Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Monte Cristo

I first became acquainted with the Monte Cristo at a local eatery, Early Edition, in Manhattan, Kansas. You should check it out if ever in the area, very yummy. Though I will admit a French Toast sandwich did not appeal to me at the time. However, over Thanksgiving weekend I was staying at a friend's place and he made one with some leftover French Toast, it was all I could do not to eat his entire sandwich!

So when I had some French Toast leftover from brunch, I had to try it! Verdict? Best use of leftover French Toast ever! Though, probably not worth making French Toast just to make a Monte Cristo.

Deli ham
Cheese (swiss is traditional but mozzarella or provolone likely as good, I would stay away from anything yellow)
2 slices prepared French Toast
Jam (I believe blueberry is the traditional)

Make your sandwich and grill on low heat, until warm throughout and cheese is melted.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Beef vegetable soup

It's very cold. Perfect weather for a hearty beef soup. I think this was my first time making beef vegetable soup, I might have made it once in college, I'm not sure. Anyway, I planned on buying a roast, making roast and potatoes and using the leftover meat to make soup, because this is what my mom does and it seemed like a good plan.

Do you know how humongous roasts are? My gosh! When I was in college mom would occasionally give me small (5-6 lbs) roasts (my parents get beef by the side) to make in the small crock pot I had at the time but at the grocery store in my neighborhood all of them were at least 10 lbs. Maybe if I'm having 3 friends over for dinner and then making soup. So I had to switch tracks. The store sold chopped up roast, labeled "stew meat" at my grocery store but it is sometimes also called "wedding roast." I went with this because it allowed me to get just a pound or so to make my soup and it still made for a pretty meaty soup.

I told mom that I wanted to make beef vegetable soup in my crock pot and she advised me to coat the meat in flour, sautee it in a pan and then place it in the crock pot. I sauteed it in a lot of garlic, some salt and pepper. In the pan, she told me to add some water to the drippings from the meat and make kind of a gravy and put this in the pot also to give it flavor. I did this, but to be honest I'm not sure how important it was. I might skip it the next time and see if I notice a difference, I don't see why I need to cook the meat before I cook it!

Keep in mind when looking at my ingredients list that I'm a picky eater, you might want to add onions, mushrooms and carrots. I hate cooked carrots and all commercial soups have carrots in them. Stay warm!

Friday, December 3, 2010


One of the most delicious and simultaneously artery clogging meals I've ever eaten was schnitzel with hollandaise sauce at a restaurant in Berlin. Tasty. Schnitzel is traditionally a veal cutlet rolled and pounded flat, breaded and pan-fried. It is not normally coated with butter and cream sauces, that was a slightly overkill. While schnitzel was originally veal, it is often now made with pork.

I love schnitzel. A friend of mine, who shares my love of schnitzel was recently visiting and were were talking schnitzel, it got me in the mood. I had never made it, nor had my friend so we dove in! Alright, I did not really let my friend do anything, which slightly irritated him I think. I get my kitchen control-freak tendencies from my mother.

I don't eat veal for ethical reasons, so we made pork schnitzel. I decided to buy some thin cut pork chops, since they were already thin we did not have to work much to roll them out. If you need to do so, you'll want them to be about a 1/4 inch thick before frying. I followed this recipe, the note saying it was written by a German sold me!

The schnitzel were delicious! I served them with salad and sweet potato fries. My friend and I ate all of them, no leftovers. However, we both agreed that paprika would make them better. Paprika is a staple spice in lots of German recipes. Yum.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pumpkin nut bars

Around my forth bite of the persimmon nut bars I made recently, I thought, "hmmm...these are really tasty, but the persimmon flavor isn't quite strong enough, I bet they would be yummy with another kind of fruit."

A few days later, I had just been to the grocery store, and excited to see pumpkin was back in stock after the fall harvest, I had bought 3 cans, without any direct intention of how to use them. It was an impulse buy, like gum at the cash register or big blocks of feta cheese.

The fates coincided. I would make pumpkin flavored [persimmon] bars. I decided to double the recipe and make a 9x13 pan of said bars because I had a friend who'd be coming to stay in a few days and I thought it would be nice to have something to feed her. And I like pumpkin, have I mentioned this?

I start mixing up my ingredients and realize I'm just tad short of almost everything essential to make a double batch. I needed 1 cup vegetable oil and had to use about a 1/4 cup of olive oil to make it. I was almost a whole cup shy of flour and tossed in some bread flour, not really sure what the difference was and what the consequences might be. I also noticed half way through that I made a serious judgement mistake in trying to make the persimmon bars with pumpkin puree. Anyone see it? Yea the texture of the two is totally different. I thought with the spices it would be a nice flavor combo but I probably should have looked up a pumpkin bar recipe, batter was very cake-like. I even put in some extra (bread) flour. But I baked it anyway. What's the worse that can happen? Already used all the ingredients, might as well go all the way!

Results? Pumpkin cake. So not bars, but very moist and fluffy pumpkin cake. It also made a ton, I've been eating it for days and still have some, plus I put a fair amount in the freezer. So sometimes the random experiments work! But I still probably need to learn to check my ingredients before I start.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Persimmon nut bars

One of my coworkers brought some persimmons to the office this week because she had received way too many from her aunt. What is a persimmon? Good question! It's a fruit! It kind of tastes like a berry flavored apple with a very apple like texture (depending on ripeness). The photo below shows persimmons, see the slice in the back for an idea of what it looks like cut open. These are fuyu persimmons, what I understand to be the less common variety.

I had drank persimmon juice blends, but this was the first time I'd actually seen one in the flesh (pun so intended). So I took a few and set about to figuring out what to do with them. My coworker recommended a persimmon bunt cake.

I found a recipe online for some persimmon bars, seemed tasty and lots of people had rated it highly. Plus I had almost everything needed to make it so, why not? When else am I really going to make persimmon bars? Probably never. See the original source of the recipe here.

They were tasty! Very spicy and nutty (I put walnuts in). I skipped the raisins, I honestly thought adding raisins would be a bit overkill, maybe if you prefer to skip the nuts go for the raisins. Definitely plan to bake them longer than 20 minutes! Mine were very gooey, to the point I considered sticking them back in but I had already put the glaze on. Plan to bake them at least 25 minutes, be warned they looked done and "fluffy" when the 20 minutes were up, so proceed with caution. The glaze also pooled a little bit, so you might want to try spreading it with a pastry brush. I attempted to drizzle it, but it did not really work.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Twice baked butternut mousse

It's officially fall. I'm buying butternut squash and thinking about recipes for pumpkin...though canned pumpkin is still in short supply. Come on harvest! Aside from the food, I'm not ready for the cold weather, but I digress.

My mom makes an excellent twice baked potato. So I was thinking, why not try a twice baked butternut squash? Yummy.


1 butternut squash (I think mine was 2lbs)
8 oz cream cheese (spreadable)
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs


Hand mixer

Slice squash in half, remove seeds and fibers. Place in a pan with 1/4 inch of water in the bottom, season squash lightly with salt and pepper, cover with aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes or until squash is tender. Allow cooked squash to cool, and remove cooked flesh from peel and place in medium size mixing bowl. Using hand mixer, blend cream cheese with squash. Put squash mixture in baking dish and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Bake at 350 for an additional 20-25 minutes.

This turned our pretty well considering I kinda winged it, though I had my doubts at times. It was very rich and had a creamy texture. I might work with it a little more and try to get the consistency to be a bit more firm like a twice baked potato, maybe I need to bake it longer the second time or less the first time, I'm not sure. I'll be honest, after mixing the squash with cream cheese it kinda looked like baby a little firmer of a texture would be an improvement!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Roasted rosemary potatoes

I also made rosemary potatoes with my windfall of free herbs. Rosemary is delicious on roasted vegetables, or chicken and very tasty in bread. All fresh bread should have rosemary! Too bad I don't have time to make any.

Making these potatoes is very simple. Chop a potatoes into evenly sized pieces, put in a baking dish. Coat lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh rosemary, pepper and salt. Bake at 350 to 400 for about 45 minutes, or until tender. They can be baked at just about any temp, it will only take more or less time for them to be ready, making it easy to make them while also using the oven to make something else.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Bruschetta (Bra-ske-ta) is a very simple appetizer and Italian staple. I recently had a fresh herb windfall of basil and rosemary, courtesy of one of my coworkers who must be a gardening prodigy based on the size of this basil plant.

