Tuesday, August 28, 2012
You know that scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding where Toula says, "My dad believed in two things: That Greeks should educate non-Greeks about being Greek and that every ailment from psoriasis to poison ivy can be cured with Windex"?? Well, seeing as I'm not Greek, I can't really weigh in on the first half of that statement. But, I do have a challenge for him regarding the second half. Multi-purposeful and exciting as Windex is, America's most beloved glass cleaner simply doesn't compare to the therapeutic effects of this: chocolate and peanut butter. Having a stressful day at work? They can sooth the soul. Healing from a breakup? They work wonders on a broken heart. Rainy days and Mondays got you down? They're comfort food at its best. Celebrating a special milestone? They bring the party.
Having to work the night shift at work all of last week, I decided that a little pick-me-up was in order for my weary coworkers. And, wanting a recipe that wouldn't require a trip to the store, I settled on these. I'm pretty sure my colleagues approved of the choice considering how fast these babies disappeared from the plate. Combining all the goodness of peanut butter, chocolate, and oatmeal - these cookies are most definitely the cure for stress and fatigue...and possibly even psoriasis and poison ivy.
Peanut Butter-Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yield 2 dozen
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
On medium speed, cream together the butter, peanut butter, sugars, and vanilla, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat to combine. On low speed, slowly add the flour mixture until just combined. Stir in the oats and then the chocolate chips.
Drop by heaping tablespoons about 2 inches apart onto a parchment paper- or silicone mat-lined baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until the cookies are lightly golden. Cool completely on the baking sheet before storing in an airtight container.
From Brown Eyed Baker
Sunday, August 26, 2012
In case I haven't mentioned it before, I have a slight obsession with roasted veggies. I can't help it...something magical just happens when you toss fresh produce with oil and seasonings and throw them in a hot oven to caramelize. Spring and summer = asparagus, summer squash, eggplant, tomatoes, and peppers. Autumn and winter = sweet potatoes, butternut squash, acorn squash, pumpkin, and Brussels sprouts. i.e. Whatever the farmers' market is selling.
After another quick trip to PA to see my sister and pick up a certain Italian Plum bridesmaid dress from my seamstress this weekend, I came home with a car full of locally-grown Lancaster produce. Wanting something light to showcase the fresh veggies, this dish accomplished just that.
Oh, and goat cheese? Another obsession.
Roasted Vegetables with Quinoa and Goat Cheese
Yield 4 servings
2 cups quinoa, uncooked
4 cups water (I use broth for extra flavor)
2 medium zucchini, cut into bite-size chunks
1 large red bell pepper, seeds and membrane removed and cut into bite-size chunks
1 cup sliced button mushrooms
extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons Italian seasonings
salt and pepper
3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled into pea-size bites
Preheat the oven to 425°.
In a fine sieve, rinse the quinoa under cold running water. Drain fully. In a large pot, bring the water or broth to boil. Reduce the heat to low, carefully pour in the quinoa, and cover the pot. Cook until the liquid is fully absorbed, 20-25 minutes.
Meanwhile, add the vegetables to a large bowl. Add a heavy drizzle of oil, Italian seasonings, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir until the vegetables are fully and evenly coated. Transfer to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and spread the vegetables out into a single layer.
Roast the vegetables in the hot oven until golden and caramelized, turning them every 8-10 minutes, 20-25 minutes in all.
In a large bowl, toss the quinoa with the vegetables and goat cheese. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.
Inspired by Iron Hen Cafe.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
With a job that requires long hours, a necessary stop by the gym after work, and the chaos of NOVA/DC traffic, I very often get home too late in the evening to make something time-consuming for dinner. My solution? I save the multistep, multicomponent recipes that I love for those beloved weekends/days off and focus on quick dishes that I can throw together in a few minutes/prep ahead of time for those many, many days in between.
These peppers are the perfect example of a dinner that can be partly made ahead of time, saving valuable minutes on those days when you walk in the front door late...and starving. By simply making the stuffing and boiling the peppers ahead of time, you can put the rest of the dish together in about 30 minutes. Ahhh perfect.
