Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pavlova Nests

A few nights ago, a friend came over for dinner who has to follow a strict gluten free diet. There are so many great gluten free grain options that I never find this to be a challenge for the main course, but desserts can sometimes be tricky. I didn't want to make a flourless chocolate cake since they're often way too rich after a big dinner. I also wanted to do a little more than just some fruit and berries. Finally I remembered that I was looking at recipes for pavlova nests a couple months ago and decided to give them a try.

This was a great dessert option and we all loved it. I realize that smothering a meringue with cream is far from light and healthy, but it doesn't feel as heavy as a gluten free cake. Topping the cream with fresh berries bring a little tart kick to the sweet cream and meringue. I made my pavlova nests about 3 heaping tablespoons  in size, but they expanded more that I thought they would during baking. This gives you a bigger surface to decorate with berries, but using just 2 tablespoons would be sufficient and leave you with a more miniature sized dessert.

What I love about a pavlova is that you can really use any fruit or berry combination on top. The texture of a pavlova is different from a regular meringue. The exterior is crunchy, but the inside has a marshmallow-like consistency. If you want to make these ahead of time, bake the meringues up to a day or 2 ahead of time, but only add the cream and berries/fruit at the last minute. Preparing the whole pavlova before you need it will make the meringue soggy.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mu Shu Chicken

After mentioning mu shu chicken on my blog a couple of days ago, I began craving the stuff and decided I needed to make it. I've never attempted mu shu at home, but it was time to give it a try. Mu shu used to be one of my favorite meals in Chinese restaurants but I had completely forgotten about it until about 2 months ago. I bookmarked a few recipes back then and was ready to make these, but as usual, I forgot about it. This last time I finally remembered and am so glad I did.

Mu shu can be done in a pretty easy way if you have an Asian shop nearby where you can buy the mandarin pancakes (I couldn't find them in a regular grocery store). I decided to go the homemade route and make these pancakes, which are more like an Asian tortilla, from scratch. They're not difficult to make, just time consuming. But ultimately the effort was worth it since this mu shu tasted exactly as I remembered.

When making the filling, you can use all kinds of veggies that go well with an Asian stir fry. I took the flavors from an Emeril Lagasse recipe, but had a variety of veggies that were not listed in the recipe. The bok choy in my grocery store looked pretty sad, so I replaced it with napa cabbage. I couldn't find any bamboo shoots, so I skipped those and threw in some grated carrots. So really, anything goes.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Arugula Salad

My apologies for not posting any new recipes on the blog lately. I just figured out where to get wifi access in Grass Valley (a small-ish town in Northern California) and am posting 2 recipes today in an attempt make up for it. I've still been baking and cooking lots, but the photos and recipes have piled up on my laptop instead of on my blog. Time to amend this...

One of my favorite salads is this simple arugula salad. The first time I had something similar was at Trio, a delicious restaurant in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, last year. I loved my entire meal at this restaurant, and decided I would try to recreate it on my own. Arugula salad was the first part of this dinner that I attempted to make. To my surprise, it was really easy to do (unlike the halibut with wild mushrooms that I had as my main course). I adjusted the acidity level and amount of cheese to my liking, and you can change it in any way you want. I love strong lemon flavors, but you can easily tone it down by changing the lemon to olive oil ratio.

This salad is refreshing and prefect for summer. The local grower's market in Grass Valley, CA has recently started up again after a long winter, and this weekend I picked up some beautiful arugula. These fresh bunches of arugula don't look like what you buy in the grocery store, but, as you can imagine, the flavor is unbelievable. Another reason why I love this salad is that the dressing isn't too heavy. The peppery flavor of the arugula comes through and is not overpowered since the ingredients in this salad are so simple.
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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hoisin Glazed Kebabs

Hoisin sauce is one of my favorite Asian sauces. I like it so much that I may or may not have consumed every last drop of this sauce, even after my kebab was gone (gross, I know). This is an easy recipe to throw together and can be changed to your liking. Add whatever vegetables you want to the skewers, or even fruit. I kind of wished I had some pineapple chunks on my skewer as I was eating it. You can increase the spiciness, add ginger, or even add some orange juice and zest. If you like the flavor of hoisin sauce, you can't go wrong with these kebabs.

