Friday, September 19, 2008

Vegetarian meatloaf

I know, that title is an oxymoron to say the least... probably blasphemous to all you meat-and-potatoes people out there! If you've ever watched the TV series "Six Feet Under", it reminds me of the episode in which Lisa serves a tofu loaf concoction for dinner and Claire flushes it down the toilet. I might have done the same thing as a teenager. But now that I don't cook meat anymore (besides fish, but the idea of fish loaf makes me feel mildly nauseous), I've been determined to find a rough equivalent that both BFFT and I will actually touch with a 10-foot pole. Part of it comes from the fact that meatloaf was the first dish I ever learned how to make... and the only dish for quite awhile. (Actually, until I started grad school I could barely even boil water. Don't get me started on the specifics of my abysmal culinary skills. Then you might hear my egg-white story, which could scare you away from this blog and make you doubt my credibility forever! I'll save that for another time in the very-distant future, perhaps. ;-)) So I've always had a special fondness for it. Anyway, after a few attempts I finally came up with something blogworthy! The recipe is my own, but I did borrow certain parts from Moosewood Cookbook (they have a decent recipe for carrot-mushroom loaf) and my mom (who taught me how to make meatloaf so I could be a semi-decent housewife).

Lentil Loaf


8 oz lentils (any kind)
8 oz carrots, grated or food-processed (is that a real adjective?)
1/3 to 1/2 c minced onion (any kind)
1/3 to 1/2 c minced pepper (I like to use Anaheim chiles but if spicy doesn't sit well with you, bell pepper is probably a good substitute)
1 c grated cheddar cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 c bread crumbs
3-4 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 T fresh ginger
2 t dried parsley
1 t cumin
1/2 t cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to take
1/4 c milk (more if needed)


1. Put lentils in a medium-sized saucepan and cover with 1 inch of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 20-30 minutes, or until tender.
2. Mash cooked lentils with a fork, pastry blender, or other tool. (This step is important! Otherwise the loaf will fall apart.)
3. Grate or process carrots and cheese.
4. Combine all ingredients except milk in a large bowl.
5. Add as much milk as necessary to moisten.
6. Scrape mixture into a loaf pan.
7. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 30 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

This isn't the best picture. Okay, it borders on awful. (Once I get my own digital camera my photography skills will improve!) But do loafs ever look that appetizing anyway?

Picture notwithstanding, the loaf turned out so well that BFFT had no idea it didn't come from a recipe book! And Stella leaped onto the dinner table for a kiddie-sized (I mean kitty-sized... I really am a crazy cat lady!) portion as well, although there was no way that would happen. She's not allowed to eat people food. Here she is, if for no other reason to actually show you something pretty on this post. Wait, on second thought here's a picture of both Stella and Claude, plus some random ugly lady in the background. (BFFT caught me - um, the lady - on camera right after she got out of bed in the morning.) I didn't want Claude to feel left out, because after all, he's sitting at the top of his cat tree watching as I type this.

As BFFT and I like to say, Stella (the one on the right) is a 14 on a scale from 1 to 10. And Claude "has a great personality". He also loves to help me out in the kitchen... in other words, he can haz recipeez. Har-dee-har-har. (Oh my gosh, did I really write that? I am officially an old fuddy-duddy, or maybe just plain dorky.)

Now, off to a dinner party! I will try not to be too much of a dorky fuddy-duddy while I'm there.

(Oh, and for the record, I was just kidding about my mom teaching me to be a semi-decent housewife. I'm not even mediocre.)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

And now, for a little pick-me-up

Tiramisu is apparently Italian for "pick me up". I've never come across a tiramisu recipe that has failed to mention this, which is one reason that I was a little skeptical when I set out on my most ambitious dessert-making endeavor to date. Why, after all, would one need to justify a perfectly good recipe - much less a dessert recipe - with this phrase? Don't get me wrong, I like tiramisu and will hardly protest when others serve it to me or order it to share. (I actually don't refuse desserts unless they come before dinner, which in my opinion is a cardinal sin. And as BFFT will testify, I'm terrible at sharing them unless I can be assured that I'll get at least 50%. But those are discussions best saved for another time, assuming you're not too scared off by my sweet-tooth-schoolmarmish tendencies to keep following this blog.) Nevertheless, I had a hard time discerning why so many people I love and respect, my best girlfriend Danielle and my mother-in-law among them, tout it as their favorite. Until last Friday night, that is.

I must admit to being intimidated enough by the idea of homemade tiramisu to have stayed away from it throughout my 5+ years of cooking experience. This was mostly because I'd heard (and knew from experience trying mediocre versions at various restaurants!) how easy it is to mess up. But BFFT also didn't help matters much when I told him about my dessert plans and he responded with, "Uh, you might want to sample it first before giving it to other people." Nor did a certain dinner party guest of ours who reacted by asking if I was sure I didn't want him to bring dessert. Well, in the face of all that doubt, I went ahead with a recipe I found in the November 2007 issue of Cooks Illustrated magazine. The key, as Danielle once said and I made sure to abide by, is to avoid soaking the ladyfingers too much. Otherwise you risk ending up with a pile of soggy mush, which thankfully didn't happen in this case.

