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OK – so I lied. I thought that I’d be able to keep up my cooking in the warm months, but I just couldnt do it. My dinners usually consisted of cheese, crackers, fruit, nuts, a slice of salami… or something along those lines. Anything to keep my stove off. In fact, my gas bill for the last 2 months has been $2 over the minimum charge for delivery fees. Now? The leaves are starting to turn, the apples are ready to be picked, my radiator was on this morning, my peacoats are out, and my cookbooks are marked. Dear Fall – I’m ready!

Apples

Apple picking in New England is the thing to do in the fall – it’s not something that us Californians do back at home. Sure we have apple farms, but we have every type of farm. Apples, I guess, dont make a special list. I wanted to go to a smaller farm, one that didnt have hay rides or t-shirts for sale. Something simple. I wanted to meet the real farmers and walk around filling my bag with whatever I wanted. and I did. I went with a couple friends of mine to Harvard, MA (no, nothing to do with Harvard University… that’s in Cambridge) to a small farm called Carlson Orchards. $23 for half a bushel (however much that is) we filled our bag and wandered around the farm in the cool foggy mist. We climbed the (low) branches, sampled from the trees, and navigated the acres of apples – by ourselves.  Arriving a little before 5PM, we were the last ones there. My favorite of of them all? Empires – a cross between Red Delicious and Macintosh. They are dark red, firm, juicy, and sweet – but not too sweet. The perfect apple for cooking with.

A couple days later we made two sour cream pies – sweet, spiced, creamy, pies. The pies were too hot for me to take home, and unfortunately they spoiled because I found out they never made it in the fridge. The parts were delicious, so I can only imagine the completed piece of work would have been too. This soup was my second attempt at doing something with the apples other than just having them for breakfast. With the weather finally in the 50*s, I thought it was time for soup. I mean, who doesnt love soup on a cold cloudy day?

Bacon Bitsapple and squash simmer.

This recipe is very simple and very easy. The hardest part is peeling the butternut squash and apple – be sure to have your vegetable peeler on hand. I couldnt find mine for a couple minutes, and trying to peel a squash with a pairing knife wasnt fun. Also be sure to cut up the pieces into small cubes. The squash and apple are browned and almost cooked entirely from the oil, which is why the recipe only calls for 6-8 minutes of simmering. The larger the cubes, the more time you’ll have to add at the end simmering.

Soup's ready!

Apple and Butternut Squash Soup
based on recipe in Fine Cooking Magazine, April 2010

Ingredients:
8 slices of bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4″ strips
2.5 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2- inch dice
1 apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4- inch dice
1 quart low sodium chicken stock
1 tbs dried sage
salt and pepper
splash of white wine vinegar, or to taste

1. Cook the bacon in a large pot until crispy, about 8-10 minutes. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and place on a plate with paper towels.
2. Add butternut squash cubes to bacon fat and brown for 6-8 minutes. Be sure not to stir too often or the squash wont brown.
3. Mix in the apples, sage, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Cook for an additional 5 minutes.
4. Pour the chicken stock into the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
5. Stir in 3/4 of the bacon bits, and puree with an immersion blender.
6. Season with a splash of vinegar, salt, and pepper.
7. Garnish with remaining bacon bits in bowls, and serve warm.

Coconut Stewed Chicken

Dinner!
It’s started to be hot in Boston. Now, I normally would consider mid-80* weather very pleasant and I wouldn’t complain; however, that would be California weather. This humid, thick, hot, sticky air is something else. I went for a walk the other day during lunch and I swear I was walking through water.

I remember the day I landed in Boston from San Francisco was a lot like it has been recently. Coming from the cold 60* foggy weather and getting off the plane in the humid 80* weather I thought the wind had been knocked out of me. Luckily that was August 23, 2009 and I was staying with my friend who had air conditioning. Now, I dont have that luxury.

Unfortunately, this has curbed my desire to cook. I depend only on my small little fan in the kitchen to create air circulation; it doesnt quite do the trick when you want to turn the oven up to 400*. But, my love for cooking is starting to take over and I’m just gonna take my dinner up to my room with the big fan if I have to. I wont let the weather stop me any more!

