Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Taste of India - Punjabi Style

Naan (left) and chana masala.

I love having vegetarian friends over for dinner. First, because our vegetarian friends are awesome. Second, because it forces me to think a little outside of the box when I am planning a meal. Indian cuisine is very vegetarian friendly and I had made chana masala with some success in the past, so I decided to build my meal around an Indian theme. The majority of the Indian food that we eat in the U.S. is Punjabi cuisine. Punjab is a very fertile, agricultural state, known as the "Granary of India" or "India's bread-basket". One of the most popular breads is naan. I saw a recipe for naan in Bon Appetit magazine that piqued my interest. So with chana masala and naan on the menu, I chose saag paneer to round things out and provide some greens. 

Naan cooking in my cast iron skillet.
Some notes on the naan first. Leavened breads are always a little intimidating, especially ones that are cooked in a tandoor, but I like a challenge. This recipe is made like typical bread recipe, but only requires one rise. To mimic the clay oven called the tandoor, the recipe recommended using a cast iron skillet. I recommend seasoning your skillet the day before, not while you are trying to make the dough (woops). Luckily, the skillet browned the bread nicely. The bread was soft with a little chew, but I felt like it was a little denser than what you find in restaurants. However, when I made these two days later I cooked them using a pizza stone with better results.

Saag paneer (literally spinach cheese)
The chana masala and the saag paneer utilized many similar ingredients: coriander, cumin, ginger, and chiles. This masala (spice mix) provided similar flavor profiles, but the tomato sauce in the chana masala gave it an acidic spin, whereas the saag paneer utilized paneer (or in this case tofu) and yogurt which mellowed the spice and heat a bit. Both dishes were tasty and I could easily have doubled the chana masala for our dinner party of four. To help with the heat, I made my own raita using whole milk yogurt, cucumber, lemon juice, and mint. 

Happy diners!
Three hours later we served up our Indian feast with a delightful Jarvis Merlot. So maybe my menu was a little ambitious for a weeknight, but it sure was fun! I really enjoyed stepping outside of my comfort zone and trying some new recipes.

The final product. Amanda brought some delicious green beans! 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Goat cheese and chard and herbs oh my!

NY Times picture perfect pie.
I have so many bon appetit magazines, cookbooks, and food blogs for meal inspiration, that it can be overwhelming to choose one! I usually spend a little time (oh maybe several hours) perusing recipes and end up picking the one that looks like the most fun to make. When I saw this beautiful savory pie in the NY Times Health section, I thought, "I must make this crown of phyllo!" 

This recipe is essentially a quiche with a phyllo crust. I honestly cannot remember using phyllo dough ever, with the exception of when I helped my mom make baklava when I was 13. This was part of the excitement with this recipe was trying a different kind of crust, plus I just loved the way this looked in the picture (spoiler alert: my crust didn't turn out as perfect as the NY Times pic). Phyllo dough is a thin sheet of pastry made from wheat, water, and a little bit of oil. The sheets are super thin and dry out easily. The tricky part is layering the dough without tearing it. Each layer is brushed with a mixture of oil and butter to keep the layers together and so that they brown in the oven. 

Once you have layered the sheets to form a crust, you can start pulling the filling together. First, the swiss chard is chopped, blanched in boiling water, and transferred to ice water (this stops the cooking process). The crucial step is to squeeze as much water out of the chard as possible, so your crust doesn't become soggy. Second, you blend the eggs and goat cheese together in a food processor. Third, you add the chard and chopped herbs (I used tarragon, chives, and parsley). Then pour into the crust and bake.

That crust is overphyllo-ing.
As you can see the layers of my crust weren't as pretty as the NYTimes pic. However, I am fairly confident the flavors were similar. The phyllo makes for a particularly crunchy crust. And I especially enjoyed how the tarragon worked with the goat cheese. While traditional dough is probably what I prefer I would definitely make this again, especially when I am in the mood for something lighter (and easier to make).

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Heart Shaped Pizza - Happy Valentine's Day

"You got a pizza my heart!"
 AJ and I started a new Valentine's Day tradition a few years ago. Now every February 14 we eat heart-shaped pepperoni pizza! There is a local pizza chain called Pizza My Heart that serves up heart-shaped pies. The tradition is so popular that you can get the heart shape whenever you want! I love celebrating holidays with special traditions like this. 

