Friday, January 30, 2009

Vickie's Birthday Dinner

Vickie was so sweet, she took a photo of her dinner last night that I made! She said they even had some Medieranean Red Rock salt that they sprinkled over the Hericot Verts and it was delicious!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Kale and White Bean Soup (and Storytime!)

Last week, I got an email from my sisters friend Kelly. She gave me a recipe for a soup that she had and loved, and thought I might like it too!
As soon as I scanned the ingredient list, I knew it was perfect for JJ and I. I love vegetarian meals, and especially soups with the whole garden in it, and this was one of them. JJ's not crazy about vegetarian meals, however white beans are his favorite, so he was happy! I love fennel seeds, and I only ever use them when making sausage and tomato sauce, so it was nice to have another place to use one of my favorite flavors.
As for the saffron, it's quite pricey. I found some at Trader Joes last time I was there, it was the cheapest I've ever seen, about $7 for a little glass bottle. However when I opened it, there were maybe 20 strands, so I've been very guarded with using it!

I asked Kristine, my sister, if Kelly sent her the recipe too, and she said yeah, but she thought it sounded gross because it was made with Guinea pig food (aka kale), which is where story time starts...

When I was in 5th grade, we had a class pet. A black guinea pig named Norman. I loved to sign up to bring him home over the weekends, and eventually talked my mom into letting me get my very own guinea pig. I talked her into letting me get 2, both girls named Lucy and Josephene. After about 2 weeks, Josie started to get bigger and more pear shaped. Eventually, the balls on the sides started rolling around. She was pregnant!
So she had two babies, a boy I named Stewart, and a girl I named Lila. Since Lila was albino, we were told she wouldn't live too long, so my mom let me keep Lila, and I had three pigs.
My mom told me when I got the pigs that she wanted me to really take care of them, and one thing I read was pigs should eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. My pigs absolutely loved Kale. It was by far their favorite food! Whenever anyone would open the fridge door and slide out the vegetable drawer, the pigs would start 'meeping' like crazy, and earned the nickname "the meepers".
I think the abundance of kale and oranges in their life is the reason they lived to be as old as they did. Even Lila, nicknamed el diablo by my sisters, who was supposed to only live to be maybe two, was a little over 5 when she died!
To any parents out there who have children asking for hamsters, gerbils, mice, bunnies, or pigs, I highly recommend guinea pigs. They're so sweet, so cute, and very gentle. They do take some time to warm up to you, they can be skiddish when you get them at the pet store, but every guinea pig I've ever had has been a sweetheart!

Lucy (black), Josephene (large orange - mom), Lila (albino) and Stewart (little orange - looked like a hamster when he was a baby!)
And when they were babies, they started eating regular pig food right away, this photo is of them 2 days old!

So anyway, when I was at kroger picking up kale (it was always 50 cents a bunch back then!) I couldn't help but remember my three little pigs :)

Now, on to the recipe... thanks so much, Kelly! I absolutely loved it!

Kale and White Bean Soupwith Sundried Tomatoes and Saffron
(from Farmer John's Cookbook)

3 tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 1/2 cups leeks
2 medium potatoes, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped (doubled)
1 small parsnip, chopped (omitted)
1 1/2 cups peeled chopped fresh or canned tomatoes
6 cups chicken stock
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried oregano
6-7 large kale leaves, stems removed (3-4 cups)
3/4 cups cooked or canned (rinsed, drained) white beans
1/2 cup chopped oil-packed sundried tomatoes
pinch saffron
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic and fennel seeds, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add onion and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Add potato, carrot and parsnip and cook, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes.
2. Add fresh or canned tomatoes. Pour in stock. Stir in bay leaves and oregano. Bring the mixture to a boil, then immediately reduce heat so it continues to simmer. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Add the kale, beans and sun-dried tomatoes. Simmer until veggies are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove pot from heat; add safron, stir.
- I topped my soup with grated parmesan and served it with a chunk of ciabatta bread.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cookbook Recommendations

One of my new readers, Michelle, asked me if I could make a list of my favorite cookbooks.
Most of the time when I cook, I don’t use cookbooks. In fact, I think I only own 3 or 4! Usually I see a recipe in a magazine or on TV, or take a classic recipe, and give it my twist.
However, I do check cookbooks out weekly to complete my country challenge, and of those, I do have a few favorites!
So here they are, in no particular order…
The cookbooks I own:

  • Moosewood – Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant and Low Fat Favorites (These I collected when I was a vegetarian, but I still use them often!
  • Baking, From My Home To Yours by Dorie Greenspan – I bought this when I joined Tuesdays with Dorie, and though I’m no longer baking with the group, this is my baking Bible. It is full of wonderful recipes, as well as information and each recipe has a few variations, so there are literally thousands of recipes!
  • Tangy, Hot, Tart, and Sweet by Padma Lakshmi - My sister got this for my, autographed, for Christmas. I love how Padma has a great variety of recipes from around the world!
  • The Irish Spirit by Margaret Johnson - I bought this book when I blogged about Ireland because I found so many delicious recipes and were all based around the alcohol of Ireland. It's a fun format, and each recipe is better than the next.