This recipe is actually from my archives. My friend came to visit me one weekend and I told her to pick a recipe out of the ones I marked in the Saveur magazine I just bought. It was really nice to have someone to cook for for a change. We made this the same night I made the olive oil scented cake, so I thought it was fitting to be my next entry.

I was excited to try a different cuisine; I have never been to an African restaurant or attempted to cook it myself. The flavors are earthy, bold, and slightly sweet; simple yet intoxicatingly fragrant. I dont have any special notes about this other than it is best served over white rice and accompanied by a bitter vegetable to balance the creamy, slightly sweet coconut milk. I researched Kenyan vegetables and kale came up – it was perfect. Oh, and when you’re cooking with tumeric, don’t wear anything that you dont want stained. My counters were stained, my hands were stained, and my shirt was stained. It all came out in the end but I didnt realize how bright the seasoning was – it was my first time cooking with it.

Coconut Stewed Chicken
from Saveur magazine

1/4 c vegetable oil
2 tsp ground turmeric
4 cloves garlic
2-3 tsp chili paste (or 4 Thai chilies)
4 small tomatoes
4 bone-in legs and thighs, separated
1/4 c lime juice
2 14 oz coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste
cilantro for garnish (optional, but a great addition)
4 c cooked white rice for serving

1. Heat oil in large pot over medium high heat. Combine the turmeric, garlic, chili paste, tomatoes, and onions in the pot until the onions are caramelized – about 20-25 mintues.
2. Add lime juice, coconut milk, and chicken and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to medium-low heat and simmer, stirring occasionally until the chicken is tender – about 10 minutes.
3. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over rice and top with cilantro.

Chicken and Rice

Honey Frosting

There are some things that you eat…

and the table goes silent.

There’s nothing really to say.

It’s just that good.

oranges Batter

This cake? Yes, its one of those things.

Saveur did an article all about olive oil in edition # 129. The writer, Nancy Jenkins, takes you on a tale around the world and shares the role that olive oil has in its place.

I know that olive oil is healthier for you than most oils, but there are two things I didnt know about cooking with it.

Fun fact: Studies show that people who consume two table-spoons of olive oil daily lower their risk of heart disease

1) Chefs and home cooks in the Mediterranean wouldnt dream of sautéing, braising, or even deep frying in anything else. In a place where we have 20 different kinds of oils that are all separately supposedly better for finishing off dishes, or sautéing, or deep frying – it’s interesting to learn that extensive regions dont use anything but olive oil. I wonder how they deal with the smoking point? My poor kitchen cant handle cooking with olive oil.

Fun fact: Spain is the worlds largest olive oil producer, with about 200 million gallons per year

2) You can make a fantastic cake with it!

After the success of this, I’m going to be on the lookout for more cake recipes with olive oil. I’m all about butter (yes, I have to admit I love Paula Deen) in my food, but I absolutely love this for a nice after dinner dessert. It’s not too sweet, has a slight olive oil favor that marinates the fresh orange. And the honey and sea salt finish… it’s the bright red bow that ties flavor and presentation together.

I honestly think this is the best cake I’ve ever made.

Orange Scented Olive Oil Cake
inspired by Saveur via The Perfect Finish by Bill Yosses and Melissa Clark.

2 oranges
1 1/3 c sugar
2 1/2 c flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 eggs
6 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c honey
sea salt, for garnish

1. Trim about 1/2″ off the top and bottom of the oranges; cut into quarters.
2. Bring 6 – 8 cups of water to a boil and add oranges; bring back to a boil, then drain. Repeat 2 more times.
3. Put oranges, 1 cup of sugar, and 4 cups of water into the pot. Allow simmer over medium-high heat, stirring often, until the rind is easily pierced with a fork – approximately 30-40 minutes.
4. Remove oranges from pan and allow to cool. Set aside.

5. Heat oven to 350*. Lightly oil a 9″ pan and line pan bottom with parchment paper.
6. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl.
7. Once the oranges are cooled, remove them from the syrup and puree in a blender or with a stick blender.
8. Add remaining sugar, flour mixture, vanilla, and eggs to the orange puree. Process until incorporated, about 2 minutes.
9. Add olive oil and process until combined.
10. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 35-45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Allow to slightly cool.
11. Once the cake is slightly cooled, pour honey onto the top center of the cake. Spread honey to edges and allow to drip down. Set aside.
12. After the cake is completely cooled, sprinkle sea salt over the top of the cake.

slice and serve.

