Thursday, September 27, 2007

granola and gossip girl

With J-Cat out of town for the week, not a whole lot of cooking is happening in my house. As he so accurately predicted, my meals this week have centered on rice, eggs, and that "weird dried pork stuff". That's not to say that I abandon my interest in tasty things when I'm alone, as rice, eggs, and weird dried pork stuff happen to be some of my favorite things. I just must admit that sometimes it's nice to take a break from cooking, especially when it is 90 degrees in late September. I did make some homemade blueberry granola the other day, though, to take to work and sprinkle on my yogurt for breakfast. It was my first foray into granola making and it was not entirely successful, though it was tasty enough. To start with, when trying to get my canister of oats down from the over-fridge shelf, it completely overturned, lid flying off, and about 32 ounces of oats went flying all over my kitchen. Opaw thought this was fascinating. I was not amused. In any case, my issue with the end result was that I think it cooked at too high a temperature and was on the verge of a burnt flavor. I think the key to granola is a really really low temperature and perhaps not spreading it quite as thinly on the baking sheet.

In other J-Cat-is-out-of-town news, it's all about "Gossip Girl" in my house right now. I really thought that I would hate this show, but I can't help it, I love a stupid soapy high school show about bitchy rich kids. Unfortunately, it was revealed in last night's episode that the "not as rich" family lives in Williamsburg. Like the neighborhood needed any more mocking. They must also be pretty retarded since they keep taking the Brooklyn Bridge to Williamsburg when coming from the Upper East Side.

Granola recipe after the jump:

Nutty Blueberry Granola
Adapted from

4 cups old-fashioned oats
3/4 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cup dried blueberries (raisins, craisins, or any other dried fruits of your choice)

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. In a bowl mix the oats, nuts, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon. In a saucepan warm the oil and honey. Whisk in vanilla.

Carefully pour the liquid over the oat mixture. Stir gently with a wooden spoon; finish mixing by hand. Spread granola in a 15x10 inch baking sheet. Bake 40-50 minutes until golden brown, stirring carefully every 10 minutes. Transfer granola-filled pan to a rack to cool completely. Stir in dried fruit. Seal granola in an airtight container or self-sealing plastic bag. Store at room temperature for 1 week or in the freezer for 3 months.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

sweet dreams

Perhaps not the fluffiest of pillows, but my little wonton-stuffing, deep-frying experiment came out pretty well. I decided to come up with some sort of fried wonton-slash-blintz-slash-donut sort of thing and these Sweet Ricotta Pillows were the result.

I wouldn't call this experiment 100% successful since a good number of them leaked their filling and damn, does that oil go crazy when cheese leaks into it. But I felt good enough about it that I think it will go better next time if I can be more careful about sealing them. Those that didn't leak actually puffed up quite nicely, and all crisped wonderfully around the edges.

There really is nothing to this dish, as it should be with deep-fried desserts. Simplicity is what makes them so delicious, hence my great love of the simplest sugar-raised donuts. I finished these with a classic sprinkling of powdered sugar, and meant to make a nice raspberry dipping sauce to go with it, but didn't end up finding any good raspberries at the store.

Recipe after the jump:

Sweet Ricotta Pillows
2 dozen wonton wrappers
1/2 cup nonfat ricotta cheese (obviously, any fat amount is fine, too, as is farmer cheese like a true blintz)
2 tsp honey
vegetable oil for deep frying
confectioner's sugar for finishing

Fill a deep, heavy pot with at least 2-3 inches of oil and set over high heat. While the oil is heating, mix together the ricotta and honey in a small bowl. Place a teaspoon of the mixture in the middle of a wonton wrapper, wet the edges with water, and lay a second wrapper on top, sealing the edges well. Fry the wontons in batches until golden brown, about 1 minute each. Remove with a strainer and set on paper towels to drain. Serve with a dusting of confectioner's sugar. Makes about 1 dozen pillows.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

it's been too long since pasta

Right? What was I thinking?! Another relatively quick and surprisingly delicious pasta sauce is this baked tomato sauce, which magically transforms grape tomatoes into a tangy, delicious mess of a sauce. Sliced in half, topped with a bread crumb and cheese mixture, drizzled with olive oil and thrown in the oven for all of 20 minutes, the tomatoes almost disintegrate when tossed with the pasta. 20 minutes is pretty quick in my mind, but once the aroma of the baking garlicky sauce starts wafting through the house, you'll start staring at the timer. Or you can time it like I do, post-workout and desperately in need of a shower. I start the water boiling and the oven heating, then start slicing tomatoes and prepping the sauce. By the time that's ready, the oven's hot, the sauce goes in, I hop in the shower. By the time I'm out, the water's boiling, the pasta goes in. 10 minutes later everything's ready, I'm nice and clean and pajama-ed, and we're ready to roll.

