Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Carrot Cake

Spring is a great time for weddings. Fortunately I haven't reached the point in my life where my social calendar is filled with these commitments but that also means that I'm missing out on some serious cake.

Lots of bowls for this recipe. Gotta do everything right.
I learned at an early age that weddings frequently have carrot cake. Even before I knew what cream cheese frosting was, I knew there was something particularly special about the frosting on this cake. Even if I couldn't put my finger on it yet.

So many great ingredients. Carrots make it healthy, right?
Flash forward several upon several years and I can venture to make the cake all by myself, without an excuse. Hurray for cream cheese frosting and carrot cake! But I actually did have a reason, we had a barbeque which meant there were lots of people who could eat this cake instead of me just sitting around eating it all by myself. This also meant I didn't get to taste test it but I'm getting better about trusting the baking universe to make things delicious.

I decided that carrot cake is best sans nuts. Apparently there's pineapple and coconut in this cake, whaaaaat?? Transport me to a tropical island. And exactly one bag of carrots. Food processor makes chopping carrots so much safer--and easier.

The glory of the food processor
Fun fact: usually when you eat carrot cake, it's cooled. But if you have a room full of people and are in a rush, you eat it warm (you also frost it warm and stick it in the fridge as the frosting starts to melt). It is delicious right out of the oven.

Bundt pan for the win!
As usual this came from Joy the Baker's cookbook but she does have a recipe on her site. Don't fear the carrot cake, it's not as scary as it seems. And if you find yourself at a wedding, begrudgingly or not, just remember: they will let you eat cake.

I really must learn to frost cakes

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Quinoa Salad with Lots o' Stuff

If there was a health buzzword for 2012, I think it would be a close race between quinoa and kale. Somehow, these two exploded onto the scene as being the new superfoods. My first encounter with quinoa was when I made sweet potato quinoa cakes. The first time I made them, they turned out a little underdone (read: I didn't cook the sweet potatoes long enough and tried to mash them anyways, added them chunkily to the mixture and had some lumpy dinners) and the quinoa tasted quite foreign to me. I guess I should have checked if I actually like quinoa before I bought a bag of it.

Well, a little quinoa goes a long way. So then I had this bag of grain and one half-failed recipe (over time, sweet potato quinoa cakes were perfected and are delicious!!). This led to researching (ie: Pinteresting) quinoa recipes. I came across one for a salad, perfect for lunch! It also contains black beans, corn, tomatoes, cilantro and feta cheese. I'll wait while you read that ingredients list again, in all its delicious and healthy glory.

I would like to take a moment to also point out how cost-effective this meal is. Like I said before, a little quinoa goes a long way so you can make this several times. It's an investment ingredient. A bag of frozen corn also lasts forever. I know because I've had the same bag of frozen corn in my freezer for over a year. It pretty much is only used for this recipe and tortilla soup. A can of black beans is $0.69. Yes, I put back the name brand beans that cost $0.79 when I saw the store brand was ten cents cheaper. You can judge, it's okay. Just remember that that's 7 minutes on a parking meter. And cherry tomatoes aren't so bad either, especially when they're on sale...and you have a coupon making them $0.99. The real ingredient splurge comes with the cilantro, a whopping $1.69 and it goes bad quickly. If you aren't going to eat this soon, don't add the cilantro. It smells funny very quickly.

Technically you're suppose to add an onion to this mix but you only need half an onion and the other half for me always goes bad so I left it out this time. This is also surprisingly easy to make. Cook the quinoa per instructions (seriously, it's like rice. Measure the water!). While it's cooking, on its own on the back burner, simmering for 20 minutes, you can cook the corn and beans. And while the corn and beans are cooking, you can chop the tomatoes and cilantro and then bam. Everything comes together in delicious, healthy harmony to create lunch for a week.

You can eat this hot or cold, I haven't decided which I prefer but I inevitably eat a portion once it's done and then eat cold versions for lunch. I think of this more as a summer dish but it was still fitting this past wintery week.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Peanut Butter Brownies with Chocolate Frosting

Alright, this theme might be a little bit of a stretch but it involves chocolate and peanut butter so just go with it. I have a Downton Abbey, Harry Potter and Star Wars cookbook so I am beyond prepared for the Downton premiere (2014!), Harry Potter's birthday and Star Wars day (May the 4th be with you) but I am completely unprepared for Wrestlemania. Yes, that's a thing that people still pay attention to. Basically, new found friends were gathering for some wrestling and burgers. Can't pass up delicious burgers (or good company) so what was I to do? Get creative.

Behold a smackdown between peanut butter and chocolate, cake and brownies. Who will arise as the victor of this epic battle? Historically speaking, this delicious combination has meant stress relief or break-up recovery but this is a happy occasion. And the resulting brownies were no exception.

All the delicious peanut butter
What I like about this recipe is it involves melting a bunch of ingredients together. There's something uniquely magical about butter and sugar becoming one--and then adding peanut butter--and then sampling, just to be safe. So before adding the eggs, make sure you a) test the batter and b) use a different spoon so you can eat a bunch of butter, sugar and peanut butter before adding the eggs (note: you can also then continue sampling the batter with the eggs, build that immune system!).

Melting butter and sugar!
I waited a good day before frosting these so for the record, you can eat these sans frosting. It's even encouraged. And the frosting is nice and sweet (maybe a little too salty because I didn't bother measuring...) and doesn't kill the peanut buttery goodness. Again, feel free to eat the frosting separately.

