Thursday, December 30, 2010

Marbles aka "Sour Cream Cookies"

The first time I made these cookies was when I was living in Philadelphia. My roommate at the time, who wasn't much of a cookie eater, loved these cookies and now will bake them on her own. She calls them "Cheryl's Sour Cream Cookies" - and even though that doesn't sound very appetizing, sour cream is actually a key ingredient in this recipe to give the cookies a subtle creamy, tangy taste. You can't taste the sour cream, really. And the reason why I chose to make these cookies? Yup, you guessed it, to use up leftover sour cream. And because they're tasty cookies.

But despite my former roommate attributing these cookies to me, I can't take credit for the recipe, though - I got it from Mrs. Field's Best Ever Cookie Book, which has been reproduced here and here.
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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dairy-Free Banana Muffins

You might recognize this old brown wooden table - I made these muffins when I was at my parents' house for Christmas this weekend. Before I moved to my own place, this table was the setting for my blog and it brought back memories...

But what my parents' kitchen does lacks, now that I am no longer living there, is most of the essentials for baking, namely, spices, seasonings, and measuring cups. My parents' kitchen is an Asian kitchen, meaning the only spices and seasonings you'll find in their pantry are five-spice powder and MSG. And no measuring implements. When I lived there, I was the one who maintained the spice rack, and took everything with me when I moved to my own apartment.

So in my homecoming holiday weekend, I wanted to bake something for Christmas brunch with the fam. In the pantry, I found about a cup and a half of flour, baking soda, and sugar that I had left behind. I dug up an old set of measuring cups, (no idea where they came from - but they were dusty from disuse). I found one lone measuring teaspoon that had been separated from the rest of the ring of spoons when I moved out. (I ended up having to buy new measuring spoons for my new apartment). And three overripe bananas. (Don't worry, I am sure my mom bought those recently - they were not left behind from when I moved out six months ago!)

Fortunately, my 21-month old Nephew loves bananas, so I knew the perfect food to make for Christmas brunch - banana muffins. I used this recipe for banana bread from Simply Recipes, only with a few tweaks. The Nephew is allergic to dairy - which worked out because my parents didn't have any real butter - only butter spread. So I substituted vegetable oil for the butter. And I have to say, I could not tell the difference. The only ingredient that would have really helped was vanilla extract - but I had to omit that since well, there wasn't any in the house. Other additions that I feel would have been nice, had I had the benefit of my own kitchen were to sprinkle some cinnamon and nutmeg into the batter. But the finished product that I had was still good - I ate four of them when they were still warm from the oven! Without the added spices, this recipe produces a pure, unadulterated banana muffin.

Dairy-Free Banana Muffins
Adapted from Simply Recipes

3 ripe bananas
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp baking soda
1 egg, beaten
Pinch of salt

In a large bowl, mash the bananas with a fork. Then mix in sugar, oil, and eggs. Sprinkle in salt and baking soda. Then slowly incorporate flour into the mixture until just combined. Spoon mixture into a muffin pan lined with muffin cups. Bake for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Makes about 16 small muffins, or 12 regular-sized muffins.
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Monday, December 27, 2010

Clean Out the Fridge/ Snowstorm Soup

Last night, a snowstorm hit the East Coast, keeping many Greater New York area residents indoors. As such, I felt that this soup was appropriate as it uses ingredients I had in my fridge/pantry. Even though technically, I made this soup before the snowstorm. Hours before I left my apartment to go home for the holidays, I found myself with nearly three pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes, about half a bunch each of carrots and celery. The potatoes were already growing eyes, and the carrots and celery were from when I made this soup. So I was worried these otherwise sturdy vegetables would not make it over the long weekend. So what do with vegetables before they go bad? Make soup!

I found my inspiration from Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything, an early Christmas gift, using the recipe for Simple Potato and Carrot Soup and the springboard for this soup. When the soup was done, I poured some into jars to bring home to share with my parents, and left some behind in the fridge. After driving in the aftermath of the snowstorm back to my apartment today, I was glad to have this soup waiting for me at home to simply re-heat and eat.