What I love about Italian food is that it's not about quantity or complexity, it's all about simple, fresh, quality ingredients. Bruschetta is a prime example of this, it requires only a few ingredients, which must be fresh and combine to create an amazing (and healthy!) flavor.

This is a small size recipe for 1-2 people to share, you can double it (or more) if you're having a party.

Fresh Italian bread, light toasted
1-2 ripe roma tomatoes
1 clove garlic
1 Tb olive oil (use a quality one!)
8-10 fresh basil leaves

Toast thick slices of Italian bread either under a broiler or in a toaster oven. Chop tomatoes and garlic and place in a small bowl. Tear basil leaves into small pieces and mix with tomatoes and garlic. Toss tomato mixture in olive oil and spoon onto bread slices. Serve.

Sorry the photo is a bit dark, but I sure you it was a rich red and delicious!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cinnamon scones

This time around I made a sweet scone. Cinnamon scones seemed like they would be tasty, so I started with my basic scone recipe (see below) that I used for the cheddar & thyme scones I made a while back. I'm still shocked how easy scones are to make!

Basic recipe

2 cups flour
1 Tb sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup butter
1/2 cup milk
1 egg

Cinnamon editions

2 tsp of cinnamon
1/2 Tb of sugar

ooking Equipment

Pastry blender

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and cinnamon in a large bowl. Blend butter in using either a pastry blender (or fork) until well blended and a mixture of course crumbs forms. Stir in milk and lightly beaten egg. A slightly moist, crumbly dough will form. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface and form in a round, flat mound. Place on a greased cookie sheet and cute into 8 wedges. Separate the wedges and bake for 15-20 minute or until lightly browned.

The cinnamon scones were pretty tasty, however, I think that I should have added more sugar. The scones weren't quite sweet enough and therefore slightly lacking in flavor. I might add a little more cinnamon the next time also. Keep this in mind if you use this more 'savory' basic recipe but want to make a sweeter scone. Happy baking.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Cheesy pasta sauce

I saw a recipe for pasta sauce made with cream cheese and milk and that's all. Is using cream cheese to make cheesy pasta sauces a thing and I'm just not aware? Anyway, I of course had to try it because it was either going to be amazing or a total disaster.

The recipe where I got my sauce idea is here. The fact it came from Better Homes & Gardens gave me hope it wouldn't be terrible. Yea, BH&G has recipe street cred.

Sauce ingredients:
1 9oz tub veggie cream cheese spread
1/2 cup fat free milk

Place cream cheese and milk in a small sauce pan on medium heat and stir until well-blended and creamy. Place on top of warm pasta.

I made the sauce to top some whole wheat pasta with sausage and broccoli but you can put it on any kind of pasta you like.

First, plan on using more than 1/2 a cup of milk, I think it was a better consistency for pasta sauce after I tossed in about a full cup. If you decide to use whole or 2% milk, you might want a little but more even. This was a very easy and pretty tasty sauce (after I added more milk to thin it) but be warned that it's also very heavy, (because it's cream cheese!) so choose your pasta combo accordingly. Happy eating!

Cost: B+
Waste: A
Taste: B+

Monday, October 4, 2010

Broccoli fish bake

Lately, I've been feeling like I'm in a fish rut and need to be more creative with the seafood, not just putting some lemon pepper on white fish and sticking it under the broiler. The idea of a casserole is something that appeals to me, in a time management sense, though I typically don't like all my food mixed together. I'm that person on Thanksgiving who is trying to keep all their food from touching each other.

However, I decided to give this broccoli-fish-cheese concoction a shot. Overall, a satisfying experience. It cooked much faster than a casserole made with chicken because it has fish and I enjoy just about anything with cheese. I would not say that it makes a good meal solo, which is a shame, because that is the point of a casserole! I decided pretty quickly that it needed some rice and thankfully, has some Uncle Ben's ready rice in the cupboard.

This is a cambell's recipe, which I found on see it here or pasted below.

1 (10 ounce) package frozen broccoli spears, cooked and drained
1 pound fresh or thawed frozen firm white fish fillets (cod, haddock or halibut)
1 (10.75 ounce) Broccoli cheese soup Soup
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons dry bread crumbs
1 teaspoon butter, melted
1/8 teaspoon paprika

Arrange broccoli in 2-quart shallow baking dish. Top with fish. Mix soup and milk and pour over fish. Sprinkle with cheese. Mix bread crumbs, butter and paprika and sprinkle on top. Bake at 450 degrees F for 20 minutes or until fish is done.

I used fresh broccoli. Honestly, I don't know why anyone would use frozen but if you want to, go for it. Fresh worked just fine, left the broccoli a little crunchy, but I like that. I also used tilapia, and suspect any white fish would do the trick. I would also recommend you to go heavy on the bread crumbs, it made a very nice crispy layer on the top.

Sorry I don't have a photo...I forgot to take one.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Cheddar & thyme scones

This week, I continued my exploration of bread-products by making scones. I had never made scones before and I was surprised how easy they were. I made them on a weeknight! I'm not even sure they count as bread now that I've made them, since it was so easy!

I looked for a basic "savory" scone recipe that I could play around with, I think the basic recipe could be made with just about any flavorings, though if I was making a sweet scone, I might skip some or all of the sugar.

This recipe for Fresh Herb Scones was the starting point. My recipe for Cheddar & Thyme Scones is below.

Basic recipe

2 cups flour
1 Tb sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup butter
1/2 cup milk
1 egg

Cheddar & Thyme additions

3/4 cup shredded, sharp cheddar cheese
2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp garlic

Cooking Equipment

Pastry blender

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, thyme and garlic in a large bowl. Blend butter in using either a pastry blender (or fork) until well blended and a mixture of course crumbs forms. Stir in milk, lightly beaten egg and cheese. A slightly moist, crumbly dough will form. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface and form in a round, flat mound. Place on a greased cookie sheet and cute into 8 wedges. Separate the wedges and bake for 15-20 minute or until lightly browned.

My whole apartment smelled like thyme, in a nice way. If I make this again I might scale back the amount of thyme I use because it was a little strong but otherwise they were tasty.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lentil Tacos

I heart lentils. But I have a hard time knowing what to do with them. I can put them in soup but that's about it. Until now - I have discovered lentil tacos. Do they sound disgusting to you? Well, you aren't alone. Just about everyone I mentioned lentil tacos to, replied with a sickened expression and an audible ew. There were a few people who said, "what is a lentil?" but the let's face it - if you aren't eating lentils already, you're not sitting at the cool lunch table. That's just a fact.

The lentil-taco-ewwers just needed a little bit of perspective. After I said, "ever eaten a bean taco or burrito? Lentils are basically a bean." They came around. I don't like beans much, but we're going to ignore that today (I'm trying to let beans grow on me). I'm also likely discussing my cooking projects too much with friends and associates, though to be fair, I was eating leftover lentil tacos at work for at least one of these conversations.

Moving on, lentil tacos are simply yum-tastic. Yes, I did just write that and with a hyphen. I made them twice in one week. That's right twice. In a week. I'm an addict. On the plus side, these are über healthy and consistent with the diet that I started a few weeks ago (unlike the ribs I made recently...).

Et Voilà!

Lentil Tacos (adapted and scaled down from here)

1 tsp olive oil
2 cloves chopped garlic
1/2 cup lentils (dry)
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp oregano
1 1/4 cups of chicken broth (I imagine veggie broth is fine too)
1/2 cup salsa
taco shells and your preferred toppings

Makes 8-10 tacos.

Sauté garlic in olive oil in a large nonstick skillet until tender. Add lentils and spices; cook and stir for 1 minute. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 25-30 minutes or lentils are tender. Uncover and cook for an additional 6-8 minutes. Stir in salsa, spoon mixture into taco shells and top with desired toppings.

I recommend you use a fruity salsa. I chose a peach & pineapple salsa and found the sweet salsa to be a nice juxtaposition to the spice I put on the lentils. I didn't have any avocado or guacamole to top my tacos with, but I suspect this would be an excellent choice.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Slow cooker ribs - dinner success! Diet fail!

I've been staring at ribs at the grocery store all summer. More than once I put them in my cart, wheeled them around while I did my shopping and then decided to return them to the meat section. They can be a bit pricey and I felt they were impractical for one person because the packages are so large! But earlier this week at my local Safeway (or un-safeway as it's known around DC), they had country style pork ribs for .99/lb. I couldn't pass it up, so I bought some (5lbs!) and took them home.