This is a particularly good sauce to pair with homemade pasta because it's simplicity lets good pasta's flavor shine through. But in the interest of time and faux-healthiness, last night I paired it with whole wheat fettuccine. And a DVD of season 1 episodes of the "The Closer". Recipe after the jump:

Baked Tomato Pasta Sauce
Adapted from

5-6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 pound very ripe cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup plain dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons freshly grated Romano cheese
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 pound pasta of your choice
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, torn

Preheat the oven to 400°. Grease a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with 2 to 3 tbsp of the oil. Place the tomatoes cut side up in the dish.

In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, cheeses, and garlic and toss with a fork to mix well. Sprinkle the bread-crumb mixture over the tomatoes, making sure that each cut side is well covered with the crumb mixture. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle with remaining oil. Bake until the tomatoes are cooked through and starting to brown on top, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until al dente. Time the pasta so it finishes cooking about the time the tomatoes are ready to come out of the oven. Toss pasta and sauce together in a large bowl.

Serves 4

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

is this really healthy?

Seeing as how I got the recipe from an episode of "Healthy Appetite", I figure it's supposed to be, but the dressing is so lovely and creamy it certainly doesn't seem like it. My guess is that it is truly healthy, but only if you don't eat a whole vat of it. Like we did...

I admit I was surprised at how much I liked this recipe, not because of the salad ingredients - I obsessively love black eyed peas, so I'll try just about any recipe - but because I was somewhat wary of a healthy version of buttermilk dressing. But this was totally satisfying and the apple cider vinegar gave the dressing a wonderful acidic tang. I think lemon juice would work just as well. Granted I had to put my little spin on the recipe, but it was mostly because I had some reduced fat sour cream left over from that pie so I threw some in for some extra creaminess. It was great, but I think it would still be great without it. Recipe after the jump:

Black-Eyed Pea Salad with Buttermilk Dressing
Adapted from "Healthy Appetite with Ellie Krieger"

For the Salad:
2 15-ounce cans black eyed peas, rinsed and drained -OR- 1/2 lb dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight, and boiled until tender, approx. 1 hour
1/2 cup diced red onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup blanched haricot verts, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
4 tbsp chopped fresh chives
4 cups chopped baby spinach
1 cup chopped butter lettuce

For the dressing:
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2/3 cup low-fat buttermilk
3 tbsp mayonnaise
3 tbsp reduced fat sour cream
1 1/2 tbsp spicy brown mustard
3 splashes tabasco sauce, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large salad bowl, combine all salad ingredients. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients, then pour over salad and toss well. I did end up with a lot of dressing and did not use the whole amount, but I do tend to err on the side of less dressing than most people.

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never enough pie

At least, not in my world. I mean, it's endless, isn't it? The possibilities of what can be made into pie. Any fruit you can imagine, creamy stuff, puddings of all flavors, and don't forget the world of savory pies, which I fully intend to explore as the weather continues to cool off. The other night I returned to an old favorite of mine, perhaps my number one most favorite fruit pie recipe of all time - Sour Cream Apple Pie.

What I love about this pie is that it has it's own built-in creaminess from the sour cream that makes whipped cream or ice cream totally unecessary, plus this pie is so delicious cold the next day, straight out of the fridge. I don't think I can honestly say the same about any of the other fruit pies I've made, and I actually prefer this pie cold to warm. Plus, the walnuts. I love anything with nuts. (Dirty!)

