What Can You Buy for $10 at Sur La Table?

A few weeks ago I received an advertisement brochure from Sur La Table with a $10 gift card. Score!!!

I've actually been working part-time as a kitchen assistant at Sur La Table for the last 4 years and have a few gadgets from the store. Unfortunately, my kitchen is rather tiny and I simply cannot fit a big Kitchenaid mixer or ice cream machine. And so, I thought I'd buy a few little things instead.

I was hoping that I would be able to use my 40% employee discount toward the $10 gift card, but that wasn't the case. And so I wandered around the store for 20 minutes, mentally calculating how much money I could spend :)

Below are my purchases and the receipt: I only paid 42 cents out of my own pocket.

Who can't use an extra wooden spoon? And I simply love red in my kitchen, so the towel and scrubby will fit right in. Although, I will probably only use the towel as background for my photos. The 3 biscuit cutters will be useful for making cookies, raviolli, or maybe even cutting out perfectly shaped potato disks.


Arugula, Strawberry, Mozzarella & Almond Salad

Arugula, Strawberry, Mozzarella & Almond Salad is quite a mouth-full to say, but trust me: it's very easy to put together!

The combination of slightly bitter arugula with sweet strawberries, milky/salty/smooth mozzarella and crunchy toasted almonds is great (if I say so myself).

And the finishing touch of balsamic glaze adds depth to this salad. You can have the salad as the start to your meal, or as a side to grilled chicken or fish.

There really isn't a recipe per say: Combine young arugula leaves with quartered strawberries, wedges of fresh mozzarella and toasted almond slivers. Drizzle with balsamic glaze and you are ready to eat!

I would not make this salad too far in advance as the nuts might get soggy and the arugula might start to wilt.


Balsamic Vinegar Glaze: Anna Knows Best!

Last weekend Anna wrote about making her own balsamic glaze. Since she's the older twin, I sometimes like to copy her :)

In fact, she's the one who got me to like basil, sweet potatoes and a few non-food things that I will just keep to myself!

Balsamic glaze can be easily made at home: all you have to do is pour some of the balsamic vinegar in a small pot, add a few pinches of sugar, bring the mixture to a boil and boil until the mixture has been reduced by half. The consistency should be thick and syrupy.

You know what this reminded me of? Dark chocolate! Maybe it's the color and the texture (if you were to melt the chocolate)...but it also has this deep intense rich flavor!

It would be a fun April 1st joke: dip strawberries in balsamic glaze instead of chocolate! Surprisingly, they actually tasted really good!

Stay tuned for a salad recipe that uses this balsamic glaze and a few ingredients I picked up at the farmer's market.


Daring Bakers: Cheesecake

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

Since I've made cheesecake before, I wasn't afraid of this challenge (something that typically doesn't happen after I read what Daring Bakers challenge us to do!).

Alas, somehow I was uninspired to come up with something extraordinary, and settled on following the recipe to a "t" and only adding zest of an entire orange to the filling. I also made the cheesecakes in muffin liners: individual portions are always my favorite!

Overall, the recipe came together without a hitch. But, after the cheesecake muffins were baked for 30 minutes, I opened the oven door and could not believe my eyes: they rose by at least one inch and were completely cracked! I was horrified, and too upset to take any photographs.

After sitting in the oven for an hour, however, the cheesecake leveled off, and actually fell slightly. Alas, after chilling in the refrigerator over night it sunk even further.

I was thinking of making sugared orange zest to go on top of the cheesecakes, but then changed my mind: they really were sweet and orange-y enough. And so, below are my un-adorned Orange Zest Cheesecakes.

Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 stick butter, melted
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.
2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.
3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.
4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.
5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

NOTES: I used 2/3rds of the recipe and made 12 individual "muffin" cheesecakes and baked them for 30 minutes. Also, my muffin tin did not fit into any other container. So instead of using a water bath, I just placed a 9x13 Pyrex dish (Thanks, Jenny!!!) with boiling water on the oven rack below the one that was holding up the muffin tin.


Artichoke Cooking Simplified

Last weekend I bought one huge artichoke at the grocery store because it was on sale for $2. I did not want to do anything fancy, because I needed to start on my Daring Bakers Challenge (check back on Monday to see what it was)...and so I did something very very very simple!

After washing the artichoke, I cut off one inch from the top, removed a few leaves from the bottom, trimmed the stem and wrapped the whole thing in plastic wrap. I then microwaved it for 10 minutes.

While the artichoke was in the microwave, I melted a bit of butter and added some lemon zest and microplane-d garlic to it. If you don't have a microplane (go out and buy one!!!), you can just very finely mince your garlic.

