Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pressure Cooker

I'm having some technical difficulties with uploading my photos. I usually just put my camera memory card right into my Macbook and use iPhoto to indicate which pictures I'd like to upload. For some reason, it keeps giving me an error message about ejecting the card improperly.

Since I can't seem to post any photos from my camera, I wanted to give you guys a little movie review. I'm currently obsessed with watching documentaries via my Netflix subscription. Combine that with my love of food, and I've watched a LOT of food movies of late.

One that I really loved, is Pressure Cooker.

 It is a documentary about a high school culinary class in a Philadelphia school. It chronicles three students as they train with their tough as nails teacher for the city-wide culinary competition with the hopes of winning scholarships for furthering their food education.

I enjoyed the cooking, of course, but what really resonated with me was the drive and ambition of these kids. I know what I was like in high school, and I certainly wouldn't have step foot inside of the school when I was on vacation - but these kids put in long hours of practice during their school breaks.

In addition to their rigorous training regimen, these kids all have to overcome different personal struggles within their own families. I loved seeing how cooking became an escape for all of them, and a way out of the inner city for a few lucky students.

For an uplifting look at how a passion for culinary arts can change lives, check out Pressure Cooker.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Restock the freezer: Stuffed Peppers

I'm sure you all saw the news about the freak winter storm that hit CT last month. I won't dwell on it, but if you are my friend on facebook you know that I was without power for 8 days.

This means that all the food that I painstakingly stocked in my fridge and freezer was spoiled within the first 48 hours of the blackout. I don't think I have to tell you other food folk, that throwing away my stocked up freezer full of delicious steaks, frozen soups, and cookie dough was pretty painful. 
At least the vodka was still salvageable.

So when power was once again restored and I heard about a 1 week sale at a local grocery chain I was thrilled. It was a 'restock your freezer sale' and for $60 I got $100 worth of meat!

2 meatloaves
2 stuffed peppers
2 stuffed chicken breasts
1 pot roast
1 rack of baby back ribs
1 full roaster chicken
1 pork tenderloin

I told everyone I worked with about the sale, and a couple of them stocked up as well.
I'm not traditionally a stuffed pepper fan, but when my coworker Bethany texted me a photo of her delicious stuffed pepper from the same sale, I made a mental note to cook these up after the holidays!

Stuffed peppers are a perfect antidote to all that turkey and poultry seasoning. All I had to do was cook them through in the oven, about 45 mins at 350.
I served them up with a mix of green beans and carrots, steamed and dressed with some grapefruit juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, and a little bit of pasta mixed with pepper and Parmesan.

The peppers were enormous, easily the size of a softball - so Rafe and I split one.
Bethany was right, these were outstanding. I'm going to have to buy them once more, then I'm going to try and make them myself!

Do you like stuffed peppers? Do you have a go-to recipe?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Meatless Monday: Cuban Black Beans

Sorry for the dark dreary photo! I assure you that although the photo is not my best, this recipe is a winner. I love doing meatless Monday dinners, but find that its a struggle to come up with an easy option that doesn't involve pasta. This recipe is my newest solution. Adapted from Real Simple's Cuban black beans, this is a great pantry meal.

Cuban Black Beans, adapted from Real Simple 

1 cup white rice
1 Tbs olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
salt and pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
dash cayenne (or to taste)
2 15.5 oz cans black beans, rinsed
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh cilantro

Cook rice according to directions. Heat 1 tbsp oil over medium heat, once pan is heated, add onion and garlic, salt and pepper. Saute until softened and add cumin, chili powder and cayenne and cook for about 1 minute. Add rinsed black beans, 1 cup water, oregano. Cover and simmer for 10 mins.
Once simmered use a potato masher (or fork) to mash up some of the beans.
Add red wine vinegar, stir, and cook for another minute.
Serve beans over rice. Garnish with cilantro.
Optional toppings - red onion, avocado, cheese, sour cream, hot sauce.