I had no idea what to do with them.

I don't remember ever eating ribs until my mom married my step-dad. He makes a mean rack of ribs - bar-be-cued, beer marinated, slow-cooked or smoked, they're always delicious.

They seemed a good match for the crock pot, they could slowly cook and become tender and juicy while I was at work. After my numerous crock pot disasters, I did not want to risk messing up my ribs so I called mom to get rib advice. She told me to broil them before I put them in the crock pot but otherwise there wasn't anything special I needed to do except cover them with bbq sauce.

So one night I set out on my rib adventure. I rubbed them with garlic, sea salt and paprika. I would have also used pepper but I was out! I set the oven to broil and cooked them 8-10 minutes on each side. Alright, one side was a little longer because I got distracted and forgot to take them out. Oops.

I let them cool a bit and placed them in my crock pot. I poured BBQ on top and a little bit of water, maybe 1/2 cup. I put the crock pot in the refrigerator for the night and then in the cooker the next morning before work. I turned it on low to cook while I was gone, it was about 9 hours before I got home.

Results? They were fantastic. I had made 2.5lbs and put the rest in the freezer. For dinner that night I think I ate a pound of pork. Did I mention I'm on a diet? Yea a pound of pork for dinner is a huge diet failure but it was good I could not help myself. I think I could have eaten all 2.5lbs in one sitting.

I should have probably put a little more liquid in the crock pot because the exposed parts of the ribs got a little charred looking but even the charred bits tasted amazing. I can't wait to make the other half but I should probably wait a few weeks, since I'm supposed to be dieting...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Spinach & Broccoli Lasagna

I learned how to make lasagna by watching my mom in the kitchen and it's one of my favorite things to make. It's easy, tastes good leftover (better even sometimes) and you can freeze it. Don't be intimidated by all the layers, it comes together in a snap, most of the time required is to bake the dish. I tend to be impatient when baking lasagna, especially if it's a week night and I'm hungry. The longer you can hold out, the better it tastes, so try to be patient.

Note that the ingredient quantities can be adjusted to make a smaller or larger lasagna. The amounts I list below will make a small lasagna about 6 servings (ie not too much for one person to eat over a few days), I use this IKEA pan when I make lasagna for myself. If you want to make a larger version appropriate for a standard 9X13 pan, you should roughly double what I have listed below.


1 small container of ricotta (I think the small ones are around 10oz but I can't remember)
2 cups shredded Italian cheese (you can use Mozzarella, but a blend of several Italian cheeses is best)
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups fresh spinach
1 1/2 cups chopped broccoli
4-6 pre-cooked lasagna noodles
26oz jar of spaghetti sauce
Garlic (to taste)
Italian Seasoning (to taste)
Black pepper (to taste)

Mix the egg and all the seasonings in with the ricotta in a medium size bowl. Grease a small (approx 11X7) baking pan. Put a small amount of pasta sauce (approx 1/3 cup) in the bottom of the pan, this helps prevent the noodles from burning on. On top of the sauce, layer ingredients in the following order noodles, ricotta, veggies, shredded cheese, sauce and starting over with noodles again, repeating until you run out of ingredients or reach the top of the pan. You should end with noodles topped with shredded cheese on the top. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 for 30-60 minutes, removing the foil for the last 10-15 minutes.

As I said above, I'm impatient when waiting for lasagna. It must bake long enough for the cheese to melt but it will taste much better if baked for a full hour. Sometimes I make the double size and put single lunch portions in the freezer and pull them out to take to work when I'm in a rush or don't have anything else handy.

Taste: A
Cost: B+ (no meat!)
Waste: A+

Monday, August 23, 2010

Lemon pepper tilapia in the crock pot

My slow cooker experiences have been mixed at best, so I'm not sure what I was thinking when I decided to try and make fish in the crock pot. Seemed like a good idea when I saw the recipe at A Year of Slow Cooking. I did not use the Orange Honey Tilapia recipe but rather only copied the fish packet technique.

I had to make this on a weekend because waiting for two hours on a weeknight for something I could bake in less than 10 minutes in the oven would be horribly impractical. This technique could be really practical, however, if you will be busy prepping other dishes right before the meal and would like the fish to already be taken care of.

Simply sprinkle your desired white fish (tilapia for me) with seasoning (used lemon pepper) and fold it in a packet of foil. Place each packet it the crock pot for two hours on low or until it flakes with a fork. Simple!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Dusted off the crock pot - squash casserole

Friday morning I awoke bleary-eyed and late. I had neglected to set my alarm the night before. I also had a 9am meeting. Not a good day to get up late.

Furthermore, I had slow cooking aspirations for that day (well the day before I did not so much at 7:30). I had been browsing around the archives of A Year of Slow Cooking to see what gem I could pluck from Stephanie's blog. Since any recipe I've tried from somewhere else have all failed, ok there were only a few attempts but still.

I dusted off my crock pot - literally, it sits out on my counter and it's been so long since I used it, I had to wash it off first. And I began chopping squash to make a kind of crock pot casserole. Did I have time for this? No. I looked at the clock when almost done and had to toss in the rest of the ingredients and run out the door, puffy eyed and makeup-less for work (this was after I got bits of frozen spinach all over my kitchen). So beware, if you're doing this in the morning, it will take 20 minutes of prep-time!

Cheesy Squash Casserole (inspired by no-noodle lasagna)
2-3 yellow squash
15 oz (small container) of ricotta cheese
??? oz jar of pasta sauce
1.5 cups Shredded Italian blend cheese
4 slices provolone cheese
2 cups froze spinach, thawed
Italian seasoning

I had intended to mix an egg and the seasoning in with the ricotta, which I do when I make lasagna but when I took the eggs, I've been meaning to use (for a while...) out of the fridge the sell by date was July 31st (and I did not have time).

Layer the ingredients in your crock pot (mine is 5 quarts), starting with sauce on the bottom, squash, ricotta (I smeared this on the squash before I put it in), sprinkle of spinach, seasoning, cheese slice and shredded cheese, until you reach the top or run out of ingredients. Rinse the pasta sauce jar with a small amount of water and pour it in before the final topping of shredded cheese.

See why this took 20 minutes? Well, really I should have thawed my spinach and chopped the squash the night before.

So was my mad dash out of the apartment worth it when dinner time rolled around? It's lovely to walk into the house to dinner. However, do NOT make this if you will not be home in eight hours. By the time my commute time was factored in it was cooking for close to ten hours...not good. I ate it for dinner and it was ok, I think it would be better if it hadn't cooked so long. Also, next time I need to check my eggs. Mixing it with the ricotta help it to have a less chunky texture, it just cooks much nicer. I ended up eating it for dinner that night but when I went to reheat some of it, it was not good and I threw the rest away. The added cooking from reheating was just too much. Finally, I think fresh spinach would be the way to go, might have been worth a trip to the store.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Fried tomatoes

I recently discovered For the Love of Cooking, a cooking blog that is worth a visit if only to see the fantastic photos. I made the recipe for "Tiffany's Tomatoes" (breaded and fried tomatoes) and they were pretty tasty.

This recipe is an ideal appetizer. It's quick to make and requires very few ingredients. You can also make as much or as little as you like. I made about a tomato and a half for myself as a mid-day snack.

I made a few alterations, see the notations below, mostly because I had various things on hand.

Tiffany's Tomatoes

2 tbsp olive oil (more if needed)
Olive oil cooking spray * I did not do this...I just forgot but they still cooked fine.
4 large, FIRM, red tomatoes, cut into thick slices * I made about two for myself.
Italian flavored panko crumbs * Used seasoned bread crumbs and added some Italian seasoning, worked well.
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Dip the thick slices of tomato in the milk then into the panko crumbs. Season with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper then place into the hot skillet, spray the tops of the tomatoes with the olive oil cooking spray before flipping them. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Place the cooked tomatoes onto a paper towel before placing on the serving plate. Serve with the creamy basil dressing or your favorite creamy dip. Enjoy.

Be sure to let the tomatoes sit a minute or two on several paper towels, otherwise the will be kind of oily, mine could have rested longer. I also skipped the dressing, they were pretty tasty without a dip.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Roasted lemon broccoli

Simple and delicious sides are always hard to come by. I don't want to use more than one pan to make a side dish for only me, yet, I don't want my meals to center on big slabs of meat either. Sometimes I feel that the "American diet" is akin to "big slabs of meat," usually, I feel this way when I'm visiting the Midwest.

