30 September 2008

Snacking in a Pinch

Sometimes I play a game of chance with whatever random ingredients I have in my refrigerator. This usually happens around the time I realize that I need to go food shopping.

This weekend, I was in the mood for something healthy, light, easy, and available without having to trek out in the rain to go buy ingredients. Coincidentally, I had some spinach and grape tomatoes leftover from a salad a few days before. I boiled some water, cooked the spinach, popped the tomatoes in the boiling water for the last moments so they could warm up, then drained the pot. Next, I added some minced garlic, butter, and ground pepper. This really hit the spot with minimal effort!

I have come to realize that the right condiments and spices go a long way. To me, small touches like ground pepper and garlic can really help make a meal. One of my favorite "in a pinch" snacks is white rice with soy sauce. Really, you can't get much easier than that.

two course vegetarian

i: pesto pasta salad

  • 4 spring onions
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 red pepper
  • half cup of parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons of pesto
  • 2 cups of tubetinni pasta

So basically I started making this with the intentions of using orzo, but by the time the water had boiled I realized we were out and instead tubetinni it was. The idea was that I'd pretty much use the tricks from my signature salad, put in pasta instead of spinach and pesto instead of dressing. I chopped all the vegetables except for the carrots, which got finely grated. They all got mixed with the pasta, the pesto and the parmasan while warm.

et voila:

ii: gratin potatoes

  • 6 medium-large idaho potatoes
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • rosemary
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • a saffron-esque orange seasoning to taste
The potatoes are actually easy. Preheat oven to 450. Use the thick slicer on your cheese grater to get the potatoes in quarter-inch slices and layer them evenly in a casserole dish. Mix the rosemary, seasoning, garlic and milk together, pour over potatoes. Put tinfoil over the casserole dish and throw them in the oven for 20 minutes. Then take off the tinfoil and let them cook another 20. Then pull them out and put the butter on top in strategic chunks then put back in for another 20 minutes. They'll be delicious. Sorry I burned a bit on the edges, makes for uglier photos.

28 September 2008

Kick-Off Sunday

Flash floods, tropical humidity, and air-conditioning -- that's right, Fall has begun. We'd taken the summer off from baking and drinking -- well, just baking -- and so we decided to start off with a few very seasonal selections. But like the weather, we ended up with a little more Summer than Fall. In fact, we didn't even bake.

Instead we went with a Stovetop Apple Cranberry Crumble, from The Weekend Baker by Abigail Johnson Dodge, everyone's favorite Connecticut homemaker. You'll see more from this book in future posts, since it's the one with which we first started off teaching ourselves how to bake. Here's what Abby Dodge promises in the book:

Nice, eh?

Well, we took a few liberties with ours, outlined below.

3 tbs butter
5 apples (aprox. 2 lbs), peeled, cored, and thinly sliced - We used Golden Delicious, but any medium-tart apple will work
3/4 c cranberries (Abby calls for frozen or fresh. We couldn't find any of either in our outer borough, so we improvised with the Craisins in our cupboard)
1/2 c light brown sugar
3 tbsp flour
1tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (we grated our own from whole nuts)
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt

Melt butter in 10- to 11-inch skillet. In a bowl, combine apples, cranberries, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg, then add to butter. Add vanilla and salt to the skillet mixture and toss until well blended. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar is melted and the apples begin to carmelize (about 5 min). Cover and reduce heat to low, simmering for aprox. 12 min, until the apples are tender.

Meanwhile, make the topping:

3 tbs butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 c crunchy granola
3 tbsp maple syrup

Again, melt the butter in a separate skillet over medium heat. Then stir in cinnamon and add granola. Cook, stirring constantly, until granola is hot and evenly coated. You may taste here and see if it needs more cinnamon. Drizzle maple syrup over granola and stir until well blended, about 2 min. Keep warm until the filling is ready.

Uncover the filling pan and check the apples for tenderness. If they've released more than a cup of juice, turn up the heat and boil some of it off. Remove from heat and scatter topping on the filling.