While most stuffed pepper recipes call for ground beef (or a combination of meats) and tomato sauce or ketchup, the good folks at Cook's Illustrated decided to lighten things up a little by using simply black beans, corn, and diced tomatoes as the key components. They stood by the usual commitment to white rice, but I took it a step further and broke with tradition by using healthier brown rice. Rebel, indeed.
Also, apparently I have a little not-so-secret crush on stuffed veggies...
Stuffed Peppers with Black Beans and Corn
Yield: 6 servings
6 large (or 8 medium) red, yellow, orange, or green bell peppers, 1/2 inch trimmed off top
1 cup long-grain brown rice, uncooked
2 cups broth or water
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium jalapeno pepper, minced
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 14.5-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
1 cup shredded cheddar or pepper Jack cheese (I used Trader Joe's Jalapeno Jack Cheese...yum!)
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350°.
In a large pot, bring the broth or water to a boil. Add the rice, cover the pot, and decrease the heat to low. Simmer until the liquid is fully absorbed, 20-25 minutes.
Boil 4 quarts of water in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add 1 tbsp of salt and all of the peppers, making sure that the pepper are fully submerged. Cook for 3 minutes. Remove the peppers from the water and drain in a colander. Stand them up on a paper towel-lined plate to absorb any additional water.
Meanwhile, add the oil to a large skillet and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and jalapeno and saute until translucent and soft, 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, 30-60 seconds. Add the black beans, tomato, and corn and cook for 2 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and add the rice, cheese, and cilantro. Season with salt and pepper and stir until fully mixed.
Evenly distribute the filling among the peppers and place in a baking dish. Cover and refrigerate for future use or bake immediately for 25-30 minutes.
Adapted from The Best Light Recipe via Cheap Healthy Good
Thursday, August 16, 2012
During my recent vacation, I was thrilled to enjoy a few days visiting my sister and several dear high school friends in my one-time home of Lancaster County, PA. If you've never been to the area, please do so as soon as possible. With its rolling farmland and beautiful countryside barns...unique Amish influence...110 community fairs...theatres...and endless shopping options, it truly is a great place to live...and a vacationer's paradise. Oh, and did I mention that it also boasts an abundance of delicious food?? ;-)
In listing all of Lancaster's great qualities, I would be remiss in skipping over a local favorite, Central Market. Heralded as the country's oldest farmers' market, it can be found in a 120 year old building that is packed to the brim with area farmers and venders selling fresh produce, homemade breads and pastries, tasty jams and jellies, homespun crafts, aromatic coffees and teas, local meats and cheeses, and vibrant fresh flowers. Three days a week and year-round, locals flock to their beloved market, filling their bags with goodies and stopping to chat with friends and neighbors.
When my sister and I stopped by Market on the bright and sunny Saturday morning of my trip, I was determined to stock up on fresh fruits and veggies to take back to Northern Virginia with me. If I hadn't been limited by how much I could fit in my arms, I could have bought one of everything. Cantaloupe (big ones...for $1 each!), zucchini and yellow squash, green and red peppers, tomatoes...and eggplant. A produce treasure chest!
Once home, I knew I wanted to do something special with the eggplant. Remembering a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks that I had once made in medical school, I knew exactly what that finished dish would be.
Yield: 4 as a main course or 8 as a side dish
4 Italian eggplants (about 10 ounces each), halved lengthwise
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
1 medium onion, minced
3 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 1 tbsp)
2 tsp minced fresh oregano leaves, or 1/2 tsp dried (I used dried)
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 pound plum tomatoes (3-4 tomatoes), cored, seeded, and chopped medium
2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (about 1 cup)*
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp minced fresh parsley leaves
Place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven and preheat to 400°.
Brush the cut sides of the eggplant with 2 tbsp of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Set the eggplant cut side down on the hot baking sheet and, using oven mitts, carefully cover with foil. Roast until the eggplant is golden brown and tender, 50-55 minutes. Carefully transfer the eggplant to a paper towel-lined baking sheet and let drain. Do not turn off the oven.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 tbsp oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and 1/2 tsp salt and cook until softened and browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic, oregano, cinnamon, and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, 3/4 cup of the cheese, nuts, and vinegar and cook until warmed through, about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.
