Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sesame Asparagus

I love asparagus, but I always make it the same way: grilled or roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper, and covered in freshly grated Parmesan cheese. This way of making asparagus is delicious, which is why I have stuck to it for so long. It doesn't require a recipe and as long as I buy asparagus, I always have all the other items on hand. Seriously, I keep a huge block of Parmesan in my fridge. You might wonder how I use it up before it goes off, but in my book, Parmesan can top an endless list of meals.

Back to the asparagus. This recipe is straightforward and easy, but a little bit fussy since it requires an ice bath. However, it's still fairly simple and has a welcomed Asian kick. I followed the directions this time, but I'm curious to see if you could just grill or roast the asparagus shortly to keep them crispy but slightly cooked. You definitely do not want to over cook these. I also halved the dressing since I'm not a fan of extra oils and such, but feel free to double it if you like having more.
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Monday, March 28, 2011

Minestrone Soup

I'm one of those people who is jinxed when it comes to staying healthy when flying. If there's someone on the plane who has a cold, I'll leave the flight with it. And that's exactly what happened on my last flight. I woke up this morning and realized what I thought was just an annoying sore throat was now officially a cold. Well, there goes my appetite. But, the one thing that always seems to go down well on a sick day is a hearty bowl of minestrone soup. There are so many variations to this soup that it seems like anything consisting of tomatoes, beans and veggies can be labeled "minestrone." Not feeling up for a trip to the grocery store, I was relieved to see that the fridge had pretty much every ingredient I wanted to use (except zucchini).

Since minestrone soup recipes seem to be such a hodge-podge of vegetable and flavors, I'm going to give you a recipe that has been my savior today. Here's my disclaimer: having a cold means my sense of taste is pretty nonexistent right now. I think this tasted great, but if I was feeling 100% I might find things to tweak here and there.
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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Garlic and Gruyere Bread

I have never, ever been able to make good bread. All my efforts have always come out had as a rock, dense and generally horrible. The flavors would be fine, but that would be it. So needless to say I was skeptical when I tried this recipe. It sounded good, and I had similar ingredients at home, so I thought I might as well give it a try. My dough didn't require nearly as much flour as the original recipe stated, so I completed the recipe, but was convinced it would not turn out well. I didn't really bother taking many pictures of the process since I was that sure if would be a flop. But, this recipe has proven me wrong in every way. The bread was so good I didn't even have time to get a photo of the inside. I was so surprised by this success that blogging slipped my mind and dunking bread into soup was all I could think of. The bread does not have a particularly crunchy crust, but it tastes great and would make delicious little rolls as well.
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Persian Barley Soup (Asheh Jo)

I love Persian food. Growing up, some of my friends came from Iranian backgrounds and their mothers were the best cooks (seriously, I would still gladly live off their food). I've always wanted to be able to cook like them, but have never given it a try. For about a month now (in the middle of summer) I've been eyeballing this recipe, wondering when I'd be able to make it. It combines so many things I love into what looked like a perfect winter soup. I finally got around to making this recipe today, after my first gloomy, cold and rainy day since June. While I was making this soup, I was really skeptical. The dish doesn't come together until the end when all the flavors have been cooking together for a while. But once this happens, it is awesome. It's a meal in a bowl, and even though I made a salad and garlic and Gruyere bread, I would have been more than happy just having the soup.

To me, Asheh Jo is more like a stew than a soup in terms on consistence since it's filled with lots of chunky ingredients and is not meant to be liquidy. Do not skip the step of shredding the beef in a food processor or blender. At first the meat was too tough and stringy, but shredding it solves all these problems. I was last minute in making this recipe and didn't have time to soak the beans overnight, so I used canned beans and it worked out fine. The lentils can be dry as that is plenty of time for them to cook. Don't skimp on the herbs either since they're a huge source of flavor. In my grocery store I can only get 1/2 cup chopped chives from one bunch, so make sure you have enough. Also, try not to be lazy and skip the garnish, the shallots add a great flavor! This soup is time consuming, but it is so delicious and makes a ton of soup, so you can easily freeze some and have some as leftovers.
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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Iced Walnut Brownies

