Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Homebrewing III: Honey Hefeweizen

This time I decided to brew a hefeweizen, which is a beer that has a grain profile made up of about 1/2 malted wheat and characteristic cloudiness due to yeast in suspension. A hefeweizen is not my favorite style, but I do enjoy it when I'm hanging out with friends, at a BBQ, or when I just want to drink something refreshing without having to think too hard. Again, I started with a Home Sweet Homebrew kit as the base, their Wascal Wheat, what they describe as a Bavarian-style Hefeweizen. To this kit, I added 1 lb each of malted wheat and Carapils and 2 lbs of Honey. The wheat is to add a little more grain flavor and spiciness, Carapils is for body, and the Honey contributes a some floral character but mostly to bump up the alcohol level.

Similar to the Brown Ale I previously brewed, this beer required mashing the grains in 155F water and sparging (rinsing) with 170F water. This liquid and some water were boiled with the malt extract and the Hallertau hops for 60 minutes before being cooled and dry yeast was pitched. I fermented in the plastic bucket for 5 days before transferring to the glass carboy to finish. I made a little mistake and added a bit too much water so the beer didn't all fit in the carboy, but I improvised and made another fermenter out of an extra 1 gallon water jug I had laying around.

This beer has been very interesting to watch because unlike the other beers I've made, the yeast never really settled out. Usually, most yeast will floccuate (coagulate and drop out of suspension) after some time when fermentation is almost over, but this beer after 2 weeks of fermentation was still very hazy with many streams of CO2 bubbles rising to the top. The yeast seems to work a little slower than the yeasts I've used because after 2 weeks the specific gravity was still 1.020, which means there is still a lot of unfermented sugar left in solution. I waited another week to bottle so that the yeast to do some more work making some more alcohol and conditioning the beer.

For Chinese New Year, I bottled one 22 oz bottle a little before it was ready just to be able to share with everyone. This beer wasn't anyone's favorite as it has very distinct clove, banana, and citrus flavors, but I liked it. For this style of beer, the yeast provides the majority of the flavors, so it is important to use a good reliable yeast strain and keep it happy. In the winter, I keep my house on the cooler side, so the beer fermented at a much lower temperature, which keeps down the off-flavors and promotes formation of the good flavors.

I bottled this beer last week, but when it's fully carbonated and ready, I'll post a picture of it.

Geek Stats:
Grain Bill and Sugars: 6.6 lb Weizen Malt Extract, 1 lb Wheat Malt, 1 lb Carapils Malt, 2 lb Honey, 5 oz Honey for priming
Hops: 1 oz Hallertau (60min)
Yeast: Safbrew WB-06
OG: 1.054
FG: 1.017
ABV: 5%

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Snowed-in February

I think I got a little burned out from cooking and blogging everyday in January, hence the recent lack of posts. February in Philadelphia has been pretty crazy, with nearly 4 feet of snow in two consecutive storms and more falling as I write. There were some fun times, like Upper Darby Snowpocalypse Night at Justin's and the excitement of the first snow day. But there were downsides too. My car was trapped for most of the last two weeks, which limited our mobility. And Alex quickly realized that a week of snow days means an extra week at the end of the school year. We are definitely looking forward to spring.

As far as culinary endeavors, February has been pretty quiet. You'd think we'd have been making lots of soups and stews during the storms, but that didn't really happen. Not having a car meant not being able to make big shopping trips so we ended up picking things up at the local store as we needed them. We've still been enjoying all the frozen leftovers. One of our most fun meals were snow day nachos, for which we made our own chips by frying corn tortillas and then covered them with cheese and other toppings.Other than that, I haven't been trying many new recipes, mainly making comfort foods and doing some more baking. Let's hope as the snow melts that I'm more inspired to cook and blog.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Home Brewed Beer II: English Nut Brown Ale

After the success of the first batch, I decided I would go to Home Sweet Homebrew myself this time and put together a beer. I like hoppy, high alcohol, aggressive beers, but these are not beers that I can easily quaff or share since many people don't necessarily like big beers. So I thought a mild, full-bodied, malty brown ale would be a great idea. Since I was making this beer, I made sure there was enough bitterness and herbal hoppiness to make a balanced beer to suit my palate.

