Friday, November 5, 2010

For my vegetarian friends

To my Italian food loving vegetarian friends,
Have I got a recipe for you. As a once a week pasta type of girl, I've been wanting to branch out and try different Italian recipes that don't include the repetitive gesture of boiling angel hair and adding Barilla sauce. I've finally ventured out and made lasagna. It's not just any kind of lasagna though, it's butternut squash lasagna. Since it's squash season, there is plenty of butternut squash in the stores and farmers markets and recipes to go with that. Daniel forwarded a recipe from his company Health and Fitness newsletter that uses butternut squash instead of meat in a lasagna dish. Not only is it meat free, it's also healthy! Yay!

Another inspiration for making this recipe came from the book "Alone in the kitchen with an eggplant" that I'm currently reading. As I mentioned earlier last month, I want to read more books about other people's adventures in cooking. This book is actually composed of many short essays from people just like you and me. They are people who work, who go to school, who are married or who are single. They write about how they cook for themselves and try their best to cook for themselves when their significant other is gone or they don't have the company of their friends. Sounds strange that an entire book could have essays relative to cooking for yourself but as I was reading it, I said to myself "I can totally relate." When you're home alone, do you really put the effort into cooking a a nice meal for yourself or do you pull out the canned goods and PB & J? I put the effort into cooking only if I'm entertaining someone other than myself - I definitely fall into the category of keeping it simple when I'm alone (I've had countless quesadillas/grilled cheese sandwiches/ham and cheese sandwiches alone). Sad sad sad. After reading a few of these essays, I was motivated to cook something nice for myself for once. I was going to put something together that would take time, not just 30 seconds of microwaving. Alas, this is the reason why the lasagna recipe is on my blog. Ta-da!

Ingredients (enough to make 2 lasagnas with 6 servings each - I ended up making only one lasagna though so cut this in half if you want that):
- Cooking spray
- 3 cups chopped onions (I would use a quarter less because it's a little too onion like)
- 10 cups fresh spinach
- 3/4 cup shredded sharp provolone cheese (I used jack)
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (I omitted this)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 eggs
- 1 (15 ounce) carton fat-free ricotta cheese
- 3 cups diced and peeled butternut squash (Trader Joes has it already prepared)
- 6 cups marinara sauce
- 12 oven-ready lasagna noodles
- 1 cup fresh Parmesan cheese grated (the smell is so intense)

- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Heat a large pot on medium-high heat with some cooking spray. Add the onions. Saute until it is tender.
- Add spinach, saute until the spinach wilts. Turn the heat off and set the pot aside.
- Combine provolone, parsley (omitted), salt, pepper, eggs and ricotta cheese in a large bowl.
- Place squash in a microwave safe bowl. Cover and cook on high for 5 minute or until tender with a fork.
- Coat the bottom and sides of an 8 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Spread 1/2 cup of marinara sauce in the bottom of one prepared dish. You are going to start layering ingredients on top of each other.
-Arrange two noodles over sauce (if you cut the recipe in half, adjust the noodles accordingly).
- Spread one cup of the cheese mixture over the noodles.
- Arrange 1 1/2 cups squash over the cheese mixture.
- Spread 3/4 marinara sauce over the squash.
- Arrange 2 noodles over the sauce.
- Arrange 1 cup cheese mixture over the noodles.
- Arrange 1 1/2 cups of the onion/spinach mixture over cheese mixture.
- Spread 3/4 cup of marinara over the spinach mixture.
- Add 2 noodles over the sauce.
- Spread 1 cup sauce evenly over noodles (if you see too much sauce, you might want to cut back).
- Sprinkle the top with parmesan cheese. Begin the same process for the second dish.
- Cover the pan with foil.
(You will notice that there might be more ingredients left on the side than in the dish. You can eyeball it and try to add more ingredients and layer any way you want. The directions are just providing some guidelines.)

- Bake for 30 minutes covered and then 30 minutes uncovered. 60 minutes total.

Enjoy!!! Sorry no final product photos because I ate it. LOL. :D

To come -
Slow cooker recipes (I got a slow cooker - one of the coolest birthday presents ever! Thanks Fran!)
Thanksgiving side dishes - I'm actually going to make them from scratch as I only have to feed 5 people :)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Sweetened Quesadillas

Two years ago, my friends got me an awesome gift for my birthday - tickets to see Jason Mraz in LA. Before going to the show, we wanted to have dinner and I called my friend who lives in LA to ask her what restaurant we should check out. She mentioned this cute little place called Cha Cha Chas. This place is known for its sangrias and interesting twist on Latin foods. While browsing the menu there, Daniel and I saw something that we just had to try. It sounded so different, so interesting and a little bit weird. It was their guava and goat cheese quesadilla. It was SO tasty! I loved the combination of the tart- like cheese with something so sweet - the guavas. The combination was like heaven on your pallet. So there is a reason why I'm talking about this quesadilla that I ate about two years ago. I went to the Irvine farmer's market this weekend and bought myself some fresh goat cheese that traveled all the way from Mojave, CA. The vendors infused the goat cheese with garlic, chives and different flavors but we ended up taking home the cucumber flavored one. It's so refreshing you can just eat it by the spoonful! Anyway, I had plenty of tortillas left over and goat cheese that I thought "Hey why not make some of the those fruity little quesadillas?" I went to Bristol Farms and bought figs. I couldn't remember that Cha Cha Chas actually used guavas and kept thinking I ate fig and goat cheese. Well, as I went online to see if there was a recipe I could use, I found out that the ingredient was indeed guava and not fig but I had three figs now so I had to use them. No biggie! I've come to terms with substituting things in recipes because sometimes everything is not available (guavas are not in season right now anyway). Here's the recipe:

