Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Totally Baked

Amanda and I got totally baked on Sunday. And by that, I mean we baked our little hearts out. She came over, we put on a pot of coffee, and made two delicious recipes, neither one ours.

First off, I volunteered to test a recipe on Food 52, an Editor’s Pick candidate. I picked Anise Biscotti. I’ve actually had anise biscotti a number of times. Amanda will be annoyed about this… but I have an insane memory.... and right now, that memory is taking me back to a box of homemade anise biscotti that our cousin Colette’s mother-in-law made the first time we met her. She also brought me a Barbie that I named Claire because she looked like the main character Claire in “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle”… a movie I probably should not have been watching at that age. And, speaking of Claires, the second time I had anise biscotti was when my friend Claire made a batch for a college cookie exchange. It’s crazy the way things tie together sometimes.


Anyway, with these licoricie cookie memories dancing in my head, I jumped at the chance to try out Bread and Beta’s Anise Biscotti. I was a little nervous at first… the recipe was way different than any other biscotti recipes I’ve made. Instead of a firm dough, the mixture resulted in a loose batter that was poured into a cake pan. And the amount of anise it called for… a teaspoon and a half of extract, and tablespoon of crushed seeds! That’s a lot of strong anise flavoring in one little batter bowl! We were skeptical; we thought the recipe would flop. Luckily, we were wrong! The measurements were absolutely perfect for just the right amount of not-too-sweet flavor, and just the right crunchy-on-the-outside but soft and crumbly-on-the-inside texture. Evan especially liked them, and I’m sure John will too when he gets them in the mail for his Easter birthday (shh, don’t tell him).


Up next, with biscotti down, we had one Reine De Saba to go. You may remember the Reine De Saba—Julia Child’s delicious almond chocolate cake—from such posts as this one. Amanda made it for Bastille day, and I devoured it for Bastille day (you can see a picture of the cake in mid-devoured-state in the Bastille post). On Sunday, I needed a French dessert to take to book club, since we had read a French book. When in doubt on the French food front, just ask yourself “WWJD: What Would Julia Do?” I asked her, and she said to make her delicious Queen of Sheba cake.


I don’t know what happened at the end of that French book, I didn’t finish it…but I definitely finished that cake… finished off every last slice that was left at the end. Oh yeah, it was also really fun to make! I used Bon Appetit's adaptation of the recipe... get to it, bake that cake... and try to share it with friends, even though you'll want to eat the whole thing by yourself.


On Monday morning, I was so baked-out from Sunday goodies that I actually turned down a cookie run with coworkers. I think that means it was a good weekend... the best kind, really.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Out Like a Lion

Biscuit the Lioness

I don’t know if spring came in like a lamb or a lion this year. In Seattle, the spring weather has been changing drastically by the day! One day it’s a record breaking heat wave with shorts and flip flops, and the next its 48 degrees, grey, and pouring. All I know is that I’m stoked for spring to be here, especially with the abundance of tasty, fresh treats it brings! With spring comes many food-related wonders: ham at Easter, fresh asparagus, flower shaped sugar cookies, colorful eggs, lamb…wait, lamb!?

Yep, that’s right. Apparently lamb is the very definition of spring for some people. Some people just can’t get enough of the stuff. I however, am not one of those people. Until I started dating Evan, I had never tried lamb. Then, the first family event I went to with him, I was horrified. The main course… was lamb. Cute, fuzzy, white, little lamb. I tried the smallest of all small bites. The next time I went, I tried a bigger bite. I eventually got to the point where I tasted his lamb and beef gyro at Aladdin’s Gyro Hut. But alas, that’s about as far as that went. With the strong, unfamiliar, gamey flavor, and pictures of darling little fuzzy wuzzies in my head, I couldn’t get past just a bite or two.

As someone who professes to love food, I think this might be a big no-no. Lamb. I mean… chefs and foodies alike love that shit. Last summer, shortly after I started this little blog, a friend asked if I wanted to have food challenges on my blog… like say, a friendly competition, or people proposing a secret ingredient—Iron Chef style—for me to turn into something awesome. His challenge, however, was lamb. I sat on it. I sat on it for almost a year. Until a few days ago, when Food 52 also challenged me with lamb.

There comes a time in every young woman’s life when she must rise to the occasion, and take the challenge. The lamb challenge. I stood up, put on my armor, drew my sword, and looked my challenger in its’ cute fuzzy little face, and then I kicked it’s fleecy, white-as-snow ass. Presenting: the mythical and glorious Perseus Burger.