For me, this is a great inexpensive riff on my favorite Chipotle burrito bowl.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Worth the Wait

I've been waiting all month for this day, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, which I love almost as much as the turkey-centric holiday.

I spend this day recovering from the festivities of the weekend on the couch, in comfy clothes, watching football, and eating this.....

 Leftover dinner rolls, with cranberry sauce, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy....
Oh baby.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Upside-Down Apple Cake: Scenes from My Kitchen

Apple upside-down cake will be my contribution for dessert this Thanksgiving. The recipe is on King Arthur Flour's website.

I'll let you know how it tastes on Thursday!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Apple Pie Contest

I'm really loving my new job. In addition to the great work and people - there are some other cooks in the office!

We recently had an apple pie baking contest.  It was so much fun to taste all of the pies side-by-side. Generally I think apple pie is fairly standard, but it was so interesting to taste all the variations in the recipes.

There was a pie with a crumb topping,

One filled to the brim with appley-goodness!

 A very dainty, prim and proper lattice top,

And my pie (recipe here) topped with decorative leaves. I took home the prize for most creative appearance. We all won prizes, tasted all of the pies, and got a free vacation day for our participation - can't beat that!!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Make ahead Cinnamon rolls

It is almost time for my most beloved holiday: Thanksgiving! This year Rafe and I are celebrating with my parents. Since my mom has had a busy few months at work, and I'm more than happy to contribute, I've taken on a few of the turkey-day recipes to bring. Even Rafe will be bringing his delicious mashed potatoes!

In an effort to limit day-of stresses, I do my best to do little things throughout the week preceding Thanksgiving so I don't get overwhelmed. Since I've been home bound most of the weekend, I decided that making the rolls for dinner would be a great thing to make-ahead. Once baked, I froze them. I will take them out of the freezer Thanksgiving morning, and warm them in the oven while the bird is resting.

This year is a fairly small group for dinner, only 5 adults (and one puppy) - so the yield of 30 rolls from Martha's recipe seemed a little excessive. Thankfully, Ms. Stewart reminded me that the same dough can be used for cinnamon rolls.

Once I baked half of the dough into dinner rolls, I got started with the cinnamon-nut buns. I omitted the chocolate chips, and I was feeling lazy, so rather than her recommended glaze, I made a simple one with some confectioners sugar, vanilla extract, milk, and a teaspoon of yogurt (was trying to make it a little tangy and a smidge less cloying) - it worked.

I generally prefer a savory breakfast on the weekends - but this was a nice treat with a hot cup of coffee. And, the dough made enough buns for another whole tray...maybe Christmas morning breakfast?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Chicken and Dumplings

Sick and homebound has its drawbacks: I have to break plans with friends to socialize, I'm too tired to run errands or workout. But there is one minor upside - a little quality time with my kitchen.

Sometimes when I'm sick only a bowl of chicken soup will do the trick, and nothing out of a can will ever live up to the chicken and dumplings recipe from Cooks Illustrated.


The stew is so rich and satisfying, and the dumplings are light, but don't fall apart in the soup.
And if you want my opinion. Make this a day ahead of when you want to serve it -- it gets even better a day later, after all the ingredients have had a chance to hang out for a while.

 What do you crave when you aren't feeling well?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Baked Pumpkin Steel Cut Oatmeal

 I love when I find a recipe I want to try, and I already have all the ingredients in my cupboard. That's how I felt when I found this recipe for Pumpkin Oatmeal over on The Kitchn.

I eat oatmeal most mornings but I never blog about because its just a boring bowl of oats...but this recipe is more than a standard 'boil water add oats' situation. There was some serious stove top attention involved, and I utilized my Le Creuset to bake a week's worth of breakfasts.

In the past when I had tried steel cut oatmeal, I would get irritated because it required a lengthy cooking time and it would almost always boil over. The baking method totally solves this problem and the pumpkin and spices made me feel like I was eating dessert for breakfast!