- Goat cheese (I used fresh goat cheese but you can use those prepackaged logs in the store)
- Flour tortillas
- Figs or guavas

- Take the back of your spoon and spread the goat cheese evenly onto one half of the tortilla.
- Cut open the figs and scoop out the flesh and spread it with the back of your spoon on top of the goat cheese. It will become mushy together but that's how you want it.
- Fold the tortilla in half and place it on the skillet. Heat it to your liking. I like it crispy and slightly brown.

That's it! Even though I didn't use guavas, the figs were still sweet enough to give it a lightly sweetened taste. I think next time I'll have to scoop more of the flesh out and make my tortilla more pink on the inside. Since guavas have a bit of a stronger taste than figs, I would highly recommended doing the guava version since it'll give a sweeter fruitier taste. In one tortilla, I use whole cut figs, the other I squished the figs into jam. :)

So the quesadillas were just an appetizer for my dinner last night. The main course was mahi mahi and whole wheat cous cous. I marinated the mahi mahi with a pesto and garlic chili paste that I bought at another farmer's market so I didn't make it myself (therefore no recipe). It was so tasty! I tried just one fish fillet with the marinade and the other I left plain with just some pepper and lime juice. I placed it on the grill and in the mean time, I made this aioli sauce that was on the fish package from Trader Joe's. I really like garlic and sometimes mayo, even though it's not healthy, so this was something nice to try on the fish. I can't entirely remember the recipe but I believe it was one part mayo (tbsp), one part lemon juice, some pepper and small piece of garlic (chopped up). Use a spoon and just really whip up the mayo with the liquid and then add the two last ingredients. Make sure that the garlic is chopped up finely or else you'll be biting into big chunks. Bon appetit!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Blue tortillas + red sauce = purple enchiladas?

As a big fan of enchiladas, I decided that I should try making my own. When I lived on campus at UCSD, my Wednesdays (and maybe the occasional extra day) consisted of me going to have some cheese enchiladas at the Mexican restaurant. Not chicken, beef or anything else - just cheese. It was my comfort food and it always brought a smile to my face :). I didn't try any fancy recipe but instead tried tweaking two recipes that I found on two of my ingredients - the back of a mozzarella cheese bag and the back of Trader Joe's enchilada sauce bottle. While my enchiladas didn't come out as saucy as the ones I usually get at Mexican restaurants, they were still tasty. Since I try not to add too much sauce (an entire bottle seems a little overboard) I try to lighten up my dishes by using only 3/4 or 1/2 of what the recipe asks for. I also try to make my dish look a little more colorful by using the blue corn organic tortillas instead of the plain corn tortillas. Unfortunately blue tortillas and red sauce do not add up to purple enchiladas. Nonetheless, still tasty and somewhat colorful.

The other day I tried making flour tortilla enchiladas and the texture was ... interesting. Daniel thought I had made him some kind of a lasagna. It wasn't terrible but the corn tortillas are needed for just the right texture.

My own version of enchiladas (my first recipe?)

Package of corn tortillas (medium size)
Medium onion
1 chicken breast (I actually made chicken enchiladas, not cheese!)
1 bag of shredded cheese (jack or mozzarella)
Enchilada sauce (I like the Trader Joe's brand but anything else can work)
Cilantro (optional)
Chives (optional)

- Cook the chicken thoroughly (thank you George Foreman!) and allow it to cool for about 15 minutes.
- While the chicken is cooling, dice half the onion (about half a cup). Place it in a bowl and pour half a cup of enchilada sauce into the onion bowl.
- Take half a cup of cheese and mix it in to the onion bowl.
- Shred the chicken by peeling it into thin strands. Place the strands into the onion bowl.
- Use a fork and mix all the ingredients in the onion bowl together to make sure that everything is coated in the red sauce.
- Spray an 8 x8 oven dish with cooking oil. Pour a little of the enchilada sauce into the dish and spread it out (by tilting the dish back and forth or using a spatula).
- Preheat the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Take one tortilla at a time and scoop a spoonful of the onion bowl mix into it. Make sure that it doesn't clump in one area but is spread out along the tortilla in a line down the center. It is up to you how stuffed you want your enchilada.
- Roll the tortilla up to create a small burrito and place it flap side down into the oven dish.
- Continue to do this until all of your mix is gone or until you fill up the entire oven dish.
- Once you've got them all lined up in the dish, pour half a cup of enchilada sauce over the rolls to get them all covered with the sauce.
- Sprinkle cheese over the enchiladas (as much as you'd like).
- Place it in the oven for about 10 minutes (or until the cheese is completely melted and just the way you like it). Enjoy!

