Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Spaghetti Squash Gratin With Basil


Every day is a new adventure and this one is blogging mid flight en route to Michigan!  That's right folks, I am now somewhere in the sky above the Cascades!  I don't think this technology is that new, but it's still boggling my mind.  My not so inner food is silently screaming at my flight neighbor, so far she has downed not one, but two Big Macs.  Two!  I've never had one in my entire life (I fear I am the worldly exception) and somehow some of their not-so-special sauce ended up on my jacket. 

In the spirit of the holidays, I think I'll keep chanting my mantra "tis the season to be jolly, tis the season to eat whatever the hell thy wants."  I mean, I didn't eat a handful or five of puppy chow last night because I ran out of food… who would do such a thing?  I really can't complain, with my wifi, a free copy of Bon Appetit and Sufjan Stevens Christmas music I should be able to enjoy the friendly skies (even though there is a fair amount of turbulence right now).

I have a large number of photos of cookies to edit, but I have been meaning to post this recipe for a while now.  The main reason I haven't?  The photo is horrible and doesn't do this dish justice.  Every. Single. Time. I make this, it is after 8 o'clock and I am eating by the light of florescent light bulbs.  It's quite romantic, trust me, especially the loving glow it casts on my food in photographs.  I found this recipe in the New York Times "Dining for Health" section sometime in October and it has been an inexpensive and healthy staple ever since.  I even taught Gabe, a guy who can't even boil water, how to make this. No matter how much the succulent squash weighs, Trader Joe's will only charge me $3 per gourd!  I almost feel like I'm robbing them when I scurry out the front doors cradling spaghetti squash in grocery bag shrouds.  Any squash leftover from roasting can be frozen in one cup increments for a (seemingly) indefinite amount of time.

**The only part of this dish that isn't so cheap is the Gruyère cheese, but if you don't feel like dropping $15 on a chunk of cheese, any slightly salty but essentially earthy cheese can be substituted in a snap.

I think I need a nap.  I've been up since 4 am Seattle-time… at least I won't have any troubles falling asleep when I'm back in Michigan.

If I don't have a chance to blog again before Christmas, Happy Christmahanakwanzika!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cranberry Marzipan BonBon's


I think a better name for these would be "Most Addictive German Candies EVER" (it's what I have so eloquently called them for the past year).  I realize that this is not the most politically correct way to describe a dessert, but oh boy oh boy, I can't stop eating these once I've started.  A few nights ago, I gave a plant of cookies away and the guy said "these are so flavorful, you almost need a tall glass of milk to go with them!"  In my little world, that's a pretty good compliment!


I going to make a wild assumption and guess that you don't know Bjoern.  Well, other than my parents and friends from Michigan, most of you don't know of his glory.  Bjoern and I met within the first few weeks of my senior year at U of M; he was a Fulbright scholar trucked over from Germany to study naval architecture and marine engineering.  Needless to say we hit it off very quickly and he instantly became one of my dearest friends (well, at least my dearest German friend, and this is a larger category than one might think!)  For Christmas last year, he gave me a tin full of these bonbons and I have been addicted ever since.  This was a decently sized tin, capable of holding at least 20 or so treats and I actually had to hide them from myself.  I put them atop my armoire, made them extremely difficult to get to and they still disappeared in less than 5 days.  The ghost of Christmas weight gain was once again rearing her ugly head.

As you can imagine, I have been begging Bjoern for this recipe ever since then.  He just sent it to me.  JUST.  His excuse was that the recipe was in German (he translated it for me) and all the measurements were metric.  I could have worked with that; I would have MADE it work.  Last week he sent me a translated copy of the recipe, still in metric but I weigh everything anyways, and I got to baking that night.  Even now I have to to tell myself "No, these cookies are for other people.  Not for you to eat.  Think of all the joy you'll bring people!"  Then I promptly eat one more.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Brown Butter Pumpkin Layer Cake

Yes, that IS snow on the table outside!
Did this recipe deserve the cover of Fine Cooking magazine?  Yeah, I'm pretty sure it did.  Once again, I am behind on posting and I even pushed this one up in the cue because I really liked the picture and I feel like I need to redeem myself from the previous two posts.  I know I've whined about this before, but really Seattle?  You really have to make the sun start setting at 3pm?  When I was sick this last weekend, I didn't even get UP until 3 pm (I was sick!)… let alone try and take pictures of food.

I made this cake for Thanksgiving this year, my first one away from Michigan.  I could tell you a sob story about it (there really wasn't one…), but instead I baked my feelings away during the Snowpocalypse that happened just a few days before T-Day.  To all my Michiganders out there, please feel free to be disgusted, but the whole city of Seattle shutdown for almost two days before of 3 (THREE!) inches of snow.  I couldn't get to work on Monday or Tuesday and to get ingredients for this cake, I had to walk over a mile, half of it up and down a huge ice covered hill, to the Interbay QFC.  I then found out that one of the Thanksgivings I was going to didn't have power (they eventually got it back on in time) over on the Olympic Peninsula.  Say it with me now, SERIOUSLY Seattle?

I brought this over to my first Thanksgiving of the evening, hosted by my neighbors Doug & Elspeth!  I know they read my blog, so I'll only say nice thing about them, but honestly, there are only nice things to say about them!  Soon after moving in they greeted me and invited Rachel and I over for some wine.  We regularly go over to their place and I feel comforted knowing they're my neighbor!  Thanks guys!

Anyways… this cake is delicious!  I mean, actually plate licking delicious.  The cake portion is so moist and soft, but still has a tight enough crumb that frosting it isn't difficult at all.  Topping wise, I couldn't have thought up of a more perfect combination.  The toasted nuts contrast perfectly with the heat of the ginger while the pepitas provide an unexpected but welcome crunch.  To finish it off, the frosting is wonderful but I think the recipe developers were a little skimpy with the ingredients - I barely had just enough frosting.  Next time I'll make a little more.  However, it was nice that there wasn't much sugar in the frosting.

I know the pumpkin season is ending as we move into the non-stop feast on holiday cookies, but I swear this will be worth your while.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Pumpkin Fudge


Oh pumpkin, how you infiltrate my life for a few months every year.  Your warming goodness is just too enticing - I cannot resist!  Regretfully, the pumpkin season is slowing coming to a close for most people, but at least I have enough frozen pumpkin puree in my freezer to last me through a nuclear war.  So sit tight with me while I continue to publish posts that pertain to pumpkin for a few more months.  It'll be worth it… I think.

I assume you've already heard enough about my Friendsgiving feast I had a few weeks back so I'll spare you and just get onto what this fudge tastes like.  I did bring it to the party for the dessert portion of the meal, so you could ask everyone in attendance, but you'll most likely have to trust my word.  However, I think you do need some photographic evidence to prove that this blessed meal actually happened.  This would be our "awkward family photo."  I also have one of everyone recreating the Last Supper, but everyone is just so much prettier in this one:

Fudge.  Right, the main course of this post.  Obviously it's delicious, and that's saying a lot coming from me!  I was spoiled with the World Famous Mackinaw Island Fudge growing up and little can live up to it for me.  The original recipe called for chopped walnuts and white chocolate (so I guess you can add those in if you want) but I'm a purist and like my chocolate dark... just like my...coffee!  If anything, I can make the logical excuse that dark chocolate is actually healthy for you!  Don't mind the fact that the recipe also has butter, marshmallow and evaporated milk… just think of that as "extra warmth for the winter."  Right?  The initial flavor note in the fudge is pumpkin, but is soon diluted by the soft flavor of chocolate.  Texture wise, it almost melts in your mouth, which if you're like me, leads to eating a lot of little squares of fudge.

