Thursday, May 31, 2007

Lots of grilling adventures

Summer always puts me in the mood for easy, quick meals that don't heat up the house too much - at least until I get bitten by the baking bug. But that's usually only once a month or so. While I don't have any pictures to post of my recent cooking adventures, I do have recipes.

One of the best and quickest things that I tried this week was a recipe for grilled pork chops. I had some bone-in quick fry (less than 1/2 inch thick) chops from Whole Foods and wanting an easy recipe that didn't require marination, I went to the Internet. Whole Foods' website actually provided this recipe. It calls for salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil. I just rubbed the chops with the salt and pepper. On a whim, I added some chopped thyme to the oil and brushed it onto the pork chops. Then I let them sit for a few minutes while I heated up my grill. Since the chops were thin, I had to be careful to not cook them too long, about 2 minutes a side. To make extra sure, I took a meat thermometer and stuck it into the chop near the bone to check that it measured up to 140 degrees. I served the chops with sauteed zucchini, pasta with tomato and basil sauce and an arugula and mache salad with lemon dressing and parmesan cheese.

The second recipe of the week was for grilled salmon with lime butter from the Epicurious website. The trickiest part was making the lime butter. The recipe for the lime butter called for mixing together in a blender:

1 large garlic clove, chopped

1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted

Before squeezing the limes I also zested them to toss onto the salmon after it was cooked. To cook the salmon, I seasoned it with salt and pepper and placed them on an oiled grill. I think I actually overcooked them because the pieces were a little dry. I would suggest cooking the pieces for 2 minutes a side. After they were cooked, I put the lime zest and the butter on them. I served the salmon with rice, guacamole and salad.

With the preparations for the wedding going on in full force, there hasn't been much time for me to do elaborate meals like the ones I've written about in the past. Hard to believe that in another week the wedding will be done and we'll be headed to Montana.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

After a long hiatus

Wow, my first year in graduate school was quite a doozy. It really took all of my concentration to work part-time, go to school full-time and plan a wedding. Needless to say, things have been a little hectic for me and my schedule. But I did survive and actually did pretty well. Now I need to start focusing in earnest for the wedding which is scheduled for the beginning of June and there are a lot of things to deal with in the meantime.

So the blog has suffered a bit as I have had to give priority to other things. But for the summer, I'm looking forward to updating a bit and cooking a lot more.

Speaking of cooking, I wanted to write about a recipe that my friend and I tried this past summer for a crepe cake. My friend had tried one from Lady M Cake Boutique and found the recipe from the New York Times website. It initially seemed daunting but actually turned out to be pretty easy. Well, pretty easy as long as you have someone willing to make 50 crepes for you.

For the pastry cream, I used some of the vanilla that I brought back from Tahiti, which has such a lovely flavor. Afterwards, I dried the beans and put them in a small jar with some sugar to make vanilla sugar.

Here's the recipe:
For the crepe batter:
6 tablespoons butter
3 cups milk
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
7 tablespoons sugar
Pinch salt

For the vanilla pastry cream:
2 cups milk
1 vanilla bean, halved and scraped
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
3 1/2 tablespoons butter

For the assembly:
Corn oil
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar or more
3 tablespoons Kirsch
Confectioners' sugar.

1. The day before, make the crepe batter and the pastry cream. In a small pan, cook the butter until brown like hazelnuts. Set aside. In another small pan, heat the milk until steaming; allow to cool for 10 minutes. In a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the eggs, flour, sugar and salt. Slowly add the hot milk and browned butter. Pour into a container with a spout, cover and refrigerate overnight.

2. Pastry cream: Bring the milk with the vanilla bean (and scrapings) to a boil, then set aside for 10 minutes; remove bean. Fill a large bowl with ice and set aside a small bowl that can hold the finished pastry cream and be placed in this ice bath.

3. In a medium heavy-bottomed pan, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch. Gradually whisk in the hot milk, then place pan over high heat and bring to a boil, whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes. Press the pastry cream through a fine-meshed sieve into the
small bowl. Set the bowl in the ice bath and stir until the temperature reaches 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Stir in the butter. When completely cool, cover and refrigerate.

