Saturday, May 28, 2011

Strawberry Cake

I love it when I come across a recipe that makes me want to stop what ever I'm doing and run to my newly cleaned kitchen and trash it again.  Smitten Kitchen does that to me A lot. She calls this a Summer Strawberry Cake. It's her recent post. The satisfaction that comes from having everything I need on hand when the inspiration hits is beyond euphoric. I'd picked up a couple of tubs of strawberries thinking I might attempt a rustic tart I'd bookmarked in Good to the Grain, then this showed up in my inbox. DE-lish!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Le Weekend

I went all Julie/Julia this weekend. Just for the weekend. It started several months ago when I picked up a couple of The French Chef  DVD's from the library. The pickin's are slim in the cooking dvd's, so I tend to cycle and watch them over and over and over...and that's ok. I enjoy noodling around my kitchen while listening in on the dry banter over at Americas Test Kitchen, or Mings easy charm, but best of all is Julia.
She's the antithesis of todays slick and polished Food Network shows. She dithers and stumbles and repeats herself and forgets her train of thought or where she put her flour or her skillet. She reminds me 
I'm inspired enough to get Mastering the Art of French Cooking from the library last week. I start off with the first recipe: Potage Parmentier~Leek and Potato Soup, it's good. I've always loved Leek and Potato Soup and it was a great use of the veg stock I'd made the day before. Very simple. Very nice. I then move on to strain and chill the puree with some heavy cream. Potage Parmentier becomes Vichyssoise. This really could not be simpler and talk about filling comfort food, it's like mashed potato soup...nuthin' wrong with that!
Next up I revisit and finesse a dish that had become one of my specialties in my youth, Quiche  L'Ognion When I'd grown and moved away from home my contribution to the family holiday meal would be to bring quiches for brunch so my mom could fixate focus on dinner, which of course she'd start at the crack of dawn. Breakfast? Lunch? can't you see I'm busy? So I'd bring a couple of quiches and vodka for Bloody Mary's.
Back in the 80's you'd get lured into these recipe subscriptions starting with a free avocado colored plastic recipe box complete with dividers then every month you'd recieve a batch of recipe cards (at something like $3.95 a pop plus shipping and handling) to fill your box. Something like 12 new recipes a month.
Julia's Onion Quiche reminded me of one I used to make except now I know a little sumthin' about caramelized onions. I add a little of her Sauce L'Estragon, a white sauce enhanced with fresh tarragon. This is a veloute (stock based) vs. a bechamel which is milk based. This was awesome on the asparagus and I used it up on an Omelette des Fines Herbes with some Creme Fraiche. Sounds a little fancy for an every day work day breakfast but really simple actually.
Crossing the border and feeling some more  nostalgia for my childhood fave foods...I revisit Corn on the Cob, but with a Yucatan flair. This all came about when my friend Valerie asked me if I remember those little ceramic corn dishes that were so prevalent in the 60's and 70's, and had I seen them anywhere these days. Yes! I did remember them. No I haven't really noticed them in the current retail market, though I'd never really gone looking for them.  We used to have them when I was a kid, along with the little skewers that you poked into the ends. I ended up finding some at the Goodwill. A box of 6, unopened set of "Vintage" Crystal Corn Cradles. Never heard that term for them before. I bought them and split them with Valerie and I've eaten more corn on the cob in the last two weeks than I have my entire adult life.
I've though I've finessed my butter concoction with chipotles in adobo, cilantro and lime. A-mazing!
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Sunday, May 22, 2011


