Sunday, November 2, 2014

More Soup!

     Today it finally feels like fall here--sort of.  The temperature is in the 60s, and it's overcast and a bit rainy. In my last post I made soup, but I've been craving more soup, especially something creamy. A thick, hearty soup just seems perfect for the weather today.

     I'm trying to keep up with my goal of (eventually) trying all of the recipes on my Cooking board on Pinterest.  I pinned this recipe for White Chicken Chili from the Cooking Classy blog a couple of weeks ago when I was looking at soup recipes after I made the Quick Chicken Meatball Soup.  It was an interesting recipe, using Neufchatel cheese and pureed beans to thicken the soup instead of a roux and cream or milk.  The cheese gives it a little creaminess and a slight tang that a dollop of sour cream gives a bowl of traditional chili.  A little lime juice adds a bit more tang and balances out the heat from the chili and paprika and the richness of the cheese and beans.

     I made the recipe pretty close to the original, but you know I had to tweak it a little, right?  Actually, the only changes I made were to increase the garlic and other spices.  I also used 1 can of cannellini beans and 1 can of small white beans because that's what I had in the house.  I added the extra spices after adding the beans because when I tasted the soup, it was a little light flavor-wise. I think it ended up being twice the garlic (because I love garlic) and one quarter to one half again as much of the other spices. The extra spices made it just right.  I served it as suggested with chopped cilantro and a little grated jack cheese.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Quick Chicken Meatball Soup

     It's fall!  That means soup weather must be here soon, right?  It is cooler--at work at least.  My office has been so chilly lately that I've been craving hot tea, cocoa, coffee, and, you guessed it, soup!  I wanted soup so much that I came home today and made a quick and easy soup.

     I heated up chicken broth in a saucepan and added a finely chopped yellow onion and two, large, finely-chopped garlic cloves.  I made chicken meatballs with ground chicken, a small amount of breadcrumbs, garlic powder, poultry seasoning, parsley, and salt & pepper.  I brought the broth up to a boil and added the uncooked meatballs.  I reduced the broth to a simmer and let the meatballs cook for 15 minutes.  Then I added a package of Kale Salad from the grocery store.  It was mostly chopped kale with a little copped purple cabbage.  I let the soup simmer for another 15 minutes until the meatballs were cooked through and the veggies were cooked but still firm.

     The soup turned out well, and I really enjoyed the broth and veggies especially.  The meatballs were tasty, but the texture was a little dense.  It made 4 servings so I'll have more to enjoy over the next few days.  Even if the outdoor temps aren't soup weather, at least I know my soup will warm me up in my chilly office.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Breakfast Report

This time around it's a (very) short dinner report followed by a longish breakfast report. I don't have a lot of time during the week between work and class to cook and write posts.  Plus, it's usually dark at night (gosh, really?) by the time I finish cooking, so I can't get decent photos.  Natural light makes everything look better.  If I try to take photos using the kitchen light or the flash, the food never seems to look that edible.  As a result, I seem to end up writing these long posts on the weekend.  Maybe in the summer when things slow down a bit (ha!) and it's lighter later, I can post during the week sometimes.

Dinner Report

     Friday and Saturday I made BBQ Pork Ribs in the oven and chili.  The ribs were a little tough--a bit gristly, but the flavor was good.  Trader Joe's makes a pretty good Kansas City Style BBQ sauce.  The chili was yummy, but I have a feeling it's going to be pretty spicy when I have it for leftovers!  And that is the end of the dinner report.

     I don't usually have a lot of time to make breakfast during the week.  I like sleep too much to get up early enough to cook much more than an egg for breakfast or to just grab some yogurt before work. On the weekends, if I feel like it, I sometimes cook breakfast (if I get up before 11).  Sometimes I just eat leftovers.  I also sometimes make coffee, again if I feel like it and if have half & half or milk on hand for it.  This weekend I made spiced coffee and quinoa porridge.