4. Assembling the cake: Bring the batter to room temperature. Pour a splash of water into the batter to loosen it up. Place a nonstick or seasoned 9-inch crepe pan over medium heat. Swab the surface with the butter, then add about 3 tablespoons batter and swirl to cover the surface. Cook until the bottom just begins to brown, about 1 minute, then carefully lift an edge and flip the crepe with your fingers. Cook on the other side for no longer than 5 seconds. Flip the crepe onto a baking sheet lined with parchment.

You want 20 perfect crepes.

5. Pass the pastry cream through a sieve once more. Whip the heavy cream with the tablespoon sugar and the Kirsch. It won't hold peaks. Fold it into the pastry cream.

6. Lay 1 crepe on a cake plate. Using an icing spatula, completely cover with a thin layer of pastry cream (about 1/4 cup). Cover with a crepe and repeat to make a stack of 20, with the best-looking crepe on top. Chill for at least 2 hours. Set out for 30 minutes before serving. If you have a blowtorch for creme brulee, sprinkle the top crepe with 2 tablespoons sugar and caramelize with the torch; otherwise, dust with confectioners' sugar. Slice like a cake.

The cake turned out beautifully. My friend's boyfriend was able to make 25 perfectly round crepes for us and everyone was able to enjoy the meal.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Vegan Butternut Squash Soup Recipe

I don't usually do a lot of vegan food. I love my meat and animal products! However, it's always nice to come upon a recipe that is delicious and happens to be vegan friendly. I do have one vegan friend and one of my housemates is a vegetarian, so it's nice to expand the repetoire.

I found this recipe in the Gourmet Cookbook, a great Christmas gift from my boyfriend a couple of years ago. It's a massive book and I haven't even begun to make a dent in the recipes but I have to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed every recipe that has come out of that book.

I love butternut squash, particularly in soup. I have several recipes that I've enjoyed from a very simple approach by Mark Bitman to a complexly layered (flavor-wise) one from Edna Lewis. This soup fits in the middle of the spectrum. It includes the basics to any good soup, onion, celery and carrots and adds creaminess with potatoes. My favorite thing about this soup, though, is the spicy kick from the red pepper flakes.

Here's the recipe:

2 tbs olive oil
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 small potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
3 1/2 cups water

I saute the celery, onion and carrots in the olive oil for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The I add the red pepper flakes, squash and potatoes and saute for a couple of minutes. Next I add the water and about 1 tsp of salt. I cover and cook the soup on medium for 20 minutes and then puree it and serve it.

The difficult thing about butternut squash is peeling and cutting it up. I like to cut it up into big sections, and peel the sections. I always use a chef's knife - well, I almost always use a 10-inch chef's knife in the kitchen anyway but in this case, it's particularly useful. Paring knives or peelers are just too small to deal with the thick skin.

For more flavor, I guess you could roast the squash first and then prepare as above. However, I never have time for that.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Request for Macaroni and Cheese Recipe

There are some recipes that are designed to please everytime in any situation. One of those that I've found is the Macaroni and Cheese recipe from Edna Lewis. This is a recipe that has never failed me. It's something that friends request I bring to occasions. It's one that I've shared with many people. My boyfriend's aunt in particular asked me to post this on the blog. I hope it's not too late for her to use it.

Here's the recipe. Enjoy!

1 3/4 cups (8 oz) elbow macaroni
1 1/4 cups (5 oz) extra-sharp cheddar cheese cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tbsp plus 1 tsp all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 freshly grated nutmeg
2/3 cup sour cream
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup grated onion
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 2/3 cups (6 oz) grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Cook the macaroni in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender. Drain well, and transfer to a buttered 9x13x2 in. baking dish. Mix in the cubed cheddar cheese.

