Sunday, September 27, 2009
Weeks go by so quickly these days. It seems it was only yesterday that I was moving into my Co-Op, ill and exhausted from Guatemala and now I'm completely settled in and studying for midterms. The leaves are beginning to change. Summer fruits are enjoying their last few weeks at the Farmers Market while pumpkin and nutmeg are welcome fall flavors. Time moves swiftly.
I've been busy lately. Too busy to fully appreciate the last vestiges of our Indian summer that promises to hold on to summer produce just a little while longer and keep the weather warm. Sometimes I hardly have time for lunch.
This is one of my favorite quick and easy lunches. Pasta with summer squash, parmesan, and basil perfect for busy afternoons but still fresh, filling, and flavorful. You're sure to spend less time making it and more time enjoying it, and I can't imagine a simpler way to savor the tastes of late summer. So slow down, let these days linger.
Pasta with Summer Squash, Parmesan, and Basil - Serves 1
A handful of pasta (I like gemelli or other twisty pasta, but any type of pasta will do)
1/2-3/4 cup summer squash
2 cloves garlic
A handful of fresh basil leaves
1/4-1/2 cup good quality parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Boil well-salted water for pasta. While water is boiling, chop summer squash into 1/4 inch cubes. Mince garlic.
Ass pasta to boiling water and cook according to package instructions. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat a splash of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add squash and a bit of salt and pepper to taste. Saute until tender, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and saute until soft and fragrant, another 2 minutes. While squash and pasta are cooking, julienne basil leaves and finely grate parmesan cheese.
When pasta is finished, drain. Remove skillet from heat and add pasta, tossing with olive oil, squash, and garlic. Add parmesan and mix until melted. Serve immediately, garnishing with basil and freshly ground black pepper. Enjoy, savoring late summer flavors.
Friday, September 25, 2009
My house has had copious amounts of garden-grown green grapes (say that five times fast) in the freezer for weeks now. They've made their way into just about everything you can imagine: fruit salads, yogurt, smoothies, "ice cream," you name it. These grapes have proven to be far more versatile than your average grapes are given credit for.
A few Fridays ago, I was asked to make grape cake for dessert. I chuckled at another seemingly absurd and entirely fabricated new use for grapes, until I actually did a bit of research. As it turns out, grape cake is a real thing. It's Italian apparently, and upon looking up a few recipes (yes, recipes fro grape cake actually exist) I stumbled upon one by Mario Batali featuring amaretto and orange. Go figure.
I followed Batali's recipe found on Big Oven, only tripled it to feed a crowd. It turned out to be incredibly delicious. Not just "Wow I expected this to be really weird but it's not half bad" delicious, but "This is amazing and could easily be one of the best fruit cakes I've tried" delicious. It was soft and moist, with echoes of richness from the olive oil, brightness from the orange, and nutty sweetness from the amaretto. And with a sprinkling of powdered sugar, this cake was as elegant as can be. I was so impressed by how the grapes shone in this cake, they were wonderful. Grape cake is not only a real thing, but a dessert I would certainly make again, even if there weren't 20 pounds of grapes in my freezer.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
I think I'd be hard pressed to find someone who didn't look forward to autumn soups. Warm and comforting, soup has a way of reminding us of the simple joys of fall as summer slowly fades. Autumn hasn't quite set in in Berkeley, but a few weekends ago, when the clouds crept over the bay and lingered in the hills, rain showers came and went, and a cool breeze made the air crisp beneath sweaters and scarves, it almost felt like fall was here to stay. I couldn't help but crave soup.
This one's a bit exotic. West African Peanut Soup is certainly different than the chicken noodle and cream of broccoli that I was raised with, but comforting nonetheless. The peanut butter offered a unique creaminess and depth and the sweet potatoes made the soup hearty and filling. And the colors were beautiful. The recipe comes from Mark Bittman of the New York Times. I omitted the chicken, making this soup a perfectly respectable vegan dish (which is a rare find in my repertoire). It was the perfect lunch on an almost autumn afternoon.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
I'm sorry to do this to you, but I have another chocolate recipe to share. It's the last recipe in my short series of "Delicious Things That I Ate This Weekend" and was certainly the most well received. Flourless chocolate cake.