Cake Gone

Dough

I have been searching for a good blueberry muffin recipe for about 3 months. I have tried 4 or 5 different recipes, all of which seemed to be lacking something – flavor, moisture, crumb, originality; I’m not quite sure. We have a cafe on the bottom floor of our office building – Au Bon Pain – that has these incredible blueberry muffins. Each time I buy one I make an attempt to figure out what their secret ingredient is. Maybe there is coconut oil? or vanilla? or yogurt? or maybe sour cream? a different spice? I wish I knew.

Muffin in tin

Even as much as I love breakfast and breakfast foods, I refuse to get up early enough to eat it at home. I often will opt to stop at ABP on my way up to work, or go down the street to Flour [and if you live in the Boston area and you havent been there, you should. trust me - their sticky buns are famous. Bobby Flay did a "throw down" with them a while back, I'm not sure who won - I think Flour, or at least I hope so] But again, I’m spending too much money. My goal right now is to make a baked good and bring it into the office on Monday to last me through the week. I need to stop spending $3 on a muffin every day.

This recipe isn’t what I was looking for; however, it was quite the pleasant surprise. I underestimated how much the cinnamon flavor would shine through – I thought maybe it would be a secondary flavor, but its definitely not. The blueberries are the secondary flavor in these muffins. If you like cinnamon and you like blueberries, then this is perfect for you. These are light and moist (does anyone else strongly dislike that word? because I cant stand it, but I cant think of a better alternative) and the blueberries are swaddled nicely with cinnamon and sugar.

Cinnamon Blueberry Muffins
adapted from Gourmet

6 tbs unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c light brown sugar
1/2 c whole milk
1 large egg
1 1/2 c flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 package of blueberries (7 oz)

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly oil muffin tins or put liners in the cups.
2. In a stand mixer add butter, brown sugar, milk, and egg in a bowl. Wisk on medium-low until fully incorporated.
3. In a separate large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, cinnamon, vanilla and salt. Add to wet mixture and mix on low speed until just combined.
4. Remove bowl from stand mixter and gently fold the blueberries in.
5. Equally divide the batter among the muffin cups and bake for 20-25 minutes. They are done when a toothpick

Fun fact: if you dont have toothpicks on hand, you can use an uncooked spaghetti noodle instead!

Oh, and you don’t need a stand mixer to make these. I just happen to be in love with my new KitchenAid and will take any excuse to use it.

Muffin

Farmers Abbie buying eggs

Spring means many things. Remembering what the sun feels like, spending time outdoors, ditching the wool peacoat for short sleeves and dresses, cherry blossoms, (allergies)… and the return of farmer’s markets with produce other than root vegetables!

There’s nothing quite like farmers markets and talking to the individuals who grow/bake/produce the goods you buy from the local farms. I miss the days when I used to go down the street in San Francisco every Saturday and buy all my produce – even in the dead of “winter.” Boston is a little slow bringing this spring delight back so I decided that a short trip to Rhode Island was in order. I didnt want to wait until the end of this month to get my first fresh produce from Boston (we’re having our first ones open up this weekend!)

I was thinking about fruit, farm fresh eggs/chicken, baked bread, vegetables, local cheese, and… ramps.

Food fads are a lot like fashion – every year there is a new “hot” item. Last year for food it was pomegranates and acai – the super antioxidant food. This year its ramps – the wild garlic/onion spring favorite. They are all over menus, in food magazines, blogs, news paper articles, pictures – everywhere. Me? I’ve never had them. Since they’re famous for their fleeting availability in early spring, I was determined to get my hands on some. Maybe I’d make a souffle? Braise them? Serve with pasta and olive oil? Put on pizza? Scramble with some eggs. I was so excited.

But had no luck finding them. I must have walked up and down the aisle 10x looking around, talking to farmers – no one had any left.

