When I made these, I had no intention of posting them. They just seemed so, well, "duh!" But they looked really cute all piled up, and I figured my hopes of this being a gourmet blog probably went out the door when my second post was about cleaning my refrigerator. Then I remembered that LAST Tuesday, the title of my post started with "Tried and True." Hmm, I am seeing a weekly theme coming on, and a theme with alliteration at that.
Everyone could use an idea for a quick, tasty meal that requires about zero brain activity to put together, right? I mean Rachel Ray gets PAID for these kinds of ideas.
These little guys are on English muffins, but when I want a thin crust pizza, I make them on pita bread (another regular meal in my kitchen that originated from my time in Egypt). When you make them on the English muffins, you have to use a good amount of sauce because it gets absorbed in all those nooks and crannies. But when you make them on pita, you have to use the sauce sparingly or you end up with a mushy mess.
english muffins, pita bread, bagels or a baguette cut in half
shredded mozzarella cheese
appropriate toppings, my favorites:
diced bell peppers
For the sauce
2 cloves minced garlic
6 oz. can tomato paste
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 tsp. sugar
2-3 pinches crushed red pepper (optional)
1 sprig of basil, torn up (optional)
-Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
-Heat up a few tablespoons of olive oil in a medium saucepan.
-Brown garlic. (Don't let it get dark!)
-Mix tomato paste into oil and garlic. Let that cook for a minute or two before adding the crushed tomatoes. Add sugar.
-Let the sauce cook uncovered for 5-10 minutes, until it is hot and thick--thicker than you would normally put on pasta, kind of the consistency of applesauce.
-Add salt, pepper, red pepper and basil.
-Split English muffins in half and top with sauce, toppings and cheese.
-Place on baking sheet and bake until the cheese melts and browns slightly on top.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Monday, September 29, 2008
I think the most enjoyable thing I consume most days is my first cup of coffee in the morning. I know, I know, that probably isn't going to inspire confidence in repeating the recipes I post on the blog, but they really are delicious, or I wouldn't post them! (And trust me I have had some FLOPS, which can usually be detected by a lull in posting for a few days.) But as I begrudgingly force myself out of bed in the morning, the only bright spot is the coffee pot, shining like a beacon through the morning fog.
And that cup of coffee hits the spot like few things can. I think the only other times I feel that intense food-satisfaction on a regular basis is after I finish a long run or race and get to eat. (That's how I motivate myself through the final miles...just finish and you can have a Five Guys cheeseburger. Sad, I know.)
I don't have an espresso machine or a milk steamer, much to mother's dismay whenever she comes to visit. I have a $10, 4-cup generic coffee pot. (Nic doesn't drink coffee, so why waste the counter space with something bigger?) I create my own poor, just-out-of-college, economy Starbucks. I heat up the skim milk in a wee-tiny saucepan, a hand-me-down All Clad that I think is really intended for melting butter. (A special pot just for melting butter! Alton Brown would be appalled by such a uni-tasker.) So, that's kind of like steamed milk. I use pretty decent coffee, some South American Kona blend I bought at Costco, and then the real treat--hazelnut syrup. (The whole bottle cost about as much as one hazelnut latte at Starbucks.)
Five minutes, three ingredients.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Fish tacos are my absolute favorite Mexican, well Mexican-American, food. They are so light and fresh, and they don't leave you with that horrible/wonderful brick-in-your stomach feeling you get when you eat other Mexican food. I had them for the first time while I was visiting my aunt in California when I was in middle school. Fish tacos were pretty hard to find on the east coast back then, but now you can get them at Baja Fresh or my favorite in D.C.--Taqueria Nacionale. This is a little recipe for fish tacos I cooked up last night. They were so good, I ate the leftovers for breakfast this morning while I was writing this post. The spicy, flaky fish tasted awesome with the cool, creamy cabbage salad and the hot and sweet mango salsa. And the fish cooks so fast that the whole meal can be thrown together in less than 20 minutes, especially if you enlist a second set of hands to prep the toppings while you cook the fish.