Here are a few that I've used in the past and love:

  • The South American Table by Maria Baez Kijac - This is probably my absolute favorite book I've found so far. It has hundreds of recipes from all over South America, filled with classics and obscure recipes. It also is so informative about how the recipes reached a region, and the ingredients used. I have used this cookbook many times, and will most likely one day buy it!
  • Sam Choy's Island Flavors and Sam Choy's Polynesian Kitchen - I absolutely love Sam Choy's recipes. I think the reason is because he takes ingredients with big flavor, and makes simple but delicious recipes. I also LOVE pairing sweet and savory, and his recipes (Mango Chicken - yum!!) often combine fruit with protein.
  • Baja Cooking on the Edge by Deborah Schneider - This cookbook dives into my husbands favorite, tex-mex cooking. This cookbook is so colorful, and has tons of delicious recipes.
  • Bobby Flay's Bold American Food - This cookbook is another one with beautiful photos, and some Bobby Flay classics, like yucatan chicken, and many of his delicious sauces and condiments. It's full of big flavor!
  • Tuscany, The Beautiful - This cookbook is full of beautiful photos of the food, land, and people. It has many classics and really showcases the ingredients of the region.

Tres Leches Cake

Last time Will and Allison were over, Will challenged me to make a Tres Leches cake. I surprised him tonight by taking on his challenge. He was skeptical, but I think I pulled it off pretty well! If I were to make this again, I would make a few slight changes. The cake puffed up along the edges, so most of the soaking liquid pooled in the middle, and the middle was very moist and dense, while the edges were a bit dry.
The cake itself is actually a dry cake, waiting to soak up all of the liquid. In order to make it happen, next time I think I would slice off the very top of the cake and then poke my holes in so the cake is more level, and the soaking liquid penetrates the cake better.
Overall though, I think it was a success - very rich and super delicious!
And Will looks happy, right?

Pastel de Tres Leches
(Three Milk Cake)

6 large egg yolks
1 c. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 c. milk

soaking liquid:
1 c. whipping cream
1 c. half and half
14 oz. can condensed milk
2 tbsp. rum

Preheat oven to 375.
Line a 10" cake pan with parchment.
In a standing mixer, whip egg yolks until they're pale in color, about 3 minutes.
Add sugar and mix for another 2-3 minutes.
Add vanilla and baking powder, mix.
Alternate adding flour and milk, starting and ending with flour.
Batter will be very dense.
Pour and spread into pan.
Bake for 24-26 minutes, until golden brown and puffy.
Cool for 10 minutes.
Whisk together soaking mixture ingredients.
Poke with a fork all over cake, and pour soaking mixture over.
Cover and refrigerate for 8-24 hours.
Top with whipped cream and berries

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Be My Valentine!


Dear Friends, Family, and Readers,
It seems like Christmas just ended, but here we are approaching another holiday! What better way to show someone you love them than to send them a box full of homemade sweets?
There will be one round of mailings for these, they’ll be made over the weekend of Feb. 7 and mailed Feb. 9. Again, priority mail, so packages should arrive by Thursday, February 12 at the latest!
Please have all orders and money to me by Thursday, February 5.
Contact me with any questions or for an order form!

Valentine’s Cookie Packages
Price is $15 plus $10 flat rate shipping
Double the cookies/candy in 1 order is $20 plus $10 flat rate shipping

5 Sugar Cookies Iced as Conversation Hearts
(These can be personalized, please contact me with specifics, if not they’ll have standard conversation heart messages!)
4 Pink and Red M&M Cookies
4 Peanut Butter Chip Cookies
2 Chocolate Cherry Chunk Cookies
2 Cranberry White Chocolate Biscotti
2 Homemade Chocolate Covered Cherries
2 Bee Mine Honey Shortbread
2 Mint Chocolate Baileys Fudge Balls

Cheddar Pierogi

The reason I decided to cook Hungarian food this week is because I was craving my Great Grandma's pierogi. We called her "Oh My Goodness Grandma" because whenever she saw my sisters and I, she would say Oh My Goodness, you've grown up so much!
I can remember visiting her, sitting at her kitchen table and eating pierogi. They were the best!
So I asked my mom for the recipe. She didn't have it, so she asked my Dad (it was his Grandma) if he knew who had it, and he didn't. Then my mom rembered her friend from church learned her mother in law's Polish pierogi recipe, and it gets rave reviews! So my mom asked Mrs. Hudak if she would give me the recipe and let me blog it, and she was more than happy to!

So here is the recipe Mrs. Hudak gave me. It is absolutely delicious! They are a little time consuming to make, but I think it's worth the effort.
Now when I looked at this recipe, I thought it seemed pretty rich, but I planned on making it as it was written. However, when I went to get the butter out of the fridge (something I rarely use) I was out! So I used chicken stock rather than butter. I also used skim milk in the dough, and light sour cream (even though she says not to, it's all I had!) So I think i was very sucessful at making this a bit lighter, but I would like to try the ultra rich version one day too!

I served my pierogi as my mom always did, with some sauteed onions and sour cream.
For the sides, I made red cabbage and creamed spinach (see next post)

I hope you have enjoyed Hungary, as I have loved every dish from the country!
Thank you very much for sharing your recipe, Mrs. Hudak!