I buy...and then toss out scallions all the time and it pisses me right off. I don't use them enough. They're very pungent and flavorful so a little goes a long way but then they go all mangy... like... in a day, before I can use 'em all up. The only time I've ever used an entire bunch of scallions was making a scallion sauce from Super Natural Cooking that topped a farro and asparagus dish. The farro was way undercooked and the asparagus was way over-cooked, but that sauce wasn't bad.
Last week I picked up a couple of Simply Ming DVD's from the library. First time I'd ever seen an episode and it immediately jelled with my cooking strategy of multi-use recipes. Each episode focuses on one master recipe that he uses 3 diffferent ways. Then he brings on a guest chef who creates his own dish using Mings master recipe. Jacques Pepin is a re-occuring fave, but Martin Yan cracks me the hell up.
The first episode features a curry and green tea spice rub that he coats onto a nice looking hunk of Butter Fish then pan fries. He takes you on little field trips with Mings Web this episode to India where he goes to a spice market with lifestyle guru Colin Cowie. They go off on safari and share some pretty crazy stories of resorts and near death elephant charges. I'm a convert. Love the show.
I'm only starting to venture into the world of fish. Never really liked it 'cuz I hate the smell of fish...although I do love some Fish and Chips, but only smothered in malt vinegar and tartar sauce to of course cover the fishy-ness. I find that I do like white flaky fish...halibut, and chips kinda fish. Anyhoo I found this first episode very interesting 'cuz  he's got me seriously thinking about cooking fish... but the segment that had me hitting the pause button and running into the kitchen was the couscous he'd prepared to plate his spice rubbed fish onto. Sooooo simple and I had everything on hand. I could rescue the scallions that were teetering on the edge of the trash can and finally open the  jar of couscous that had been sitting in the pantry for months. I'd bought the couscous in bulk at Whole Foods months ago and forgot to note the cooking instructions.  I always forget to look it up.
Sooooo Ming explains that the couscous to hot water ratio is 2 to 3: one cup of couscous into a glass bowl, add chopped scallions and finely chopped dried fruit (he used mangos), salt and pepper then add 1 1/2 cups of hot water, stir and cover with plastic wrap, let it sit for 20 minutes and done. It was tasty but next time I'll use hot stock.
I do love me some Ming. Not only is he easy on the eyes I'm truly jazzed about cooking fish now.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cilantro Shrimp Shu Mai

I've been on a wonton kick lately...well more like "How the heck do I use up this package of 50 wonton wrappers?" and since I discovered the Simply Ming DVD's I'm fixated on doing some Asian Fusion East meets West kind of cooking fueled by the great luck to be living a mere 10 minute bike ride from one of the best Chinese markets outside of Chinatown, New May Wah Market on Clement St. and 8th Avenue. They have quite a selection of weights, shapes and sizes (I like the thin squares) of wontons and eggroll wrappers. Several months ago when I first picked up Sam the Cooking Guy, well the book that is, he had a... hmmnn...I can't really call it a recipe...a tip for baking up wonton wrappers as a cracker for a dip.
Last month when I made White Bean Spread from Super Natural Every Day, the wonton wrappers made the perfect surface/service as they were plain enough not to compete with the dip and sturdy enough not to break in the scooping/spreading process, plus the edges curl up the teensiest bit to form a little square plate.
Next up was another Sammy hit...Raspberry and Cream Cheese Won Tons. You just mix together a softened block (8oz.) of cream cheese with 2 tablespoons of your favorite jam (I used blueberry). Chill it for 20 minutes, spoon 2 teaspoons into the center of a wonton wrapper, wet the edge, fold over and press out as much air as possible, bake on a cookie sheet lined with parchment in a 400 degree oven for 10-12 minutes, until the edges are golden brown, then sprinkle with powdered sugar, let cool for a few minutes and serve with a little scoop of ice cream, or not.
I ixnayed the powdered sugar and instead, sprinkled a little turbinado sugar on top before baking. They were beyond good!
It was only about four days ago I'm watching Simply Ming for the first time.  He's making Shu Mai with his master recipe for Shrimp Mousse. As he demonstrates how to form the shu mai I'm getting all jazzed about how to next use up my won ton wrappers. He recommends buying frozen, cleaned and deveined shrimp. I've never purchased shrimp a market or a restaurant. OK. Done.
I googled shu mai recipes and ended up using one from the New York Times food section. Frozen shrimp purchased and Ming renewed I set off to cook shu mai for the first time ever.
I was fairly impressed with my actual forming of the shu mai, following and replaying...and replaying Mings demonstration. They  actually turned out quite pretty. I gingerly place them in the bamboo steamer, lined with parchment and sprayed with cooking spray, steam for just a few minutes (the shrimp was purchased cooked so I shaved 4 minutes off the instructed cooking time-just enought to get them hot), yet they had totally fallen apart when I lifted off the bamboo lid. Out of about 20 dumplings, only about 8 didn't crumble when I lifted them out of the steamer with my chop sticks.
Lesson learned?
Start with heavier wonton wrappers and if I start with cooked frozen shrimp, they only need to steam for a minute. All in all they still tasted pretty good...even though my sesame oil was really old. Really old. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Waffle Doilies

