Saturday, April 30, 2011

German Potato Salad

Oh, what to do on a sunny, cloudless 80 degree day in Southern Carolina?  With a sky super blue and a whole afternoon full of nothing to do?  Why, silly, you bar-b-que!  I do love it when I accidentally rhyme.  Ok, I admit, that last one was somewhat forced.  I just couldn't resist.

Speaking of not being able to resist, may I introduce you German Potato Salad?  After volunteering at an outside work event this morning, us in the younger crowd decided to host our own celebratory cookout with a significantly smaller beer line and a few games of cornhole.

And what this event afforded me was the first opportunity of the summer to make a recipe that's been in my big green cookbook since the very first day.  A recipe that I love to bring to cookouts and picnics.  That is great because just when you think it looks and will taste just like normal potato salad, that is when the vinegar and the mustard hit you.  That's right, a potato salad with no mayonnaise.  Another reason why it's perfect for cookouts and picnics.

I discovered this the summer I lived in Providence and made it for a fourth of July party, where might I say, it was devoured with rave reviews.  And it really isn't that much of a hassle, probably because I cheat in several places.  The recipe calls for brown mustard seeds and I'm too lazy to do a special shopping trip for another new bottle of spice.  The recipe calls to peel the potatoes after you boil them, I cut them up and if the skins fall off, they fall off.  And if not, they go into the bowl.  I tell myself they add some much needed color.  And today, laziness of all lazinesses, I used Costco bacon bits instead of making crumbles from fresh bacon.  In my defense, they are shockingly yummy and are made from "100% Real Bacon" that's been "Naturally Smoked".  Can you blame me?

It was a cookout with some amazing burgers (thank you Mark), corn on the cob, German Potato Salad and lots of sun.  And all that equals a full, happy stomach and a nice little tan.  Happy Summer Ya'll!

German Potato Salad
From My Big Green Cookbook

2 1/2 lbs. red potatoes
1/4 lb. bacon, cut into small pieces (I used a little less than a cup of my crumbled goodness...)
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 c. cider vinegar
1/4 c. water
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. brown mustard seeds
1 tsp. mustard (I just doubled this and dumped the seeds)
2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, finely chopped (opps, I dumped this too!!)
Paprika, to taste

Place potatoes in large saucepan.  If some are much larger, cut so all are similarly sized.  Add enough water to boil.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce hear and simmer, uncovered, 20 to 30 minutes, or until potatoes are fork-tender (don't over cook).  Drain completely and let potatoes cool.  Peel potatoes (hehe...) and cut into 1/4-inch pieces.

While potatoes are cooking, cook bacon in medium skillet over medium heat until crisp.  Remove from pan with slotted spoon.  Crumble and set aside.

In same pan, add onion and cook in bacon drippings until tender.

Combine vinegar, water, sugar, salt, mustard seeds and mustard and whisk together.  Put potatoes, bacon, onion in large bowl.  Pour dressing over and toss until well coated.  Garnish with parsley and sprinkle with paprika.  Serve hot or cold (yum... warm...)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Spiced Candied Pecans

After a long weekend of porking out on delicious food and helping to cook in a kitchen that rivals mine for lack of space, cooking something elaborate seemed like too much work.  Cooking anything requiring more than one dish and 10 minutes seemed like too much work.  Yesterday was leftovers and some corn on the cob I boiled up quickly.  Today so far has been 2 pickles and snacking on random goodies as I unpacked my groceries.  But I felt that if I went to long without writing, I might get into the habit of going really long without writing.  That, and an attempt to start eating more "healthy fats" in my diet, made me pull out a tried and true recipe.  Spiced Candied Pecans.... yum...

The good thing is that nothing could be easier.  I discovered this somewhere online 2 summers ago when I was living in Providence.  I began to make them weekly, to the extent of annoying my roommate, which was a relatively easy mission to accomplish.  I mostly put them either on my spinach salads I brought for lunch or snacked on them whenever I was home.  Even a double batch never lasted long.  I varied from the original recipe instantly, and probably couldn't even recall it if you wanted.  By why would you?  I used it for the ratios and after a few initial experiments haven't varied it since.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it?