Pumpkin Fudge

Adapted from: Sweet Pea's Kitchen
Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2/3 cup evaporated milk
  • 2/3 cup pureed pumpkin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice
  • 2 cups dark chocolate chips
  • 1 jar (7 oz.) marshmallow crème (I couldn't find any, so I chopped up large marshmallows)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Directions:
  1. Line a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with foil letting the foil extend up the two short sides of the pan and overhang slightly on both ends.
  2. In a heavy saucepan, combine sugar, brown sugar, evaporated milk, pumpkin, butter and spice. Bring to a full rolling boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil, stirring constantly, for 10 to 12 minutes or until candy thermometer reaches 234° to 240º F (soft-ball stage).
  3. Quickly stir in dark chocolate chips, marshmallow crème (or mini marshmallows), and vanilla extract. Stir vigorously for 1 minute or until morsels are melted. Immediately pour into prepared pan and top with remaining 1/4 cup walnuts. Let stand on wire rack for 2 hours or until completely cooled. Refrigerate tightly covered. To cut, lift from pan; remove foil. Cut into 1-inch pieces.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Provençal Tomato and Basil Soup


If you're anything like me, you were a little too gluttonous these past few days… and will continue to be until January 1, 2011.  I was probably worse than most, I had to hop around to a few Thanksgiving dinners (even one that required a ferry ride over to the Olympic Peninsula) and thus had to leave before the turkey was carved.  This doesn't mean that I didn't eat though, it means I gorged myself on pie and pre-dinner appetizers.  And wine, we must not forget about the wine.  Trust me, I was pretty sluggish when I woke up this morning.  Two words: Sugar CRASH.  But I tried to be good today and I was… until I went out for Ethiopian food with my friend Erin who was visiting from NorCal.  Side note: if you EVER get the chance, PLEASE go to "Chef Cafe" in the Central District on 22nd and Jackson.  It will be the best $3 (yes that cheap!) you ever spent!  Well, that's enough about my eating habits…

Now to our regularly scheduled programming: Back to Being Healthy.  And you're in luck - this soup is incredibly healthy!  I found the recipe a weeks back in the New York Times Dining & Wine section filed under the "Recipes for Health."  It has my healthy & fresh stamp of approval!  The brown rice thickens it up while still keeping the glycemic index low.  However, this soups strength lies not only how it fills your home with the scents of Provencal France, but how filling and warming it is.  Which I must say is pretty ideal for any Seattle winter day!  And for all you people out there suffering though the beginnings of winter- if good fresh tomatoes aren't available, use a 28 oz can of chopped tomatoes.

Provençal Tomato and Basil Soup
Adapted from: New York Times
Ingredients:
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 pounds tomatoes, cored and diced
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 2 large sprigs basil, or about 16 leaves, plus 2 tablespoons slivered basil for garnish
  • 1 quart water
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 Parmesan rind
  • 1/4 cup brown rice
  • Optional garnishes:
  • Grated or shaved Parmesan
Directions:
  1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven. Add the onion. Cook, stirring often, until tender, about five minutes. Stir in half the garlic and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds to a minute. Add the tomatoes, sugar, basil sprigs or leaves, and remaining garlic. Cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down and smell fragrant, 15 to 20 minutes.
  2. Add the water and salt to taste. Bring to a simmer, cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer 15 minutes. Add the rice, and simmer for another 45 minutes until the tapioca is tender and the soup fragrant. Remove the basil sprigs and Parmesan rind. Puree with an immersion blender until desired consistency is achieved.  Add pepper to taste and adjust salt. Serve garnished with  Parmesan and slivered basil leaves.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Green Beans With Hazelnuts and Blue Cheese


A few years ago for Thanksgiving, my mom made green beans with blue cheese and toasted hazelnuts and after helping myself to seconds, thirds, heck, probably even fourths, that night… I haven't been able to stop thinking about them.  Cut to 4 years later and I finally decided to attempt to recreate said blessed recipe for Friendsgiving.  And you know what?  Every last nibble of the green beans were gone.  I got a text message a few days later from Julie begging me for the recipe.  The power of the blue cheese green beans lives on!!

Now, I should them you know that I really love blue cheese.  It's my preferred pizza topping, it goes of almost all of my salads and I pop handfuls of crumbles into my mouth.  I like the strong stuff, the mild stuff and everything in-between.  I blame my mother, she got me hooked early.

If blue cheese doesn't make your skirt fly up, that's ok.  I'll convince you sooner or later.  For the time being, try a buttermilk blue cheese in this recipe.  It has enough flavor to satisfy a seasoned veteran like me, but is mild enough to ease the unexperienced in.

If you were wondering, this recipe is quick to make, easy to store and a dream to reheat (…if there are even any leftovers).
 
Green Beans With Hazelnuts and Blue Cheese

Ingredients
  • 2 pounds green beans, trimmed
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 3/2 cup whole hazelnuts
  • 3/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Directions
  1. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the green beans, return to a boil and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until bright green and crisp. Drain well and set aside.
  2. Return the pot to medium-high. Add the butter and hazelnuts and stir until the nuts are lightly toasted and fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the green beans and stir until heated through.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the cheese and toss until melted. Season with salt and pepper.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Red Wine Cranberry Sauce


Last night was the first annual Friendsgiving, which is, in my opinion, the greatest holiday of all time.  If you haven't yet heard of Friendgiving (for shame!), I will tell you.  It is a holiday that celebrates friendship and Thanksgiving; a feast of Thanksgiving fare with friends, plus lots and lots of wine.  No seriously, lots of wine starting at 2pm and ending well after the desserts of done.

For the feast, I as assigned to bring a pumpkin cheesecake and green beans… but being who I am I also brought cranberry sauce, pumpkin chocolate fudge and homemade whipped cream.   But you know what?  I don't think anyone was complaining, and if they were, I didn't really care because more food equals more material for my blog.

If this is any indication of how much food I ate, I had to wear a high waisted skirt as to accommodate my Thanksgiving belly.  Julie brined a whole turkey (which I tried a little bit of!), Rachel made mashed potatoes and rolls, Gabe and Christine made cranberry relish and the boys brought a lot of tree previously mentioned wine.  After we were all done eating until we couldn't get up (really, we had to crawl out of our chairs), we played some makeshift charades using "Apples to Apples."  Confused?  We would use the 'red' cards and act out what was on them.  Some one were easy to guess like "diamond"… but it's a little more difficult to act out "Meg Ryan."

Next came dessert… oh boy.  There were three types of pie and that doesn't count the fudge.  Coconut cream pie from Dahlia Bakery, my pumpkin cheesecake and an apple pie by Brandon.  I thought I wouldn't be able to eat for days, imagine my surprise when I woke up hungry this morning.

But the cranberries.  I don't even like cranberries and I loved this sauce.  I knew, generally, how to make cranberry sauce; cranberries + sugar + water.  Simple enough, but I wanted to shake it up a bit.  I thought, why not replace the water with wine?  There's citrus zest in mulled wine, why not add it into the sauce?  Obviously to balance out the sweetness of the cranberries, I had to throw in some sugar (but not too much).  It really seemed to be a hit!  Even the sauce snobs on the groups loved it and Julie asked if she could keep the leftovers!  I don't know about you, but that's the highest compliment I can get!

I'm really going to rush and try and get all my "Thanksgiving" themed recipes up quickly so you might get some inspiration for your own Thanks(or Friends)giving feast!

Red Wine Cranberry Sauce


Ingredients:
  • 1 ⅓ cup sugar
  • 1 ½ cup dry red wine
  • 1 cinnamon stick (optional)
  • 24 ounces package cranberries
  • Zest of one lemon
Directions:
  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar, wine and cinnamon and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the wine has reduced slightly, about 4 minutes.
  2. Add the cranberries and the zest. Simmer until the cranberries soften and the sauce thickens, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the heat; remove and discard the cinnamon. Set aside to cool for at least several minutes and up to several hours. Serve warm. (Do not refrigerate; the flavor is muted by the cold.)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Granola Bars


I have some sad news to break to you about Seattle weather in combination with Daylight Savings Time: the sun starts to set at 2:30… and the winter has only just begun.  This wouldn't be a huge issue if I wasn't such a foodie and a food blogger.  My kitchen starts up around 6pm every night, oh you know, about 2 hours after it has gotten dark here.  And that's on a sunny day.  Days when it's cloudy and grey, it starts getting darker a lot sooner.  Being that my blog is dependent on photos, it hard to take pictures in my florescent kitchen.  Or at 3 o'clock when the sun is setting on a cloudy day.  Or when I have to reheat and photograph my food the next day (it's never as pretty).  So please, hold steady with my during the long Seattle winter.  I will try my best to photograph is decent light or I may have to build a lightbox.  Who knows.  Either way, I will still keep cooking.