The family we stayed with in Alaska this summer showed us how to make this amazing blackened halibut after we caught a bunch. It is really simple and delicious and perfect for fish tacos. If you don't have halibut though, you can use a comparable white fish and cook it the same way.
For mango salsa
1/2 large mango, diced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, deseeded
2-3 sprigs cilantro
2 cloves garlic
a few spoonfuls of regular store-bought salsa
season to taste, I used:
pinch chili powder
pinch cayenne pepper
For cabbage salad
bagged coleslaw mix (not premade coleslaw, just the shredded cabbage)
plain non-fat yogurt (I use Greek yogurt, but any plain yogurt will do)
taco shells (soft or hard)
-Throw all of the salsa ingredients into a blender (or if you're lucky enough to have one, a food processor). Blend until smooth. (Makes about 2 cups of mango salsa.)
-Mix enough yogurt with the shredded cabbage just to keep it stuck together. Add a dollop of mayonnaise, lemon, salt and pepper to taste.
-Preheat skillet (cast iron works best) on medium-high. Fillet the fish about 1/2 inch thick, and cut into 2"X2" squares. Season both sides of each piece of fish with cajun seasoning. Melt a few tablespoons of butter in the skillet. Cook fish until first side is blackened. Flip and finish cooking. The fish is done when it flakes easily with a fork. Drain fish on paper towels.
An ongoing debate in our apartment: Is it salsa or hot sauce? Nic calls everything hot sauce, I say only tabasco-like products are hot sauce. Thoughts?
Friday, September 26, 2008
I was scanning through the food blog posts on my Google Reader, and I came across a great post on Amateur Gourmet (one of those blogs that is so successful the author got a book deal out of it). The post posed a meme:"12 Hours in..." How would you would spend your final 12 hours ever in your city? Obviously, there has to be a lot, but not too much, food involved.
I pick a Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
10 a.m. I woke up and it was miraculously exactly 65 degrees with just a light breeze outside. Perfect running weather! I hit the Mount Vernon Trail for a run, winding my way up the Potomac from Old Town, around the Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Monument, and to the National Mall. (Since I don't expect these last 12 hours to be tomorrow, I have gotten so much faster, I can do this in an hour without breaking a sweat.)
11 a.m. Like I said, I am not even too sweaty, so I get on the metro and ride over to Eastern Market. I walk around, get a coffee, eat some samples (especially cheese samples), and pick up some hot sauces at Uncle Brutha's. I have to stock up on the special green Fire Sauce No. 9 they make if I'm leaving town for good! I take a chunk of cheese, probably the 5 county cheddar, and some bread for the road.
11:45 a.m. But before I leave Eastern Market, I get a crab cake sandwich at the Market Lunch. There is a spot for me to sit at the one table they have.
I was pretty decisive up to this point, but then it started to get tricky.
12:15 p.m. I think about going to the Main Reading Room at the Library of Congress, in my opinion, the most beautiful room in the city. But I only have 12 hours, and there is so much more that I want to do. So I head over to a place I spent much more time while I lived here: the Sculpture Garden (The National Gallery of Art one, not that one on the other side) to dip my toes in the fountain and people watch.
1:00 p.m. Then I'm off to Dumbarton Oaks to stroll through the gardens and maybe sit in my favorite tree branch to read a book. (The branch is about 3 feet off the ground.) I don't know what time of year it is, but I'm assuming the roses are in bloom. Of course this is one of the only places in D.C. where you have to pay admission to get in, but it is definitely worth it.
3:30 p.m. I jam in a quick trip to the National Zoo. It's not the most impressive zoo I've ever been to, but I have a nostalgic attachment to it. I say goodbye to the pandas. Tai Shan's not so little anymore, but I will always remember him as that tiny little fuzzball that graced the front page of the Post for weeks.
4:15 p.m. On my way to the metro, I stop at Open City in Woodley Park for a chai latte to go. So good. Then it's back to my apartment to get ready for my fabulous going away dinner and night on the town. (I thought about skipping this step, but my sense of logic and order would not be appeased. You can only gracefully do so many things in running clothes. I had to draw the line.)