Tiramisu (serves 10-12)


2 1/2 c strong brewed coffee, room temperature
1 1/2 T instant espresso (I used instant coffee and it turned out fine)
9 T dark rum (I used light rum; Bourbon would probably be tasty too)
6 large egg yolks
2/3 c sugar
1/4 t table salt
1 1/2 lb mascarpone cheese
3/4 c cold heavy cream
14 oz dried ladyfingers
3 1/2 T cocoa powder


1. Stir coffee, instant espresso, and 5 T rum in wide bowl or baking dish until espresso dissolves; set aside.

2. Using a hand mixer, beat yolks at low speed until just combined. Add sugar and salt and beat at medium-high speed until pale yellow, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula once or twice. Add remaining 4 T rum and beat at medium speed until just combined, 20-30 seconds; scrape bowl. Add mascarpone and beat at medium speed until no lumps remain, 30-45 seconds, scraping down bowl once or twice. Transfer mixture to large bowl and set aside.

3. In now-empty bowl (no need to clean), beat cream at medium speed until frothy, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Increase speed to high and continue to beat until cream holds stiff peaks, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes longer. Using rubber spatula, fold one-third of whipped cream into mascarpone mixture to lighten, then gently fold in remaining whiipped cream until no white streaks remain. Set mascarpone mixture aside.

4. Working one at a time, drop half of ladyfingers into coffee mixture, roll, remove, and transfer to 13 x 9 inch baking dish. (Do not submerge ladyfingers in coffee mixture; entire process should take no longer than 2-3 seconds per cookie.) Arrange soaked cookies in single layer in baking dish, breaking or trimming ladyfingers as needed to fit neatly into dish.

5. Spread half of mascarpone mixture over ladyfingers; use rubber spatula to spread mixture to sides and into corners of dish and smooth surface. Dust 2 T cocoa over mascarpone.

6. Repeat dipping and arrangement of ladyfingers; spread remaining mascarpone mixture over ladyfingers and dust with remaining 1 1/2 T cocoa. Wipe edges of dish with dry paper towel, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 6-24 hours. (I followed Danielle's advice to chill it overnight.)

Now that I've tasted the end product for myself, even I am inclined to think that there might be something special about tiramisu after all. For the record, BFFT said it was the best he'd ever had, as did at least one of our dinner party attendees. And the guest who "offered" to bring dessert ate two huge pieces! So I'm not being self-congratulatory here... indeed, I attribute most of that recipe's success to (1) not oversoaking the ladyfingers and (2) including lots of rum (either because the rum tasted good or we were too inebriated to notice that the tiramisu didn't!).

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Oh, nuts!

And I mean that literally. BFFT and I did quite a bit of entertaining this week, for which I am apologizing profusely to Chester (my liver). I figure that if Chester has a name, I'll be less likely to terrorize him in the future. Why Chester, you might ask? Well, for no reason other than it's sufficiently obscure that I have never known - nor am I likely to know in the future - someone by that name. Anyhow, in the process of experimenting with various appetizer recipes (I was obsessed with dips for awhile but decided to change things up a little), I recently discovered the wonders of spicy nuts. Despite that they are time-unintensive and can be made several hours ahead without compromising flavor, texture, warmth, et cetera, guests inevitably devour them. There may even be a risk of the nuts overshadowing the meal itself!

Our first dinner party was Wednesday evening with two friends (another couple) who live in the area. I prepared an Indian-themed menu, which included homemade naan (good but in my opinion not quite restaurant caliber - I'll blame my lack of one of those special Indian ovens, even though I don't know for certain whether they actually exist!), pureed spinach with chickpeas, dhal (curried lentils), pistachio rice, tomato chutney, and a mango lassi parfait for dessert. But the real showstopper, based on feedback from everyone involved, was the roasted nuts I served over drinks beforehand. The recipe is from the January 2008 issue of Fine Cooking.

Indian Spicy Nuts

4 c unsalted cashews (I only had about 1 cup, so I used a mix of cashews and almonds)
1 large egg white, beaten slightly
1/4 c granulated sugar
4 t garam masala
1 1/2 t kosher salt
1/2 to 1 t cayenne pepper (as you may have guessed, I went all out here!)

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 325 degrees.

In a large bowl, toss the nuts with the egg white, coating evenly. Add the sugar, garam masala, salt, and cayenne. Toss again to combine.

Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Spread the nuts on the baking sheet and roast, stirring every 5-10 minutes and breaking up clumps if they form, until nicely browned, 25-35 minutes (I did 30). Break up any clumps again while the nuts are still warm. When the nuts have cooled, put them in a serving bowl, and cover if making ahead.

For your viewing pleasure... this actually looks like the picture from the magazine!