I went to HSH and told them I wanted to take an malt extract kit as a starter and then jazz it up with some fancy hops and actual malted grain. The proprietor was very helpful and started with the Dark Star English Brown ale as the starter, additionally added 1 lb Demerara sugar, 1 lb Crystal Malt, 1 lb English Brown Malt, and Bramling Cross and Kent Golding aroma hops. The Demerara sugar is a special type of raw sugar from the Caribbean, the Crystal hops add a caramel flavor, the Brown Malt is for the rich color and chocolately flavor, and the Kent Golding adds a herbal, low bitterness, fragrant quality.

I decided to buy 5 gallons of spring water this time because accurately measuring all that water last time was a pain and this way I could be sure that I had the right amount of water and didn't have to worry about boiling or water loss from evaporation. I poured a gallon and a half of water into my biggest pot and boiled the malt extract along with the bittering hops (Gramling) for 45 minutes; then I added the Demerara sugar and another pound of dark brown sugar (for extra flavor and alcohol) and boiled for 15 minutes more. I then added half an ounce of the East Kent Golding hops, closed the lid to the pot and let it rest. At the same time, I steeped the 2 pounds of milled grain in 1 gallon of water at 150 F for 45 minutes. After that I boiled for 15 minutes to sterilized. After both liquids were ready I poured them into the fermenter with 2 gallons of cold spring water and let the mixture get back to room temperature, before I added dry yeast.

By the end of the day, the beer was already bubbling the krausen had risen about half a foot, almost to the top of the bucket. I let it go for 3 days and then transferred into the glass carboy for fermentation, dry hopping with the rest of the East Kent Golding hops. After 5 days, it was still going strong, so it must be all that extra sugar from the brown sugars, and malted grain. After another week the fermentation had about stopped and I wanted to start another batch of beer so I added corn sugar and bottled.

After about two weeks after bottling, the beer was fully carbonated. It could use a little more bottle conditioning to develop a little more, but it's great to drink now! The color is a little misleading as it's more of a dark brown than black, but the tan head looks great with a long sustaining head and a sticky lacing. The beer fermented quickly and with good attenuation which makes it clean with a dry finish featuring flavors of chocolate, walnuts, and herbal hops. If I were to brew this again, I think I would use a more complex malt to give a little more sweetness and body, however, for my first partial grain beer I am very pleased.

Beer Geek Stats:
Grain Bill: 6.6 lb Amber Malt Extract; 1lb English Brown Malt; 1 lb Crystal Malt 120L; 1lb Demerara Sugar; 1lb Brown Sugar; 5 oz Dextrose (priming)
Hops: 1 oz Bramling Cross (60min); 1 oz East Kent Golding (1/2 after boil, 1/2 dry hopped into secondary)
Yeast: Safale S-04 English Ale
OG: 1.058
FG: 1.013
ABV: 6.0%

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Final Feast with the Veggie Dinner Club

Fortuitously, my turn to host dinner club coincided with the end of home-cooked January. I decided to make a big meal full of comfort food. If this meal had a theme, it was butter, which was incorporated into most of the dishes. We had spinach yogurt dip for an appetizer, beet and avocado salad, "meat"loaf, macaroni and cheese, carrots, brussel sprouts, cauliflower and biscuits. I made two desserts, a chocolate-pear cake and cocoa brownies (both recipes from Smitten Kitchen, a fabulous food blog and great source of recipes all month). No one went home hungry...in fact, quite a few of us ate ourselves into food comas, but it was a great time and a fitting end to my month of cooking. I even got to use my new tabletop convection oven (Thanks, Mom!). Here are some photos and recipes:

Spinach Yogurt Dip (from Joy of Cooking)
10 oz package frozen spinach (thawed and drained)
3 scallions
2 cloves garlic
2 cups plain yogurt
2 tbsp Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp sour cream
1/8 tsp nutmeg
Minced scallions and garlic in the food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until smooth. Refrigerate for at least one hour. I served with Hawaiian bread.