Clean Out the Fridge/ Snowstorm Soup

Adapted from Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything

(I am leaving out the quantities, because really they are quite fluid and depend on what you have in the fridge)
Pat of butter
Olive oil
Chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste
Dried herbs (I used basil, oregano, and thyme)

Chop up all the vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Heat butter and olive oil in a large stockpot. When the butter melts and gets foamy add vegetables. Cook vegetables until the onion becomes translucent (About 5-7 minutes), stirring occasionally so that the vegetables do not stick to the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on the vegetables. Add chicken broth (If you don't have enough broth to cover the veggies like I did, then add some water). Bring to a boil, and then let simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes. Add dried herbs and season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

White Beans and Vegetable Soup

My first job out of law school was at a civil litigation firm in the Ironbound district of Newark. Now, the Ironbound has a myriad of places for lunch, but one of my favorites was soup from Spain Restaurant. The restaurant has a different soup, for each day of the week. My personal favorite was on Fridays, when they would serve white bean and vegetable soup. I have moved on to a different law firm, but I will always remember this soup.

I found this soup to be very similar to the “Greens and Beans” soup in Rachael Ray’s 30-Minute Meals, but Spain put in more vegetables, so I added carrots, onions, and celery. I also added some chicken to make it a heartier meal.

White Bean and Vegetable Soup
Adapted from Rachael Ray, 30 Minute Meals

2 carrots, chopped
1-2 stalks celery, chopped
½ yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces (optional)
5 cups of low-sodium chicken broth (can substitute vegetable broth)
1 can (15 oz.) cannelloni beans, drained and rinsed
1 head escarole, roughly chopped
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a couple tablespoons oil in a large stockpot. Saute chicken until lightly brown on all sides.* Remove and set aside. Add carrots, celery, and onion and sauté for about 5-7 minutes, until the onions are translucent. (You may need to add more oil to prevent burning). Push the vegetables to the sides of the pot, creating a space at the center of the pot. Drizzle about a teaspoon of oil into the center and add garlic to that space. Cook for about thirty seconds before stirring it into the rest of the vegetables.** Add escarole with salt, pepper, and a dash of nutmeg. Cook until the escarole wilts. Add beans and broth. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for about 15 minutes. When there is about 2 minutes left in the cooking time, add chicken. Serves 4-6.

* If making a vegetarian version, skip this step.
** I learned this trick from Cook’s Illustrated – it helps to prevent burnt garlic.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Homemade Pizza

I just ate a lot of pizza.

But at least it was homemade, so that make it okay right?

It all started with a cucumber. Yes, believe it or not, this story can be traced back to a cucumber. Much of my cooking is a vicious cycle of trying to use up ingredients. I end up with leftovers of one perishable ingredient, usually a vegetable. So then I buy other ingredients from the grocery store in order to go with said leftover ingredient, only to end up with leftovers of the newly purchased ingredients. And so the cycle continues.

Anyway, so I had a leftover cucumber that never quite made it to a salad. And since I was tired of lettuce, I bought a tomato and block of feta cheese, and made a nice Greek-style salad.

But then I had half a block of feta cheese left.

So then I had this idea of making Greek pizza. When I lived in Philadelphia, there was a pizzeria, that had two versions of “Greek” pizza, known as “Greek I” and “Greek II.” My preference was Greek II, but apparently my memory led me astray, and I ended up making something more akin to “Greek I” (Basically the same ingredients – feta cheese, kalamata olives, mozzarella, only the Greek I has fresh tomatoes, no sauce, while the Greek II, has tomato sauce). What you see pictured above is how it looked before it went into the oven.

But instead of using store-bought pizza dough, I wanted to experiment with making my own dough. I had read in a number of food blogs on how to make homemade pizza dough, all of them proclaiming it to be just so easy, I wanted to give it a try. And I had never worked with yeast before, so I thought making pizza dough would be a good start.

It all seemed like a good idea in theory. Never mind that I don’t own a stand mixer, a pizza peel, or a pizza stone.

So last night, I tried my first hand of making pizza dough using this method. I don’t know where exactly I went wrong, but the yeast simply did not rise. Or maybe I was just too impatient. But it just didn’t work for me.

But I would not be discouraged. I was determined to use up that block of feta!

So today, I tried this method, only I divided the recipe in half and had to mix and knead the dough by hand.

Even though I used the more, shall I say, old-fashioned way, I could tell this method was working much better. The dough was stretchy and bounced in my hands as I kneaded it. And when I set it in a slightly warmed oven to rise, it actually rose and doubled in size!

This is what it looked like after three hours.

I ended up making two smaller pizzas, since I wanted to them to be more personal sized. In the name of variety, I made one Greek, and one plain pizza. I also raised the temperature of my oven to 475 degrees, in the hope this would give me a nice golden brown crust.