This broccoli side dish is delicious and beyond simple. The flavors of the lemon, salt and broccoli are fantastic.

Roasted Lemon Broccoli

1 head of broccoli
1 Tb of olive oil
1 lemon wedge
coarse sea salt

Preheat oven to 425. Toss broccoli in olive oil and place roasting pan. Spritz wit lemon juice and sprinkle with salt and bake for 8-9 minutes.

This simple method to prepare fresh broccoli has quickly become my go to summer side. It's best when it's fresh from the oven and the broccoli is still crisp but passable as a left over side to supplement lunch the next day.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Don't 'trifle' with me

I set out on a mission to make a "simple & summery" dessert to take to a Sunday BBQ. Apparently I made a trifle. I wasn't sure what to christen my creation but my friend assured me given the creamy layers it was a trifle. She lived in France for a while and is an expert in all things pastry, so I trust her judgment.

The trifle was a big hit. I was a little surprised when I had an empty bowl to take home because it was pretty big and not the only dessert at the BBQ of 10 odd people. I'm taking it as a compliment, though I would not minded having some for lunch today.

Strawberry Summer Trifle

1 3.4 oz box chocolate instant pudding (small box)
1 3.4 oz box vanilla instant pudding (small box)
4 cups of milk, divided
1 container of whipped topping, divided
8 oz cream cheese, divided
1 quart of strawberries, hulled & sliced
12-14 graham crackers

Equipment: Large glass bowl/serving dish, rolling pin

Using 2 cups of milk, mix chocolate pudding according to package directions in a medium sized container (allow space for additional ingredients to be added). Following the same directions mix the vanilla pudding in a separate container. Allow both puddings set. Mix 4 oz of cream cheese and 1/3 of the container of whipped cream into each pudding flavor until well blended (you can use a whisk but a hand mixer works better).

Place graham crackers in a zip-lock bag. Close the bag tightly, removing all the air. Crush the graham crackers into roughly dime-sized pieces using a rolling pin.

Layer the ingredients in a glass container until it's either full or you run out. The straw berries should be pushed up against the glass so you can see them clearly from the outside. The layers should be in the following order:

graham cracker
chocolate filling
vanilla filling
repeat until container is full or ingredients are exhasted. Top with remaining whipped topping and sprinkle with small amount of graham crackers and garnish with strawberry.

You can make this a day in advance, but it should be prepared at least 2-3 hours ahead of time to make sure it's properly chilled.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sensational Summer Sangria

Sangria is amazing on a hot summer day - fruity, refreshing and sinful. It'll also get you schnokered.

This isn't exactly your classic sangria but it's a delicious flavor blend that I dare you not to love. It was a big hit at my last BBQ at least, even the more "macho" attendees were forgoing the iced beer in favor of this fruity fare.

Sensational Summer Sangria
1 bottle red wine (something not too dry and not too pricey)
32 oz citrus flavored sparkling water (I used tangerine-lime flavor)
4-6 shots of tequila (or a little more or a little less)
1 lemon
2 orange

Pour the wine, sparkling water and tequila in a punch bowl. Slice lemon and oranges, squeeze their juice into the bowl and toss them in.

After I made the first batch and had a sample glass, I immediately left for the liquor store to buy more tequila because I knew there would a second batch needed. Typically sangria would be a rum drink but I feel that tequila is in the "tropical family" and therefore acceptable. The flavored water replaces the juice some recipes call for but adds a nice fizz, which is remarkably refreshing on a hot day.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Marinara sauce - SGG 2010 goal!

When I made my ravioli last week, I also tried my own sauce. I looked at a multitude of recipes online and I was a little disappointed that all of them called for canned tomatoes! Not a single one asked for fresh! However, it makes the process that much easier, no chopping. So after my customary poking around in a few different recipes, what I came up with is below.

Simple Marinara Sauce

1 can Italian tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup water
2Tb mince garlic
2Tb olive oil
1Tb sugar
1Tb Italian seasoning
2tsp black pepper
2tsp sea salt

Sauté the garlic in the olive oil in a large sauce pan for 2-3 minutes or until lightly brown and fragrant. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, red wine, water, sugar and spices to sauce pan and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until it reaches the desired consistency. Serve with hot pasta.

The sauce I made (even with canned tomatoes) was better than most that you get from a jar but not mind blowing. I'll probably continue to use jar sauce most of the time and only pull out this version for special occasions but at least I have one cooking goal under my belt - only took 7 months!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Won ton ravioli!

I finally got to make my ravioli this weekend. I had complications this week because of a 3-day power outage. Yes, three days without electricity during a DC summer heat advisory no less. Sigh. So after throwing out just about everything that was in my refrigerator, I went to the store and bought new ingredients to make my ravioli. Frankly, I'm surprised I was that motivated to make anything.

But my perseverance paid off, using won tons to make your own ravioli might just be genius. I concocted my own basic recipe for the stuffing and read numerous posts online about people's experiences with the technique. Some complained that the won tons don't taste exactly like pasta leading to a slightly "off" flavor, but I personally found them to be an excellent substitute. I know the picture I took makes them look less than fantastic, but I was pretty impressed with them.

Many people also said they freeze very well, I don't have any to freeze to test this because I had a very hungry dinner guest but maybe next time I can give it a whirl and let you know how it turns out.

Spinach & Artichoke Ravioli

12oz ricotta cheese
1 egg
1 egg yoke
2 cups chopped frozen spinach (thawed)
1 jar marinated artichokes
1Tb Italian seasoning
1 package of won ton wrappers

Chop marinated artichokes into small pieces. Mix ricotta cheese, whole egg, spinach, chopped artichokes and Italian seasoning in medium sized bowl to make stuffing. Boil a large pot of water. Prepare a work surface (I used a large cutting board) and lay out 6 won ton wraps. Place a small mound of stuffing (circa 1.5Tb) in the center of each wrapper, spreading it out slightly but leaving about a quarter inch border around the edge. Using a pastry brush, smear a small amount of the egg yoke around each side of each won ton. Lay another won ton on top of each one on your work surface taking care to line up the edges and not to let the stuffing leak out. Press around the edges with your finger and then again with a fork to ensure that it is sealed. Boil for approximately 3 minutes. Repeat until all the ingredients are used.

I had two that kind of "blew up" in the water when I was trying to remove them, I think they were filled a little too full and boiled a little too long. Try to keep the water at a soft boil to prevent the ravioli from being pushed around too much while cooking. Some people online suggest steaming them to get them to stay together better, but it wasn't really a big challenge, easier than I was expecting based on my past experience with won ton wraps at least, boiling worked pretty well over all.

The recipe above makes about 24 ravioli, perfect for two hungry people or to put some in the freezer for later.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Mini Taco Bites

So the weekend ran away from me and I haven't yet had a chance to make my ravioli (could still use steaming tips if anyone has any) but I threw together some taco bites using some of my wontons for my last-minute BBQ on the 4th.

When I was looking for steaming help, I happened upon a photo of some taco bites using wonton wraps for the shells. Genius? Uh, sort of. I think they offer a great presentation (ie they look cute!) and everyone was excited to try them but I also noticed no one was as excited for seconds. A little blah on the taste front.

I've considered they could be tasty shells to hold an avocado-crab mixture of some sort but I'm not sure that I'll try them again. If anyone has stray wontons, crab and avocado and wants to try it let me know how it turns out.

Wonton wraps
Prepared taco meat
Taco stuffin's (cheese, lettuce, salsa or whatever you normally put on your tacos)

Equipment: Muffin pan

Put wontons into compartments of lightly greased muffin tin, cupping them to form small bowls. Bake for 7 minutes at 350 degrees or until lightly browned. Fill cooled shells with taco meat and toppings. Serve.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Won ton ravioli - how to?

I found some local cooking program last weekend while flipping through the channels and the chef, whoever she was, mentioned that uses won tons to make quick homemade ravioli. Sounds like genius to me. Everything I see online suggests steaming them instead of boiling (so they stay together) but I can't find a thing from someone who has actually already tried it and how long they steamed. Can anyone help? I want to make them this weekend!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Get your hands off my couscous!

Sorry for the long silence! My computer got a virus and it took nearly two weeks to sort it out. However, I'm pretty pleased to say I fixed it myself! Who needs tech-support?

Last weekend while preparing for my pilgrimage to my local Safeway (or Un-safeway as it's know in DC) I was thinking about what new thing I could make and I decided on...drum roll please...Couscous! I enjoy couscous when other people make it but it's just one of those non-American foods that never occur to me to make. I'm not even sure what made me think of it then!