The photograph in the lower right corner above is of the cooked artichoke. After removing the artichoke from the plastic wrap (be really careful because the steam is insanely hot!), just pluck the leaves off and dip them in butter and then suck on the bottom part (the top part of the leaves is not really edible). This is one superb snack!

After you are done eating all the leaves, you'll be left with what you see on the left ;)
Simply remove the "fibers" with a spoon, and then you can eat the rest of the artichoke!


Pizza Caprese Plus

Tuesday night I decided to make pizza using fresh mozzarella I bought at the farmer's market last week. I wanted to make something simple, quick and super delicious. The key to this pizza is to use good quality ingredients and let them shine. Thus, no tomato sauce!!! I call this creation Pizza Caprese Plus because it has the same ingredients as Caprese Salad (tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil) but also contains olives.

Pizza Caprese Plus

Pillsbury Pizza Crust (I used thin crust...the one you buy in the refrigerator session in a can)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed and cut into a few pieces
good-sized pinch red pepper flakes
2 large tomatoes, sliced
18 olives, pitted (I used 18 because it's a happy number in Judaism...obviously you can use as many as you want, there is no need to count; also, pitting the olives conveniently "cuts" them in half.)
large ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced
fresh basil leaves, torn (tearing the leaves instead of cutting them prevents the leaves from turning black and keeps most of the flavor intact.)

1. Preheat the oven to 475 with a cookie sheet inside.
2. Meanwhile, microwave olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes for about 45 second. I learned this trick from Big, Bold, Beautiful Food. This technique allows the oil to get infused with the flavor of garlic and pepper flakes (the pepper flakes were my idea).
3. Once the oven is preheated, cover the cookie sheet with parchment paper, and then unroll your pizza dough, brush it with olive oil (leave the garlic behind) and bake for 8 minutes.
4. Remove the pizza crust from the oven and layer it with tomatoes, mozzarella slices, olives and fresh basil. There is no need for salt & pepper because olives are salty enough and you already have the spicy factor from red pepper flakes.
5. Bake the pizza for 4-6 minutes until the cheese melts.

This was a huge success! The thin crust was nice and crispy (other than in the middle where it was a bit too thin and became slightly soggy). All the ingredients had plenty of room to shine, and yet mingled well together!

I had the pizza with a glass of Alice White Shiraz. The wine was amazing: and coming from me, who doesn't really love red wine, it's a huge compliment!

Note: eat your pizza right after you bake it! I had some leftovers for lunch the following day, and although the flavor was still good, the crust was too soggy after being reheated in the microwave: I ate my leftovers with a fork & knife :)


Vegas: Jean-Philippe

I've done quite a bit of cooking over the weekend, and made a really simple and delicious pizza at home last night. Alas, all my photographs are inside my camera. And as much as I'd love to believe that you are reading each and every single one of my words, I know that a lot of you are here for the photos (I do the same thing, no worries!).

And so instead of sharing my latest and greatest recipes with you, for now I'll share a few photos from Jean-Philippe in Belagio in Vegas.

ooh, a chocolate fountain! how tempting is it to just stick your finger under the chocolate? and look at the big chocolate egg and boat creations! and a gorgeous variety of individual desserts!

and then there was a crepe station

Lera and I got crepes with Nutella and whipped cream. They were pretty good and ginormous! We could have easily split one. Alas, they weren't nearly as good or inexpensive as the crepes I had in Paris during my February trip there three years ago with Anna and Jen....ooh the memories!



Hopefully, soon I'll be able to tell you about a new fun "thing" I'll be involved with, but in the meantime, here's a great place to get cannoli if you are in Washington DC area.

Last week, Annie and I went to the Union Station food court in search of good dessert. Okay, so it wasn't really a search since Annie told me I should get cannoli at the Vaccaro's Italian Pastry stand. (Click on the collage for a better view)

If you want ambiance and nice service, this is definitely not a place for you. The pastry store doesn't even have paper plates! They give you your choice of dessert wrapped in a napkin inside a white paper bag: classy.

But I suppose looks are not everything (right!).

I ordered a mini chocolate cannoli, which Annie was more than happy to hold so that I could take a photo. The ricotta filling was sweet, but not very smooth. The outside waffle was crisp, and the chocolate added a bit of a bitter contrast (a good thing in my opinion).

Beware that you will have to pay an extra quarter (or was it fifteen cents?) for the chocolate covered cannoli.

The photo on the right is me holding my very last bite of cannoli. And no, my nail polish in that photo is not black: it's dark purple.

Vaccaro's offers many other choices of dessert and can even ship their cannoli all over the United States! If you are not afraid of innumerable student groups that visit the food court at Union Station, definitely visit Vaccaro's.


Lamb Sausage, Fresh Mozzarella & Arugula Sandwich

Last Thursday I made dinner entirely from the ingredients I bought at the farmer's market (other than olive oil).