So I put the Greek pizza in the oven first. (My oven is small, I can only fit one cookie sheet at a time). After ten minutes, I checked on it, but the crust wasn’t quite golden brown as I had hoped, so I let it stay in for another three minutes.

Looks pretty right? But those extra three minutes in the oven were actually, its downfall. The crust was hard and cracker-like. But the toppings were tasty, so I ate it all. (Except for the crust – it was much too hard!)

So then I put the plain pizza in, and baked it for exactly ten minutes.

Perhaps it was the ten minutes, perhaps it was because it was the second pizza so the dough had more time to rest, but this pizza was perfect. Chewy and soft on the inside, with just enough crunch. I was quite pleased with this pizza. So I ate all of it.

At least there are no leftovers use up!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Spicy Tomato Soup

I could tell you a story about how this meal brought back cherished childhood memories of coming home from a blustery winter day from school, and how this soup would be waiting for me to warm me up.

But that never happened.

Growing up in an Asian household, tomato soup was never really in my repertoire. My mom's idea of making soup usually involved boiling unidentified meat bones and adding chinese radishes, cabbage and/or scallions into the broth. My only childhood encounters with tomato soup would be Campbell's from a can, which always tasted like tomato juice warmed over to me. And after this disappointment, I was hesitant to make tomato soup again.

But then I read this post on Cathy Erway's Not Eating Out in New York and I felt inspired again. I used the same basic method with some deviations. But am I glad I didn't give up on making tomato soup. This soup is awesome - spicy, tangy, and perfect for winter.

Spicy Tomato Soup
Adaped from Not Eating Out in New York

2 carrots, diced (if you buy the bunched carrots, like I did, chop up some of the tops too!)
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
About 1 cup canned diced tomatoes
About 2 cups chicken broth
1 small can (8 oz) plain tomato sauce (I used Hunt's)
1 crushed dried chile pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
10-15 fresh basil leaves, torn
Olive oil

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil with a crushed dried chile pepper to infuse the oil in a large pot. Saute carrots, celery, and onion, for about five minutes. Add garlic and chopped carrot tops (adding the garlic later prevents burning), and cook for another 2-3 minutes or until all the vegetables are lightly browned. Remove heat. Stir in diced tomatoes and chicken broth.

Transfer the mixture into a blender, and pulse until desired consistency. If it doesn't look thin enough, add more broth or water. Transfer back to the pot and simmer on low heat. At this point, I tasted it and felt the soup wasn't tomato-y enough so I stirred in a can of tomato sauce. But I see no problem in added the sauce before blending it. Add cayenne pepper and adjust seasonings to taste. Allow the soup to simmer on low heat for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in basil leaves. Garnish with olive oil and a sprig of carrot leaves, if desired.

For the ultimate comfort food meal, serve with a grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of milk.

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Zesty Tomato Orzo

This dish has an identity crisis. It can't decide whether it is a pasta dish, soup, or a stew. I came home from work today, craving soup, now that the weather is getting cold. I originally planned on making a chicken and orzo soup, to use up the carton of chicken broth and aromatics I had left over from Thanksgiving. But then a recipe for "Roasted Tomato-Garlic Soup" on the back of the box of orzo caught my eye. It seemed simple enough, combine tomato sauce, chicken broth and fresh herbs in a pot, bring to a boil, and 1/2 cup of orzo, and cook until the orzo is tender. It also provided a simple recipe for homemade pesto sauce, to garnish at the end.

But of course, I am not one to follow directions.

To start, I wanted to use the celery, onion, and carrot that were taking up space in my vegetable crisper. So I chopped them up and sauteed the vegetables and two minced cloves of garlic in olive oil. I had infused the olive oil with some red pepper flakes to give the soup some spiciness. This is a method that I use for making almost all my soups. I then added two cups of tomato sauce, and about two cups of chicken broth and brought the mixture to a boil. So far so good. I haven't diverged from the recipe too far yet.

Then it came time to add the orzo. I first stirred 1/2 cup of orzo as the recipe called for. But then that didn't seem like enough pasta, so I added another half cup. Then I didn't stir the bottom of the pot very well while the orzo was cooking, so much of it stuck to the bottom and burned. About seven minutes later, I stirred in chopped fresh thyme, oregano, and sage. I ended up with the thick, not very soupy mixture, very much like you see above. I spooned some into a bowl, and added a dollop of pesto that I already made weeks ago, and kept frozen in the freezer. That's what that greenish blob is on top.

