spice to their diet.

Calamari Steak with Brussels Sprouts

Today at the grocery store, I found calamari steaks again and I decided to cook them for dinner since the last time I bought them I did not cook them before they started to smell. I marinated the steaks for an hour in a combination of hoisin, black bean sauce, sesame oil, mirin, minced ginger, sliced and dried garlic, and soy sauce (yes, I pretty much combined most things Asian that I had). Meanwhile, I prepared the brussels sprouts: halved them, oiled them up with salt and pepper, then baked them at high heat for 10 minutes. Next I tossed the sprouts with some caraway seeds and baked them for another 10 minutes until they were nicely browned all over. Back to the calamari, I grilled the steaks over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes per side (don't overcook seafood), and assembled my plate with some rice cooked in chicken stock and dried garlic. Brussels sprouts can be quite tasty if prepared fresh and simply. They're almost like little cabbages. The calamari was tender and delicious and went nicely with everything else. Start to finish I probably cooked this all in 30 minutes, including clean-up time. Even Rachel Ray can't do that.

Cereal Treats

One of my classmates had a get-together earlier in the week, meaning I had an excuse to make something sweet and delicious. I wanted something simple and not over-the-top. A friend recommended Rice Krispie treats, but I felt that was a little too...normal. So I did the same thing with Captain Crunch with Crunchberries and Reese's Puffs. You melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan, then add 10 ounces of marshmallows to melt them down. Remove the pan from the heat and add 6 cups of cereal. Press this into a greased baking dish and allow it to cool. I find it cuts easier if you cool it in the freezer for about 15 minutes. This recipe is easy to multiply and make with other cereals, though some cereals may require tweaking of the marshmallow mixture, but most people don't care about it. This treats tasted good and got rave reviews from everyone at the shindig. Lesson of the week is to KISS: Keep It Simple and Sweet (or Knights in Satan's Service for old-school rock n roll fans).

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Soup, Lion Head and Dangerous Desserts

Turkey Chowder

This week began with another helping of lunch soup. I just can't help my soup cravings when the temperature is below 60 degrees. I made a New England-style turkey chowder. After cooking some onion in butter in a pot, I added some chicken broth, 2 diced potatoes, salt, and pepper. After cooking for about 15 minutes until the potatoes were tender, I stirred in some cubed turkey I had grilled up with garlic powder and rosemary. I dissolved cornstarch in 1% milk, then added this to the soup to add a thick, creaminess. I did have to doctor up the soup a bit with some more spices, but, in the end, it came out nicely, filling me up all week long.

Lion's Head

This dish is Chinese (I believe) and it is called lion's head. The meatballs are made of a combination of ground pork, scallions, flour, egg whites, rice wine, ginger, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, salt, and pepper. They were cooked in a pan until browned, then added to a pot with 4 heads of bok choy, halved, and 3 cups of chicken stock. Bring the stock to a boil and simmer everything, covered, for about 40 minutes or until meatballs are cooked through, turning halfway through cooking. The bok choy turned out nicely cooked and the meatballs had a surprising amount of flavor from all of those varied ingredients. The overall taste was a slightly oniony, gingeriness. These would be good as a smaller appetizer size as well if you want. The steaming also helps them keep moist.

Sauteed Green Beans

I'm not normally one for fresh green beans. Their flavor is usually too strong for me. But this recipe made them not only edible, but enjoyable. After blanching and shocking the green beans, I cooked some sliced shallots and garlic in a butter-olive oil combination until they were tender and fragrant. To this I added a can of tomatoes, allowing the mixture to cook for a few minutes. I added the beans back in and cooked them for about 10 minutes more. At the end, I added some dry white wine, basil, salt, and pepper. The tomato and onion flavors helped to improve the green beans, and the wine managed to add a slight sweetness to it all that was both surprising and delicious.

Coffee Crunch Bars

My graduate school program had recruits in this week and I made them these coffee crunch bars. The recipe is from Bon Appetit magazine, who adapted it from a friend of one of the authors who adapted it from her grandmother. They are like a cookie bar that is cooked for a bit longer without as much leavening agent. Brown sugar adds some depth of flavor and espresso powder compliments the chocolate chips. After baking the dough as a giant cookie, you slice it into bars and allow them to cool. While cooling they crisp up very nicely, making an all-around delicious dessert that is good pretty much any time of the day.

