Monday, December 28, 2009

Fish Fiesta!

Have I mentioned I like cheesy alliteration? Well, really I like just about anything with cheese. Alright, I'll stop.

I make this recipe for Mexican Baked Fish almost every other week, especially in the summer when avocado is fresh and cheap.

It's also really healthy - low fat fish, fiber from the avocado - plus after the back to back cookie recipes, I need it!

I do make one major change, I use Tilapia instead of cod. First, because the majority of cod stocks are severely overfished to the point they may never recover. The exception is Pacific Cod off the Alaskan coast, but it can be hard to know where/how fish is caught. Tilapia is also a cheap, basic, white fish that is easy to keep on hand.

This recipe is great because it uses minimal ingredients and things I usually have on hand, with the exception of avocado. The work-taste ratio is through the roof, it takes almost no prep time or cook time. Add some rice and it's a meal! It's easy to adjust the amount you want to make, just lay the desired number of fish in a pan and top with salsa and cheese. Simple. It's also good the next day to take to lunch or dinner night two.

I've also made an "Italian" version of this, substitute diced tomatoes or marinara sauce for salsa; mozzarella for cheddar; and bread crumbs for chips. It's not quite as good but will work in a pinch.

Taste: A
Cost: A-
Waste: A+

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Little gifties

Simple packaging and some home-baked treats make great little gifts during the holiday season. I like to give them to people I just happen to be meeting for a drink or dinner or whatever, not as gifts so much but just little holiday surprises. Alright well, I bring random food gifts all year round but during the holidays I try to step up the packaging a little. Or that is at least the idea, to which I aspire.

This year, there has been and unprecedented amount of things going on. This is the first year I've worked full-time, I'm moving, plus all the normal holiday activity. However, I actually managed to get a few things baked to give to friends I was meeting. Yeah, the friends I met up with last weekend got the shaft. Sorry, maybe next year I'll step it up. I did get Christmas cards mailed!

What do you like to pass out around the holidays? Any special recipes that your friends always request?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Baking 2: Brown sugar shortbread

The Wednesday Washington Post Food section is my guilty lunchtime pleasure. Just before Thanksgiving there was a special on Julia Child & Jacques Pepin "deconstructed turkey" that looked amazing (and required a 2 page(!) recipe). I took it home and showed my mom. Yes I stole the Food section from the paper and work and packed and flew home to Kansas with it to show my mom. She agreed that it looked fabulous and like a lot of work. There was also recently a recipe for "man crepes" that I've been thinking about making.

Anyway, about a week ago, the post did a feature on cookies - 12 cookie recipes for the holidays. Is it any wonder I love it? I decided to make the brown sugar shortbread (links to recipe at the Washington Post). You need a free account to view recipes on the post website, so I've reproduced the recipe below. Plus I'm not sure how long they archive their recipes. Anyone have any idea?


8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour


Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven; preheat to 325 degrees. Have an ungreased 9-by-13-inch baking pan at hand

Combine the butter and both sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer; beat on medium speed for about 1 minute, just until blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the vanilla extract and salt. Add the flour in 2 additions, beating just until incorporated.

Use your fingers or a sturdy rubber spatula to press the dough evenly over the bottom of the pan. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until the shortbread is golden brown. The edges will be slightly darker; do not underbake. Transfer the pan to a wire rack; let cool in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes.

Use a sharp, thin-bladed knife to cut the shortbread, still in the pan, into 36 rectangles. Let cool completely in the pan before serving or storing.
Source: The Washington Post, December 9th 2009

So this turned out nice, I'm taking them along with some Spitzbüben, if there are any left, to my work Christmas party. However, I did grease the pan (uh-oh) and the recipe says not to, but nothing happened so far as I can tell. Also, DO NOT bake it for 50-55 minutes, mine were nicely brown in 25-30 minutes. So you might wanna watch them.

If I make these again, I think I will try using all brown sugar and no white sugar because I thought these would be really brown sugary but they're not. However, they do have a delightfully soft texture.

Taste: B-
Cost: A
Wast: A

Friday, December 18, 2009

Holiday Baking: Spitzbüben - My favorite cookies!

These are my favorite cookies. And a complete pain in the rear to make. I have only made them myself on rare occasion due to their aforementioned pain-in-the-rearness but my grandma makes them every year for the holidays. They taste like Christmas.