Never heard of hoisin? Trust me on this, it's delicious, and available in the Asian section of most grocery stores. If you've ever had mu shu chicken/pork at a Chinese restaurant, hoisin is the main flavor in that dish. It's a little bit sweet, and has a consistency similar of oyster sauce. Enjoy this quick, Asian-inspired meal and serve kebabs over rice, or just the way they are. These are more filling that I realized and one kebab was plenty for me. If you don't feel like making kebabs, this marinade would be great on a regular steak as well.
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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Soft Baked Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

I'm pretty sure most of us that bake have encountered cookies that turn out too hard or too crispy. I find this to be especially true whenever I bake a chocolate chip or an oatmeal raisin cookies. In my mind, both of these cookies are better when they're chewy and soft, but a majority of the recipes I've made have been crunchy. Thank goodness for Smitten Kitchen and her very heavily tweaked version of the Quaker Oats recipe. I've finally found an oatmeal raisin cookie that has lots of oats, lots of raisins, and is soft baked!

Making these is really simple and the result is just what I was hoping for. The dough gets chilled (apparently this is one of the tricks to getting thick, soft baked cookies), so you can make the dough a day ahead of when you need it, or just an hour or so before. I ended up freezing half of the rolled out cookies since I knew having two dozen delicious cookies in the house would become a problem (I have no self control when it comes to certain foods).

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Spicy Grilled Kale

Before this week, I never thought kale would make it onto my blog. It was a food that I convinced myself was good, but I never really enjoyed it. I just ate it for the same reason it became so popular: it's really healthy. I'm glad I gave it another chance though. I now have a new appreciation for this super food and will keep trying out new variations. I'm sure there will be some disasters in this mission, but making really healthy food taste really good isn't always the easiest task.

It seems I have finally discovered a trick to enjoying kale. First, I made it spicy. I'm sure not all of you enjoy spicy food as much as I do, but it added a very welcomed kick to the kale (plus spicy food boosts your metabolism). The spice took away some of the "healthy" taste of the kale, but you can cut back on the heat if you want. Next, I grilled the kale until it had softened slightly. This combination of grilling and spicy created the first kale dish that I ever enjoyed. You can easily double this recipe as well if you're cooking for more people.
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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

The weather has been crazy here. It rains all night and in the mornings, then it reaches the 70s in the late afternoon. This has been messing with my baking and cooking moods like crazy. I wake up wanting hot cocoa and scones, and by the evening a salad sounds perfect. Today was another one of these crazy days. I woke up to clouds, some rain, and cool weather. By 10 am I called my neighbor to cancel our walk for the day since cloudy days make me unproductive and lazy. While talking to her, she commented on how it was a baking day, and I realized that was the perfect thing to do. I found a recipe for oatmeal cookies and got to work. The recipe suggested chilling the cookies before baking them, so they're currently sitting in the fridge.

But guess what happened during this chilling period... it got sunny. I'm no longer in the mood for warm, chewy cookies. Instead, I just had a huge bowl of strawberry cheesecake ice cream that I made last week. I had forgotten all about this ice cream since it hasn't really been the weather for it, but now seems like the perfect day to share this with you.

The flavor in the ice cream is all there: fresh strawberries, cream cheese, graham cracker crust. It's a really simple ice cream to make since there's no custard in this recipe and if you don't mind the texture of strawberry seeds, you can skip the step where they get removed. When you take it out of the freezer give it a minute to soften before digging in. Apparently you can make this with fresh or frozen strawberries, but since I went a bit strawberry happy at the farmer's market last week, I used fresh ones.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Eggplant Dip

I'm lucky to have a mom that loves to cook, and is really good at it. My sister and I grew up in a home where our friends always knew they would be offered tons of homemade goodies. If you were invited over for dinner, you knew it would be something delicious (and there may be a doggie bag of leftovers). So, yes, I have been spoiled with good food my whole life. That's probably why I wanted to learn how to cook. I'm not saying I don't slack off and settle for the easy way out sometimes, but I have learned to appreciate good, home-cooked meals.

Besides experimenting with foods that I love eating, my other method for developing my cooking skills and recipe collection is stealing some of my all time favorites from my mother. When I was in elementary school, my mom bought the school cookbook (parents submitted recipes and a book was sold as a fund raiser). That's where this eggplant dip recipe came from. Even though it originated in the early 90s, this is still one of my favorite dips. I'm pretty sure this was the only recipe my mother ever made from that cookbook, but I am so glad she did. Since I was a kid, I have been able to gobble down half of this dip in one sitting. I used to scarf down so much of it that I could hardly eat any other part of my dinner.