Have you ever eaten cake and wondered why it didn't quite taste like the pure, unadulterated chocolate experience that you had been longing for? You may not even realize, but it's that bothersome flour that keeps getting in the way of you and chocolate bliss. With the flour out of the picture, this cake is just one or two ingredients away from eating a slice of chocolate. It's rich, decadent, but with a light moistness that melts in your mouth. Served with a dollop of whipped cream, this cake is to die for. Lucky for you, the pictures are a bit out of focus (I was playing with a new camera and got too impatient), so you won't be quite as tempted to lick your computer screen.
Okay, so I had to put one good picture on. Here's the recipe I followed from Everyday Food. Enjoy!
Monday, September 21, 2009
Here's another taste of what I ate last weekend (I'm sure you were dying to know). This is absolutely one of the best chicken recipes I have ever tried. Don't judge it by it's picture, this poor chicken isn't too photogenic. But oh was it delicious. The leeks and shallots melted into the sauce, infusing it with a rich, oniony taste, the pears added a rustic sweetness, and the touch of orange juice kept the chicken moist and brightened the flavors of the dish. And the whole thing couldn't have been easier to make; I just chopped it all up, arranged it on a roasting pan, and stuck it in the oven. It was a wonderful introduction to the homey tastes and familiar comfort of fall.
Roast Chicken with Pears, Shallots, and Leeks - Adapted from Sassy Radish
6 chicken thighs (use dark meat! It develops a melt in your mouth flavor and texture that you just can't get with chicken breasts)
1 red pear, sliced thin
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 leek, white and green parts, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup olive oil (if I make this again, I will use less, just enough to coat the thighs lightly)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400. Pat the chicken thighs dry and arrange in a roasting pan. Surround the chicken with leeks, shallots, garlic and pears. Pour orange juice and olive oil over chicken. Sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper and place in the oven.
After 20 minutes, turn thighs over and baste with liquid. After another 20 minutes, repeat. Cook for 15 more minutes or until chicken is cooked through, then remove from oven.
Transfer thighs, pears, and most of the vegetables to serving dish. In the roasting pan, reduce the sauce on the stovetop over medium high heat until sauce thickens, about 10 minutes (you can whisk in a few tablespoons of flour for an even thicker sauce). Let cool slightly and pour over chicken. Serve immediately (pairs great with brown rice or French bread).
Sunday, September 20, 2009
This weekend almost completely revolved around food. Eating it, making it, thinking about eating and making it, it was quite a food filled few days. I have much to write about, including several recipes from the past few weeks that haven't made it on the site. I'll start with what was by far the most interesting thing I ate this weekend: chocolate pasta.
A few weeks ago, my family and I visited Pier 39 in San Francisco. Touristy, crowded, but very fun, we ambled along the pier and dipped into kitschy shops along the way. We were first drawn to Chocolate Heaven because of, well, the chocolate, but we briefly considered setting up lawn chairs and enjoying the rest of the afternoon inside the store because of the air conditioning (it was inordinately sweltering in the city that day). Milling through chocolate bars and cocoa powder, I spied a most intriguing concoction. Chocolate pasta. It looked like pasta, through the packaging it felt like pasta, and as far as I could tell it was pasta, save for its rich brown color. Well, naturally I had to try it, so I stepped up to the counter and bought my first (and hopefully last) $10 package of pasta. It's been sitting on my desk since, as I contemplated how I would go about making the most of my chocolate pasta experience.
I finally gave it a go this weekend. On the back of the package, there were several recipes. One was for a savory chicken mole, which certainly sounded interesting. The other two were for sweeter creations, mostly involving fruit sauce and whipped cream. Having the sweet tooth that I do, I couldn't pass up dessert.