My version has 6 ingredients.  The first thing I do is mix up the sugar and spices.  My one claim to be adventurous tonight was to use turbinado sugar instead of normal sugar, my first time deviating from that specific part of the recipe.  I must admit that substitution came purely from laziness though.  Turbinado was in the front of my pantry and easily accessible.  Regular sugar was under the flour in the back right corner, behind rice, brown sugar and various other random pantry items.   It was a no brainer.  So, 2 teaspoons of sugar.  A heaping 1/4 teaspoon of both cayenne and cinnamon.  That's a lot of cayenne, by the way, if you don't like the heat.  A pinch of kosher salt.  Mix well and step 1 is done.

Step 2 is just as easy.  Melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium high heat.  Add 1 cup of pecans.  Stir frequently and keep the nuts moving so they don't get burnt.  After a few minutes, they will deepen in color and smell toasty, not a strong smell, but it's still there.  I probably should have timed it for ya'll, but you'll probably be able to tell.  Let's say about 3-5 minutes??

And finally, step 3.  Told you this was easy.  With the pan still on the heat, sprinkle your sugar and spice mixture over the pecans.  I'll sprinkle a bit, then toss, sprinkle then toss, until everything is well coated.  Remove from heat and keep occasionally tossing in the pan another minute or so.  Spread out of aluminum foil and let cool.  Easy, peasy.  No headache, a few dishes maximum and a cup or 2, if you do a double batch like me, of yummy, toasted, spiced, candied pecans.  I really don't think I could throw another adjective in front of them.

Super easy, super yummy and super adaptable to whatever your tastes are!  Oh, and in case you were wondering, the turbinado sugar worked great, melting mostly but also leaving a few crunchy granules on the finished product, something I am at the very moment enjoying.  If you have it on hand, I would suggest it; if not though, it's not worth a special trip to the store.  Normal sugar works fantastically as well.  I've also been meaning to experiment with some cocoa powder lately, but, alas, will have to wait for a day when I'm not lazy, poorly fed and exhausted.

Spiced Candied Pecans

1 Tbsp. butter
1 c. pecans
2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Pinch of salt

Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat.  Add pecans and toss frequently, until pecans are toasted and become a deeper brown in color, about 3-5 minutes.

While still on heat, pour sugar/spice mixture over pecans and toss until well coated.  Remove from heat and continue tossing.  Spread pecans out over aluminum foil to cool.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fish en Papillote

Forgive me, for I am about to try and teach you something.  Even if this is only my tenth blog post, somehow I feel naively entitled enough to pretend to teach you how to make Fish en Papillote.  Which sounds so much more extravagant then what it really is... fish in parchment paper.  What I love about this dish is that you can make it with whatever vegetables are left over in the fridge and it makes the perfect, puffed little pocket meal for one.  Clean up is easy and there are no leftovers.  The hardest part is making the little parchment paper pouch, but have no fear.  Because, remember, this is where I was going to attempt to teach you!  I also took lots of pictures, so hopefully that should help as well.

Step 1.  Gather all your supplies onto the counter (or if you live in a tiny kitchen apartment, onto your dining room table).  You'll need: fish (I used a filet of mahi-mahi), parchment paper, scissors and a jelly roll pan.  Also, whatever other seasonings you want to put in your pouch.

Step 2.  Fold a LARGE sheet of parchment paper in half and cut out half of a heart.  Open it, and holy manatee, you have a heart.  Now we're getting somewhere.

Step 3.  On one side of your fold, place your fish filet, seasoned on both sides.  Season with at least salt and pepper, and whatever else you want on there.  I added some chipotle pepper flakes and dried basil.  Add whatever vegetables you may have.  I had red onions (I always have red onions) and some cut up broccoli stems.  We're half way there!

Step 4.  VERY lightly drizzle the fish and veggies with some oil and something a bit acidic.  I choose olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Your fish only needs a light coating, because it's natural juices will do most of the steaming.  Plus, if you drizzle too much, you'll be leaking all over the place (although, this is why we do all this on a jelly roll pan) 

Step 5.  Now is the fun part, we get to start folding.  Fold the parchment paper back over the fish.  Starting at the top of the heart, not the pointy end, make small overlapping folds to seal the pouch.  Keep making small folds all the way around until you reach the pointy end.
Twist the tail of the pouch excessively, to make sure it is well sealed.  You don't want your steam or juices to escape.  I like to make the little tail stick up, it makes the pouch more maneuverable.