I hardly ever make waffles...but I love them. I love the word waffles. I love the word doily too.
I was inspired a few months ago by an Americas Test Kitchen recipe called Best Ever Waffles which involved beating egg whites with cream of tartar into a meringue and then folding it into the mixture thus producing light airily delicious waffles. They were pretty awesome and would have been worth the effort had there been a kitchen full of waffle eaters to enjoy them as much as I did. Saving the remaining batter for the next day and the day after that, however tasty and edible, are just average. It's not worth all that extra effort and extra bowl cleaning.
This time, I was inspired by the Multigrain Waffles from Good to the Grain.
I only wanted to clean the waffle iron once so I cooked up all the batter in one shot and reheated the cooked waffles. Not an optimal choice but when you're cooking for one you've gotta make some compromises. I also decided that when cooking the waffle, to err on the side of skimpy...creating the waffle doily. They stack up prettier, I think. There's no spillage to ooze out of the waffle iron and harden all over the place, cuz who cleans the iron after every waffle pressing? ...well maybe my mother, but she'd have had the process down to a science, measuring the batter portion to get the perfectly squared waffle and she'd be right there with a hot wet towel should any batter dare to ooze out of her waffle iron, cursing at it while she wiped. 
These multigrain waffles had such a nice flavor that all they need is a light drizzle of agave nectar and a small dollop of butter. I've been using European butter lately to spread on breads and it's quite tasty on the waffle too.
The batch lasted a couple of days and the waffles didn't seem to suffer much in the reheat process.
I tried a couple of re-heat methods 'cuz I don't have a toaster. The microwave waffles are limp and soft. I tried toasting them in a dry non-stick skillet,  but they burned before they ever got crispy. What ended up working the best was tossing them onto a hot pizza stone. I suspect it's time to buy a toaster.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Blue Cheese and Onion Quesadillas!

Seriously?!? These are pretty fantastic. I had this onion jam I'd made from Good to the Grain, left over from my Blue Cheese and Onion Scones (de-LISH btw). Sam the Cooking Guy had a recipe for Red Onion and Blue Cheese Quesadillas on his website. I'd caramelized my yellow onions for almost an hour and 45 minutes. Sam has a speedier version that he does with brown sugar and red onions. Either way I suspect these would be awesome. I'm a new convert to blue cheese after making a smittenkitchen cole slaw (via Ina Garten) that called for quite a bit of blue cheese and dijon mustard that was amazing.
Sweet caramelized onions and blue cheese together in a corn tortilla?! Freakin' amazing.
I have to add that the parallel of the simple, Sam the Cooking Guy and the whole grain healthiness of Good to the Grain pretty much illustrates my life. Two disparate forces, converging to create bliss. Opposites really do attract!
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I love pesto more than anything...and true to nature, I've never made it before. Until last night. The giant bunches of basil are BACK! the farmers market for a dollar a bunch. Sunday morning I bought a big bunch and placed it in a small vase on my windowsill as I always do. Next morning it had completely wilted! By comparison I'd bought a small-ish bundle from my local produce market about two weeks ago or so prior to the farmers market trip and the remainder was still thriving and rooting and sprouting.
Yet, I continued to let the new basil wilt and the old basil grow and finally made pesto last night, I knowing that if I'd let it go one more day, I'd be tossing that basil right into the trash.
I didn't pound it by mortar and pestle, like my current collection of recipe books instruct. I threw it into the Cuisinart and processed the shit out of it.
It was sublime! and super super simple. I had this multi colored pasta mixture of farfalle, rotelli, shells and whatever that spiral-y honeycomb-y like shaped pasta is called, that I'd bought at Rainbow a couple of months ago. This is perfect for pesto because there are sooooo many places for the pesto to just wedge itself into to flavor up every nook and cranny of pasta.
A revelation!
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Sand Cookies

