Monday, November 10, 2014

Pumpkin Pancakes

One of my favorite ways to spend a Sunday morning is to eat a big breakfast with my hubby in our apartment. I live in New York City and there are a million amazing brunch places to eat, but sometimes it's nice to just stay indoors with your pajamas on and avoid the long lines (especially once the temperature starts to dip)! 

After brewing a warm cup of coffee, I scoured the internet for pancake recipes. With the changing season, I think we all get the compulsion to eat all the pumpkin things. Now this can go too far, what with things like pumpkin spice oreos (Disclaimer: I have not actually tried these and they may actually be delicious and probably toxic). But I think we can all agree that nothing says fall like pumpkin pancakes! I don't have a go to recipe, so I did my usual googling for recipes. The words "fluffy" really got my attention in this recipe for Pumpkin Pancakes. It's hard to determine what's going to be a recipe winner and sometimes you've gotta go with your gut and hope that the Internet gods don't screw you. 

This recipe turned out to be a winner indeed. Definitely fluffy (I mean look at that beautiful stack of pancakes)! As for the making of the batter I only have a few tips. First, always remember to melt your butter early on so it can cool adequately. You don't want warm butter curdling your eggs (and no that's not code for something else).  Second, sift your dry ingredients together, it will make for a less lumpy batter. Finally, the hardest part of making pancakes to me is figuring out the right temperature for my skillet. My first one always ends up slightly burnt on top and undercooked inside. I recommend using a little bit of batter to make a tiny, sacrificial, practice pancake. If you screw it up, you can share that one with the trashcan. 

After the first sacrificial one, I had some beautifully brown, fluffy pancakes. This recipe makes 12 pancakes, so come to the table hungry or invite some friends. Because what is better than breakfast food, right Leslie Knope?!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Day 3: Whole Wheat Buttermilk Bread

I knew I should have finished these blog posts before I started school again! Oh well, my posts may be a bit delayed, but I do plan to write about my 7 days of home cooking. For Day 3, I wanted to try my hand at baking bread. It is not something I attempt often, maybe twice a year, but I always love the smell of bread baking in the oven. Baking bread can seem very daunting, what with the kneading and the rising and then kneading and more rising. Who has time to cook let alone bake bread? But aside from the time needed to rise, baking bread isn't all that complicated. I suggest baking on a Saturday or Sunday when you don't have much to do. It can be so relaxing kneading dough and then there's the final product - fresh baked bread!

I decided to peruse some of my cookbooks that have been collecting dust on the shelf. I settled on a book that my mother used when I was growing up called "Nikki and David Goldbeck's American Wholefoods Cuisine"published in 1984. The cookbook contains 1300 meatless wholesome recipes and may become a book I use more in the coming year. Although this buttermilk whole wheat bread was not something my mom made often, baking this bread makes me feel connected to my mom (and that just makes me happy).  In my family we have recipes that my mom made again and again and have become almost part of the family. I guess that's why I like cooking so much, because it becomes a centerpiece around which family and friends gather. Baking bread seems like a new tradition I could incorporate into my family.

This recipe makes 2 loaves, I made one in the standard bread pan and another freeform boule in a cake pan. While my technique may need some refining (I don't think it rose as much as I would have liked) the bread was tasty. I used it in grilled cheese with turkey sandwiches for dinner and toast the next morning (as well as several other sandwiches during the week)! So the next time you have a few hours to kill give this recipe a try.

Buttermilk Bread
Makes 2 loaves.

2 tbsp yeast
1/2 cup warm water (should be between 100-110 F)
2 cups buttermilk (I used 2% and added 2 tbsp vinegar)
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup honey
2 tsp salt
about 5 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

Soften yeast in warm water. When dissolved stir in remaining ingredients, adding as much flour as possible in the bowl and kneading in the rest as necessary. (Note: This dough is a little sticky so I added a little more flour which may be why my bread was a little denser). Knead for 5-10 minutes.

Cover dough in an oiled bowl and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled. Punch down and let rest for 10 minutes.

Shape into two loaves; cover and let rise for 45 minutes until doubled (Note: you can wet a towel and use that to cover your loaf to prevent it from drying out). Preheat oven to 375 degrees F near the end of the second rising.