Step 6. Finally, we move into a 450F oven.  Slide the whole pan in there and bake the fish 12-14 minutes, or until the pouch starts to puff up and get a golden brown.  Remove from oven and let cool.  Transfer the pouch onto a plate.

Last, but not least, cut open and enjoy!  Be careful cutting the pouch open, there will be some steam inside.  I tried my best to capture the steam curling out of the cut pouch with my digital camera, but there is only so much magic you can work with a 5 year old Sony Cybershot!

The broccoli and onion inside were deliciously cook and the fish came out flaky.  My flavor combination was interesting to say the least, tasty and smoky from the chipotle pepper flakes, which contrasted interestingly with the balsamic.  I love my chipotle pepper flakes (an impulse buy from Homegoods), but it may need a different acid to go with.  Some other ideas I thought up while it was in the oven:  Sesame oil with orange and ginger; turmeric, cayenne and some Greek yogurt with bell peppers; lemon, olive oil, tomato and thyme.  Yum... the perfect little solo dish.  Let me know if you're more creative than I am!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Tandoori-Spiced Chicken

Yesterday was Tandoori-Spiced Chicken.  Today, and above, is left over Tandoori-Spiced chicken.  With one bite taken out of it, because I always forget that I'm supposed to take pictures of my food before I eat it.  I also forget I'm supposed to take pictures of the food while I'm preparing it...  this food blogging thing is hard.

Tandoori chicken has its roots in Indian cuisine.  It is named after the oven in which the chicken is cooked, a tandoor, and is usually orange in color.  A quick look at my pictures will show that I didn't quite get there.  The marinade was a pleasing light yellow in color, like the yolk part of good deviled eggs.  Which I thought was pretty and yummy-looking, until I realized that Tandoori chicken is supposed to be orange.  Oops?  The color derives from the turmeric and cayenne pepper I would assume and the lack of color easily translated into a lack of spice.  Needless to say, this is an Indian chicken played way down in attempts to be easier on our palettes.  To which I say "phooey", give me something with some kick.  For all who try this recipe, I boldly suggest... give the chicken a little more turmeric and cayenne pepper loving.

This recipe proved to be an adventure from start to finish.  First, you marinate the chicken.  This takes two hours, so don't do what I normally do and forget that this recipe will take an additional two hours to make.  The marinade is mostly Greek yogurt (Yum!) and spices.  Which they suggest you throw in a zip-loc bag.  This becomes difficult when you start out with the Greek yogurt.  This becomes messy.  And difficult to mix.  Then you have to grate an onion.  Does any one have an idea how to grate an onion, because it is a skill that completely escapes me.  I tried my micro-planer (one of my utmost favorite kitchen utensils EVER).  No dice, but lots of juice.  Then I tried the box grater Ben got me for Christmas last year, little less juice, little more flesh, but still a big mess.  I eventually got the 1 tablespoon I needed, but it took some effort and nearly a quarter of an onion.  Then, once everything else was in the bag,I tried to start mixing.  That pretty yellow color I was talking about earlier took at least 7 minutes to achieve.  This is too long to mix something in a plastic bag.

The next step, after the marinating, is broiling on a broiling pan.  And then I remembered, I don't have a broiling pan.  I then figured that since chicken is a lot fatter than fish, it could possible cause a problem under the broiler, so my normal solution wouldn't work.  Shit.  And then I remembered, I am an engineer!  Things like this don't stop me, because I am an engineer!  And with that pep talk still ringing in the air, I made my own broiler pan.  Not quite a tandoor oven, but you make due with what you got.

I broiled the chicken 7 minutes.  I flipped it and broiled again 8 minutes.  It came out a little dry but a pretty yellow.  It needs sauce and probably a little less time under the broiler.  And LOTS more spice.  And a fantastic side.  Like, may I suggest broccoli sauteed up with some left over wheat spaghetti, Korean barbeque sauce and some crushed red pepper flakes?  Now that deserves a post all to itself... 

Tandoori-Spiced Chicken
Adapted from Cooking Light, Jan/Feb 2010

1 1/2 c. plain Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp. grated onion
1 Tbsp. grated, peeled fresh ginger
1 Tbsp. canola oil
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground red pepper
1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/2 tsp. salt
Cooking spray

Combine first 8 ingredients in a heavy-duty zip-loc plastic bag (or maybe mix first in a bowl and transfer!!)  Add chicken and seal.  Marinate in refridgerator for 2 hours, turning occasionally.