Mrs. Hudak's Cheddar Pierogi

Pierogi Filling (40 pierogi)
5 Idaho potatoes
1 8 oz. bar extra sharp cheddar
1 8 oz. bag grated sharp cheddar (I only used cubed)
1/2 stick butter (I used 4 tbsp. chicken stock)
ground pepper

Peel and cube 5 potatoes.
Boil until tender (25 min)
Drain very well. Mash with an electric mixer.
Add butter and mix.
Cube the bar of extra sharp cheddar and mix.
Add grated sharp cheddar until the filling feels really thick like play dough.
I'm not sure how much of the grated cheese I put in. The filling will look very orange. If you want the filling to be whiter, you can use brick cheese or some white American, along with the extra sharp cheddar, but I like the flavor of the sharp cheddar and don't care how orange the filling is.
Add ground pepper to taste. I'm generous with the pepper.

Dough (40 pierogi):
1 egg
1/4 cup milk (she likes to use half and half)
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sour cream
2-2 1/2 cups flour

Whisk egg, milk, water, and sour cream in a small bowl.
In a large bowl put in the flour. Slowly add liquid. Mix well. Knead. Do not add more flour.
Dough will be smooth, elastic, and sticky.
Cover dough with a towel.
Roll out a little of ball of dough, enough to make 6-8 circles, on a lightly floured board using a lightly floured rolling pin.
Cut out three inch circles using a cookie cutter or a glass.
Put a blob of filling on each circle.
Fold over and pinch the edges.
Your fingers cannot have flour on them when you seal the pierogi.
Drop the pierogi into boiling water that is salted and has some oil in it to keep from sticking.
Boil 6 min. Remove the pierogi with a slotted spoon. Rinse.
Place pierogi in a nonstick skillet with sauteed onions until ready to eat.
The whole dinner plate, a great vegetarian dinner option!

The pierogi waiting to go into the water, I did 6 at a time
I used a cookie scoop to ration out the potato filling

Creamed Spinach

When I decided to make pierogies tonight, I thought about some sides that would go well. I found a recipe in a Hungarian cookbook for Creamed Spinach, and it sounded great. It's really healthy, simple, and delicious!

Creamed Spinach

1 ¼ lbs. spinach
2 c. milk
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 piece white bread or a roll
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
3 tbsp. flour
1/3 c. water

1. Wash spinach, add to a large pot of boiling water. Cook for 1 minute
2. Soak bread in ½ c. milk
3. Drain spinach in a colander, press out water
4. Put spinach, bread, 1 ½ c. milk, and salt in a blender and blend on medium speed for 30 seconds, or until smooth. Pour into a large saucepan.
5. Prepare roux with crushed garlic – Add oil to sauce pan over low, add flour and stir, add water, stir in garlic. Whisk until smooth.
6. Add spinach, bring to a boil over medium heat, reduce to low and stir for 5-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Low Fat/Cal/Sugar Vanilla-Marsala Trifles

Occasionally while making something original, I come up with something else that is similar and possibly more delicious. Then the thought escapes and and I go along with life.
Last weekend I tried out a low fat/sugar tiramisu, which was good, but not great. While making it though, I laced my vanilla pudding with marsala wine, and it was divine. I thought it would be great over some pound cake and berries.
However, if you follow my other blog,, you know that I’m well on my way to reaching my weight loss goal of 100 lbs., and pound cake is not going to help get me there… so that dessert escaped my mind.
I went grocery shopping over the weekend, and the coupon machine spat out a coupon for a free box of reduced sugar cake mix. I don’t like to use cake mix because I have the ingredients on hand, and I feel proud when I make a cake from scratch… but it’s free, so why not? Then I thought to myself, if I make the cake fat free, and it’s low sugar, I can make my marasla pudding and top chunks of cake with it. When I got this week’s Kroger ad, I saw strawberries were on sale! When I got to the store this morning, the berries looked juicy and dark red, and my dream dessert was really shaping up!
So I decided to give in to fate and go ahead with making the dessert. I am so glad I did! It was simple, delicious, and low fat/cal/sugar!

1 box of Pilsbury Reduced Sugar Classic Yellow Cake Mix
2 egg whites
¾ c. plain yogurt
1 c. water

1 envelope sugar free Vanilla instant pudding
2 c. skim milk
2 tbsp. dry marsala

1 c. sliced strawberries

Prepare cake according to package directions.
Prepare pudding according to package directions.
Cube cake, top with pudding and strawberries.
Thanks for the free cake mix, Pillsbury!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Strudel with Cottage Cheese Filling

In every cookbook I looked at, there were recipes for Strudel. There are so many types of fillings, and they all looked so good! I knew I had a roll oh phyllo in the freezer, and it had been there a while, so I figured I'd make a strudel. I took the healthiest looking recipe, and it ended up tasting great! It's a breakfast, often enjoyed with a good cup of coffee!

