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Monday, January 31, 2011

Stocked Summer Fridge

I walked out to my car after work to find that it wasn't pitch black outside yet. It was only mostly dark. That means that springtime is on the way which means I need to focus on eating healthier. The problem with home cooked meals is that while they're not usually as fatty as going out, when I'm in the kitchen, butter is a necessity. Particularly for the comfort meals that come along with the winter. This time of year, the hot peppers start coming back in season and I can find a half-decent selection of fruits and vegetables to snack on.
It's also getting to be sandwich season. I love cold deli sandwiches when the weather is warm. There's something divine about knowing you can stack that sandwich as tall as you want with fixin's and you'll never feel guilty eating it. I love a good pile of spinach and cucumbers on my sandwiches.

In any sense, fresh vegetables and cold sandwiches require dips and spreads. Enter hummus and pesto.

Hummus is very quickly becoming a year-round necessity in my fridge. It's incredibly easy to make, full of protein, versatile, tasty, and easily customizable. I sadly, don't think I had ever put hummus in my mouth until I moved to Oregon. It didn't take long to make an impression though.

1 can Garbanzo Beans, drained and rinsed
approx. 2 Tbsp. Tahini*
2-4 cloves garlic
juice from one lemon
olive oil

*Tahini is a paste made from roasted sesame seeds. It's rich in protein and can be used in a variety of applications. It comes in a glass jar with a screw top lid - I can usually find it in the health/vegan aisle of the grocery store.

To make, simply put all the ingredients in a food processor or blender. I like mine to be pretty creamy so I use a fair amount of olive oil and lemon juice but you can make it as chunky or runny as you'd like. I use hummus as a spread for sandwiches and wraps or as a dip for vegetables or flat bread.

Pesto is nothing short of splendor as far as I'm concerned. I love how refreshing it is when made from scratch. Pesto is great for dipping, used as a spread, or made into a sauce for pasta or chicken. Again, this is incredibly easy to make and easily customizable.

One large bunch of fresh basil leaves, cleaned and dried
3 medium cloves of garlic
One small handful of raw pine nuts
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
approx. 2 Tblsp extra virgin olive oil

Put basil, garlic, pine nuts, and olive oil in a food processor and blend well. Add Parmesan and blend. Done.
You can add or take away to your liking. I found several recipes that called for a pinch of nutmeg but after trying it, I'm not a fan. However, being a lover of spices, I do add a fair amount of freshly cracked black pepper.
Do whatever you want, just make it your own.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Once Upon A Banana Cake

A long time ago in a land far away, I was a baker. When I moved to Oregon, my cake decorating may have taken a back seat but my baking improved. I loved days off with a glass of wine and a set of clean measuring spoons that I could meticulously put to work. I never thought I'd make the switch from baker to cook but it happened. Now I feel bogged down by flour sifters and hand mixers. There's a lack of freedom in baking albeit a certain satisfaction that if you follow the recipe to a T, you'll end up with something delightfully fragrant and surely tasty.

Perhaps my transformation from baker to cook stemmed from my job. My office is always full of crappy baked goods (I call them bads) from the grocery store or local thrifty bakery. I've slowly been losing my lustre for pastries, cookies, muffins, etc. I have, however, never been unable to rid myself of a near passion for bananas in baked things.

Having said that, this is a super-easy recipe for Banana Cake that is always a hit.

2 tsp. Baking Soda
a touch less than 4 cups Flour
2 sticks Butter
2 1/2 cups Granulated Sugar
4 large Eggs
1 cup Sour Cream
1 Tbsp. Pure Vanilla Extract
6 very ripe Bananas

1. Sift together soda and flour. In a medium size bowl, peel and mash the bananas.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine butter and sugar until evenly mixed. Mix in eggs. Mix in sour cream and vanilla. Add flour mixture a little bit at a time. Add bananas.

3. Pour into a cake pan (9" x 13" or 9" round) and bake 1 hour at 340 degrees or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mexican Chicken Soup as Made by an American

My Dad was in town over the weekend. I see my Father more frequently than I do anyone else in my family. Fortunately, I'm fond of my Dad. Each visit he makes, I try to take him to a different restaurant so he can buy me a delicious meal.
Knowing my Father's priorities frequently makes taking him out difficult because he'll eat anything but food tastes better to him if it's cheap. A point I strongly disagree with. So, we've been waiting and waiting to take him to our new favorite place. It's a place called Maher's and it's an adorable little Irish pub with food that will encourage embarrassing displays of over-eating. Each time I go there, I think about learning to make some good corned beef hash or delectable cabbage. The problem is, I'm terrible at ethnic cooking - unless I'm cooking Mexican.

This recipe is for Mexican Chicken Soup and has made me pretty popular around my apartment. This is a time consuming meal to make, especially when you do not own a food processor and chop all your vegetables by hand. However, it's WORTH it! I like to start this soup at about 3:30 or 4:00pm. That way, I have time to cook it and it has time to simmer for a few hours before serving. It's not incredibly difficult, it's just time consuming. Like laundry.

