Archive for March, 2008

When eating healthy is so, so, good.

March 31, 2008

Today was one of those days: too many vegetables in the fridge, not too much motivation to cook. What I almost always do in those situations is fire up the oven, get out the cutting board, and get ready to roast. Here’s some of my best advice. If you don’t already oven-roast vegetables on a regular basis, you really should start. It’s so, so easy, as healthy as you want it to be, and always leaves you with the most delicious, crispy edged, salt-kissed, olive oil caressed vegetables that took almost no effort at all. So turn on your oven already and roast something!

Really though, I’m not kidding. Almost every vegetable is good this way. Maybe I’m a bit obsessed but I swear, toss a vegetable with some olive oil, salt and pepper (and maybe some rosemary, or cumin-coriander-turmeric, depending on what you’re going for), put it in a hot oven (I usually do 450), and it will be good, promise.

Some suggestions are:

  • Broccoli with rosemary (the edges of the broccoli get all crispy and awesome)
  • Cauliflower with CCT (yes ok it’s a little bit Rachael Ray of me but it’s a lot to type out!)
  • Carrots with just olive oil, salt and pepper (or with CCT, that’s good too)
  • Zucchini (I like it best simple, with just olive oil, salt and pepper)
  • Rutabagas or Potatoes (both are good with almost anything, although I especially love potatoes with rosemary)

Seriously, the possibilities are endless.

This time I had rutabagas, red bliss potatoes, spinach, and edamame. I roasted the cubed the rutabagas and potatoes and roasted them with some cumin until their edges were browned and crisp. I sauteed the spinach with a bit of garlic, and just used the edamame as they were. Wanting something a bit more substantial than a side dish, I made some quinoa (one of my favorite grains) and scrambled an egg to add in as well. The only other thing I did was make a quick lemon-tahini dressing and this lunch (with enough leftovers for lunch tomorrow) was ready to go. I highly, highly recommend it.

Quinoa Salad with Roasted Root Vegetables and Tahini-Lemon Dressing
(serves 4 as a small main dish)

1 C uncooked quinoa

2 rutabagas, cubed
2 small red bliss potatoes
1 C edamame, thawed if frozen
4 C spinach, uncooked
1/4 C calamata olives, roughly chopped, or more to taste

One egg (just leave it out if you’d like the recipe to be vegan- maybe add some sesame/soy marinated tofu instead…)

1 teaspoon cumin

1 clove garlic, minced, or more to taste
1T tahini
1T lemon juice and a pinch of lemon zest

1/4 C Marcona almonds, sliced or chopped (for sprinkling on top)

Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil for sautéing

For the Quinoa
Rinse and drain the quinoa. Boil 2C of water in a small pot and then add the quinoa. Let cook, covered, over medium low heat for about 15 minutes or until the water is absorbed and the quinoa grains look like little curly cues. Take off the heat and set aside.

For the Root Vegetables
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees farenheit.
Peel the rutabagas and wash the potatoes (I like to leave the skin on). Cut both into half-inch cubes and then throw them on a heavy pan or cookie sheet with a glug of good olive oil. Sprinkle the cumin on top and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper (don’t go crazy, you can always add more later!)
Let cook until browned and crispy on edges (check after 15 minutes). Toss to get browning on other sides.

To finish and assemble the salad
Sautee the spinach in a small pan with a bit of olive oil and the garlic. Remove from the pan, and just use the same pan to scramble the egg, adding a bit of salt and pepper if you’d like.

Add the spinach, scrambled egg, edamame, olives, and roasted root vegetables to a bowl with the quinoa and toss quickly. Whisk together the tahini, lemon zest, and lemon juice and pour over, tossing again to coat. If necessary, add a bit more olive oil to the salad. Sprinkle the almonds over the top, and serve at room temperature.


Perfect (insert anything here) cake: Daring Baker’s March Challenge

March 30, 2008

My first Daring Baker’s challenge, completed!!! March’s challenge, chosen by Morven from Food Art and Random Thoughts, was Dorie Greenspan‘s Perfect Party Cake. It is from Dorie’s book: Baking From My Home to Yours, which I don’t have but will probably get soon now that I’ve made this cake. (Also because everyone seems to be raving about it!)

Styled shot: the cake at it’s sexiest

The cake has four layers of moist, lemon scented layers that are dense enough to satisfy a serious cake eater but light enough to be appropriate in a layer cake (only one stick of butter is used in the cake recipe). Dorie suggests using raspberry jam and lemon curd between the layers, which I think would be delicious, but I strayed a little and used grapefruit curd and strawberry jam instead. I also made kind of a mousse out of ricotta and fresh whipped cream and put that between the layers as well to give the cake a bit more height and deliciousness.