The frosting in all its chocolate glory
The victor in this epic smackdown? Everyone! Because peanut butter and chocolate are a match made in heaven and will immediately transport you to said glorious haven.
The final product

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Mustard Milanese with an Arugula Fennel Salad

I've been eating out a lot. Like a lot. My fridge is decorated with take out containers and doggy bags from Chinese, Mexican, Greek and Italian restaurants. Not to mention leftovers from what I have actually managed to cook myself (in spite of all the leftovers already available). As much as I love eating out and I love the variety of ethnic food that seems to have suddenly and magically re-entered my life, it becomes difficult to write a cooking blog if one doesn't cook.

A variation of the ingredients you should use.
 And so, a re-commitment to my cookbook collection has been born. This starts with the Smitten Kitchen cookbook (I did steal it in a Yankee swap, afterall). Leafing through the pages, I was looking for things that were for dinner instead of dessert and could be moderately healthy without being a straight up salad. The winner? A chicken recipe--that you fry in oil. Baby steps.

I don't really know what this recipe title means so I summarized it as the very technical term of "Chicken Somethin' Somethin'". Normally I don't like mustard but in such small quantities, this recipe seemed like an exception. Plus, it's not like I'm ruining a perfectly good burger or hot dog by adding fluorescent goo, I'm adding classy spice and taste (note: I didn't realize I was adding spice at the time).

A few things that were done differently.
  1. I had every intention of buying two chicken breasts and slicing them into cutlets. Until I got to the store and found cutlets already assembled. That seemed like a viable short cut.
  2. I did not tenderize the cutlets with a hammer. That's just overkill for me. I'm sure it would have made the spices really seep into the chicken but I also didn't leave these wrapped up overnight so it probs wouldn't have mattered anyways.
  3. Since I moved, my brain has been confused about what spices and ingredients I actually own versus formerly owned but discarded in the mad dash of moving. This includes smooth Dijon mustard. I bought some for a salad dressing previously, assumed I had kept it since it was relatively new but alas, I did not. So only course Dijon for us!
Like with any fried chicken, this gets done in steps. Dip in dish one (flour mixture), then dish two (egg mixture), and dish three (panko crumbs). Then add to oil and wait while delicious fried scents fill your kitchen. I think I under-fried the first couple pieces of chicken but none were burned so I deem this a success.

Prepared for the assembly line
I don't really dare leave frying oil alone (PSA: don't throw water on an oil/grease fire, it will explode) so I waited to toss the salad until the chicken was actually done. Now, when I say toss, I really mean I pulled a shake and bake because it seemed like the fastest way to mix the salad and oils and mustard. Basically pour all of salad into a gallon freezer bag and add the dressing ingredients. Seal well and go to town rocking out and shaking that bag like a maraca. The end result: well mixed and delicious salad.

Mmm frying chicken. A healthy improvement over take out...sssshhh...
I'm sure this would have turned out even better if I had actually had the other mustard (it got a little spicy and sinus-cleansing with just course mustard substituted for smooth) and let the chicken set over night but it was delicious. And then my roommate texted me the next day to say she loved it too. So an unbiased party agrees with me, success!
Bag o' Salad
This is not the precise recipe that I used but it's the one on Smitten Kitchen's blog so have at it! And make some variations as you see fit, experimentation is key and makes for great dishes (or stories of splendid failure).
The final product

Monday, April 1, 2013

Spring Has Sprung!

It is now officially spring. Passover, Easter, rain, all signs that spring has sprung! I say this as it's cold, dark and raining outside but by golly it is spring!

Easter basket glory!
Just as with the start of other seasons, I have managed to make a spring to-do list. Mostly this relates to doing stuff in life but now with a focus on food and blogging! So on the to-bake list (including but not limited to):
  1. Chocolate Bourbon Milkshakes (pause, digest, be jealous).
  2. Macadamia nut recipes- going to Hawaii this spring (what up?!) so in honor of this will attempt to make Hawaii-inspired things which may just end up being macadamia nut clusters covered in chocolate. Oh darn.
  3. Cannolis (spoiler alert!) for my roommate who isn't into super sweet stuff but loves Cannolis. Her birthday is in July so I have plenty of time to experiment and probably botch some Cannolis.
Technically the following is not about baking but a food quest. A quest to find the best cupcakes. I have a list and an accomplice and together we will seek out delicious baked goods. There was a tv show once that was very short lived, October Road, and there was an episode where they were talking about this kid in high school who ate cupcakes really fast. It inspired a comic book called the Cupcake Kid and had a superhero mantra about combining flour, sugar, eggs and all (all rights reserved for abc and October Road etc. etc.). I tried to find it but alas, I have not. But it was an episode called "Revenge of the Cupcake Kid".
Daffodils are my fav! What a shock, being yellow and all.
And to avoid becoming 4,000 pounds as a result of said quest, I would also like to do a 5k in the spring. That should be fun...or terrible. The last to do should be pretty easy: go see Jurassic Park in 3D. Yup, they have finally accepted that great movies were made in the 90's and they should just keep replaying them. Bigger and better than ever.

I promise, there will be real food on this blog soon. This week will be quite the ode to Smitten Kitchen!

Lastly, yet another new cookbook has joined the family. This times the epic galactic makings of Star Wars! Super duper dorked out and pumped. Cook these I must. Do or do not, there is no try.