7/31/08

Get Ready For Fall: Butternut & Pear Soup

This is the second time I'm testing this recipe for Robyn, so I knew it will turn out awesome.

The soup is pretty simple: roast and puree butternut squash, pears, and onions. Add chicken stock, simmer; add milk, simmer. Top with pecans!

P.S. I enhanced the pictures using Windows Photo program!

Smoked Oyster and Rice Stuffing

Here's another recipe I tested tonight for Robyn Webb. To be honest, I was terrified of smoked oysters, but I liked them! I really liked them :)

Instructions: cook brown rice, set it aside. Cook onions, leeks, celery and garlic together with dried basil and thyme. Add to the rice. Add smoked oysters. Done!

One more dish from last night...

...I was exhausted. Rice soup. Rice salad. Then Anna told me that you can watch Project Runway on YouTube, so I sat on the floor and quickly watched the first two episodes of the new season.

And then I started testing Robyn Webb's 3rd recipe: wholewheat bread stuffing with dried fruit. The dish turned out well, but it was too late to take any decent pictures.

Here's the recap: soak dried cherries, apricots, raisins and pitted prunes in hot water. Meanwhile, saute onions and celery. Combine the fruit (drained!) with onions and celery and cubed wholewheat bread. Add toasted walnuts. Pour hot broth over the mixture and mix in two beaten eggs. Into the Pyrex dish everything goes, first baked covered, then uncovered.

The flavors were great (I'm actually having it for breakfast) and the aroma was wonderful! Again, great for Thanksgiving.

3 more recipes to go!

7/30/08

Rice Soup

Rice soup in the middle of 90F degree weather in DC? Yes. But there is an explanation: this is the second recipe I'm testing for Robyn Webb's Diabetes Forecast article. I can't provide the specific measurements, but here are the steps:

1. Saute carrots, onions, celery, and green pepper in oil

2. Add simmered chicken stock infused with herbs

3. Add cooked rice

4. Simmer for a bit

5. Add half and half, toasted almonds; season with salt and
pepper

6. Heat everything through without boiling

7. My suggestion: serve garnished with fresh parsley

Save this one for the fall and winter!

Rice Salad

After testing Robyn Webb's Rice Soup, I had about 1.5 cups of cooked rice left...what to do? A rice salad of course!

Ingredients and directions: in a bowl combine cooked rice, halved cherry tomatoes, Gorgonzola cheese, toasted slivered almonds, finely chopped red onion, and thinly sliced basil. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Add olive oil and a bit of vinegar. Toss and serve!

I bet it would be even better tomorrow for lunch.

Daring Bakers 1st Challenge

Remember my Two Things I am Not post earlier about joining The Daring Bakers!? Well, I can finally post my first challenge: Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream (From Great Cakes by Carol Walter).

I was feeling excited, nervous, and anxious about my first challenge. However, I was really looking forward to seeing if I could succeed at this complicated recipe (I'm not going to retype the recipe here, but I'm sure the other Daring Bakers will post it). Luckily, at the beginning of July, Anna and I went to visit our parents in Seattle. Why is this a good thing? I had help (Anna), my mom's bigger-than-my-kitchen, and a pantry filled with needed ingredients. All I had to bring with me were a few tools and chocolate.

Making the cake was fun and relatively simple. This was the first time I made a cake from scratch, and the concept of using nuts (almonds) in the cake dough was a new one to me. The cake smelled great, did not "fall" after baking, and was easy enough to slice into 3 layers.

The trouble started when I made the buttercream. I did not want to believe Anna, but I guess I did overheat the egg whites: the buttercream never came together, and looked rather awful (at least it tasted good!). Instead of trying to make it again, I decided to continue with what I had. (After a 5 hour flight from DC to Seattle, I did not have much patience)

Luckily, the ganache was simple to make! This was also something I've never done before. Oh, and it tasted great! The addition of rum did not hurt :)
Assembling the cake wasn't too bad: I just wish the raspberry preserves would have played a bigger role: they were barely detectable.

With the cake "setting" in the fridge, I had a chance to think about how I wanted to decorate it. Unfortunately, the buttercream had other ideas: it completely separated, and wasn't cooperating. I tried my best and put mini chocolate chips to cover up my mistakes.

But what matters the most, is that with Anna's help I was able to complete my first Daring Bakers Challenge. And the cake tasted great! I made a mistake of leaving a knife next to it in the fridge, which made taking thin slices of the cake way too easy :) My parents and Anna liked the cake too; can't remember what Misha thought.