Beet and Avocado Salad
3 beets (roasted at 400F for 1 hour, peeled and cooled)
2 avocados, sliced
Red onion, sliced
Layered and topped with:
Lemon Vinaigrette
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
Salt and plenty of black pepper
Combined with 1 tbsp warm water and pulsed in blender to combine and poured over the salad before serving.

Vegetarian Meatloaf (from allrecipes.com)
1/2 (14 ounce) package vegetarian ground beef (e.g., Gimme Lean TM)
1 (12 ounce) package vegetarian burger crumbles
1 onion, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon ground sage
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 1/2 slices bread, cubed (I used 1 cup bread crumbs)
1/3 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). In a large bowl combine vegetarian ground beef, vegetarian ground beef crumbles, onion, eggs, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, sage, garlic powder, mustard, oil, bread crumbs and milk. Transfer to a 9 x 13 inch baking dish and form into a loaf. Cover with ketchup glaze (1/2 cup ketchup, 1 tsp mustard, and 1 tbsp brown sugar). Bake for ~1 hour.

Mac & Cheese (from the Barefoot Contessa)
Vegetable oil
Kosher salt
1 pound elbow macaroni or cavatappi (I used shells)
1 quart milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
12 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (4 cups) (I also used some Parmesan - the photo shows the 12 CUPS total cheese for 2 trays of mac & cheese)
8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar, grated (2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

Quick-Glazed Carrots (from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)
1 pound carrots, sliced
2 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup white wine

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan, bring to a boil, then cover and adjust heat to simmer. Cook 10-20 minutes until carrots are tender and liquid is nearly gone. Uncover and boil off remaining liquid.

Braised and Glazed Brussel Sprouts (see previous post)

Roasted Cauliflower
Simply cut a head of cauliflower into florets, combine with some olive oil, salt and pepper and roast at 400F until browned (~45 minutes).

Yogurt Biscuits (from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 to 5 tbsp cold butter (more is better)
7/8 cup yogurt

Using the food processor, mix dry ingredients. Then pulse with butter. Stir in yogurt until it forms a ball. Turn the dough out and knead 10 times (no more!). Press into a 3/4 inch thick rectangle and cut out 2 inch rounds. Bake for 7-9 minutes at 450F. Serve warm.

Al Di La’s Torta di Pere [Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake] (from Smitten Kitchen)
Courtesy of Al Di La Restaurant in Park Slope, Brooklyn

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, at room-temperature
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 pears, peeled, in a small dice
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust with breadcrumbs (I cheated and used flour), set aside. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside.

Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick. (In a professional Kitchen Aid, it takes at least five minutes; on a home machine, it will take nine minutes to get sufficient volume)

While the eggs are whipping, brown the butter. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan (because it will foam a lot) and cook it until the butter browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes). It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Remove from the flame but keep in a warm spot.

Add the sugar to the eggs and whip a few minutes more.

Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to loose volume, turn the mixture down to stir, and add the flour mixture and brown butter. Add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of flour. Whisk until just barely combined — no more than a minute from when the flour is first added — and then use a spatula to gently fold the batter until the ingredients are combined. It is very important not to over-whisk or fold the batter or it will lose volume.

Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top, and bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 to 50 minutes.

Best Cocoa Brownies (from Smitten Kitchen)
Adapted from Alice Mendrich’s Bittersweet

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks, 5 ounces or 141 grams) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (9 7/8 ounces, 280 grams) sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 7/8 ounces, 82 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.

Melt butter in microwave and add sugar cocoa and salt and whisk until smooth. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using. Spread evenly in the lined pan.

Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes is Medrich’s suggestion but it took me at least 10 minutes longer to get them set. Let cool completely on a rack. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.

Boy, that was a lot of food. Reflections on the month of cooking to come soon. And don't worry, I'll keep posting tasty recipes and stories of our adventures (in and out of the kitchen).

