Monday, February 27, 2012

Two new stirfrys

In college, I always made the same type of stirfry.  It was chicken with peppers, onions, and maybe broccoli over rice.  It was a good fall back, but I got tired of it. There are so many other food combinations out there.  Why cook the same thing over and over?

Two of my recent combos have turned out quite tasty.  One is lemongrass chicken--Brandon's favorite Vietnamese food. The main ingredients are chicken, onion, lemongrass, fish sauce, and sugar.

This picture shows lemongrass chicken and tofu, served with white rice and broccoli.


My other new stirfry was made of mushrooms, tofu, edamame, and quinoa.  This dish was my first attempt at cooking tofu and quinoa...separately or together. The first step was to cook the mushrooms and tofu with seasoning.


Meanwhile, the quinoa and edamame boiled on the next burner over.


Here's the final product:

Green goo?

I recently made two dishes that turned out looking like green goo, or slime, about the color of Shrek.  Appetizing, huh?  While they looked suspicious, they were actually quite delicious. 

The first of my green slime dishes was a healthy version of cream of asparagus soup.  Inspired by, it was actually very simple.  First I boiled vegetable stock and cooked a bunch of fresh asparagus on the stove until tender. Next I used my blender to puree the asparagus along some of the water it was boiled in and some chopped onion.  See pic above. After the mixture was smooth, I put it back in a pot and it went back on the stove to stay warm while I stirred in a container of plain Greek yogurt. After seasoning with salt, pepper, cayenne, and some fresh cilantro, it was ready to be devoured.  And devoured it was.

My second green slime dish was inspired by dinner at my dad's friend's house.  As she was cooking dinner, she set out vegetables and edamame hummus from Trader Joe's.  Naturally, with my new edamame obsession, and perpetual hummus eating, I was intrigued. Believe it or not, there is only one Trader Joe's in DC.  Despite my love for Trader Joe's, I have not yet been.  It requires transferring on the metro, which I try to avoid as much as possible.  So, I decided to make some myself.  I used the same technique that I use for traditional chickpea hummus, but replaced some of the chickpeas with boiled edamame. Basically, in my Magic Bullet I combined canned chickpeas, some of the juice in the can, boiled edamame, two garlic cloves, olive oil, cumin, and cayenne.  After a minute or so of blending, the hummus was ready to go. Great for dipping crackers, pita, homemade tortilla chips, cucumbers, peppers, and carrots.

Valentine's Day

Everyone loves to go out to eat on holidays, which is great.  But restaurants jack up the prices and rush you through dinner to get in as many customers as possible.  Real romantic.  My boyfriend Brandon and I started a tradition of cooking Valentine's Day dinner for each other.  Last year we made tenderloin medallions in a Cabernet reduction with mashed potatoes and asparagus.  It was so good that we decided to make it again this year.

Step one: Smother the meat with olive oil and then coat with a simple spice combination of garlic, salt, and pepper.


Step two: Sear the steaks on the stove in a hot skillet.  Only cook for a minute per side. Searing seals in the moisture so that the meat does not dry out in the next phase of cooking.

Step three: Add a little beef broth and a sprig of rosemary to the pan. Place the entire skillet (make sure it is oven-proof and will fit first) into a nice hot oven, preheated to 500 degrees.  Cook the steaks until they are one step below your preferred level of doneness.  For example, if you like your steak medium-rare like I do, cook it in the oven until it is rare.

Step four: Take the skillet out of the oven.  Remove the steaks and cover them in foil while you make the reduction.  The trick is to make the reduction in the same pan as the steak cooked in.  This allows all of the flavor from the "bits" and grease in the pan to come through in the sauce.  To create the reduction, add chopped shallot and more beef broth to the pan.  Once the shallot is tender, add Cabernet, or your choice of red wine, to the pan and bring it to a boil.  Boil the sauce until the liquid is reduced by half. 

Step five: Once you have acquired your desired reduction consistency, add some butter to it.  Then, add the steak back in very briefly to finish cooking. 


Step six: Plate your steak and pour the sauce over top.  Enjoy....I promise you will.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pad Thai

One of my very first posts on easy dinners included Pad Thai.  Since that post, I have gotten more adventurous with my Pad Thai.  Initially I only used prepackaged Pad Thai sauces, but I have found a simple Pad Thai recipe that, as my boss puts it, has the perfect amount of tang.  Why has my boss tried my Pad Thai?  Good question.  At work we have a lunch club of about 15 coworkers.  Every other week, one member of the club cooks lunch for the rest of the group.  This week was my turn. As you can see, I made Pad Thai...and a lot of it. About half of the club is vegetarian, so each week the meal is either vegetarian, or has a meat option and a vegetarian-friendly option.  I opted to make mine entirely meat-free.