6:00 p.m. Now how to get back into the city, why by water taxi of course! From the harbor at Old Town Alexandria to Georgetown, I float my way back downtown.
6:45 p.m. Deciding where to get dinner was extremely difficult. I basically narrowed it down to Rosa Mexicana, 1789, and D.C. Coast. I was able to eliminate Rosa Mexicana because I remembered they had a sister restaurant in NYC. I think I like 1789's food better than D.C. Coast, but it can also be a bit stuffier. In the end I choose 1789. It is quintessential D.C., which let's be honest, is a little stuffy in general. And their lamb is amazing. But I have to save room for dessert, which although tempting, I will not be getting at the restaurant.
8:00 p.m. Since I chose to stay in Georgetown for dinner, I can now get my favorite dessert in the whole world (the. whole. world.): Filomena Ristorante's chocolate raspberry cake. Maybe I will just get the whole cake instead of a slice. I can eat it for breakfast the next day.
8:30 p.m. For my last stop of the day, I didn't pick the snazziest place in D.C. In fact it is decidedly un-snazzy, but again nostalgia got the better of me. So I spend my last 1.5 hours at the 4 P's in Cleveland Park with friends. (Technically, it's Ireland's Four Fields, but I have never heard anyone actually call it that.) And in the perfect last 12 hour scenerio (since I already control the weather and when flowers bloom it seems) that great Irish band that plays there a lot, the one with the female singer and the bassist that looks like a bobble head doll, is playing.
So where would you go and what would you do with your last 12 hours?
Saveur has a great article on the Web that combines two big parts of my life: food and D.C. politics. They asked the presidential candidates and a regular whose who of the inside the beltway crowd what they eat for breakfast. A lot of the answers are your standard, boring, health cereal. But there are some good ones in there.
My favorite answer: "Chocolate ice cream, but a chocolate doughnut will do in a pinch." That would be Nancy Pelosi. How can you not think she's cool?
A close second, however, was Andrew Sullivan, "A large coffee and ginger snaps. Terrible, I know."
I however am not so cool, but I do have the same thing for breakfast as Maureen Dowd apparently, "just coffee."
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
As you can see, I baked something. That might seem like a "so what?" but I hinted at my Achilles heel in the potato soup entry. I hate to admit it, but I don't really bake. I have "successfully" baked two things in my life: pumpkin cheesecake (and I almost smoked us out of the apartment on that one, but it was delicious) and chocolate-raspberry cheesecake bars. They were great and I enjoyed them both thoroughly, but the key was they did not involve the normal baking ingredients, you know flour, baking soda, baking powder, etc.
My main deterrent from baking was that I was always afraid to bake because I didn't want to screw it up. When you cook, you can throw in what you want, and as long as the ingredients 1)taste good together and 2)are in somewhat reasonable proportion to each other, you end up with something edible and hopefully amazing. Baking is just more finicky. I was the little girl who wore overalls, and baking seemed to belong in the domain of the little girls who wore flowered dresses and patent leather shoes, if you know what I mean.
I learned most of what you need to know about the basics of cooking from my Mom, Mommom, and Grandmom Julie, when I was growing up. Armed with that knowledge, I feel confident experimenting with my cooking. But baking? Well, none of the aforementioned cooking mentors really baked all that much. I give my Mom credit, she made birthday cakes, but I remember her painstaking decorations on top more than the cake inside (she's an artist). And once a year, around Easter, my mom made sweet bread in the shape of a bunny (again sculpture emphasized more than baking), and Grandmom Julie made the infamous cheese bread. But once or twice a year does not a baker make.
My secondary baking deterrent was that I would rather eat a bowl of mashed potatoes and gravy for dessert than a cookie. I like sweets, I really do, but I prefer my highly-fattening carbs savory most of the time.
But now that I have a blog and my own kitchen, I felt like I needed to conquer my fear of baking. Sometimes things will turn out, sometimes they won't. (When they don't, obviously I will not post them, except for maybe to lament my failure, but with a clear disclaimer NOT to try this at home.) And I do have at least a few baking genes in me. My Poppop is a great baker; he was a baker in the Navy during WWII. And since he has entrusted me with the family cannoli recipe, which will make an appearance here around Christmas, the least I can do is try to become half the baker he is.