Return the roasted eggplant cut side up to the rimmed baking sheet. (I used a large casserole dish). Using two forks, gently push the flesh to the sides of each eggplant half to make room for the filling. Mound about 1/4 cup of the filling into each eggplant. (At this point, the eggplants can be covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.**)
Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese and bake until the cheese is melted, 5-10 minutes. (If refrigerated, increase the baking time to 8-12 minutes.) Sprinkle with the parsley and serve warm or at room temperature.
*I actually only had Gruyère on hand and didn't feel like running up to Trader Joe's for the Pecorino, so I substituted...and loved that decision.
**I've made it both ways: cooked straight through...and refrigerated for 24 after assembly. It tastes just as good either way.
Barely adapted from The Best International Recipe
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
This past May 19th was a very special day. On that gorgeous spring afternoon, my dear friend Rachael - my Kindred Spirit, confidante, encourager, voice of reason, popcorn-and-a-movie-night-partner, and former roommate - married the boy who's heart has belonged to her since he was 13 years old. And if that's not sentimental and romantic enough, the event was a double wedding with Rach's sister Sarah - also a good friend of mine - pledging her love to her Prince Charming during the same ceremony. Yes, it was the stuff that fairy tales are made of.
I was incredibly honored to stand as a bridesmaid for Rach on her special day and equally thrilled to be asked to make the wedding cake. Now, an explanation is in order. Since the guests were all treated to cupcakes made by the heroic mother-of-the-brides, my cake was simply a small treat for Rach and her hubby Frederick to cut, eat, and enjoy on their honeymoon. Just a no-fuss 2-layer 9-inch cake topped with a 2-layer 6-inch cake. Yummy yellow cake + raspberry filling + vanilla buttercream. Fun to make and easy to manage.
Which brings us to today. Today, my friends, I'm questioning my sanity...my gumption...my culinary courage. You see, my friend Natasha asked me a few months ago if I would be willing to make her wedding cake this Labor Day weekend. Armed with the confidence of success from my first cake and eager to repeat the experience, I immediately told her I would love to. One minor detail: the cake is for 150 people. Oh, and the wedding is in my hometown...which is 3 1/2 hours from where I now live. And, I have to work up until the evening before the wedding. Excuse me for a moment while I go have a panic attack.
So, to make this manageable, I've scoured the internet (seriously, what did we do before the world wide web??) looking for information on everything from what size pans I should use to how to transport and assemble the finished product. Conclusion on the pan size? A professional cake baking friend of mine advised me to plan on feeding 70-75% of the expected guests, which in her experience has been the right amount to avoid having a ton of cake left over. So, I'll be making a 12", 9", and 6" (to be saved for the couple), as well as individual 12" and 6" layers. I'm keeping the base at 12" instead of going to 14" or larger, because the couple has a 16" block of wood that they wish to use for the cake stand, and I want it to fit appropriately.
Oh, and what are the flavors, you ask? Top layer = mocha marble with mocha filling. Middle layer and separate 6" cake = chocolate with chocolate-hazelnut filling. Bottom layer and separate 12" cake = yellow with raspberry filling. All covered in vanilla buttercream. Deep breath.
I'll be baking the layers over the upcoming weeks and freezing them in several layers of plastic wrap to keep them fresh. I'm also planning to make the filling in the days leading up to the big event so that the only thing I'll need to do that morning is make the frosting and assemble. No big deal, right?
Which brings us to the first recipe. Who knew yellow cake could be so incredibly good? My mom and I first discovered this cake a few years ago when making a coconut layer cake, which is what the original recipe involves. Yes, it's out-of-this-world as a coconut cake. But, it's also insanely good with raspberry filling (as well as several other treats I've dreamed up in the past and will one day share...) Bottom line: this is the only yellow cake recipe you'll ever need.
Best Yellow Cake
Yield: one 3-layer 8" cake or one 2"-thick 12" cake
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and flour the cake pan(s) and line with a round of parchment paper or wax paper.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter at medium speed until creamy. Gradually add the sugar, beating well. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until blended after each addition.
On low speed, add about 1/3 of the flour mixture to the butter and sugar followed by about half of the milk. Repeat, ending with the flour mixture. Beat until just combined. Stir in the flavorings. Pour into the pans, dividing evenly if making a layer cake.
Bake for 20-25 minutes (5-10 minutes longer if using the 12" pan) or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove from the pans and cool on wire racks.