Quinoa Porridge

Tri-colored quinoa
     If you are not familiar with it, quinoa (keen-wa) is the edible seed of a pseudocereal plant (not a grass like true cereal plants) that is actually related to beets and spinach. It's not a grain though sometimes it is referred to as a grain and it's naturally gluten-free, so for people with gluten intolerance or who don't digest grains well, quinoa can be a nice alternative from what I've read. It's cooked like rice and can be used in many recipes in place of rice.  I've had it before several times but always as a savory side or main dish.  My mom made a really delicious cheesy, broccoli quinoa recipe a few years ago when, at the time,

     I'd only had quinoa once before.  I had just cooked it in water with onion soup mix (a recommendation from James).  However, I misunderstood (my fault entirely) and used the whole packet of onion soup mix instead of half, and the quinoa was overwhelmingly oniony.  Not so tasty.  The cheesy, broccoli quinoa was a huge improvement.

Quinoa looks a little like lentils close up but doesn't taste anything like them.
     I've mentioned in previous posts that I am trying to make recipes that I've pinned to my Cooking board on Pinterest.  I pinned a recipe for quinoa cooked "cereal" or porridge a while ago and another just recently.  I decided to try making one of the recipes this weekend, which I did...sort of, because once again I've mashed up two different recipes.  These are Quinoa Porridge with Blueberries & Pecans from Closet Cooking  and Maple-Pecan Quinoa Porridge from Momtastic. The recipes are very similar in some respects: quinoa cooked in milk with maple syrup, cinnamon, and vanilla topped with pecans before serving.  They differ in that the former cooks for only 15 minutes, is very soupy, and has fresh blueberries.  The latter contains a tablespoon of brown sugar and a peeled and grated granny smith apple which is added halfway through cooking.  After 15 minutes of cooking, the apple is added and then the quinoa is cooked for another 10 minutes.  The quinoa is less chewy, the extra cooking time allowing the quinoa to soak up more of the milk.

     I didn't like the idea of quinoa swimming in a bowl of hot milk, so I decided to use the milk to quinoa ratio and cooking method from the Momtastic recipe but the spices from the Closet Cooking recipe.  I left out the fresh fruit because I thought I'd add some raisins to the finished dish.  I love dried fruit and nuts on oatmeal and figured that it would be good on this cooked "cereal" too.

     Unfortunately, when I set out to make my breakfast this morning (which ended up being brunch because I didn't get up until after 9), I realized that I only had 3/4 cup of milk.  I had a couple of tablespoons of cream, so I added that and a few tablespoons of water.  I ended up with a little less than 1 1/4 cups of milk for 1/2 cup quinoa.  I added the maple syrup, cinnamon, and vanilla to the milk right at the beginning, added the rinsed quinoa, and brought the whole lot to a boil.  Then I reduced the heat and simmered it for 15 minutes.  The quinoa was very soupy at that point and stil pretty chewy.  I gave it a stir and let it cook for another 10 minutes with the lid cracked.  I checked it again--still soupy but getting there.  I gave it another 10 minutes and it was just right.  Most of the milk had been absorbed and the quinoa was just slightly chewy.

Raisins and pecans were a good addition.  If you're interested, this is a bowl I made in ceramics class last year.
     I gave it a taste and decided against adding more sugar.  It was hardly sweet, but the milk, cinnamon, vanilla, and maple were all clearly there in the taste.  I didn't want to cover that up with sugar.  I did add some golden raisins and toasted pecans.  It was good.  Different from what I normally eat for breakfast, but I liked the combination of flavors & textures.  The first recipe, which also called for 1/2 cup quinoa said it was for 1 serving, but it was too much for me to eat the whole thing.  Quinoa swells up a great deal when cooked.  It was definitely more than a cup when cooked.  I ate a little more than half and was completely satisfied.  I'm going to save the rest and see if it's still edible when reheated.

Spiced Coffee

     I do enjoy my coffee.  Most of the time I'm happy with a nice strong cup of coffee with some half & half and a dash a sugar (ok, maybe a little more than a dash, but I can drink it black or just with milk too).  Sometimes, though, I like flavored coffee. Not the crazy stuff like raspberry, chocolate, almond, marshallow creme flavor, but I do like hazelnut or cinnamon, things like that. The problem is that many of the flavored coffees either don't taste very good, or they are artificially flavored (or both).  So, I decided to make my own.

