Saturday, April 18, 2015

Undercover Lovers

Here's the thing about most foods -- they are at least 46% tastier when dipped or coated in a sauce. That's a verifiable, scientific fact. Look it up. I'm an expert when it comes to sauces. From tangy-sweet balsamic glazes to blow-your-head off curry sauces to unrepentantly garlicky dips, I love a good dunk.

But sauces shouldn't be limited to the savory realm of foods. In fact, I would like to take it upon myself to help reinvent the sad state of the dessert sauce. I feel like every time I get a dessert in a restaurant it comes with some sad, jarred "caramel" sauce that tastes more like fake vanilla flavor than anything resembling true caramel or a pathetic swatch of raspberry jam that's been reduced with a splash of lemon juice. PUH-LEEZ (insert Liz Lemon eye-roll here).

This whole issue is part of a larger theme in the restaurant industry of laziness and boredom when it comes to the dessert menu, a topic I will touch upon at a later point in time.  But I am here to rectify, in a small part, that hideous trend of jarred pseudo-creativity.

And therefore I bring you a quick and easy dessert that combines a trio of nature's most compatible flavors, perfect for a quick snack or as an indulgent breakfast topping. Easy enough that you could make it right now, healthy enough that you won't feel bad about not sharing, tasty enough that you won't even think it's healthy: frozen banana slices nestled under a dark-chocolate peanut butter sauce.

I know this doesn't push the envelope all too much in terms of sensationally creative thinking but at least everything here is made from scratch. I highly recommend making your own peanut butter if you have a blender or a food processor; it's incredibly easy and, if you can buy nuts in bulk, far cheaper than store-bought.

Make sure you cover the baking sheets with parchment or waxed paper before freezing the banana slices or they will stick to the metal forever. Additionally, feel free to top the banana slices with your choice of add-ons: crushed nuts, shredded coconut, cacao nibs, carob bites -- the choice is wholly yours. Just make sure you freeze them through completely before eating. You can also use milk chocolate if you aren't vegan or skip the peanut butter if it's not your style.

With hot weather right around the corner, these are a fantastic alternative to calorie and preservative-laden ice cream treats. I won't tell Ben and Jerry if you don't tell Häagen and Dazs.

Ingredients:

2-3 ripe (but not mushy) bananas, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
1/2 c. smooth, unsalted peanut butter
8 oz.  bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
3-4 tbs. your choice of toppings (see above)

1. Arrange the banana slices on a large baking sheet covered with waxed or parchment paper.

2. Melt the chocolate over medium-low heat in a double-broiler until completely smooth. Alternatively you can melt it in 30-second intervals in the microwave, but watch it carefully so it doesn't burn.

3. Carefully whisk in the peanut butter until completely incorporated.

4. Using a fork or whatever kitchen implement you find easiest, (kebab skewer? toothpick?) dunk the banana slices into the chocolate mixture and coat evenly. Shake off any extra chocolate sauce.

5. Sprinkle banana slices with your choice of toppings and freeze until solid, about 2 hours.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Now You Sear Me, Now You Don't

Searing food is about as close to magic as the average home cook can get without the use of molecular gastronomy. The ability to make something so perfectly crunchy on the outside and yet still juicy and tender on the inside, is, in my opinion, nothing short of Houdini-esque.

While my knowledge of traditional magic is limited to what I've experienced at Disney World and its College Park counterpoint, R.J. Bentley's Filling Station, my knowledge of kitchen magic is pretty extensive. And the ability to sear a protein well is one of the best tricks I can pull out of my hat.

Searing, in which the outside surface of a food is cooked at high heat until a crunchy, caramelized crust forms, is ridiculously easy and has the added benefit of making your food look much fancier than it actually is. The trick is getting your sautee pan extremely hot so that the outside of the food begins cooking much faster than the inside, resulting in that crunchy, intensely flavorful outside.