And maybe it was beginner's luck, but my first effort turned out awesome. Cran-Almond Bready Bars. Moist, crumbly, lots of texture from the cranberries and the chopped almonds, and a tangy, sweet, smooth touch of cream cheese icing. Why not call them cake bars? Because I was trying to make cranberry almond bread, and then realized I didn't have a bread pan... because I don't bake, or rather I didn't bake. So when in a pinch, make due with what you have. I had a baking dish, hence the bars. And once they were in bar form, I figured some icing wouldn't hurt. So obviously, if you do have a bread pan you can try this recipe in that, which is what I will do next time I make it.
As an aside: this is an original recipe, but I looked around online for awhile to figure out the right proportions of flour to sugar to wet ingredients and so on. Not that I'm claiming this is rocket science or a break through in baked goods, but I'm not plagiarizing. (I'm a journalist for goodness sake!)
For the cake bars
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground all spice
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1 cup chopped cranberries
1/2 cup chopped almonds
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup apple sauce
For the cream cheese icing
8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 8X11 baking dish.
-Add together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, all spice and cloves in large mixing bowl. Mix in cranberries and almonds.
-In a separate bowl mix egg, oil and apple sauce.
-Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well.
-Pour mixture into baking dish and bake on 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
-Cool in baking dish for ten minutes, then remove to wire rack to continue cooling.
-Whip together cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar and vanilla until it is light and fluffy.
-Ice and slice!
*NOTE: These received a warm welcome at the office. Success!
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Tried and true foods are those staples you just keep going back to. They are quick, easy, and for some reason you tend to have all the ingredients in the fridge or cabinets without a special trip to the store.
For my first tried and true post, I picked my favorite salad to throw together when I want something satisfying and tasty but light and healthy. Great by itself or with a side of soup to round out the meal, Greek salad just tastes too good to be salad.
Greek-ishly Good Salad
tomato (I like cherry tomatos cut in half)
red or orange peppers
balsamic vinegar (if use white balsamic vinegar)
Wash all the vegetables. Thinly slice the peppers and onion. Throw the sliced tomatos, peppers, and onion on top of the lettuce. Crumble the feta cheese on top. Dress the salad with a pinch of salt, fresh ground pepper, a drizzling of olive oil, and a splash of vinegar.
A solid salad. Uncomplicated and delicious every time.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Fall is finally starting to set in here, and nothing is better than a hearty soup when the weather starts to cool down. When I told my friend Carrie I was planning on making this, she suggested putting some corn in--it was a delicious addition! As I was starting to cook, Nic told me that potato soup was one of his favorite things his mom made, so that's a lot of pressure. (She had carrots in hers, but I'm not so much a fan of cooked carrots.)
Luckily, I got a thumbs up for this soup. The homemade croutons that were supposed to go with it? Burnt to a crisp, and I am still sitting in a grey fog. Whenever I turn my oven on, bad things seem to happen...
4 slices turkey bacon
2 leeks, sliced thinly
1 medium white onion
2 cloves garlic
2 tbs. butter
1 tbs. olive oil
3 tbs. flour
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
5 cups diced potatoes
1 1/2--2 cups whole milk (depending on how thick you want your soup)
1-2 cups corn
1 tbs. chopped parsley
Chop the bacon, cook in large saucepan on medium heat. Add leeks, onion, butter, and oil. Cook until the leeks and onion are tender. Mix in the flour. Stir in chicken broth and potatoes, continue stirring until the soup starts to thicken. Cover and simmer on low heat until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. If you want a creamier (as oppposed to chunkier soup) take 2-3 ladels of the soup and blend until smooth. Make sure to leave the lid of the blender askew so the heat can get out. Put the blended mixture back in the pot. Add milk, corn, and parsley. Continue cooking until the soup is warm again. Garnish with parsley and shredded cheddar cheese.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
When I was living in Egypt, my roommates and I would try to make food that reminded us of home every once and awhile. I got this basic pancake recipe from my roommate Alex, who would make us these every few weekends. I added blueberries because I only really like pancakes when there is some fruit involved. And then I tried to make them "healthier" by adding some whole wheat flour.