     The idea originally came from my friend James.  Years ago, I was over at his house for dinner.  He made coffee after dinner and put some cinnamon in with the grounds in his French press.  It was really good.  I didn't really remember though until last summer, I think, when I was making coffee to chill and keep in the fridge.  Starbucks gets expensive.  I don't remember exactly why I thought of it but suddenly remembered James putting cinnamon in with his coffee and decided to try it.  It turned out quite tasty.  During the fall, what with the various specialty flavored coffees about, I decided to experiment.  I finally came up with a good spiced coffee that is all natural and, since I make it myself instead of getting it at Starbucks, considerably cheaper.

Spiced Coffee

I have a 4 cup coffee maker.  If you have a larger pot and usually make 10 or more cups, experiment with the amount of spices. If making 10 or 12 cups, try doubling the spices first (instead of tripling) then adjust up if the flavor is too light.  For my coffee maker I use:

1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 pinches ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

I just sprinkle the spices and vanilla on top of the grounds and brew as normal.  It's really good hot or cold.
(I recycled this photo from a previous post, but it's pretty, and I didn't take a photo of my coffee today, so you get this one again.)


References:
http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/quinoa-march-grain-of-the-month
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quinoa

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Spaghetti Squash Is Not Pasta (and That's All Right With Me)

I keep pinning new recipes to my Pinterest Cooking board, so I have to keep trying new recipes.  I don't want my Cooking board to get too full.  Once I try a recipe, I move it to a different board.  I had found a recipe for spaghetti squash months ago but hadn't tried it.  Spaghetti squashes were on sale when I went to the grocery store so I decided to try the recipe.  I've had spaghetti squash before, but I didn't like it as a substitute for pasta.  I kind of have an issue with foods trying to be substitutes for other foods to make dishes more healthy or lower calorie (I refuse to use the word "skinny." I want to scream every time I hear that word used to describe food or drink.).  There's generally a reason I like a dish a specific way.  If I'm going to eat spaghetti squash, I'm going to eat squash--not fake pasta.

Because I can't leave well-enough alone, I started looking at more spaghetti squash recipes.  I stumbled across 2 baked dishes, one featuring squash with chard and another with squash as a Carbonara type dish.  I decided to mash-up the two recipes and see how it turned out.  They were pretty similar recipes with eggs & cheese as a base.  I love a good Carbonara dish, so I used that recipe as a start and threw in spinach (instead of chard) and some spices.

It turned out good. Lots of flavor, but not too rich or heavy.  I liked the combination of veggies with the eggs, cheese, and spices--a little rich but lots of freshness from the squash & spinach.

Here's my version of the dish:

Baked Spaghetti Squash & Spinach Carbonara

3 cups cooked spaghetti squash
4 cups uncooked baby spinach, torn into pieces
4 ounces pancetta, diced
1/2 small yellow onion, diced
2 large eggs
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
3/4 cups coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder or 2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes

Heat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease an 8 x 8 inch (or similar) baking dish.

In a heavy skillet, cook the pancetta over medium heat until it starts to get crispy and much of the fat is rendered off.  Pour off much of the fat.  Add the onions and cook for 5 to 6 minutes or until soft and beginning to brown. Add the spinach and saute until wilted. Remove from the heat.

In a large bowl whisk the eggs, then whisk in the ricotta. Fold in the cooked bacon, spinach, and onions, then 1/2 cup of grated cheese and the spices.

Mix the squash strings into the egg and onion mixture. Spread in the baking dish and top with the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese.

Bake for 35 - 40 minutes or until firm and golden on top.  Let it cool for 15 minutes before serving.


Carnitas!

I love carnitas.  They are one of my favorite things to order in a Mexican restaurant.  I love the juicy, tender chunks of pork flavored just right with the wonderful crispy edges where the flavor intensifies.  Carnitas always seemed a mystery to me.  How do they make it so tender and yet crispy & crunchy at the edges in just the right balance?  Frankly, I didn't think too deeply about it since I was too busy savoring every delicious bite.  I never thought I'd be able to make carnitas at home.

Turns out, I was wrong.  I made carnitas last Saturday, and they were amazing.  They might not be the best carnitas I've ever eaten, but they hold their own against good carnitas at various places I've eaten.  They were even better than a couple of places I ate at in the past.  And I think I can make them even better next time.