For this recipe, I used two gorgeous tuna steaks and crusted the outsides with a cumin-heavy spice mixture before searing them in a little oil. I would have used coconut oil if I had it, but sadly sunflower seed oil had to do. I served the tuna steaks with a traditional mixture of rice and green peas and the result was a totally Caribbean vibe that made me want a piña colada and a hammock. Super yum. Super fast. Super healthy (so you can eat more cookies after dinner, duh).

Some quick tips:

- Avoid a nonstick pan for this. Cast iron or stainless steel are better.

- Use just about tablespoons of canola oil to lightly grease the pan. It has a much higher smoke point than EVOO and won't begin to burn before you put your food in.

- Pat the meat/fish/poultry dry before you put it in the pan. This will help it to sear properly instead of just steaming.

- DON'T FUTZ WITH IT. Seriously, you will be much happier if you leave your dinner alone to do its own thing instead of poking at it every five seconds. Just let it be for a few minutes, flip it and repeat. The meat has to stick to the bottom of the pan to get that coating; it will naturally release when it's ready to be turned.

Ingredients:
2 tbs. crushed cumin seeds or ground cumin
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cayenne or crushed reds
4 tuna steaks
2 tbs. coconut or canola oil
2 tbs. lime juice
2 tbs. cilantro or parsley, roughly chopped
Lime wedges for serving

1. In a small bowl, combine the cumin, garlic powder, salt and cayenne. Stir well to blend. Sprinkle evenly over the tuna steaks, coating completely. Shake off any extra.


2. Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Place tuna in skillet (do it in batches if you can't fit them without crowding) and partially cover.

3. Sear for about 3 minutes, then flip the fish and sprinkle with the lime juice. Continue to cook until lightly browned on the outside and opaque in the center, about 3 more minutes.


4. Transfer tuna to plates and sprinkle with the chopped herbs. Serve immediately.




Saturday, April 11, 2015

French Kisses


Tonight, after eight long days of misery and matzoh meal, Passover ends. At sundown, I will be forking seafood pasta (with shrimp, mussels and clams -- oops, sorry #treyf) into my mouth with hideous abandon.

And to celebrate, I highly recommend you make this disgustingly good baked french toast. It's a Paula Deen original so you KNOW it's chock full of butter, racism and sugary goodness. Wait what?

But seriously, just 20 minutes of prep plus a sleepover in the fridge tonight equals gooey, cinnamony breakfast tomorrow.

Because the grocery store was low on the french bread supplies on Saturday evening (everything is closed on Sundays here), this is what I bought:



Because pecans don't exist in Spain I used walnuts in the streusel topping and it still tasted fantastic. Additionally, this kept well in the fridge for several days. Tommy was overheard to have said that it's the best french toast he's ever had.

And because I'm an intrepid journalist I told him to say that.

In my opinion, this french toast doesn't need any maple syrup (ack, gag) or other toppings. Just serve it piping hot out of the oven and it will make its own buttery, cinnamony sauce. It's okay to lick the plate. You deserve it.

Pairs well with: an exceptionally strong latte, a good Bloody Mary and the knowledge that Passover won't come again for another whole year. L'chaim to that!

Ingredients:
1 loaf French bread or slightly stale challah (13 to 16 ounces)
8 large eggs
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dash salt

For the Praline Topping:
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Directions:

1. Slice French bread into 20 slices, 1-inch each. (Use any extra bread for garlic toast or bread crumbs). Arrange slices in a generously buttered 9 by 13-inch flat baking dish in 2 rows, overlapping the slices.

2. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, half-and-half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and beat with a rotary beater or whisk until blended but not too bubbly. Pour mixture over the bread slices, making sure all are covered evenly with the milk-egg mixture. Spoon some of the mixture in between the slices. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.


3. The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

4. To make the praline topping, combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and blend well.

5. Spread praline topping evenly over the bread and bake for 40 minutes, until puffed and lightly golden.

Monday, April 6, 2015

I Can't Believe it's Not (Peanut) Butter!