For dessert or a snack after try the Chex Mix muddy buddies recipe. It's so fast and easy (though probably not healthy) to make! Part of my goal this month and until the end of the year is to make some snacks for my co-ed softball team. My first snack were the muddy buddies. I usually don't like uber sweet things but this was good. I love Chex cereal in general - sans sugar- but with the chocolate and peanut butter melted all over, it was so hard to resist! Plus it makes for a great treat for an entire week! Since I don't have as much time to make as many sweet now, having a sweet treat that lasts for a while is quite nice. Snacks are important to me everyday now that I'm in the classroom. Something about walking around to the students for two hours straight makes me a very hungry person at around 10:00 am everyday. Anyway, here are some snapshots. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Foodie Books to Read

I'm almost done with my new book "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less you Cry" and am ready to jump into other food related books. Currently I have Anthony Bordain's Kitchen Confidential on my bookshelf but I don't know if I want to start with that one just yet. After watching a couple of his shows, I don't know if I can handle his personality or his writing. Here are some that I found while browsing Amazon that might be a little more kind hearted. Let me know if you want to read any of these with me. I like doing book clubs so let's chat about some of these!

Going Solo in the Kitchen by Jane Doerfer

The Pleasures of Cooking for One by Judith Jones - This one sounds interesting. I don't really find the joy in cooking for just myself because recipes always make more than one serving. Plus good food should always be enjoyed with good company :) but I hope that this book teaches me something new.

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant by Jenni Ferrari-Adler

Do you notice a trend in the author's names? They all start with J... Isn't that interesting?! Especially since the book that made me want to start a food blog was also written by someone with a name starting with J. I guess it's just coincidental.

I'm going to start uploading other recipes soon. Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend :)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Boeuf en Croute Champignons avec Sauce Vin Rouge

I'm turning French! Well, sort of. I'm currently reading a book called "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less you Cry" and it's made me a little French food fanatic. The book is a lot like Julie and Julia; the only difference is that this author sets out on a journey to Le Cordon Bleu to learn how to be a chef and doesn't try to Master the Art of French cooking book. While J&J was somewhat comedic, this book makes going to culinary school sound like a terrifying experience - it kind of scares me to even consider culinary school. I've given pastry school some thought after going to the Culinary Institute in Napa Valley this summer but after reading a few chapters in this book, I think I'd rather make my kitchen my classroom and stay here where no one is breathing over my shoulder or critiquing my food. Also, no one will make me pluck a fish's eyeball out with a paring knife. Yeah... this book can get kind of descriptive at times. Other than the terrifying details of what it's like to be trained by top French chefs, this book has some great recipes that the author learned while learning to be a master chef in France. I never knew how time consuming French cooking could be until I skimmed all of the recipes in this book. Not only does it require a lot of time for preparation, it also requires a lot of time for slow cooking either on the stove or in the oven. I guess it's true that great food does take time! Lucky for me I found some time between classes, life and everything else to make a wonderful steak recipe :)

Boeuf en Croute Champignons ave Sauce Vin Rouge (for four) from Kathleen Flinn

Red-wine sauce recipe - To drizzle on the steak or on the mashed potatoes
1 cup dry red wine
2 ounces stew meat or beef trimmings
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onions
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped carrots
Parsley stems (I didn't include this)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tbsp flour
1 cup brown beef stock
1 tbsp butter
salt, pepper

1. Reduce the wine by half in the small saucepan over medium-high heat. Reducing means to just heat the wine until it reduces in amount.
2. While the wine is reducing, sear the beef in oil in another pan on medium-high heat.
3. Add onions, celery and carrots and stir until softened (3 minutes) then add thyme and flour. Stir to coat the ingredients with the flour.
4. Add the reduced red wine and beef stock and bring to a boil. Skim the foam off the top and reduce to heat. Let simmer for half an hour while you finish the other part of the recipe.

Mushroom-Crusted Steaks recipe
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup bread crumbs or panko (I used half and half)
1 tbsp parsley (I left this out)
Salt and pepper
4 beef-tenderloin fillets (about 6 ounces each)
1 tbsp olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Saute the mushrooms in the butter over medium heat until browned.
3. Strain the mushrooms and chop it finely together with the bread crumbs, parsley, teaspoon of salt and black pepper mixed in.
4. Season the meat with salt and pepper on both sides.
5. Heat the oil over high heat in a skillet and sear each side of the steak for 2 - 3 minutes.
6. Remove the steak from the pan to a cookie sheet lined with foil or parchment.
7. Press the mushroom mixture on top of each steak and place the cookie sheet in the oven. Turn the oven to broiler mode. Broil the steaks until the mushroom coating gets brown and the meat firms to medium-rare (about six minutes).
8. Remove the red wine sauce from the stove and strain the veggies and beef out of the sauce. I saved the veggies and beef for another dish but you can discard it. Return the sauce to the saucepan and stir in a knob of butter to finish. Serve the sauce alongside the meat.