The result was interesting (in a wonderful way). Because of the ricotta, the cake tasted subtly Italian, although no one could really figure out why until I told them about the ricotta. The grapefruit curd had a similar effect. Although no one could identify grapefruit as one of the ingredients, the cake was a bit softer in flavor than I think it would have been had I used lemon. I was really happy with the result and would definitely make this cake again. I’m also looking forward to trying different flavor combinations. Check out what all the other Daring Bakers did with this challenge here!

On the Easter table

Easter (aka i’ve been slacking. annnnnd… i’m back)

March 25, 2008

There’s something I really love about easter. When my brother and I were little, Easter was one of the more fun-filled holidays- less of a big to-do than Christmas or Thanksgiving, more kids at the family get-together, and almost as much (if not more) candy than Halloween. Don’t get me wrong, I can be pretty sentimental at times and will never ever lose my love for Christmas, but Easter was just a different kind of fun. Every year my mom would make an indoor easter egg hunt for my brother and me. The hunt was structured around a series of rhyming clues about egg locations. There was one clue to start, and the next clue was hidden with the eggs. It told us where to go next, and so on. This sounds very cute and all, but what you must know is that family quirks can not be stifled and ours were no exception. I wish I had saved the clues my mom wrote out. There was always at least one or two involving “the throne”, as it was known in our family (I really hope I don’t need to explain that to anyone) and eggs (plastic ones!) were frequently hidden at the bottom of piles of laundry, in people’s shoes, and in the dishwasher. The best part for me was that I am older than my brother and there were at least one or two Easters where I knew how to read and he didn’t. Now, I’m not especially proud of this, but I guess I have to admit it since it is documented on video. On those particular Easters, I found great delight in reading the clues to myself silently, and then running off to find the eggs and leaving my poor brother helpless, stomping his foot and yelling at the foot of the stairs. This may not sound very nice of me, but anyone who has a little brother should understand. The opportunities to stick it to a younger sibling didn’t come around all the time, but when they did, you had to take advantage! That’s just the way it was. And don’t worry, he did his fair share of torturing me too. I’m pretty sure it evened out.

saturday morning frittata and grapefruit

So, as you might guess, the days of the rhyming Easter egg hunt are long gone. I did have a nice, relaxed breakfast with my mom though.  I guess you could say we celebrated by making a frittata (above) and supreming about a million grapefruits to have on the side (my idea of luxury).

These days, much of the time leading up to Easter is spent baking and just spending time with the family, which is just fine with me. Every year the scene plays out in a similar way. Since I am the family’s designated baker, I never fail to spend at least three or four hours pouring through cookbooks looking for the the most decadent, most fantastic, most daring dessert candidates. I usually end up with at least five or six potentials, at which point my mom begins to sigh, worried that I will go way overboard and end up begging her to help me wash bowls at two in the morning (let’s just say it hasn’t not happened once or twice before).  

fudgiest chocolate cake 

To make a long story short, this year I narrowed it down to three recipes within a pretty reasonable amount of time.  I ended up making: an the fudgiest chocolate cake (drenched in ganache), grapefruit cupcakes (sugar-free, for my godfather who is diabetic), and a super top-secret recipe which I will post about at the end of the month!  The chocolate cake is based on this one from Deb at Smitten Kitchen, although I ran out of butter just before getting to the mousse layer and decided to go with ganache instead.  Besides, there was already enough butter at Easter!

The cake was absolutely delicious but so, so, rich.  We couldn’t finish it, which was no problem at all for me, because the leftovers are in my fridge right now acting a lot like the best fudge I’ve ever eaten.  Mmmmm.

Hey, we tried...

Fudgiest Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Deb at Smitten Kitchen
Makes at least 10 servings (one 9 inch round, or one 8×8 in square and 12 mini cupcakes, as I did)

8 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup all purpose flour

6 tablespoons semisweet chocolate chips
6 tablespoons heavy cream

For the cake: Preheat oven to 325°F. Butter an 8×8 square pan; dust with sugar. Prepare one 12-well mini-muffin tray.  Melt chocolate and butter in heavy large saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Cool to lukewarm. Whisk in sugar. Whisk in eggs 1 at a time, blending well after each addition. Mix in vanilla and salt, then flour. Pour batter into pan. Bake until cake just rises in center (tester inserted into center will not come out clean), about 35 minutes. Cool completely in pan on rack.  I would recommend keeping this one at room temperature as long as you can, just to keep it a little bit softer.