I originally got this recipe out of the classic Silver Palate Cookbook, which Shane gave me many Christmases ago. It may be the oldest real cookbook I own, not counting my mom's old books that she recently gave to me. It looks it's age, as I've had it since before I ever had a nifty cookbook stand. There are many stains from my repeated preparations of this pie and my favorite pork chop recipe.

Nowadays, I've made the pie so many times that I don't have to refer to the book, and as I'm wont to do, I've adjusted little details here and there. Recipe after the jump:

Sour Cream Apple Pie
Adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook

1 recipe basic pie crust for a 2 crust 9-inch deep dish pie

For the pie filling:
5-6 granny smith apples
2/3 cup reduced fat sour cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, beaten
3 tbsp all-purpose flour

For the topping:
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
3 tbsp dark brown sugar
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground clove

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel and slice apples very thinly and set aside in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream, sugar, vanilla, egg, and flour. Pour the mixture over the sliced apples and toss to coat well. Line the pie plate with the bottom crust and fill with apple mixture. In another small bowl, combine the topping ingredients, then sprinkle evenly over the top of the apples. Place the top crust (I usually do a lattice for this pie when I'm not lazy, so you can see the lovely walnut topping.) Bake in the preheated oven for 50-55 minutes until crust is golden brown. Allow to cool completely before serving.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

i can do that!

Forgive my absence this last week, my loyal readers. I was off gallivanting in the Hamptons "for work". Here are some myths I can confirm/dispel regarding just how much you get to eat when shooting a travel food show in the field:
1. You get to eat a lot - So not true. So don't have time to eat.
2. You get to eat food you ordinarily wouldn't get to eat - I'll say yes simply because I would have no other reason to be in the Hamptons but for work, and I probably couldn't afford that dinner that I got 3 bites of.
3. You get some "special" food - Not really. I did get a donut fresh off the donut machine, which was totally awesome and worth the whole trip, but it's not like something nobody else gets. Giada did offer me a donut that she had licked the cinnamon sugar off of, and I considered taking it and trying to sell it on eBay.

Anyway, it was loads of fun on hardly any sleep and I got to eat soup on camera and discover that red soup is so not cool to eat on camera when wearing a white top. It was good soup though. And the one meal I did actually get to sit and eat was so good that I decided to recreate the dish last night, except that in my world it was merely a starter and not the only real meal I would eat the entire day.

It was a salad at Babette's in East Hampton, on their specials for the day, made up of greens, haricot verts, roasted beets, a lemon vinaigrette, and goat cheese wontons.

The wontons, of course, being the best part. I never deep fry at home because it's really hard to get myself to use so much damn oil, but I decided I should just suck it up and try it. The upside is that the wontons came out perfectly and were ridiculously easy to do.

The downside is that it was so successful that J-Cat is now into the idea of stuffing wonton wrappers with anything and everything and deep-frying it.

The rest of the salad was pretty straightforward, although my vinaigrette was somewhat different from what I had at Babette's because theirs used preserved lemon and mine didn't. Also, I laid mine on a bed of butter lettuce because I love butter lettuce. Apparently Opaw does, too, because she stole some off of J-Cat's plate.

Recipe after the jump!

Beet Salad with Goat Cheese Wontons
Inspired by Babette's of East Hampton

1 head butter lettuce or greens of your choice
1/2 pound haricot verts, blanched
1 large beet
2 ounces goat cheese
10 wonton wrappers
a whole lotta oil for deep frying
juice of 1 lemon
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

For the salad:
Scrub the beet, then wrap in foil and roast in a 400 degree oven for 45-1 hour, until fork tender. Remove and set aside to cool before peeling and cubing. Blanch the haricot verts in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, then plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. Assemble the salad with greens on the bottom, haricot vert laid on top, then the cubed beets scattered on the plate.

For the dressing:
Whisk olive oil into the lemon juice to emulsify. Add olive oil to taste, then salt and pepper. Set dressing aside until ready to serve.

For the wontons:
Place a teaspoon of goat cheese in the middle of a wonton wrapper. Using water on your fingertips, wet the edges of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper over diagonally to make a triangle and press the edges together to seal. Bring the two bottom edges of the triangle together, wet, and press together to seal. Heat at least 3 inches of oil in a deep pot. The oil is hot enough when a small chunk of white bread is tossed in and sizzles. Drop the wontons in the hot oil and fry until golden brown, about 1 -2 minutes. Remove and drain the wontons on paper towels. Dress the greens and beets, then lay the wontons on the edges of the plate.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

top of the muffin

To You!!