"I love you mer-lot!"
My mom and dad got AJ two 375ml bottles of Jarvis winery's Merlot, which paired nicely with our pizza (you have to have wine with pizza). If you are looking for wineries to tour in Napa, Jarvis has an amazing cave tour. Plus their wines are incredible!

So what are some of your Valentine's Day traditions?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Superbowl Treats - Homemade Hostess Cupcakes

Homemade hostess!
Let's be honest, the Super Bowl is almost as much about the food as it is about the football game (and I can say that because I am a big NFL fan). According to the Huffington Post, an average of 1,200 calories are consumed during the game - that's over half of your daily caloric intake! This year I was asked to bring dessert.  I hadn't baked any over the top treats since Christmas, so AJ encouraged me to "go all out."

The Super Bowl is all about simple comfort food, so I didn't want to do anything too gourmet. I thought about making whoopie pies until I stumbled upon a recipe for homemade hostess cupcakes. Now, I have never been a huge fan of hostess goodies - they were dry and a poor substitute for my mom's homemade baked goods. However, the homemade version of hostess cupcakes was something I could get behind. 

Combining the cocoa mixture with the butter-sugar mixture.
The first step is to choose a good cake recipe. I heard good things about Martha's devil's food recipe, and I am a big fan of her one bowl chocolate cupcakes, so I decided to try them out. The recipe was pretty easy to put together. Honestly, the hardest part of making cupcakes for me is pouring the batter into the tin evenly. Using an ice cream scoop helps though. :)
Adding the dry ingredients, alternating with sour cream.

Oh hello cuppycakes!
When the cupcakes have cooled you can start on the frosting and filling. The filling is one of the most important aspects of the hostess cupcake. Now some recipes say that you can use marshmallow fluff, but I wanted to do these totally from scratch. The perfect homemade filling is a 7-minute frosting. Several recipes called for cooking the filling mixture over the stove and beating it with a hand mixer. I have attempted this before and it is a crazy, hot mess (not unlike myself after a night of drinking). I have a kitchen aid standing mixer and I needed a recipe that didn't need the use of a hand mixer being plunged into boiling syrup. After a minute or two of googling I came across this one which is perfect for the standing mixer, with the added bonus of keeping scalding hot syrup from getting all over your skin. This turned out mounds of fluffy, white, marshmallow-y filling (for detailed instructions see here). NOMS!

Marshmallow-y goodness.

After the filling, comes the chocolate ganache frosting. I had the luck of having a sous chef who could make this for me (thanks honey)! I used the frosting recipe in the hostess cupcake blog. The trick with this one is to make sure you don't scald the cream. Then let the ganache cool a bit before proceeding to filling and frosting the cupcakes.

I used the cone method for filling these. Which is basically what it sounds like. First, cut out a cone from the cupcake, creating a hole inside (Note: I often carve out a little more from the cupcake to make a bigger hole). Cut off the tip of the cone. Place a teaspoon of filling inside the cupcake and then place the top back on. Drizzle ganache on top and repeat with remaining cupcakes. Save some of the filling for decorating with those trademark squiggles. I used a sandwich bag and it worked well.

Ready for my close-up!

These cupcakes were gobbled up at the Super Bowl party faster than the lights went out at the Super Dome! They were even better after a day in the fridge. Hmm next up hostess cupcake pancakes?
Oh my goodness.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Chicken Coconut Curry Soup