But, what bothers me the most about this weather is my eating schedule is all out of whack.  I wake up and eat my oatmeal and coffee… this is good.  Then I eat some lunch around 1 or 2 pm - pretty normal for me.  But when the sun starts setting, the stomach in my brain starts screaming "whaaa?  DINNER TIME!"  and I am suddenly overcome with the urge to make myself a nice dinner and pour myself a glass of wine… at 4 o'clock.  I swear, I don't have a problem… but I have the willpower to resist until at least 6 o'clock because I am a respectable lady.

Regardless of my complaints, here is a recipe for pumpkin granola bars.  More pumpkin?  I know, trust me.  The interwebs are full of pumpkin themed foods right now, but I swear this one is worth your time.  I may be a little bit biased, as I love pumpkin (I have bags of frozen puree in my freezer) and homemade granola bars.  But oh boy, these were so good.  They are moist but still have a nice firm texture… and the slight bitterness of the dark chocolate compliments the smooth texture of the pumpkin.  My favorite part?  These aren't sweet.  The honey and applesauce are nice because when I scarfed them down for breakfast in the morning, I didn't feel guilty about it!  WIN!






NOTE: I doubled this recipe and make it in a 9x13 pan (trust me, these go fast)

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Granola Bars
Adapted from: Two Peas in a Pod
Ingredients:
  • 3 1/4 cups old fashioned oats

  • 1 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 
¾ cup brown sugar
  • 
½ cup pumpkin puree
  • 
¼ cup applesauce

  • ¼ cup honey

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8 by 8 baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk oats, spices, and salt together. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk brown sugar, pumpkin, applesauce, honey, and vanilla extract until smooth. Pour over oats and stir well, until all of the oats are moist. Stir in chocolate chips.
  4. Evenly press oat mixture into prepared pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. The pumpkin keeps the bars moist, so make sure they are golden and set-you don’t want them to be under baked. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes.
  5. Using a sharp knife, cut into bars. Remove from pan and let cool completely.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A French Bread

A brown book cover with a 70's vibe splashed all over has a triangle shaped tear on the cover and a worn spine from being furiously rubbed over the counters of a kitchen.  These are all the signs of a well loved and stand-by cookbook.  Never before have a recommended a cookbook so highly.  But you ask what is this ethereal creature a speak of?  It's a book, no it's a cookbook… no no, it's a bible.  A bread bible - The Tassajara Bread Book.  I had written about my whimsical tale with said aforementioned book in a much earlier post, but credit should be given where it is due.

I was a horrible (well, not "burnt to a crisp" bad) bread baker before I got this book.  As a frame of reference, this was my sophomore year of college and this was my first time with my "own" stove.  I'm probably being a little hard on myself (in the kitchen, I'm only mildly a perfectionist), but my bread never turned out how I wanted it to… or how well my friend Brendan Carson's did.  Or how well my ex-boyfriends dad's did.  Brendan's bread was always so rustic; freeform shapes, thick swirling crust and the perfect amount of air holes.  His bread doesn't even compare to Mr. Seidel's Sourdough, I loved it to it's very crumb.  I would marry it if I could.  These were my bread baking hero's… and what I instantly wanted my bread to taste like.  As you can probably guess, mine wasn't like theirs.  It always seemed to have too strong of a flour taste, the crust was weak and the loaves never rose how I wanted them to.  Being the good boyfriend that he was, Alex sense my frustrations and had the perfect solution.

One day after class I was sitting in his bed, hiding away from the creeping cold that is Michigan winters, and he walked in with a little present for me in his hands.  He said his dad used it and it should help me. Being that I'm a girl and that anything that is wrapped, even mildly shiny and (for me at least) is in the shape of a book, I instantly knew he was about to get some major bonus points.  Tearing off the secular holiday paper I started the best relationship I ever had… with a cookbook.  Looking at the shelves now, I have my fair share of cookbooks.  Some get used a few times a year and other are used so frequently they are never are the shelf.  Some are big and have glossy sleeves to their hard covers while others are floppy paperbacks.  But The Tassajara Bread Book is no doubt the smallest yet probably the one that has the most amount of notes written in the margins, tears and dog ears littering the pages.

P.S. Alex, you still, to this day, get so many points and I think of you every time I use this book.  I am so grateful you gave this to me - I made me the (if I don't say so myself) pretty spiffy bread baker that I am today.

Moral: Get this book.

If anything, you'll have more recipes like "A French Bread" that I made for the 437th time a few weeks ago.  Every Tuesday night I truck over to West Seattle to watch Glee with Julie and Katrina at her parent's house.  Usually we don't do much before hand, but this time we decided to have a traditional sit-down-with-parents dinner.  We all brought a different element of a meal - as you can probably assume, I brought the bread.  I choose to make this loaf mainly because I just love this bread.  I love how the crumb swirls within the loaf, how it toasts perfectly, how it makes the greatest french toast ever and … well… HOW QUICKLY it rises.  I mean seriously, two loaves of bread that is perfect for sandwiches but also impresses dinner guests that can feasibly be made in a afternoon?  Do you KNOW how rare that is?  As you can tell by how I'm spazzing out, it's pretty rare and pretty awesome.  Don't believe me?  Try it yourself!!

A French Bread
Adapted from the Tassajara Bread Book

Ingredients I:
  • 3 cups lukewarm water
  • 3 packages dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3 cups unbleached white and 1 cup whole wheat flour
Ingredients II:
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 3 cups unbleached white flour
  • flour for kneading
Directions:
  1. Dissolve the yeast if the water until bubbly, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the honey until well combined.  Stir in the initial batch of flour one cup at a time and beat for 100 strokes with a spoon (this is according to Tassajara, I stick it on my stand mixer with a dough hook & knead it for a little bit).  Let rise for 45 minutes, or until doubles in size.
  2. Fold in the salt, making sure not to tear the dough.  Fold in (again, I knead in using my stand mixer, but don't think I haven't made this completely by hand before) the second batch of flour one cup at a time until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.
  3. Knead, using additional flour as needed, until the dough no longer sticks to the board and is smooth (this will take about 10 minutes).
  4. Let rise until doubled in size, about 50 minutes.  Punch down.  Let rise again until doubled in size, about 40 minutes.  Shape into two loaves by flattening them out into a large rectangle then rolling them up tight like a rug.  Pinch the seam into the loaf and place seam side down.
  5. Place the the loaves on a baking sheet that has been sprinkled with cornmeal.  Let them rest for about 20 minutes.  Brush with water.
  6. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes and then spray the loaves with water.  Continue baking at 375 until well browned, about 35-45 minutes.  As soon as the loaves are removed from the oven, brush the tops with garlic butter.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Vietnamese Tree Rolls


I have officially found a new favorite thing to make that don't involve me turning on my oven or stove top.  Even better - this dish is really nice to make with a group of people... I get to be sociable and do less work!  Katherine 1 - Effort 0.  And to think, I have fallen in love with a variation of this dish since my first week in Seattle but I never knew how easy it was to replicate at home!

One of the first restaurants I went to after moving to Seattle is this wonderful Vietnamese restaurant in Chinatown called Tamarind Tree.  Oddly enough, it's surrounded by some not so wonderful looking buildings.  But really, would you expect anything else?  I've found that Seattle is a city of hidden gems and being that Chinatown's typically are hidden gems, this find's a real kicker.  It's tucked way back in a corner next to a nail salon and not too far away from a dumpster - not something I would find if I was just wandering around for a place to eat.  Nevertheless, once you step inside... oh baby.  The jewel toned walls add warmth to the entire space, the tables are close enough that casually awkward conversation can happen between diners and the bamboo dividers allow you to forget (and to a certain extent remember) that you are tucked away in a corner of Chinatown.