Place a small roasting pan in oven and preheat broiler to high.  Remove chicken from bag and discard marinade.  Sprinkle both sides of chicken with salt and place on preheated pan, coated with cooking spray.  Broil in lower third of oven for 15 minutes, or until done.  Turn after 7 minutes.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Tuscan Lemon Muffins

Welcome to my Saturday night.  Please try hard not to judge that I am home baking on a Saturday night.  My one defense is that it's been a long rainy South Carolina weekend.  And I just got my May Cooking Light issue yesterday.  And there were muffin recipes.  Does that make me more or less pathetic?

There's not much to report, all went according to recipe.  Mixed the dry ingredients and made a well in the middle.  Whisked together all the wet ones and poured into the well.  Stirred together until just everything gets wet.  Didn't over mix.  Poured into muffin tins with paper cups that have been coated with cooking spray, a step that seemed redundant to me and something I would probably skip if I made it again.  Topped with some Sugar in the Raw (I used 1/2 a tablespoon less than suggested) and popped in the oven. 17 minutes later, out they came. 

Cooking Light promises "tart, rich flavor coming from a favorite Italian combo-olive oil and fresh lemon".  The first warm one I ate out of the oven was good.  Tasty.  Just not as lemony as I expected.  I wanted fresh and zingy and tart and lemon spilling out of the crumbs.  And that just didn't happen, all those flavors were muted.  The aftertaste was pretty good and hinted at lemon, but it just wasn't the lemon muffin I was expecting.  Maybe the lemon I used wasn't fresh enough or lemony enough.  Are lemons even in season right now?  The price at the grocery store seemed to suggest not.  Maybe the freeze down in Florida months ago is to blame.... 

They were easy to make and they still taste good.  They just missed the beat when it came to the lemon I wanted so badly.  I'm hoping it can be chalked up to a not so good lemon; they weren't the prettiest I've ever seen.  I think the recipe deserves at least another chance, although it's only borderline big green cookbook worthy, if the second go round doesn't pick up a hit of lemon.  If you do try them and believe the lemon you used to be a beautiful and worthy specimen, let me know how they taste.  Hopefully you get that fragrant lemony oopmh I was hoping for! 

Tuscan Lemon Muffins
adapted from Cooking Light, May 2010

7.9 ounces all-purpose flour (1 3/4 cups)
3/4 c. granulated sugar
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 c. part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 c. water
1/4 c. olive oil
1 Tbsp. grated lemon rind
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Cooking Spray
2 Tbsp. turbinado sugar (I used less)

Preheat oven to 375F.  Line 12 muffin cups with muffin-cup liners and coat with cooking spray. 

Combine flour and next 3 ingredients (through salt); make a well in the center.  Combine ricotta cheese and next 5 ingredients (through egg).  Add ricotta mixture to well in flour mixture.  Mix until just moist.

Divide batter evenly among the 12 muffin cups.  Sprinkle turbinado sugar over top.  Bake at 375F for 16 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool 5 minutes in pan on a wire rack.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Kitchen

I have measured.  I have 7.0 square feet of counter in my kitchen.  If you don't trust me and want to do the math yourself, here it is.  I have 3 teeny tiny counters and 1 just small one.  They are 12x23 , 14x23 , 16x23 and finally 26x23 inches.  There's not much you can do on a counter just one foot wide.  Also, my fridge slopes slightly towards the back.  I tell you all this because I don't think I have gone a day here without complaining or bitching or moaning to someone about the smallness of my kitchen.  It's inevitable, it's going to come out here too.

After a week of work-led food indulgences (last night a surf and turf from Rick Erwin's.  You just can't say no to that), I didn't really feel like eating, much less cooking.  But while watching an old rerun of Chopped, by far my favorite Food Network show, I got the desire to write in here.  And I knew I eventually wanted to explain my kitchen.  So why not tonight?

It is almost all summed up in the 7 square feet of counter space.  There's just not much you can do with that, which is why the chopping of vegetables has been known to spill out to my coffee table and mixing batters and doughs is done of my kitchen table.