This is definitely a great, and time saving recipe. I made one pot on Sunday and have been reheating it every morning....Great way to start the day!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ready, Set....POST!

Hellooo? anyone still out there?
I know, I know - I've been a bad, bad blogger. 1 post a month does not a blogger make, and for that I apologize. I can give a million excuses under the sun, but the truth is I know people who are much busier than I am who manage to post more than once a day. I need to get back into a groove.

I know what's happening to me - I'm getting way too caught up in the 'is this blog-worthy' debate. Somehow unless I'm making a 2 tiered phyllo pie of durian fruit I feel like I'm not doing something exciting enough to share.

The truth is that I've been cooking, but not photographing because I'm self-editing so much.
Enter the self-imposed blogger challenge. 
I'm going to keep my camera on me for the next 30 days...and I need to post a picture each day. Sometimes I might have a story to go with it, sometimes it might just be a caption. But frankly, I need to get over myself because I love my blog ... and I don't want it to fade into the night.

I need to get back to why I'm doing this. For me, this is a creative outlet. 
I'm not writing this blog to please other people, or one-up the next blogger. This is a place to capture the things I love: food and cooking, and sharing it with the people I care about. Sometimes those people are at the table alongside me - and some are off in the vast world of the internets....

Let's see how this goes shall we?
Ready, Set....POST!!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Engagement Chicken

Changes do keep happening on the personal side of things - Roscoe is back to pre-snake status. Except for a small scar on his paw, he's as good as new and enjoying the fall along with all the crunchy leaves!

I'm VERY happy to announce that Rafe and I are also now engaged! He proposed one night after dinner, and I've been in a bit of a joyous fog ever since. I can't stop looking at my finger and being amazed that I get to marry my best friend.

In the days following our engagement I started planning all of the meals for the week. We had just gotten engaged, and air chilled whole chickens were on sale at Whole foods.....I figured, I should make engagement chicken! 

I realize that my idea was a bit backward, since the lore of this dish is that a woman makes this chicken for a fella of her choosing, and he is so amazed with her cooking prowess that he proposes marriage immediately. I felt a bit guilty that Rafe had never enjoyed this delicious meal...until I looked at the recipe.... It was so similar to my standard roast chicken I decided to scrap it and try something new.

Instead, since the weather was so beautiful, I decided to spatchcock and grill my chicken.

What is spatchcock you ask? its a fancy name that means 'butterfly'. You just cut out the backbone of the chicken, then lay the chicken out flat. I usually put my weight into it to flatten the breastbone. With a butchering process that is a bit, well, gruesome, its just better to say 'spatchcock' to lighten the mood of the whole thing. And its fun to say.

After the backbone was removed (put it in a zip-top bag and store it in the freezer - it will make great stock) I put the chicken in my giant food-grade plastic bucket. This item is not a 1 trick pony in my kitchen - I also use it to proof doughs...but if you don't have one, there are some brining bags that you can purchase at many grocery stores.

I made a quick brine by combining the following:

3/4 cup coarse kosher salt
1/4 cup honey cup  
1 cup boiling water 
1 gallon cold water 
1 tablespoon black peppercorns

zest of 1 lemon

I poured the mixture over the chicken and refrigerated it for about 6 hours in my giant bucket. When we were ready to prepare dinner and Rafe started the coals on the grill, I drained the bird, patted it dry with paper towels, rubbed it with a little olive oil and seasoned it with some more pepper (no salt necessary), paprika, and a bit of thyme.

A bit of time on the grill and we had a delicious dinner.

The beauty of the gruesome butchery is that your bird cooks much more quickly, and evenly. Because the chicken is approximately the same thickness once the backbone is removed, everything finishes cooking at the same time - rather than your breast meat drying out while the dark meat finishes.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Heirloom Tomato Tart

I embarrass my dining companions.