Spitzbüben are a traditional cookie that came from my family's German heritage, one of about 10 such recipes. I'm not exactly sure where in Germany the cookies come from, but I have seen them in the Bavaria region. See photo below of a Spitzbüben I bought at Galleria Kaufhof (a German department store) in München last summer. Yes I took a photo of this cookie a year ago. I routinely take photos of my food and me eating. It's a small personality quirk.

This is what my final product looked like:

1lb butter (yes pound!)
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
4 cups flour

1-2 egg yokes
bread crumbs
powdered sugar
jam (strawberry, grape, apricot, or other)

Combine butter, sugar, vanilla and flour to make dough. Mix with an electric mixer and if necessary kneed together with your hands. It will make a very sticky dough.

Roll out and cut into cookie shapes. Use ample flour on the rolling surface and rolling pin because the dough will stick to everything! The traditional shape for these cookies is a diamond but it's very difficult to find a diamond cookie cutter. Whatever shape you choose, try to avoid lots of points (ie Christmas tree cookie cutters are a bad idea), circles are probably the easiest. A metal cookie cutter, rather than plastic, because they make a cleaner cut and this dough is very difficult to work with.

Arrange the cookies on a greased cookie sheet, brush lightly with egg yoke and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Grandma uses real bread crumbs - mine came from a can. Bake the cookies for 10 min at 375 degrees.

The cookies are very fragile when warm so let them cool well before moving them off the cookie sheet. Spread cooled cookies with your desired flavor of jam. I like strawberry, my sister gets mad because I always eat all the strawberry ones. Coat lightly with powdered sugar and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Holiday gift guides from The Kitchn

Like to give and get food gifts? The Kitchn has done a great round up of food and cooking related gifts for the holiday season. Check out the full spectrum here.

There are definitely some things on the list I want to give to myself!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A potato as a meal

The credit for this one goes entirely to my friend Jess. She is actually in culinary school now, honing her skills. Anyway, she came to visit me once and I had nothing to feed her, or I couldn't figure out what to make with it anyway and she whipped this up and it was tasty! Now I make it all the time.

I had a random assortment of veggies, potatoes and some bacon pieces. My old grocery store sold bacon chopped up into little cubes, it was amazing and I used it all the time but alas, where I live now they don't sell it that way, just in the customary strips. Sigh.

This recipe is great for a number of reasons, you can use just about whatever is in the fridge, it's great for lunch the next day, uses very little or no meat (ie it's cheap and healthy), only one pan needed! So, without further ado...

Baked potato with roasted veggie topping

2 large baking potatoes (1 for dinner, 1 for lunch the next day)
3-4 cups of chopped veggies (can use anything - broccoli, summer squash, fresh green beans, tomatoes, bell pepper...)
splash red wine vinegar
Italian seasoning
splash olive oil
shredded cheese (anything - mozz, feta, cheddar)
chicken or bacon, cut up (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Bake the potatoes. I usually microwave them for about 5-8 minutes and then cook them the rest of the way in the oven, while I prep the veggies. Splash some olive oil into a small pan. If you are using meat chop up the bacon or chicken into small pieces and put it in the pan first, sprinkle with Italian seasoning and cook it for 3-5 minutes on medium heat (little longer for chicken) until it's almost cooked. Then add the veggies (if using tomatoes add them a few minutes later) and pour a splash of red wine vinegar and a bit more Italian seasoning and some salt and pepper. Split cooked potatoes, top with veggies and finish with cheese. et Volia!

Cost: A+
Waste: A+
Taste: B

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Quick cinnamon rolls

Love cinnamon rolls? I do. But really I only LOVE my mom's and like everyone else's. Mom is known for her cinnamon rolls. People drive from other cities to buy them from her store and during the holidays, they are overloaded with orders. I, of course, request them every time I visit. Oh if only she could ship them to DC. sigh.

This quicker version is something mom used to make at home, when she did not feel like getting up at the crack of dawn to make the real deal. Waiting for the dough to rise takes forever and at home there is no proofer (an appliance that makes dough rise faster). This was my first try at making them. Something to tide me over until I can have the real deal over Thanksgiving.