The other downside is the lack of storage/cabinet/pantry space.  I have gotten creative with the minimal space I have.  The George Foreman and my aluminum foil, plastic wrap and parchment paper all reside where my broiler pan (if it existed) would.  Flour, sugars, breadcrumbs and bottles of oils, vinegars and soy sauce are stacked haphazardly in a tall cabinet.  My dishwasher gets the most use when it doubles as my dish rack. My hall closet actually holds most of my spoils from multiple trips to Costco.  Dish towels stay in the laundry room after they've been cleaned until they get moved up to the big leagues.  My cast iron wok and beautiful yellow kitchen aid sit on a bookshelf  in my dining room.  When my oven door is open and I bend to peer inside my bottom hits the sink cabinet.  Hopefully that speaks more to the smallness of my kitchen and not the proportions my backside.

My kitchen continues to expand further and further into the rest of my apartment.  My cookbooks have followed suit and currently lie on my couch, floor and bedside table.  The only one room safe from my unfurling kitchen is the bathroom.  The good news is that slowly cooking in a small kitchen is becoming more and more fun, as opposed to the misery it used to be.  It makes it an adventure, as I try to remember just where it is that I have stashed my colander.  All these chefs on TV with their big kitchens, double ovens and walk in pantries and of course they can cook!  But the real question is, could they do it with only 7 square feet of counter space?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Chicken with Cherry Tomato Sauce

Today I finally dived into my Cooking Light magazines and came out making a recipe.  This wasn't the one I had originally wanted to make tonight and to be honest, it wasn't even one I had post-it noted to try.  Coconut Chicken Fingers was the one I had been searching for.  But since I am still playing catch-up with my fridge and the coconut recipe would have required a special trip to the Publix store down the street for some buttermilk, it was a no-go.  I flipped a couple of pages backwards in my Cooking Light  January/February edition and found this one instead.  I had all the ingredients on hand and BONUS... it would use some of the cherry tomatoes that had been sitting in my fridge for awhile. 

After yesterday's experiments and the thought that maybe I'm not always as intuitive about cooking as I like to think I am, I decided to stick to the recipe, even if I wanted to change it here and there.  It was less than half way through the recipe that I wondered if that was a mistake.  At about the half way point, I started to worry that I was going to have to write about how sometimes it isn't safer to stick to a pre-printed recipe.  But then, magically, the tomatoes started bursting and releasing their pretty liquid and the garlic really became fragrant and my worry faded.  I made a mental note to remind myself that cooking should really lessen my worry, not add to it.  So reminder: cook more, worry less.

It's not a very elegant dinner, and my poor, old digital camera does even less to capture how it looked.  The hardest part was pounding the chicken, a cooking method I still don't quite understand, but that could just be a result of me probably not doing it right.  Making it again, I would likely season the chicken with more than just salt and pepper (some basil or oregano probably) but that's about it.  Unless I was going to add some fresh oregano or basil to the sauce, then I would do that instead.  Half way through, I topped it with some Parmesan cheese.  It seemed natural, tomatoes, chicken, Parmesan chess.  That was also the time I realized I should take a picture of it... hence the mostly eaten chicken breast.  Oh, and be careful when the tomatoes start popping.  A few will more than likely decide they want to pop and squirt your tummy and/or forearm with their pretty, yet very hot, liquid.  This hurts and should be avoided.

All in all, the recipe was really simple, pretty light and yummy, and nothing special.  So it made a very good Tuesday, eating at 7:30 after 10 hours of work, kind of meal.  I would say it's earned a spot in my big green cookbook.  The poultry section is a little skimpy...

Chicken with Cherry Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Cooking Light, January/February ed. 

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper, to season
2 tbsp. olive oil
5 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 pt. cherry tomatoes
1/3 c. low-sodium chicken broth

Place chicken between two sheets of plastic wrap.  Pound each breast until it is 1/2 inch thick.  Season chicken liberally with salt and pepper (and whatever else you choose!)

Heat a large skilled over medium-high heat.  Add olive oil.  Add chicken and saute for 3 minutes on each side until cooked thoroughly.  Remove chicken from pan.

Add chopped garlic to pan (with a bit more oil if necessary)  Saute for 1 minute, stirring constantly.  Add cherry tomatoes and chicken broth.  Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have popped and sauce has thickened slightly.  Pour over chicken.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Spicy Balsamic Vinaigrette

I feel like the last few weeks I've only been playing catchup with my fridge.  What do I have left over?  Cabbage, sour cream, bell peppers, broccoli...  Which I always feel like I have to use before they go bad.  And by the way, it's too late for the cabbage.  So, I think while I'm in the car and when I'm at work at my computer... what I can do to use them?  And usually, I'm not too inventive.  So I either depend on google recipe searching or my own not so inventive imagination.  Today was a failure of that not so inventive imagination.  