Here is a true fact about me: I am wholly, unabashedly, potentially dangerously, unrepentantly addicted to peanut butter.

I have been known to eat it with a spoon straight out of the jar...at someone else's house.

Seriously, I might have a problem.

So much so that I made Tommy bring a 1 lb. jar of Whole Foods All Natural Crunchy to Spain with us (taking the place of several very important things he intended to pack). NOT SORRY.

My sainted mother sent me another jar just a few months later and we had been portioning it out (read: I was not allowed to stick a soup spoon in there for breakfast) until further supplies could be located.

But then Tommy got me/us a blender for Valentine's Day. Romantic, I know. No seriously, he knew how much I wanted one. And in between hummus and velvety-smooth soups, Tommy decided to make peanut butter.

And make peanut butter he did. This is without question the best peanut butter I've ever tasted. Between the two of us we were taking "healthy fats" to a whole new level. It was getting somewhat worrisome. Everything went out the window when he added a whole bar of dark chocolate to the last batch. I don't even have words for it. I was almost mad at him, it was that good.

Then Tommy decided he was going to make almond butter. I am a big fan. Not only is it a fun change from my BFFPB but it is also crazy delicious in its own right. Huge shoutout to MaraNatha which makes my current favorite basic almond butter.

We decided to get fancy with it and make vanilla almond butter with cinnamon and while we nearly set the blender on fire, the butter was DEFINITELY worth the squeeze. Would we make it again without a proper food processor? No, probably not. It was a pain. But once I get back to Chicago, all bets are off.

Also fun fact, almond butter is Kosher for Passover whereas peanut butter is not. I know. Worst holiday ever. At least Yom Kippur is only one day of torture.

A quick note: be patient with the poor almonds. It takes about 15 minutes for the butter to really get going. Don't give up on them.

Ingredients:
2 c. raw almonds
2 tbs. honey
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. sea salt

1. Carefully toast the almonds in a large saucepan over medium-low heat until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Watch them carefully so they don't burn. Let cool.



2. In a blender or a food processor, combine all the ingredients.



3. Pulse until the almonds are grainy and pretty finely ground, about 1-2 minutes. Scrape down the sides as needed.



4. Let the blender/food processor run for about 10-15 minutes until the oils start to release. Again, scrape down the sides as needed, and again BE PATIENT.

Enjoy on toast, apple slices or a spoon.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

#Thinspiration

The title of this post, #Thinspiration, is perhaps my least favorite hashtag that exists aside from "#CleanEating" (I washed my apple before I smothered it in homemade dark-chocolate peanut butter spread, does that make it clean eating?). All over Pinterest and Twitter are these horrible posts of women and men with the bodies of Greek gods and goddesses flexing in excellent lighting -- each one captioned "#Thinspiration."

By now you've got to know that I am a huge proponent of healthy eating. Nutrition education and preventing childhood obesity are two of my biggest passions. But hear this: YOU DO NOT NEED TO INSPIRE YOURSELF TO BE THIN. You need to inspire yourself to do everything in your power to live a healthy life. You need to be good to yourself, respect your body and understand that it's okay to eat a cookie more than once a month. If you want to inspire yourself to get in shape, that's FANTASTIC. I'm cheering you on and will continue to do so until you reach and exceed your goals, and even if you don't I still offer you a high five.

But you do not need to be thin.

The only time I approve of #Thinspiration is when it involves a recipe. That faux-Alfredo is a prime example--it's not good to eat tons of butter and cheese and heavy cream. So I gave spaghetti Alfredo some #Thinspiration and a healthy meal evolved.


So too with this recipe: #Thinspiration Shepherd's Pie. Traditional shepherd's pie involves lots of ground lamb and creamy, buttery mashed potatoes. My version goes for lean ground turkey, tons of fresh veggies and cauliflower mashed potatoes. Still totally delicious, so much healthier for you.