I don't change the flavor in this recipe, just some of the methods. The original is made with fried eggplant, but to save time (you end up cooking eggplant in batches since it won't fit in 1 pan) and make this a tiny bit healthier, I roast the eggplant. The skin can become a little tough if these roast too long, so keep an eye on your oven and roast until they're fully cooked and no more. You could probably also peel the eggplant before roasting, but I'd rather not. Make sure the eggplant gets fully roasted, since it will taste awful if it's undercooked. This dip will get better by the day, so it's best to make it ahead of time. It's still great right out of the pan, but it always tastes better the second day.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Raspberry-Topped Lemon Muffins

In a way, muffins have always confused me. They're considered a breakfast food, but they border on being a dessert. I almost never have pastries for breakfast since I'm usually starving 20 minutes later if I rely solely on breakfast sweets. And when I do go down the sweet breakfast path, it's usually an afterthought to what would have already been a filling meal (and usually provided by somebody else). Don't get me wrong, I love a good muffin or doughnut, but I don't understand how that can keep someone going until lunch time. You non-breakfast eaters out there are a total mystery to me.

For me, muffins serve as an afternoon snack. Or a small dessert after a meal alongside some fruit or berries. For this reason, I especially love mini-muffins. They're the perfect 2 bite treat to satisfy my sweet tooth without making me feel overly stuffed. I've been known to eat myself into a food coma (my friends who traveled with me in Turkey have witnessed this in full force), so sometimes even the thought of a rich, heavy dessert is enough to induce the coma. This is when the mini muffin is a much welcomed end to a meal. And there's no way you can say no to this adorable one.

Not only does this muffin have a refreshing lemon flavor, but it's almost 1/3 berry. The bite of fresh raspberry (which can be a little tart) contrasts really well with the sweet muffin. The addition of a whole raspberry to a mini muffin is a great way to cut the sweetness and make it feel much lighter. This recipe is originally from Bon Appetit magazine, but I followed the directions on Smitten Kitchen since Deb simplified the steps and made this a much easier (and more freezer friendly) variation of the original. According to Smitten Kitchen, you can use fresh or frozen berries, but since I had lots of fresh berries, that's all I have tried these with.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Orzo with Roasted Vegetables

Spring has been beautiful here in California. Where I'm staying, it's actually nicer now than it will probably be at the start of summer. June can sometimes get very gloomy in the mornings, with the sun only beginning to poke through the clouds in the afternoon. I'm sure that still beats the weather in some other parts of the world, but considering the fact that this is "sunny" California, gloomy morning are not welcome. So for that reason, I'm enjoying every minute of spring sunshine and making meals that can easily be eaten and served outside.

This orzo is perfect side dish for any picnic, barbecue, or outdoor meal. It combines pasta with veggies and cheese in a way that does not feel heavy (like some pasta dishes do). I've even had it as a main course and been more than happy to call it a meal. However, for all the extreme carnivores out there, just throw some meat on the grill, serve this as a side, and you'll be set. This dish tastes great the next day too and can be served at room temperature or cold (I don't usually re-heat it when I have it the next day).

The recipe can be changed endlessly. First off, I'm too lazy to peel my veggies before I roast them, and I see no reason for doing so. If you don't like eggplants, use zucchini. If you want more veggies, add them. If you want more orzo, you can double the amount and have fewer vegetables. The original recipe is heavy on the olive oil, so I always cut that back a bit. This will still yield lots of dressing, but the eggplant and orzo soak up the flavors really well. The recipe calls for toasted pine nuts on top. I'm personally not a fan of this step, but other people who have had this like the crunch, so I'll leave it up to you. Play around with this if you don't like a specific element. It will probably taste great with any variety of roasted veggies.

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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Linzer Cookies

If you haven't already noticed, I have quite the sweet tooth. Today alone I probably consumed more sugar than some people do in a week. A lunch made of ice cream and cake batter is far from healthy, but so, so good. And I just pretend there is no such thing as salmonella while scraping up every last bit of batter. These cookies are another delicious cure for my sweet tooth.

Make these today. Seriously. They are so good. When it comes to making cookies, I am extremely fussy. I find that most homemade cookies are average, or slightly better than average, but not always worth the time they take. So when I find one that I love, it becomes a keeper and now this cookie is at the top of my list. They're adorable (especially if you are a more delicate baker than I am), but a little time consuming. Don't let that put you off of these. They're just as time consuming as most cookies that get cut into cute shapes, I just tend to get impatient.