Homebrewing Beer I: Amber Waves

Kim bought me a beer homebrewing kit for Christmas this year and after a hectic holiday season I finally found the time on January 8 to get start brewing. The beer kit was for a hoppy, medium bodied, low alcohol amber ale, Kim bought from Home Sweet Homebrew on 2008 Sansom Street. The kit is made from extract, meaning one uses a malt syrup instead of actual grain, which makes for easier first time brewing--where all you have to do is melt and boil the syrup in the water.
I neglected to plan ahead and realized that I need to sterilize by boiling about 5 gallons of water first and start a yeast culture for brewing the beer, so it set me back a day. But the next day, with football on, I started brewing some beer. In a two gallon stock pot, I brought 1.5 gallons of water to a boil, stirred in the malt extract, and brought it up to a boil. I added some hops for bitterness. At this point, the wort (the liquid that turns into beer after fermentation) needs to be boiled vigorously for 60-90 minutes. After the wort finished cooking, I cooled it in a bath of ice water before pouring it into the bucket with about 3 gallons of water. Then I added the yeast starter culture, sealed the lid and waited for magic.

It took about a day for the yeast to start working, but when it did, CO2 bubbles came out of the airlock once every minute and the krausen (foam from the fermenting wort) rose up about 4 inches from the top of the liquid level. After two days when the yeast start to slow down, the beer gets transferred to a glass carboy for further fermentation. I let this go for about ten more days before bottling.

After a week from the beginning of fermentation, when the beer wasn't bubbling anymore and most of the sugar was turned into alcohol, I siphoned the beer into the bottling bucket and get ready to start filling bottles. I'd been saving bottles since Christmas and after taking off the labels, I run them through the dishwasher on the hottest water setting and dried them. In order to carbonate the beer, you have to add a little extra food for the yeast to consume while in the bottle to make bubbles. So, I dissolved dextrose (corn sugar) in a pint of water and boiled to sterilize it, then poured it into the beer. I mixed this all up, filled the clean bottles with the beer, capped them and waited.

The instructions said to wait 7-10 days after bottle to try, so naturally I waited 6 days and popped one. The cap came off with a satisfying hiss and it was good.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Spinach and Feta Flatbread

Mom sent me a recipe for a spinach and Feta pita and it sounded so good that I had to try it for lunch today. I didn't have the exact ingredients in the recipe, so I just improvised and put together my own version. I spread some pesto on a whole wheat flatbread and covered it with fresh spinach. Then I topped it with some sun-dried tomatoes, green olives and Feta, put it in the oven at 350F for a few minutes just to let the cheese melt a little. Yum.
I didn't have enough flatbread to make one for Mike, so he made himself a double decker egg and cheese sandwich with tomato. It looked pretty tasty!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Cheese Omelette

I knew today would be a busy day so I got my cooking out of the way early by making a cheese omelette for breakfast. I don't think I've ever made an omelette before, but it was pretty simple. Basically, you just get heat some butter in a hot skillet and pour in beaten eggs combined with salt and pepper. I used 3 eggs since the skillet I have is pretty big. After pouring the eggs into the skillet, I let them cook, while using a spatula to lift the edges, letting the uncooked eggs move to the sides and cook. It was looking pretty good, though not perfect:I didn't want any runniness in the eggs, so I cooked it for a couple extra minutes. Then I put some shredded cheddar in the middle, folded it in half and slid it off the pan. This finished product was a little brown from the longer cooking, but it tasted good. I will definitely try making omelettes again, next time adding some more exciting ingredients.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Armenian Lentil and Apricot Soup

This recipe came from my dear friend, Gina, a member of the original Hyde Park veggie dinner club. It sounds like a weird combination, but it is really delicious.