For the ganache: Melt the chocolate chips and the cream in a double boiler over gently simmering water.  Pour over the cooled cake.  Let drip langourously over the edges… ooh!

 The cupcakes, also borrowed from Smitten Kitchen, were so cute and really good for the kids as well as my godfather.  The recipe is below.

grapefruit cupcakes

Grapefruit Yogurt Cake
Adapated from Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa and from Deb at Smitten Kitchen

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar (I used splenda and it worked fine)
3 extra-large eggs
3 teaspoons grated grapefruit zest (approximately one large grapefruit)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

For the glaze:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar  (I used splenda here too and it seemed OK)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease and flour the pan.  ( I just made 12 mini-cupcakes and one mini loaf).

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, grapefruit zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the vegetable oil into the batter, making sure it’s all incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup lemon juice and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Set aside.

When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Carefully place on a baking rack over a sheet pan. While the cake is still warm, pour the grapefruit-sugar mixture over the cake and allow it to soak in. Cool.

For the glaze, combine the confectioners’ sugar and grapefruit juice and pour over the cake.

I’m a daring baker!

March 10, 2008

Yes, yes, yes, it’s true, after a year or so of shameless spying, I have become a daring baker.  I can’t wait to make the first (secret- shhhhhhhhhhhhhh) recipe.  No peeking till March 30, sorry!  And don’t ask me either, I’m sworn to complete secrecy.   That’s all for now…

Geez I guess it’s been a while…

March 9, 2008

Turkey Burgers, fist attempt

So, don’t ask me why, but the other day I got a craving for turkey burgers. Now, let me give you a little bit of background. I don’t do regular (beef) burgers any more, and honestly, I never thought turkey burgers were worthy of much praise. They always seemed to be bland, strange-colored, poor-substitute versions of regular burgers. Certainly not something I would order at a restaurant, let alone crave. Well, a couple of years ago, some friends and I went to visit our friend Steve’s parents out in central Pennsylvania. We got to his parents’ house, and his mom had prepared dinner for us. She presented us with a plate of just-grilled turkey burgers. I remember thinking, “Great.. I’ll just eat half of this to be polite”, but upon first bite I realized that I had been so, so, mistaken. These turkey burgers were delicious! In fact, I liked them better than any beef burger I had ever had. I hounded Steve’s mom for the recipe, and although she was very gracious and offered to email it to me, I foolishly never followed through. Now it’s been about two years, and I think it would be a little strange to call up Steve’s mom, who I have not seen since then, and ask her for her turkey burger recipe. Don’t you? Besides, I am a bit of a rogue in the kitchen and can not resist a chance to experiment, even if I really have no idea what I’m doing, and I’ll tell you this: I am a bit less than experienced with meat.

Annnnyyyway… So I had this craving for turkey burgers. It would NOT go away. I tried to lure M into making them with me (I need a companion around when I cook with meat, I’m a little intimidated!) on Friday night, but it just did not happen. We were too hungry and just went to chinatown for a quick malaysian meal which, in retrospect, was not a bad idea at all. So Saturday rolled around and I still wanted those damn turkey burgers! Well, to make a long story short, we made them. I guess that’s that. They were awesome! Of course, M and I are both wannabe gourmandes and can not stop at one dish, so we had to make a full lunch banquet (yes, just for the two of us, I know).

Our menu, french style. Can you tell we think we're funny?

This is EXACTLY what it looked like when we cooked lunch

As you can see from the “menu” above, we had:

-Pan-roasted asparagus with lemon and parmesan

-Turkey burgers

-M’s potato salad (without mayonnaise.. yes!)

and… as if that wasn’t enough already

-Nigella Lawson’s Chocolate Ginger Bread (although admittedly, we were pretty full and only ate a few bites)

Well, let me tell you, this was all very good! It was also pretty impressive. M is into Iron Chef and gave us only an hour to make all of this, starting the moment we walked in the door. I have a very small kitchen and a mini oven, so this was quite the challenge. I’m proud to say, we did it! And I am known to be a notoriously slow cooker. Not bad!

I would like to post recipes for this stuff, but we made it up and don’t really remember the proportions. If you’d like the recipe for Nigella’s Chocolate Ginger Bread (yes, you would like this recipe), it’s in her book, Feast. Enjoy!