The trickiest part about these cookies is rolling out the dough. After several failed attempts, I decided it would be easiest to leave the plastic wrap in which they are chilled laying on top of the dough, then rolling. This was what save me from giving up on these cookies. After that it's just a matter of keeping the surface floured and not rolling the dough too thin. The thinner the dough, the more difficult it is to lift the delicate cookies onto the baking sheet. I also realized I only had a really chunky mixed berry jam, so I threw it in the mini food processor to make it smooth before decorating the cookies. Even without the jam, these were really good cookies. I intentionally left a few of mine incomplete and used them as a "dunking" cookie with a cup of tea.

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Moroccan Seasoned Fish

When I was living in Spain, I went to Morocco for a week and fell in love with the food. I'd never had meat cooked with sweet, cinnamon flavors, nor had I ever thought such a combination would taste good. There was fresh mint tea available every day and it seemed like everything I tried was amazing. Not everyone agreed with me, as there are tons of spices and exciting flavors used in this kind of cooking. If you're even a little bit adventurous with the food you eat, you'll probably like this fish since the flavor isn't too extreme or unfamiliar. During my trip to Morocco, I really didn't have an interest in cooking Moroccan food on my own and was content trying everything around me. Oh how things have changed since then...

Years ago, my aunt gave my mother one of Annabelle White's cookbooks. While flipping through the pages (this is one of my favorite lazy day activities), I came across this recipe for "Moroccan Seasoning for Fish Fillets" and decided I had to give it a try. In the original recipe, the fish is fried, but to keep this a little healthier and get more out of the sauce, I baked it. So not only is this fish healthy and delicious, it's also really easy! You could have it thrown together and cooked in 30 minutes (20 of which are spent in the oven). Annabelle finely chops all of her herbs and onion, but you can just put everything in a food processor and pulse it until it has a pesto-like coarseness.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Chocolate Chip Meringues

After making many delicious (and one disastrous) batches of ice cream lately, there is an excess of egg whites in my life. I'm not exactly a health nut, so an egg white omelet is out of the question. The next thing that always comes to mind is baking a batch of meringues. Everyone in my family seems to have a favorite meringue recipe. My mom makes a Swiss meringue cookie which is really good (but I didn't have the right nuts at home) and my sister uses a recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  My sister has been baking these meringues for a few years and each time she serves them, they are a huge hit. There could be a dessert table with all sorts of treats imaginable, and these will get grabbed first. They're a great gluten free dessert option as well.

The original recipe describes 2 baking methods that you can choose from. One is to bake them on low heat for a long time and the other uses higher heat for a shorter amount of time. I prefer the low and slow method and think the overall cookie is better. But either will taste good, so if you're in a rush, you'll still have a great final result. I also think I may be crazy,  but when I bake these I find them very chocolaty, but when my sister makes them they are perfect (she swears she uses the original amount from the recipe). So you can be the judge yourself on this topic one since I have no logical explanation.

After already measuring out all the ingredients for the recipe, I realized that there was no cream of tartar to be found anywhere, so I omitted it and, shockingly, these still were great. This is the most resilient meringue I have ever encountered. Compared to some meringues, where whisking in the wrong type of bowl will ruin your cookie, these can withstand anything. And to top it off, I made a semi-confused phone call to my sister mid-whisking wondering what I had done wrong. My egg white mixture never formed into stiff peaks and I thought I had ruined the cookie. Turns out hers don't stiffen either and they bake perfectly every time.

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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Pink Salty Dog

Sorry to everyone who is still stuck with gloomy winter weather, but it's been warm here all week. Goodbye hot cocoa and spiced rum, hello fruity drinks and cocktails! I came across this recipe on Martha Stewart's site and was surprised. I must be living under a rock or something, but I had no clue Martha could make a good cocktail (I don't know why I ever doubted her). Since I've been on a freshly squeezed juice kick lately, this cocktail sounded perfect.

This isn't one of those overly sweet drinks, but I also haven't made the grenadine variation. If you use the Campari, it will be the dominant flavor of the drink. If you're more into a sugary flavor, give it a try with the grenadine. Martha recommends using a salt-rimmed glass, but I prefer sugar. Just use whichever you like more, or skip it altogether. This is the perfect drink to enjoy in some sunshine.

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