The second dinner we hosted was Friday night, with (gasp!) seven people total. This time I decided to follow a Mediterranean theme and served rosemary walnuts, mini-caprese (one cherry tomato and mozzarella ball per toothpick, sprinkled with chopped fresh basil and brushed with a little olive oil - I usually grind some black pepper to top them off, but this time I forgot), risotto with spinach and manchego cheese (which I couldn't find, so I used asiago instead - no one seemed to notice, and there were some tough food critics among us!), pear and arugula salad, roasted asparagus with figs and goat cheese, and tiramisu. Although our guests purportedly enjoyed everything on the menu, in keeping with my nutty personality (ahem, blog post theme) here is the walnut recipe. It's from The Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichl, a birthday present that BFFT gave me a few years ago.

Rosemary Walnuts

2 1/2 T unsalted butter
2 t dried rosemary, crumbled
1 t salt
1/2 t cayenne
2 c (about 8 oz) walnut halves

Put a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a baking sheet with sides in oven (I cheated and used the microwave). Stir in rosemary, salt, and cayenne. Toss walnuts in butter until well coated and spread out into one layer. Bake for 10 minutes, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Sorry, no picture for this one. They were gone before I knew it (I should have realized that was what would happen if I put them right in front of four men who really like to eat!), but that's a good sign, no? Speaking of men, it's time to sign off and figure out what to make for dinner. Because I'm taking a temporary hiatus from wine, at least one other man in my life besides BFFT (yes, Chester) will reap benefits from whatever culinary concoction I come up with.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pesto is a lot like bread pudding

Before you write me off as strange (I am but that's a whole different story!), let me explain. One of the things that really attracted me to bread pudding recipes when I first started cooking was how flexible the ingredients are. Now you may have been made aware from my previous posts that I wasn't an avid experimenter in the kitchen. But it was still reassuring to know that I could always substitute dried cranberries or cherries for raisins (which BFFT hates), use pretty much any type of bread (with a few obvious exceptions - herbed focaccia pudding, anyone?), and the like. As it happens, the same holds true for pesto. I discovered this on Sunday while concocting a last-minute dinner with as many leftover ingredients as possible. I had the makings of (not to mention a craving for) pasta genoese... fussili pasta, potatoes, green beans, but alas no basil or pine nuts for pesto. However, I did have a bunch of kale in the fridge and some almonds, and because I suspected that the bitterness of the greens and nuts would complement each other well, I went to work. This is what I came up with, and according to BFFT, it "passed the pesto test" (wouldn't that make an excellent tongue-twister?).

Kale-Almond Pesto

1/4 c slivered almonds
1/4 c walnuts
1 clove garlic
2 c loosely packed fresh kale (I used about half a bunch)
1/2 c oil (I used canola because it's more neutral, but olive would probably work fine too)
1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese

Combine the nuts and garlic in a food processor, and process to chop coarsely. Add the kale and oil and process to a coarse paste. Add the cheese and process briefly, just to incorporate it. The pesto should be fairly smooth but still have some texture. Season with salt to taste.

The other day I did a Google search for "kale almond pesto" and actually found some results! So maybe I'm not that strange after all...

P.S. Writing about bread pudding titillated (funny word, no? I still remember sitting in an Asian American literature class sophomore year in college and trying to suppress a giggle when I heard my uber-serious professor use it for the first time) my sweet tooth even more than usual. Someday soon I'll have to post my bourbon chocolate bread pudding recipe, which my former roommate and good friend Jessica loves. (Jessica, if you're reading this I miss you!!) But tonight I'm going to try my hand at tiramisu instead, for a dinner party we're hosting tomorrow evening. I'll let you know how it turns out - well, assuming the end product is good!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

I'm back, with ketoprak!

Sorry, I just couldn't resist the cheesy rhyme. ;-) I'm finally back in Columbus after having been gone for over two weeks, and I missed my kitchen terribly. Now don't get me wrong, I love eating out, especially when decadent desserts are involved. Which reminds me, if you haven't tried the chocolate lava cake at Morton's Steakhouse, you must (I repeat, must!) at some point in your life. Even BFFT admits that it's amazing. I had it for the first time at a New Year's Eve dinner with family a few years ago, and when I went back with a group of girlfriends during my "visit" to California - in quotes because I still can't fathom the fact that I'm a tourist in a state I never thought I'd leave - I insisted that we get two of them to share. Even despite our being traumatized by the live lobster that the waiter paraded around our table as he described the menu items (or shall I say introduced them in person! it reminded me a little of that scene in "The Little Mermaid" where the crazy chef chases Sebastian around the restaurant with a knife while singing at the top of his lungs), we devoured the cakes. And funnily enough, none of us ordered meat that night. I wonder if Morton's realizes that their lobster beauty pageant is actually counterproductive for some customers.

Anyway, I'm happy to be in cooking mode again, and the first recipe I made this week was one of BFFT's old favorites. The dish is called ketoprak, and it originated in Indonesia as a street food, although some sit-down restaurants are starting to serve it as well. The "real" version is apparently rolled into a banana leaf and boiled, but I'm not that adventurous - yet! I was introduced to ketoprak one evening when I visited BFFT for dinner at his old stomping ground (otherwise known as Google), and they happened to have it on the menu. It was so delicious that I looked up the best ketoprak recipe I could find on the Internet, adapted it to suit BFFT's and my taste, and tried my best to reproduce it at home. Below is the end product; similar to the lentil burritos, BFFT never gets tired of it and has claimed he could eat it every night!