P.S. I'm posting this "in the future"...hopefully that works :)

7/29/08

Artichoke Heart/Cannelini Bean/Basil Soup

After baking Pizza with Plums, Red Onions, Gorgonzola and Pine Nuts , I decided to test one of the 6 recipes Robyn Webb is working on for Diabetes Forecast. I have less than two weeks to test all 6 (check back in for more info)

I have been testing Robyn's recipes for a few years now, and this was definitely a good one! I can't provide the specific measurements, but here are the steps:

1) puree a can each of artichoke hearts and cannelini beans

2) add minced garlic and onion to heated oil and cook for a bit

3) add pureed artichoke hearts, cannelini beans, chicken stock, salt and red pepper flakes

4) bring the mixture to a simmer, add basil and cook for a few more minutes

5) pour the soup into bowls and garnish with toasted slivered almonds

The soup was very easy to make and yet very rich in flavor! The picture of the final product wasn't too appetizing, so I'm omitting it :)

TGRWT #18: Pizza: Plums, Onions, Gorgonzola & Pine Nuts

Update: August 16: I was asked to submit this recipe to TGRWT 18 (they go together really well contest) and am happy to do so :)

I have a new blog that I check on daily basis: cookthink. They've asked their readers to submit recipes using plums. I thought I would give it a try. The first thing that came to mind was desserts, but I thought that would be too simple. Then I thought about making a salad with plums...but that too, seemed obvious. What came to me next, was (I hope) quite unique: pizza with red onions, plums, Gorgonzola and pinenuts!

Ingredients:
1 red onion, thinly sliced
a handfull of pinenuts, toasted
1 T balsamic vinegar
2 plums, cut in half and thinly sliced
olive oil & butter
1/2 cup Gorgonzola
pizza crust

Directions:
1) Heat olive oil and butter in a pan, add onions and cook for about 10 minutes, adding balsamic vinegar in the last two minutes.



2) In the meantime, bake your pizza crust (or use store bought). I did not want to buy one and walked into my neighborhood Pizza Milano to see if they would sell me pizza dough. Well, they gave it to me for free!!! The pizza puffed up in the oven (7 min at 450F), so I just deflated it by making a little cut with a knife.

3) Brush the pizza with olive oil and top with onions, plums, Gorgonzola and pinenuts; bake for about 7 minutes at 450F


4) Remove from the oven and enjoy!

Thoughts: I'm entirely happy with how this "project" turned out! The flavor was well balanced between the sweetness of plums, the pungency of Gorgonzola and the vinegar-y flavor of onions. The nuts added a needed crunch. Please give this one a try and let me know what you think.

Note: You really don't need any extra salt: Gorgonzola has plenty!

Free Food: YouBar

Facts:

1) I love free stuff
2) The price of groceries has been increasing

A few months ago I joined BlakeMakes' Soopz Shop and today I received my first free "stuff" to try out: YouBar (wow, that's a lot of links).

The package came with four bars, and I decided to give Honey Cashew a try.

from YouBar website:

This mouthwatering treat combines the sophisticated flavor of creamy cashew butter with crunch.

Customizing ideas: Add shredded coconut and/or chopped soynuts. Substitute Organic agave nectar for all or part of the honey.
Ingredients: Cashew Butter, Honey, Whey Protein, Nutty Rice Cereal.
Nutrition: 220 Calories, 120 Fat Calories, 13 g Total Fat, 2.5 g Sat Fat, 25 mg Sodium, 18 g Total Carb, 1 g Fiber, 7 g Sugars; 30 % Calcium, 10 % Iron.

Thoughts: I emailed Blake of BlakeMakes asking for guidelines about this product review, and he said the only guideline is that if you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all. Well, although I don't think I'd go out and buy this bar, I did enjoy eating it. It was a bit crumbly and definitely crunchy. The honey wasn't overwhelmingly sweet, but the flavor of cashew did not really come through too well. The texture and taste actually reminded me of one of my favorite treats in childhood (hah, Anna, I said treats!) halva.

Look out for additional reviews of YouBar's other flavors.

7/27/08

Quick Dinner: Zucchini, Tomatoes & Basil

Here's another super quick dinner idea for you all: zucchini with tomatoes and basil.

Directions:

1) Heat olive oil in a pan. Add thinly cut zucchini. Cook for 2-4 minutes, stirring.

2) Add sliced garlic. Cook a few more minutes. Season with salt.

3) Add minced red onion. Add red pepper flakes to taste.

4) Once zucchini is pretty much cooked to your likeness, add quartered cherry tomatoes. Cook for another minute.

5) Take the vegetables from the pan and add fresh basil. Done!

Thoughts:

I've made a similar recipe for Robyn Webb. The key to this is ripe tomatoes and fresh basil and also to season the food, because zucchini are pretty bland. I served this with pasta. You can also add some cheese if you have it.

Next time I would cook this dish in a "stick" pan and not overcrowd the pan: this will allow the zucchini to brown rather than steam.