I made the most divine raspberry sauce a la Ina Garten (I omitted the Framboise) and some vanilla whipped cream. I cooked the pasta according to the package instructions (which left the whole house smelling of cocoa), drained it, then tossed it with some unsalted butter (to prevent sticking). I let it cool, then served it with a pool of raspberry sauce on the bottom and a drizzle on top, a dollop of cream, and a sprinkling of bittersweet chocolate shavings. The pasta itself was a little odd to be honest. It wasn't sweet at all, it tasted like cocoa powder, and the texture was a little slimy. But served with the raspberry sauce (again, amazing) and whipped cream, it was truly delicious.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
When nothing else seems to be going right, I know that baking always will. Baking is reassuring, it's methodical, it's meditation. When I step into the kitchen with a recipe, new or familiar, in hand, I know that if I follow the directions religiously whatever I make will turn out well. Which is saying a lot, because life is not like that at all. Life is unpredictable, chaotic, and in a perpetual state of flux no matter how much you try to plan ahead. Cooking can be just as erratic. Cooking often requires improvisation, "eye-balling," and substitutions, not that those things are necessarily bad, but they're inherently less certain than following a preconceived set of instructions. But baking. Baking is something truly special that will always, always leave me feeling grounded and peaceful.
When weeks start hectic, you know you're in for it. My Monday was too long the moment I woke up and things haven't much slowed down since. Last night I was able to take a breather for a few hours, which I of course spent baking. Erica and I made a delicious rhubarb cobbler that was to die for with vanilla ice cream. Then, after dutifully finishing my reading, I made blueberry muffins for breakfast tomorrow. I had been eyeing the blueberries in the freezer since the beginning of the week and knew I'd have a bit of time on Wednesday to put them to good use.
Muffins get a bad reputation. It could be because they taste like cupcakes, but it also could be because so many of them a filled with sugar, fat, and processed grains. Not exactly the healthiest start to one's day. But these whole grain blueberry muffins defied the stereotype. They were made completely with whole grains (whole wheat and oat flour), were just gently sweetened with brown sugar, were low fat (2% milk, eggs, and a touch of canola oil were all these muffins needed), and were packed with seasonal, fresh fruit. Slightly warm and with a bit of butter (let's not be too health conscious here) they were the perfect morning treat. I followed this recipe at Maple n' Cornbread exactly, only tripling it to feed the masses. And following that recipe exactly was exactly what I needed.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
For me, breakfast during the week is a hastily thrown together bowl of cereal with fresh fruit, yogurt and granola, or peanut butter toast. There's certainly nothing wrong with any of those things, they're just not terribly exciting. Few would be compelled to wake up earlier than necessary during the week to assemble a quiche or flip pancakes. Weekday breakfast is hurried, and I'm just happy that it happens at all. The more adventurous breakfast endeavors find their glimmer of hope on Sunday mornings.
After weekly breakfast monotony, you'd think I had grand aspirations for my weekend breakfasts. But to tell you the truth, more often than not my Saturday and Sunday mornings are less than motivated. They're filled with rolling over back to sleep, with newspapers and staying in pajamas until noon, with hopes of fresh coffee and reading in bed. No, my Sunday mornings are typically far to lazy to get up and make an impressive breakfast. Yet more Cheerios simply won't do.
Pancakes with stewed apples are the perfect solution. They're easy as can be, far exceed a piece of toast, and are just plain delicious. As much as I hate to admit this, I didn't even make my own pancake batter (and I call myself a foodie). All it took was some sliced apples, butter, sugar, apple juice, and a pinch of cinnamon cooked into a syrupy sauce to turn boxed pancake mix into something special. These apples would be great with waffles, oatmeal, or yogurt, too. They were the perfect way to celebrate all the wonderful apples that are falling into season and certainly qualified as lazy Sunday appropriate. So lazy in fact that it's taken me a week to tell you about them.
Here's the recipe. It's not exact because I was making it up as I went along. Basically, you're looking for a sweet, slightly thick syrup. Adjust the proportions accordingly.