Perseus was a mythic hero of Greek mythology famed for defeating various monsters of epic proportions. Up until a few nights ago, lamb was my monster. This Greek-inspired lamb burger is sort of an intro course into cooking and eating lamb... it's simple, and has a lot of amazing flavors that meld together to ease even the wariest of lamb-eaters through their first or second lamb experience. Mixed with ground beef, herbs, and spices, and topped with zingy tzatziki, the lamb actually tastes…good! It’s juicy and not over-powering in flavor, but really does have more depth than a solid beef burger. Evan says he’ll never go back to ‘normal burgers.’ I’ve created a new monster.

With the Perseus Burger in your line-up you can take down any beast, be it lamb or lion.

Perseus Burgers
Serves 4-6

Burgers:
1 pound ground lamb
1/2 pound lean ground beef
1 minced garlic clove
1/2 cup finely diced onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1.5 teaspoons Hyssop*
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon paprika (not sweet)
salt/pepper
4-6 tablespoons crumbled feta
olive oil
4-6 buns (I used ciabatta type rolls)
Tzatziki sauce (recipe below)
sliced tomato, red onion, fresh spinach, and sliced black olives for garnish

Mix together lamb, beef, onion, garlic, parsley, hyssop, oregano, paprika, and s&p until well combined. (*Israeli Hyssop is an herb that is mixed into a powdery blend w/olive oil, sesame seeds, and often other spices. I got this Olia brand hyssop from a friend! )


Separate meat mixture into 4-6 balls, depending on how big you and your guests want the burgers (I made one biggun, 2 medium, and 2 small.) To stuff with feta: flatten into a pretty flat oblong shape, and add about a tablespoon of feta to half. Fold the other half over, squish to seal the edges, and flatten to desired patty flatness. I like mine more patty shaped, less ball shaped. Put patties on plate, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with a pinch more hyssop, paprika, s&p.

Light BBQ and brush grill with olive oil. Grill burgers, turning once, for about 10 minutes total- until desired doneness. Grill buns. On bottom half of bun, make a bed of spinach and olives for burger, add burger, and top with red onion, tomato, and tzatziki! Savor your first delicious bite, because you just showed that lamb who's boss!

Tzatziki:
1/2 seedless cucumber- peeled
2 cloves garlic- minced
1 teaspoon each salt & pepper
1 teaspoon paprika (not sweet)
1/2-3/4 cup crumbled feta
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 tablespoons chopped mint
juice from half a lemon

Grate cucumber and squeeze out then discard excess liquid. Whisk to combine all ingredients. Serve with delicious lamburgers and Greek fries!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Eggcellent

Eggs are better with cumin seeds! There I said it, whew. I’ve been thinking it for awhile, but hadn’t cooked up something pretty enough using the combo to share with you. But I just can’t sit on this any longer. This hen has got to get off the nest, because you need to know the truth. You need to add cumin seeds to your eggs. Now.


I’m surprised I didn’t think of it myself, because I cook a lot of eggs (which is crazy, since I hated eggs up until a few years ago), and I love cumin. But alas, I’m not the genius behind the egg-cumin love match. This gal is. Shayma on Food 52 posted a recipe for 'Khagina': Aromatic Scrambled Eggs the Afghani / Pakistani way. I’ll admit it, I’ve never actually made the full recipe. But I have used the recipe’s technique for toasting cumin seeds in butter and sautéed onions, until amazingly aromatic, before adding eggs to the skillet. O.M.G. Seriously… I sort of can’t imagine scrambling eggs without cumin from here on out. Eggs without cumin? Get outta here! Seriously, get out of here, get some eggs and cumin, and get busy.


Eventually, when all the stars align and I magically have all the ingredients for khagina, I’ll make the dish that started it all. But until then, I’ll be satisfied with a little toasted cumin in any (and every) scrambled egg I make.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Inner Stallion

I’m not Italian. I didn’t grow up eating fancy pastas, tortas, or tiramisus... our pasta was spaetzle or mac n' cheese, our tortas were huckleberry pies, and our tiramisus were German chocolate cakes with coconut pecan frosting. Italian just wasn’t our thing. I don’t even really like going to Italian restaurants that much… I mean, I can boil some pasta and throw some marinara on it myself. Evan’s part Italian, but he doesn’t really even like pasta.