Flowers

However, this trip was still delightful. We went to a local diner, drank some coffee milk (not something we have in the Bay Area), and I bought some beautiful flowers, eggs, various vegetables, a whole chicken, and a lamb chop – all with great company.

Marinated Meat 2

Lamb is one of my favorite meats. I dont eat it very often – but it is quite irresistible. Lamb chops are small, juicy and tender with a small t-bone that separates the tenderloin from the eye. I know a lot of people have issues with eating young meat. Trust me, someone cooked me veal one time and couldnt bring myself to eat it. I just sat there looking at the plate, refusing to eat it. But for some reason I don’t have that same issue with lamb. (It doesn’t make sense, I know). I’m always looking for new lamb recipes to try out.

Roasted Bell Pepper

This recipe comes from one of my new cookbooks that I got at my favorite bookstore, Strand, while I was in New York City this weekend. The mint and vinegar make a bright fresh marinade, that is complemented nicely with a slight sweet/salty flavor.

The original recipe tells you to grill the lamb chops on a charcoal or gas grill. I dont have any outdoor space or a grill, so I chose to use my broiler instead. If you do choose to grill these watch them carefully, as they may not take very long to reach medium-rare. And wait until after the meat has marinated to add the salt – it’s a great addition that adds depth to the marinade.

I served it with baked potatoes and roasted red peppers – all from the farmer’s market.

Mint Marinated Lamb Chops
adapted from Best of the Best, vol. 11

1/4 c white wine vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1/3 cup mint
4-6 lamb chops, 2 inches thick
salt and pepper to taste

1. Combine vinegar, sugar, and mint leaves into a blender or food processor. Blend until the mint is finely chopped.
2. Let lamb chops marinate in mixture for 10-20 minutes at room temperature.
3. Turn broiler on. Sprinkle salt on each side right and cook lamb chops for 6-8 minutes per side, until medium-rare.

Lamb Chop Dinner

Sage Popcorn

Popcorn Bowl

Popcorn is one of my favorite foods (if you can call it a food). The smell – just think about it. It instantly makes you hungry, even if you thought you weren’t. At work or at home the smell will linger in the air. Like a candy bowl , its a great way to get people to come talk to you at work. Everyone loves popcorn. And it disappears from the bowl/bag way too soon – you know what I’m talking about.

There are many ways to eat popcorn – the traditional microwaveable bags, jiffy pop for camping, movie theater popcorn with butter flavored oil, and… stove top popcorn. Now stove top popcorn may be old news to many of you, but it’s a brand new concept for me. I have long thought of buying an air popcorn maker (they’re so expensive!) but luckily my friend Abbie introduced me to this new concept a couple weeks ago. I think I’ve made popcorn almost every other night since then.

Ingredients

It’s cheap, you have complete control over how much sodium, fat (butter or olive oil), calories, and sugar goes into it, there are no preservatives, you can pronounce all the ingredients AND it tastes better. No more having to worry about 90 calorie cardboard. How fantastic is that?

The other great thing about making your own popcorn is that there are endless flavor possibilities. Feel like something sweet? Use clarified butter (see note below), cinnamon, sugar, and nutmeg.  Feel like something salty? Just add some olive oil and salt. You could add curry, paprika, cayenne pepper, etc. Personally, I like my popcorn with a hard cheese and some herbs so this “recipe” includes sage and grated pecorino romano.

Pop

Sage Popcorn

Ingredients:
1/3 c popcorn kernels
2-3 tbs sage
1/3 c hard cheese, grated
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbs olive oil, plus more for seasoning (or clarified butter, see below)

1. Add 2 tbs olive oil and a few kernels to a medium sized pot over medium-high heat
2. Once the kernels pop, add enough popcorn kernels to cover the bottom of a 3 quart pot (approximately 1/3 cup) and cover.
3. Once the kernels begin to pop vigorously, gently shake the pot back and forth to keep the bottom kernels from burning.
4. Listen carefully to the pops. Once the popping slows to several seconds between, remove the pan from the heat, take off the lid, and pour the popcorn immediately into a large bowl.
5. Add seasoning to popcorn, mix well, and ENJOY!

