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Summertime Berries

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Although I loathe the extreme heat in the summer, I can’t complain when berries come to bloom during this sweltering weather.  There’s an abudance of ways to eat/prepare berries, which is one of their beauties. 

Growing up, I ate Fruit-Rollups and Fruit By the Foot in abudance but I never knew that they don’t actually have any fruit in them; just HFCS and an array of food colorings.  I realllllly wanted to buy some recently while grocery shopping as I have a thing for nostalgic things, but I resisted!  I came home and made some fruit leather/rollups that are 99% all fruit.  It’s an easy snack that can be used if you have an excess of berries. 

Strawberry Fruit Leather (from here)

4 pounds of fresh strawberries, cleaned and stemmed (or any fruit you would like)
1/2 – 1 cup of sugar (depending on the sweetness of the fruit)
juice from 1 lemon

Combine everything in a pot and with an immersion blender, blend everything till smooth.  Place on the stove and bring to boil, constantly stirring.  Skim off the foam that forms on top.  Reduce heat and simmer for 30-45 min until the mixture thickens.  Preheat oven to 175 F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Spread the berry mixture on the parchment paper evenly and bake it for 8-10 hours, till the center isn’t sticky. 

Let it cool before rolling the parchment paper and slicing the fruit leather to make rolls.

I had a banquest to go to last week and I was in charge of appetizers.  I made a Watermelon Basket, Egg Salad Sandwiches, and a Cream Cheese platter with Habanero Mango Sauce. 

Watermelon Baskets aren’t too hard to do, you just need to measure it out properly and have a carving untensil.  You measure where the midsection of the melon is lengthwise and measure out a thick band ontop of the watermelon for the handel.  Using your carving untesil, you just trace out the pattern you’ve measured out and carefully pull out the pieces that are needed to be removed.  Scoop out the fruit with a ice cream scoop or melon baller.

The Egg Salad sandwhiches followed my deviled egg recipe with the additon of some chopped celery and a squeeze of honey mustard.  Instead of seperating the egg yolks from the whites, I gave the boiled eggs a rough chop and mixed everything together. 

The Cream Cheese platter was pretty simple.  I sliced cream cheese through the middle so theres a top and bottom and laid them out side by side.  I bought a Habanero Mango Sauce but any sweet-spicy sauce will work and poured it ontop of the cream cheese.  Surround by water crackers.

Fear of the Unknown

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It always takes an extra effort to breakaway from routine things to go and try something new.  It makes sense because what we know is what is comfortable and easy.  The fear of the unknown often deters people from engaging in new experiences.  Sometimes being brave can prove disastrous results, but it can also bring about amazing discoveries such as the barley lentil soup I came across. 

  I’ve never cooked barley before so I really didn’t know what to expect.  I’ve been wanting to incorporate more whole grains into my diet so I gave it a try and I’m sooo glad I did.  Its a soup that has a chewy bite to it, great flavors, and takes very little effort putting it together.  I hope you like it as much as I do. 

Red Lentil & Barley Soup (adapted from here)

2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
4 scallions, diced, whites and greens divided (optional)
1 clove garlic, whole and peeled + 1 clove minced
1 teaspoon chili oil
3-3.5 cups water
1 cube vegetable bullion (I’ve used chicken or beef cubes)
2/3 cup red lentils
1/2 cup pearl barley (or just plain barley)
salt and pepper

few pieces of raw chicken (optional)

In a pot, heat up some olive oil and sautee the onions and whole garlic clove for a few min.  Add in the minced garlic once the onions are about to brown.  Meanwhile, rinse & drain  the barley and red lentils with water, making sure to remove any dirt or rocks. 

Once the onions have browned, add in the 3 cups of water carefully (if you’re using regular barley, use 4 cups+).  Add in the boullion cube (you can use fresh stock if you wish instead) and chili oil.  Stir in the barley and lentils and cook for 40-60 min, depending upon which barley you’re using.  Add more water if the soup gets too thick. 