Today has been a sweets and treats sort of day. This morning I went to the Fremantle Market where I discovered an Indian vendor selling all sorts of Indian sweets. Being curious, I pretty much bought one of all. I'd never even heard of half of these desserts before, but had so much fun trying them out. There was almond burfi, mango peda, jalebi, ladoo, and some others that I can't remember (note: I'm sure there are tons of spelling variations if you look any of these up). Some were great, some just different, and some not quite my ideal dessert. Regardless, it was exciting learning about some new foods and tasting new flavors. And it made me want to bake when I got home. I decided I'd make some walnut brownies since I had the ingredients at home (and the local shops are closed on Sunday). I found a recipe that sounded good, had almost all positive reviews and seemed pretty foolproof.

The results were a moist and chocolaty, took 15 minutes to prepare, and were completely fuss-free (I was in no mood for high maintenance baking). I didn't have the right size baking pan, so I used a casserole dish instead. This works out fine, but it added 15 minutes to the baking time. I'll post the original recipe's baking times since I'm assuming most of you have regular baking pans. If you're going to make these, don't get lazy and skip the icing, it makes these brownies stand out from the everyday brownie we've all eaten. If you really want to go into sweets overload mode, serve this with some vanilla ice cream when it's still warm.
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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Broccoli Beef

I absolutely love broccoli beef. It's one of the few Chinese take away dishes I actually enjoy (minus occasionally feeling horrible after eating Asian fast food). I decided I wanted to find a recipe that tasted restaurant made, but wasn't loaded with flavor enhancers or other mysterious ingredients. This one is really easy and turns out great every time I make it. I made this for dinner tonight and even got the approval of a 3 year old! It's hard to skip seconds and every time I "make extras for lunch" they magically vanish before the night is over. If you're looking for a quick, delicious stir-fry recipe, give this one a try.

The original recipe calls for garlic powder and ground ginger. I always replace these with fresh ingredients, but will list both options in the recipe. Keep in mind I have not taste tested both versions, but I have high hopes it would be delicious either way. The beef that you use can be whichever cut of meat you prefer. And if you actually have any leftovers, this dish reheats well.
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Quick Hummus

Hummus is one of my "backup" snacks. It's so easy and only takes 5 minutes to whip together, which makes it the perfect last minute appetizer. The original recipe this stems from is a good starting point for a hummus and tastes great with some tweaks. I have thrown this together for impromptu barbecues, mid-afternoon snacks, or as a side dish. It always seems to magically disappear when it's served, so why not try making some hummus on your own?

After a day of gardening yesterday, nothing sounded better at 4:00 that a cold beer and some hummus and veggies (slightly random combo, I know). So, armed with the immersion blender, I made a quick batch and thought I'd try converting some of you to homemade hummus makers as well. If you want to make it look a little nicer than just a bowl of brown puree, save a few of the garbanzo beans and use some chopped parsley as garnish. My one word of advice is that you do not substitute anything for the Tahini. The flavor will not be right and you won't be eating hummus.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Homemade Potato Chips

I don't even know how I originally came across this recipe, but I remember thinking there was no way it would work. Well, I was wrong. These chips, though time consuming considering they are just chips, are as crispy as regular, deep fried potato chips. You can flavor them any way you want and there's hardly any oil involved in making them. I tried a few variations, and all of my favorites had Parmesan cheese grated on top with a sprinkling of salt. The chip itself is pretty flavorless, so it's all about seasoning them with your favorite things. I'm sure garlic powder, Italian herbs, cayenne pepper and even Mrs. Dash/seasoning salt would go great on top.
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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Fish Tacos/ Burritos