The East coast has been hit with a major cold spell over the past week, and it's had me craving hearty comfort food. After having beef stew last week, I really wanted to switch gears and try something on the more exotic side. I love Thai food and curries, so I thought a coconut curry soup would really hit the spot after the snowy weather we've been experiencing.
Although this soup requires a handful of ingredients you may not have sitting in your pantry, it's well worth it to run out to the store and stock up.  Most grocery stores these days carry a wide variety of international food items raning from Asian, Indian, Spanish, Middle Eastern and beyond.  I didn't have any trouble finding eveyrthing I needed at the local Giant and Whole Foods. Once you have all your ingredients laid out, the process of making the soup is really quite simple. First I cooked rice (I made 2 cups cooked rice but you only need one cup for the soup) and roasted chicken breast in the oven.  My mom taught me how to roast chicken from a recipe she has used from the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten. Ina Garten has some of the best recipes, and she's pretty fabulous. If you don't believe me, then maybe you'll trust Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy in this 30 Rock clip:
Once you have the rice and chicken ready, you just chop up the onion, bell pepper and carrots ( I cheated and bought matchstick carrots) and sautee in a sauce pan.  I added two cloves minced garlic and a half tablespoon grated ginger. After sauteeing for 5 minutes, you add the chicken, rice, curry paste, sugar and fish sauce and stir for a few minutes until incorporated. Then you add the the chicken broth and coconut milk and simmer for 15-20 minutes.  I served the soup with cilantro, lime wedges and pineapple chunks (some family members may have opted for a pineapple free soup, so serving on the side made it easy to dress up the soup to individual's preferences).
If I were to personify this dish, it would be the Sofia Vergara of soups!  Spicy, sassy, bold, and gorgeous. The rich and creamy coconut milk marries beautifully with the heat of the red curry paste.  The fish sauce brings an added depth of that umami flavor. It's really doesn't have a 'fishy' taste, but rather a complexity of sweet, salty and sour.  The chicken and rice add heartiness, and the veggies add earthness and texture.  Cilantro, lime and pineapple bring a touch of brightness, tang and sweetness that contrasted with the spiciness of the curry paste. Pair this soup with a bright and slightly sweet riesling, (Kung Fu Girl Riesling is excellent) and you have a delicious and satisfying meal.

Chicken Coconut Curry Soup
(from the Savory Sweet Life Blog - savorysweetlife.com)

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots, peeled, finely chopped (I used store bought matchstick carrots)
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 cup cooked chicken meat (I used 1 package of chicken tenderloins which I drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted at 350 F for about 20 minutes or until cooked through)
1 cup cooked rice (I used Jasmine)
2 tablespoons red curry paste (use more or less depending on how spicy you'd like)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
13.5 oz can Asian coconut milk or cream - unsweetend (I used reduced fat and it didn't notice a difference)
21 oz chicken broth
Optional: 2 tablespoons fish sauce, cilantro
Reserve some coconut milk, carrots and bell pepper for garnish
(I added pineapple chunks and served lime wedges and cilantro on the side)

In medium sauce pan, heat olive oil on medium heat and cool chopped onions, carrots, and red bell pepper for approximately 5 minutes. Add curry paste, brown sugar, chicken, rice and fish sauce stirring and sauteing everything until curry paste is completely incorporated (approx 2-3 minutes). Pour chicken broth and cooconut milk into the pan and give it a good stir for a half minute. Reduce heat to a medium and allow the soup to cook for 15-20 minutes. Serve with a spoonful of coconut milk added on top with a few match stick carrots and slice of bell pepper for garnish or add pineapple and cilantro and lime wedges!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Is It Local? - Roasted Lemon Chicken (aka Colin)

Close-up of the roast chicken.
Sunday dinners are the night when I generally have the most time to prepare a meal. AJ and I have been doing a pretty good job of hitting up the local farmer's market each Sunday, so I always have tons of fresh produce and inspiration to draw on for dinner that night. We have passed by the chicken producer for the past few weeks and finally decided to buy a chicken! If any of you watch Portlandia, I couldn't help but be reminded of the "Is it local?" sketch about eating an organic chicken. We named our chicken "Colin" in honor of Portlandia. Although you may think it odd to name the chicken you are going to eat, it certainly made me appreciate the meal more. Sure, Portlandia goes a bit over-the-top. But after all, if you're going to eat meat, why not embrace the fact that this was once a living creature? 

Getting ready to roast Colin.

"He looks like a happy little guy that runs around." "I don't know if I can speak to that intimate knowledge about him, but they do a lot to make sure they are happy." Portlandia does a great job of pointing out the fallacies of the humanely-raised argument. Does it really matter if you raise a "happy" animal if you are just going to kill it and eat it? It is certainly an interesting argument. I have to say I lean toward supporting it. I feel a lot better about killing an animal that has been raised in a cage-free, "natural" environment than one that is so overweight it can no longer walk. Omnivore's Dilemma and Food, Inc. outline this issue very well. I may have to reread Omnivore's Dilemma!

Blood capillaries, cavity, and all. You can see the lemon.
Stepping off the soap box. Ok, back to Colin. The roast lemon chicken recipe is one my mom passed down to me, and it may be the easiest recipe you've ever made. First, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Second, cover the skin with a few teaspoons of oil and season with salt and pepper. Third, prick a lemon with a fork and stick the lemon inside the cavity of the chicken (I used toothpicks to close up the cavity). Lastly, toss sliced onion, potatoes, and carrots in olive oil, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper and put them on the pan next to the chicken. Cook for 1 hour and 40 minutes (or until meat is 160 degrees F). My bird was smaller than your Perdue chicken, so it only took 1 hour or so. I also made sure the temp was 160 F. This makes for a juicy, lemony bird. Thanks Colin!