I trekked off to Safeway to discover that they don't sell plain couscous! Apparently, they don't think Americans have the capacity to make this because they only sell pre-flavored couscous in boxes with little spice packets. sigh. I bought two boxes.

At home, while I boiled some water and my spice packet to make my couscous my mom called. The conversation went something like:

Me: Hi mom.
Mom: Hi. What are you doing?
Me: Making couscous.
Mom: What on Earth is that?!?
Me:'s couscous...something kind of in between rice and pasta.
Mom: Oh....(while thinking, whose kid is this?)

Making couscous is actually really easy. Easier than pasta! Just boil some water (or broth), olive oil and salt, remove it from the heat, stir in couscous, cover it up and wait about 5 minutes (check the package directions for the liquid to couscous ratio and exact wait time).

To add to my Parmesan flavored couscous, I sauteed some red pepper, garlic and broccoli to mix with my couscous. It was tasty. However, I wasn't satisfied. Am I ever? I wanted plain couscous that I was responsible for spicing and darn it, I was gonna find it. So the next day I went to another grocery store and eureka!

You can also put additional spices in the water while it's boiling and the couscous will suck it up with the water. Couscous has quickly joined pasta as my go to mid-night dinner option.

Couscous is tasty both hot or cold. You can:
-mix in chicken, or pork to make it a meal
-add it to lettuce salads
-add raw veggies and cheese (I'd recommend feta) to make couscous salads
-add cooked veggies and eat it hot (as I described above)

The possibilities are endlessly delicious!

Monday, June 7, 2010

3-day weekend = cooking ambition

As memorial day weekend approached, all I could think about was food. What was I going to make on this extra day free from work that I would normally never have time for? I was browsing around on Simply Recipes when the answer found me: foccacia. When on Earth would I ever have time to hang around and wait for bread to rise again? Probably never.

This is the first time I've ever made bread. Do I choose something simple? Nope. I have to choose some complicated Italian bread that I'm not even sure I pronounce right.

The directions from Simply Recipes are below, or click on the link to see some step by step photos.

For my first time making bread, I think this was a huge success. I should have probably used more herbs, it seemed like a lot of rosemary at the time but the finished product could have used more. Also, you might want to think about halving this recipe, that means you'll be using half a yeast packet but it might be a good idea anyway. There was so much bread. I ate tons of it while it was still warm. I gave it to neighbors. I might make croutons with some of it. There was so much!

Directions (from Simply Recipes)

This recipe makes enough for 2 good-sized loaves. Or you can do what we've done, which is take 2/3 of the dough and bake it in a 9x15-inch baking pan, and the remaining third of the dough free-form on a baking sheet. You can make it all in free-form loaves that look like puffy pizzas, or shape them into casseroles or cake pans – there are no absolutes on the shape of this bread. The bread takes on the flavor of the olive oil so use a good quality one. Like most breads, this focaccia freezes well. You can also slice several day old focaccia bread and toast it, serving it with butter and/or honey.

* 1 package dry yeast
* 1/3 cup warm water, about 100 degrees
* 2 1/4 cups tepid water
* 2 Tbsp good quality olive oil, plus more for the pan and to paint on top of the bread
* 3 cups bread flour
* 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 Tbsp salt, plus coarse salt (fleur de sel if you have it, otherwise Kosher salt) for sprinkling over the top
* 2-3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary (can use sage or other herbs such as thyme or oregano, but whatever herb you use, do use fresh herbs, do not use dried)

1 Stir the yeast into the 1/3 cup of slightly warm-to-the-touch water and let it rest for 10 minutes.
2 In a large bowl, pour in 2 1/4 cups of tepid water and 2 tablespoons olive oil. After the yeast has rested for 10 minutes and has begun to froth, pour it into the water-oil mixture.
3 Whisk in 2 cups of flour (either the bread flour or the all purpose, at this stage it doesn't matter which) and the tablespoon of salt. Add the rosemary. Then, cup by cup, whisk in the rest of the flour (both the bread flour and all purpose). As the mixture goes from a batter to a thick dough, you'll want to switch from a whisk to a wooden spoon. By the time you get to the last cup of flour, you will be able to work the dough with your hands. Begin to knead it in the bowl – try to incorporate all the flour stuck to the sides and bottom of the bowl as you begin kneading. Once the bowl is pretty clean, turn the dough out onto a board and knead it well for 8 minutes. You might need some extra flour if the dough is sticky.
Note that a KitchenAid mixer (or some other brand of upright electric mixer) works well for the mixing and kneading of the bread dough. About the time you add the last cup of flour you'll want to switch from the standard mixer attachment to the dough hook attachment. Just knead the dough using the dough hook on low speed for 8 minutes. If after a few minutes the dough is still a little sticky, add a little sprinkling of flour to it.
4 In a large clean bowl, pour in about a tablespoon of oil and put the dough on top of it. Spread the oil all over the dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside to rise (in a relatively warm spot or at room temp) for an hour and a half.
5 Spread a little olive oil in your baking pan or baking sheet (will make it easier to remove the bread). Place the dough in your baking pans or form it into free-form rounds on a baking sheet. This recipe will do two nice-sized loaves or one big one and a little one. Cover the breads and set aside for another 30 minutes.
6 Dimple the breads with your thumb. Push in to about the end of your thumbnail, roughly 1/2-inch. Cover again and leave it to rise for its final rise, about 2 hours.
7 With 30 minutes to go before the rise finishes, preheat your oven to 400°F. If you have a pizza stone put it in.
8 Once the dough has done its final rise, gently paint the top with olive oil – as much as you want. Then sprinkle the coarse salt on top from about a foot over the bread; this lets the salt spread out better on its way down and helps reduce clumps of salt.
9 Put the bread in the oven. If you are doing free-form breads, put it right on the pizza stone. Bake for a total of 20-25 minutes. If you have a water spritzer bottle, spritz a little water in the oven right before you put the bread in to create steam, and then a couple of times while the bread is baking.
When the bread comes out of the oven, turn it out onto a rack within 3-5 minutes; this way you'll keep the bottom of the bread crispy. Let cool on a rack for 10 minutes before eating.
Makes a large loaf and a small loaf of 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick. How much will this serve? Easily a dozen, but it’s so good you might find yourself eating more than you expect.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Pesto and...Presto!

Pesto is the best sauce-invention ever. You can make simple, gourmet (seeming) meals in a flash - provided you buy the pesto. I lived on pesto during grad school. All of my friends in grad school came over and had the "pesto pasta with veggies dish." Which, I still eat, though not as often, and is the subject of this SGG post.

Unfortunately, I've never successfully made my own pesto. I only tired once, I don't have a chopper/food processor and I'm also not an Italian grandmother, so I don't need one. One of my SGG goals for the year included potentially trying this again but thus far my herb garden has ceased to provide any basil. I suppose that means I'm off the hook.

In grad school, I lived in the Netherlands and there was an abundance of tasty pesto available, however, I now find my choices to be limited - or nonexistent. I'm sure there are places with delicious pesto in DC, it's probably just $15 a jar. At the grocery store, there is one kind, that's right one. I actually asked a stock person once where I could find the pesto and he did not know what it was. Bad sign. So making your own might not be a bad idea.

In any case, when I do have good pesto available or settle for the so-so stuff, I make my grad school staple. It's simple, can use just about anything in the fridge and can be vegetarian or not.

Pesto pasta with Veggies

1-2 servings of hot pasta, cooked according to package directions (any kind of pasta you like, rotini works well)
2 cups chopped mixed veggies (can use almost anything you like, suggestions: summer squash, tomatoes, corn, broccoli, peppers)
2-3 TB of pesto
garlic to taste
salt and pepper to taste
bacon or chicken, 1 inch pieces (optional)
cheese (optional, mozzarella suggested)

Meat directions:
While cooking the pasta, in a small skillet cook bacon cubes or chicken pieces with garlic, salt and pepper for 5-6 minutes on medium heat until almost cooked. If using chicken, you might need a little bit of oil, the bacon will produce enough grease. Add veggies and cook 3-4 more minutes until veggies are soft and meat is thoroughly cooked. Toss with hot pasta and pesto sauce. Add veggie/meat mixture, top with cheese and serve.

Vegetarian directions:
While cooking the pasta, in a small skillet saute garlic in olive oil for 30 seconds and add veggies. Season with salt and pepper. Add veggies, top with cheese and serve.