Ingredients (for 2 servings):

2 T peanut oil
1 egg, beaten
1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced (sometimes I like to substitute 1/3 c scallion white parts)
1 small jalapeno (or crushed red pepper flakes to taste)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 lb firm tofu, well drained and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
4 oz wide rice noodles (fettucine works fine too)
1/2 lb green beans (sometimes I do snow peas instead)
3/4 t lemon juice
1/4 c soy sauce
1/4 c peanut butter (crunchy is best)
Parsley leaves for garnish


1. Put 1/2 T oil into nonstick skillet and heat over medium-high. Pour in beaten egg, reduce heat to medium, and cook without disturbing a few minutes until well set. Turn and cook other side briefly. Slide out onto a plate to cool, then roll into tube and cut into long thin strips.

2. Wipe out skillet and heat 1 T oil over medium-high. Saute onion until tender, about 5-7 minutes. During the last minute of cooking, add garlic and jalapeno, being careful not to burn them.

3. Wipe out skillet again and heat 1 T oil until hot but not smoking. Stir-fry green beans over high heat for 5 minutes, or until crisp-tender. (If using snow peas, 2-3 minutes will suffice.)

4. "Fry" tofu using my method (see "Betcha can't tell this tofu isn't fried!" post). Alternatively, you can deep fry the tofu in oil for 5 minutes, until golden brown.

5. Boil noodles in water for 10 minutes (or cooking time indicated on package), and drain.

6. To make sauce, mix lemon juice and soy sauce in a bowl. Gradually stir in peanut butter.

7. To serve, toss tofu, noodles, and green beans with peanut sauce. Garnish with slivered egg, onion/garlic/jalapeno mix, and parsley.

I have no idea how well this recipe conforms to traditional ketoprak (or whether the Google recipe even did, for that matter). But I do know that it's tasty and, as BFFT was quick to point out, better than it looks! He managed to take this picture just before Claude lunged at the plate in a last-ditch attempt to burgle some human food.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Chayote Ugly

Ever cooked (or even eaten) a chayote before? Neither had I, until Monday night. During my week in San Diego, I was determined to prepare at least one full meal. Well, I actually expected to spend a lot more time in the kitchen than that, but instead I ended up eating several dinners out with friends and family. When I lived in the Bay Area I always overestimated the amount of "free time" I'd have on my trips back home, and relocating to Ohio has further exacerbated this tendency. I guess I had to move 2,500 miles away to start feeling like a rock star with a full social schedule... heehee, I sound kind of like my older sister. ;-) For those of you who don't know Krissy, she is the popular one. And, I should add, the self-identified beautiful one. The latter is a running joke between us and originated circa 1995, the day that she gazed at herself adoringly in our bathroom mirror and tossed her hair back like a shampoo commercial star, exclaiming "God, I'm beautiful!" Meanwhile, I looked on in my gangly, pubescent (lack of) glory and seethed.

Okay, back to my cooking excursion. On Monday afternoon I went to a local supermarket in search of exotic, fusion-y ingredients that wouldn't necessarily be as accessible to me in Columbus. And I stumbled upon a stack of chayotes. Admittedly, one of the reasons I brought two of them home with me was so that I could post a blog entry with this title. (Until I looked it up on I actually thought it was pronounced "coyote". For those of you who are curious and/or have a worse sense of pronunciation than I do - in other words, for an infinitesimal percentage of the population - it is "chai-OAT-ee".) The chayotes themselves weren't too ugly, but the plantains next to them were hideously brown and/or withered. Too bad, because I had hoped to make a chayote-plantain saute inspired by a purported seasonal flavor of Jeni's ice creams. (Best. Ice. Cream. EVER.) I substituted bananas instead, and neither my mom nor stepdad seemed to mind. Some of the rest of the ingredients I pulled from a Cuisine at Home recipe for banana-sweet potato mash. But mostly, this is a Kim-made creation:

1 t butter or canola oil
2 chayotes, diced into 1-inch cubes
2 bananas or plantains, sliced
1/2 jalapeno
1 T brown sugar
1 T orange juice
a dash of salt

Saute chayote cubes and jalapeno in butter or oil in a skillet over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, or until crisp-tender. (If using plantains, saute them with the chayote. If using bananas, add at the end just to heat through, or they will break apart.) Add brown sugar and orange juice; cook until sugar is dissolved and juice is evaporated, about 2 minutes. Finish with salt.

The taste was, in my stepdad's words, interesting. (Believe it or not, that's a compliment! Keep in mind it comes from a man who would always quip, "Does your face hurt?" when I'd complain about not feeling well.) The jalapeno added a little twist to the sweetness of the other ingredients, and the chayote tasted... well, pretty neutral. But definitely not ugly. I had hoped to post a picture with this recipe, and although I did take one on my cell phone, I only recently realized that I can't upload it to a computer. So alas, it wasn't meant to be. Once I'm back in Columbus and have BFFT's digital on hand, though, I'll be fully back on board.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Italian burritos, and my fusion fixation

So I landed in San Diego this morning, and I now have some time to kill before heading off to a wedding in Julian for the weekend. Julian is a quaint mountain town about 1 1/2 hours to the northeast; I haven't been since I was about 3 years old, when my family drove there to play in the snow! (Yes, they have mountains near San Diego, and yes, Californians make an event out of "going to the snow".) Because I'll no doubt be enjoying all sorts of delicious food cooked by other people tonight and tomorrow, I figured I might as well post something of my own now. For better or worse, this blog really has led me to change my approach to cooking, as what you are about to read is yet another original!