Adapted from Christmas with Southern Living 2001
Sunday, August 12, 2012
I didn't grow up eating pecans - my dad dislikes the very thought of them (along with sour cream, cottage cheese, and cranberries), which means my mom didn't even bother to keep them in the house. But oh dear, do I love them now! Rich and buttery, they're just.so.good in cakes, pies, cookies, salads, turkey stuffing, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera (The King and I, anyone?).
While my favorite pecan dishes are of the sweet treat variety, those lovely indulgences are out of the question for me right now. You see, one of my very best friends in the entire universe, Lauren (affectionately known as Lolo), is getting married in 27 days, and I am incredibly honored to stand by her side on that special day in a snazzy 'Italian Plum' number that even Cinderella would be jealous of...in front of 300 people. Translation? Decreased sweets and increased treadmill for the month. Er, except or the butter pecan ice cream I had at Eastern Market this afternoon with my bff...oops. ;-)
Enter: pecan-crusted fish - a guilt-free way to savor those yummy nuts in a lean protein-rich dish. Taking just a few minutes to prep and 10 minutes to cook, it can then easily be thrown on a salad with a simple balsamic vinaigrette. Voilà! The perfect - bridesmaid dress approved - lunch or light dinner.
Pecan Encrusted Haddock
Yield: 4 servings
1 lb of wild-caught white fish (I used haddock but halibut, tilapia, or mahi-mahi would all be wonderful, and the original recipe actually called for salmon.)
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp butter, melted
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp honey or agave nectar
3/4 cup pecans, finely chopped
3 tsp cilantro, finely minced
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 400°.
Rinse off the fish and cut into 4 filets if necessary. Salt and pepper each side and place in a single layer, skin side down, on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, butter, vinegar, and honey/agave nectar.
In a separate bowl, mix together the pecans and cilantro. Stir in about 2 tsp of the mustard sauce and mix until blended.
Brush the remainder of the mustard sauce evenly over the fish. Spoon the pecan mixture over the sauce, lightly pressing to help it adhere.
Bake for 10 minutes or until transparent and flaky.
Adapted from The Delicious Philosophy
Thursday, August 9, 2012
Some foods merely feed the body. Others feed the soul. For me, risotto = soul food. Rich and creamy, cheesy and starchy - it's comfort food at its very best. Risotto is also extremely versatile with common additions like mushrooms, butternut squash, asparagus, saffron, truffles...etc. And oh how I love to try all of these variations and match the flavor components to the rest of the meal. It instantly takes a dish from good to out-of-this-world.
Ahhhh but sometimes I just crave the heavenly simplicity of traditional Parmesan. And this, my friends, was one of those days. Not only did this serve as the perfect companion to some fabulous chicken, but, for me, it also helped my parents and I celebrate a yummy end to my week and a half-long vacation home. Now that is a proper way to end an amazing vacation!
Creamy Parmesan Risotto
Yield: 6 servings
3 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 medium onion, diced fine
2 cups Arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, freshly grated (1 cup)
Ground black pepper
Bring the broth and water to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting to keep the broth warm.
Melt the butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Once the foaming subsides, add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is very soft and translucent, about 9 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring frequently, until the edges of the grains are transparent, about 4 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring frequently, until the wine is completely absorbed by the rice, about 2 minutes. Add 3 cups of the warm broth and, stirring infrequently (about ever 3 minutes), simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the bottom of the pan is dry, 10-12 minutes.
Add more of the broth, 1/2 cup at a time, as needed, to keep the pan bottom from becoming dry (every 3-4 minutes); cook, stirring frequently, until the grains of rice are cooked through but still somewhat firm in the center, 10-12 minutes. Stir in the cheese, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately in warmed shallow bowls.
From The New Best Recipe
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
One of my dad's greatest mottos in life is this: You can never have too many desserts in the house. While some people claim to have a sweet tooth, my dad most definitely has an entire mouth full of them. And because of this, cookies have always been an unquestionable staple in my parents' house. In fact, some of my greatest childhood memories include time in the kitchen with my mom and sister, baking and decorating cookies and eagerly presenting them to my dad for his enthusiastic - and inevitable - taste of approval.