These lovely little melt-in-your-mouth bites of buttery bliss are Sand Cookies from Good to the Grain...or Sables as the French call them or just plain ol' butter cookies 'cept there's nothing plain about these. I made Sables from an Americas Test Kitchen recipe for the first time around Valentines Day and they were pretty freakin' awesome. Dangerous too...I had to bring the rest of them to work to get rid of them because I could not stop eating them.
I read somewhere...on I think, that making butter cookies with European butter makes a significant difference, soooo.... I gave these a shot with two new-to-the-kitchen ingredients: Kamut flour and European butter.
Kamut flour is described as "a little bit nutty". I'm likin' it already. It comes from a whole grain, twice the size of wheat, indigenous to the Middle East...and European butter has a higher fat content thus tasting butterier. nuttier and butterier. Nuthin' wrong with that.
FYI: Trader Joes has the Irish butter for less than $3. I paid almost $5 for the exact same thing at Mollie Stones. The upshot is, know your audience. My co-workers will eat ANY thing. Inexpensive Smart and Final or Trader Joes butter and all-purpose or whole wheat flour is just fine and they taste pretty great.
I was at Sur la Table last week and bought a bunch of cookie cutters. My next cookie venture will be to make Shaped Sand mitts to bring to the the Giants games for my girlfriends. Cacti and howling coyotes for what? dunno but they were cute.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fun with Onions

I will never look at a yellow onion ever again without salivating over their caramelized awesomeness. I used to hold the yellow onion in distain, opting for the more flavorful and less boring red onion. I never knew.
I had tagged a recipe for Blue Cheese and Onion Scones in Good to the Grain a while back. I finally made it to the Farmers Market and bought a measly few yellow onions, being the first time and all making caramelized onions as an entity unto itself, I shoulda bought more. Live and learn.
I cook them into all kinds of stuff but I've never found the need to cook them all by themselves...until last night. The recipe for the Blue Cheese and Onion Scones includes Onion Jam. Onion Jam? Dutch oven, full of sliced raw onion, cooks down for an hour and a half to yield one cup of onion jam. The recipe calls for only half the onions...hmmnnn what to do with the rest? Sam the Cooking Guy to the rescue. Red Onion and Blue Cheese Quesadillas. Kinda patriotic...but seriously, caramelized onions with melty blue cheese on a corn tortilla. Sublime! yet sooooo simple. Ever the Guy, Sam speeds up the caramelization by adding a little brown sugar to the cooked red onion and adding the blue cheese right into the non-stick skillet. I envision a hot mess there.
I choose heaping spoonfuls of the onion jam into a bowl and top it with crumbled blue cheese, nuke it for a minute while the tortillas heat up in the non-stick skillet, then spoon the mix on top of the tortilla in the pan, fold it in half and DONE!
Oh my god. I've got to go home and try sticking some sliced apples in there this time.
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Monday, May 9, 2011