Armenian Lentil and Apricot Soup

3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 1/2 cups red lentils, rinsed
5 cups vegetable stock
3 medium plum tomatoes, chopped (or a can of diced)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

In a large soup pot, heat the oil and add onion, garlic and apricots. Saute, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft ~10 minutes. Add the lentils and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until the lentils are tender ~30 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and spices. Simmer covered for another 10 minutes. Remove half the soup and puree in the blender (or food processor). I actually used my immersion blender to get it to the desired consistency. Return to pot, season with lemon juice and additional salt and pepper as desired. Simmer, stirring, for 2-3 minutes.
This made a nice dinner on a cold night with some leftover salad from last night.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lasagna and friends

Since I was expecting a full house for game night, I decided to make a hearty lasagna meal. One of the tricks I use to make lasagna much easier is using “no-boil” noodles (Barilla and Trader Joe’s makes them). Here’s the basic recipe (but I don’t follow it specifically):
1 box no-boil lasagna noodles
2 jars prepared spaghetti sauce
1 15oz container ricotta cheese
½ cup Parmesan cheese
4 cups Mozzarella cheese
2 eggs
Spinach, basil, whatever veggies you want to add

Spray a 9x13 pan with nonstick cooking spray. Combine beaten eggs, ricotta, parmesan and 2 cups Mozarella. Pour in 1 1/2 cups sauce on bottom and then place 4 lasagna noodle in pan to cover. Cover with 1/2 of cheese mixture, a layer of fresh spinach and basil, then some more mozzarella and 1 cup sauce. Add 4 more noodles and cover with the rest of the cheese mixture, more fresh spinach and basil, some mozzarella and 1 1/2 cups sauce. Cover with 4 more noodles, 1 cup sauce and lots of mozzarella. Cover the whole thing with foil and cook for ~1 hour until bubbly. Remove the foil for the last 10 minutes or so.

I also made a giant salad and Mike grilled some sausage with peppers and onions. And of course we had lots of bread and wine to round off a great Italian meal.Erme and Aileen were kind enough to bring dessert, a pirate/LOST themed bundt cake, which was enjoyed by all. Game night will be taking a hiatus due to weekly LOST viewing, but we'll get back to gaming in the spring and maybe sometime in between!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cheesy Mushroom and Broccoli Casserole

A lot of classic casserole recipes are easily adapted to vegetarian versions by eliminating meat and replacing chicken stock with veggie stock. I found a recipe for a cheesy mushroom and broccoli casserole from the Food Network website that made a great veggie dinner with a few adjustments (indicated in red).

Cheesy Mushroom and Broccoli Casserole
  • 3 tablespoons butter, plus extra for casserole dish
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 pound shiitake or baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/4 cup onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream (I used milk)
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock (I used veggie stock)
  • 1 (10-ounce) box frozen chopped broccoli, thawed and drained (I used 1 bunch fresh broccoli, parboiled for a few minutes)
  • 2 cups shredded Cheddar-Monterey blend
  • 3 cups cooked rice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Butter casserole dish (I used a 9 inch square pan and sprayed with nonstick cooking spray). In a large pot, melt 3 tablespoons butter and flour over medium heat until golden in color to make a quick roux. The roux should resemble the color of peanut butter. Add mushrooms, onion, garlic, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, milk and stock. Add broccoli, 1 cup of the cheese and rice. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Pour into buttered dish and top with remaining shredded Cheddar. Bake until cheese is melted and golden, about 20 minutes.

A few notes: I think this turned out really well but I was surprised that even with all that rice and milk, the 1/2 tsp cayenne still gave it quite a kick. It was a little too hot for Alex. One thing I took advantage of for this recipe was using the timer on my rice cooker. I set it up in the morning and the rice was ready when I got home, which really saved time. Putting this dish together really only took a few minutes.

Later in the evening, I was busy cooking again, this time for the Penn Alexander School bake sale. Alex and his friends are obsessed with a treat that I make which they have dubbed the "super-snack" - basically a double decker brownie layered with chocolate chip cookie. I made a double batch and apparently they sold out right away...I really need to consider a bakery truck parked right outside of the school...