I am reading David Lebovitz's book The Sweet Life in Paris, which is fully of funny vignettes about living in Paris, cooking, and life.  It's one of those books you don't have to read cover to cover.  I pick it up here and there and read a short chapter or section culminating in a (generally) delicious looking recipe. The other day the section I was reading ended with a short anecdote about visiting a Mexican restaurant in Paris and how disappointing it was.  He finished with a recipe for carnitas, which he likes to make for French friends to introduce them to Mexican food.  He says:

"Since Mexican food isn't especially well represented in Paris, I like to show friends how good it can be, and carnitas are the perfect introduction, since it doesn't matter whether you're from here or there: who doesn't love caramelized pork?" (pg. 62)
Carnitas--photo by David Lebovitz

This recipe takes a long time.  Not even counting the prep, we're talking 4 1/2 to 5 hours of cooking time.  This is a multi-step process--but that process yields fantastic results.  After cutting the pork into large chunks, you sear them in oil in batches, allowing the pieces to get really brown on all sides--this takes a while.  Then you remove the pork, deglaze the pan with some water, add spices, and then plop the pork back into the pot and stick it in the oven to braise for 3 1/2 hours.

At 2 1/2 hours I was a little nervous about how the pork was going to turn out, because it still felt rubbery like it was undercooked or tough when I poked at with a spoon.  One hour later, and magic had happened.  The pork had become super tender and easy to shred into large, bite-sized pieces.  It was tender and juice, but it still had those crispy edges that are so yummy.  Frankly, I couldn't help myself from eat several bites right then, even before the last stage of cooking: caramelizing.

This last stage involves putting the shredded pork back into what's left of the cooking liquid and placing it back in the oven to allow the rest of the liquid to evaporate and caramelize on the pork.  I did start this step, putting the pork back into the oven, but I stopped about an hour later before it quite got all of the way to the caramelizing because it was 11 at night, and I needed to go to bed.  This doesn't seem to have hurt it any, because it was just as delicious today when I had some for lunch.  I heated it in the microwave at work, but it's even better reheated in a frying pan with just a little oil.

A slightly different version of the recipe appears on David Lebovitz's blog.  That recipe doubles the chili powder.  I think that would be even better.  The recipe in the book only calls for 1 teaspoon of chili powder.  I think a second teaspoon would add a little kick.  I have another piece of pork shoulder in the freezer, so I can make this again and try adding the extra chili powder.  I admit that (as usual) I did not follow the recipe exactly.  I think it's nearly impossible for me to do that.  As it is, I only tweaked this recipe a little bit.

Carnitas
by David Lebovitz
with some revisions by Alex--the majority of this recipe (and all the credit for its greatness) goes to David Lebovitz

4-5-pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 5-inch chunks, trimmed of excessive fat
1/2 to 1 tablespoon sea salt
2 tablespoons oil
water
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
2 small bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped

Rub the pieces of pork shoulder all over with salt. (I sprinkled; rubbing the salt in may be better)

Heat the oil in a roasting pan set on the stove top. Cook the pieces of pork shoulder in a single layer until very well-browned, turning them as little as possible so they get nice and dark before flipping them around. If your cooking vessel is too small to cook them in a single-layer, cook them in two (or more) batches.

Once all the pork is browned, remove them from the pot.  Pour in about a cup of water, scraping the bottom of the pan with a flat-edged utensil to release all the tasty brown bits.

Add the cinnamon stick and stir in the chile powder, bay leaves, cumin and garlic.  Put the pork pieces back in the pan and add enough additional water to cover the pork by about 2/3.

Braise uncovered in a 350 degree oven for 3½ hours, turning the pork a few times during cooking, until much of the liquid is evaporated and the pork is falling apart. Remove the pan from the oven and lift the pork pieces out of the liquid and set them on a platter.

Once the pork pieces are cool enough to handle, shred them into bite-sized pieces, about 2-inches, discarding any obvious big chunks of fat if you wish.

Return the pork pieces back to the roasting pan and cook in the oven, turning occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the pork is crispy and caramelized. The time this takes will depend on how much liquid the pork gave off, and how crackly you want them.