I’m starting to realize, however, that there’s a lot more to Italian than spaghetti, chicken fettuccini, and fist-pumping members of the Jersey Shore cast. I’m starting to understand what good Italian cooking is all about. I like the idea of simple, fresh ingredients, with little fuss but a lot of flavor. The more I learn, the more I like it. Italian food, I mean… not the Jersey Shore.

It was this new found appreciation of the simplicity in Italian cuisine that helped me come up with a new risotto recipe…which is so good it almost had me pumping the ol’ fist a little bit. I made a margherita risotto with tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella. Apparently red, green, and white ingredients (representing the Italian flag) make something “Margherita.” It was fresh, flavorful, and what I like to think basic Italian food should taste like.


And then… because I can’t just leave well enough alone, I decided to go a little crazy with my new love of Italian—making a honey ricotta gelato with honeyed almonds. At this rate, I’ll be tanning, poufing my hair, and pumping my fist at the club before you know it.

Eat your heart out, Snooki.


Margherita Risotto

3 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup white onion- diced
fresh ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon oregano
2 garlic cloves- minced
1 cup Arborio rice
1 cup chopped tomatoes (fresh or good quality canned)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
Shredded parmesan and chopped basil for topping


Warm chicken broth in a saucepan, keep on low heat. Heat oil and butter in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat- add onions, black pepper to taste, and oregano and sauté until onions are softened. Add garlic and sauté until softened and fragrant (about 3 minutes). Add rice and cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes (and natural amount of juices, but not excess juice if you used canned) and basil- stir in.


Ladle in 1 cup simmering broth and cook, stirring, until absorbed. Continue simmering and adding broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition be absorbed before adding next. Continue until rice is tender and creamy, 16 to 18 minutes. (Add water or more broth to simmering saucepan if more liquid is needed). Stir in mozzarella, and serve topped with parmesan and additional basil!

Monday, March 15, 2010

In the Spotlight!

Food 52 gave me a shout-out in their 'Cook Spotlight' feature!!! Check it out! Thanks A&M, and the rest of the Food 52 community!


Friday, March 12, 2010

Mom's Best Meal

Remember that article in old Taste of Home magazines? Mom’s Best Meal. It was usually a meal made up of those old classic home-style comfort foods that don’t sound interesting or look super appealing in photos. You know… pot roast, meatloaf, roast chicken… sometimes something real wild like a shepherd’s pie or pork chops. I always looked at those articles with disdain… like, c’mon people, your mom’s best meal of all time, the one you chose out of hundreds to write about… is a meatloaf and plate of mashed potatoes!? Wah wah wah.


Growing up, I didn’t want that boring old crap… I didn’t want pot roast, or roast chicken and ‘mixed vegetables.’ I wanted smoked salmon. I wanted crab legs or artichokes dipped in salty, melted butter. I wanted soy marinated barbecued chicken liver, shrimp stir fry, enchiladas, crepes, hot and sour soup with big, exotic mushrooms. I was a young foodie in the making, and I didn’t want to waste my time on average, everyday, American fare. Yet, now that I don’t get many “mom’s best meal” style dinners, I kinda see what they were talking about.


Now that I live in the big city, I have sushi, Thai food, Puerto Rican cuisine, Indian, Greek, Vietnamese, Falafel huts, and Spanish tapas joints right out my front door, available every night of the week. I cook whatever I want for dinner, not adhering to the ol’ 1950’s style protein, vegetable, and starch dictum. But sometimes, I get so caught up in wanting to try the best Cuban sandwich, or wanting to make the most delicious carnitas and frijoles, that I forget how good a slab of ketchupy meatloaf and side of mashed potates can be. Good thing I shacked up with a real meat n’ potatoes kinda guy, one that brings me back down to earth, and reminds me how delicious those basic, simple, meals can be.


Meatloaf certainly isn’t Mel’s best meal of all time…I mean, that gal’s kitchen skills far exceed meatloaf! But, it is pretty damned good. When I was a kid, she made two kinds, but I only remember the super sweet, tangy, ketchup coated one, served with her perfect fluffy mashed potatoes, usually a vegetable side, and salad. Apparently she made the sugary sweet one more often, because it guaranteed I would eat it. Evan and I, feeling a little nostalgic for childhood, decided to have a retro throwback style dinner: Mel’s sweet meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and spinach-bacon salad (which actually was not on the menu in my house growing up).