The cauliflower mashed potatoes do have a few tablespoons of butter in them, but real butter without any weird chemicals or preservatives is infinitely better for you than creepy margarine substitutes.

Comfort food shouldn't make you feel guilty when you eat it and shepherd's pie is ultimate comfort food. Also it keeps really well in the fridge or freezer, so you can pull it out on a night when cooking a meal seems like an insurmountable task. Feel free to add some chopped up green beans to the veggie mixture; if I could find them in Spain I would have.

Ingredients:
For the mashed potatoes
2-3 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 medium head of cauliflower, broken up into florets
4 tbs. skim milk
3 tbs. butter
2 tbs. Greek yogurt
1 tsp. garlic powder (or to taste)
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

For the pie filling
1 lb. lean ground turkey
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbs. flour
2 tsp. tomato paste
1 c. chicken broth
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tsp. fresh thyme, chopped
3-4 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 c. English peas, fresh or frozen
3/4 c. sweet corn kernels, fresh, frozen or canned (rinse before using if canned)
3 tbs. EVOO

1. To make the mashed potatoes, cover the potatoes and cauliflower with water and simmer until very tender, about 15 minutes. Drain well and remove to a large bowl. Add all other ingredients and mash to desired consistency.

2. In a large saute pan, heat the EVOO over medium high heat. Once it shimmers, add the onion and carrot and cook just until they begin to take on color, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add garlic and stir to combine.

3. Add the ground turkey and season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook until browned and cooked through, about 3 more minutes. Sprinkle the meat with flour and toss to coat, continuing to cook for another minute.

3. Add the tomato paste, chicken broth, Worcestershire sauce, rosemary and thyme. Stir to combine, bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer slowly for about 10 minutes or until sauce is slightly thickened.


4. Add the corn and peas to the mixture and spread evenly into a large baking dish. Top with the cauliflower mashed potatoes and smooth evenly over the top, sealing the edges.



5. Bake at 400F for about 25 minutes or until the potatoes begin to brown. Remove to a cooling rack and let sit about 10 minutes before serving.

 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Rosemary's Baby

I know I just posted yesterday, but I'm sick and I'm bored and I really don't feel like studying for my Spanish certification exam so consider yourselves very lucky.

That being said, because I am sick and cranky and can't hear out of my left ear, this will not be a fun and bubbly post. I'm too grumpy.

Anyway.

Sometimes I get all into making a fancy main course like a whole roasted chicken or shepherd's pie (coming soon to a blog near you) and I end up with zero inspiration for the side dishes.

I'm already worn out from ripping errant tail feathers out of a chicken carcass or attempting to skin fish so the last thing I want to do is whip up a batch of cranberry and almond wild rice or make some homemade mashed potatoes.

Therefore, I bring you these little gems. They're beyond easy and also, happily, beyond delicious: they're rosemary and garlic smashed potatoes. I made these to go along with some baked salmon for Tommy and he's been asking me to make more ever since. I recommend making a large batch because not only do they reheat exceptionally well but they would also be fantastic as part of a breakfast skillet with sausage, eggs and asparagus.

Do yourself a favor and only use fresh rosemary for these. If you try and use dried the flavor won't be the same at all really and they won't be great. Also, don't overcook the taters when you boil them or they'll just fall apart during the baking stage.

Also fun, these are kosher for Passover! I know, that hideous holiday is creeping right up on us. Because my parents are the world's greatest and my mother is Queen of the Care Package, I received a box of Manischewitz goodies including egg matzoh, matzoh ball soup mix and honey cake. I'm going to try to keep K4P but we'll see how that goes. At least I can inflict some minor damage on my intestinal system with the supplies my parents sent me. I'm so loved.

Ingredients:
10 small red potatoes, scrubbed
1/3 c. EVOO
2 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper.

1. In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Cook the potatoes, completely covered in water, until tender--about 20 to 25 minutes.