On Wednesday night I decided to try my hand at an Italian-style burrito made with cannellini beans. (I confess to just having spell-checked "cannellini", and it's a good thing because I thought there was only one "n"! See, as much as I try not to let my obsessive-compulsive personality infiltrate my writing, I can't help myself.) I actually got the idea a few months ago, when I made a "black bean and cheddar" burrito recipe from Fine Cooking but all I had on hand were white beans. BFFT loved it anyway, and I started thinking of some ways to make the filling more true to the bean type. A few years ago I took a two-week-long vacation to Tuscany with BFFT and the in-laws (I think I see a raised eyebrow, or two, or unibrow - believe it or not his parents are wonderful!), and at dinner one night we had a delicious cannellini-rosemary side dish. So I decided to recreate it on paper - I mean, in tortilla - and here's what I came up with:

Italian "burritos"

1 T olive oil
1/3 c onion (preferably yellow)
2 cloves garlic
1 small tomato (I used green this time - went well with the herbs color-wise!)
10 oz canned cannellini beans
1/2 t dried rosemary
1/2 t dried sage
1/3 c grated fontina cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
2 burrito-size tortillas (sundried tomato flavor is tasty)


Saute onion in oil over medium heat for 5 minutes, or until tender. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 additional minute. Add tomato, cannellini beans, and herbs. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until all ingredients are heated through, 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

While filling is cooking, bake tortillas (with fontina cheese spread across the middle) in a 350-degree oven for about 3 minutes. Transfer to plates, spread half of the filling over each tortilla, roll up, and serve.

Is it just me or does looking at this picture make you kind of dizzy? Anyway, on the side I served roasted green beans with half a head of leftover radicchio (the double-consonant Italian words are killing me today! well, I actually got this one right according to my spell checker). Radicchio develops a wonderful, nutty flavor as it cooked, so it complemented the burritos quite well.

Considering my very first post, you might be tempted to think I have some sort of burrito fixation. I actually don't... it's more a "fusion fixation", which if you consider what I've blogged about thus far, could begin to describe much of my cooking. So I am developing a style, or perhaps am just becoming consciously aware of it at long last! Awesome.

P.S. Don't worry, that comment about the unibrow in no way referred to you. I have been up since 3am Pacific time (and didn't sleep for most of last night because I kept having nightmares about missing my plane!), so I'm in a strange mood. Or maybe I'm just strange, period.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I can haz fotograff!

Yippee - the picture uploader worked this time! I love how the melba sauce matches our new placemats perfectly.

At last, a dessert recipe

On Saturday night BFFT and I had our first-ever Columbus houseguests. (Well actually, our first-ever houseguests given that we've always lived in apartments until this month. In most parts of California, Fresno being the only possible exception that comes to mind, it costs an arm and a leg to even rent a house. Never mind owning... you have to be over the hill for that!) Ken and Amanda came here for dinner, and I must admit I was a tad nervous beforehand. Not only do both Ken's blog and the buzz among our mutual friends suggest that he's a very competent, experimental cook, but moving to a new area and expanding your social network also means that you have a new group of people to whom you can (or shall I say must!) prove your culinary skills. It's sort of like re-entering the dating world after a major breakup. On one hand, you have an opportunity to start completely fresh and not be pigeonholed anymore (e.g., as "the crazy one" or "the control freak"... of course I was never either of those things). On the other hand, however, you need to get to know somebody else and his/her likes and dislikes all over again.

Fortunately for everyone, the dinner was a success. For the main course, I made slow-roasted chipotle salmon fillets with pineapple-"cilantro" rice. (Amanda, who happens to share my cilantro aversion, was relieved to discover that I'd substituted parsley.) I'll post those recipes in the not-too-distant future, but for now I wanted to share the grand finale: a peach trifle. Some of you might be wondering what took me so long to post about dessert, in particular because of my gigantic sweet tooth. If that were a literal phrase, I'd probably resemble one of those cartoon donkeys with ridiculous-looking buck teeth. So much so that whenever I go to dinner with BFFT's family and the waiter asks if we'd like to see a dessert menu, they all point to me and reply practically in unison, "She would!" I'm pretty sure I inherited this dessert fetish from my paternal grandma. As it happens, the following peach trifle recipe is from Cuisine at Home, the magazine she subscribed me to a few Christmases ago.

For the peaches:
Peel 1 lb fresh peaches (about 1 medium and 1 large) and slice into wedges. (I made 12-16 wedges per peach.) Combine with 2 T sugar and juice of 1/2 a lime (about 1 T). Toss to coat.