It began with me thinking about what I'm going to do with those bell peppers and broccoli while I was mindlessly entering excel data at work.  And then I come home from work, after a weekend in Chicago and a night full of the upstairs lady vacuuming at 12:30 in the morning, and my apartment is messy and I'm exhausted.  And I don't want to do anything.  Thankfully I don't have any frozen dinners in the freezer, otherwise it would have been game over for the night, and probably for the broccoli too.  I quickly chop all the vegetables I have to eat before they go bad and get ready to saute them and put them over a bed of leftover brown basmati rice.

While I was letting my imagination run wild at work, I thought for some reason that I could make a good tasting vinaigrette out of soy sauce, brown sugar and sesame oil.  So I try it.  Equal parts of each and mix it up in a small bowl.  Only it doesn't taste good, so I throw in an extra "part" of brown sugar.  And now what I've got is a thick, dark brown sauce that still doesn't taste good.  So that batch goes down the drain.  I try again.  Equal parts of brown sugar, soy sauce and olive oil.  Because maybe the sesame oil was just a little too strong.  I taste it and it's just... not good.  I don't try to salvage it.  Second batch down the drain.  I think, this is what happens when I try to be imaginative.  And then I remember that I was tired.  So, one part balsamic vinegar and one part olive oil.  Pepper.  Salt, no wait, that garlic salt grinder I got for Christmas.  Finally, I need something that makes it a little bit special.  I rummage through my spice cabinet, only dropping a few spice bottles onto the floor.  Good news, none of them spill open.  Aha, crushed red pepper flakes.  A good, hearty shake to give it some heat.  Maybe two.  Pour it over the vegetables and let it cook down a little bit.  Pour over rice.  Sit on couch and eat from a bowl.  It was pretty plain and the crushed red peppers added some heat, but not enough.  The balsamic cooked down until there was only a hint of it.  It was good and would have made for a simple night had it not been for the previous two failures.

Dishes, shower, bed.  I'll be imaginative tomorrow.  Or rather, I'll stick to one of the recipes I've been meaning to try.  Fortune may favor the bold, but sometimes it's yummier to play it safe.

Spicy Balsamic Vinaigrette

1 part balsamic vinager
1 part olive oil
garlic salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
crushed red pepper flakes, to taste

Mix together.  Pour over whatever you want.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Chocolate Croissants

This afternoon I'm heading off to Chicago to visit Ben.  And being the good girlfriend that I am, I am bringing baked goods.  This time around, it was Chocolate Croissants, the basic recipe I gleaned from a lazy Saturday of watching Food Network all day.  The best chocolate croissants I ever had were in Germany (but maybe that's because I never had them in France...) and they were deliciously flaky with chocolate all the way through.  These were good, but they lacked that flaky action, which is basically key in a croissant.  So maybe a better title for what I made last night would be chocolate pastries; but that doesn't sound as good.   They did have chocolate all throughout, and when they are warm it's oozy and delicious.  I haven't tried them cold/room temperature yet, but I have high hopes.

I made these up Wednesday night, making some quick work of a frozen puff pastry sheet and some Belgian dark chocolate I bought from Trader Joe's (I feel like I'm almost running an advertising campaign for them.  What can I say?  They have some hidden, cheap treasures in that store)  My triangles were a little lopsided, giving the resulting croissants that rustic, homemade off-kilter sort of look.  I put them in the fridge until yesterday, when I threw them in a 400F oven for about 15 minutes.  There was an egg wash and light sprinkle of sugar somewhere in there too. 

They came out warm and gooey, as melted chocolate and puff pastry can be expected to do.  Make sure to learn from my mistake, a wait a little while before trying to eat one.  Also, don't skip the light dusting of sugar on the top.  About half I decided to try without, and they just didn't come out as pretty.  Again, these were good, but probably because I didn't have too high of expectations for them.  They did make me want to go back to Germany for the real deal, but what doesn't make me want to go back to Germany these days?  Just wait till I whip out my German potato salad recipe for the upcoming summer months!