Stewed Apples - Loosely adapted from Everyday Food
2-3 apples of your choice (I used Gala apples), cored and sliced thin (skins on is fine)
2 tbsp. butter
1/2-3/4 a cup of brown sugar (depending on how sweet your apples are)
2 cups apple juice
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the brown sugar and stir until sugar is coated with butter and begins to dissolve. Add the apples and coat well with butter and sugar. Add apple juice and cinnamon. Cook until apples are tender and sauce has reduced to a syrup (add more liquid, juice or water, if sauce reduces too much before the apples are fully cooked. Similarly, add more sugar if sauce is too watery), about 15 minutes. Let cool slightly to thicken. Serves 3-4.
Friday, September 11, 2009
As soon as these cookies were baked, frosted, and enthusiastically eaten, I knew I must tell you about them straight away. They were divine. Soft, sweet, melt-in-your mouth, vanilla cookies topped with a lush, delicate, cream cheese rose water frosting. That's right, rose water. I really have nothing else to say about them, other than you should get up from your desk, couch, or kitchen table immediately and make them. They were heavenly.
Cookie credits to Erica and Emma for making these incredible little treats with me. Thanks ladies!
Vanilla Cookies with Rose Water Cream Cheese Frosting - Shamelessly copied from Tigers and Strawberries
1 cup (2 sticks) of butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 stick of butter
4 oz. cream cheese
1 pound (1 box) powdered sugar
3 tbsp. cream
2 tsp. rose water
Red food coloring, or a tiny bit of red decorative icing
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together butter and powdered sugar for the dough. Add egg and vanilla and mix well. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl and add into butter mixture a little at a time until dry ingredients are fully incorporated.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll dough into 1 inch balls and flatten slightly on baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes, careful not to brown them. Allow to cool completely.
Blend together butter and cream cheese. Add powdered sugar. Mix in rose water and cream and stir until smooth. Add a drop or two of food coloring (or colored frosting), just enough to make the frosting a pale pink color. Incorporate well.
Pipe the frosting onto cooled cookies, waiting a few minutes for frosting to set, or impatiently eating as soon as the frosting is applied. Restrain from eating the whole batch in one sitting.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
I get stressed out when I have too much free time. It's unhealthy, I know, but having my days so empty makes me feel that I'm not doing enough, that I'm behind in some way. It all started when I signed up for 19 units this semester. "Yikes, 19 units?" I thought, "That is far to heavy of a course load to take while one has a job." I fixed to drop a class and stopped going altogether while my job search commenced. And commenced. And commenced. And commenced. Before I knew it I was still jobless and taking less units than I ought to if I want to graduate on time. Then I freaked.
Last night I was lying in bed trying to justify the whole thing to myself. "I will find a job," I asserted, "I don't have a choice." Maybe so, but there's no point in letting a perfectly fine fall semester go unfulfilled while I hunt. I probably could graduate on time if I dropped a class, but that would leave me with a pretty packed senior year with little room for error (or a fun class, or research, or an internship, or an honors thesis, or completing some obscure, forgotten requirement I didn't know about, or whatever else might come my way). So in a panic, I frantically emailed the professor of the class I had been ditching and begged for forgiveness (which was eventually granted, I am still enrolled with no penalty to my grade!) and to be quite honest my fuller schedule has me happy as a clam. Now I'm just hoping a job will fit right in okay, eventually.
Anyways, to make a ling story short, I couldn't sleep last night even after sending the email. Rather than lie awake in bed, I thought I'd watch Mark Bittman throw together a delicious corn and tomato salad.
Salad you say, Mark? I'm not too sure. In my heart, I know it's really just a gussied up salsa, but I so wanted it to be a salad. I ended up tagging it as both on my blog, just to be democratic about the whole thing.