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all purpose baking flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 cups milk
1 cup blueberries (frozen or fresh)
Mix together the dry ingredients, then add the wet ingredients in slowly. Fry them up on the griddle on medium-high heat with some butter in the pan so they don't stick.
For even more blueberry goodness, heat up some blueberries in a small saucepan with about a tablespoon of water. Slightly smoosh the berries, and let them cook until the sauce thickens. Healthy, fruity syrup.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
I don't usually make breakfast, especially during the week, but I was reading through a Middle Eastern cookbook my friend Amy gave me as an apartment-warming gift a couple of weeks ago, and I was intrigued by a sentence. "You can even serve couscous sweet."
So since I have Arabic class tonight, and the recipe I was going to post last night turned out to need more "perfecting," I decided to whip up some breakfast couscous this morning. It turned out delicious! The honey and white raisins give it great flavor and texture. If you like oatmeal or other warm cereal, this is a great substitute.
*As a disclaimer: I never once saw this served when I was living/traveling in the Middle East, but I also never went to Morocco, which is famous for its couscous.
1/3 cup whole wheat couscous
1/3 cup+ milk
white raisins (optional)
Couscous is usually cooked by boiling water and then adding the couscous, removing from the heat, and letting it sit covered for 5 minutes. So I just substituted skim milk for the water. Usually you do equal parts water to couscous. Do a little bit more milk than couscous so it will be more moist, like oatmeal (hence the + in ingredients above). Once the milk is just starting to bubble, add a few drops of vanilla, remove from the heat, add the couscous, and cover it all up. When the couscous is done, drizzle with honey, sprinkle with cinnamon, and throw on some raisins.
Monday, September 15, 2008
I originally tried to put all three parts of last night's dinner into one post, and after many battles with html, I decided it might just be better to go with shorter posts, i.e. one recipe at a time. (And now I am about to break that rule and put two in this post, but this is the last time! Maybe...)
Mac n' Cheese:
I perfected this recipe during the three years I babysat for a family in NW D.C. The little boy always wanted me to make pasta, and I got tired of whipping up meat sauce every week, so I started playing around with cheese and milk, and I ended up with this creamy, mac n' cheese. Much more impressive than cracking open a box of kraft.
1 lb. pasta (medium shells or any small-ish pasta)
2 tbs. butter
2 tbs. flour
2 cups milk (I used whole, but I make it w/skim usually)
4 oz. cream cheese (approximately, better to go full-fat here)
grated parmigiano-reggiano (you can sub romano, asiago, or any other hard cheese)
Cook the pasta, draining it while it is still al dente. Melt the butter in a medium sauce pan, add flour and mix together into a paste (roux). Let the roux turn a dark yellow (about 1 min.) then add milk. Wisk together and let cook on medium for about 5 min. or until it starts to thicken. Wisk in cream cheese, salt, pepper, a small dash of nutmeg, and a generous amount of grated cheese. I always grate into the pan so I have no idea how much, but basically until it tastes cheesey. When the sauce is nice and thick, mix it with the pasta and stir in about a handful or two of grated mozzarella. Pour mixture into baking dish.
For crumbly topping: Mix together breadcrumbs, a little grated cheese, and olive oil until it is moist (about the consistency of crumb crust if you have ever baked a pie with that). Sprinkle on top of the pasta. Place the baking dish under the broiler just until the top browns.
I use the same basic cream sauce (minus the mozzarella at the end) over pasta with vegetables, shrimp, or chicken. It also tastes great on steamed vegetables or pork tenderloin.
String bean salad:
I remember my mommom making this during the summer when I was a little girl. It is so simple, but it really dresses up plain ole' green beans.
fresh chopped parsley
Cook the string beans, then run them under cold water or let them cool. Toss with garlic, salt, pepper, parsley, oil, and vinegar. Again, just add all the seasoning to your taste.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
The fall tradition I missed most when I lived overseas was watching football on Sundays. Probably 25 percent of missing it had to do with the food I associate with football, namely chicken wings.