But the ambiance of the dining area is not the only thing that keeps me coming back, it's the Tamarind Tree Rolls, i.e. the healthiest sinful thing that I have ever eaten.  There's the crunch of some sort of rice stick and carrots, the smooth texture of the rice paper and the heat of the dipping sauce as it hits the back of your tongue.  And even though I despise Rachel Ray, I'd be with her saying "Yum-O!" when it comes to eating the Tree Rolls.  Sadly, I thought I would never be able to replicate these delights at home (foreshadowing!!)

Let's jump in the time machine shall we and cut to Mid-September.  I was invited to attend a TweetUp at the AllRecipes.com office in downtown Seattle.  The conversation and food would focus of foods that are both healthy, easy to prepare and can be frozen (or refrigerated for long periods of time).  Smoothies, soups and dips were made, but I think what excited me to most were the Vietnamese Salad rolls we made.  I could not stop eating them.  I swear I'm not exaggerating when I say that I ate my entire body weight of them, all one hundred and... oh wait, I'm not going to tell you how much I weigh.  Like our age, a lady never revels anything truthful about herself.  Ahem, moral of that story is that I learned how to make Tree Rolls!  And made them I have - twice!  However, I changed a fair number of things from the recipe and almost all fresh ingredients instead of pre-packaged ones.  I even successfully taught a boy how to make these - they are that easy to make!

Vietnamese Tree Rolls

Ingredients:
  • Package of rice wrappers
  • Approx 5 large carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1/2 small to medium head of cabbage, cut into very thin strips
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil
  • Warm water
  • Dipping Sauce (I used a combination of chili sauce with my homemade hot sauce)
Directions:
  1. Fill a large bowl with warm water.  Dip one rice paper in water for approximately 10 seconds to soften.
  2. Lay wrapper flat on work surface (I recommend a plastic cutting board) and arrange a layer of basil leaves and desired amount of carrots and cabbage.  Roll the wrapper like you would a burrito (if you are not an experienced burrito roller - fold one edge over some of the ingredients, then roll up at the bottom, then fold over the other edge and continue rolling up tightly).  Repeat with remaining ingredients.
  3. Serve the rolls with dipping sauce.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sourdough Pizza Crust


I know, it's been a while.  And I think of some really good reason why my posting has become more infrequent than thunderstorms in Seattle (more on that sad fact later). This time I have a really really good reason, I mean, really good, as to why I am once again allowing myself to be backlogged.  I was sickest I've been since my bout of Swine Flu (pardon me, H1N1) last year.  What began on Saturday as a sore throat and a stomach full of angst transformed into a full-blown "can't get out of bed" sickness.  On Monday, I couldn't lift my head off my pillow.  When I made phone calls to my mom and work, I had to gingerly set the phone on my ear and squeak as loud as I could to try and make my little voice heard.  Hopefully I pulled at your heart-strings enough and you'll forgive me for my slip-up.

The original date of this photo is so prehistoric, I think dinosaurs pondered over the artistic value of it.  That's right - I took this photo in early September... of this year!  I made this pizza dough the second time I was going to hang out with who I am now happy to call my group of friends.  Friends, consider this your official shout out.  I had met Matt though Nick (who I know from U of Michigan).  While I met technically Julie and Christine at the same place I met Matt, I barely did, so it doesn't count.  Matt introduced me to Julie, Christine, Aaron and David when we went out one night to Barca in Capitol Hill.  We all realized (except for Julie and kind of Matt) we were all new to Seattle, we liked each other and make a very good decision to be friends and hang out that coming Sunday.  At said Sunday pizza making/game playing night I was introduced to Gabe, Christine's boyfriend.  Phew, get all those 6 degrees of separation from Mr. Bacon?

Anyways, I made some pizza dough to use for the pizza decorating part of the gathering.  This photo does not do it justice.  While it doesn't have the stereotypical tang of sourdough, it did have a depth of flavor that most doughs don't have.  It also had a wonderful texture.  I was able to stretch one batch of dough into two large thin crusts pizza's - and even the thin crust had a nice crunchy chew to it.  The best part of this recipe?  It uses the discarded cup of starter from feeding the sourdough starter!  That's a win in my book!


Sourdough Pizza Crust
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sourdough starter, unfed (straight from the fridge)
  • 1/2 cup hot tap water
  • 2 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
Directions
  1. Stir any liquid into the sourdough starter, and spoon 1 cup starter into a mixing bowl.
  2. Add the hot water, flour, salt, yeast, and Pizza Dough Flavor. Mix to combine, then knead till smooth and slightly sticky, about 7 minutes at medium speed using a stand mixer with dough hook. Place the kneaded dough in a lightly greased container, and allow it to rise till it's just about doubled in bulk. This might take 2 to 4 hours; it might take more. A lot depends on how vigorous your starter is. For a faster rise, place the dough somewhere warm (or increase the yeast). To slow it down, put it somewhere cool.
  3. Drizzle two 12" round pizza pans with olive oil, tilting the pans to coat the bottom. Place half the dough in each pan. Cover, and let rest for 15 minutes. Gently press the dough towards the edges of the pans; when it starts to shrink back, cover it, and let it rest again, for about 15 minutes. Finish pressing the dough to the edges of the pans.Cover the pan, and let the dough rise till it's as thick as you like. For thin-crust pizza made from fairly fresh starter, this may only be an hour or so. For thick-crust, using an old, little-used starter, this may take most of the day. There are no hard-and-fast rules here; it all depends on the vigor of your starter, and how you like your crust. Once you make it a couple of times, you'll figure out what time frame works for you.
  4. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 450°F.
  5. For a thicker crust, pre-bake the crust for about 8 minutes before topping. Top, then bake till toppings are hot and cheese is melted and bubbly, about 10 minutes. For thin crusts, bake for 4 to 5 minutes, then top and bake for an additional 8 to 10 minutes, or till toppings are as done as you like.
  6. Remove from the oven, and loosen the edges of the pizza with a table knife or heatproof spatula. Carefully lift it onto a cooling rack; you can serve it right from the pan, if desired, but a cooling rack helps keep its bottom crisp. Serve hot.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

No-Knead Sourdough

Here is another delicious no-knead bread to add to your repertoire.  It's made in a similar fashion as other no-knead breads, but with the your sourdough starter instead of a little bit of active dry yeast.  Sometime, hopefully soon, I hope to write a tutorial on sourdough.  Sadly, I feel as though I'm a genius on the subject yet and I in no way want to lead you astray.  As I have mentioned earlier, the first attempt at a sourdough starter was a little bit lackluster and I had difficulty starting it.  I sort of 'cheated' and used a little tiny bit of active dry yeast.  I really mean it, MAYBE a 1/4th of a teaspoon, but more like an 1/8th.  Then I combined it with some flour and water in a large jar and let it sit. 

But sit it did not.  I came back from class a few hours later (remember, I was making this my senior year of college) and it had exploded all over my kitchen.  Well, not technically, but I did had the blob reincarnated.  It was spewing out of its jar, onto the counter and I think a little even crawled onto the floor.  And I had no idea how to stop it.  I remember hearing once (I think it was Alton Brown?) that "yeast hates salt" - i.e. it stops it from growing.  It helped, but then it never came alive again.  When I made some bread with said starter, it had the right texture but no sour taste.  I read more about sourdough and tried to revive it (partially successfully), but it was laid to rest in a plastic garbage pail tomb before my move out west.  My current starter, given to me by my friend Ann, is fantastic!  So sour!  The texture is consistent and it's not fussy!