It turned out well. I omitted the bacon because we didn't have any (although it looked delicious, and was part of the reason I wanted to make it in the first place), and I went a little light handed on the jalapenos (I just used a half but the sweet corn could have stood up to more had I given it the chance. I burnt my hands pretty badly on a jalapeno once while making melon salsa and have been a bit squeamish around them since). I served it with some lightly fried corn tortillas and of course a generous dollop of sour cream (I try to include "a generous dollop of sour cream" in my cooking whenever possible). It wasn't as filling as I'd hoped, but maybe with some grilled chicken or black beans it could take a front seat at the dinner table.
Corn Salsa/Salad - Adapted from Mark Bittman
1/2 a red onion, chopped
2-3 ears of corn (I used frozen corn, as unbelievable as it is given the summer's bounty, so about a cup or a cup and a half)
1 tomato, roughly chopped
1/2-1 jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, minced
1 avocado, sliced into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium skillet, heat a bit of oil. Add the onions and lightly sweat them, 1 minute. Add corn. Cook over medium heat until corn and onions have softened slightly but before they brown, about 3-5 minutes.
Remove from heat. Stir in tomato, jalapeno (to taste), cilantro, lime juice, a swig of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Gently mix in avocado slices. Garnish with more cilantro and serve, alongside tortillas and sour cream if desired.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Trevor and I started out with the intention of going on a hike. I brought along a paper bag in case we should run into some blackberry bushes, as I had been on this hike before and knew that parts of the trail were lined with them. The berries are typically pretty picked over by hikers and passers-by and since it's nearing the end of the season, I certainly didn't expect much.
About three minutes into our hike we were knee deep in berry bushes and picking like mad. I am a berry picking fiend. Most people that I go with cannot match the tenacity and fervor with which I pick berries, and so naturally I was skeptical about Trevor's commitment to the cause. In the end Trevor defied my expectations and showed true dedication to picking the most delicious berries with efficiency and enthusiasm, despite thorny vines and steep drop offs that may have been in the way. Before we reached the half way point our bag was leaking berry juice all over my hands (I think I would have sacrificed my t-shirt had it actually torn).
I knew something glorious had to be done with these berries, something that embodied the beauty of fresh summer fruit. Ice cream or sorbet? Nope, no ice cream maker here. Cobbler? Maybe, but the biscuits seem to be an awful lot of unnecessary work. Pie? No way I'd be patient enough for pastry crust to chill. In the end I settled on a exceedingly simple Basil-Blackberry Crumble from Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that I spied last summer. It was risky (basil and balsamic in a dessert?) but I was willing to put my berries up to the challenge. Trevor and I bought a pint of vanilla ice cream and set out to begin.
We arrived back home around 9:30 and started rinsing berries and chopping apples, only to discover that the big bag of fresh basil that was in our produce fridge earlier that day was gone. My hopes of a basil infused dessert were dashed, but surely I wouldn't let these delicious berries go to waste. Trevor and I proceeded with the crumble sans basil and balsamic.
Putting it all together was a breeze, I think it took less than 10 minutes. Apples, lots of berries, a bit of honey all mixed together and sprinkled with crumbled butter, flour, and brown sugar. 400 degrees, 30 minutes. Ta-da, a piece of cake (or crumble, rather).
This warm, juicy dessert sang with a scoop of cool vanilla ice cream. While the tangy-sweet blackberry flavor was truly dominant, the apples served an important function of adding a bit of pectin (a gelling agent) to the dish and keeping it all together. The crumble topping was buttery and crunchy, giving the dessert much needed texture. It certainly would have been interesting with the balsamic and basil, but I think without the dish can go a variety of different directions without. Cinnamon, fresh ginger, or orange zest all would have been fantastic compliments to the flavors of the fruit. Blackberry apple crumble was simple, sweet, and just what I had in mind for my delicious berries. And it certainly got a seal of approval from my house, as it was completely gone in 30 seconds flat.