2 whole chicken breast, bone in, skin on
1 whole yellow onion, diced
1 Cup celery, chopped
2 Cups carrots, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
2 1/2 Quarts chicken stock
1 can whole tomatoes in puree, crushed (28oz)
2 to 4 jalapenos, seeded and minced (unless you like the spice, then keep the seeds in)
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. coriander seed
1/3 Cup fresh cilantro, chopped
good olive oil
6 (6-inch) fresh white corn tortillas (optional)

1. Place chicken breast on sheet pan, rub w/ oil, sprinkle w/ salt & pepper. Roast 34-40 minutes. When cooled, discard skin & bones, shred meat.

2. Heat 3 Tbsp. oil in a large pot. Add onion, celery, carrots, and garlic. Cook @ med-low heat for about 10 minutes. Add stock, tomatoes w/ puree, jalapenos, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, and cilantro.

3. (optional step) Cut tortillas into strips 1/2" thick and add to soup.

4. Bring to a boil the lower heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Add chicken and let simmer as long as you'd like.

You can serve this soup garnished with any number of things: avocado slices, sour cream, cheddar cheese, crushed chips, whatever - just enjoy it!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Let Them Eat Molton Chocolate Cake

I work in an office that is 90% women. This fact has both it's perks and it's downfalls. This morning, it had a major downfall. I arrived to the office to find a group of ladies crowded around one individual who was crying her eyes out over something that was hardly even noteworthy. It all seemed a bit dramatic for 7:30am on a Monday morning and I worried that the rest of the day would inhibit feelings of utter disgust and annoyance toward the ladies in my office. So, I mysteriously "came down" with something and came home. Fortunately, my boss is easier to fool than my Mother was in my childhood days.

I told Ryan months ago that I'd learn to make him molton chocolate cake. Promptly after saying I would do it, I forgot about it. He reminded me the other day of this fact and I felt wholly obligated to pay up on my promise right away. So, yesterday, I tried them only to find that they're much easier to make than I had anticipated. The longest part of the process was waiting for the oven to heat up.

2 3/4 sticks of butter (11 ounces)
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate
6 eggs + 6 egg yolks
3 cups confectioners sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
foil baking cups

1. In a double boiler (or a mixing bowl sitting on top of a pan with simmering water), melt together the butter and chocolate stirring occassionally. Let cool a bit.

2. Whisk together sugar, eggs, and egg yolks.

3. Combine chocolate mixture with egg mixture, then slowly add the flour.

4. Pour batter into greased foil cups. Bake at 450 degrees for 5 to 6 minutes.

Most the recipes I found called for 8-ounce foil cups which I was unable to find so I used the 4-ounce Reynolds cups and they worked just fine.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A New Year of Blogging About Chile Rellenos

My sister is a committed blogger. I think she treats blogs almost like a cyber-scrapbook. With a busy life like hers, I don't blame her. I find my simple life rather savory that way. I have no responsibility to chronicle memories for anyone other than myself. What little of my day-to-day life that I deem noteworthy is generally summed up in a picture, or a few sentences written in colorful, fine-point markers in my journal. If anyone found it, it wouldn't be embarrassing because I'm the only one it makes sense to. I prefer it this way. A healthy shroud of mystery is gravely underrated.
In any sense, reading through my sister's blog reminded me that I have one of my own about one of my favorite things: cooking. I've been gathering gangs of great new recipes that are either scribbled on splattered and smudged pages of a spiral notebook or their stuffed haphazardly inside the front cover. Now that Ryan works hard and works late, I'm more motivated to feed him well and I have more time to myself. So, perhaps I'll rededicate myself to cyber-recipe writing. Hopefully someone tries some of these sometime.

Last week I was feeling ambitious and decided to try making chile rellenos. A dish that I feel is rather easy to screw up. I was horrified to learn that Ryan has never had them. A disgraceful and tragic fact that needed an immediate remedy. So, I went for it. I think I came up with a pretty simple recipe.
For the two of us, I made six chiles which was just about the right amount.

6 Anaheim chile peppers, charred and peeled
about 1/2 lb. cheese, cut into strips (I used pepper jack for extra spice but cheddar is fine)
1 cup milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. canola oil

1. Remove seeds and membranes from peppers. Stuff each pepper with a strip of cheese.

2. In a small bowl, combine milk, flour, egg, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and canola oil. Mix well to make a batter.

3. Pour enough oil in heavy frying pan (I used a cast iron skillet) to reach 1 inch in depth and heat over medium-high heat. Roll each pepper in the batter. Fry until lightly browned on both sides.

I served mine on a bed of freshly made salsa and topped it with salsa, freshly made guacamole, and a little cheese.