Chocolate-Chip Brownie Double-Deckers (aka Super-Snacks)

Chocolate Chip Layer

1 ½ sticks butter

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla

1 ½ cups flour

½ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

1 cup chocolate chips

Brownie Layer

1 ½ sticks butter

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 ½ cups sugar

¼ tsp salt

2 large eggs

1 ½ tsp vanilla

¾ cup flour

Preheat oven to 325F. Line a 9x13 pan with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray. For chocolate chip layer, melt butter and whisk in brown sugar, then cool. For brownie layer, melt butter and whisk in cocoa. Stir in sugar, salt and then eggs and vanilla. Stir in flour just until blended and spread brownie layer into prepared pan. Finish chocolate chip layer by stirring in egg and vanilla. Then stir in flour, baking soda, and salt until blended. Stir in chips and drop spoonfuls over brownie layer and spread to cover. Bake 35-40 minutes until set (but don't overbake or they will be dry). Cool and cut into 24 pieces.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Greek salad and hummus

We eat a lot of salad in this house, often as a side dish, but tonight I made a big Greek salad as a main dish. I started with baby spinach (much preferred to lettuce in terms of taste and healthfulness) and topped with tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers, olives, avocado, walnuts, Feta and balsamic vinaigrette. The salad was delicious.

To go with the salad, I made some homemade hummus, a super easy process using the food processor. I combined a can of chickpeas, ~1/3 cup tahini, 2 cloves garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil and the juice of a lemon and processed until smooth. I added a little water to get it to the right consistency. I served it with some whole wheat pita I bought and warmed up. The hummus turned out ok, a little bitter, but with good flavor (too bad I can't figure out how to make it just like Sabra). I must admit that this was the one dish so far that Alex refused to try due to his strong hatred of hummus.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Chilaquiles are kind of like breakfast nachos. I discovered this traditional Mexican dish at some brunch spots in Chicago and tried my own version today. First I cut up some corn tortillas into triangles and fried them in 1/2 cup canola oil for ~3-5 minutes until golden brown, flipping them over several times. After cooking the tortillas, I poured off most of the oil, beat 4 eggs with 2 tbsp milk and added to the pan. I also added some chopped green onions and some prepared salsa (I didn't measure but I guess about 1/3 cup) and cooked for a few minutes. Then I added the tortillas to the pan and continued to cook until the eggs were done. I served with a little cheddar cheese and a few slices of avocado.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Pierogies are Polish dumplings which can be filled with a variety of things but in our house, it's always potatoes. I used Mom Mom D's recipe:
1 Egg


To make the filling, I boiled the potatoes and then combined them in the Kitchen Aid with the sauteed onions, cottage cheese and cream cheese. I actually made double the filling, but it was way too much! I made the dough in the food processor and then rolled it out to about 1/4 inch thick. Then I used a glass to cut out small circles. I rolled these out further so the dough was as thin as possible but could still hold up after being filled. I filled each dough round with a heaping spoonful of filling. I made a "paste" of flour and milk and spread it around the edges of the dough and then folded into a dumpling like this:
To cook the pierogies, I first boil them in salted water and then pan fry them in butter and onions. Today, I had intended to make these pierogies for lunch, but I got busy and made them later. So, I just boiled them and froze them to cook another day.SUNDAY UPDATE (as requested by Kelly): Since I made too much filling, I decided to make some of it into potato pancakes for dinner. I simply formed the filling into a pancake and dipped in a little bit of beaten egg to help hold it together and cooked in some butter. Yum!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Birthday Cake

Now, I know that birthday cake does not really constitute a meal, but today was a busy day and I knew I wasn't going to have time to cook. So I did a lot of prep work last night and put together this Triple-Layer Lemon Cake for my co-worker Karine's birthday. The recipe comes from the Better Homes and Gardens New Baking Book.

Triple-Layer Lemon Cake
2 1/3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 tsp lemon peel
2 tbsp lemon juice
4 eggs
1 cup buttermilk

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add lemon peel and lemon juice. Add eggs, 1 at a time. Add flour mix and buttermilk alternately beating until combined. Pour into 3 9inch circular cake pans. Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes and cooled cakes on wire racks.

While the cake was cooling I made the lemon curd filling and lemon cream cheese frosting.

Lemon Curd
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp lemon peel
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup butter
2 beaten eggs

In saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch. Add peel, juice and butter. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Stir half lemon mixture into eggs, then pour back into pan. Cook and stir 2 minutes more. Cover with waxed paper to cool.