In my neverending quest for a breakfast that is not only healthy, tasty, and satisfying, but that I might actually also remember to eat on a regular basis, tonight I developed a recipe for some little mounds of fibery goodness - Cranberry-Walnut Bran Muffins. I think these babies might fulfill some of my breakfast needs. They are easily portable, reasonably satisfying, totally healthy, and perfectly tasty. Most of the time when I see muffins at cafes or at one of the numerous bakeries at Chelsea Market in the morning, they are either as big as my head, sickly sweet, or probably full of fat. The only way to control all of these things seems to be to make them myself. Recipe after the jump:

Cranberry-Walnut Bran Muffins
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar (I used a little less than this, as I don't like anything particularly sweet for breakfast. The amount I give here still gives you a low amount of sugar while maintaining a nice sweetness. You could also substitute honey for sugar for a nice flavor.)
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground clove
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup orange juice
1 1/3 cups chopped walnuts
4 cups bran flake cereal (look for high fiber and low sugar. I used Arrowhead Mills Organic Oat Bran Flakes)
2 cups lowfat buttermilk
2 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1 tbsp orange zest

Preheat oven to 400. In a small bowl, combine the dried cranberries with the orange juice and set aside to soak while you prepare the other ingredients. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, spices, walnuts and bran flakes. Drain the cranberries and fold into the dry ingredients. In a separate medium bowl, whisk the two eggs, then add the buttermilk, orange zest, and canola oil and whisk until well combined. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the wet mixture. Stir until just combined.

Line a muffin tin with muffin papers or spray the cups with cooking spray. Using an ice cream scoop, drop a rounded mound of batter into each paper. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes depending on the size. Cool on a wire rack. Makes 24 small or 18 medium muffins.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

health tackle

If you eat a healthy dinner, you can have a decadent dessert, right? After my successful vanilla ice cream run this weekend, I decided that we needed the proper vehicle for that ice cream. In keeping with my fruit pie theme for the summer, I rang out the season with another classic - Blackberry Pie.

The method is the same here as with every fruit pie I've made. Macerate in sugar, dump in a pie shell, bake. Total no-brainer.

I probably should have made a lattice crust for some variety, but I was engrossed in a marathon of The Closer and didn't want to spend too much time watching from the kitchen.

Recipe after the jump:

Blackberry Pie

1 pie crust recipe for a 2-crust, 9-inch pie
5 cups blackberries, picked over and cleaned
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp quick-cooking tapioca
2 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

Preheat oven to 450º. Combine the berries, sugar, flour, lemon juice, and tapioca in a large bowl and set aside for 15-20 minutes while you prepare the crust. Line a 9-inch pie plate with the bottom crust and fill with the berry mixture. Dot the top of the berry mixture with the butter cubes. Cover with top crust, crimp edges and cut vents in the top. Place in preheated oven for 15 minutes, then lower heat to 350º and bake an additional 30-35 minutes until crust is browned and juices are bubbling. Allow to cool well before serving.

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health kick

It's a start. At least it's brown rice. Granted between dressing the rice salad and marinating the chicken I used almost an entire bottle of Italian dressing. But it was a pretty giant bowl of salad, so I figure that the fat spreads itself out pretty well.

This is a concoction that I came up with to approximate a semi-healthy lunch that I used to eat at the Pita Grill with my BBC peeps. Now there's a Pita Grill on 8th Ave right near my current job, but my homemade rice salad is so satisfying that I don't feel the need to go get it. There really aren't too many components to this salad - brown basmati rice, cucumber, red onion, golden raisins, crumbled feta cheese, and Italian dressing. For some protein, I marinated chicken breasts in the same dressing, then threw them on a grill pan, sliced them up, and threw them on top. For lunch today, I'll just eat the salad with no chicken.