Taste: B+
Cost: A-
Waste: A+

Monday, May 24, 2010

LOST themed party snacks 2

So while the LOST series finale was a little bit of a let down in my opinion, my LOST themed snack was quite successful. I decided to make "Fish Biscuit Sugar Cookies," and I refused to let the unavailability of a fish cookie cutter discourage me.

I looked at Target and CVS for something that could function as a fish cookie cutter but I came up empty handed and since I only decided to make them on Thursday there wasn't enough time to order one online or go to a specialty baking supply store. So I had to get creative.

I cut a fish shape out of a piece of cardboard and I think I did pretty well. Check out the photo of my fish stencil below. My plan was to use a pair of scissors to cut around my cardboard fish but that did not work. The dough is too heavy, so when I tried to hold the dough up to cut around the fish it was constantly falling down or stretching out. So I rolled the dough out on a cutting board, laid the stencil down and used a sharp knife to trace around it. For each cookie. I was committed to to my theme. If you ever need a random cookie cutter shape and don't have to make more than a dozen of the cookies, this works pretty well. However, making a high volume of cookies this way will make you tear your hair out.

I had fun with the decorating too! This also marks the occasion of the first time I've successfully made butter cream frosting. It's simple to make, but I've always had issues in the past. I also improvised my decorators bag. Taking a plastic zip-lock bag and cutting a small hole in the corner will get you a functional if not professional decorator's bag. I used a freezer bag because I thought it would be a little more durable. Put the frosting down in the corner and squeeze the air out of the bag. Twist the bag down to the frosting and hold it tight to keep a steady flow of frosting coming out the end. You won't be able to do anything fancy, but you will be able to write or make squiggles. If you want to frost the whole cookie, you can make a little bit larger hole to get the effect of a bigger "tip" for your decorator's bag.

I decorated my fish with LOST slogans and had a pretty good time with it. See the finished product below.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

LOST themed party snacks

Everyone who was ever into LOST is going to a LOST series finale party. Well, at least I am. Therefore, I've been trying to think of what LOST themed snacks I can take to the party my friend is hosting and the possibilities are endless.

Some ideas include...

* Smoke Monster Popcorn (thekitchn)
* Pulled pork (label it Wild Boar)
* Ribs (ie Boar)
* Anything tropical or island themed (too obvious)
* Put snacks in white boxes with the Dharma logo
* Fish Biscuit sugar cookies

To get the juices flowing for your LOST party snack, check out the LOSTpedia food page to see a list of all the food featured on the show. I'm probably not going to spend Saturday making Smoke Monster Popcorn but let's see what I can get together.

Monday, May 17, 2010

It's summer (almost)!

Ahhh...summer! Summer is potentially the best season for eating, fresh produce abounds and I'm tempted to while away the days in a hammock eating fresh fruit or sit on a picnic bench with some BBQ. sigh.

Misty daydreams about summer perfection aside, the season offers ample opportunity to enjoy inexpensive, quality fruits and vegetables. With this in mind, I recently attended a BBQ - the first of many of the season, hopefully - and made one of my favorite deserts for the occasion, fruit pizza.

Fruit pizza is something of a modern classic, or so I feel and it's the perfect treat on a summer day. It's fresh and cool to the taste and takes advantage of the season's bounty. That's right, I said bounty. I'm feeling very nostalgic or something today. When my mom would make fruit pizza, my sister and I would gorge ourselves on it, arguing that it is really only good for 2 days.

Fruit pizza

Crust (can be made ahead & frozen):

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup butter
1/4 cup white sugar

Press crust into the bottom of a 9x13 pan and bake 10-12 minutes at 350 degrees, or until lightly brown.

8oz cream cheese
3TB sugar
1/4 fruit juice (orange, pineapple, apple)

Blend all ingredients together and spread evenly over crust.

3+ different types of fruit, sliced (I recommend the combination pineapple, strawberry and banana)

Sprinkle fruit slices over sauce until desired coverage is reached.

Glaze (keeps fruit fresh):
1/2 cup fruit juice (orange, pineapple, apple)
1TB of corn starch

Mix fruit juice and cornstarch in small sauce pan and cook on medium heat until it thickens, about 5-8 minutes. Drizzle glaze over fruit.

Eat within 2 days, 3 maximum.

Tips & tricks

1. If you use canned pineapple in its own juice (not syrup) there will be enough juice to make your glaze and sometimes also the sauce
*If you're in a hurry, you can use pre-made sugar cookie dough and will get more or less the same result, just be careful of the baking time.

2. I think it goes without saying, but some fruit will hold up better than others. If you use bananas or apples make sure to get each of them with a dab of the glaze to keep them from turning brown.

3. If you're feeling fancy you can also make this as individual tarlets. Make your crust in a greased muffin pan, letting them cool before trying to take them out, then spread (or pipe if super fancy) the sauce in and top with fruit. These really make a lovely impression but are slightly more work.

4. Take care not to let the glaze get too thick or it will be very gelatinous on the top of the pizza. In the one pictured above, I let it cook just a little bit too long.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Broiled bacon??

While I was visiting my parents, I was watching some random cooking show - I have no idea what, actually, I was getting my nails done at the time. In any case, the chef was preparing brunch and suggested broiling bacon. I'm slightly broiler obsessed these days - it's so fast - and I have a practically life-long fixation with everything pig. So of course I was gonna try it.

Normally, I don't cook bacon at home and try to limit my consumption to restaurants. The reason for this is two-fold, first while I have a pork-fixation, I realize it's not the healthiest option. Second, I don't enjoy my whole apartment smelling like bacon for two days. I really hate it when I cook bacon, leave the house and come home to the smell.

Broiling, therefore seemed like a good option and other then when I burn things by having them too close to the flame (like my garlic toast last night) when is it ever a bad option? It made sense that the oven would contain the smell, much like when you microwave bacon, and the majority of the grease would drip into the broiling pan, improving the calorie score. Ok, yes it's probably just wishful thinking on the calorie front but hey, not bathing it in its own grease must help a little.

The taste of the broiled bacon was comparable to pan frying and the smell of bacon in the house minimal. My only reservation is that broiling would take a long time and use a lot of energy because my broiling pan is small and can only hold 4 slices of bacon at a time. hmm....I shouldn't be eating bacon all the time anyway.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Avocado crostini

Add avocado to my list of obsessions.

I had diner with a friend of mine at Cork, a wine bar in DC, last week and we had the best starter - grilled toast topped with avocado, olive oil, salt and pistachios. So simple, and yet so delicious.

Of course, I had to try and make this myself and of course they were delicious! I'm not a pistachio fan so I of course had to adapt it a bit.

Avocado crostini

Thinly sliced bread, toasted
Thin slices of avocado
Olive oil
Course salt
Chopped pistachio

Sprinkle toast lightly with olive oil and salt. Layer with avocado and serve immediately.

I have some ideas also for variations, using pesto instead of olive oil, adding tomato slices, topping with Parmesan flakes or using almonds/walnuts instead of pistachios. Get some artisan bread to dress up it for a party or whatever toast you have around for a simple and healthy snack...oh I'm going to be eating a lot of avocado.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pesky garlic

It's so not a secret, but when cooking for myself, I do everything possible to find a shortcut. However, I'm aware that sometimes the easiest way isn't the best. Hence, my dilemma - I love garlic but it's so much effort to cut it up all the time and usually I opt for either dry, minced garlic or what I call "semi-fresh" garlic.

Being perfectly honest, dry garlic is seriously lacking in flavor when compared to the real thing but it's just right there in it's little jar ready to go. Just use twice as much! Semi-fresh garlic, is what I have termed the stuff that comes pre-minced in a jar, it's moist and it needs to be kept in the fridge. It's better than the dried stuff but still a poor substitute for the real thing and it requires the use of a spoon. I mean another dish to wash?!?

A couple of years back, my beef was the amount of time it took to peel garlic. Then I read (somewhere...?) that if you pop it in the microwave for 2-3 seconds to warm it up the peeling will slip right off! And what do you know, it does! Don't put it in longer than 2-3 seconds, it gets hot really quickly.

Recently, I haven't been feeling like expending the effort to slice/mince the garlic. I'm lazy, I know. Then I saw a niffty looking trick on thekitchn. Use a fork! It's recommended by thekitchn when you're mincing only 1-2 cloves. I haven't tried it for more than that but I probably will, when I have more than that to mince. Keep in mind this technique will not get you equally sized pieces of garlic perfection but do you really care? I sure as hell don't.