Motor Home Meatballs

So. There's this guy. I've got a bit of a crush on him. I've never met him or really ever laid eyes on him.  He's called ""Sam the Cooking Guy." He's got this cooking show over on one of those networks I never watch like Lifetime or Oxygen or something like that. I've never seen a show. I've never seen him in action. Nothing on youtube.
One of my co-workers Aaron, a student at the Culinary Academy, turned me on to Sam. Now I totally had Aaron stuffed into the Barefoot Contessa/Martha Stewart camp, so I'm thinking this cooking guy might be worth a look-see.
Sam is like the anti-christ to super natural cooking. He's kind of like the dude version of that semi-homemade chick.  I should hate him but I love him. Story of my life.
Besides he's way too cute to least his pictures in his cookbook and on his website are. Anthony Bourdain probably hates Sam.
Sam keeps me down to earth. Just so you know, I haven't gone all whole grain crazy....super natural foodista. Last week in the midst of Quinoa Patties and Spice Muffins I made Motor Home Meatballs from Sam the Cooking Guy...Just a Bunch of Recipes courtesy of the SFPL. He's just a guy who likes to cook for his kids and his friends. His recipes are pretty simple with a lot attitude and humor.
Motor Home Meatballs consist of lean ground beef, Heinz Chili Sauce and Concord Grape Jelly.Thats it...a sweet & sour sauce made from grape jelly you say? Crazy? Crazy good!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Just Another Manic Monday...Not!

I had the unusual Monday off. The weather was dull. I stayed home. I always want to stay home but I never do. Even when I have nothing to do. When I have nothing to do I feel depressed about having nothing to do. The longer I sit at home on those days I have nothing to do, the more depressed I get. Must get outdoors. Must ride my bike. Must go on a long walk. Must. Do. Something. Why? I get a little manic sometimes.
Another weird compulsion is goofing around at my local cafe, noodling around on the internet for two and a half hours then rushing around to get ready for work, then 15 minutes before I have to be out the door, I'll either start to cook something or clean something.
So yesterday, I sorta played the game and indulged my impulses to cook and clean.
Whilst perusing my morning ritual of food porn, I came across a recipe for Jamaican Veggie Patties from 101cookbooks. Suddenly I was transported back to NYC and my days as a starving student living on Sicilian slices and Jamaican Beef Patties from Rays Pizza. Those damn beef patties were like crack. Flakey, strangely yellowish pastries filled with this wet spicy meat mixture that dripped orange grease all over many a peasant skirt. I pretty much hold these things responsible for the beginning of what turned out to be my life long commitment to Weight Watchers.
Oddly enough I wasn't even on 101cookbooks and I can't remember the trail that opened up the page but it was clearly some kind of divine intervention (at least my kind) that led me to a 5 year old post, but all the more proof that my loyalties are well placed. But being as ADD/OCD as I seem to be getting in my ancientude, I googled more recipes for Jamaican Beef Patties and settled on one from Emeril over on the Food Network. I was gonna attempt a hybrid of the two but cooled my jets and stuck with Heidi to start. They turned out better than I remembered and these didn't even have meat in them. Onions caramelized with a spice mix of all spice, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne and cardamom then add some garlic and that sets the tone for something really special. The best thing is you can use any mix of veg in these once you've got the base. Just dice it all small. Potatoes, carrots, corn, peas, beans...whatever.  I'd always wondered why the pastry was so yellow. Turmeric. It also makes your mouth yellow. So though I will try the full meat version next, hopefully I'll find the perfect hybrid that'll keep me from knocking on the doors of Weight Watchers anytime soon.
oh...I also made the Shaved Asparagus Pizza. Again. The most repeated recipe in the Little Kitchen repertoire...AAAAAND the funny thing is JUST this morning, smittenkitchen posted a new recipe Asparagus Ribbon Salad! I made Egg Salad Toasts and Farro Salad where I use edamame for the first time (a nice surprise) in place of snap peas. I gave farro a little time-out after a debacle awhile back when I didn't know the difference between semi-pearled and unpearled farro and which resulted in a nasty dish featuring some waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay undercooked farro and waaaaayyy over-cooked everything else.
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