I really think that sometimes sandwich is an excellent idea for dinner! But it has to be a rather special sandwich, not your typical PB& J. In the past I've made Brie, Roasted Pepper & Steak Sandwich, Tilapia, Avocado & Tomato Sandwich (Radha's favorite!) and Smoked Salmon & Brie Sandwich.

I think my newest creation, Lamb Sausage, Fresh Mozzarella & Arugula Sandwich is an excellent addition to your sandwich repertoire.

sourdough bread, sliced, toasted
garlic clove, peeled
olive oil
fresh mozzarella balls, sliced
fresh arugula
spicy sausage, cooked and crumbled

1. Rub toasted slices of bread with garlic and drizzle with olive oil.
2. Add fresh arugula, mozzarella slices and top with sausage.
3. Add a few more leaves of arugula and then top with the second slice of bread.

This was SUCH a delicious combination! The bread was slightly sour and spicy due to the garlic. The mozzarella melted in my mouth, while the arugula provided a bit of bitterness. The sausage was spicy and savory: I'm glad I went with the spicy variety instead of plain.

Please forgive the poor photo quality: it was 7 pm at night.

What's your idea of a great sandwich for dinner?


Saving Local Economy One Bite At a Time

Yesterday Annie and I walked to Penn Quarter Farmer's Market after work. It's a rather little market, but a fun place to visit on Thursdays from 3 to 7 pm.

I love seeing the fresh produce, flowers and crafts sold at farmer's markets, but rarely actually buy anything there. Instead, I keep on thinking how I can buy things at a grocery store for cheaper. The quality, of course, is not the same!

And so, yesterday I decided to actually spend some money, buy locally produced food and help out our local economy.

(click on collage to see the pictures better)
The first things I saw was Blue Ridge Dairy Co. stand advertising fresh mozzarella: 2 containers for $10. I have no clue if that's a lot of money or not, but I wanted to buy it! I decided to walk around the market and then come back. Imagine my sadness when I realized there were no tomatoes in the market! Turns out, tomatoes are not in season till June. Alas, unless I went to the store after the farmer's market, I would not be able to make Caprese salad (tomatoes, mozzarella and basil).

[Check out two recipes I made earlier that are similar to Caprese Salad: TMC tower and Insalata Caprese Cousin.]

Back to the farmer's market. I ended up buying two containers of fresh mozzarella from the Blue Ridge Dairy Co. but did not want that to be my only contribution to the local economy.

After a bit of thinking, I also bought fresh arugula from Endless Summer Harvest, sourdough bread (can't remember the name of the bakery), and lamb sausage from Springfield Farms. The guy working at the lamb stand asked if I wanted plain/mundane sausage or spicy. Duh: of course I could not be the girl who wanted plain/mundane, so I bought spicy! Did you know it is required by law to sell meat frozen? Luckily, the sausage defrosted in no time once I came home.

All in all, I spent just under $30. Check back later to see what I made with all my purchases. And please check out DC Examiner to see my 5 ways to use fresh mozzarella article.


Broccoli Pancakes

After making Broccoli with Tofu, Garlic and Ginger over the weekend, I had two large broccoli stems/stalks left. Usually, they'd sit in my fridge for a week, wilt, and then be thrown in the garbage. But not this time! Instead of throwing them out, I decided to make Broccoli Pancakes.

The idea for broccoli pancakes might sound a bit strange, but think about it...you've heard of zucchini pancakes, right? They are the same as potato latkes, but using zucchini instead of potatoes. This is the same idea, but with broccoli stems.

2 broccoli stems/stalks
1/2 onion
2 eggs
2/3 cups panco crumbs (if you don't have panco crumbs, use bread crumbs)
salt & pepper
sour cream

1) In a food processor (or using a hand grater) grate broccoli stems and onion.
2) In a bowl whisk together two eggs, then add panco crumbs and broccoli/onion mixture.
3) Season with salt and pepper and mix well.
4) Heat a pan, add oil, then form pancakes and cook them for about 4-5 minutes on each side. Fish spatula is a great tool for flipping these.
5) Serve with sour cream.

I'm so glad I did not waste these broccoli stems! The pancakes turned out delicious (the more oil you use, the better!) and I'm having leftovers for lunch.


Matzo Ball Soup with Chicken and Bok Choy

I have been meaning to make matzo ball soup since last week, however I did not have any eggs left after I made a flourless chocolate cake for Passover dinner at Wendy's parents' house.

Then, over the weekend I bought a carton of eggs and finally yesterday made the Matzo Ball Soup with Chicken and Bok Choy.

Instead of using a mix for the broth that came with the boxed Matzo Ball Soup, I used the liquid left over from poaching chicken for Jenny's Chicken Dip.