I've had a request to post some quick and easy meals for the employed population of the world that's busy working and doesn't have hours to search for recipes and try them out. Here's one that happened on accident today after running errands and realizing that I was starving at 4 pm. I opened my fridge and was relieved to see I had an avocado left. Pretty sure I could live off of avocados and cilantro if I didn't love all food so much. Anyway, I had more or less everything I needed to make some fish tacos, except taco shells. But I made do with a normal wheat wrap and it tasted just as good as my usual tacos (possibly due to my being really hungry). This recipe is so quick and easy and anything you have in your fridge or pantry that sounds like it goes well with Mexican/Tex-Mex food can be thrown in. I had half a can of kidney beans left that I added to the mix, but seriously, whatever you want works. Mainly I'm giving you the fish, guacamole, and 1 minute salsa recipes and the rest you can make up. Don't use all of these elements if you don't want to, I just love overloading my tacos and burritos. If you don't like spicy foods, scale back on the chili usage or use mild chilies or peppers.
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Oat-Anything Crackers

Yesterday was a complete baking disaster. I found a recipe for a pomegranate pound cake that sounded (in theory) delicious. It had lime zest, vanilla, and pomegranate combined in what sounded like a wonderful summer cake. I have now discovered the awful texture that pomegranates create in baking. If I really thought about it, I would have realized this before baking, but I was too excited to try out the new recipe. Moral of the story: those really hard little seeds in each pomegranate bite means you have horrible, hard, unappetizing morsels throughout your cake. Lesson learned, I think I'll stick with using just the juice from now on.

This morning was a different story in the baking world. My friend sent me a link to a Heidi Sawnson oatmeal cracker recipe that sounded, and looked, so good. And, surprise, surprise, I couldn't find dark rye flour in the regular grocery store or the health/natural food store. So I got home and did a quick search to see if there was another type of cracker that might do that trick. All I can say is YUM! I found a recipe for an oat cracker (not quite oatmeal, but close) that was easy to make, easy to adjust to your flavor preferences, and perfectly crunchy. The basic recipe only calls for 5 ingredients, which you most likely have at home right now. I added some poppy seeds and dried rosemary to pack in more flavor (how can you resist a homemade rosemary cracker).

You could pretty much add any flavor combination you'd like to these crackers. If you're unsure of what flavors work well with crackers, this link is a great basic guideline for what spices/herbs compliment different foods. Just look in the bread section and it will probably work well in a cracker. These crackers make a wonderful snacking cracker, but aren't really strong enough for dipping anything chunky. I spooned some macadamia pesto (sadly not homemade) on top and had my first round of lunch at 11 this morning.

My suggestions for making these crackers is to make sure the crackers have a golden look once they're baked. Golden means they'll be really crispy. I got impatient with a few and took them out a little too early and they lost their crunch once they cooled. The original recipe calls for a 20 minute bake time, but mine took 35. Also, if you're having a hard time blending everything into a fine, powdery consistency, keep scraping down the sides of your blender. I even ended up moving the whole blender in different angles to get as many of the oats and nuts ground up.  

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mixed Greens with Goat Cheese and Candied Almonds

Clearly, I've been on a candied nut kick lately. They become dangerously addictive and any recipe that calls for them becomes an instant "must try" on my list. They also add such a great crunch to salads, and since it's 95°F here, salads sound pretty amazing. I promise once it cools down I won't be posting about salad every other day, but remember when it was summer where most of you live? And how sweltering it can get when you don't have an air conditioner?

Anyway, back to the salad I discovered during my candied nut hunt. This is a quick one to throw together, except the dressing requires about 30 minutes to reduce on your stove. You can add more to it, switch cheeses, switch nuts, but it's really the dressing that is great. Try to avoid using extra virgin olive oil (light olive oil would be better), since it overpowers the flavor of the apple cider vinegar and sparkling cider. I cut the recipe in half and it made a great lunch for 3 (assuming not all 3 are starving). The salad dressing makes A LOT more than you need. You can save it in your fridge for another salad, give some away, or scale it back. I decided to save some and give the rest away to my friend who was the guinea pig today. She loved the dressing and was a happy to help get rid of the extra.
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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Mocha Cupcakes