At this point you can add in the chicken pieces if you wish.  Once the barley is tender, remove chicken pieces and shred into the soup.  Adjust salt and pepper & serve immediately. 

The difference between barley and pearl barley, is that the pearls have the polished to remove the outer husk so it can cook quicker but doesnt have as many nutrients as plain barley.  The original recipe called for pearl barley which I didn’t have and so it took me an hour to properly cook the barley. 

I wanted to give the chocolate-cherry cookie mixture another try so I tried a different recipe which I liked so much better.  The oatmeal did wonders for it and gave a kick of nutrients. 

Chocolate-Chip Oatmeal Cookies with Dried Cherries (from Bon Appetit Sept 2009)

1/2 cup (1 stick1) unsalted butter, room temperature  + 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

2 cups old-fashioned oats

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cups dried tart cherries (6 ounces)

1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips (I did half semi and half bittersweet)

Preheat oven to 375 F.  In a large bowl, whip together the butter, apple sauce, sugars, and vanilla extract.  Blend in the eggs.  Fold in the oats, flour, salt and baking soda until properly mixed.  Stir in the cherries and chocolate chips. 

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Spoon batter with rounded tablespoon 2 inches apart.  Bake for 7 min, rotate pan and bake for 7 more min, 14 min total.  Cool the cookies on a cooling rack and repeat with the remaining batter.

Braids Aren’t Just for Hair!

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How many of us comb through our fridges every now and then end up throwing out sooo much food?  Guilt floods and false promises are made that this will never happen again! It’s like throwing lighter liquid on your cash and lighting it with a match.  It’s hard to control the food ins and outs when you don’t have sole control of cooking and grocery shopping.  Although I try to control the things I make/buy, sometimes things get pushed back to the dark edges of the fridge.  

I had some feta cheese sitting in those dark edges and I decided to bring it to the light and make something out of it.  Most common use is for salads, but I feel upon a recipe for Feta Dill Bread which is a braided bread.  Never braided a bread but ones gotta try.  

 

Feta Dill Bread Braid (from here)  

Bread:
1 1/2 cups warm (100-110 degrees F.) water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups unbleached white flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil 

Filling:
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup ricotta or cottage cheese
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill weed
2 tablespoon melted butter
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1 egg 

In a large bowl combine the water and yeast and let is rest for 2 mins until the yeast has dissolved.  Mix in sugar, oil, salt and 2 cups all-purpose flour.  Beat with a hand/electric mixer until smooth.  If you’re using a electric mixer, switch to a hook, otherwise you can use your hands when you add in the whole wheat flour.  Kneed until a smooth elastic ball forms.  Lightly oil the bowl and let it sit in a warm area covered for about 30 min or till the dough has doubled in size.  

Meanwhile, combine the feta cheese, ricotta (cottage) cheese, egg, dill, butter, and garlic in another bowl.  Mix till smooth.  

Preheat oven to 380F.  Punch down the dough and cut in half.  Roll out the 1st ball of dough on a floured surface so it is 10′ by 12′ rectangles.  With the narrow (long side) facing you, place half of the filling in a narrow vertical strip down the center of the dough. With a knife, cut the right and left sides of the filling’s dough intro strips.  

Another lame depiction; the strip green is the filling

 

Now starting from the top, alternately cross the right and left fringes over each other until the bread has been fully braided.  Carefully place the bread on an oiled baking sheet and let it sit in a warm area covered for about 30 min. Repeat process on second ball of bread.  

Place the bread in the oven for about 30 min or when the bread has browned nicely.  Let it cool down just a bit before slicing and serving.  

 

I attempted making Aebleskivers which are Danish pancakes that are filled with jam, and look more like puffs.  I didn’t have the pan you’re suppose to use so I tried improvising with a mini muffin pan on top of a flat skillet. 