Clarified Butter:

Note about butter: Movie theaters use butter-flavored oil, which has a lower water percentage than butter so it makes popcorn less soggy. You can make clarified butter at home, which removes the milk solids and has the same effect.

1. Melt down 2 sticks butter in a glass container in the microwave until it has all liquefied.
2. Remove the container from the microwave and let sit for a few minutes.
3. As the butter begins to cool, it will separate into 3 layers. Skim off the top layer of foam, then slowly pour the clarified butter (the middle layer) into a heatproof container. Throw away the bottom layer of milk solids.
4. Use 2 tablespoons of the clarified butter for your popcorn;

You can refrigerate the rest and use for sauteeing or pastries; will keep for several months.

Bean Salad
I have a thing for colorful food. I mean, look at that picture. The red, yellow, black, and green contrasted against the tan – how could you not want to eat it? Beautiful? Check. Healthy? Check check. It’s perfect. Well, hopefully my coworkers agree because this is my contribution to salad/soup group this week. We’ll find out tomorrow.

You know what helps add color to all my foods? Balanced meals. While running my first 5k today (more like a run/walk, but hey, I finished. baby steps), I was talking to my coworker about food (per usual) and realized that I’m really funny about the composition of my meals. For every meal that I eat I need a protein, a carb, and some sort of vegetable or fruit. Every one. I think in terms of this when I go to the grocery store – ok I have my meat, now I need rice/pasta/bread.. ok… now I need a vegetable that is a different color than the other two… ok. Done.

Some times this results in cheese, crackers, a seasoned avocado, and some salami. A meal doesn’t feel complete without having all three elements – like I know I’ll still be hungry if I’m missing something. And it doesnt look right to me if I dont have a bunch of different colors. Does that make sense? Surprisingly this started way before I took pictures of some of my meals. I did read an article in Food and Wine magazine that said the best way to add nutrients to your meal is to add colors. But I think it’s my mom’s influence (Happy Mothers day!). She’s always been very good about a balanced meal with healthy colorful foods too.

Quinoa is one of those ingredients that was unfamiliar to me before soup/salad group. It’s been popping up everywhere in my food magazines so I thought I’d give it a try. Now let me just say that I had absolutely no idea how to cook it. I saw the instructions list on epicurious and that seemed ok, but I didnt really feel like steaming the quinoa (and I dont have a sieve to cook with). So I googled around for a bit and found that I could use my rice cooker. I’m sure it would have been ‘fluffier” if I steamed it, but I liked it this way. The salad dressing, beans, corn, and bell pepper breaks the grains up nicely on its own.

p.s. I have quite an exciting week ahead. Started off today with my first 5k race in Somerville, Tuesday some of my coworkers and I are going to a Red Sox game , Thursday I’m cruising the Boston Harbor on the VinoVoyage, and last, but most certainly not least, I’m going to New York City for the weekend!! Oh, the endless food possibilities! I think it’s safe to say that I’m looking forward to Monday (and I dont say that very often).

Black Bean Quinoa Salad
adapted from Gourmet

Ingredients:
1 1/2 c quinoa
1 can black beans
1 can whole kernel corn
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 jalapeño chile, minced (remove the seeds for milder flavor)
1/4 c fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

For dressing:
5 tbs fresh lime juice
1 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tbs Sherry vinegar (or red-wine vinegar), or to taste

To make in a rice cooker (this is how I made it):
1. Rise the quinoa thoroughly in warm water until the water runs clear, 4-6 times.
2. Place the quinoa in the rice maker with the water and turn on the rice maker, about 20 minutes.
3. After the rice cooker has turned off, place a towel over the rice maker and under the lid after it is done cooking for 5-10 minutes. This will help make the quinoa fluffier.

To make on a stove (instructions from epicurious):
1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook quinoa for 10 minutes.
2. Drain quinoa and rinse under cold water.
3. Place a sieve over a pot of boiling water covered with a kitchen towel and lid, and steam quinoa until fluffy for approximately 10 minutes.

While waiting for quinoa to cook, wisk the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl. Once quinoa is finished, transfer to a large bowl. Add corn, beans, dressing, and cilantro. Mix well.

This can be made a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator.

Qunioa Goodness

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