For the mashed potatoes, I peeled three potatoes, chopped them into small cubes, and boiled them on high until they were tender (about 20 minutes). Remove the potatoes from the water and mash it with a fork in a serving bowl. Pour in a little heavy whipping cream and garlic bits to soften it up. Pour the sauce on top like gravy and enjoy!


Review: If you like your steak rare to medium, this process of cooking the steaks in the oven works really well! The mushroom topping gives the steak so much flavor and texture. The meat cuts really nicely too and is easy to chew (who wants tough steak anyway?). Definitely a do-again type of recipe.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Thai-riffic Dish

Before venturing out on my weekly grocery shopping duties, I decided I would look at the Trader Joe's website for some inspiring ideas for new dishes to make. They have quite a few great recipes on their website that are quick, easy and great for your wallet. I had a craving for pizza and luckily I stumbled upon a recipe for Thai Chicken pizza. This made me think about CPK - one of my favorite pizza places - and their Thai Chicken pizza dish. After looking at the ingredients, I thought "Hey maybe this will taste just like that!". It did! Now you can have a restaurant style pizza in the comfort of your own home :). Plus spinning pizza dough in your own kitchen is lots of fun. I wish I could twirl it and do all this fancy stuff with pizza dough but I'd rather not scrape anything off my kitchen ceiling. We'll leave that to the professionals.

1 cup TJ’s Just Chicken - I used one chicken breast that I already had at home. Just grill it and chop it up.
1 jar TJ’s Peanut Satay Sauce
1 package TJ’s Pizza Dough - Leave it out for 45 minutes before making pizza.
½ cup TJ’s Carrots, shredded - I used one whole carrot and shredded it myself.
2 tbsp TJ’s Unsalted Peanuts, chopped - If you have trail mix, just pick out a few peanuts. :p
4 TJ’s Green Onions, cut lengthwise - You can get this at another grocery store. It's cheaper.
1 cup TJ’s Shredded Mozzarella

- Preheat the oven to 425°. Combine the chicken and a ½ jar of the satay sauce and place in fridge. While the chicken chills, take out pizza dough and allow it to rise for 45 minutes to an hour.
- Begin to shape the dough by lightly dusting a flat surface with flour, form the dough into a ball, and begin to push from the center out (use a rolling pin). When the dough is in a rough (ROUGH because it's difficult to make a nice circle) circular shape, spread the remaining satay sauce on top of the dough. (You don't have to use all the remaining sauce. I used only 1/4 of the jar. You also might want to put the pizza on top of a baking sheet or pizza stone before you start layering the toppings).
- Sprinkle the mozzarella over the sauce and layer the marinated chicken on top of that.
- Complete by sprinkling with the shredded carrots, green onions and peanuts. Place
carefully into the oven.
- Bake for 10 – 15 min until the cheese bubbles and the crust turns golden brown.

Unfortunately my camera was unavailable at the time and my hands were full of dough so here's the best image I can get of it from the TJ website:

Review: YUM! If you want a pizza that is peanuty in flavor and different from your average pepperoni, sausage, bacon and cheese pizza, this is the one. I would suggest making your own dough if you have time to make this pizza a little better. I like the Trader Joe's pizza dough but sometimes it's a little too spongey or chewy. It could be that I'm not allowing it to rise enough but I still think it's great to make your own dough.

COMING UP next...
- Tomato recipes galore
- Soup recipes from my new book that I haven't blogged about yet.
- French recipes from my new book "The Sharper the Knife, The Less you Cry".

Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Farm Fresh - From Berries to Muffins

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit my friend's cute little farm out in Watsonville. Daniel and I got to ride a tractor, feed chickens, collect fresh eggs and pick blackberries off a bush! It's not your average sized bush either, it was a giant with many many berries ready for the picking. I had all these ideas running through my head - what will I make with all of these berries? We picked about 2 pounds worth and I finally had the chance to make some things - creme brulee and muffins. Yum yum :). I don't know what the berries tasted like before I put them into the mix but I'll say they are excellent ingredient for your every day dessert.

I also want to add that I now understand why blackberries (or any kind of berry) are so expensive in the market. I was poked by thorns left and right while picking these berries; there definitely isn't a way to mechanize this method of picking berries because it would only ruin the ripe berries. I'm guessing that the berry industry charges high rates because their workers have to work hard to pick all of these. The next time you have a berry, think about it! Also think about the idea of farm to table meals. I went to this awesome restaurant in Napa (Long Meadow Ranch) where they bring all of their home grown ingredients directly to your table in a magnificent dish. I felt like I was doing the same thing by picking these berries and bringing them directly home to eat. Oh how great it feels to know where your food is coming from!

Here are some fun pictures from the berry picking extravaganza:

Oh look how they hang

Colorful pink to brown colored eggs Yee-haw it's tractor riding!

My friend made a delicious Japanese donburi dish with eggs, mushrooms and onions over chicken katsu with the fresh eggs. I'm glad we didn't have to worry about consuming these eggs. All they eat are some corn seeds and fruit and they have plenty of room to move around and be clean and safe.