With every bite, I remembered those high school years flipping through Taste of Home, picking out recipes with Mel; middle school, helping roll tamales at Christmas; Elementary school, with my homemade lunches everyday that made other kids jealous; and even younger, when I wasn’t such a foodie, and Amanda would help me scatter my vegetable medley around on my plate to make it look like I ate it, when bedtime would roll around and I’d still be sitting at the dinner table because I hadn’t finished my dreaded glass of milk, and when I got to eat dinner in the living room (instead of at the dining table) for the first time… sitting on floor to ceiling newspapers and drinking a Smarty Artie Orange Squeeze-It. We were probably eating meatloaf and potatoes.

Mel’s Sweet Meatloaf

1.5 pounds ground beef
3/4 cups diced onion
1 cup bread crumbs ( I use seasoned)
1 egg- beaten
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Hungarian (sweet) paprika
1 teaspoon dried mustard powder
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350. Combine meat, onions, crumbs, and egg- mix well (I use my hands). In a separate bowl, whisk to combine ketchup, brown sugar, lemon juice, paprika, dry mustard, and salt and pepper (taste to adjust). Add half of ketchup mixture to meat and mix in, reserve other half, set aside. Put meat into ungreased loaf pan, and tuck down to form solid loaf. Bake for 1 hour. Remove loaf from oven, and pour off juices. Coat top with remaining ketchup mix, and bake for another 15-20 minutes. Enjoy with classic mashed potatoes and spinach bacon salad!

Monday, March 8, 2010

And the award goes to...

For the Oscars, we decided to really class it up, go all-out glitz and glamour. In my mind, it doesn’t get much more couture than Coronas and carnitas—the absolute height of red-carpet sophistication and style. That’s right, I’m talking about the TacOscars.


The TacOscars, now in their first year, are a little mid-afternoon, happy-hour style, lazy Sunday Oscar watching fiesta... with delicious fixins for shrimp and pork tacos, chips, salsa, a pot of black beans, and lots of Mexican beer. And, really…is there a classier way to watch the Oscars than drinking beer and eating street-food style Mexican cuisine off of paper plates!? I think not. A group of about 10 or so friends came over for delicious feasting and hilarious fun.

We aren’t that serious about the awards. I mean, we watched, we cheered, we sneered… but we certainly weren’t checking a score sheet or debating the merits of the winners. We loved Jeff Bridges speech the most. We trash talked the crazy dresses, even though our red carpet best ran the gamut from UW sweatpants (Mike), to an old high school relic of a prom dress (Amanda). Our crowd, collectively, had maybe seen half the movies. Really… we weren’t in it for the prestigious awards… we were in it for the friends, the laughs, and most importantly, the delicious, comforting, and anything-but-prestigious eats.


The award definitely goes to the food. The winner for best shredded meat: carnitas served in a warm corn tortilla and topped with thin sliced radishes, Amanda’s pico de gallo, guac, and sour cream! An academy favorite, for sure. To make the pork (sorry, I didn’t write down measurements as I went) I coated large chunks of pork in a spice mix of cinnamon, chili powder, chipotle powder, garlic powder, cumin, salt and black pepper, then topped it with chopped onions and garlic, and cooked it low and slow in water and liquid smoke for hours. About an hour before the party, I shredded it and popped it in a hot oven to get crispy edges, and then served in its juices to stay tender. The pork was so flavorful and juicy, with just the right amount of contrasting texture. The crowd went wild.


The award for best grilled taco filling goes to… skewered garlic prawns! Brushed with cumin-garlic butter, barbequed to perfection, and served in tortillas with BBQ’d limes, pico, and Baja sauce, the prawns were sweet and delicious. I’d like to thank the Ev-acadamy for the expert grilling and skewering of this show stopper!


For best supporting role, the black beans definitely had it in the bag. Or the pot, as the case may be. Believe it or not, this was my first pot of black beans. And delicious were they ever! Simply flavored with onions, garlic, cumin, and cilantro, and topped with crumbly, salty cotija cheese, the beans were the perfect side to the two kinds of tacos. Thick and just a tad saucy, they would also be a perfect meal on their own. Or with a topped with a fried egg. Like I had this morning for breakfast.

And finally, to round out the night…for best sweet, spicy, and salty short, the winner is… mango on a stick dusted with chili powder and salt! I’ve been hearing about this street food favorite for awhile now, but as a mango lover, I was a little nervous about tainting the pure sweet flavor of a fruit I love so much. I’m glad I gave it a try, though! The chili powder and sea salt added depth and complexity… creating an interesting flavor play with something as a simple as a piece of fruit on a stick.