Homemade honey whole wheat bread!
And because this recipe was so easy I decided why not make my own bread while I'm at it. In retrospect this wasn't the smartest thing to make at the same time, seeing as my kitchen isn't Rachel Ray's. Where is my second oven at? Luckily, the hardest thing about baking bread is the waiting. I had to wait 1 hour and 40 minutes for this bread to rise! I used a simple whole wheat buttermilk recipe and with my kitchen aid dough hook this came together quickly (seriously that dough hook is genius). Fast forward 3 hours later and dinner was ready! Who says no one has time to make dinner...wait... So just make this dinner on Saturday or Sunday when you have a lot of free time. :) 

The bread didn't rise as high as I would have liked, but it was tasty. My coworkers said it tasted better than store bought, so there you go. I froze the second loaf for when I am in need of sandwich bread or something to serve alongside soup.

Dinner is served. Don't those potatoes look tasty?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ad Hoc Inspired Salad - Beets, Avocados, Blood Oranges

Ad Hoc inspired salad.
This weekend AJ and I took a short trip up to Napa to see some East Coast friends of ours. When our friends invited us to dinner in Napa on a Friday night I was initially a little hesitant. Driving up to San Fran on a Friday from Mountain View is a nightmare, so Napa would only be worse. Plus, I had just taken a lot of time off for the holidays and wasn't sure about taking more time off from work. But then two very important things happened. First, our friends emailed to say they wanted to make reservations at Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc. And second, AJ said, "Are you saying you DON'T want to go to Napa?" Thank you husband of mine for slapping some sense into me.

"Bears, beets, battle star galactica."
 AJ and I had been to Ad Hoc for brunch two years ago during a trip to Napa with Malia. For those of you who have never been, Ad Hoc does a four-course, family-style, California cuisine. You are given no choice about what to eat, but I have never heard anyone complain about their meal. For brunch, we had their epic chicken and waffles. This meal was perfect after a day spent wine-"tasting" the entire day prior. So I was excited to experience their dinner.

Close up. Ahhh yeeeeaaah.
We arrived at dinner after a impromptu tasting hosted by Somerston winery at our hotel. The cab sav we tried was nice, but the reason I would visit their winery is for the opportunity to ride ATVs through their vineyard and hang with their sheep. Needless to say after a few glasses of vino, I was ready to eat. Luckily, we didn't have to figure out what to eat! AJ and I decided to split the wine pairing. Our first course was the salad, which turned out to be my favorite part of the meal. I know that sounds crazy, but the salad featured perfectly ripe avocados, blood oranges, golden beets, toasted hazelnuts, pomegranate seeds, mixed greens, and quinoa. The dressing was a citrusy vinagrette and we were offered a creme fraiche to drizzle over top. This salad was creamy, crunchy, bright, tart - essentially exploding with flavor, but perfectly balanced. While the dishes that followed - the pork, cheese plate, and apple crisp - were all delicious, I knew I wanted to recreate that salad.

Flavors melding in the bowl.

The salad I recreated on Sunday was an inspiration, not to be confused with a replica. I used some ingredients I had on hand, supplemented by purchases at the farmer's market. The focus was on avocados, beets, and blood oranges (Side note: I can't think of beets without thinking of Jim's imitation of Dwight on the Office.) I added some mixed greens, thin slices of fennel, and toasted almonds to the mix. I dressed them with a meyer lemon and garlic vinagrette. I also made a "creme fraiche" dressing in addition. At Ad Hoc they served the salad with a side bowl of an herby creme fraiche. I didn't have creme fraiche, so I mixed pepper goat cheese with olive oil mayo and meyer lemon juice. It was delightful. I love when you can find inspiration at restaurants and recreate the dish in your own home. I served this salad with a nice slice of pain au levain and a Torrontes wine. NOMS!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Braised Swiss Chard and Cannelini Beans (Zimino Di Bietole E Fagioli)

Perfect winter meal.