The interesting thing about this dish, for me at least, is that the golden raisins and the feta cheese go so well together. As far as a recipe goes, I didn't measure anything, but I'll throw together some approximations after the jump:

Brown Rice Salad with Feta and Golden Raisins

(all of these amounts are approximate and should be adjusted to taste)
2 cups uncooked brown basmati rice
1 medium cucumber, diced, about 1 cup
1 small red onion, about 1/3 cup
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup Italian dressing


Cook rice according to directions, adding a tbsp of butter or olive oil to keep grains separate. When rice is cooked, set aside to cool while you prep the other ingredients. In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and toss to distribute the dressing. Serve at room temperature or cold. Grill marinated chicken, fish, steak, or tempeh as an accompaniment. Makes a giant bowl.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

ice creamed: part 2 - time to churn!

The only real negative to making your own ice cream is the waiting time. After cooking up the custard, it had to chill in the fridge for at least a couple of hours before I got to break out the new machine and churn away. It's a good thing I was able to lick the spoon that I stirred the custard with or I might have gotten really cranky. And that is only the first waiting period. The actual churning of the ice cream was really pretty fun to watch. I mean, I didn't watch it every second but I admit I kept checking on it every couple of minutes. In just a half hour, my custard went from this:

To this:

That's pretty awesome. And I also admit to sticking a spoon into the opening here and there to grab a taste as it was churning. After about 30 minutes, I had another long wait. I transferred the soft ice cream to a container and in it went to the freezer to set up for another couple of hours. It's a good thing J-Cat went out to get donuts in the interim. But finally, after all that waiting, the creamy, custardy, vanilla-y, icy goodness:

This recipe was, admittedly, extremely rich, and probably wouldn't be my choice for classic vanilla ice cream in the future. It was delicious, incredibly smooth, and the texture was perfect, but the flavor and sweetness was more intense than my personal tastes. J-Cat really liked it, though he likened it more to a frozen custard than a traditional ice cream, which is accurate. Using the vanilla bean instead of vanilla extract was definitely noticeable and totally worth it. The next time I try a vanilla ice cream, I think I will go with a non-custard recipe and see how I like it. But before I do another vanilla, I have to seek out a recipe for my personal favorite flavor - pistachio. Recipe after the jump:


1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean pod, approx 6 inches long
2/3 cup sugar
2 whole eggs
3 egg yolks

Combine the cream and milk in a heavy saucepan and set over medium-low heat. Split the vanilla pod lengthwise. Using the back of a knife-blade, scrape out the beans. Add the beans and the split pod to the saucepan. Bring to just below a boil, stirring frequently, then lower the heat to maintain a very low simmer for 30 minutes, stirring frequently.

While the milk mixture is simmering, combine the eggs, yolks, and sugar in a mixing bowl. Using a handheld mixer, beat until light yellow and frothy. When the milk mixture has finished simmering, slowly add about 1 cup to the egg mixture, mixing constantly with the mixer. Once it is fully incorporated, slowly add the egg mixture back to the saucepan, stirring constantly. Simmer on low heat until it begins to thicken. Strain the custard through a fine sieve to remove and curdles. Transfer custard mixture to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap on the surface of the custard, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. After it has thoroughly chilled, follow the manufacturer's directions for churning in the ice cream maker. Makes approximately 1.5 quarts.

Continue Reading "ice creamed: part 2 - time to churn!"

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

ice creamed: part 1

It sounded odd to me to say the other day that I had never made ice cream from scratch before. Never! The simple reason being that I never owned an ice cream maker before, but didn't seem like much of an excuse. I don't know why I never bought one. Gene has had one for a couple of years and has made countless excellent gelatos, and every time I would taste one I would say "I really need to get an ice cream maker!". Add to that Burt's updates on the myriad unusual flavors that Chris has cooked up and I have had serious home made ice cream envy. So I finally did it, and I decided to be a purist with my first batch out - Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.

And there it is, perhaps one of the most expensive single ingredients out there, but also the most worth it. Look how many lovely little seeds that one pod provided:

The recipe I used was - against all my normal instincts - straight out of the user's manual that came with the machine. This was a custard-based ice cream, and I wanted to do it perfectly, so I spent some time straining the custard before cooling:

Smooth custardy goodness:

Coming up in part 2, the machine gets its first use, I watch it like it's magic, and J-Cat eats too much ice cream. Stay tuned!

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