Now that's how you throw a real red carpet affair!

Oscar Nominated Black Beans

1 lb dried black beans- rinsed and picked through
Olive oil
1 large yellow onion-diced
4 cloves garlic- minced
Sprinkle cumin seeds
1 can (about 2 cups) chicken broth
1 bunch cilantro (about 1/4th cup)-chopped
Salt (a few teaspoons…to taste)

Soak beans in water overnight (6-8 hrs).

Heat oil over medium heat in a large soup pot or Dutch oven, and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until it begins to soften. Add 2 cloves of garlic and cumin seeds. Cook, stirring, about one minute. Add the beans and soaking water, plus can of chicken broth and a splash of olive oil. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer one hour.

Add the salt, 2 cloves garlic and cilantro (or epazote, which is said to reduce the negative effects of beans… so THAT’s how they’re able to eat beans all day down there!). Continue to simmer another hour to hour and a half. To thicken, scoop out about a cup and a half of beans, and blend or mash, add back in. Or, use an immersion blender.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Tummy Ache

Ugh. I woke up sick to my stomach this morning. And... I loathe the term ‘tummy ache’ when used by anyone over the age of five. It gives me said ache. When I was 17, too cool for school, and on a flight to Arizona with Mel and Amanda, I was terribly nauseated. Mel, loving mother that she is, asked the 20-something male flight attendant for extra crackers, because I had a ‘tummy ache.’ I. was. mortified. I’ve spent my teenage and adult life trying to convince people that I am, in fact, over the age of 12… a ‘tummy’ reference from my ‘mommy’ when I was a teenager totally derailed the train. Ever since then I cringe when I hear ‘tummy ache’. (Sorry Mel).

Which is too bad, because I have them regularly, and ‘tummy ache’ sounds way cuter and more charming and appropriate than ‘morning sickness.’ I’ve always been prone to morning sickness, long before that kind of morning sickness was even an option. Waking up nauseous has always been a standard occurrence in my world, often times for no particular reason at all. You probably wouldn’t peg a food lover such as myself for someone with a weak stomach, but I was always the kid that threw up at birthday parties from too much cake and sugar. My stomach is a wreck on vacations, I get nauseous and faint if I don’t eat regular meals, and sometimes I just get stomach aches from the silliest things, like taking vitamins.

This morning was one of those mornings. I was planning on telling you all about the delicious mussels and chicken sausage in tomato, basil, and garlic broth that I made for dinner last night, but after this morning, I don’t really want to think about shellfish for awhile. And don’t worry, it was by no means the seafood that made me sick… I can tell when it’s ‘just one of those mornings.’ Needless to say, I ended up working from home today, which gave me an opportunity to make one of my all-time favorite comforting childhood lunches. Ham and cheese quesadillas—easy on the stomach, quick, and delicious.


Quesadillas, whether simple or complex, are one of my favorite things ever. In college, I lived off of quesadillas—either with bbq sauce and black bean salsa or with a bowl of chili and sour cream. In high school, Amanda and I microwaved tortillas and American cheese for afterschool snacks. In elementary school on snow days, sick days, no-school days, and weekend days, Mel would pull out a cast iron skillet and make quesadillas on the stove top. We always got excited for the blackened charred bubbles on the tortillas, and the crispy edges where the cheese sizzled when it met the hot skillet…these were the ones that only Mel could make. And, when we were really good, we would get the special treat of ham and cheese ‘dillas.


And even now, there’s really nothing better than crisp but chewy tortillas, melted gooey cheddar cheese, and sweet, salty thin sliced deli ham… a sure fire cure for whatever ails ya… even tummy aches.

Ham and Cheese ‘Dillas
I don't think these 'dillas really require a recipe, but just in case...

2 flour tortillas (if you don’t have homemade, I like Guerrero brand)
5-6 slices cheddar cheese (maybe more, depending)
2 thin slices deli ham
Oil or cooking spray

Heat skillet to medium, and lightly coat with oil or spray. Lay one tortilla in skillet, and cover with a single layer of cheddar cheese and both slices of ham. Take remaining one or two slices of cheese, and break into small pieces and layer on top of ham—I don’t like it too cheesy, so this is essentially the glue that holds the ham to the second tortilla. Cook for a few minutes on each side (I like to brush the top half with oil or spray before flipping) until cheese is melted and tortilla is charred and bubbly, but not burnt.