Bake for 35-40 minutes until nicely browned. Removed from pan and let cool completely until slicing.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Day 2: Vegetarian Quinoa Chili

Courtesy of 
Day 2 out of 7 of Ariel's home cooking adventure. Day 1 was a great success, providing me with delicious leftover pork chops with apples and onion for lunch on Day 2. Continuing with the healthy, simple meal theme, I decided to cook up a new favorite chili recipe of mine which I discovered on Two Peas and Their Pod. I love that this chili is packed full of veggies and protein rich quinoa. One of my problems with other veggie chili recipes is that it can be more soup-like due to the lack of ground beef. The quinoa comes in and adds this great texture, in addition to the protein punch. It really mimics that chunky beef chili consistency. I love that quinoa is being incorporated into more and more recipes (ancient grains revolution)! And not all quinoa recipes "taste like a dirty old tree branch" (see video below).

This recipe includes a plethora of veggies: carrots, celery, zucchini, onion, and peppers. This recipe is great in that you can totally swap out any veggies for others that you prefer (I omitted the celery). And it really comes together in a cinch. Plus you have leftovers the next day (which tastes even better). I think one of the keys to successfully eating at home is to cook meals that will provide you with some extras, so you're not constantly cooking every night or making lunches everyday. 

This quinoa chili really hit the spot on the cold winter night. I served it up with some blue corn chips (whole grain party!)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Another Year, Another Resolution to Cook More: Day 1

Pork chop with apples and onions
Over the holidays I got to talking with my family about New Year's Resolutions. So many of us attempt the same resolutions: to eat healthier, to exercise more, etc. Such resolutions can seem so daunting. How will I keep up with my resolution when I didn't last year? I personally feel the same way. However, I like that a new year provides an opportunity to reflect and make new goals. Doesn't the word "goal" sound much nicer than "resolution"?  So I decided to make a small goal for myself and a larger goal. Studies have shown that when we make small weekly goals for ourselves, we stick to them better. My larger goal is to cook more at home and dine out less frequently. In addition to being a healthier and more cost-effective means of eating, I also love cooking. Cooking is a huge stress reliever for me, but I often convince myself that I don't have the time. However, within the 45 minutes it takes for the delivery guy to show up, I know I could easily have cooked a meal. 

But how to commit to such a task? I decided to start with a small goal of eating all of my meals at home for 1 week. This goal was a little more feasible for me because I have been on break from school. However, I am hoping that this week-long exercise will become more of a habit and will trickle over into the next weeks and months. So I plan to blog about my progress during this week-long experiment. This won't be in real-time (I started Wednesday, January 8 after I got back from traveling), but I hope you enjoy reading about my "home cooking adventure".

When I got home from my 2 week holiday spent in Virginia and Miami, where I indulged in good food, drink and company, I really wanted to cook some simple meals with plenty of veggies. While some might try to balance their holiday diet by eating several salads a day, I prefer a fuller meal. I wanted a lean protein and some veggies on the side. Wanting to try something other than chicken or fish, I looked to pork. Boneless loin pork chops are actually fairly low in fat (see image to right). Something about pork chops and apples sounds so comforting. I came across Martha Stewart's simple recipe, which was super easy to makeAll you need is pork chops, apples, onion, beer, oil, butter, salt, and pepper. I used granny smith...

You start by seasoning the chops and then browning them in a pan over high heat for 5 minutes on each side. You set them aside and then saute apples and onion for 8 minutes. You deglaze the pan with some beer (I chose an IPA that I like so I could drink the rest) and then return the chops to the pan to finish cooking. Et voila, succulent porks chops with delightful apple and onion mixture on the side.

Browned pork chops just out of the pan.

Sauteed apples and onion.

Pork chops returned to the pan to finish cooking.
While the pork chops are cooking, you can roast some veggies to go alongside. I've said it several times before, but this is my favorite way to cook vegetables. Roasting caramelizes the vegetables, bringing out sweetness. I added some rosemary, salt, and pepper to my brussel sprouts and carrots. 

Roasted brussel sprouts and carrots with rosemary.

Final product. 
And while this isn't an Ina Garten recipe, I have to steal her trademark, "What could be better than that?!" Day 1 was complete and I was feeling good about having these leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

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?