Sorry for the less than fabulous photo, my camera ran out of batteries!

So there you have it - 2 tips leading to garlic perfection.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Organics - do you or don't you?

In honor of Earth Day, the 40th anniversary of Earth Day no less, I'm positing on organics.

When it comes to buying organic produce, I have good intentions but very little follow through. I want to buy them. I feel that they are better for the environment and in turn, better for me. But I have a really hard time justifying the cost. When fruits and veggies are 2-3 times more expensive, I just can't do it. I tell myself that when I make more money, this is something I'll spend it on.

So I compromise and I compare. I look for places where I can do something good for the environment and myself, without spending significantly more.

Things to consider buying organic:
-Salsa (similar cost)
-Carrots (similar cost)
-Apples (lots of pesticides)
-Bell peppers (lots of pesticides)
-Milk (I think it tastes better, and hormone use)

When considering what meat to buy, if you don't want to pay big bucks for organic beef, eat more poultry and pork. USDA regulations prohibit the use of hormones and growth promoters in pork and poultry, so while you might not be buying organic at least you will be getting hormone-free meat. Note that the packages will most likely not say "hormone-free" because since all poultry & pork is raised without hormones in the US, it can't be stated on the package unless it also says that the USDA prohibits hormone use for these products.

Update April 29th, 2010: I just found a list of the produce "dirty dozen" on Yahoo! Green, click here to see the fruits and veggies that have the highest pesticide use.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Guacamole weekend

I ate enough guacamole this weekend to make up for not eating it my entire life. wow. I bought 5 avocados last week and 4.5 went into guacamole. Why would I buy 5 avocados you may ask? Well, I like avocado (a lot) and they were on sale for a $1. Ok, they're on sale for a $1 like every two weeks but these were actually good, not ones that had been sitting around for a week and were over-ripe.

Moving on, I think I tried every possible incantation of Jess' guacamole recipe. When I was at the store buying my ingredients, I was talking on the phone...yes, I was THAT person...which was a bad idea, because I forgot something - the lime.

Jess and I had a whole text conversation about the lime juice and if it was actually important, poor Jess has become my guac consultant. I asked her if I could just use a little OJ instead, you know still citrus and will prevent the guac from oxidizing (ie turn brown). Jess was anti-adding OJ, too much sugar. Did I do it anyway? Yea...and I'll be honest, I don't think it mattered much. The little splash of OJ I used did not really add that much sugar and I'm sure it was useful in preventing oxidation.

Jess's recipe is:

I omitted onions in all versions. ewww!

Guac round #1 (2 avocados, Friday night)
Jess' recipe with OJ for lime juice

Round #1 was pretty tasty, I had some friends over Friday night and they hardly touched the guac. Ok it was pretty soon after dinner, but basically I ended up eating it all myself and it was a huge bowl.

Guac round #2 (1 avocado, Saturday night)
OJ for lime juice and no Jalapeno

This was just for me, and I was feeling I really need to cut up Jalapeno? I decided no. This one was the worst, I guess it needs a little zest, even if I don't particularly like spicy food.

Guac round #3 (.5 avocado, Sunday afternoon)
Jess' recipe

Around this time I was tired of guac, especially since the two times I had made it were less than fabulous but I had all those avocados in the fridge! So in the morning I made it to the store and bought a lime and it really made a difference. This was amazing and I remembered why I could not stop eating it at Jess' house! The lime juice gave it a fresh quality that it was just missing without it.

Guac round #4 (1 avocado, Sunday night)
Jess' recipe

Yes it was so good I made more later the same day, that 1/2 an avocado was just not enough! I think the photos is this version - doesn't it look deliciously chunky? Oh looking at it make me want guac again!?!

Just goes to show you, don't mess with perfection and sometimes it's worth it to go all the way back to the store to get that one item you forgot.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A new way to make carbonara

When I was a kid, I always hung around the kitchen. When Mom was baking a cake, I was there waiting to lick the bowl - before my sister got there - and I would chat with my mom asking her a million questions about everything under the sun...needless to say I was kicked out a fair amount.

Little did I know that I was also learning to cook. I would sit at the bar (jabbering away) and she would be cooking on the other side. As an adult, I've always liked going to restaurants with open kitchens and watching what they are doing and learning new techniques and dishes. I was definitely hanging around Jess' kitchen while she was making the guacamole.

So there is this Italian restaurant called Vapiano's, it's a chain operated by a German company I believe and there was a location in Den Haag that I used to go to when I lived there and there are also a few in the DC area. Vapiano's has an open kitchen and they cook pasta dished in front of you. I almost always order spaghetti carbonara.

So I've made cabonara at home too, several times but the recipe I used was sort of hit and miss, it was better from Vapiano's. Plus what they were doing was simpler! I was mixing egg and cream and pouring it on hot pasta, mixing it quickly to cook the sauce. Sometimes it was really tasty and other times I ended up with pasta and scrambled eggs.

After watching the chef's at Vapiano's make my carbonara about 10 times, I thought I can do this, I'm gonna try it and if it doesn't work there is always a Lean Cuisine in the freezer.

Spaghetti Carbonara a la Vapiano's

1 serving of spaghetti/linguine pasta (cooked, hot)
1 1/2 cup cream
1 egg yoke
garlic, chopped
olive oil
chopped bacon
Parmesan cheese (optional)

Pour a small amount of olive oil in a small sauce pan and add chopped garlic and bacon. Cook garlic for about 1 minute until it becomes fragrant. Pour cream in sauce pan and cook on low-med heat until the cream boils around the edges, stirring frequently. Stir in egg yoke (can add additional spices here, basil ect). Reduce sauce, stirring frequently. When sauce reaches desired thickness, mix in pasta and serve. Garnish with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

This recipe was so simple. I actually made this on a whim, I had some extra cream in the fridge from making cinnamon rolls and pasta and an egg are pretty easy to come by in my house. I actually skipped the bacon and just added a bit of salt because I did not have any around, so I guess mine wasn't really "carbonara."

I've always been really interested in what is going in my food so, I've always liked hanging out in kitchens to watch, but for anyone who likes to cook or wants to learn more, definitely watch every chance you get - never know where you will learn something new!

Taste: B+
Cost: A
Wast: A+ (single serving!)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tequila lime mussels

For my first attempt at making mussels I went for the classic Mussels a la Marinere, mussels in a nice wine sauce. So recently, I was walking around Eastern Market and I saw that they had fresh mussels for sale ($3.25/lb!) and I just had to buy them. What am I gonna do with them? No idea.

I took my mussels home, deciding that I wanted to try something different, so I browse around and I find a recipe for "Mike's Drunk Mussels." Tequila, lime and mussels, sounds fabulous, right?

1 teaspoon cooking oil
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 small onion, diced
1/2 cup tequila
1/4 cup water
1 lime, juiced
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons diced jalapeno peppers (optional)
2 pounds fresh mussels, scrubbed and debearded
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Cook red pepper and onion in oil, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.
Stir in tequila, water, lime juice, fresh pepper and jalapenos. Bring to a boil, and dump in the mussels. Sprinkle the cilantro over the mussels, and cover with a tight fitting lid. Allow to steam for 3 to 4 minutes, or until all mussels have opened (discard any that don't).

I went to the grocery store and liquor store and made me some drunk mussels. Were they good??? They were alright. The mussels were normal, tasted like mussels. I like cilantro, so having boatloads of cilantro in there was nice...all the green in the photo is cilantro.

The negative was that the sauce so was so alcoholic. The tequila only cooks for a few minutes with the mussels so it still has a lot of alcohol in it. After I dipped a few pieces of bread in the sauce I was practically drunk, each one was like taking a shot. Which is ok if that's what you're going for, but I wasn't. My favorite part of mussels is dipping bread in the sauce, so not being able to do that (without a hangover the next day) is a big negative for me.

In short, this is a good alternative to the classic French style of mussels but I don't think it's something I'd make regularly, maybe with less tequila or with reducing the sauce a bit.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Broiled chicken tomato toppers

You may recall my dissatisfaction with a recipe called Feta topped chicken. I was especially disappointed because I felt that it was a good concept but just not working functionally. Too bad because I love my feta.