Real Aebleskivers pan...almost looks like you could poach eggs with it if it didnt have a side handle

 

 Let’s just say its easier to make normal pancakes and spreading jam on top, which I ended up doing on the last half of the batter.  

Cherry + Chocolate

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Starbucks recently came out with their Dark Cherry Mocha drink which I got a few weeks back and it was scrumptious!  The mixture of cherry, chocolate, and coffee go very well together and is my new found favorite combination (not so new to the world, but to me it is!).  I found a blog that had made Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookies and I  just had to make it in honor of Starbucks new drink. 

I was a little disappointed with the cookies results because they were more cake-like cookies which I’m not a fan of.  However, the 2nd day the cookies tasted a lot better.  Also, I might add in some coffee to the cookies next time to better mimic the drink. 

Cherry Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from here)

1/4 cup butter, at room temp + 1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar (packed)
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 cup cocoa powder
1 cup dark chocolate chips (I did 1/2 c semi, 1/2 c bittersweet)
1/2 cup dried cherries, chopped

Preheat oven to 350F.  In a mixing bowl, whip together the sugars, butter, and applesauce till light.  Beat in the egg.  In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cocoa. Mix into the wet ingredients until combined.  Stir in the chocolate chips and cherries.  Refrigerate for 30 min if dough it soft.  Place a tablespoons of cookie dough on a baking sheet spaced out.  Bake for about 10-14 min.  Cool on cooling rack. 

I hate the traditional pasta + pasta sauce combination.  It’s over done, plain, and not much nutrition in it.  When I can find a new way to prepare pasta that’s easy and good, I’m thoroughly excited.  The following recipe contains your carbs, dairy, protein, and veggies.  Can’t get better than that.  I’m not sure where it gets its name from but I’ve no complaints.  I feel like it would be a kid-approved dish but that’s to be further tested.  🙂

Pecos Pasta (from here)

2 cups uncooked elbow pasta

1 tbs butter

1 small green bell pepper, chopped

1 small onion, chopped

2 (15 oz) cans chili with beans

20 oz frozen corn, thawed

1 cup shredded cheese (I used sliced cheddar cheese since I had it on hand)

salt and pepper

In a large pot, boil water.  Season with salt and cook elbow pasta according to package directions.  Drain and set aside. 

In a skillet, melt butter and saute your onion and bell pepper till soft.  Add the cans of chili, corn, salt and pepper and cook for 5 min.  Mix in the pasta and cheese.  Cover and cook for 5 more min until combined.  Served while hot.

Tamales!

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I’ve always been jealous of tamale-eaters.  Most of tamales include pork in their filling and I’ve been tempted with chicken/beef fillings but I kept my strength.  What I later learned was that even if you have a vegetarian friendly filling, the masa (dough) that encase the filling typically has pork lard in it.  

I was so sad that I wouldn’t be able to have tamales.  It never occurred to me that I could make it myself because I thought you had to have some hispanic blood in you that automatically gives you the magical abilities to make tamales.  It wasn’t until a few weekends ago I joined my asian friend to help her make tamales.  If she could do it, I certainly could learn.  The masa was store-bought and she had already made the fillings before I arrived so I just helped her out assembling the tamales. 

 When I left her place, I knew I had to give it a try on my own.  After some searching, reading, and watching Alton Brown’s Good Eats episode, I felt comfortable doing it on myself. 

 I learned that making tamales is actually a very easy process that just takes some time to assemble.  Traditionally they are made in a large batch with a group of people and they keep well over a period of time.  They’re good as a snack or a quick meal.  Pop it in the microwave for 30 sec and you’re good to go.  I had exams the week after I made tamales and it’s basically what I ate throughout finals since I didn’t have time to make anything else. 

 Tamales

 Masa Dough

 4 1/2 cups of masa harina (I used Maseca company)

 3 3/4 cup cold water

 1 tbs kosher salt (yes kosher salt, if you don’t have kosher you table salt but reduce the amount of salt)

 4-5 tbs vegetable shortening

 In a large mixing bowl mix together the masa harina and salt.  Add the water slowly and mix it with the flour until combined.  Now mix in the shortening, making sure it’s evenly distributed throughout the dough. 

 Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 2 days.  The consistency that the masa should be is that it should easily spread onto your corn husk when assembling the tamales. 

 Bean and Cheese Filling

 1 bag of corn husks (can be found at local grocery stores such as Wal-Mart or HEB)

 3 tbs vegetable shortening

 1/2 cup white onion, chopped

 3 garlic cloves, minced

 2 tsp kosher salt (yes kosher, 2 tsp table salt will be too much)

 2 jalapeno, de-seeded, chopped

 1/2 tsp of cummin and red pepper

 2 (15oz) cans of black beans, drained

 3/4 c queso fresco, finely crumbled

 Place the corn husks in a large bowl and cover with water, using weights to keep the  husks submerged.  Soak for an 1-2 hours till the husks are pliable.  Drain water, squeeze and pat dry.  In a saucepan/skillet heat the shortening till its melted.  Add the onion, garlic, jalapeno, and salt.  Cook until the onions have softened.  Season with the cummin and red pepper.  

 Mix in the beans and cook till the mixture comes together and little liquid is left.  Remove from heat and fold in cheese.  Cool to room temperature before using. 

 Assembling

 Lay one corn husk in front of you, with the wide mouth facing you, vertically.  Take couple tablespoons of masa and spread evenly and thinly on the lower half of the corn husk.  Take one tablespoon of filling and place it vertically in the middle of the masa so it almost looks like a line. 

my sad attempt of a drawing to show where the masa & filling should go

  Now take the right side and fold it over so it almost meets the left side.  Fold the remaining left over the right.  Now fold the tamale so the filled bottom meets the top empty peak.  Repeat the process until filling/dough is finished. 

 Once you’re done assembling, in a pot place a steamer and add enough water to cover the bottom of the pot, making sure the water doesn’t come above the steamer.  Carefully stack the tamales in the steamer and turn on medium heat.  Cover pot with a lid.  Steam the tamales for about an hour, making sure to add water so the pot doesn’t burn. 

 You can tell that they are done if when you unfold the tamale, the tamale easily peels away from the corn husks.  Eat warm by itself or a salsa. 

 

Sorry no pics this time either, I finally found my camera so pics will be up in a few more posts.  To make up for it here are the two Good Eats episodes to show you how to assemble. 

Kiss Kiss

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I feel like egg whites are sort of magical.  You can whip them up with some sugar and use it as a frosting, make pavlova, eton mess, bake them, fold them to make light and airy treats, and probably so many other things.  I tried making pavlova a long time ago and it was an utter weepy mess so I was hesitant to try to make meringue kisses.

I had to try again though since the pavlova mess was when I was a lot younger and inexperienced.  The only downside to these kisses is that they take about two hours to bake and me being impatient wanting to taste things right away was a challenge.  At least 3 kisses were missing before they came out of the oven done.  😡

Chocolate-Coffee Meringue Kisses (adapted from here)

4 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
pinch cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup unsweetened dutch processed cocoa

1/2 tsp of instant coffee

Preheat oven to 175F.  In a large heatproof bowl, combine the egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar and set over a pot of simmering water.  Whisk the ingredients until the sugar has dissolved into the egg whites (3-4 min).  Take the bowl off the pot and using a mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff glossy peaks.  Stir in vanilla.  Sift the cocoa and coffee over the egg whites and fold in till combined.

Fill the egg white mixture into a pastry bag with a large star tip and pipe quarter sized meringues onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake for about 2 hrs, until they lift off easily from the paper.  For any extras you won’t be eating right away, you can turn off the oven and leave the kisses in there so they dry well.  Store in a air-tight container.

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Seeing that I had 4 extra yolks on hand, I decided to make the pastry cream from my cream puff recipe.   I chopped up some strawberries and bananas, mixed it in and let it cool in the fridge.  Scrumptious custard!