Strudel with Cottage Cheese Filling

½ package of Phyllo (1 wrapped roll)
6 tbsp. butter, melted
6 tbsp. powdered sugar
¼ c. raisins
½ c. warm water
1 egg
4 tbsp. sugar
16 oz. small curd cottage cheese (I used light)
8 oz. cream cheese, softened (I used light)
1 tsp. lemon peel
4 tbsp. farina

1. Prepare filling – Soak raisins in warm water in a small bowl for 10 minutes. Drain.
2. Mix egg yolk with sugar until smooth, add cottage cheese, cream cheese, raisins, lemon peel and 2 tbsp. farina. Mix well.
3. In a small bowl, whip egg white until peaks form. Fold into cottage cheese mixture.
4. Set aside to prepare rolls
5. Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9x13 pan
6. Place a damp kitchen towel on the counter. Place 1 phyllo sheet over the towel. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Repeat with 2 sheets.
7. Place half the filling on the bottom, leaving 1” on each side.
8. Fold in the 2 sides and roll up. Place seam side down in pan. Brush with melted butter.
9. Continue with 3 more pieces of phyllo and remaining filling.
10. Bake for 25 minutes

**I ended up making 6 mini rolls because my phyllo was cracked in half and I couldn't form long rolls. The photo is of a mini roll sliced. I also used cooking spray and not butter in my layers.

Country Challenge: Hungary

For this week's Country Challenge, I chose Hungary. I've been craving Pierogies, and my Great-Grandma made the best! She was part Hungarian (we have some Hungarian Gypsy in my family tree!) and she always made them for us when we visited her... so rather than just make pierogies one night, I decided to do a whole week of Hungarian food.

Hungary is a landlocked country in Europe, and has been invaded many times. As many armies swept thru the country, they left their culinary influences. The two that left the most impact were the Magyars and the Turks.

The Magyars gave Hungary it's traditional Goulash as well as the cooking vessel called a bogracs, a copper kettle that is suspended over an open fire.

Hungary is most commonly known for Paprika. No one can narrow down to exactly when or where it came from, but it appeared in the 1500's during the Turkish occupation. It was only used by low class, but eventually began to creep into Noble dishes, and even won Hungarian professor Albert Szent-Gyogyi a Nobel Prize for discovering it was the world's richest source of Vitamin C!

Strudel and Coffee are Hungarian staples that were also introduced during the Turkish occupance.

Today, Hungarian meals tend to be lighter, however the traditional dishes, as you will see this week, are all stews and soups with common ingredients!

Recipes this week and information in text are from:

Cooking the Hungarian Way, Magdolina Hargittai.
Lerner Publications Company, Minneapolis: 1986.

Gundel’s Hungarian Cookbook, Corvina Kiado
Egyetemi Printing House, Budapest: 1956.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Guava Sorbet with Lime

Even though it's been freezing cold here (actually, below freezing!) after the spicy chicken, I needed something to cool my mouth down. I found this simple recipe for guava sorbet in the African cookbook, and it sounded great!
I love guava juice, it has a flavor unlike any other, it's really bright and almost creamy. I love how the nectar has bits of guava still in it. I found cans of guava juice on the Mexican foods aisle in the grocery store. I hope you enjoy the last of my African cooking!

Guava Sorbet with Lime

1 ½ c. guava nectar
½ c. simple syrup
1 tbsp. lime juice
Lime slices for garnish

1. In a large bowl, mix nectar, 1 c. water, syrup and lime juice.
2. Chill mixture for 30 minutes, then pour into an ice cream maker.
3. Churn for 20 minutes, or until set.
4. Place back in the freezer until serving.

Imoyo Eba

As I was looking through my African cookbook, I found a chicken dish called Chicken Imoyo, and it said to serve it with Imoyo Eba. I flipped to see what Imoyo eba was, and was happy to find it was a dish made with grits. We don't have grits often, but I had some in the pantry, so I decided that Chicken Imoyo with Imoyo Eba would be perfect representation of the West African countries this week!

Imoyo Eba

2 ¼ c. broth
¼ c. plus 2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 ½ c. grits
2 tbsp. butter

1. Mix broth and tomato paste in a heavy saucepan. Heat until just beginning to boil.
2. Sprinkle grits over broth, stirring vigorously until absorbed. Cook over medium for 10 minutes, or until siff. Add ½ extra c. of water if necessary.
3. Remove from heat, add butter and mix well, use wet hands to mold into a smooth, rounded shape.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Country Challenge: West Africa (Sub Saharan)


Sierra Leone
For this week's Country Challenge, I had to combine about 10 Countries in Africa. I have found it very hard to find cookbooks on African cooking, as so much of it is passed thru generations orally. Many of the books are a compilation of regions of Africa. The book I found for this week was called South of the Sahara: Traditional Cooking from the Lands of West Africa.

The history of this area is very rich. One heavy influence on the cooking came from the slave trade in the 1500's. West Africa was a very popular port for slave ships. Many of the slaves were brought to Brazil and other areas of South America. When the slaves were finally freed in the 1800's, they brought back many Brazilian influces in their cuisine.

Some popular ingredients in West African dishes are: Tomatoes, Chilies, Root Vegetables, Black Eyed Peas, Plantains, Pineapple, Citrus Fruit, Chicken, Eggs and Grain Cereals.