The first step to making Pad Thai is to soak the rice noodles according to the directions on the package.  While the noodles are soaking,  start preparing the rest of the dish.  First, scramble an egg (or two, or three, or four, depending on how many you are serving) in some olive oil.  Then, add in whatever toppings are going in your Pad Thai.  This time I used a yellow pepper, an orange pepper, a red pepper, frozen broccoli,  snap peas, onion, and edamame for some protein. I cooked these until they were tender.  Here's a close up of all the vegetables:

 As you can see, there were a TON of vegetables involved. After they were cooked, I needed to expand to my wok and largest pot to add in the noodles. 


After the noodles were added, I also added the sauce, made up of fish sauce, rice vinegar, and sugar.  The final step is to add in bean sprouts.  I love how bean sprouts give the dish that little bit of crunch. Finally, serve with some fresh cilantro and lime.

Baguette french toast

Looking for another way to use day old bread?  Look no further.  Last night I had leftover baguette from dinner earlier in the week.  I didn't really feel like cooking (surprise, surprise), but didn't want the baguette to go to waste--this was a yummy one from a bakery, not one that I botched making.  To keep it from getting stale and inedible, I made french toast out of it.

Everyone probably already knows how to make french toast, but here's a refresher.  First, I scrambled two eggs with a little milk and some cinnamon and nutmeg.  Next, I dipped the sliced baguette into the mixture, letting it absorb. 


Then, I cooked the soaked bread in a frying pan over medium heat until the mixture set up and the bread was lightly browned. 


What's left to do but smother the toast in butter and syrup and eat up? Simple, but delicious.  A great easy meal for breakfast or dinner, using leftover ingredients. 


Well, I might have lied a little in that last post.  I said that I ate the first loaf of bread.  It turns out I only ate about half of the loaf.  I really just don't eat that much bread.  After it had sat out for about a week, and was getting nice and crusty, I decided to put it to good use...and make croutons.  While I had never done this before, it turned out to be really easy. Here is the half loaf of bread that I started with.


 The first step is to cut up the bread into cubes, that are about 1/2 inch across.


Then, mix the bread cubes with melted butter or spray with non-stick spray and sprinkle on whatever spices you want.  I chose a little garlic salt and parsley.  All that's left to do is bake the croutons in the over for about 15 minutes at 350 degrees.  Voila, you have your very own home made croutons from bread that might have otherwise gone to waste.  Store the croutons in an air tight container use them on anything from soups to salads! 


Last weekend I decided to bake some bread.  Normally I don't eat too much bread, and stick to tortillas and pita, but nothing beats a good loaf of home made bread.  This time I opted for an oatmeal wheat loaf.  I wanted to document the rising process, so there are a lot of pictures. First up is the dough as I finished kneading it.


After I was done kneading the dough, I put it in a big red bowl to rise.  Here is its initial size.


One hour later, the dough had doubled in size. Here it is in the same bowl.


At this point, I punched down the dough, and let it rise for another half hour.  Then, I took it out of the bowl and formed two loaves with it.  

After a short period of letting the dough rest, I transferred it into bread pans for its final rising session.


According to the recipe I used, I was supposed to let the bread rise again until it had doubled (again) in size.  I got a little impatient, though, and baked the bread after it had risen to this size.

Everyone says that patience is a virtue.  This is especially true when baking bread.  Allowing the bread time to rise lets the yeast do its job and develop air pockets within the dough.  When you rush the process, the yeast does not have time to aerate the bread, and you end up with a denser loaf.  This is what happened to me.  Despite its denseness, it was still pretty tasty, and made great toast. Here is the final product. I ate one loaf, and put the other in the freezer to save for later.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Strawberry cheesecake

Yesterday I was inspired to make mini strawberry cheesecakes.  I saw a recipe online and then thought "I need to make these," so I did. They were actually pretty simple, and came out quite pretty and delicious. 

The first step is to rinse and hollow out the strawberries.  I did this using a very sharp paring knife and a lot of patience. There is definitely a learning curve, but once you get the hang of it, it's actually pretty easy. 


Next up is the cheesecake filling.  It is a combination of cream cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla.  Simply mix the three ingredients together until smooth. I used my mixer to do this, but a spoon or fork would work just fine too.

In order to put the cheesecake filling into the strawberries, you can use a frosting bag, or make your own.  I made my own this time using a snack sized zip lock bag.  First, scoop the filling into the bag and seal the top.  Then, cut off one of the corners to create a tip.  



With this contraption, it is easy to get the filling into the strawberries.

When they are filled, they look like this. 