When I first decided to begin blogging, I asked around to see what people wanted me to cook or bake. One of my friends suggested a cappuccino cupcake, which I have now turned into a mocha cupcake. Similar concept, just more of a chocolate flavor. To begin this experiment, I used a recipe recommended to me by my sister's friend a couple months ago. The original recipe is Martha Stewart's One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcake (note: this is not the same recipe she has on her website). I added some instant coffee to the recipe and made up a mocha buttercream frosting to go on top. Had I not been warned, I would have been convinced I was missing an ingredient. The batter is extremely runny, making it a pain in the butt to pour into the cupcake liners. Do not overfill them or they will expand too much and have those kinda ugly, huge, and blob-like cupcake tops. But have faith, within 10 minutes of baking, these cupcakes puff up and look delicious.

This cupcake is light, airy, and moist. I have always avoided any baking recipe that requires cocoa powder, but this one was amazing. And don't tell Martha, but my cocoa powder was most definitely not dutch-process. There's only one kind of cocoa powder in my local grocery store: Nestle baking cocoa powder. It still turned out prefect. Give these cupcakes a try, and if you want them to be plain chocolate cupcakes, just omit the instant coffee. Everything else is the same, even the warm water. I'm not sure why they get inverted and re-inverted in the cooling directions (possibly the get them out? no clue, but tell me the reasoning if you know it). Other than that, this recipe is easy, straightforward and at this point I think it's foolproof. I forgot to add sugar to the recipe until I tasted the batter and realized it still had that bitter cocoa powder flavor. I threw it in at the end and these still worked out great. And I don't have a mixer either, just used a whisk and bowl. Oh and if you've ever eaten the Belwood Bakery (in Los Angeles) cappuccino muffins, the batter tastes just like them.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spinach and Candied Walnut Salad

Every now and then I look for random recipes based strictly on what's in my fridge/pantry. Last night I had a bag of spinach and leftover blue cheese that I wanted to use up. So after looking at blogs and websites filled with the same salad (more or less) that used ingredients I didn't have at home, I was relieved to find this one! I tweaked the salad only by using apples instead of pears, either fruit would be great, and was really happy with the result. The candied walnuts were so easy to make and are a great snack, even on their own. I think I ate about half of them straight off the baking sheet. The dressing is nothing to brag about, but all the flavors come together really well when the salad is mixed.  You can chop everything into bit sized bit or just use the spinach leaves as-is and slices of fruit. It's also great because you can adjust the amount of cheese, fruit and walnuts based on your own preferences. I didn't follow the scale of this recipe since I made it for 2 people, so go ahead and play around with it. The recipe I'm posting is the original, made for more people
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Kangaroo with Blue Cheese Butter

Before anyone beings to feel bad for the kangaroos, keep in mind that they are sometimes a pest here. Let me show you this little tidbit about kangaroos:

Anyway, I saw this recipe for blue cheese butter on a cooking show in Australia, and since kangaroo has been my meat of choice for a while, I decided to try the two together. Kangaroo tastes a lot like beef, but is really lean, so it can easily replace beef in most recipes. I just seasoned the steaks with salt and pepper and about a tablespoon of olive oil and grilled the meat to medium rare. The blue cheese butter is great and melts beautifully on the meat off the grill. This recipe is enough for about 4 to 8 steaks, depending on how much butter you like to use. The original recipe claims that it serves 4, but that would be lots of butter on each steak. If you end up with extras, just freeze the remaining butter.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lemon Panna Cotta

Ok, I really can't begin to describe the panna cotta heaven I am in. It's day 2 of my panna cotta binge and I see no end in sight. How can you go wrong when the main ingredient is cream (hence the name panna cotta: cooked cream)? After baking a bit the past week and realizing that it is counterproductive to keeping the house cool, I thought I would try out panna cotta. To be honest, I've never worked with gelatin before and I had some serious doubts. I had to combine methods for making panna cotta from a few different sources since the original Gordon Ramsay recipe called for gelatin leaves. All I could find in the grocery store was powdered gelatin so I followed Giada's method of using powdered gelatin.