Anyways, the recipe is below.  Sorry about the lack of pictures, I was busy packing and going to baseball games last night.  (The Drive won 12-6!  Woohoo!)

Chocolate Croissants

1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed
Flour, for dusting
1 bar of dark chocolate
1 large egg, beaten
Sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 400°.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Flour a clean working surface and lay out one sheet of thawed puff pastry dough.  Using a small, sharp knife, cut dough in half, widthwise.  For small croissants, divide each half into 6 equal sized triangles. 

Break chocolate bar up into small rectangular pieces.  Using one dough triangle, place a chocolate piece at the wide edge and roll up towards the tip to form a croissant.  Place seam side down on baking sheet.  Continue with remaining dough triangles.  When finished, cover with plastic wrap and put in fridge to firm up the dough (refrigerate up to one day).

When dough is firm, remove from fridge and brush croissants with the beaten egg.  Sprinkle tops lightly with sugar. 

Bake until croissants are golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Blackberries Brown Sugar Gratin

Today was a somewhat frustrating day.  I think it has finally dawned on me that you don’t get a spring break in the real world.  Sure you can take vacations and go places, but really, that’s not Spring Break.  It’s nice, it’s just not Spring Break.  So with that lovely, large gray cloud hanging low over an otherwise beautifully sunny day in South Carolina, I decided I needed something very delicious, a little bit unhealthy, and preferably warm and gooey. Here's what came out of that:

What initially made me think of this recipe was Maggie, Ben’s mom.  When I was in Seattle, she introduced me to strawberries dipped in sour cream and brown sugar, a trick she learned while living in Santa Barbara.  And as unpleasing as that initially sounds, it’s incredibly tasty and easy to do.  I had left over sour cream from my fish taco creation episode that I wanted to use before it went bad and instantly thought of strawberries and brown sugar.  Some quick research on goggle proved that it would indeed taste equally delicious warm and for that we could thank the Russians.  Apparently, Russian gratin consists of 3 things: berries, sour cream and brown sugar.  You pop that under the broiler and ta-da. Savory, warm Russian gratin.  And as luck would have it, I had all three things.

I had fresh, dark purple blackberries, another outcome of last Sunday’s run to Trader Joe’s, in the fridge.  So using those, I mixed equal parts of sour cream and berries and divided the mixture  up among 3 ramekins, leaving some room to spare at the top.  I filled this room up with some dark brown sugar pressed through a sieve and popped them under my broiler.

About 4 minutes later (the last few seconds I opened up the oven door), out came 3 gorgeously browned and bubbly little cups of deliciousness.  The tops had gotten almost crispy and candy like, but underneath were warm pools of brown liquid sugar.  The blackberries were juicy and not even warmed all the way through from the broiler.  They still had a cool middle, that went perfect with the warm sugar and sour cream.  It was delicious.  So much so, that I may or may not have eaten 2 of the 3 I made.  And I am exercising a good amount of self control not to gobble the last.  I shall prevail, and probably have the other for breakfast tomorrow morning.  It has berries and dairy, so that works right?  Blackberries, delicious.  Strawberries?  Raspberries?  I can't wait to find out! 

Berry Brown Sugar Gratin

2 parts berries
2 parts sour cream
1 part brown sugar (I went a bit lighter)

Preheat broiler.

Fold berries into sour cream.  Distribute mixture evenly among ramekins or pour into a broiler safe casserole dish.

Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over top.  (Making it superfine by squishing it through a mesh strainer isn’t a bad idea!)  Pop under broiler.  Watch closely and pull out when sugar on top begins to caramelize.  Mine took about 4 minutes.  Eat immediately, if not sooner!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Broccoli with Garlic and Ginger

Today was one of those days at work where I had a lot of free mental ability to day dream about my supper all day long.  Yesterday, I spent some time walking around Trader Joe’s to see what new things I could find.  Among scoring a red wine named Cocobon (that promised strong hints of mocha) for only $6.99, I also got a bag of frozen pot stickers.  I remembered hearing that Trader Joe’s version was especially delicious; I just couldn’t remember who told me….  I can now agree though, they are especially delicious.