Hank's Oyster Bar: Mediocricy

Today is Anna's last day in DC. And then I go back to having my apartment all to myself...anyways. When we were in Dupont Circle last Monday she mentioned wanting to try out Hank's Oyster Bar. I had brunch at Hank's 3 years ago and had good memories of the food, and was happy to give it another try.

Today Anna and I met up with Wendy and Ashley for brunch. The place was surprisingly empty. While we looked at our menus, our host brought us a plate of Gold Fish: freaking cute! Wendy and I decided to get mimosas, Anna ordered a Bloody Mary, and Ashley had a Diet Coke. (I apologize for the quality of the pictures: the lighting wasn't coordinating and I could not take multiple pictures because my camera's battery was dying.)

We sat and chatted and wondered how long it will be till our food arrived. Just then we received a basket of sourdough bread with butter (perfectly soft!) and jam. Back to chatting...

And then the food came.

I ordered a Crabcake sandwich with remoulade. The crabcake was great! I was disappointed that my order did not come with a side of fries; instead I had a watercress and tomato salad. Luckily, both Anna and Ashley were happy to share their fries.


Wendy ordered a Sourdough French Toast. It came with a super sweet caramel sauce.

Anna had Crabcake Eggs Benedict. The crabcake was good, the fries were good and the egg was runny: perfect.

Ashley ordered Hank’s Burger well done: it came medium well, with a little piece of lettuce. And no ketchup. None were even offered. When Anna asked for some ketchup, the waitress seemed rather pissed off. Oh, and how many times was Ashley asked if she wanted a refill for her Diet Coke? Zero.

At the end of the meal, our host was very prompt at wanting to take our plates away, even though I was still eating! Yes, I'm a slow eater, but it's not like they had people waiting. This always upsets me.

The check came with a bowl of dark chocolate chunks. The chocolate was good.

7/24/08

Mexican Purple Garlic

Anna called me at work saying that I was almost out of garlic. You know how some people always have milk and bread on hand? I always have garlic. I was already going to the store on the way from work, and added garlic to the list.

Do I ever give garlic a second thought? Not really. I just know that I like how it tastes roasted, or minced finely and added to a salad dressing, or how it plays well with Indian flavors.

When I came to the place in my grocery store that has boxes of garlic, I saw something new to me: Mexican Purple Garlic. The price on it was exactly the same ($0.59/head of garlic) as for the white garlic, so I decided to give it a try.

The purple color is absolutely beautiful, but I was disappointed to find out that the taste was pretty much identical to the regular garlic. Hmmm....maybe there is a lesson in this somewhere?

I tried to do some research on this new-to-me produce, but the only thing I found was this from the Cook's Thesaurus:

Types of garlic include the mild green garlic, the purple-skinned Italian garlic and Mexican garlic, and the common white-skinned garlic = California garlic, which is the most pungent of all.

Simple dinner: chicken & salad

Last night after work I went grocery shopping to make dried cherries and orange scones. I then made those scones. But that's not really a dinner food, is it?

Anna and I were going dancing, so dinner had to be quick. I had two bone-in chicken breasts in the fridge. Here's what I did:

1) juice a lemon
2) slice a few cloves of garlic (I used Purple Mexican Garlic I found in the store, but the taste is pretty much the same as your "normal garlic")
3) season chicken with salt & pepper on both sides
4) have a few teaspoons of capers ready to go


5) cook chicken breasts in a "stick" pan for 5 minutes on each side in oil (I used Canola). Add the garlic and let it cook for a few minutes.

6) Add the capers, lemon juice, and put the entire pan into the 375F oven for 15 minutes

7) Remove the pan from the oven. Remove the chicken from the pan. Add a tablespoon of butter, a few splashes of white wine and cook on medium heat for a few minutes until the sauce forms.

8) I served the chicken with chickpea/tomato/cucumber/red onion salad with lemon juice/olive oil/red wine vinegar dressing.

Thoughts: this must be one of the easiest and most satisfying ways of cooking chicken breasts. The meat comes out juicy, and the whole dish takes less than 30 minutes: take that, Rachel Ray! :) The lemon juice mixes well with capers and the garlic, and the butter adds a bit of a sweetness to balance off the flavors.

Dried Cherries & Orange Scones

Saturday Anna and I are going over to Cindy's house to help the girls with painting their doll house and to have tea & cookies: how very lady-like! Not wanting to show up empty-handed, Anna decided to make scones. I was telling Stacey about the scones, and she asked if she could have one before her vacation. I was more than happy to oblige; plus, it gave me an excuse to bake. Stacey, in fact, found this recipe from Epicurious, which I used as a template for my scones.