Blackberry Apple Crumble - Adapted from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
2 apples, roughly chopped
About 2 pints of blackberries, freshly picked and rinsed well if possible
1/4-1/3 cup of honey, depending on the sweetness or your berries
5 tablespoons flour
3 heaping tablespoons of brown sugar
1 stick of cold butter, cubed
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Gently mix together apples, berries, and honey in medium bowl. Pour into a ceramic baking dish.
In another medium bowl, mash flour, brown sugar, and cubed butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles crumbs, with the largest pieces about the size of peas. Sprinkle over the fruit evenly.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the fruit is bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes to cool slightly and for the juices to congeal, then serve warm with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
In my house kitchen I am surrounded by healthful, nutritious food all of the time. There are so many fancy grains and greens it'll make your head spin. Why I chose to reach for the frying pan with a generous swig of canola this evening is beyond me, but the result was fantastic.
I adore zucchini. To me, zucchini is just as welcome as heirloom tomatoes and stone fruits in the summer months. It can shine in just about any dish, including, as County Fair goers can attest, in the deep fryer. I saw a recipe for zucchini fritters a few weeks ago and have since been intrigued. Tonight, home after a day of babysitting, hungry, and somewhat uninspired by the absence of food in my house, I cooked up these little guys and went to town.
They were delicious. The zucchini on the outside was crispy and sweet and oh-so-moist within. A generous dollop of sour cream cut the grease with a tart creaminess. Best of all these fritters only use, like, 4 ingredients and the whole thing came together in a flash. Plus, they're completely made of vegetables, so they're healthy right? I'll choose to ignore the quinoa glaring at me from the cupboard and agree.
Zucchini Fritters - Loosely adapted from Simply Recipes
1 medium zucchini
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 an egg, beaten (wasteful, I know. Just beat an egg, pour a small dollop down the drain and forget about it)
1/4 cup of flour, or enough to make the mixture hold together
Sour cream or plain yogurt for serving
Coarsely grate zucchini. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and let stand in a colander in the sink for 10 minutes while preparing the rest of the ingredients.
Pat zucchini dry. In a medium bowl, mix zucchini, onion, parsley, egg, and flour until mixture holds together.
Heat 1/4 cup canola oil in a medium skillet over medium high. Add a spoonful of zucchini into hot oil, one at a time. Press spoonful down slightly. Cook, flipping once, until brown and crispy, 4-6 minutes on each side. Pat off excess oil with paper towels. Serve immediately with sour cream or yogurt.
Friday, September 4, 2009
Hi. It's been a while. So much has happened since my last post. I went to Guatemala. I moved into a new house. I was very ill. I started school. I job hunted. I was selected to be one of the cooks at my house and I've been making menus for the past week. Needless to say this little blog has taken a back seat.
I know that summer is almost over, which means late summer fruits and veggies are beckoning to be used before they vanish. Unfortunately, both are hard to come by in our house. We received a beautiful shipment of heirloom tomatoes and I ate but one tomato, basil, mozzarella panini before they were gone. The peaches we got yesterday afternoon were nothing but a pile of pits by 10:00 this morning. Figs and strawberries have but a few hours of shelf life.
I also have yet to do much real cooking in my house. Most of what I make for myself are quickly thrown together lunches: quesadillas, pasta, salad. Nothing worth sharing, and some of it not even really worth eating. I did put together a delicious strawberry-rhubarb crisp last week, but that was before I got my camera charger back so I can't share it with you. Try and contain your disappointment.
Anyways, here's a recipe for clementine sorbetto that I tried out just before my trip. I know, I know, it's all but sacrilegious to use out of season produce in the summer, and even worse, these little clementines were all the way from Chile, but this sorbetto was delicious and refreshing. It was the perfect dessert on a warm summer night. I got the recipe from Sunset, and served it with chocolate hazelnut biscotti as they recommended. It used so many clementines: one big bag from Costco was only half what the recipe called for. It was all worth it in the end. The sorbetto turned out tart but very sweet with a pure, intense orange flavor. The biscotti were a nice touch.
Hopefully there will be more activity here soon. Once I get settled in and actually begin cooking again we should have lots to talk about.