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
6 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp lemon juice
4 1/2-4 3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp lemon peel

Beat cream cheese, butter and lemon juice until light and fluffy. Gradually add powdered sugar until desired consistency. Stir in lemon peel.

To assemble the cake, placed first layer on plate and spread half of lemon curd on top. Topped with second cake layer and spread remaining lemon curd on top. Topped with the third layer and frosted top and sides with lemon cream cheese frosting.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A really good sandwich

Tonight was kind of leftover night, where we used some previously made components for our dinner. Alex had some leftover fried rice and I had some gratin and I used the pesto I made to make a delicious portabello mushroom sandwich. I realize this was the first sandwich I've made this month and it was really good! I just sliced two portabello caps into ~1/2 inch sliced and brushed them with olive oil and garlic and roasted in a 400F oven for 8-10 minutes on each side. To assemble the sandwich, I toasted some leftover Italian bread with pesto and a sprinkle of mozzarella and feta cheeses. Then I added the mushrooms, some sliced tomato and baby spinach. It was really a easy, tasty and good-looking sandwich (as you can see from the shots below).

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A big pot of chili

Tonight I made a great winter meal, vegetarian chili. I've made this recipe from Joy of Cooking numerous times and it never disappoints. I actually doubled the recipe, yielding an abundance of chili to share with friends on game night as well as to freeze for later consumption.

Vegetarian Chili (8 servings)
Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a large saucepan (or stockpot if doubling) over medium heat.
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped red bell peppers (I used half red, half yellow)
1 cup chopped green bell peppers
1 cup chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
Cook, stirring, until onions are golden (~15 min) then add:
1-2 finely chopped fresh green chiles (to taste)
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp ground cumin
Cook, stirring, ~2 min then add:
1 28oz can plum tomatoes with juice (chopped)
1 160z can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 16oz can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 160z can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup tomato juice
Salt to taste
Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for ~45 minutes adding more tomato juice or water as needed.

I also made corn bread muffins to go with the chili (half plain, half with jalapeno and cheddar per Mike's request) and we had sour cream, cheese, jalapenos and onions as chili toppings.

Northern Corn Bread (also from Joy of Cooking)
1 1/4 cup cornmeal
3/4 cup flour
1-4 tbsp sugar (I used only one)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup milk
2/3 cup buttermilk
2-3 tbsp melted butter

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Combine in a separate bowl eggs and milk. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir just until moistened. Fold in melted butter and pour batter in greased muffin pan. Bake 10-15 minutes at 425F. (For cheddar jalapeno corn muffins, simply add chopped jalapeno to the batter and sprinkle cheddar on top before baking.)

Despite a house full of guests, my freezer is literally overflowing with leftover chili (surely enough to get me through the winter).

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pasta with Cauliflower and Pesto

I picked up a big bunch of basil, so I decided to use it to make pesto. I simply placed the pesto, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 clove garlic and 2 tbsp walnuts in the food processor and processed until smooth. I would have used pine nuts, but I forgot to pick them up at the store. Luckily walnuts work just fine. I used the pesto to compliment a pasta with cauliflower dish I found in Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian." A word about this cookbook... I've been using it a lot this month. It is set up really well where there are simple recipes with tons of suggestions for modifications. If you have an ingredient on hand, you can just look it up and find lots of options for dishes that can be made with what you have in the pantry. They aren't the kind of recipes you have to follow strictly, they really help me get creative. Like this pasta dish...I had some uncooked cauliflower that wasn't used in Saturday's gratin so I found a way to incorporate it with pasta and the fresh pesto I made. First, I boiled the cauliflower in water for 5-6 minutes. Then a transferred it to a skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil, a little crushed red pepper and some minced garlic. I cooked and smashed the cauliflower over medium heat while boiling pasta in the leftover cauliflower water. Once the pasta was ready, I combined it with the cauliflower in the skillet with some pesto. I topped the pasta with a little more pesto and a sprinkle of parmesan. I'm excited to have leftovers for lunch tomorrow with a little of the tomato sauce I made on Sunday!