Dried Cherries & Orange Scones


Ingredients

3 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
orange zest from one orange
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cup dried cherries
1 cup chilled buttermilk

Preparation
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda into large bowl. Mix in orange peel. Add butter and rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Mix in dried cranberries. Gradually add buttermilk, tossing with fork until moist clumps form.
Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Knead briefly to bind dough, about 4 turns. Form dough into 1-inch-thick round.

Cut into 8 wedges.

Transfer wedges to prepared baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart. Brush the scones with buttermilk and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake until tops of scones are golden brown, about 25 minutes. Let stand on baking sheet 10 minutes. Serve scones warm or at room temperature.

Thoughts: this was a very simple recipe to follow. The "dough" turned out a bit wetter than I expected, so I added a bit more flour. Anna thought it could also use more sugar, but everything depends on how sweet you like your scones to be. Definitely give this one a try!

7/23/08

Something to do with your free time

I was reading Cookthink blog this morning. That's where I learned about a super cool new (?) tool: Wordle. My creation is below!

click on the image for a bigger version

7/22/08

Paige's Yogurt Dip

Last week I received an email from my friend Paige asking me to try her yogurt dip recipe and let her know my thoughts. Paige and I lived in the same building for 2 years and spent quite a few nights cooking things up in the kitchen. She's missed terribly. Here's her yogurt dip.

Tangy Yogurt Dip
1/2 cup non fat plain yogurt
3 tablespoons sour cream
1/2 tablespoon pick-a-peppa sauce
black pepper, paprika, garlic powder to taste
1/4 teaspoon creamy horseradish sauce
mix and garnish with parsley

Tonight Anna and I had dinner of hummus, eggplant dip, brie cheese, and crackers. I thought this would be a great time to try out Paige's dip. I made a few changes: increased the amount of horseradish to 1 teaspoon, left out pick-a-peppa sauce (my grocery store did not have it), and eliminated parsley.

Thoughts: pretty good! I think using low-fat or full fat or Greek yogurt would have been of great benefit. Also, adding fresh dill would brighten things up.

Overall, this is a good quick dip. You could use it as a spread on sandwiches or a dressing for a chicken or potato or even tuna salad.

Thanks, Paige!

Two Things I am Not

1. I am not daring: I rarely make risky decisions, participate in outrageous acts, or step out of my comfort zone.
2. I am not a baker: okay, I make my mom's apple cake, and I make brownies (out of a box), but I don't really bake anything extraordinary.
.
.
.
and yet, last month I joined Daring Bakers (my name should be added to their blogroll soon!).

Why? Because I kept on seeing pictures of amazing desserts posted by the club's members on Tastespotting, and super cute Daring Bakers logos on many food blogs.

I decided to challenge myself and see if once a month I can successfully follow a complicated baking recipe.

You will have to wait till July 30th to find out what the challenge was and how I handled it (or did I?). Stay tuned.

7/19/08

Dinner at Zaytinya

Today for dinner Anna, Jenn, Mas and I went to Zaytinya. I have eaten at this restaurant a few times before, but everyone else was a newbie. Except Anna has visited the restaurant last year to see how the kitchen was run. She told this fact to our host and asked if the chef she observed last year was in the kitchen: he wasn't. But, we received 6 free appetizers on the house: thanks, Anna!!!!
Hommus
puree of chickpeas and tahini

Labneh
Lebanese strained yogurt with zatar

Baba Ghannouge
puree of fire-roasted eggplant, tahini, lemon and garlic

Htipiti
marinated roasted red peppers mixed with feta and thyme

Tzatziki
yogurt with diced cucumbers and dill

Taramosalata
“light as air”

The rest of the food we ordered ourselves :)
The Menu
Fig salad with tomatoes, chickpeas, and feta

Grape-Leaves Dolmades
grape leaves with rice, tomato, fennel, pine nuts and
golden raisins over labneh


Kibbeh Nayeh
ground to order: Lebanese style beef tartar,
bulgar wheat, radish and mint

Fried Squid
olive oil-crisped squid with garlic-yogurt sauce

Asparagus Ezme
grilled asparagus spicy tomato-onion sauce

Sea Scallops
seared scallops with yogurt-dill sauce

Hünkãr Begendi
traditional Turkish braised lamb shank with an
eggplant-kefalograviera puree


Baby Squash Couscous
sunburst spinach, baby zucchini, crispy garlic,
tomato-lemon broth

Crispy Skirt Steak
spicy zhough sauce, yogurt radish salad

Roasted Cauliflower
sultans, caper leaves and pine nut puree

Seared Salmon
herb marinated salmon with roasted garlic yogurt and micro cilantro

Swordfish Kebab
seared swordfish, roasted peppers, red onion and parsley sauce

Thoughts: this was one of the most satisfying dinners I've had in quite some time! Our choices were right on (other than maybe cous-cous). The food was fresh, flavorful, imaginatively prepared and filling! No room for dessert.