I also don't have the proper pudding molds used for making panna cotta, so I filled some muffin tins and glasses. I'm sure any professional chef out there would be horrified at such things, but it worked out fine. In the end, this no-bake recipe is pretty much the prefect, refreshing dessert. I had my panna cotta plain and with a lime sauce, but to be honest, just plain tasted the best. It would definitely be great with some berries on the side if you're trying to make it look a bit nicer and fuller. Or just make all the sides Gordon Ramsay came up with.
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Monday, March 7, 2011

Balsamic Glazed Salmon

A few months ago, this recipe was recommended to me and I could not have been happier. It's a quick and easy recipe that adds lots of flavor to the salmon. You can play around with the flavors a bit to find something you like best. The original recipe calls for oregano, but it has been almost impossible to find fresh oregano in my local grocery store. Every time I've checked the oregano section, it is filled with thyme. The thyme section is filled with thyme. And some days even the sage has also been replaced by thyme.

With this in mind, I opted against using oregano (more out of force than choice) and I added some grated ginger root to the glaze since it's a flavor I love. If you're missing an ingredient for the glaze, aside for the balsamic vinegar, you should still be able to wing it or use alternatives. I also suggesting either sticking with the oregano or the ginger, but not combining both.
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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Fresh Spring Rolls

Ever since summer started this year, there's one food that I can't seem to get enough of. One of my first days in Perth I had some take away Vietnamese spring rolls and I have been hooked ever since. I don't feel right calling the ones that I make "Vietnamese" since I'm sure anyone who knows how to make these in an authentic way would just shake their head at me. Nonetheless, I love my version of spring rolls and it's so much easier to make than I expected.

Before trying to make these I was convinced I would have no luck using such a thin rice paper, but it proved to be much easier. The rolling method I use is sort of like a tight delicate version of how burritos get rolled up. If anyone know of an easier way, feel free to let me know. I made these with jasmine rice, but they would be even better made with rice vermicelli (which are not currently in stock in my kitchen). Also, you could easily adjust the fillings to suit your palette. If you don't have prawns, these are also delicious just full of veggies, with tofu, or with chicken. Have fun with these. The more you experiment with the flavor, the better they tend to turn out.

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Easy Scones

Ever since opening a jar of lemon curd last week, I've been craving some warm, fluffy scones to smother with this lemony goodness. The reason I kept putting it off stems from a scone disaster that occurred about 10 years ago. The last time I made scones, I spent a fair amount of time incorporating the butter into the flour by hand and following a traditional scone recipe. Sadly, this decade old scone experience led to what could be defined as either 1) a lethal weapon, or 2) a rock.

I asked around for a scone recipe and it turns out a pretty common Aussie method for scones is extremely easy and tastes just as a scone should. I don't know the origin of the recipe as it was discovered by word of mouth, but whoever came up with it is incredibly skilled at making baking easy. I know, the ingredients made me skeptical at first as well. But give them a chance, they make a great breakfast/brunch food in only 25 minutes.

Update: I made these scone for a British brunch and received so many compliments. One woman said they were the best scones there (and there were quite a few variations). They were the first ones gone from the brunch spread. I obviously did not mention that they were probably also the easiest scones to make.
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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Peanut and Currant Cookies

 I just had one of those moment where I felt like baking, but there was no way I was going to walk to the grocery store. I'm in Perth right now, sans car, and the weather does not seem to want to drop below 100 degrees. And even though the supermarket is only about 5 blocks away, I can't get myself to make the trip. So I did a quick search to see if there was a recipe I could make with the small amount of baking supplies I had on hand. What I have come up with is a variation of an Indian recipe that seemed like it could handle lots of supplementing. The outcome of this baking effort was a peanut butter flavored cookie that had a soft center (though not a "chewy" cookie). Almost a cross between a cookies and a cake. It went great with my chai tea this morning!

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