This Sunday, we whipped up some all-American football food. Chicken wings are a bit of a pain in the butt to make (oil splattering everywhere, burns on my forearms--that will have to wait until the Super Bowl). So I opted instead for buffalo chicken sandwiches (admittedly inspired by Wendy's), mac n' cheese, and string bean salad.
*As a note since this is the first recipe I'm posting: I am not really good at measuring things, but I will do my best to convey the general proportions. In general, season as you like, unless otherwise noted.
Buffalo chicken sandwiches:
To start, I made fried chicken the way my mom taught me. (The BF calls it Northeastern-fried chicken to differentiate from the Southern variety. Obviously mine is far superior, and I am convinced healthier, but that is an ongoing debate.)
chicken breasts (filleted in half)
canola oil (you could use vegetable oil if you prefer)
buffalo sauce or hot sauce
For really moist meat, brine chicken breasts for at least an hour (up to 24 hours) in the fridge. Just stick them in a bowl with water and a lot of salt, cover with saran wrap, and let them soak. (You can make fancier brines, but I usually save those for things like Thanksgiving turkey since they take more time.)
Dip the chicken in egg wash and then coat with bread crumbs. Pan fry* in oil in saute pan on medium-high heat until brown. (Make sure the oil is hot before you put the chicken in! If you can't tell, toss a piece of onion or bread or pretty much whatever in and see if it sizzles.) Flip and brown the other side of the chicken. Drain on a paper towel for a few minutes. Coat liberally with buffalo sauce. Then bake in the oven on 450 degrees for 5 minutes. (This bakes in the sauce and makes it nice and crispy, instead of saucy, messy, mushy, and generally less appetizing.)
*Pan fry means that the oil only covers the food half way, the food is not totally submerged as with deep frying.
I suggest throwing a little ranch or blue cheese on the bun and some lettuce for garnish. Delish!
Friday, September 12, 2008
You can probably think of a 100 things more fun to do on a Friday evening than what I just did.
I cleaned my refrigerator.
I suppose it is a fitting way to start a blog about cooking and the kitchen, since we can probably all agree that hygiene is good and food poisoning is bad. And as a scrubbed and sanitized my fridge (and my stove), I couldn't help but remember where I picked up this regular habit: my mom.
Whenever mom went on a big shopping trip, one of the ones that fills the cart all the way to the very top and then some--about once a month, she made us help her clean out the fridge before she put all the new food in. For my brothers and I, it was a toss up. We were torn between excitement and dread: finally something to snack on other than cheerios? cleaning out tupperwares of old, moldy leftovers and listening to mom say, "why didn't you eat this? you always complain there is no food in the house! why didn't you eat this?"
For the record, we didn't eat it because 1)it was nasty and 2)we were never that hungry. (Also we probably had no idea it was in there, we really only looked in the cabinets for food. That's where the good stuff was.)
Pretty much the same song and dance, every month, all the years I lived at home. And of course, as I cleaned out my fridge and pulled out tupperwares, I felt the need to chastise someone for the wasted food. Unfortunately the BF was at happy hour, and the cat doesn't eat human food.
So what's left in the fridge? 17 beers, milk, oj, two zucchinis, eggs, assorted condiments, a gallon of olive oil (care of Costco), a chunk of brie, and a failed experiment with cinnamon buns that I couldn't bring myself to throw out yet. I can now wait until next week to say, "why didn't anyone eat these?!"
Attempt one: travel blog (4posts)
Attempt two: random ranting (3posts)
Attempt three: food
I think I figured out the problem. See attempt one was too specific, plus uninteresting, because who really wants to read about someone else traveling while they're sitting at work? And when you stop traveling and get a real job, it's hard to keep blogging.
Attempt two was too general. And I'm not that funny.
Attempt three should be more successful because:
1. I eat everyday.
2. I cook most days.
3. It seems 90 percent of my memories have been made in a kitchen.
So here goes...