All year round I pull tomatoes off of sandwiches and burgers. Sure, I'll eat tomatoes in sauce, in Joanne Chang's tomato chutney, or tomato soup. But I will absolutely NOT eat a raw tomato, unless it is August or September and it came from a garden or the farmer's market.

I eat tomatoes two months out of the year, and I could subsist entirely on them for that time....perfect, ripe and amazingly colorful and diverse, they make me hate those mealy orbs that the grocery store sells the rest of the year.

Saturday mornings in summer, when I visit the farmer's market, I buy about 10 dollars worth of 'maters and then dream up something to do with them. It can be as simple as a BLT with extra T, just plain with salt....or this creation.

Yes, I realize I've already gotten my money's worth from this tart pan.

The recipe is inspired from this recipe on Epicurious, and the pastry is loosely based on it as well. I say loosely based because I didn't have any shortening so I just increased the amount of butter.

Heirloom Tomato Tart with Black Pepper & Parmesan Crust
Adapted from Epicurious

1 1/4 cups AP Flour
1 stick cold, unsalted butter cut into cubes
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-4 tablespoons ice water

Using a food processor combine the flour, butter, Parmesan, butter and salt. Pulsing until the mixture resembles a course meal. There may be some larger chunks of butter. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of water into mixture and pulse until incorporated. Grab some pastry and gently squeeze to see if it sticks together. If its too dry add more water, a tablespoon at a time.

Turn dough out onto work surface and knead with the heel of your hand a couple times until the dough comes together. Form the dough into a disk and chill for at least an hour.

After the dough has firmed in the fridge, roll it out so it is large enough to fit into a 9-inch tart pan. Use the rolling pin to make the dough flush with the top of the tart pan. Prick all over with a fork. Line with buttered aluminum foil and fill with beans or rice. Blind bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 15 minutes or until golden. Cool.

The fun part (in my opinion) is filling the tart shell. I sliced fresh mozzarella and lined the bottom of the tart. I then spread a thin layer of basil pesto (not too much- the pesto can overpower the delicate flavors). I then sliced up my tomatoes and used paper towels to dry them off a bit - I didn't want the wet tomatoes to soggy up the crust. Arrange in a pretty pattern, season with a little salt and pepper, and voila, the perfect light meal or side dish!

Are there any flavors of summer that you avoid the rest of the year? or am I just a weirdo with this tomato thing?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Brown Butter Raspberry Tart

Rafe and I caught the tail-end of the U-pick raspberry season one weekend....and scoured the raspberry bushes for a few pints of sweet fruit. Leaving Rose's Berry Farm with scratches all over our arms, we finally came to terms with the high price of raspberries. They are tough to harvest and well worth the price!

Although we both love eating these fruity jewels all by themselves, we were expecting company that same week and I thought it best to share the wealth of our bounty. I saw this Brown Butter Raspberry Tart recipe last summer in Bon Appetit and thought it would make the perfect dessert to highlight our haul.

Standard tart work ensued, making the crust and blind-baking it. This is an easy recipe though - no rolling needed! Just crumble the dough and press it into place.

Arrange the raspberries....

and try not to eat too many while placing them upside-down on the tart shell.

brown the butter

That will become the flavor base of this delicious tart.

This is right before it went into the oven...

We served the tart with some dulce de leche ice cream. The sweet-tart raspberries were a perfect balance to the rich brown butter custard. I made Rafe bring the remaining tart to work so I wouldn't devour the entire thing....It went VERY well with coffee :)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Where have I been?

I wish I could say that I took a last minute vacation to someplace tropical. Unfortunately, that is not the case. I actually started a new job a couple weeks ago (yay!), and the night before I started my first job Roscoe had a really horrible accident.

While out on a walk, we think he was bit by a snake....(yikes!) The first couple days were touch and go, and it was very hard not to fall apart at work. He's moving along on his road to recovery, but he's currently sporting a not-so-adorable accessory.