For the pound cake:
Cut 3 cups (about 9 ounces) of prepared pound cake into 1" cubes. Drizzle 1 T rum per trifle (or per layer, if you're like me and you have a hankering for booze in your dessert :)) over the pound cake during assembly. The alcohol flavor will mellow as the trifle sits.

For the melba sauce:
Combine 1 cup fresh raspberries, 1/4 cup raspberry jam (blackberry works fine too), and juice of 1/2 a lime in a blender. Puree until smooth.

For the whipped cream:
Combine 1 1/2 cups heavy cream, 1/2 cup powdered sugar, and 1/2 t almond extract in a bowl. Beat cream on high speed using an electric hand mixer until soft peaks form, 4-5 minutes.

For the topping:
Thinly slice 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves and set aside. Rinse 1/2 cup sliced almonds (this was way too much for us to finish; 1/4 cup would suffice) under water. While wet, combine with 1/2 cup powdered sugar so a gummy paste coats them. Spread nuts on a baking sheet coated with nonstick spray and bake at 400 degrees for 5 minutes, then stir. Return to oven for another 3-4 minutes, or until garden. Spread almonds on parchment paper and let cool.

To assemble the trifle:
Layer the components two times in each glass in the following order: peaches (3-4 wedges per layer), pound cake (3-4 cubes per layer), melba sauce (2 t per layer), whipped cream (2 T per layer). Don't pack the layers down too much - having spaces will allow the flavors to blend properly. Cover the trifles and chill at least 1 hour and up to 24. Garnish with sugared almonds and mint just before serving. The ingredients above make six individual trifles in 10 oz glasses. Use whatever glasses you have, but make sure they're clear so that you can show off the layers!

Notice that I said the recipe serves six, and there were four of us at dinner on Saturday. Turns out I had some of each ingredient left over and didn't think to take a picture before I served it. But then BFFT, who usually isn't too big on sweets, told me this was his all-time favorite dessert of mine. So the following evening I just had to make two more trifles (darn it!), in order to show all of you.

Argh! I just tried to upload the pretty picture, only to encounter an "internal server error". Check back later!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Betcha can't tell this tofu isn't fried!

I'm feeling especially pleased with myself this evening. No, I didn't invent another recipe (though I have one in mind for later in the week!). Instead, I came up with a new cooking technique. Ever since I decided to stop preparing meat, I've become a huge fan of tofu. Yes, you probably think tofu is disgusting, and I can even visualize the shudder - complete with a gag reflex - that inevitably results whenever you hear someone utter the T-word. In fact, when I first told my mom about my regular tofu consumption, she said something along the lines of "Ewww! Isn't it made of mold?" (Nope, that's tempeh. And believe it or not I like that too.) But over time I've managed to half-convert BFFT, meaning that as long as it's cooked properly he eats it without complaining. So now it makes an appearance on our dinner table once every week or two.

Unfortunately, when it comes to tofu, "cooked properly" in our household means fried. For the past several months I've experimented with reducing the amount of oil in the pan, reducing the heat and increasing the cooking time, increasing the heat and reducing the cooking time... you name it. All to no avail. I'd still end up with a skillet that was impossible to clean without soaking it in water for at least a day. Plus, there was always the chance that Stella or Claude would jump onto the counter and start drinking up. (They actually did that with the water from the skillet in which I cooked last week's scallops recipe. Talk about disgusting.) As a result, I had resigned myself to cooking tofu in an embarrassing amount of oil and blotting out as much as I could with paper towels, meanwhile attempting to convince myself that tofu - never mind how it's prepared - is always healthy. But tonight I tried something different. I initially thought I'd just bake 1" cubes of tofu in a 350-degree oven on a cooking sheet coated with nonstick spray. I did this for about 15 minutes, noticed that the cubes were nowhere close to being done, and got impatient. So then I heated a nonstick skillet on the stovetop over medium-high (no need to put in any oil or spray beforehand) and cooked the cubes for approximately 2 minutes per side. Here's the result:

Not bad, huh? BFFT couldn't tell the difference between this and the tofu I usually make. Indeed, it was exactly what I had hoped for: a crispy exterior without all the grease (and accompanying guilt).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Apples on pizza?!

Well, I did it again and this time with a main course: I served up an original creation! I suppose I just had to start blogging to give myself a much-needed push in that direction and quit cooking like a novice. Actually, to tell you the truth, my thou-shalt-not-depart-from-what-is-written-on-paper mentality generalizes to other domains, and it is something my family and close friends love to make fun of. Take music, for instance. I began learning piano when I was 8 years old and never plunked out anything that deviated even remotely from the score. That is, until I successfully auditioned to play synthesizer for my high school's show choir. Aside from the pianists and me, the band consisted of Geoff the rough-around-the-edges guitarist, Andy the heartthrob drummer, and Dan the mysterious meditating bassist. All three of them were much cooler than my meek 13-year-old self could ever have hoped to be, and all three of them were (apparent) experts in musical improvisation. So you could imagine their amusement when I'd ask them to "teach me how to jam" or simply exclaim with exasperation, "But I don't know how to rock out like you guys do!" Clearly, what I didn't know at the time was that you can never "learn" how to jam... you just buck up and do it. And, although it took me 5 years of adhering religiously to cookbooks to realize this, the same holds true in the kitchen.