So on to the recipe. Thanks to Joy the Baker for posting a great recipe for muffins.

Blackberry Muffins - Yields about 8 small sized muffins

- 3 Tbsp of unsalted butter
- 1/6 cup of milk - I used 1% low fat milk
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 tspn of vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup of all-purpose flour
- 3/8 cup of sugar ( I mixed half white and brown sugar) - The measurements are weird because I cut everything in half but for you to imagine, it's half of 3/4 of a cup.
- 1/2 tspn of baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- 3/4 cup of berries - black, blue or red. Your choice.

- Place your oven rack in the upper third part of your oven and preheat it to 375 degrees.
- Prepare your muffin pan with liners or spray it with canola oil.
- Melt the butter in the microwave for about 20-30 seconds. Make sure that it's not too hot and then start whisking in the milk, egg and vanilla until it is a milky smooth mixture.
- In another bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Slowly combine the wet mixture into the dry ingredients. Once combined, start folding in the berries.
- Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups ~ 8. Bake for about 20 minutes on the upper rack.
- After they turn golden brown, take out the muffins and let them cool for 15 minutes. After it has cooled down, remove the muffins from the pan. They should easily come out if you sprayed enough oil.
- Enjoy! They're so great warm :)

I really enjoyed this recipe because it combined something tangy with something bread-y. It's not that sweet and it's perfect as a very light snack. It's also beautiful in color (look at that purplish color!) I can't wait to enjoy this with some milk.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Mmm matcha!

This post is dedicated to green tea - one of the many loves of my life. I love to have tea time in the morning, late afternoon and evenings but this time it's in dessert! I have a list of desserts with tea as an ingredient (like chai tea cupcakes) but this isn't about that. It's about matcha green tea mochi baby cakes with red bean paste (say that ten times fast!). I wanted to make something unique/special because it was Daniel's moms birthday and I wanted him to take home a nice little surprise for his family. At first I didn't think it would be possible to make something with matcha because I wasn't sure where I would get the powder. I read on Happy Home Baking (a great blogger who focuses on some Asian dessert specialties) that you can get the powder on Amazon but there wasn't enough time for it be delivered. If you live next to a Mitsuwa or another Japanese market, you can easily find it there in the tea aisle. It's about $7.00 for a small can that is 1.5 ounces. I can't believe it's that pricey for a small ounce of it but it's definitely worth it. It smells so great when you pop open the can - so fresh! Plus you can get quite a few tablespoons out of a can.

Ok so on to the recipe. Since I only bought matcha and red bean paste (also at the Japanese market), I thought I could make matcha pound cake but I didn't actually have a bread pan. I had to think of something else using these two items as the main ingredients and found Kitchen Meditation (ommm) which came to the rescue. At first I was a little hesitant because she mentioned the ingredient Mochiko which I've used to make mochi before. It was a sticky messy situation and I didn't want to touch it ever again but somehow it made its way back into my life. With only two hours before I had to get going, I decided this recipe would do and the final product did look pretty good. I have to say, the taste was also pretty good ;)

Ingredients for 12 mini (cup) cakes:
- 1 2/3 cup Mochiko
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tbsp (or more) matcha
- 1/4 cup egg beaters
- 1/3 cup melted butter
- 1 cup soy milk (she used Almond)
- 1 cup Anko (red bean paste) - I just eyeballed the amount I would put into each cake.

- Preheat the oven at 350 degrees.
- Melt the butter in the microwave (approximately 30 seconds) then set aside for cooling. I learned that if you don't let the butter cool down and you mix it with the eggs, you create an unsettling scramble affect that is startling. Scary but fixable.
- In one large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, baking powder, matcha and sugar.
- When the butter has colled down, mix it together with the egg and milk in another bowl.
- Slowly stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until it becomes on giant green batch of sticky batter.
- Spray a muffin pan with cooking spray and spoon the batter into each cup at about 1/3 full.
- Scoop about 1 to 1/2 tsp of red bean paste into each cup in the middle of the batter.
- Top the remainder of the batter (about half a tablespoon full) on top of each cup. I shook the pan to make sure that the batter covered up the red bean paste and made each cup look smooth on top.
- Bake for about 25 minutes and as Daniel would say, "Ita daki mas!" which means "I'm ready to eat".

How were they?
I don't usually like the texture of mochi but when it's in a cake like form, it's a little more bearable. I like the subtle green tea taste and the sweet little surprise in the middle. This is an entirely new thing I tried and I must say, I enjoyed it. The cakes aren't soft nor crumbly when bitten but it's lightly chewy and softly dense. Weird way to describe it but it's just a weird kind of (cup)cake. I don't really want to call it a cupcake because it really just reminds me of a brownie bite. Small size without any frosting so I don't think it can really be categorized as a cupcake. But it is refreshing and different. Hope you try it sometime!