Due to his need for constant monitoring (he really wants to nibble the bandage off of his paw) I've taken a bit of a hiatus from the blog. I hope to have a couple posts up this week, but depending on how he's doing, and my new work schedule....posting will be a bit spotty until I get back into a routine.....

Please stick around! 

And to all my blog friends, I'm still reading you -- just a little too busy for thoughtful comments, I'll be back in the swing soon. Roscoe and I appreciate your understanding!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Vegetarian Wheat Berry Risotto

My good friend Michelle came to visit me recently....and in addition to fun at the Max's Oyster Bar, and  The Great Lobster Adventure she brought gifts!!!

A plush egg for Roscoe

and this cookbook for me.

Sustainably Delicious: Making the World a Better Place, One Recipe at a Time

I really like the emphasis on seasonal ingredients in this cookbook. As I browsed through many recipes sounded tasty, but immediately one recipe caught my eye. This was for Summer Heirloom farro risotto. The original recipe can be found here, but my adaptation is below.

Wheat Berry Risotto
1 cup wheat berries
4 cups vegetable stock
1 large zuchinni, diced
1.5 cups halved grape tomatoes
1 can white beans, rinsed
1 medium onion, chopped
pecorino romano
4 Tbs olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Basil pesto for serving (optional, recipe below)

In a medium pot heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat. Saute the onion until translucent. Once the onion is softened, add the wheat berries and stir for 1-2 minutes to toast the kernels and soak up some of the oil. Add the vegetable stock and cook, stirring occasionally, for 40-45 minutes, or until stock has mostly evaporated and wheat berries are soft - but still chewy.

Meanwhile in a large skillet heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat. Add zuchinni and cook, stirring occasionally until browned and slightly softened. Add tomatoes and beans and cook through, stirring to incorporate. Season liberally with salt and pepper, remove from heat and place in large bowl.

Once the wheat berries are cooked through, add the mixture (there may be some liquid from the stock) to the zuchinni, tomatoes and beans. Stir together and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon into serving bowls and top with pecorino romano and basil pesto.

Basil Pesto
1 cup loosely packed basil leaves
1 clove garlic
1 Tbs lemon zest
Juice of half a lemon
olive oil
pine nuts
pecorino romano
salt and pepper

Add all the ingredients except the cheese, olive oil, s&p to a food processor. Start the processor and drizzle the olive oil into the processor until the mixture is uniform. Stop a few times to scrape the bowl of the processor with a spatula to make sure that the basil is uniformly chopped.

Transfer the pesto to a bowl and add 1/4 cup of romano. Taste and season for salt and pepper.

I've been trying to incorporate more vegetarian meals into our repertoire - which is difficult when you reside with a boy who has a healthy appetite and claims that veggie foods don't completely fill him up. My solution? Lots of beans....and add pesto. 

If pesto is involved, he will always be a happy eater.

This made enough for both of us, and leftovers for lunch the next day....for lunch I ate it cold. It could also work as a side dish for a barbecue.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Double Berry Pancakes

I absolutely love berries. Specifically I love fresh berries during the summer months. I can put them on cereal, bake them in pies, and just eat them out of hand. Those sun-kissed beauties are only available (i.e. affordable) this time of year, and since they're in season their flavor is the absolute best. 

If you've never picked them straight off the bush, get yourself to a U-Pick farm ASAP. There is nothing better than plucking a blueberry off a branch, warm from the sun, and popping it in your mouth! A few weekends ago, Rose's Berry Farm was picking both raspberries and blueberries. So Rafe and I picked our weight in both. We did our best to eat as much as we could (we froze gobs of them as well) so they would not spoil.

Normally I am a savory breakfast person, but with a kitchen overflowing with berries that were a mere 1/2 day old, I decided this was one of those rare times where I would relax my Sunday bacon and eggs breakfast mentality....and make pancakes.

Rafe was concerned that we had no 'mix'. But I knew that a quick consultation with Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything would have us well on our way to flapjacks in no time flat.