This week's recipes are all taken from:
South of the Sahara: Traditional Cooking from the Lands of West Africa, Elizabeth A Jackson.
Fantail, New Hampshire: 1999.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Dorie's CC Cookies and a Re-cap

I feel like I've been on a quest to make the perfect chocolate chip cookie for a long time. I think my M&M ones are probably my favorite, they're derived from the Levain Bakery's chocolate chip cookies.... but I still search and try new recipes.
I decided to try out Dorie's recipe and see how it did. Overall, not my favorite. They spread too much, and were too crispy (much like Bobby Flay's - see below for link). I looked up reviews by others, and it seems that I'm not the only one who feels this way about them. I think I'll stick with my other recipe for now... but here it is if you're interested!
As an aside, I always refrigerate my cc cookie dough for at least an hour before I make them (with my M&M dough, I refrigerate it overnight)

Here is a listing of my previously made Chocolate Chip Cookies:
M&M Chocolate Chip Cookies (my favorite)
Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Chocolate Chip Cookies
Bobby Flay's Throwdown Chocolate Chip Cookies
My Lowfat Chocolate Chip Oat Cookies
Double Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies
by Dorie Greenspan

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chips or 2 cups store-bought chocolate chips or semisweet chocolate chunks

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed for about 1 minute, until smooth. Add the sugars and beat for another 2 minutes or so, until well-blended. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes inches Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients in 3 portions, mixing only until each addition is incorporated. On low speed, or by hand with a rubber spatula, mix in the chocolate and nuts.
Spoon the dough by slightly rounded tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between spoonfuls.
Bake the cookies- one sheet at a time and rotating the sheet at the midway point- for 10-12 minutes, or until they are brown at the edges and golden in the center; they may still be a little soft in the middle, and that's just fine. Pull the sheet from the oven and allow the cookies to rest for 1 minute, then carefully, using a wide metal spatula, transfer them to racks to cool to room temperature.
Repeat with the remainder of the dough, cooling the baking sheets between batches.

Brown Sugar Bundt Cake, Lightened-Up!

After making this cake a few times a few other ways, I decided to see what I could do to lighten it up a bit. I didn't want to change the integrity of the cake too much, but I did make some significant changes. It tastes great no matter what you put in it (fruit, nuts, spices, etc.) and it's a real crowd pleaser.

Light Brown Sugar Bundt Cake
original by Dorie Greenspan (see link above)

2 c. all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 stick of light butter at room temp.
3/4 c. plain nonfat yogurt
1 1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
2 large egg whites at room temp.
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 c. skim milk at room temp.
3 apples in a small dice
1/2 c. dried cranberries
1 tsp. groudn cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a bundt cake pan.
In a mixer with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add in egg whites and yogurt. Scrape down, add in vanilla.
Add in baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Mix in for 10 seconds.
Add in flour and milk, alternating starting and ending with flour. Mix until just combined.
Fold in apple pieces and cranberries with a spatula.
Pour into bundt cake pan. Bake for 50 minutes.
Cool for 60 minutes.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Crispy Oven Fried Onion Rings

To go with our Philly Cheesesteak wraps, I wanted a side that wasn't a starch, but still was something bar food-ish. I made these onion rings one time before and my husband loved them as onion rings are one of his favorite foods.
They're super simple, and so much healthier than deep fried onion rings. Last time I used a beer batter, but it was a little overwhelming. This time I went with something more basic, and they were great!

Crispy Oven Fried Onion Rings

1 large vidalia onion, sliced thick
1 c. skim milk
1/4 c. light sour cream
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 c. AP flour
1 c. panko bread crumbs

Whisk together milk, sour cream, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper.
Slice onion, seperate rings, and drop in milk mixture. Soak for 2 hours.
Place flour and bread crumbs in 2 bowls.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Drop onion rings in flour, then dip back into milk mixture, then dredge in panko. Lay on baking sheet.
Contine with all onion rings. Bake for 45 minutes, flipping halfway thru.

Restaurant Review: Samira

I've decided to do my restaurant reviews in reverse chronological order. On Saturday night, I had the best dinner I've had in Bloomington at Samira, so I wanted to start there.

100 W. 6th St.
Bloomington, IN
(812) 331-3761

Location: Downtown, Corner of Walnut and 6th
Cuisine: Afghan
Price: About $15 for an entree + appetizer + soup/salad

On Saturday night, JJ and I went to Samira with my friend Vickie, her husband John, and Vickie's sister Amy. It was great having a larger group because I was able to see and taste some of the different menu items.
The restaurant is in downtown Bloomington in a popular location. The restaurant doesn't look special from the outside, but no frills keep the prices low and the quality high. We got a table right next to the window (there are 2 tables in front) and the rest are in the back of the restaurant, which is a little darker than I like, so I was glad we had the natural light. The decor is standard, somewhat minimal and clean looking. There is outside seating as well, but it wasn't set up and it was really hot out. Our server was wonderful, very friendly and attentive.

John elected me to choose a bottle of wine. I chose a Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon blend because I'm a Shiraz girl and JJ likes Cabernet Sauvignon. It paired really well with the food, which was earthy and spicy. It was $20 for the bottle, one of the less expensive wines on the menu. I think I saw bottled beer for $3-$3.50.

As soon as our waiter brought the wine, he also brought out our appetizer, which was included with an entree. We had a giant basket of fresh, warm naan and each of us got a plate with grilled eggplant and carrot slices dressed in herbs and olive oil. It was so delicious and unexpected (though it does say at the very bottom of the menu it's included, we just didn't notice).