Thanks to my awesome sous chef Daniel for being the BEST photographer ever :) and my inspiration for writing in my blog.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Soup de jour - French Onion Soup and an entree that doesn't match

I really should be writing about how my soup cooking journey is going with my new awesome book but I'm feeling a bit like French Onion Soup today. This is one soup that Daniel's been craving and one that we haven't had it in a while (I'm talking years) , so why not try it out? I also got new ramekins which came with my creme brulee set (from Christmas!) so I had to put them to use. Semi-new kitchen gadgets need to be played with more often! Anyway, I had a few onions laying around and bottle of red wine so into the pot they go to make this delish soup.

French Onion Soup I - From by Chefbuzz

Ingredients (Warning - This is supposed to make about 4 servings but it filled quite a plenty ramekins):
-2 tbsp of butter
-2 onions (yellow), thinly sliced - warning, one may get teary eyed as a result :)
-1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
-1 1/2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
-1 1/4 cups of water
-1/4 cup of red wine
-1 can condensed beef broth (10.5 ounces) - This is where I made the mistake. DO NOT buy regular beef broth. It needs to be concentrated.
-1 French baguette (get it fresh from Henrys!)
Slices of white cheese (they recommend Swiss, I bought Provolone)

- Melt the butter in a large saucepan. After it has melted, stir in the sugar and let it semi-dissolve. Then add the onions and cook them over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until it gets brown.

- Add flour and stir until it is well blended with the onions and pan juices. Add water, wine and beef broth. Heat the mixture until it is boiling then reduce to low heat. Cover the soup and let it simmer for 10 minutes.

It looks a bit odd but then it'll change into this familiar soup color

- While the soup is simmering, cut the French bread into 1 inch thick slices. Toast the bread at 325 degrees until it starts turning slightly brown ( I love toasted bread!). Keep them in the oven until the soup is ladled into the ramekins.

- When the soup is ready, ladle it into the ramekins and place a slice of bread on top of each bowl. It might not fit (since ramekins are tiny) so just cut the bread in half. Then take a piece of cheese and place it right on top of the bread. Place the soup bowls on a cookie sheet for proper handling.

- Place the bowls into the oven and bake them at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Once the cheese starts to burn a bit and melt beautifully over your bowl, it's ready! Bon appetite!

A été la soupe magnifique? Eh...
While I was hoping that this soup would taste like the one that they have at Mimi's Cafe (they make it so good!), it didn't turn out like it because of the poor choice I made in my beef broth selection. If a recipe says to get something condensed, there must be a reason for it (more sodium!). :) I think the best part of the soup, sadly, was the toasted bread with yummy cheese! While I didn't enjoy the soup so much because it lacked a bit of saltiness and because my stomach was overwhelmed with onions, Daniel really enjoyed it (or so he said..). Haha. He actually ate two whole ramekins and slurped up every bit of it! :) Lesson learned: Next time I'll add more sodium and get condensed beef brother instead of the all organic, better-for-your-health broth. ;)

And on to the entree that I made that has no relevance at all to French Onion Soup. Since soup was not going to be enough for dinner, I decided to look up another recipe - is so great - and found Sweet and Spicy Stir Fry with Chicken and Broccoli. YUM! I haven't actually followed a recipe for an Asian dish but this one looked super easy, I had all the ingredients and it looks healthy! SCORE!

- 3 cups of chopped broccoli
- 1 tbsp of olive oil
- 2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves cut into 1 inch strips
- 1/4 cup sliced green onions (or more)
- 4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp of hoisin sauce (aka plum sauce)
- 1 tbsp chile paste (I just used the chili pepper flake paste)
- 1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
- 1/2 tspn ground ginger
- 1/4 tspn crushed red pepper (Thank you Pizza Hut for giving me this...)
- 1/2 tspn salt
- 1/2 tspn black pepper (or to your taste)
- 1/8 cup of chicken stock

- Steam the broccoli until it is tender but firm. I did this by putting it in a bowl of water and microwaving for about 1 minute. It works just fine.
- Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and saute the chicken, green onions and garlic until the chicken is cooked thoroughly (not pink and no juices).
- Stir the hoisin sauce, chile paste and soy sauce into the skillet. Season everything with ginger, red pepper, salt and black pepper. Add the chicken stock and simmer for 2 minutes. Finally, add the broccoli and mix it around into the sauce mixture. Serve over rice and you're DONE!

I really liked this dish. It was so flavor and the chicken was not dull at all. The seasons really coated everything well and I liked how the broccoli added a bit of a crunch to the dish. I especially loved all the chile I added to the dish which made it so spicy and tasty. It's a little like having Panda Express in your own kitchen. I will definitely make this again!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How many soups? I've lost track!