2.  Remove the potatoes, cool and drain on a clean dish towel for a few minutes. Preheat the oven to 450 and line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.

3. Carefully smash the tops of each of the potatoes with a measuring cup or the palm of your hand (carefully!!!) until each potato is about 1.5" thick.


Drizzle the EVOO evenly over and under all the potatoes and distribute the garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper among them.



4. Bake until crispy and golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Souped Up

If you know me at all, you know my feelings on souped-up vehicles which is to say: I view them with crushing scorn accompanied by an eye-roll so fierce that my eyeballs threaten to get stuck facing opposite directions in their sockets.
Something like this.
Your matte paint job reminds me of long, fake nails with a pink-tinged French manicure. Your lack of a muffler makes me want to call the cops and report you to the Department of Motor Vehicles for some unknown violation (yeah, I'm THAT person). Your absurd yellow halogen headlights are not only supremely stupid looking but incredibly dangerous for all oncoming traffic. Your car, as a whole, inspires me to open my own chop shop where I use the 3-pound meat cleaver my dad got as a gift from his younger bother where I service only your car and by service I mean hack that godforsaken thing into bits and then recycle it, piece by piece, while you watch.


Souped up cars are not my thing.

But souped up cold remedies sure as hell are. Oh yes my friends, I am on my second ear infection of the school year. My left ear is throbbing with pain and I imagine an inside view of my sinuses looks like a water park clogged with sodden autumnal foliage. Take a second and picture that.

I've told you all before that when I'm sick I am a fiend for soup. I love soup so much I want to take it behind the middle school and get it pregnant (credit: Tracy Jordan). I especially love this soup, which is something of an acquired taste.

Because as much as I hate dumb, souped up cars, I FREAKING LOVE KOREAN FOOD. Yes, that was a big jump, but you will soon learn why.


I am blessed to have not one but two half-Korean friends who introduced me to the wondrous joy that is K-food long ago. From hot stone bowls to fresh tofu to old kimchi to fish cakes to tiny chili-covered fish to unpronounceable baked goods filled with bean curd and mango, I love it all. The gigantic Korean grocery H-Mart is my happy place and I fully enjoy being one of three white people when I visit.

I also fully enjoy when either of my friends or their Korean family members cooks for me. I am a total mooch and I will certainly invite myself over when they are having Korean barbecue. I actually have requested lunch that my friend Tammi's mother cook me a special lunch on more than one occasion and because Tammi is a kind soul she relays that message to her mother Kai and I get to stuff my face.

One of my favorite things that Kai makes is a soup called miyuk gook. It's a really simple combination of broth, seaweed, cooked rice and bits of beef. Tammi always eats it when she's sick and it's become one of my favorite comfort foods when I'm feeling under the weather as well.

Of course if you're not super into seaweed it might not be your jam, but I am a huge fan of that weird salty stuff and have been known to snack on sheets of plain nori paper so...

This is a bastardized recipe for that incredibly comforting soup. It comes together really quickly, and if you don't have any beef lying around you can certainly leave it out.

Now I'm going to go back under my quilt and watch 8 more episodes of Friends. I hate being sick.

Ingredients:
2.5 c. dried miyuk seaweed, cut into strips (can be found at most Asian groceries or specialty foods stores)
1 tbs. sesame oil
3 tbs. soy sauce
2 cloves of garlic, minced
About 4 oz. beef, drained of blood and minced
6 c. water
1 c. cooked white rice

1. Rehydrate the miyuk in a large bowl of water for about 20 minutes. It will grow substantially so use a good-sized bowl.

2. While the seaweed is soaking, sautee the beef with the sesame oil, soy sauce and garlic until not quite cooked through.

3. Remove the seaweed from the water bath, drain, sprinkle with kosher salt and rinse thoroughly.

4. Add the miyuk to the beef and continue to cook for another 5-6 minutes. Add the water and the cooked rice and bring to a boil. Let simmer for about 20 minutes and serve immediately.