This no-knead wasn't as sour as other loaves of bread that I've made, but it was easy, definitely had a chewier texture and a 'sour' aftertaste.  But the crust, OH, the crust… it was wonderful!  So thick and with the right amour of crunch.  It was wonderful on my sandwich I made for lunch the next day or on the peanut butter toast I made for breakfast the day after.  If you're uncomfortable with sourdoughs but want to try your hand at making them, I recommend this recipe!
No-Knead Sourdough
Ingredients:
  • 15 oz bread flour (about 3 cups)
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 11 oz lukewarm water (1.25 cups, plus a tablespoon)
  • 1/2 cup sourdough starter, fed
Directions:
  1. Mix the salt with the flour, and the sourdough with the warm water. Then combine all the ingredients and mix for 20 seconds or just until all of the flour is wet. If you work the mixture, you will have a loaf with a tight crumb.  I wanted one that had big air pockets, so I worked it as little as possible.
  2. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then a tea towel (this helps trap in heat), and leave it to rise at room temperature overnight (about 18 hours).
  3. The next day dust the dough with a bit more flour and fold the sides into the middle to form a round loaf, dust a towel with stone ground cornmeal (or coarse salt) and place the loaf onto it seam side down, putting more cornmeal on top then fold the towel over.
  4. Let the loaf rise until it has doubled in size again. When the loaf has almost doubled in size, but the dutch oven in the oven and set it for 475 degrees (it is important to put the dutch oven into a cold oven so it doesn't experience thermal shock).
  5. When the dutch oven is rocket hot, place (toss) the dough, seam side up, into the dutch oven, and put the lid back on. Bake for 25 minutes, during this time the lid will trap moisture from the dough which will allow the crust to stay stretchy as the bread continues to rise. Then take the lid off and turn the oven up to 475. Take the loaf out of the oven once it is brown and crusty, 15-20 more minutes.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Vanilla Cupcakes with Strawberry/Raspberry Buttercream

Here's a little secret: I use cupcakes to woo boys and make friends.  I know, it may seem a little shady and unsavory, but hey, I'm in a new city!  Cut me a break!

I actually made these cupcakes a long time (read: 3 weeks) ago.  Soon after moving to Seattle, I went to a rooftop BBQ in Belltown (downtown Seattle) because my roommate and a friend Nick knew the people who were hosting through some other people.  Sorry, let me clarify.  A friend of a friend of a friend was hosting a BBQ.  Clear?  No?  Moving on… Anyways, we chatted and hot tubbed and swore to meet up again.  Cut to two weeks later, I go out on a Friday night in Capitol Hill with about 5 of the people I met at the BBQ.  More merriness ensued, we exchanged numbers, discovered that we were all new to Seattle and wanted friends!  That Sunday we all got together for a game/"make your own pizza" night and thus the cupcakes were born!!! (Along with some sourdough pizza, but more on that later)

This is another successful recipe procured from my "More from Magnolia" cookbook that I picked up when I was in New York City this year.  Not only is it an amazing cookbook, it is also incredibly ironic that it is my new "go to" cookbook because I live in the Magnolia neighborhood of Seattle.  Spooky!!  The actual cupcake is incredibly fluffy and moist with a strong vanilla flavor.  When baking, then don't form too much of a dome but just enough that they are a perfect  canvas for decorating.

Now the buttercream.  It's my forte, there is no skirting around that.  Earlier in the year I found out that I am pretty good at making buttercreams in most flavor combinations just off the top of my head.  I know, it's a gift, or what four years (or the baking induced "stress relieving" nights) at the University of Michigan taught me.  Recently I've been on a fresh fruit buttercream kick.  This results in a more naturally sweet buttercream (but don't discount the powdered sugar, there is still plenty of that) and I usually use less butter to achieve my desired consistency.  So maybe I can sell this buttercream off as "health food?"  Anyways, for this buttercream I used a combination of strawberries and raspberries.  While these fruits are both wonderful, they also have 'seeds' and must be smushed through a strainer before being beaten into buttercream.

Magnolia's Vanilla Cupcakes
Adapted from: More from Magnolia
Ingredients:
  • 2 ¾ cups All Purpose Flour
  • 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract (I also used a vanilla bean, but that is completely optional)
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line muffin tins with cupcake papers.
  2. In a small bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream (preferably with an electric mixer) the butter until smooth and light yellow in color.  Gradually beat in the sugar until fluffy, approximately 3 minutes.  Add in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla.  This is key: after each addition, make sure to beat enough to incorporate the ingredients, but do not overbeat.  (This will create gluten and you will have rough and dry cupcakes)
  5. Using a spring loaded ice cream scoop (or other preferred dispensing method), carefully dispense the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about ¾ of the way full.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a cake tester is inserted into the center of the cupcake and comes out clean.

Strawberry/Raspberry Buttercream
Ingredients:
  • 1 cup strawberries, cored and halved
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • splash of vanilla extract
  • 4 cups powdered sugar (approx).
Directions:
  1. Puree strawberries and raspberries in a food processor until smooth.  Smush through a large strainer into a bowl.  Add softened butter and vanilla extract, beat until well incorporated.
  2. Add powdered sugar slowly, about 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time, until desired consistency is reached (needs to be thicker for piping).
  3. Can be stored in a air tight container in a refrigerator for up to a week.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tomato Spinach Lentil Soup


I'm on a very healthy kick right now… minus the few pieces of chocolate I need to get me through the week.  I also am not inspired to spend a few hours in the kitchen every night.  My solution?  Soups!  Oh no, not just any soups, lentil soups.  As I am a little tight for money right now, I am looking to make things that are not only healthy and inexpensive, yet utilize fresh produce and are fun to make.  Cue lentils, spinach, tomatoes and onions.

When lentils were on sale at Whole Foods a few weeks ago, I bought a couple pounds.  However being that they only cost $1.50 a pound, I didn't have to resort to digging for quarters in my couch.  On top of their surprisingly low price, they are high in health benefits!  Worried about your cholesterol?  They have an app for that (too far?)!  Lentils are a good source of cholesterol-lowering fiber and this helps to manage blood sugar levels due to their high fiber content.  Vegetarian and worried about nutrients?  Lentils supply six important minerals, two B-vitamins and protein with (essentially) no fat.  This is just the tip on the bean stalk, if you want to find out more, head over to The World's Healthiest Foods.

I presume you're here for the main act, the soup, so I will stop with the smoke and mirrors.  Simply put, this soup has a very full and rich flavor.  It has a thicker texture than tomato soup, but the lentils provide a good amount of texture.  While the flavor of the spinach isn't too prevalent, the brightness of the tomatoes is instantly noticeable.  The amount pictured above is what I ate for lunch one day and I was very full until late in the evening.  It was a good full though; I was satisfied and full of energy.  I still have a lot of lentils to use, so I hope to post some more lentil-centric recipes in the near future!

Tomato Spinach Lentil Soup

Ingredients:
  • 1 tablespoon  Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 
1 Onion, diced
  • 
1 Carrot, diced

  • 4 Cloves Garlic, crushed

  • 2 tablespoons dried thyme
  • 
43 oz. Can Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes
    4 cups vegetable stock
  • 
1 1/2 cup Lentils, rinsed and picked over for debris
    2 handfuls of baby spinach
  • 
Salt & Pepper to taste

Directions:
  1. Heat large cast iron pot over medium-high heat, add the olive oil.  Once oil is hot, slowly add the onions and carrots until onions are translucent, about 6 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic and thyme and cook for a minute.  Pour in the tomatoes along with the vegetable stock, spinach and lentils.  Stir to combine and bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover pot, and simmer for 25 minutes or until lentils are tender.
  3. Once lentils are tender, blend the mixture with an immersion blender (a lot easier!) or in a blender.
  4. Serve and enjoy!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Homemade Sriracha Sauce


I love all things spicy, but I think it comes with the territory of being a redhead.  I always order the hottest sauce possible at restaurants and Trader Joe's jalapeno hot sauce is drizzled on even the most inappropriate of foods.  To me, eggs are almost inedible without hot sauce.  I almost wonder why it took my so long to make my own hot sauce... especially because I have a strange love of making my own condiments.

To make this recipe even better, it is so easy to make.  Essentially all you need to do is let roughly chopped peppers sit overnight in a brine.  The hardest part is simmering the peppers and waiting for them to cool.  But that glorious moment that you get to taste your own hot sauce on a veggie burger (...well, that's what I did...) it's worth it.  I brought the sauce to a game/"make-your-own-pizza" night with some new friends here in Seattle and it worked well on most of the pizzas that we made!  I know I poured an obnoxious amount of it on the pizza I ate.  But please remember, I like hot sauce on everything.  There is definitely some heat to this sauce, but the actual flavor of the peppers and garlic is still able to shine through.