Mmm, I love soup! I know it's summer so why do I continue to make soup? First, it's because the weather makes me think I'm in the middle of October/sometime borderline winter. Secondly, it's because I'm still trying to reach my goal of 100 soups by the end of this year (December is only a few months away). So far, I believe I've made about 20 soups... This is based on my terrible memory of such things. While some of these recipes have been blogged, some are still in the process of being blogged/made. Although there are a bazillion recipes online that I could be following, there are many things to consider:

1. Are the ingredients within my budget?
2. Is it healthy?
3. Is it worth the time?

While I ponder such questions when looking at a recipe, I've been waiting to find a really great soup book that will answer all the above with YES! Why just one book? Because it will be an easy one stop shop. Also, I'm trying to challenge myself like Julie Powell did with Julia Childs' "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" and cook every single recipe in one book. I think I've found the BOOK that will allow me to cook everything in it! Well I didn't find it but my awesome friend Ben did :). He gave me this

50 vegetarian soup recipes that all sound so scrumptious!!! I can't wait to crack into it this weekend. THANKS Ben!!! Get ready for some more soup recipes to come up soon :)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Brand new kitchen item - a tart pan!

With such a small kitchen, I try not to buy anything I don't usually need. I have only two spoons, three forks, one large mixing bowl, one spatula and a few plates/bowls/bake ware. I'd love to have a bazillion other gadgets but I'm content with what I have now as I have been able to make many recipes that I've wanted to. The only thing is that I've never had a tart pan so I wasn't able to make all these awesome tart recipes that I've read online. I decided that Daniel's dad's birthday was a great occasion to finally get one and make him something yummy and fun. I must also mention that while in Brazil, Daniel and I had an awesome slice of apple pie and it got me thinking about baking all kinds of apple-y sweets like pie and tarts since I've never done it before. Seriously, I didn't stop thinking about making a pie from the moment we took a bite out of that slice (it's a weird thing I have about certain recipes; I become a bit obsessed). I came home and bought a tart pan right away.

I found a recipe on Smitten Kitchen by Alice Waters for an Apple Tart and tried my hand at it.

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, just softened, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
3 1/2 tablespoons chilled water

2 pounds apples (Golden Delicious or another tart kind), peeled, cored (save peels and cores), and sliced (I used Golden Delicious and Granny Smith Apples)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
5 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup sugar (I used about 1/4 cup of sugar so it made my glaze really water but still enough to make the tart sweet)


MIX flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl; add 2 tablespoons of the butter. Blend with a mixer until dough resembles coarse cornmeal. Add remaining butter; mix until biggest pieces look like large peas. (Mine did not look anything like peas... but it still turned out just fine).

DRIBBLE in water, stir, then dribble in more, until dough just holds together. Toss with hands, letting it fall through fingers (mine did not fall through my fingers but felt just right), until it’s ropy with some dry patches. If dry patches predominate, add another tablespoon water. Keep tossing until you can roll dough into a ball. Flatten into a 4-inch-thick disk; refrigerate. After at least 30 minutes, remove; let soften so it’s malleable but still cold. Smooth cracks at edges. On a lightly floured surface, roll into a 14-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. Dust excess flour from both sides with a dry pastry brush (or sprinkle it evenly with your hands - no fancy tools needed ;))

PLACE dough in a lightly greased 9-inch round tart pan. Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

OVERLAP apples on dough up to the sides of the tart pan. Continue inward until you reach the center. Fold any dough hanging over pan back onto itself; crimp edges at 1-inch intervals. (The funny thing is that I forgot to look at the pictures on Smitten Kitchen so my apple slices were huge! But it still tasted good).

BRUSH melted butter over apples and onto dough edge. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over dough edge and the other 3 tablespoons over apples.

BAKE in center of oven until apples are soft, with browned edges, and crust has caramelized to a dark golden brown (about 45 minutes), making sure to rotate tart every 15 minutes.

MAKE glaze: Put reserved peels and cores in a large saucepan, along with sugar. Pour in just enough water to cover; simmer for 25 minutes. Strain syrup through cheesecloth.

REMOVE tart from oven and let cool at least 15 minutes.

BRUSH glaze over tart, slice, and serve.


What did it taste like?!

Honestly, I have no idea. I didn't get a chance to try it since it was headed up to Irvine with Daniel for his dad's birthday. I took the opportunity to stay at home and rest since I was going through withdrawals from my vacation! But according to Daniel, it was really good! The dough was perfect (my first dough ever from scratch) and the apples had a nice little sweetness to it that wasn't overwhelming to his taste buds. He usually doesn't like anything too sweet (neither do I) so I knew that it must have been the right amount of sugar. I can't wait to use my tart pan again soon!

Monday, July 19, 2010

I'm back in the States and back in my kitchen!

I'm back from Brazil! The people, the culture, and the music made it such an amazing place to explore. While I'm a usual foodie when I travel to new places, this country was not one place that made me grab my camera the moment the plate was set in front of me. Not saying that they were all bad, they just weren't unique enough to capture on the lens. There were the occasional dishes that caught my eye like pastries, meat dishes and traditional dishes like fejoida but nothing too exciting. The three daily meals consist of the following:

Breakfast (Cafe de mana)
- Espresso - the strongest you can ever have.
- Fresh fruits
- Carbs - sweet to savory pastries like pao de queso (cheese bread), pastel de frango (deep fried chicken bake), pastel de carne (beef bake) and other types of empenadas.