Put the flour, 1 1/2 tsp salt, dry mustard, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg in a large mixing bowl, and stir to blend. Add the sour cream, followed by the eggs, and stir in with a wire whisk until well blended and homogenous. Whisk in the onion, half-and-hald, heavy cream, and Worcestershire sauce until blended. Pour this custard over the macaroni and cubed cheese, and stir to blend. Sprinkle the grated cheese evenly over the surface of the custard. Bake in the preheated oven until the custard is set around the edges of the baking dish but still a bit loose in the center, about 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven, and cool for 10 mintues to allow the custard to thicken.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A Short Break From Food

Living in DC is a wonderful experience but sometimes you just get tired of the frenetic pace of the city and really want to get out and explore the countryside a little bit. This weekend my boyfriend, 2 of my housemates and I took a trip out to Capon, West Virginia. One of my housemates' families has a cabin in near Capon that had not been used in several years and we went to check it out.

According to family legend, the cabin's last real inhabitant was a bit crazy and had filled the place with milk jugs and other junk. Apparently, the crazy uncle had even dragged a refrigerator from the cabin and placed it at the top of a hill for reasons only he was able to understand. The uncle had died and the family hadn't really used the cabin since my housemate was very young.

So it was with a sense of adventure that we piled into the car and took the scenic route out to West Virginia, stopping to pick up lunch in Winchester, VA. The drive out there was quite pleasant though a little long. I think it took us about four hours to actually get to the area and find the right gravel driveway. There was no real address, the directions were a little vague, and my housemate did not remember the place since she had last been there when she was two.

We stopped in Winchester to get pick up some lunch
and met some very friendly locals.

But when we finally found the right drive, we also discovered that the cabin, while in need of a thorough cleaning and possibly a new roof was not half bad. The grounds were well maintained and had even recently been mowed. It was right along the river, which was teeming with fish. There was fresh water and electricity on the premises.

Interior of the cabin # 1

Interior of the cabin # 2

We had a leisurely lunch and were able to explore the cabin. Then we enjoyed the water. I got a little fishing in and my housemates enjoyed tubing and splashing around. All in all, if was a great trip.

Exterior of cabin.

Taking some time to enjoy the peaceful surroundings.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

An Addition to My Cookbook Collection

I love books. I love the act of sitting down in a comfortable chair and opening a book. (I was aghast when I read about the rise of electronic books a few years ago. I can understand the idea of wanting to consolidate space but to sit somewhere and read off of a screen seems so wrong.) I'm a bit of a curmudgeon about these things.

When I started to cook in earnest, I started to collect cookbooks. My first cookbook, and I can't remember the name because it's still at my parents house and I haven't used it in years, was an American cookbook that came free with a set of encyclopedias that my parents bought for the edification of my brother and myself. (Asian parents, you know?)

I cooked my way through a fair number of those recipes, finding some good ones and some spectacularly bad ones. My family still likes to talk about the chocolate mousse that I inflicted on them one Thanksgiving. It was a deadly combination of bad recipe, poor execution and something about Asians being lactose intolerant.

After I graduated from college and started to make actual money, my collection grew considerably. I've talked about some of them already and I'm toying with the idea of writing cookbook reviews from time to time. But today, I wanted to talk about my new acquisition: Marcella's Italian Kitchen by Marcella Hazan. I found this book in the bargain books section at my local Barnes & Nobles. For $10. I love those kinds of finds.

I've admired Marcella Hazan's writing on Italian food for a long time. One of my housemates has her Essentials of Classics of Italian Cooking and we have made many wonderful recipes from it. (While I love my house and my housemates, I know that this arrangement is not permanent and have been on the look out to fill the holes in my cookbook collection once I'm living on my own.)

I've tried three recipes from this book over the course of two different dinners: the rigatoni with spicy sausage sauce, the sauteed veal chops with mushrooms and white wine, and the artichokes with butter and parmesan.

The recipes were immediate hits. The rigatoni with spicy sausage sauce tasted homey and deeply satisfying. I think I overcooked the rigatoni slightly but the pasta shape held up well to the sauce. The hot Italian sausage that I bought at the wholesale Italian market added just the right amount of flavor and spice.

The artichoke dish was wonderful as well. The only thing that I don't like about artichokes is that if you're doing anything but steaming them, they're very time-consuming to prepare. The recipe itself included simple ingredients but between the preparation and the cooking time, it's a difficult dish to really put together for a crowd.