My idea for this particular recipe was inspired by a dish I saw on the menu at Spagio, our favorite wine bar/restaurant in the neighborhood. I thought apples and brie on pizza sounded great, but I couldn't convince BFFT to order one with me. So when a week went by without our consuming the wedge of brie we'd bought from Trader Joe's (we meant to eat it with champagne but that didn't end up happening - I guess we were too thirsty!), I decided to put it to good use. After all, BFFT couldn't refuse to eat a pizza I'd made especially for us, could he?

Deep-Dish Style Pizza with Apples and Brie (the dough recipe is from Cuisine at Home; it makes enough for two 9" pizzas)

For the pizza dough:

3/4 c warm water (105-115 degrees)
1 T sugar
1 package (1/4 oz) active dry yeast (2 1/4 t)
2 T oil
2 c all-purpose flour
1/3 c yellow cornmeal
2 t kosher salt

For the filling:

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and sliced
1 wedge (4-5 oz) brie, sliced, rind removed
1/3 c chopped walnuts
Salt and pepper to taste


Combine water, sugar, and yeast. Proof (i.e., let sit) until foamy, about 5 minutes, then add oil.

Mix flour, cornmeal, and salt in a bowl. Knead by hand for 10 minutes, or until smooth. Form dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about one hour. Punch dough down and re-shape into a ball. Return to oiled bowl, cover, and let rise again, about one hour.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees with the rack on the bottom; coat a 9" cast iron skillet with 1-2 teaspoons oil (I used butter instead because I thought it would better complement the filling).

Divide dough in half; wrap one half in plastic and freeze for later use. Roll out remaining ball, line the prepared skillet, and blind bake for 5-10 minutes (I find that 5 is generally sufficient).

Brush crust with 1 teaspoon of butter, top with brie slices, and top brie with apple slices. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bake for 20-30 minutes, depending on how chewy/crunchy you like your crust. Let pizza stand 5 minutes before slicing.

my first main-dish culinary "jamming session"! Geoff, Andy, and Dan would be so proud if they could see me now.

And the verdict from BFFT? He gave the recipe a thumbs-up and encouraged me after the fact to post it here (hence no picture). I had thought about brushing the crust with apple butter, which if I remember correctly is what they did at Spagio, but I ultimately decided it would be too sweet for BFFT. Yet another testament to my newfound willingness to depart at least a little from established recipes.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Deconstructed spanakopita, with a picture

For dinner tonight I got a little more experimental than I normally do... I know I say I'm an "experimenter" on my profile, but by that I mean hunting down and tinkering with others' recipes as opposed to creating my own from scratch. Now that I've started this blog, though, I'm feeling a bit more pressure to do the real thing. So when I broke out the scallops that had been sitting in our freezer, I decided to make a new side dish to accompany them. I took the scallops recipe from Caprial and John's Kitchen, which by the way is a wonderful resource for couples who like to cook together. (This doesn't apply to BFFT and me anymore. I relegated him to cleaning and dishwasher-loading about 6 months after we started dating, once I was comfortable enough to tell him I'm too much of a kitchen alpha to do the joint cooking thing!) I didn't even like scallops until just a few months ago... shellfish, except for crabmeat and calamari, was #2 on my list of most-despised foods, with cilantro of course taking the grand prize. As my girlfriend Gabe likes to say, "I can't eat anything served in the position it died in!" Well, that all changed the day BFFT brought home a gigantic bag of scallops from Costco, claiming that if I was contemplating fishetarianism (nowadays I only eat non-fish meat when it's served at dinner parties), I needed to broaden my horizons. The first time I tried them I had to pretend they were chicken; they weren't bad objectively but I was still squeamish about eating little creepy-crawlies. The second time I made them, however, I used the current recipe and started to come around. BFFT rates it as one of his all-time favorites, and although I'm still not the biggest scallops fan, I can take them in small doses, especially if they're prepared as described below.

In the interest of sticking with a Mediterranean-themed dinner, I served the scallops atop cous-cous with my original spinach-herb-feta creation - a deconstructed spanakopita, if you will. This was perhaps inspired by the delicious spanakopita I had for dinner last Thursday at Happy Greek. BFFT loved it, and I was so proud of myself for finally taking the plunge into bona fide cookhood (why am I inventing so many new words? does this mean I'm a schizophrenic? or maybe I'm just paranoid... oh wait, that's a symptom of schizophrenia too! aahhh! must get more sleep) that I just had to take a picture. Here is the recipe!