We then ordered our dinners, which came with soup or salad. Three of us got the soup which was a tomato broth based lentil and vegetable soup. It had tons of herbs, cilantro, dill, and great spice. The salad was a mixed greens salad with a house vinaigrette.

I chose the Vegetarian Special for my entree, which had sabzi, badenjan and dal with rice. The sabzi was spinach with spices, very fresh and earthy, the badenjan was eggplant covered with a tomato sauce and yogurt, and the dal was standard brown lentils with turmeric and spices. The rice was outstanding, it had cumin and cinnamon with plump raisins and carrot ribbons. The whole dish was very hearty but not heavy (Vickie also got this). My favorite part of the plate was the badenjan, the eggplant was tender and the sauce was outstanding.
JJ chose the Pasta Combination, which was manto and aushak served with rice. I have made manto before on the blog (see here) so he was somewhat familar with it. The aushak was like the manto, but filled with leeks and topped with a meaty tomato/yogurt sauce. His plate was beautiful and the tomato/yogurt sauce again was delicious.
Amy ordered the Chicken Manto, filled with chicken, white leeks, cilantro, topped with tomato-basil sauce and spiced yogurt. John ordered the Traditional Manto, filled with seasoned ground beef and sauteed onion, topped with tomato-onion sauce and yogurt sauce.

I think we all agreed that the entire meal was fantastic. We tried all of the manto, but I was hoping someone would get Kebaabs as that is a large portion of their menu.
I would highly recommend this restaurant, and wish I wasn't moving so I could go back!

As a personal aside, it was really exciting to go to an ethnic restaurant and recognize and have made many of the dishes on the menu! I am so glad I did the country challenge because I really feel like I have expanded my knowledge and skills cooking so many different dishes!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Black Bean and Veggie Soup

All winter long, I like to cook soups and stews to warm us up and because they're so filling and I always seem hungrier in the winter. My husband loves having some kind of sandwich or dipper with his soup, so I did a tex mex soup and dipper tonight.
I have so many people ask me how I cook without recipes, and frankly, from when I was 16 until I was 21, I watched food network religiously, and saw many chefs prepare dishes with their own takes. I also discovered my favorite flavors and ingredients, and how to incorporate them into dishes.
So tonight I made a black bean soup for dinner with lots of veggies to bulk it up, and it had lots of spice and heat. Of course the recipe could be changed around and different veggies could be subbed in, but these are my favorites.

Black Bean and Veggie Soup

1 large red onion, grated
2 large carrots, peeled and grated
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 15 oz. can of black beans
1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
2 c. chicken stock
1 tbsp. dark mexican chili powder
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. ancho chilie powder
salt and pepper
Sour cream for topping

Heat a soup pot over medium heat.
In a food processor, grate onions, carrots and garlic cloves.
Dump veggies in the pot, add a generous handful of salt and fresh ground black pepper.
Mix veggies and sweat for 10 minutes.
Drain the black beans, and mash a bit with a fork, leaving some beans mashed and some whole.
Pour beans, tomatoes and stock into pot.
Add spices, stir and set to low.
Simmer for 30 minutes.
Taste and adjust seasonings.
Ladle into a bowl and serve with sour cream.

Mexican Flag Quesadillas

For our dippers with the Black Bean Soup, I made quesadillas to keep with the tex-mex theme. I decided to use the colors of the Mexican flag to keep it cute and themey. I love queso fresco, so I decided on that as my white, I had some roasted red peppers on hand for the red, and chose avocado for the green since the meal was very low in fat (yes, avocado is a good fat, but it's still a fat!)

Mexican Flag Quesadillas

4 whole grain tortillas
4 oz. queso freso, crumbled
1 avocado, sliced
2 roasted red peppers, sliced

Heat a nonstock pan over medium heat.
Place 2 tortillas in, folded back to back.
Top with cheese, adovaco, peppers, and more cheese.
Flop the top half over, and press with another pan.
Flip after 3-4 minutes, and cook the second side for 2-3 minutes.
Slice and serve with black bean soup.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Low Fat/Cal/Sugar Tiramisu

The first and only time I made tiramisu was 4 years ago for a large group of Germans who were visiting America. They were members of our sister congregation in Zarrentein. My mom cooked a delicious Italian feast, and I offered to make tiramisu to complete the Italian meal.
Well, the Germans said it was some of the best Italian food they’ve had, and the ONLY tiramisu they’ve ever had, and they loved it! I used Giada’s Chocolate Tiramisu.

Fast forward to last night… JJ and I went to dinner at an Italian restaurant and after dinner our waitress asked if we wanted dessert. I was eyeing up the tiramisu, but from having made it in the past, I knew it was diet suicide. All I could remember were egg yolks and heavy cream, sugar and lots of chocolate… I passed last night, but decided today I would dedicate my life to making a lighter version of tiramisu.

I thought about how I could recreate the layers without missing the flavor, but keeping it light. For the cream, I automatically jumped to sugar free pudding. It has a similar consistency, and it fat free and low in calories.