Homemade Sriracha Sauce
Ingredients:
  • 1/2 pound red fresno chiles, coarsely chopped (I used 0.7 lb)
  • 4 garlic cloves (5.6)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (I used 1 2/5 tsp)
  • 1 cup distilled white vinegar (I used 1 2/5 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons palm sugar (I used 2.8 TBSP)
Directions:
  1. Place all the ingredients except the sugar in large glass bowl, loosely cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit overnight.  This brine helps mellow the heat of the peppers.
  2. Place the mixture and sugar in small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool to room temperature.
  3. Blend with an immersion blender (or a food processor/blender) until a smooth, orange-red mixture forms. Run through a strainer and smush out as much juice as possible.
  4. Once refrigerated, the sauce should have the same consistency and texture as Sriracha, BUT I think it tastes better, is less salty and tastes much fresher.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Penne with Heirloom Tomato Sauce and Roasted Tofu

I'm pretty proud of myself.  This was a dinner that's original destiny was to become a quick and healthy dinner to use up my heirloom tomatoes.  Yet as soon as I tasted the sauce, I knew I would have to snap a picture and blog about it (hence the poor light/photo quality).  I used three different varieties of heirlooms (don't you dare ask me what kind, I forgot) and their flavors exploded into a magical concoction right on my stove top!  The sauce had a strong rich flavor with a slight acidity that hit the tip of the tongue.  With the addition of a little sprinkling of sugar the flavor also took on a bright quality.

I was still settling into Seattle when I made this and was itching to cook in my kitchen.  Alas, I didn't have too many groceries and I was exhausted.  I did have about $20 worth of heirloom tomatoes that I had bought a few days earlier at Pike Place.  Sadly they began to go bad a lot sooner than I had hoped and I'm shockingly not a fan of plain tomatoes.  So when life gives you good quality, but a little bit old, tomatoes... make some pasta sauce!

But pasta sauce and noodles is both boring and soo college.  Solution? Roasted tofu!  It is healthy, delicious, easy and eco friendly.  Not to mention easy of the pocket book; I bought a twin pack of tofu for $2 or $3 at Trader Joe's.  While my combination of flavors suited my taste, use any combination you're comfortable with.

For this recipe, you may use any type of whole wheat pasta cooked to the manufactures directions.


Heirloom Tomato Sauce
Ingredients:
  • 4 large heirloom tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 3 medium cloves of garlic, crushed and minced
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar (or to taste)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 (approx) cup basil, chiffonade
Directions:
  1. Heat chopped tomatoes in a medium sauce pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.
  2. Once the tomatoes have reduced (or achieved a more liquid consistency), stir in garlic, salt, sugar and pepper.  Simmer over low heat until tomatoes break down further, approximately 20 minutes
  3. When the sauce has reached desired  consistency, remove from heat.  I prefer to have a chunkier sauce, but you may either puree to have a smooth sauce.  Stir in basil and serve.

Roasted Tofu
Ingredients:
  • 1 lb extra firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • Dash of Paprika
  • Dash of Crushed Red Pepper
Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line jelly roll pan with parchment paper.
  2. Toss tofu in a small bowl with remaining ingredients.  Arrange tofu on baking sheet and cook for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and flip tofu with tongs to the other side.  Bake for another ten minutes.  Tofu is down when the outsides are crispy but the inside remains soft.
  3. For this recipe, combine with tomato sauce and spoon onto pasta and toss before serving.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Guest Blog Post: Chicken Burgers

Photo Credit: My Dad, Ed Martin
This recipe has crossed multiple time zones to make its way to you.  As my mom will mention later in the post, I started eating chicken earlier this summer.  I was still a little hesitant about eating chicken but I wanted to be able to eat something other than the hot dog buns at a barbecue.  Being the wonderful mother that she is, my mom developed this recipe while I was still living in Michigan.  I have to say, it is wonderful!  While I don't know what a beef burger tastes like, I think these smell better than beef burgers when they are sizzling on the grill.  It's shaping up to be a beautiful weekend in Seattle, so fire up your balcony grills, stop by Trader Joe's and be prepared to feed the packs of people that will be clamoring for seconds (maybe even thirds!).

Per the request of my mom, here is a picture of the two of us in Europe last summer.  She wanted this particular picture because her eyes are open.  To most people, this wouldn't be an issue.  However, if you are a descendant of the Bock family, keeping your eyes open in pictures is an ever present challenge.  This picture was taken on the train going from Amsterdam to Paris:



--

Just in time for Labor Day Weekend, a quick and easy grilling recipe.  After many years of being a vegetarian my daughter Katherine (aka The Ginger Cook) added chicken to her diet.  With grilled burgers being a family summer favorite,  I wanted to find a recipe that my daughter could eat.   I looked up several ground chicken burger recipes online and blended a few together to come up with what I think is a great moist burger with a terrific tasty zing.  Cut up the watermelon, put together a salad and you have a great summer meal!

Chicken Burgers
Ingredients:
  • 1 t. garlic
  • 1 lb ground chicken
  • 1/2 cups bread crumbs
  • 1/8 c. milk
  • 1 egg
  • 3 T. chopped onion
  • 1/4 t. cayenne pepper
  • 3/4 t. sea salt
  • cracked pepper to taste
Directions:
  1. Mix together all listed ingredients.  Form into patties
  2.  Grill on medium heat on an oiled grill to prevent them from sticking.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

International Food Bloggers Conference Day 2


Now I know why they gave us long lunches to blog about the conferences... I have such a hard time remembering everything!  I mean, of course I remember what I did... but I have a hard time remembering all the little details.  There were so many wonderful & in depth things that I participated in!  I did miss the panel on Law & Ethics in food blogging.  I was out pretty late on Friday night and needed to take a quick afternoon nap.  It's nice that I live so close to where the conference was held - it wasn't unreasonable to go home for a quick nap and then make it back in time for the next event!

Here is my best recap of the two days (based on my notes I took throughout the conference).

The venue, Theo Chocolate Factory
Inside the Theo Chocolate - bloggers doing what they do best... blogging
Whoever is the interior decorator gets major kudos from me!
This is a long post so...

Click Here for More About Day 2!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

International Food Bloggers Conference Day 1


Here I am, sitting at the International Food Bloggers Conference, listening to the amazing creators behind Modernist Cuisine (via Intellectual Ventures) and I can't stop thinking about how bad I've been about doing daily recaps of the daily events.  So please, please ignore the ambitious comment I made a few days prior.  I was young and adventurous then.  Now I'm old and coffee deprived (yes, it is possible even in Seattle).  Simply put, the conference has been so amazing that after I drag my body through the front door my the tips of my fingers, I turn into a pumpkin until my cell phone wakes me in the morning.

Ok, recap.  Day 1.

The weekend started at Hotel Monaco in downtown Seattle, kitty corner from the library.  I only live 5 miles away.  FIVE MILES.  You know how long it took me to get downtown, park and walk (uphill in high heels)?  1 hour.  ONE HOUR.  Apparently there was also a Mariners game on the same night, so there was a lot of traffic trying to go south through Seattle.  Being the savvy woman that I am, I left my condo at 4 pm and arrived just as the clock stuck 5.  Even then I was one of the first attendees to arrive.

Dear International Food Bloggers Conference, The Ginger Cook has arrived… but without her camera.  Oh snap.

Oh well, my intense onset of disappointment was soon quelled by the table of local Washington wines.  And a cup of the best Chai I have ever had.  And some Oregon microbrew.  And a cookie.  Annnnd I was in heaven.  This was all in the first little room!