Not that different from the book, really.

Can be served hot, warm, or room temperature. We ate it with vanilla bean ice cream, and we're looking forward to tossing some vanilla soy milk on top tomorrow morning for breakfast. The craisins made this a bit sweeter than it would be otherwise, though not too sweet, and rather sticky, but they turned out to be a surprisingly good alternative to real cranberries.

What are those drinks behind the plates? Funny you should ask...

We had been thinking of a hot drink like a toddy but settled on two that were cold but definitely fit with the Crumble. Bull's Milk and its Variation, both from the fantastic online Cocktail Database (try their Mixilator). Don't worry, Bull's Milk has nothing to do with Rocky Mountain Oysters.

Both of these recipes are pretty simple, but you get some unusual brandy drinks out of them. Usually we use E&J VS brandy for most drinks. It tastes fine on its own and definitely when mixed (though nothing can fix a Stinger). But this time we tried ABK6 VS cognac.

Bull's Milk
2oz brandy
2oz milk
1/4 tsp sugar (superfine -- aka "bar sugar" -- is best, but if you only have regular sugar then dissolve it in some warm water first)

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass. Grate some fresh nutmeg on top. We garnished with a cinnamon stick.

How'd it taste? Well... basically like brandy and milk together. There is such little sugar and the nutmeg comes in so late that it's not all that complex or even sweet. We thought it was okay, but then we tried the variation.

Bull's Milk Variation
1oz light rum
1 1/2 oz brandy
1/2 tsp sugar
6oz milk

Shake with ice and strain into a tall glass. Grate nutmeg and cinnamon on top.

There we go. An alcoholic milkshake that can hold its own again the Brandy Alexander. The added milk and sugar help this drink along, and the rum cuts down on the cognac so that it's not so overwhelming. We could even imagine heating it up and trying it a few weeks from now when the weather catches up and Fall finally comes.

three course vegetarian

Wednesdays often see me cooking something more extravagant than usual since I have at least four guests. A few weeks ago I put together this three course vegetarian option. There are a few short cuts, namely store-bought gnocchi, but overall it plated well and served up a good balance of flavors. The salad is a mainstay of mine, held together by a classic dressing that we'll break down in a future post. The food photography will be an ongoing learning process.

i: curried beans with tomato

  • 3 shallots
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 can of chickpeas
  • 1 can of cannellini beans
  • 1 large can of tomatoes
  • cumin, paprika, garlic salt to taste
  1. simmer garlic in olive oil
  2. slice and simmer shallots, then red peppers
  3. drain and wash beans, add to pan
  4. add seasonings, allow beans to "dry" a bit
  5. add tomatoes, finish seasoning and serve
ii: gnocchi with pesto & spinach

  • 1 package of trader joe's gnocchi (a steal at $1.99)
  • 2 handfuls of spinach
  • two tablespoons of pesto
  • butter to taste
  1. boil a big pot of water
  2. add gnocchi; they're pre-cooked, so they'll rise in 5 minutes and be cooked in ten
  3. drain
  4. add butter to frying pan
  5. add spinach with a splash of water, then pesto at low heat
  6. when the pesto and butter have melted, add the gnocchi
  7. when the gnocchi seems to be coated in spinachy/butter goodess, remove & serve

iii: signature salad, variation one

  • a significant amount of baby spinach
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 red pepper
  • 3 spring onions
  • a handful of raw sunflower seeds
  • a handful of raw sesame seeds
  • a block of feta
  • simple vinaigrette (olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, mustard, lemon & salt/pepper)
  1. wash spinach, put in serving bowl
  2. cut red onion in generous strips, put in bowl
  3. dice red pepper & spring onions finely, put in bowl
  4. cut in feta into cubes of desired size
  5. add seeds & dressing
  6. toss & serve

27 September 2008

under construction

mad tasty is in the oven.
check back and see how it turns out.


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