Individual Chocolate Cake Mix
Individual Chocolate Cake

My mom sent me a recipe for an individual chocolate cake that you make a) in a coffee cup, b) in the microwave, and c) in 5 minutes. Here's the recipe:
4T flour
4T sugar
2T cocoa powder
1 egg
3T milk
3T vegetable oil
3T chocolate chips
1 dash vanilla extract

In a large coffee mug, mix dry ingredients. Add the egg and mix thoroughly. Pour in milk and oil and mix well. Add chocolate chips and vanilla, and mix one last time. Microwave on high for 3 minutes. Allow to cool and devour. If you want to present this outside of the mug, you can grease the mug but you would have to mix the ingredients separately. The cake comes out decently, though the top is a little dryer and the chocolate chips tend to accumulate at the bottom. But, if you are hell-bent on eating some chocolate calories, at least this is for 1-2 people as opposed to making a whole cake and eating a lot more. This recipe could probably be easily tweaked to make different types of cake, making it the most dangerous recipe ever...

Monday, February 2, 2009

Italian, Asian, Soup, & Dessert - 2/2/2009

I managed to do all of this week's cooking during the weekend. That way I can bring non-sandwich food for lunch and all I have to do for dinner is push some buttons on the microwave.

Split Pea Soup

The soup of the week (soup du...week) is split pea with ham. It started with cooking some carrot and onion until soft in some butter. Then I added around 7 cups of chicken broth, 16oz of split peas, cubed ham steak, some salt, whole allspice, whole peppercorns, thyme, and a bay leaf. In theory, I should have made a bouquet garni (spices held in a small bag or tied with twine) so I could easily remove them after they soup was done cooking, but I did not have any cheesecloth, so I did it the unfancy way. I cooked the soup for an hour or so until all of the split peas were softened. I like my soup nice and thick (almost paste-like in consistency), so I made sure to cook it until some of the moisture had evaporated. Even though this was the first time I've made this soup, it all balanced out pretty well. The spices provided good depth of flavor and ham is a must for split peas. This will definitely make a good lunch this week.

Miso Steak with Rice Salad

I made some excellent Asian marinated steaks too. I combined some white miso, mirin (sweetened sake), soy sauce, and sesame oil in a bowl, then tossed some steaks in the marinade and let this mixture sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, for my side item, I cooked up some jasmine rice. After it was cooked and cooled a bit, I mixed in chopped garlic, olive oil, cumin, half of a cucumber (halved, seeded, and sliced), cilantro and lemon juice. Lastly, I grilled the steaks in my cast iron skillet and served it all immediately. The steaks adopted some good flavor from the marinade and the rice salad was a great way to add some veggies to the usual carb side.

Pasta with Broccoflower

No, you're monitor doesn't have its colors wrong. Those light green florets are, in actuality, broccoflower, a hybrid of broccoli and cauliflower. It is mostly like cauliflower but with some hints of broccoli flavor. Plus it's a weird limey green color. Anyways, I roasted the florets with grape tomatoes on the low rack of an oven for 15 minutes. While it cooked, I chopped garlic, sage and prosciutto in a food processor, then mixed this with the roasting vegetables to finish cooking for another 5-10 minutes. I cooked the last of my linguine primavera from Italy and, once it was done, reserved some of the cooking liquid. Once the veggies were done in the oven, I combined the pasta, vegetables, some cooked and chopped chicken breast, parmigiano, and arugula, along with some of the pasta water to moisten it all. Some salt and pepper helped accentuate the flavors. I have not had pasta in a while, so this dish was a nice change, especially since I don't have to feel too bad about it with all of the vegetables and grilled chicken inside. Guilt free and delicious!

Ginger Bars

I was invited to a get-together with my classmates this past weekend. I heard it was someone's birthday, so I thought I'd try out a cookie bar recipe: ginger bars. The dough is made much like cookies: cream butter and sugar, add eggs and then the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg). This was spread in a relatively thin layer in a greased 9"x15" baking pan, then baked for about 15 minutes. It did not look entirely done (it jiggled in the middle), but it baked like a cookie, staying soft until it cools. I let it sit until it was entirely cooled, then cut it into triangles. The ginger flavor was not as strong as gingerbread, but it was like a soft, chewy, triangular, ginger cookie. They went very quickly at the party, so I guess that says something about how they tasted.