So now that I've had some time, I've reworked it. This is what I've come up with:

Broiled chicken tomato toppers

4 chicken breasts
6-8 slices of tomato
2 slices provolone cheese
2 TB prepared pesto sauce (or 8 fresh basil leaves)

Set oven to broil and allow to preheat. Lay chicken breasts on lightly greased broiling pan and broil (on top rack) for 5-6 minutes. Remove chicken and flip over. Spread pesto on chicken and top with tomato slices. Place provolone cheese on the top and place back in oven. Broil an additional 4-5 minutes until chicken is fully cooked, taking care not to burn the cheese. If need be, you can move the chicken to a lower rack.

This was really tasty. I served the chicken with some pasta and marinara sauce to make it a meal, though veggies would be a good route too. I used provolone because I had it on hand but I think mozzarella would be equally good.

Taste: B+
Waste: A
Cost: A

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Broiled tomato appetizer

A simple and delicious appetizer that is sure to be a crowd pleaser at your next soire, date night or when you feel like have something extra special with your grilled cheese. I'm pretty excited about this because it is my own recipe (!) and my mind is already filled with variations, so without further ado...

Broiled stuffed tomatoes

4-6 ripe tomatoes (tomatoes the size of plumbs are best)
4 oz soft cream cheese
4 oz crumbled feta cheese
2 TB pesto sauce
Italian seasoning

Equipment: muffin pan

Preheat oven to broil. Grease one muffin pan. Mix cream cheese, feta and pesto together in a small bowl and set aside. Using a sharp knife core each tomato and use a spoon to scoop all of the seeds and center of the tomato out. Sprinkle Italian seasoning in each tomato and fill with cheese mixture. Place tomatoes in the slots of the muffin pan. Broil for 4 minutes allowing cheese to melt but not burn on the top and tomatoes to soften. Serve while while still warm.

These were delicious! A fantastic and simple start to a meal. A great date night addition that will make it look like you tried, even when you didn't!

Taste: A+
Cost: A-
Waste: A

Monday, March 22, 2010

My crock pot and I are on speaking terms again

The crock pot and I are once again on speaking terms. Thanks to the thorough crock pot recipe research provided by Stephanie at A Year of Slow Cooking. I have now made 2 successful recipes, both soups but I have plans to branch out.

Last week, while I was home from work due to illness my crock pot made dinner. End of Summer Harvest soup to be exact (see recipe below sourced from Stephanie's blog). I had, before I got sick, chopped up all the ingredients and put them in the fridge in my slow cooker, so all I had to do was put the pot insert in and turn it on (and go back to bed). It was amazing.

My only problem was I could NOT find dry cannellini beans. I went to two different grocery stores. I could only find the pre-cooked canned variety. I thought about substituting another kind of bean but I know nothing about beans (I don't really like them). So I bought the canned ones, intending to add them toward the end, but ended up not using them (they looked gross). I just added a little extra pasta at the end and the soup was very tasty, though the beans would give it more nutritional value.

Next time, I'm adding lentils. I love lentils and they would give the soup lots of fiber, just like the beans. If you wanted to make a version with meat, I'm thinking sausage or turkey sausage would be good additions. I'm trying to be a good Catholic this Lent so I made this recipe specifically because it was vegetarian.

Single girls should keep portion size in mind. I cut the portion in half and still had about 5 bowls of soup. This soup does not keep particularly well in the fridge, I tried to eat the last bowl for lunch 3 days after making it and it was definitely a little bit questionable.

End of Summer Harvest Soup (yes I realize it's winter)

4 cups chicken broth (I used vegetable, works fine)
1 cup prepared pasta sauce
1 cup water
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 zucchini, washed well and sliced in 1/4-inch rounds
2 yellow summer squash, washed well and sliced in 1/4-inch rounds
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered (depending on size)
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1/3 cup dry white Cannellini beans (could not find them!)
1/2 cup pasta (to add 20 minutes before serving)
salt and pepper to taste
garnish with Parmesan and Romano cheeses

I used a 5-quart slow cooker and cut this recipe in half. Wash squashes well, and slice in rounds. Place into slow cooker, with diced onion and tomato wedges. Rinse your beans in hot water, and add to cooker. Add broth, pasta sauce, and water. Stir in Italian seasoning.

Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours, or until beans have reached desired tenderness. 20 minutes before serving, stir in raw pasta. Serve with grated Parmesan and Romano cheese.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Fresh Guacamole - I'm converted!

I'm currently in KC, visiting my friend Jess - culinary student extraordinaire! We were at the store negotiating dinner options and I saw avocados on sale. While I was feeling up the avocados trying to find a ripe one, Jess was asking me what the beep I'm planning to with it. I said, just eat it. I LOVE avocado. Jess felt this was not a good plan and insisted on making guacamole, which I told her I don't like.

Apparently I was wrong. Jess makes some tasty guacamole. I'm not sure I'd ever had fresh made before because when I hear guacamole I think the goopy stuff you get at restaurants. Ew. But this was almost chunky. I ate almost all of it. Jess got like 2 chips. The following day we made it again, this time using two avocados so Jess could have at least a little bit. Oh I'm hungry just thinking about it.

Here is a link to Jess' blog with her avocado recipe. I'm working on getting a guest post from her in the future.

PS: I got in trouble for this photo because it wasn't "presentation ready." Forgive me.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Potato soup - crock pot success!

Finally, finally, finally, the crock pot comes through. After all the depressing crock pot outcomes, I was on the look out for a specialist and I was browsing around on $5 dinners when I saw a post by Stephanie O'Dea, aka slow cooker aficionado. Stephanie's blog, A Year of Slow Cooking is amazing. She has a small slow cooker obsession, but I'm grateful for it, and challenged herself to use her crock pot everyday for a year in 2008. Wow. I can't even challenge myself to cook everyday - partly because I wouldn't be able to eat all of the food.

Anyway, so after I found Stephanie's blog, my hopes were still pretty low and I thought it was perhaps best to start small. Soup seemed like a natural thing to make in a slow cooker so I looked at the soup recipes on her blog and I wasn't disappointed there are a bunch to choose from.

I made the potato soup. It was yummy. I sort of forgot to buy seasoned salt, uh, twice so I used some random mix of seasoning I had around including paprika. I tried to blend the soup smooth with a hand mixer because unlike Stephanie, I did want a smooth soup. It sort of worked but not really. She suggested using a hand blender but I don't have one and did not want to pour the soup into my standing blender.

One final note, this is not single-girl portion sized recipe, at all! Probably because Stephanie is cooking for a family. I was planning to make the whole recipe and put some in the freezer but then I started cutting up potatoes, and let me tell you 5lbs of potatoes is a lot. I would recommend you to cut it in half. If you decide to make the whole thing, make sure to use a 6qt slow cooker as the recipe recommends. My crock pot is 5qt and it was almost full with 3/4 of the recipe.

I would say the full recipe makes 10-12 servings. I was eating this most of the week...yea none made it to the freezer, probably for the best as there is still some chicken in there from the whole chicken recipe.

The recipe calls for chicken broth, but I suspect a vegetarian version could easily be made by substituting vegetable broth.

I'm planning to make the End of Summer Harvest soup next week.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Eastern Market

I'm something of a market junkie. I enjoy wandering around and looking at the stalls because you never know what you will find, be it food or craft items. I also enjoy the chaos of it all, everything mixed around.

Each market has it's own feel. Eastern market is fairly upscale. It features hard to find food items, hand made jewelry and unique furniture. It's in a cute neighborhood filled with old town houses, just south of the Capitol complex. The streets are lined with cafes and restaurants packed with brunchers eating eggs and sipping mimosas on the weekends.

The Open Market in The Hague was a completely different story. It was crowded, unorganized and a little bit dirty. I kinda loved it - you could buy anything and everything, from apples to a cell phone. Not that I'm recommending you to get a cell phone there...alright I did get a replacement charger there on my last trip to the Netherlands because I lost my cell charger in Paris. This place was an experience and completely unexpected in the tidy and posh streets of Den Haag. When people would visit me in NL, I'd always try to take them to the market, such a non-American way to shop.

I tried to go to Eastern Market on January 3rd but it was closed! Do you believe that? Apparently the 3rd is now a holiday.

I finally made it back this past weekend and the streets were full of merchants. There were lots of places selling jewelry and small homemade housewares. The fresh produce was somewhat limited, I'm hoping that when spring rolls around there will be more local and seasonal items available because things will be, you know in season. At the moment, the market looks a bit like a grocery store only featuring fresh salsa, hummus and some specialty meats, like my chorizo.