I had a phone consultation with mom before I started. Did I ignore her advice? Yes. To my own peril? 50-50. I did not have the exact ingredients that I needed to really make this but I wasn't feeling like going to the store so I decided to wing a few things and it more or less worked out ok, tasted good anyway, maybe too good...I ate 3 already!

pre-made crescent roll dough
brown sugar
powdered sugar
cream cheese

I did not put in the amount of each ingredient because you can adjust based on how many you want to make. Roll out the crescent dough and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar roll them up and put them in a greased pan. You may notice in the photos I used a loaf pan, is there a reason for this? Yea, I couldn't find my 9" round pan. It's important that the pan not be too over sized, when the crescents are cooked and plump up you want them to touch lightly, so I used the loaf pans.

After the crescents are in the pan, prepare the brown sugar topping. This stuff is like crack. The total secret to the amazing-ness of mom's cinnamon rolls. Pour about a cup of cream in a saucepan and mix in a cup of brown sugar, you can make more or less but there should be about a 1 to 1 ratio of cream to brown sugar. Boil the mixture until the brown sugar dissolves and it bubbles nicely. It should be a dark brown, carmel color. You can add more brown sugar if needed and pour the mixture over the rolls. Put the pan in the oven and bake according to the package directions.

This is one place where I ignored mom (yea...there was more than one). I did not have enough cream so I used half and half for the carmel mixture and it worked pretty well. I added a little more brown sugar to make it thicker. No problem.

While the rolls are in the oven, make a cream cheese frosting. Mom uses cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla and cream. Like I said, I did not have enough cream and now I'd used all the half and half for the brown sugar topping, so I used milk. I also did not have any powdered sugar so I used granulated. Did it work? Um...not so much really. It tasted fine but did not have the same texture of mom's and was more of a sweetened cream cheese than a frosting. It still tasted yummy and I'm going to use the extra as a dip for apples tomorrow at lunch.

These are perfect brunch fare and soooo much easier than waiting for bread to rise for hours and hours. No thank you. Plus, you can make a few or a few dozen. I made one pack of crescent dough, so 8 and I will def be eating them all. Hopefully not all today...we'll see.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Moving on up...

I just found a new apartment and I'm super excited about it. signed the lease last night. But why do I feel the need to talk about it on a blog about cooking for the single girl? A few reasons...

First, over the next couple of weeks while packing, moving and unpacking posts will be a little scant. Moving date will be around the 28th of December, so there will be a few posts before the lull.

Second, the new apartment promises several upgrades on my current kitchen set up. While the new kitchen, is actually smaller and without a pantry (I have a pantry now and it's FAB!), I will actually have more counter space. The dishwasher in the new kitchen is also a full-size one, rather than the apartment-size one I have now. This is both good and bad. Good when I cook because there will be room for all the pots and pans and bad because when I don't cook, it will take forever to fill it with just me.

And one upgrade that I was so excited about, I actually called my mom - a gas stove. If you haven't cooked on a gas stove, it is a whole new experience. There is a reason professional grade stoves are typically gas, they are amazing. My stove in the Netherlands was gas and I cannot be more pleased to move back to one. Now that I've raptured for several sentences, the two big pluses to a gas stove are that it's heats up faster (both oven and cook top) and the temperature changes much faster (almost instantly) on the cook top (both up and down) making it much more precise and that it will yield better results.

The major drawback to a gas stove is that they are normally more expensive to run because of the higher price of natural gas but I won't be paying utilities in the new apartment. The best of both worlds! Mom was happy for me too.

Update: One thing I forgot, the new place also has a yard space to BBQ! So look for some BBQ recipes coming this summer!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The power of food

Can the way we eat change the world? This question was posed to me last week by a coworker (I work at an environmental org) and myself and another colleague immediately said, "yes."

Since then, I've been thinking about what I eat and the choices I have at the grocery store. Is my environmental guilt escalating? You betcha. Over the years I've made a number of decisions about what to eat and how much based on both health and environment. For example:

1. I try to eat less meat, especially red both because meat cultivation is bad for the environment and red meat in particular should be limited for health reasons. I also have ethical concerns about industrial farming techniques and think some of that could be reduced if everyone was conscious about their meat choices.
2. I try and eat in season. This is good for the environment, healthier and saves me money.
3. I don't eat veal, or as I like to call it - baby cow in a box.
4. I try to be conscious of my seafood choices. This is a tough one because there are so many issues. Seafood is a great source of lean protein, can contain mercury, Omega 3s, some seafood is overfished, or farmed in environmentally harmful ways...sometimes I buy something at the store and then check Seafood Watch and see it's overfished and feel guilty (especially if it's yummy and I want it again). Luckily most of the issues surrounding salmon and tuna I can avoid because I don't like them anyway but I LOVE shrimp. Most shrimp is farmed in South East Asia or Latin America and it's really bad for the environment. I try to resist and definitely eat less than I used to, but sometimes I fall off the wagon.