I was looking through some old post the other day and realized that I missed my blogs 1st birthday!  How horrible of me.  I really can’t believe that it’s been a year already and surprised of all the things I’ve come to learn through writing and experimenting on this blog.  Hope everyone has enjoyed it as much as I did.

And sorry no pics, the camera battery has died and i cant find the charger.  Plus theyre all gone!

Steak Night

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As much as I don’t like to have an overly meat-y meal, I do enjoy steak once in a blue moon.  My idea of a perfect steak night is a yummy steak, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, gravy, and a nice flick. 

It had been a long while since I’ve had a decent steak so I decided to give it a hand and try it out for myself.  I was quite worried that I was walking the plank with trying to make steak.  But all in all, I thought it was pretty simple.  Along with the steak I made two sauces, a chimichurri sauce and a mushroom sauce.  I’ve seen chimichurri sauces quite often and since it sounded pretty funky I had to give it a try.  Mushroom sauce brings back good memories from Turkey.  So both had to be made. 

Along side the steaks, I roasted some veggies, baked many potatoes, and baked zebra cake (no zebras were hurt during this process). 

Zebra Cake is essentially a marble cake but with an orgranized pattern.  It looks complicated but actually simple to do.  It just takes smidge more than marbling. 

Steaks (adapted from here)

1 1/2 lbs steak

1 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1/4 tsp black pepper

Crank up the heat on your grill to about 350F.  Pat dry the steaks.  Mix all seasonings in a bowl.  Rub both sides of the steak with the seasonings.  Place on grill and cook both sides to desired doneness (6-10 min each side)

Chimichurri Sauce

1 large garlic clove
1 1/2 cups fresh cilantro
1 1/2 cups fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 tsp salt

In a small food processor or an immersion blender, blend together all ingredients till smooth. 

Mushroom Sauce (adapted from here)

1 teaspoons melted butter
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1/4 to 1/2 cup very thinly sliced mushrooms
3 tbs beef broth or 1/3 of a beef bullion cube
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon snipped chives
 

In a skillet, heat up the butter and Worcestershire sauce.  Add shallots and mushrooms to saute for a few min.  Add in broth, lemon juice, and salt pepper.  Pour in cream and add chives.  Cook for a few min till combined.  Serve sauce warm on top of steaks. 

Roasted Veggies

2 zucchini, cut in half lengthwise

3 assorted colored bell peppers, cut in half lengthwise

1 large eggplant, sliced horizontally in circles

corn, shucked

kosher salt

olive oil

In a bowl combine oil and salt, enough to marinade all your veggies.  Char till desired on the grill alongside steaks on grill. 

Baked Potatoes

Russet Potatoes

olive oil

kosher salt

Preheat oven to 500F.  Wash your potatoes and dry.  Pierce each potato a few times.   Mix in a bowl enough olive oil and salt to lightly coat the potatoes.  Coat your potatoes with the olive oil + salt.  Place in oven uncovered and bake for about 30 min or until easily peirced with a fork.  Slice in half lengthwise and fluff the sides.  Adorn with desired toppings. 

Zebra Cake (adapted from here)

4 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk (low fat is fine)
1/2 cup vegetable oil + 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder

Preheat oven 350 and line a round cake pan with parchment paper.  Whip together sugar and eggs till light.  Stir in the vegetable oil, applesauce, milk, and vanilla.  Sift together the flour, baking powder & salt.  Combine with wet ingredients.  Measure out 2 cups of vanilla batter in another bowl.  Whisk in cocoa and mix well. 

Place 3 tbs of vanilla batter in the middle of the cake pan.  Place 3 tbs of chocolate batter in the middle of the vanilla batter.  It will spread out as you repeat this process and push out the other batter.  Continue alternating the two batters until all batter is used.  Bake for 40 min or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Cool on a wire rack before serving.