I bet you can assume what comes next.  A lot more food.  I jumped in with a Cherry Tomato Salad by Chef Lisa Dupar.  It was a bright salad with subtle citrus flavors hitting the palate first.  Twirling my fork around the mozzarella I was able to scrape up a taste of the watermelon sorbet.  The smoothness of the mozzarella contrasted perfectly with the clean and fresh taste of the watermelon.  I would never before have thought this combination would have worked well together… you showed me IFBC!

While everyone else went gaga over the caveman lamb pops, I gravitated towards the cupcakes (provided by Cupcake Royale) and Spanish Olive Oils.  I also struck up a conversation with wine-genius Robert Larsen and a food photographer Alan Campbell.

The conference part of the night concluded with a Q&A interview with Morgan Spurlock, creator of Super Size Me.  Looking back to my handy dandy notebook, here are a few points that struck me enough to write them down.
  • Us food bloggers who emphasize local food are preaching to the choir.  Locavores listen to other locavores.  How do we reach the people who, I quote, "don't give a shit."  I personally think the best way to do this is give them some local food, but how can we feasibly do this?
  • There needs to be more emphasis on sit-down family meals; it is a lost art.  I completely agree.  I grew up eating dinner with my family 6 nights a week and I think I'm a better person because of it.  Thanks Mom and Dad!
  • We should use our blogs to start a movement, organize events and spread the word.
  • I was pretty shocked to learn that his 3 ½ year old son is vegan!
  • He really inspired me to research and learn about CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture).  Here they are in Seattle, WA.
  • What can we do about labeling on foods?  "All Natural" on healthy foods segregates them and gives them a negative stigma.  How about writing "All Chemicals" or "All Poison" on GMO's?
  • We need to change the price of a bag of apples to match the price of a bag of Oreo's.  Here here!
  • Three words: GOURMET FOOD TRUCKS
  • We need to get away from preaching to people, we need to make it sound like we're having a good time!

I left a little bit early so I could run back home.  One, I needed to drop off my gigantic swag bag (more on that later).  Two, I wanted to change my shoes.  Three, I was able to bring my roommate Rachel (per the blessing of the Urban Spoon guys) to the after party at the Purple Cafe and Wine Bar.

While the after party was packed, it was nice to be able to interact with the bloggers and chefs in a much more relaxed (and wine filled) atmosphere.  I spoke at length to Robert Larsen and Alan Campbell and all the guys at Urban Spoon, particularly Mani and Phil.  My favorite wine I tried that night was a Pinot Noir by Elk Cove Vineyards.  Luckily, it is produced close by in the Willamette Valley.  I hope it's in my price range…

Well, the Dr. Nathan Myhrvold, the genius behind the Modernist Cuisine, is wrapping up his panel.  Next up is a panel on food photography by Pennt De Los Santos… so excited!

I'll get the (few) photos I took Friday night as soon as I get home!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Pre-International Food Bloggers Conference

I am very pleased to announce that I am attending the International Food Bloggers conference this weekend!  The events commence tonight at 5 pm at Hotel Monaco in downtown Seattle (just a quick drive for me!).  There is a wide array of speakers, including Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) tonight, Kristine Kidd (author & former food editor of Bon Appétit) and fellow Seattle food blogger Gluten-Free Girl.  I'm seriously pumped!  And don't even get me started on the food I'll get to try from some local Seattle chefs... I've been drooling since I bought my ticket.

I'm going to lug around my DSLR and hopefully be able to report back at the end of each night with news from the days events.  But considering the conference goes from 7:45am to 9pm... I might be a wee bit tired.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate/Raspberry Swirled Frosting Topped with Tempered Chocolate


Who knew cupcakes could be so evil.  In my mind, they represent all that is pure and good in this world.  But apparently the day I decided to make them in my new kitchen, they had other plans.  Saying that everything around me fell apart, stopped working and generally just did not work is not an understatement.

When Alex was visiting (part one) last week, I got the urge to bake one sunny Seattle day (yes, they do exist).  Having not baked anything sweet in a long time, I decided the best way to start back up again was with cupcakes.  Cute, pink, chocolate and fruity cupcakes.  The universe had other plans.

I have always had gas stoves and always want one.  Alas, my condo has an electric stove.  Albeit a nice one, but it will still take me some time to get used to. This was the first time I had used my oven in Seattle; I had no idea if it'd run a little hotter or colder.  If definitely runs hotter - WAY hotter.  My cute little cupcakes that, according to More from Magnolia, should have taken 25 to 30 minutes to cook.  25 minutes after popping those babies in the oven, I was disturbed to sniff the faint smell of burning as I approached the oven.  That's right, about half of the cupcakes were dry and crumbly (through not burnt).  No, I didn't over crowd my oven.  Yes, I let it preheat for 20 minutes after it reached 350 degrees.  Yes, I was sad.  The next batch of cupcakes turned out well, but they baked for only 21 minutes.

Oh, but that's not the worst of it.  One, the drawer that utensils are in literally fell apart when I opened it to get a spoon out.  Alex fixed that for me.  Then when I was mixing the raspberry frosting with my tiny little hand beater (the chocolate was already finished in the Kitchen Aid stand mixer), I blew a fuse... the same fuse that the fridge is on.  My fridge shut off.  No big deal, right?  Just go back to the circuit breaker and flip the switch.  Wrong. So very wrong.

After frantically flipping the fuses, and one phone call to my landlord later, Alex and I had no success.  We though maybe they was a surge protected outlet behind the fridge, but who would do that?  Apparently whoever designed my condo.  After pulling out the fridge we pressed one button and the fridge whirled back on.

Phew.

But at least the buttercream turned out wonderfully and the frosted cupcakes were still as cute as can be.  No matter what is thrown at me, I seem to have a surprising knack for making buttercream's.  I just though you all should what lengths I went through to bring these beauties to the masses... well, to mainly Alex & Rachel... and a few people at a downtown Seattle rooftop BBQ.

Devil's Food Chocolate Cupcakes
Adapted from More from Magnolia

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups All-Purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa 
  • 1 ½ teaspoons soda 
  • ½ teaspoon salt 
  • 1 ½ cups light brown sugar 
  • ½ cup sugar 
  • ¾ cup unsalted butter, softened 
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 ½ cups buttermilk 
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla 

Directions:
  1. Preheat oven to 350º
  2. Line muffin tins with cupcake papers, set aside.
  3. Sift the dry ingredients together, set aside.
  4. Using the medium speed of a stand mixer, cream butter until smooth and light in color.
  5. Add sugar, beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  6. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.
  7. Add the dry ingredient mixture, in thirds, alternating with buttermilk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until ingredients are well mixed, but do not overbeat.
  8. Using spatula, scrape down bowl, making sure ingredients are well-blended.
  9. Carefully spoon into pans, filling 3/4 full.
  10. Bake 25-30 minutes.  Cool in tins 15 min.Remove and cool completely on wire rack before icing. Makes about 30 cupcakes.


Chocolate Raspberry Buttercream
Adapted from More from Magnolia
Ingredients:
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons strained raspberry puree
  • 1 tablespoons almond milk
  • 5 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled to lukewarm
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups sifted powdered sugar

Note: to melt the chocolate, place in a double boiler over simmering water on low heat for 5-10 minutes; stir occasionally until the chocolate is completely smooth and no pieces remain; remove from heat and let cool 5-15 minutes or until lukewarm. 

Directions:
  1. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter using an electric mixer on medium speed for about 3 minutes or until creamy. 
  2. Add the milk and raspberry puree carefully and beat until smooth. 
  3. Add the melted chocolate and beat well for 2 minutes. 
  4. Add the vanilla and beat for 3 minutes. 
  5. Gradually add in the sugar and beat on low speed until creamy and of desired consistency.
Raspberry Buttercream
Ingredients:
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup (approx) strained raspberry puree
  • 3 cups sifted powdered sugar
Directions:
  1. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter using an electric mixer on medium speed for about 3 minutes or until creamy.
  2. Beat in the raspberry puree until smooth.
  3. Add in the powdered sugar one tablespoon at a time until creamy and of desired consistency.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Sourdough Bread


I finally made a successful loaf of sourdough bread.  Back in April I attempted to make a sourdough starter from scratch.  At first, the starter bubbled out of its container like a middle school science experiment gone dreadfully wrong.  Once I controlled that, it decided it wasn't going to listen to me and just exploded all over my kitchen, engulfing my counter.  I had no way to control it but to add some salt to try and kill the yeast.  Bad decision.  Turns out, I also killed the ability for the starter to get sour.  I made two loaves of bread from the starter and while they had the texture of sourdough... they just weren't sour.  As you could probably guess, said starter for shoved to the back of my fridge and was sorely neglected...