Week 2 of writing a new blog post a week! My goal is to cook a new recipe and post about it each week. I have a plethora of cookbooks that I haven't made a dent in. My mom got me "Lidia's Italy", written by Lidia Bastianich, last Christmas. Lidia takes us on a culinary tour of Italy (and Istria, where she grew up, which is now part of Croatia) - traveling to 10 regions from Piemonte to Puglia. For someone who has only traveled through Tuscany, her book provided me with a great overview of the different regions and the distinct cultures that separate them. 

I perused Lidia's recipes looking for something hearty, warm, and healthy. When I came across her Braised Swiss Chard and Cannelini Beans (Zimino Di Bietole E Fagioli - for those of you who want to learn a little Italian) I knew I had found a winner. This dish comes from the Tuscan region called Maremma (My mom may know Maremma for its Vermentino wine). Swiss chard is always available at our local farmer's market, but I never know what to do with it. This was a perfect time to incorporate it into a meal.

The dish takes a little preparation time, as the dried beans require soaking overnight. I put them in a pot of water right before I left for work and they were ready to go when I got home.   The dish comes together pretty easily. First, you cook the beans for 40 minutes. With 10 minutes to go I started boiling the swiss chard. When the beans are done, you heat olive oil, sliced garlic, and pepperoncino flakes (I used red pepper instead) in a dutch oven pot. Then you toast a couple tablespoons of tomato paste. After that you add a can of crushed tomatoes (I subbed a can of chunky tomato soup) and bring to a boil. Then you add the beans and finally the swiss chard. I added the juice of half a lemon and fresh oregano at the end. 

The dish was simple but delicious. Cooking beans from scratch is way better than canned beans - they don't have that mushy texture.  The swiss chard was like a heartier spinach and the tomato sauce added a rich acidity to bring the dish together. I topped it with a little fresh pecorino and served it with toasted bread. A little wine and you have a complete meal! Plus, this dish tasted even better the next day. I had several delicious and healthy lunches for the rest of the week.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Bucatini and Meatballs

Perfection on a plate.

The start of a New Year brings new resolutions, like writing more in your food blog. Writing and cooking bring me a sense of accomplishment and calm. It must be something about working with your hands. So in 2013 I am trying to cook a new recipe a week, which will hopefully be followed by a blog post. 
Spaghetti? Nah, try the thicker, chewier Bucatini!

I started off the year sick and eating large quantities of soup, so I was craving something a little heartier for my first home cooked meal. Spaghetti and meatballs sounded perfect. I had never made meatballs before, nor was it something that we ate much of growing up. My mom always served a meat sauce or a simple marinara with our pasta. However, living in San Fran, AJ and I stumbled upon a quaint Italian restaurant, Emmy's Spaghetti Shack. The restaurant has a fun vibe that is anything but your typical Italian place (think panties on the wall kind of atypical). Their spaghetti and meatballs made me realize what all the hype was about. It was with Emmy's in mind that we went about making our own meatballs. A simple google search for the best meatballs served as the starting point.

Not just 1 kind of meat, but 3 kinds of meat (beef, pork, veal)!
We headed to the store and got 1/2 pound each of ground beef, pork, and veal (AJ said this was the secret ingredient). Meatballs are fairly easy to make, kind of like a meat loaf, but mini! You toss together meat, breadcrumbs, cheese, parsley, egg, garlic, and pepper. A few things we did differently - we went with a 6-serving size, used more meat, reduced the cheese (pecorino) to half a cup, omitted salt (the cheese was super salty), added pepper, and subbed panko for regular breadcrumbs. I read somewhere that panko makes for better meatballs. And instead of frying, we baked these at 425 degrees for 10-12 minutes.

Is there sugar in that? Then yes! Sugar is the secret ingredient.
While the meatballs were cooking and the pasta water boiling, I started on a simple marinara. I heated 1/3 cup of olive oil on medium high, and sauteed 2 cloves of garlic, with a teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Then I added 1 tablespoon tomato paste and cooked that for a minute. Then I added a 32 oz can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes, a few spoonfuls of pasta water, and reduced the heat to medium. As I was tasting I felt the sauce needed a little balance to the salt and acidity. I added a tablespoon of sugar, which softened the flavors. Then I added ground pepper and chopped fresh oregano and parsley toward the end. 

We served our spaghetti over fresh bucatini instead of spaghetti. I really enjoyed the bucatini. It is thicker and chewier than spaghetti which really went well with the large meatballs. We used the leftover meatballs for subs the next day. Happy nomming and happy new year!