All things considered, it didn't come out bad, in fact it was suprisingly tasty. But it wasn't exactly what I was expecting. The next time I attempt this, I will stick to the 1/2 cup of orzo, which seems to be my downfall in this recipe since the orzo absorbed most of the liquid. And use more cooking liquid so it will be more soup like. The way it is now would probably make a good side dish, and its vegetarian adaptable if you substitute to the chicken broth with vegetable broth.

Zesty Tomato Orzo

1 small onion, chopped
3 carrots, sliced into coins
4 stalks of celery. chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbs olive oil
pinch of red pepper flakes
2 cups prepared tomato sauce
1 cup orzo
1 teaspoon fresh herbs
1 teaspoon oregano
1 stem of sage*
1 Tbs prepared pesto sauce

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat with a sprinkling of red pepper flakes. Add onions, carrots, and celery and cook until the onion becomes translucent. (Probably about five minutes). Stir in garlic and cook for another minute or so. (Adding the garlic later prevents it from burning). Stir in sauce and chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Stir in orzo and cook according to package directions. Be sure to stir frequently and scrape the bottom of the pot, or it will stick. When there are about two minutes left in the cooking time, stir in chopped fresh herbs. Garnish with a dollop of pesto sauce and grated parmesan cheese.

*Another thing I learned about sage. While it is delicious in turkey, it is a very strong flavored-herb. Chopping it up and stirring into soup, results in biting down on a very overpowering herb flavor. Next time, I would leave the stem whole while cooking, and remove at the end, like a bay leaf. Or just leave it out.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Panko-crusted chicken with teriyaki sauce

After several days of Thanksgiving leftovers, I was looking something different, with a zingy, tangy taste. Granted, if I really wanted a change from Thanksgiving, I probably should have moved away from poultry all together. But not having the foresight that I might be sick of poultry after Thanksgiving, I bought two pounds of chicken breasts (they were buy one get one free!) on the day before Thanksgiving.

So I turned to Jaden Hair's Steamy Kitchen cookbook, since Asian flavors were about as far as I could think of from Thanksgiving. I am an avid reader of Jaden's blog, and was delighted to get her book as a gift last Christmas. What Jaden has done in this book is great because she memorializes Asian recipes in writing. And from what I know from experience, written Asian recipes are hard to come by! All of my grandmother's cooking was simply her tossing in ingredients and seasonings based on her experience and taste. Growing up in my house, we never even had measuring cups in our kitchen! So you can imagine, it is difficult and maybe even impossible to re-create my grandmother's dishes in my kitchen.

What I especially like about this book is that at the beginning there is a section that gives the low-down on Asian ingredients and cooking techniques in a way that easy for my Americanized brain to understand. I found this book has helped me learn more about Asian flavors and get an approximation to what I remember from my grandmother's cooking.

The following recipe is adapted, barely, from Jaden's book. As usual, I made adjustments based on my tastes and availability of ingredients. I reduced the whole recipe to only make one serving for myself. I also reduced the amount of sugar the sauce called for, since I didn't want it to be overly sweet, and I omitted the sake, simply because I didn't have any. If I were to do this again, I would add more orange juice because it is supposed to by a citrusy sauce, but I didn't taste much of the citrus. Another thing I might try next time in cooking the chicken is pan frying it first to get the nice golden brown crust, rather than simply spraying cooking spray and putting it in the oven. (Although, admittedly, this would make the recipe less healthy).

Panko-crusted Chicken with Teriyaki sauce
Adapted from Jaden Hair, Steamy Kitchen


For the chicken:
1 chicken breast, flattened to about 1/3 to 1/2 inch thickness
1/4 cup panko crumbs
1/4 cup flour
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper to taste

For the dipping sauce:
3 Tbs soy sace
3 Tbs orange juice
3 Tbs mirin
1 Tbs sugar

Preheat oven for 475 degrees. Combine flour with a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture and then dip into the egg. Shake off any excess egg and dredge the chicken into the panko crumbs. Spray baking sheet with cooking spray and both sides of the chicken. Place chicken in the pan and bake for about 15-20 minutes at 475 degrees.

While the chicken is baking, combing the sauce ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer for about 3-5 minutes.

(Note for next time I try this recipe: try frying chicken in oil for a few minutes on each side to get the nice golden brown crust. This time, I didn't quite get the golden brown crust, even after raising the temperature to 500 degrees for an extra five minutes. Perhaps the chicken was not thin enough, or perhaps my oven is finicky, but it just wasn't meant to be.)

Serves 1 person with white rice.

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