To go with my pot stickers, I decided to finally break into the Chinese cookbook I got for Christmas, Quick & Easy Chinese, by Nancie McDermott.  I went with an easy vegetable recipe for a side, aptly named Broccoli with garlic and ginger.  I had broccoli and it was already cut up and I cooked it in the same pan as the pot stickers.  (My life is much happier now that I’ve gotten into the habit of prepping/cutting up my fruits and veggies when I get home from shopping).

It started with some ginger and garlic sautéing in oil, to which you add the broccoli and cook it until it’s pretty and green. Soon after that, I threw in 2 tablespoons of chicken stock and had to back away for a second as smoke billowed.  If you do make this, make sure your oven vent is up and working.  The last step is to toss it all with a little bit of sesame oil.  It ends up vibrant and green and still a little bit crunchy.  And the ginger was fresh and almost lemony.  Is ginger lemony?  Anyways, it went perfect with the pot stickers and a little bit of korean bbq sauce I got at the Asian supermarket down the street.  The whole dinner took 20 minutes.  And it was good.  Even with all the anticipation that had built up over the work day. 

Here's the recipe, slightly different than the print (from quick & easy chinese, by Nancie McDermott):

BROCCOLI with garlic and ginger
Adapted from Quick & Easy Chinese, by Nancie McDermott

2 tbsp. canola oil
1/2 tbsp. chopped fresh ginger
1 tsp. chopped garlic
1 tsp. salt (which I just realized I forgot!  opps...)
2 medium heads of broccoli
2 tbsp. chicken broth (says you could also use water)
Small drizzle of sesame oil

Heat wok or large deep skillet over high heat.  Add oil and swirl to coat pan.

Add ginger, garlic and salt (if you haven't forgotten it yet).  Saute for 30 seconds and then add broccoli.  Toss, and keep tossing, until broccoli is vivid and green, just starting to wilt.  (~1 min)

Add water/broth, pouring in around sides of the pan.  Cook 2-3 minutes more, tossing every now and them until broccoli is "brilliant green and tender but still pleasingly crisp".

Add sesame oil, toss well and then serve hot/warm!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Cabbage and Sausage Casserole

Yesterday, after the fourth and thankfully last day of 5 am green belt training at work, I was exhausted.  So, I decided to try something simple.  Plus I had a head and a half of cabbage in my fridge left over from St. Patty’s day that needed to get used.  (I still have half a head, if you have any ideas)  I found this online and loved it instantly because it only has 4 ingredients, and I actually only used 2, because I forwent the sauce. 

I was good and actually cut up the cabbage on Wednesday, so when I got home, it took all of 5 minutes to throw together and into the oven.  To cook, for an hour and a half.  Which gave me plenty of time to shower and lazily watch Everyone Loves Raymond.  And enjoy the smells of my cabbage and sausage slowly roasting and getting all yummy and caramelized.  It wasn’t the prettiest thing to ever come out of my oven, but it was warm and spicy (I used hot Italian sausage) and didn’t need any additional seasonings.  It was simple and yummy and warm.  You could doctor it up with spices and sauces if you wanted, but there was something nice and comforting about the plainness of it.

I didn’t really miss the sour cream sauce, but I put it in here, in case you wanted to try it.  I halved the recipe and dropped the cooking time to 1 hour and 15 minutes, although an additional 5 minutes wouldn’t have hurt.  I was just too hungry to wait 5 minutes.  I cooked it all in my square Pyrex, with no need to grease or anything.

This probably isn’t the most exciting first recipe to have, but hell, I was tired and it hit the spot.  And I know it’s warm in AZ now so maybe not the best for you guys, but maybe you have left over cabbage too?  The original recipe is below:

Cabbage and Sausage Casserole

2 pounds Napa, savoy or green cabbage
2 pounds Italian sausage (sweet or hot)
½ cup sour cream
1 Tbsp. prepared horseradish/mustard

Preheat oven to 400°F

Slice the cabbage ½ inch thick.  Place 1/3 of the cabbage in Dutch oven or casserole.

Remove sausage from casing.  Arrange half the sausage on top of cabbage and press firmly.  Layer another third of cabbage and sausage, pressing firmly.  Spread remaining cabbage over the sausage.  Cover with foil and put in oven.

Bake until cabbage is tender, about 1 hour, 40 minutes.  Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes.

While cabbage is cooking, combine the sour cream and horseradish/mustard in a small bowl.  Slice the casserole into wedges and serve with sour cream mixture.