So those are the things I'm doing pretty well on but room for improvement? Of course especially on:

1. Buying more local/organic produce. Organic produce is especially hard for me because it's much more expensive most of the time and usually doesn't keep as long, meaning I pay more for it and then it goes bad before I even get a chance to eat it. When you cook for 1 a single cucumber might be in 3-4 meals!
2. Health...yea I had hash-browns for dinner a few nights ago. I also eat way too much cheese and too many baked goods but I'm not trying to cut out either of those!
3. Organics/ethical products in general. Package organic food can also be challenging both because of the higher costs and because there is usually not a big variety of package sizes. This is still a niche market and normally only the 'standard size' is available, whereas I would usually buy the small size. I find this to be a problem with cage-free eggs especially. I feel I would like to buy them but they only come in 1dz packages and it's just more eggs than I can use, sometimes the 8-pack of eggs my store sells is too much!
4. Plastic. I recently became aware of the huge environmental problem that is plastic but almost all food comes in plastic. I don't put my produce in plastic bags anymore because there really is no need but past that I haven't made any progress.

I really do think what we eat makes a difference. The power of consumer purchasing is huge, companies will manufacture anything as long as they can sell it and make a profit, making good choices with our purchases shows that there is a market for good, sustainable products. I realize I'm a long way from perfect in my purchasing choices but I'm trying to be aware of the downfalls and slowly move in the right direction.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Mussels al la Marinere

I've been wanting to try making mussels for a long time but have been put off because I did not really know what to do and thought I'd screw them up. Now I'm pretty sure they are virtually impossible to screw up!

Not only are mussels always delicious when I have them in restaurants (and now at home!) but they are also a great seafood choice because growing them has a very low environmental impact, they actually clean the water while growing! Mussels are also healthy and fairy inexpensive for seafood. I bough a bag of probably 50 mussels for $4.99.

I read up on cleaning and debearding mussels before making them but honestly when I bought them at the store they were practically ready to roll. A few still had beards attached but a quick tug and they were gone. This YouTube video shows you how to clean and check the mussels.

At one point, I was a little creeped out because I realized the mussles were still alive and found it a little disconcerting. However, they need to be alive or you don't want to cook and eat them. Still when I went to soak them in water it was weird to see little bubbles come up.

The recipe I made can be found here. I followed the advice someone else left in the recipes comments about doubling the sauce and serving the mussels and sauce over pasta but honestly, I think it was a totally unnecessary thing to do. I was perfectly happy with the mussels and some bread to dip in the sauce. You'll want a crusty bread. I used a multi-grain baguette.

To summarize, my tips for making Mussels a la Mariniere:
1. Serving over pasta not needed
2. Be sure to soak the mussels in fresh water for 20min
3. Do not leave the mussels in a plastic bag after purchasing, they will die
4. Buy two bottles of wine if you want to have a few glasses with dinner, especially if you plan to double the sauce
5. Buy lots of bread, dipping is the best part

Taste: A+
Cost: B+
Waste: A

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

I'm starting to feel adventurous...

I feel like I haven't cooked in ages. All last week I ate but practically no cooking, and the week before? I'm sure I cooked something, but spent most of the week subsisting on Lean Cuisine and cleaning out the fridge. So now I'm feeling a little spunky.

And I'm thinking mussels. I love eating mussels but I've never cooked them. I've never even seen them cooked by someone else! From eating mussels, I know that the secret is a fabulous sauce. If the sauce is good, eating bread dipped in the sauce can make the actual mussels a side-show. My last attempt at a learning a new sauce was a total disaster, however, a yummy looking recipe I found would fulfill the criteria for all 3 of my cooking goals this year: 1) Try cooking mussels or scallops 2) Learn wine sauces 3) Learn reduction sauces. Seems like it's meant to be.

So I'm doing some reconnaissance on mussel preparation. I read a great article on about mussel preparation and I'm starting to feel prepared, although I'm still not sure I have the slightest idea how to debeard a mussel. Maybe I will look for a YouTube video on mussel cleaning and give it a whirl this weekend.