Even though this dish took ages, it wasn't really difficult to make.  Next time, I start it early, mid-morning maybe, to give myself plenty of time to finish the caramelization process fully.

Sorry for the lack of photos; I had to borrow one from David Lebovitz website.  My carnitas did look pretty much like that photo.  However, it belongs totally to him and not me, but I hope I'm forgiven for using it this once.  And check out his blog and his book, The Sweet Life in Paris.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Cake or Cookie?

Well, instead of 5 months between reports, it's only 2 1/2 months this time.  I'm trying to get back into a routine of posting more often.  We'll see.

This is a dessert report actually, not a dinner report, but I think you'll like it anyway.  I made the best bundt cake a few weeks ago.  I love a good bundt cake, but this one was just amazing.  What type of bundt cake was it?   Wait for it...

Snickerdoodle Bundt Cake!



Yep, that's what I said.  Snickerdoodle Bundt Cake.  I love a Snickerdoodle Cookie.  There's something about the cinnamon-sugar encrusted vanilla-cookie goodness that's just as satisfying as a rich chocolate brownie.  For me at least.

I found this recipe through the Food Librarian's blog when she did her "I Like Big Bundts 2" series of 30 days of bundt cakes in 2010.  This was made on Day 29 just before National Bundt Day.  The original recipe came from the My Baking Addition blog.

I will say this recipe isn't complicated but it isn't a quick one either. It would also have been a lot easier if I had a stand mixer.  Lots of beating of ingredients for this one, and my hands got really tired using a hand mixer.  So, if you have a stand mixer, I'd really recommend using one for this recipe.

The only changes I made were to use 1 cup of full-fat Greek yogurt in place of the sour cream and sea salt instead of Kosher because that is what I had on hand.  I'm sure sour cream would be just as delicious. Also, if you make this, be careful not to pack your brown sugar when you measure it.  Finally, it really does help things to go together more easily if all of the ingredients are at room temperature.

The result was delicious.  This cake has a sweet and spicy crust of cinnamon sugar encasing a moist cake that in taste & texture is a cross between a pound cake and a sour cream coffee cake.  I highly recommend this cake.


Next time, I'll try to post something equally delicious. I've got lots of good recipes on my Pinterest boards.  Some I've tried and some I haven't yet like Rainbow Peanut Noodles, Pan Roasted Lemon Chicken, Leek Gratin, Fried Pickles, Harissa Roasted Carrots with Yogurt, Lemon, and Mint, Vietnamese Style Grilled Lemongrass Pork, Parmesan Crusted Broccoli, Crispy Brussel Sprouts with a Garlic Aioli, the list goes on.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

This is Fall!

Fall may be winding down, but with tonight's dinner, I feel like I'm still right smack in the middle of the season.  A few weeks ago my Mom sent me an email with a link to a recipe titled Pumpkin Stuffed with Everything Good.  Reading the list of ingredients I started drooling, but I didn't make it right away.  I had a small pumpkin from when I visited the pumpkin patch in October, but I hadn't decided what to do with it since I didn't carve it into a jack-o-lantern at Halloween.

So tonight, I pulled out that pumpkin and grabbed all of the ingredients and put it all together in a pretty short amount of time.  The thing that took the longest was scraping the innards out of the pumpkin.  After about an hour in the oven, the fantastic scent of garlic, cheese, pumpkin, and herbs was wafting out, scenting the air with its deliciousness.  It smelled incredible.  I removed the top of the pumpkin and let the filling brown on top for about 15 minutes.

I took a bunch of pictures but had some trouble since everything came out kind of yellow.  It looks so much better in person, and the taste is out of this world.

I'm not sure what kind of pumpkin this is, but since the recipe doesn't specify a variety, I think you could use any kind of pumpkin.  The flesh is very yellow and the textured kind of like spaghetti squash but more starchy.  It balances the richness of the filling well.  This was a very easy recipe but looks so cool when you cut into the pumpkin and that delicious filling spills out.

I hope I don't wait another 5 months before posting again.  It's that time of year again where lots of baking and cooking are a bit part of my days.  I love it!  Thanks for reading.