The veal, on the other hand, was great. My housemate and I visited the farmer's market and purchased a wonderful piece of organic, grass-fed veal from Cibola Farms out in Virginia. The meat was so fresh and good that we didn't really have to cook it too long. The mushroom sauce, white wine and cream sauce was a great accompaniment to the meat.

Here is the recipe for the rigatoni, which is probably the easiest recipe that I tried:
1 1/2 lbs fresh, ripe tomatoes
2 tbs butter
1 tbs chopped garlic
1/2 lb hot Italian sausages or sweet breakfast sausage, skinned
1 tsp hot red pepper flakes, if you're using the breakfast sausage
1 lb rigatoni
2/3 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano

First, I peeled the tomatoes, split them in half, scooped out the seeds and coarsely chopped them. Then, I put the butter and garlic in a pan on medium heat. When the garlic turned golden brown, I added the sausages, crumbling them into small pieces which I then let cook until browned. Next, I added the tomatoes and cooked the mixture for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, I prepared the pasta. After the pasta was done, I mixed it with the sauce in a large bowl with the grated cheese and served it.

There was some debate between my friend and me about this recipe. She contends that you don't have to remove the seeds, as that removes most of the liquid in the tomatoes. Also, she doubled the sauce recipe for the same amount of pasta. I found that if you're using the hot Italian sausage, you do not have to add salt, though a little bit of black pepper is nice.

All in all, I'm very impressed with what I've seen from this book and will definitely be trying more recipes from it. Marcella's writing style is very clear and informative without being too boring. The recipes are straightforward and do not call for a lot of excess ingredients. It's Italian cooking at its finest in the home.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

More Pick-Your-Own Bounty

Here is another dish from from the fruit that I picked from Larriland Farms. This is a raspberry tart akin to the strawberry tart that I wrote about earlier. Same recipe, I just put raspberries on top instead of strawberries. It was wonderful!

Tart Cherry Pie

I never used to like cherry pie when I was younger. The stuff that I had tried at restaurants or from the grocery store were too sweet and not very flavorful. Needless to say, I was an apple pie girl.

But that was before one of my roommates introduced me to tart cherry pies. I can't say that cherry pie is my favorite. Actually, I am an admittedly fanatical fan of rhubarb pie. The more I taste homemade cherry pie, though, the more I like it.

The recipe is relatively simple, one that is inspired by The King Arthur's Flour Baker's Companion.

For the crust, I use my handy pie crust recipe from Mark Bittman:
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
16 tbs butter (2 sticks), cold and cut into small cubes
6 tbs ice water

I mix the dry ingredients together. Then I cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry cutter. Then I mix in the ice water until it clings together. Next, I turn the mixture out onto the counter and knead it with the heel of my hand for less than a minute to more thoroughly incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients. I then divide the dough into 2 portions, form them into balls, wrap them in plastic wrap and place them in the freezer for 10 minutes.

After ten minutes, the dough is ready to be rolled out to fit the pie pan.

For the cherry pie filling:
5-6 cups sour cherries
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup tapioca or corn starch
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbs butter

I preheated the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

I like to use fresh cherries rather than canned. For this particular pie, I had picked the cherries earlier in the day. I measured out the right amount of fruit, washed it and plucked off any stems. Tart cherries are a lot softer than sweet cherries and all I had to do to remove the seeds was to squeeze them with my fingers. When the cherries were pitted, I mixed in all of the other ingredients except the butter.

I poured the cherries into the pie pan with the rolled out crust, dotted the top with the butter. Then I rolled out to 2nd portion of crust and sealed the pie. I then cut slits in the top to ventilate and placed the pie in the oven for 15 minutes. After that, I turned the heat down to 350 degrees and baked the pie for an additional 35 to 45 minutes, or until the crust was brown on top.

The pie has to sit for about an hour for the juices to thicken and the filling to cool. Sometimes, my housemates and I are too impatient for that. I like to serve the pie with vanilla ice cream to counteract some of the tartness.