I then added a few extra ingredients to the soup and something special into the balls. This turned out to be the perfect meal for the rainy weather we are having now in DC area...I mean seriously? 40ies and rain in the middle of April?

2.5 quarts of liquid (I used a combination of home-made chicken broth, vegetable broth and water)
2 celery stalks (just for flavor)
1 jar of baby carrot puree***
1 boxed mix for matzo balls (you'll need 2 eggs and 2 tablespoons of oil to form the balls)
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill (Thank you to Laura's roommate Danielle!)
1 cup cooked and shredded chicken (approximately one chicken breast)
1 cup chopped bok choy
salt & pepper to taste
chopped parsley

1. Follow instructions on the box to form matzo balls, but add dill!
2. Bring 2.5 quarts of liquid, celery and carrot puree to a boil. Drop matzo balls inside, cover tightly, lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
3. Add chicken and bok choy and simmer for another 5 minutes.
4. Discard celery and serve the soup in a bowl garnished with parsley.

***Important note: the addition of carrot puree is Paige's idea! The carrot puree adds a bit of sweetness to the soup and gives the broth a slightly orange color. [Paige also taught me to add horseradish to mashed potatoes.]

Variations: you can add diced carrots, fresh peas, green beans or even broccoli to the soup. Instead of chicken you can also add tofu.

What is your favorite way to make matzo ball soup?


Jenny's Famous Chicken Dip

Ever since I've known Jenny, her recipe for Chicken Dip has been something she's been known for (other than being an awesome friend and always bringing me soup/flowers/etc. after my break ups).

Finally (it only took me 7 years), I decided to make Jenny's Famous Chicken Dip over the weekend: and I must admit, I think Jenny would be proud of my results :) Too bad she's all the way in NYC.

1 cup mayo (Jenny recommended light, but I used regular)
1 cup salsa
1-2 chicken breasts, poached and shredded
zest and juice from 1 lime
chili powder to taste
1/2-1 cup red pepper, diced
1-1 1/2 cup shredded cheese
1/4 cup green onions, finely chopped

1. Mix ingredients, refrigerate for a few hours, and enjoy! (I was tempted to eat the dip right after making it, but keeping it in the refrigerator really helped the flavors to mingle together.)
2. Serve with any kind of chips. (Jenny recommended the "hint of lime" and "scoops" varieties from Tostitos)

I liked this dip so much I had it for breakfast yesterday and will have it for lunch today. This is a great dish to bring for parties!


Broccoli with Tofu, Ginger and Garlic

Here's a quick dish you can make any day of the week: Broccoli with Tofu, Ginger and Garlic.

This dish came about like many of my other culinary adventures: I had a few random ingredients on hand and needed something quick for dinner.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 inch ginger, peeled and cut into really thin strips
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pinch red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 hand-fulls broccoli florettes
soy sauce and rice wine vinegar to taste
1 package firm tofu cut into cubes [My friend Jenny suggested I let you all know how to handle tofu: you need to remove it from the liquid that it's packaged in. Then you place the tofu on several layers of paper towels, cover the tofu with a few more layers of paper towels, top it off with a cutting board and then set a heavy bowl or a pan on top of the cutting board. This process removes excess water from tofu. I think I "drained" the tofu for at least 30 minutes.]

1) Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a pan. Add ginger, garlic, cumin seeds and red pepper flakes and saute for several minutes.
2) Add broccoli florettes, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar and cook for about 5 minutes.
3) In a separate pan (use non stick!) heat the rest of the oil and saute tofu cubes until they turn a light golden color.
4) Combine broccoli with tofu cubes, adjust the seasoning and enjoy.

This dish is good both hot and cold. You can eat this by itself or as a side served with chicken or beef.


Vegas: Cafe Baba Reeba

Here's a quick recap of our first meal in Vegas: Happy Hour at Cafe Baba Reeba.

My plane landed early, but then we were made to sit on the ground (ok, we were inside the plane, but the plane was on the ground) for almost an hour. By the time I finally got my bags, took a shuttle to the hotel and met up with Lera and Anna we were starving! Luckily, Cafe Baba Reeba was within five minutes of our hotel and had Happy Hour specials!

We started with sangria, which came in at least 5 different flavors, and then followed up with a bunch of tapas. I thought the food was good, but my super food-picky-friends thought it was rather mediocre. But we agreed on the merits of the sangria. By the way, you can see Lera in the first photo :)

We started with complimentary bread and olive oil followed by stuffed figs wrapped in bacon. I think that was one of our favorite choices!

We then had fried calamari (yum!) and chicken skewers. I must say the portions were rather on a tiny side!

I feel that we also might have ordered a few other small plates, but my memory is not exact now.

Would I recommend this place? Sure, but don't go in with really high expectations. What are your favorite tapas?