Throughout those years and even to this day, this recipe remains an utmost family favorite. Soft and chewy with the perfect marriage of oatmeal and coconut and the delightful whisperings of vanilla extract...they're.just.so.good! During my recent vacation/trip home, while looking through my mom's beloved, falling apart, stained, and tattered church cookbooks on my search for a certain marinade, I spotted this recipe...and got an immediate craving. So I acted in the only way I new how...I preheated the oven. And my dad's reaction after his first bite? Just as enthusiastic and approving as it was when I was little.
Yield: about 4 1/2 dozen
1 cup butter, softened but still cool
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cup oats, preferably old-fashioned
1 cup coconut
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, cream sugar and butter on medium-high speed. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Add dry ingredients, mixing until just incorporated. Stir in oatmeal and coconut until well blended.
Drop heaping teaspoons of dough, 2 inches apart, on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the perimeters are lightly golden brown and the centers are set but still puffy. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for 1-2 minutes before moving to a wire rack.
Sunday, August 5, 2012
Apparently I'm on a caramelized onion and thyme streak. First there was the addition of brie...and now a little soak in red wine. Normally I maintain that (cooking) variety is the spice of life. But when a dish turns out the way this one did, a little ingredients repeat is most definitely not a bad thing.
While this dish does take a bit of time to come together, most of the time is fairly low-maintenance. Caramelized onions = a quick stir every few minutes. Pan searing the meat = a simple browning of each side. Braising = rotate the meat every now and then. See? Piece of cake. And sooo worth the effort.
P.S. Accompanying Parmesan risotto recipe to come in the near future...oh how I love risotto.
Red Wine-Braised Chicken Thighs with Caramelized Onions and Thyme
Yield: 6-8 servings
8 chicken thighs, trimmed of skin and excess fat
extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp butter
2 medium onions, halved and cut 1/4 inch thick
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp fresh thyme + several loose sprigs
2 cups dry red wine, divided
In a large bowl, prepare a brining solution by mixing 1/4 cup of salt in 1 1/2 quarts cold water until dissolved. Add the chicken thighs and allow to soak for 30-60 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp oil and butter in a large dutch oven over medium-low heat until shimmering. Add the onions, 1/2 tsp salt, sugar, and 1 tsp thyme and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and lightly browned, 15-20 minutes. Transfer the onions to a separate bowl and return the dutch oven to the stove top, off of the heat until the chicken is ready to brown.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Remove the chicken from the brine solution and rinse in fresh water. Pat dry. Add an additional tablespoon of oil to the dutch oven and return it to medium heat. When the oil is shimmering, carefully add the chicken thighs bone-side up, working in batches so as not to over-crowd the pan. Allow the meat to brown, undisturbed, until it releases from the bottom of the pan and can be easily moved without pulling/tearing, 3-4 minutes. Flip the meat over and repeat, adding additional teaspoons of oil as needed. Transfer browned thighs to a clean plate until all of the meat has been seared. Once finished, carefully pour one cup of wine into the empty pot, quickly scraping the bottom of the pot to loosen all of the browned bits. Return the thighs to the pot as well as any accumulated juices. Add the second cup of wine, caramelized onions, and loose thyme sprigs. Reposition the thighs until they are maximally submerged in the wine. Cover the dutch oven with a tight fitting lid and put in the oven.
Braise for 30-40 minutes, repositioning the thighs once or twice to ensure even cooking.
An Ashleigh original :)
Friday, August 3, 2012
There's nothing gourmet about this dish. It doesn't contain any fancy-sounding ingredients. There aren't multiple steps and components to juggle. There's no award-winning author to site. Rather, it consists of simple pantry staples, takes minutes to throw together, and hails from none other than a good ol' fashioned church cookbook. And, it's been a family favorite in our house since I was a little girl (as evidenced by the stains and smears that lovingly mark the page in my mom's tattered copy).
Like any good marinade, the longer it sits, the better it gets. Put this together in the morning, add your chicken thighs or breasts, and forget about it until dinner time when all you have to do is broil the meat or throw it on the grill. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Er, hold the lemon.
Easy Chicken Marinade
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tbsp canola oil
2 tbsp water
1/2 cup soy sauce
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
Mix all marinade ingredients together in a shallow bowl. Add the chicken pieces and let soak for at least 2 hours. Broil or grill until cooked through to a temperature of 165°F.