Now I am a chocolate girl, but JJ is a vanilla boy, so I decided to compromise our tastes and make one layer with a marsala laced vanilla pudding, and the other with Bailey’s laced chocolate pudding… which means yes, three times the liquor! Don’t worry, it’s in small quantities!

As for the lady fingers, you really can’t sub them. And they’re not terrible, however I decided since I was taking a short cut on the cream I’d make them from scratch. It’s much cheaper! Then to complete it, I admit it, I went with fat free cool whip over real whipped cream.

So the moral of the story is: I may have saved TONS of calories and grams of fat, but there is quite a bit of sugar substitute used, so if you’re opposed to splenda, use regular pudding and cool whip and you’ll still save some calories. Unfortunately there is no mascarpone flavor in this, but I think the other additions really compensate for that. The pudding did make it a bit mushy, it definitely didn’t hold it’s shape when cut like regular tiramisu.
Next time, I think I’d just leave it as is, and run an extra few miles the next day!

And as an aside, if you’re in a pinch for time and need a dessert, some chunks of pound cake topped with the marsala-vanilla pudding and some berries would be outstanding!

Low-Fat/Sugar/Calorie Tiramisu

Ladyfingers (from the Joy of Baking):
1/2 cup cake flour, sifted
3 large egg yolks, room temperature
5 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 large egg whites, room temperature
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. To make the piping of the cookies easier, use a pencil and ruler to divide the parchment paper into three - 3 inch rows, with about 1 inch between rows. Have ready a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch round tip.
In your electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks and 2 tablespoons white sugar on high speed for about 5 minutes or until the mixture becomes thick and pale yellow. (When you raise the beaters the batter should fall back into the bowl in a slow ribbon.) Beat in the vanilla extract. Sift the cake flour over the batter but do not fold in.
In a clean bowl, with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add the 3 tablespoons white sugar and whip until stiff peaks form and the whites are glossy. Fold the whites into the egg yolk and flour mixture in three additions, mixing only until incorporated.
Transfer the batter to the pastry bag and, holding the bag at about a 45 degree angle to the baking sheet, pipe the batter into 3 inch long ladyfingers, using the lines drawn on the parchment paper as your guide. Pipe the batter leaving about a 1 inch space between the cookies.
When you have piped all the cookies, place the powdered sugar in a wire strainer, and lightly sift the sugar over the tops of the cookies. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until the ladyfingers are firm but barely browned and are still spongy when pressed with a finger.
Remove the baking sheets from the oven and slide the parchment paper from the baking sheets onto a wire rack. Let the ladyfingers cool for a few minutes and release them from the parchment paper, with a flat spatula, while they are still warm. If you left them completely cool before removing them from the parchment they stick and hard to remove without breaking. Finish cooling the ladyfingers on the wire rack before using or storing. If you are not using the ladyfingers right away, freeze them. Ladyfingers stale very quickly unless they are soaked in a liquid. To store, place in a plastic bag between layers of wax or parchment paper and freeze up to 2 weeks.

Other Ingredients:
1 c. cooled espresso
¼ c. kahluah

1 packet sugar free vanilla pudding
1 ¾ c. milk
¼ c. dry marsala

1 packed sugar free chocolate pudding
1 ¾ c. milk
¼ c. Bailey’s Irish Crème

1 8 oz. tub fat free cool whip
Mini chocolate chips, cocoa powder, or shaved chocolate for garnish

Bake ladyfingers, set aside. (This can be done a day in advance)
In a shallow dish, combine espresso and kahluah.
Whisk puddings, milk and liquers in 2 separate bowls.
Place in the fridge.
Thaw cool whip. Stir in 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract. Set aside.
Dip half of the ladyfingers in the espresso mixture, place in a dish.
Top with the vanilla pudding mixture.
Dip the remaining ladyfingers, arrange on top in a layer.
Top with the chocolate pudding mixture.
Spread the coolwhip over the pudding mixture.
Sprinkle with chocolate or dust with cocoa powder.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Haricots Verts in Ginger Sauce

I love ginger and green beans, so I knew this recipe would be great along side my dan dan noodles. They're very clean and fresh tasting.

Haricots Verts in Ginger Sauce
jiang zhi jiang dou

1 lb. haricots verts
4 tsp. grated ginger
3 tbsp. chicken stock
2 tsp. Chinese black vinegar
4 tsp. sesame oil

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt generously.
Drop in green beans, boil for 3 minutes, drain and rinse with cold water.
Let the beans dry and cool in the colander while preparing the sauce.
Combine the ginger with stock, vinegar and sesame oil. Whisk to combine.
Plate the beans, pour the sauce over top.

Country Challenge - Sichuan (province of China)

Like many other countries, the regional cooking of China is so different that I gave Sichuan its own week. Szechuan cuisine is probably the most popular kind of Chinese food consumed in America. When I decided to cook from China this week, I found one cookbook that caught my eye. The author is a British woman who studied at a culinary school in Sichuan, and proceeded to travel all around the region collecting recipes from locals.

The flavors of this cuisine are so distinct. They're spicy, sweet, extremely hot, and rich. The cooking is mostly preformed with one knife, a large cleaver! It is said that China is the place for food, but Sichuan is the place for flavor.