- Fresh juice (just ice and fruit blended into one sweet concoction)
- Um salgado favor - more empenadas
- Plato de carne y frijoles y arroz (plate of beef, beans and rice) with enough salt you will need for the rest of the year.

- This could range depending on the restaurant you go to. Their dishes feature a lot of massa (pasta), pizza, seafood, beef, chicken and pork.

While in Rio de Janeiro Brazil, I stayed in an apartment and tried to cook whenever possible since I was eating out almost everyday for the past 2 weeks in Salvador Bahia. Daniel and I went to the grocery store and tried to purchase some things that were different and exotic to the local area. There were some great fruits like passion fruit (maracuja), pineapple (that's actually white), papaya ( I don't like this but Daniel does) and cherimoya (another thing I don't eat). While some of the fruits were appealing, the meats were something I tried to stay away from because they didn't look much like what we have here. They hung on racks with flies hovering over all of them and they look salted to death. I stuck to things that I knew I couldn't really get sick from like bread, deli meats (that's already cooked and prepared for me :)) and basic vegetables (carrots and corn; I didn't eat the corn though because it was the strangest texture ever). Since I didn't cook as much while I was there for almost a month, I was ready to get back into my kitchen and make some comfort foods for myself like soup :).

I went on a little bit of a soup frenzy, finding every kind of soup recipe there is to see what I could make over the next couple of weeks. I was really set on looking for a pumpkin soup recipe because I had one of the best pumpkin soups in Brazil that Daniel fell in love with so I wanted to try and recreate it. I didn't have much luck since it isn't pumpkin season and most of the recipes called for canned pumpkin. I decided that I wanted to make something more fresh and similar to pumpkin soup such as butternut squash. I found this great recipe from that was delish. If you like pureed soup, this one is for you. It's sweet and super easy to make. Enjoy!

Summer Squash Soup
Adapted from Gourmet, September 2006

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 a medium onion diced
Dash of salt
1 bag of butternut squash (already cut and prepared; 1 lb) from Trader Joes. Slice into smaller chunks.
1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cups chicken broth

Melt butter in a medium to large pot over light to medium heat. Cook onions with the dash of salt in melted butter. Stir onions until it is softened (about 4 minutes).

Add squash, carrots and stock and bring it to a boil.

Reduce the heat, partially cover the pot with a lid and let it simmer for about 20 minutes (until the squash is mushy with a fork).

Remove the lid and soup from the heat and allow the soup to cool down for about 10 minutes.

Pour half of the soup mixture into a blender and blend it smooth. Pour the pureed soup into a serving bowl. Continue blending the remainder of the soup in the pot and pour it into the serving bowl. All done! Serve in smaller bowls for everyone. If the soup is too thick for you, thin it out with water or more broth.

I need a better camera. Seriously...

Here is another soup that I made the following day. It sounded so interesting to me because it mixed two items that I really like: chorizo and sweet potato (aka yam). It was unfortunate that my taste buds were not working that day because I came down with a cold. My taste buds disappeared but I was still able to smell the amazing chorizo cooking right in front me. It was kind of a sad day but I'm glad that others got to enjoy it. My sister liked it and Daniel just kept saying "Yum! Yum!". I asked him if this was a 'must do it again soup' and he said "Definitely!" That's going to be our new rating scale. Instead of doing a 4 star out of 5, we are going to say "Let's make that again" or "Let's not make that again". In other words, it's a pass or fail rather than a letter grading system ;).

Sweet Potato and Sausage Soup
Adapted from Bon Appetit, October 2007

1 and 1/2 tbsp of olive oil
7 ounces of chorizo sausage (about half of what usually comes in a package)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove (or more to your taste), minced
1 pound of red-skinned sweet potatoes ~ 1 potato, peeled, quartered into small pieces (about 1/4 inch)
1/2 pound of white-skinned potatoes ~ 2 small potatoes, peeled, quartered into small pieces (about 1/4 inch)
3 cups of low-salt chicken broth
Handful of fresh spinach
(In case you're wondering, all ingredients for this soup cost less $8.00 total!)

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a medium to large pot over medium heat. Add the chorizo and wait until it fully cooks through (about 7 minutes). I kind of mashed up the chorizo in the pot with my spatula as it was cooking so that it separated into 1/4 inch chunks.

Transfer the sausage to a separate plate and keep the pot going on the stove. Add the onions, garlic and cook them until they are translucent. Make sure to stir often as it may stick to the oil that is left behind by the chorizo.

Add all potatoes (red and white) and cook until it starts to soften. Make sure to stir often.

Add broth and allow the mixture to come to a boil. As it boils, use a spatula to scrape the bottom of the pot to get the chorizo bits, garlic and onions from the bottom to move around the pot.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the potatoes are soft (about 20 minutes). Stir the soup occasionally to prevent anything from sitting in one place too long.

Use a potato masher to mash some of the potatoes in the pot (I just used my fork and mashed some chunks against the side of the pot).

Add the chorizo to the soup. Stir in the spinach and simmer just until it starts to wilt (about 3 minutes). Season the soup with salt and pepper. Divide the soup into smaller boils and enjoy.