Jump to August and a new starter.  While hanging out and cooking with Ann Dornfeld a week ago she mentioned how her dad was an avid baker and had a well loved sourdough.  Lucky for me, I was able to take half of it home!  Post yoga class the following day, I excitedly procured half of a very sour smelling starter.  Soon after arriving home I fed it and promised to love it forever.  As I would have to discard a cup of the starter the next day anyways, I decided it was time to foray into sourdough once again.  This time, I would try King Arthur Flour's "Extra-Tangy Sourdough" to try and ensure I would have a sourdough.  Success!!!

While I wouldn't say this was a super sour loaf, but it did have that "tang" to it.  It definitely had an amazing texture and a good crust, so I have to give a shout out to Ann for giving me such an amazing starter.

But sadly, while I was cutting some bread to make croutons to put in my soup, I gave myself a pretty good cut on my thumb (don't we all?).

Extra-Tangy Sourdough
Adapted from: King Arthur Flour

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup "fed" sourdough starter
  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
  • 5 cups unbleached AP flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons salt
Directions:
  1. Combine the starter, water, and 3 cups of the flour. Beat vigorously.
  2. Cover, and let rest at room temperature for 4 hours. Refrigerate overnight, for about 12 hours.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients, kneading to form a smooth dough.
  4. Allow the dough to rise in a covered bowl until it's relaxed, smoothed out, and risen. Depending on the vigor of your starter, it may become REALLY puffy, as pictured; or it may just rise a bit. This can take anywhere from 2 to 5 hours. Understand this: sourdough bread (especially sourdough without added yeast) is as much art as science; everyone's timetable will be different. So please allow yourself to go with the flow, and not treat this as an exact, to-the-minute process.
  5. Gently divide the dough in half.
  6. Gently shape the dough into two oval loaves, and place them on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover and let rise until very puffy, about 2 to 4 hours. Don't worry if the loaves spread more than they rise; they'll pick up once they hit the oven's heat. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F.
  7. Spray the loaves with lukewarm water.
  8. Make two fairly deep horizontal slashes in each; a serrated bread knife, wielded firmly, works well here.
  9. Bake the bread for 25 to 30 minutes, until it's a very deep golden brown. Remove it form the oven, and cool on a rack.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Red Lentil Spinach Curry

Ladies, gentlemen and casual readers of my blog, I have officially made my first legitimate meal in my new kitchen!  What better meal to make than one that's smells linger for hours afterward - curry!  Rachel, my new roommate, came home about 3 hours after I had made the curry (and cleaned up) and proclaimed that the entire condo smelled wonderfully!  Win!

I originally had intended to make this after yoga on Wednesday, but it turns out that I was in too zen of a place and lacking tomato paste.  After a quick trip to Trader Joe's (the one that I can see from my patio) on the way back from running errands, I picked up some tomato paste, some Belgian raspberry beer, a hunk of fresh ginger and a double pack of tofu.  I had originally intended to make the shopping trip much more substantial, but my shopping list had other plans.  It laid itself to rest at the bottom of a Target shopping cart... I think.

Either way, this recipe is amazing.  I don't have too much experience cooking with lentils; out of all the varieties red lentils are the easiest to cook with.  Primarily they just don't take as long to cook, hence hurry curry.  Another bonus is that you probably have most of these ingredients somewhere buried in your cupboards.  However, if your curry powder was discovered in the back of your pantry... you might want to consider replacing it; curry powders go stale pretty fast.


Lentil Spinach Hurry Curry
Adapted from Kitchen Demure
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 2 ¼ cups water
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 2 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp ginger, grated
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp of Garam Masala
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • A couple of handfuls of chopped spinach
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Directions:
  1. In a small to medium pan add the oil and the onions. Turn the heat to med/high and saute, stirring constantly until they soften a little.
  2. Add the garlic and the ginger and continue to stir. When the mixture is lightly golden, add the curry powder and stir for another 20 seconds or until you can smell the spices.
  3. Add the lentils and water and bring to a simmer. Let the lentils cook for 15-20 min.
  4. Add the tomato paste and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the spinach leaves and serve.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Caramel Pecan Layer Cake


Very slowly, but surely, I have been settling into Seattle.  I dropped my family off at the airport yesterday (a tremendously sad event) and have been trying to do things to fill my days since.  Being unemployed, the job hunt always continues, but you can't do that all the time!  My new roommate Rachel and I took a stroll around Green Lake... but don't ask me to tell what district it's in, I'm just getting a hang of that stuff!  But then we went to this wonderful vegetarian restaurant "Cafe Flora."  It is decorated so serenely; the center of one room has a small rock garden/waterfall complete with a bonsai tree while the walls are lined with bamboo.  The other room, which features the bar, was a little more lively.  But both sides serve their wonderful food.  Now, you're talking to someone who would ask to eat at Seva (an Ann Arbor vegetarian restaurant) every chance they got.  So it means a lot when I say this place was better than Seva!  The didn't have as wide of a range of dishes, but everything they make they appears to be made perfectly.  I personally got the black bean burger with caramelized onions with a side of yam fries.  I would give it a 4.5 out of 5 stars.  The only reason it doesn't get five stars is because I have yet to eat something so good it literally knocks me off my seat.  But the burger... it has the perfect balance of flavor and spice.  It was spicy enough for me, but not so spicy that the flavors of the black beans and onions couldn't shine through.  I'm exited to go back and try other dishes.

But you're not here for  restaurant review... maybe you are... but the point of this post is cake!  Lots of cake for a wonderful person - my Grandma!  As I was moving (erm... now moved) to Seattle, I wouldn't be able to celebrate my Grandma's birthday on her actual birthday, so we surprised her with a party a month before hand!  As seen in a previous post, I made her cards, my sister gave her a book and a bookmark that she made and my mom presented her with a wind spinner she bought from the Ann Arbor Art Fair.  It was so nice to see someone so surprised and happy!  In my opinion, one of the best parts was the cake I also surprised her with.

It's from my new cookbook "More from Magnolia" (looking back, it's ironic because I now live in Magnolia) that I purchased from the Magnolia Bakery in New York City when I was there in early July.  I flipped though all the recipes and my mom and I decided a Caramel Pecan Layer Cake would be the best one for her.  She, and my mom, love caramel.  And toasted pecans.  And cake.  And cake in layers.  Obviously, there were no objections.  The cake was easy to make and better yet you had to make the frosting beforehand!

Caramel Pecan Layer Cake
Adapted from: More from Magnolia

Cake:
  • 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperture
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room tempture
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Icing:
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 5 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
  • 1 1/2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons dark corn syrup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Garnish:
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped toasted pecans
Directions:
  1. Toast the pecans, place on a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes... or until your whole house smells like pecans.  Keep oven at 350-degrees.
  2. Line two 10-inch spring form baking pans and grease.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the flours then set aside.  In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth.  
  4. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy (3+ minutes).  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Add the dry ingredients, beat until all the ingredients are incorporated... but take caution to NOT over beat (this will create gluten and make the cake tough).  Scrape down batter into the bowl, making sure all the ingredients are incorporated.
  5. Divide the batter among the prepared pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cake.  Let the layers cools in the pans for one hour.
  6. When the layers have cooled completely, ice the cake (recipe below).

Caramel Frosting Directions:
  1. In a large bowl, on the medium speed on an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth.  
  2. Add the sugars and beat on low speed for 2 minutes.  
  3. Add the milk, syrup, and vanilla, and beat until smooth and creamy, 3-5 minutes.  Store covered, at room temperature, overnight or up to 2 days.

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