Some say the Sichuan flavor is so distinct from other regions of China because of the geographical location. It is a fertile basin surrounded by mountains. Because of this, it is known as the land of plenty. Some local produce include: mandarin oranges, apples, pears, lychees, bamboo, celery, eggplants, spinach, gourds and melons.
Even salt and pepper are better there! The Sichuan pepper is what truly defines the cuisine. It is very distinct, a brown color with wood and citrus flavors. It is said to give the toungue pins and needles. Sichuanese salt is celebrated because it is extracted from deep salt mines, then heated and ground to taste purer than other salts.

I highly recommend checking this cookbook out. There are so many amazingly delicious recipes, and you'll be shocked at what you can make at home!
I will say though, I went to a local asian market and asked the woman who worked there for help locating the ingredients. I brought the book with me, and showed her what I needed. As small as Bloomington is, it's very cultural and I had no trouble locating a few obscure ingredients!

Recipes taken from:
Land of Plenty, Authentic Sichuan recipes personally gathered in the Chinese province of Sichuan, Fuchsia Dunlop. Norton & Company, New York, 2001.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Latkes (Potato Pancakes)

Growing up in New York, I ate, and learned how to make, lots of Jewish food. One of my favorites that is both German and Jewish is a potato pancake. My mom made these often with applesauce on the side. When I decided to make Reuben Salads rather than sandwiches, I decided to make the latkes since I was going bread-less. I made this recipe up based on the many recipes I've seen and my mom's. They're all very similar, and super delicious!


2 russet potatoes, peeled and grated with a box grater
1 small yellow onion, grated
2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 c. AP flour
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper
EVOO to fill 1/4" up the side of the skillet
Sour Cream or Applesauce for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.
Whisk eggs with milk, salt and pepper in a large bowl.
Grate potatoes in a colader, press and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
Grate in onion, do not drain.
Add potato and onion mixture to egg mixture.
Stir to combine.
Add spoonfulls into skillet, brown on each side for about 3-4 minutes. Drain on paper towels and place on a baking sheet. Keep warm in the oven while preparing the rest.
I made 3 at a time, this recipe made about 6 latkes.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Black Bean and Roasted Pepper Enchiladas

This week was one of my co-workers birthdays, so I wanted to make her a dinner since they all went crazy over the lasagnas. It's hard to find meals that aren't a casserole, travel well, are healthy, and can even freeze well. One good one besides lasagna is enchiladas. I knew she liked spicy and healthy food, so I went with them. Well, again I figured if I'm making a tray for her, might as well double up and make some for us for dinner.
However, I've made chicken enchiladas for the blog before, and wasn't in the mood for chicken. I decided to make ours vegetarian, use some beans, and roasted peppers. It was spicy, delicious, gooey, warm and delicious. (The top photo shows some of the filling that oozed out so you can see what the insides looked like!

Black Bean and Roasted Pepper Enchiladas

5 whole wheat flour tortillas
2 1/2 c. enchilada sauce (I use this recipe, canned is fine)
1 15 oz. can organic black beans, drained and rinsed
1 small zucchini, sliced in half moons
2 poblanos, roasted, peeled and sliced
2 yellow bell peppers, roasted, peeled and sliced
1 red onion, sliced
Salt and Pepper
sprinkle of cayenne pepper
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese

Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Sautee zucchini and onions in a large skillet over mdium-high heat. Season with salt and pepper. Sweat veggies for 5 minutes. Add in peppers, beans, 1/2 c. enchilada sauce, and cayenne.
Pour half the remaining sauce in a casserole dish.
Lay out tortillas, spoon mixture into each. Place in baking dish.
Top with remaining sauce, followed by cheese.
Bake for 20 minutes, until browned and bubbly.
Top with sour cream.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Spinach and Vegetable Dip

One of my co-workers hosted a NYE get together this year, so I asked her what I could bring. She said finger foods, so I decided to make something that I absolutely love - my 'mom's' cold spinach dip. I always thought it was something my mom came up with, but when I asked her for the recipe, I soon discovered she's not original at all! Sorry Mom :)
So anyway, this dip is fantastic. I made a few tiny differences, but it's essentially the recipe on the back of the packet. I like to serve this with extra veggies along with the bread to make it as healthy as possible. I also sub in light mayo and sour cream. You could use fat free, but the calorie difference is negligible.

Knorr Spinach and Vegetable Dip

1 16 oz.pkg. chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 c. light sour cream
1/2 c. light mayonnaise
1 pkg. Knorr dried vegetable soup mix
8 oz. can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
3 green onions, chopped
Salt and Pepper

1 large round loaf of bread (we love Pumpernickel, I could only find Olive Oil Rosemary)
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced
3 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 green bell pepper in strips
1 red bell pepper in strips
1 c. snap peas
5 celery stalks, sliced

Mix sour cream, mayo, and soup mix well.
Add spinach, water chestnuts and scallions.
Combine well, taste, adjust seasonings.
Allow mixture to sit for a few hours, or over night if possible.
Cut off the top third of the bread bowl.
Hollow out, tear bread into chunks and arrange around bread bowl.
Chop veggies and arrange around bread bowl.
Fill center of bowl with dip. Keep chilled until serving.