1 bunch spinach
1/4 c onion
1 clove garlic
1/2 t dried dill weed
a pinch of nutmeg
1 T fresh parsley
2-3 T feta cheese
salt and pepper

Heat a small amount of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and saute for 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 additional minute. Add spinach and dried herbs and saute until spinach is wilted, about 2-3 minutes. Garnish with parsley and feta cheese, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

And the scallops (to serve 2 you can make 1/3 to 1/2 this amount):

3/4 c whole-milk yogurt (I like to use Greek-style, and it can be 2% if you prefer)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T chopped fresh mint
1/2 t ground coriander
1/4 t ground cumin
1 T freshly ground black pepper
18 sea scallops
1 T vegetable oil

To prepare the sauce, combine the yogurt, garlic, mint, coriander, and cumin in a bowl, and whisk together. Season to taste with salt. Refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

To prepare the scallops, place the pepper on a small plate. Season the scallops with salt, then dredge them lightly in the pepper. Heat the vegetable oil in a very large saute pan over high heat until smoking hot. Add the scallops and cook until just barely cooked through, about 1 minute per side.

For how easy this is to make, it tastes incredibly gourmet!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Lentil burritos with "cilantro"-flavored yogurt

So I finally decided to take the plunge and become one who blogs (I hesitate to self-identify as a "blogger" just yet), which was inspired by a few different things. First, ever since my friend Ken gave me the link to his cooking blog, I've been stealing his recipes left and right. I also admit to having burgled (I love that word!) quite a few from "Heidi", a random lady whose blog keeps popping up in my Gmail news feed. And I guess I figured it was time to give back to the public. :-) Second, I've been cooking for about 5 years now - ever since I had my own kitchen - and still can't name what my "specialty" is, if any. Just a few days ago another friend asked me about my cooking style, and I fumbled around for awhile before offering my usual response: "Well, a little of everything." (He then proceeded to give me a point-by-point description of how he makes the perfect omelet, which made me feel both very hungry and like a culinary impostor!) So perhaps this foray into the blogging world can help me situate myself in the world of cooks. For all you trained social psychologists out there, this is something of an exercise in symbolic self-completion theory. I am such a dork.

Anyhow, below is my first recipe, an old standby adapted from the magazine Cuisine at Home. When I first made it a few years ago, BFFT (a pseudonym for my hubby - long story but not his real initials) said it was the best thing I'd ever cooked. We have it every 1-2 months on average, and to this day he maintains it is delicious. Oftentimes I depart from the recipe as originally written, which keeps both of us from getting bored with it. The first departure is the "cilantro." I use parsley instead because I hate that blasted herb. (Funny how just about everyone I know either loves it or has an extreme aversion.) I wasn't always this way... it started out in the middle of my freshman year in college, the evening that a guy I was dating dropped a much-unanticipated bomb that he "didn't think it would work out" because "our personalities [were] different". After crying on my dear friend Jess's shoulder and complaining about what a jerk he was (though in retrospect his decision may have had something to do with the fact that I was painfully shy and all I could do was cackle nervously at his jokes, which I didn't quite get in the first place), we went down to the dining hall, where they were serving burritos with cilantro rice and cilantro tortillas. Despite not being hungry at all, I wolfed down the whole thing... and went from finding cilantro tolerable to absolutely vomitrocious. (I love that word too. I first read it in the Arthur children's book series - what was Arthur anyway? an anteater? - and don't think I've seen or heard it since then.) Who knows why it still persists after 8 1/2 years; in any case, parsley is a great substitute. All right, at long last, the recipe I promised with my personal notes in italics:

For the filling:

1 T vegetable (I like canola) oil
1/4 c onion, diced
1 t curry powder
1 t jalapeno, minced (I add way more because I love spicy)
1 1/2 c vegetable broth
1/2 c tomatoes, chopped
1/2 c red potatoes, cubed
1/4 c brown lentils
1 bay leaf
1/2 c frozen chopped spinach (tonight I tried green bell peppers; collard greens also work well, as does fresh spinach as long as you allow enough time for the liquid to be absorbed)

Saute onion, curry powder, and jalapeno in oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, 5-8 minutes (closer to 5), stirring often. Stir in broth, tomatoes, potatoes, lentils, and bay leaf. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until lentils are tender, 20-30 minutes. Finish lentils with spinach (no need to thaw it first), lime juice, and salt. (If using bell peppers instead, add them 5 minutes or so before filling is ready.)

For the spiced yogurt:

1 c "cilantro" leaves and stems
1/4 c scallions, sliced (white and green parts)
2 t fresh ginger, chopped
1 t sugar
1/4 t ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Juice of 1/2 a lime
Salt and cayenne to taste
1/2 c plain yogurt

Process all ingredients except yogurt in a food processor until minced. Stir herb paste into yogurt; chill until ready to serve.

For the tortillas:

Here's where I improvised the most; the original recipe called for frying the tortillas, but this is a much healthier and equally delicious alternative.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place two 10" (burrito size) tortillas (spinach or tomato are tasty if you can find them) on a baking sheet, sprinkle 1/4 c grated Monterey Jack (I like pepper jack) cheese across the center of each one, and bake for about 3 minutes.

Roll burritos and serve topped with yogurt.

Yay! My first post! I'm sorry I don't have any pictures (didn't realize it was the rule rather than exception until it was too late), but I promise to include one next time I cook this. Which will, if it's up to BFFT, be very soon.

P.S. In case you're curious, here are the links I mentioned in my first paragraph:
Ken's blog
Heidi's blog