Finally, you can dip the filled strawberries into toppings to form the "crust" of the cheesecake.  I used crushed graham crackers and mini chocolate chips.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Skinny Bitch: Ultimate Everyday Cookbook

Since I've been cooking a lot more vegetarian food lately, I decided that I should invest in a vegetarian cookbook.  After much shopping (online and in person), I settled on Skinny Bitch: Ultimate Everyday Cookbook.  I had heard of this book before--my initial impression is that the author was cocky using a title like that.  It turns out that this book is actually vegan and the author is a nutritionist.  So far I have been very happy with the recipes.  I have made blueberry streusel cake, edamame salad, and daal. 

The blueberry streusel cake was the most traditional of the three recipes I have tried so far.  While not the healthiest thing I have ever made, it was good enough to be my breakfast for a week straight.  (Sorry, no pics of this one).

Next up is the edamame salad.  This is probably my favorite of the three recipes.  This salad, which is served cold, involves edamame, bell pepper, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, and an AMAZING miso dressing.  The dressing reminded me of the salad dressing at my favorite Japanese steak house.  This is a must try.  In case you don't know (I only learned about two weeks ago), edamame is soy beans.  It is cold either in pods like peas, or already shelled as pictured above, and is a great source of protein.

Finally, we have daal.  Daal is a traditional Indian dish made from lentils.  Basically, it is lentils--red in this case--cooked with a bunch of spices, onion, and pepper. It was surprisingly easy to make and made great leftovers for lunch.  I'm looking forward to trying more recipes from this book.  I've already flagged about twenty more that I want to try....look for those coming soon!

Baguette fail

While studying abroad in Paris, I feel in love with French bread, specifically the baguette.  Every morning I would have the same thing for breakfast: plain yogurt, baguette, tea, and milk.  I remember one day my host mom went out early in the morning to get a fresh baguette for my breakfast.  When I woke up it was still warm.  I said thanked her she responded with "c'est les petites choses" or "it's the little things."

The word baguette actually does not mean bread.  It refers to the long skinny shape of the loaf. Anything that is long and skinny can be called a baguette.  The first time I went out for Chinese food in France, I got very confused when I was asked if I wanted baguettes.  I thought wow, I know the French love their bread...but in a Chinese restaurant?!? The waiter actually asking me if I wanted chopsticks!

When I came back from France, I took an entire day trying to recreate a true baguette with my mom.  We let the baguette rise over and over and over.  We brushed it with water while it was in the oven to create the crispy crust.  After belaboring over the bread, we had a pretty decent product.  Not as good as in France, but pretty close.

Last weekend, I decided to try again.  I found a recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook and immediately became suspicious.  The directions only called for an hour of rising.  I thought, this probably won't work, but I'll try it anyways.  As it turns out, my instinct was correct.  The baguette looked pretty delicious, but the texture and taste were both off.  It was so bad I only ate one piece and threw the rest away.  Next time I'll leave it to the boulangerie.

P.S: In case you're wondering how a baguette keeps its long skinny shape, the answer is a baguette pan.  This pan, pictured above, is basically two half cylinders attached to one another.   There are also wider versions for making artisan loafs.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Mall-style pretzels

My boyfriend Brandon and I have a shopping deal.  He will go shopping with me as long as I buy him an Auntie Anne's pretzel. Last weekend, we designated Saturday as a cooking day.  We made all kinds of healthy food (more on that to come), in addition to pretzels for Brandon.  The first step was to make dough.  We made a pretty standard dough, from flour, sugar, brown sugar, yeast, and water.  He kneaded it for about ten minutes, and then we let it rise for an hour.

Once the dough had sufficiently risen, we rolled it out into long skinny ropes.  The ropes were supposed to be pencil thin, but ours were more like thick crayons. Each pretzel required a three foot long piece of dough.  With the leftovers, we made nuggets, which were each two to three inches long.

After the dough was rolled out, we twisted the dough into pretzel shapes.  Before they could go into the oven, we dipped them into water, which had some baking soda dissolved into it.  I'm not quite sure why the recipe called for this step.  It may be to help the pretzels brown, but ours did not brown especially well. It may work better to brush the pretzels with egg white or butter before putting them into the oven.

Finally, we baked the pretzels on a tray sprayed with non-stick spray (important, we learned) for 10 minutes at 375 degrees.

When the pretzels came out of the oven, we brushed them with butter and then sprinkled with salt.  The best pretzels always have big chunks of salt, so we scoured the grocery store--two actually, whole foods and giant--for coarse kosher salt. Alternatively, you could sprinkle on cinnamon and sugar, or whatever other flavor combination your heart desires.  I recommend eating these immediately, because they do not keep well, but are quite tasty fresh!