Topped with butter and real maple syrup - these pancakes were the perfect vessel to highlight our farm fresh haul.  

Oh berries, I will miss you come wintertime!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Vietnamese Bun with Grilled Beef

Once I saw that Emily had made the cold vietnamese noodle and veggie salad 'bun' on her blog I couldn't get Vietnamese food out of my head. Growing up in Western Mass I was not immediately exposed to many exotic cuisines, but when I lived in Worcester I found myself living in Main South where there is a bustling Vietnamese population.

I fell in love with bun in the summer and pho in the winter, and many delicious dishes in between. So much so that my local Vietnamese restaurant, Da Lat, was my #4 speed dial on my cell after my parents and my 2 college roommates.

I loosely followed the Fine Cooking master recipe for bun, making a few changes....Namely, omitting the bean sprouts for no other reason than being cheap about it.

The recipes provided give suggestions for pork, chicken and shrimp -- so I decided to wing it and made my own beef marinade of fish sauce, soy, garlic, oil and a teaspoon of sugar.

Rafe again grilled the meat perfectly, and we assembled our bowls with our ingredients. We made the lettuce the bottom layer, then rice noodles, beef, mint and basil (fresh from the garden!), peanuts, cilantro....and covered everything with a healthy splash of nuoc cham....which I soon discovered is a very polarizing part of this dish.

You see, the major ingredient in nuoc cham is fish sauce. Anyone who has ever had fish sauce knows what an absolutely offensive smell it carries. I will be the first to admit how gross it smells. But the taste? sublime. It really heightens the whole dish and makes it sing....mixed with the sugar, chilis and lime juice it hits every note on the palate, and brings all the pieces of the dish into perfect harmony.

Rafe's first mistake was smelling the fish sauce. It's so damn pungent its tough to get it out of your nose. Suffice to say he wasn't a fan, but does enjoy steak and veggies, so he was happy to dress his next helping in lime juice and soy. So all wasn't lost. And I got to take the leftovers for lunch the next day.

I call that a win-win.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dessert Quesadilla

Tortilla Land tortillas do not necessarily have to be limited to savory applications.

Enter, the dessert quesadilla. I came up with this gem on a night when my chocolate craving needed to be met lest I go on some sort of rampage.  

I mixed some leftover ricotta with a little maple syrup and cinnamon. After I cooked my tortilla on both sides I filled it with the ricotta and some nutella, folded it and continued to cook it until the filling was warm and melty.

Crisis averted.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Steak Tacos

Rafe and I love tacos (as is evidenced by several posts about them), but one of Rafe's biggest pet peeves about at-home tacos are the tortillas. It seems that no matter what brand I buy, they're never quite as tasty or soft as the tortillas in restaurants. 

With hundreds of Tortilla Land tortillas shipped to them, Megan and Meghan were anxious to pawn them off share. So I was really excited to come home from our Tortilla party with some packages of my own to try!

My mom had recently gifted me 4 large ribeye steaks from her local meat market and we always have taco fixings - so I whipped up a quick marinade of garlic, lime juice, cilantro and soy. Rafe worked the grill while I prepped taco fixings.

Part of the prep work was warming the tortillas; these tortillas aren't quite "ready to use". They are actually par-cooked. Before you fill these tortillas you place them on a hot griddle or pan for 60 seconds. They puff and brown and pretty much smell terrific.

Our steak came out a perfect medium rare (Rafe's grill skills are unparalleled this season). We added the meat to the tortillas along with cheese, red onion, salsa, tomato and avocado and dug in.

Rafe, being a taco enthusiast and tortilla critic offerred this opinion of the Tortilla Land products (I'm paraphrasing): 
They still aren't as good as the tortillas you get at a legitimate Mexican dining establishment - but they're better than any other tortillas I've had at home.

So there you have it. Not sure where you can buy these - but I'll definitely be looking for them as soon as my stash is used up.

Is there a food you make at home that is never *quite* as good as the restaurant version?