Thursday, October 21, 2010

Biscotti (be glad you can't hear my bad Italian accent from wherever you are...)

Turkey and I agree on one main fact of life: everything tastes better with nuts. In some way that I cannot possibly fathom, my Turkish roommate disagrees, and so we made these biscotti half with pistachios and half without.

I promise my next recipe will be something Turkish!! Maybe tea or sutlac...

2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1-2 tsp vanilla (unfortunately they only have packets of vanilla sugar here..)

1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
a dash of salt
Lots of nuts and dried fruit! We used:
- almost a cup of pistachios
- about half a cup of white raisins
- some cut up dried apricots (everywhere here)
Parchment paper and a baking sh

for some really nice ideas for combinations of fruits, nuts, flavors you can check out the bottom of this King Arthur's Flour recipe.

Preheat oven to 350 (or 177 celcius) and cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the above ingredients into the two groups, wet and dry ingredients with wooden spoons. This is always the basic pattern in baking because you want to mix them as little as possible. By mixing dry and wet separately first, you make sure the ingredients are evenly combined without overmixing the final dough.

Fold in (read: stir together gently till combined) the nuts and berries.

Pour onto the parchment in a long, thin shape and wet your hands with cold water (you might have to keep wetting them as your work). Use your hands to shape the log into a 1/2 inch - 1 inch thick, long log shape. You really, really can't go wrong with this. When I was researching the recipe i saw all kinds of possible shapes.

Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes. It will start to brown around the edges. Let cool for 10-30 minutes and using a sharp knife, cut them into thin - about 1/2 inch - strips on the diagonal.

Bake again!! Some sites said lay them on their sides, others said try to leave them standing the way they were cut, but spread out a little bit. We did these laying down (as you can see) but i think they would get crispier if they were sitting up right because they could cook longer before they start to brown.

This time, bake them for about 25 minutes or until browning.

Cool completely. Store in a tin box. Look at that! I just happen to have a pretty tin box that they fit in PERFECTLY... It came as a "gift" with my favorite cookies a few weeks ago. Finding out it was perfect for these made me ALmost as happy as when I first got it. What could be better than a Turkish cookie tin box?! I found the answer. A Turkish cookie tin box with biscotti in it.

Final thoughts? A lot of websites made this look really intimidating and complicated. It is not. Just wet your fingers and play with the fun sticky dough.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Slow cooked chicken stew

3 tbs olive oil
2 small onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4-5 small/medium tomatoes, chopped (dont let all the juice get away while you're chopping, you want it in the dish! a good way to do this is to chop one tomato at a time, dumping it into the pot as you go)
4 sugar cubes (or spoonfuls, i guess?)
salt & pepper
dried mint
2 long eggplants cut lengthwise into quarters, and then cut into inch long pieces
1 1/2 chicken breasts, cut into small cubes

In the order listed above, cook in a small crockpot type dish (dark coating, high sides, a good metal that will maintain the heat) over medium high. Don't let the heat get past a gentle simmer. Stir occasionally and cook until it looks well melded to you, making sure the chicken is done.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


Damn straight, we made sushi. and by "we," I mean "mostly Mirna." Because she is awesome like that.

For 6 rolls:
2 cups sushi rice
2 cups water (+ rinsing water)
1/4 c rice vinegar
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
6 sheets of nori (seaweed paper)
Fillings: totally up to you. We used:
salmon (make sure you buy sushi grade for any raw fish)
cream cheese
green onion
Sriracha hot sauce

Utensils: they are actually very important here
glass baking dishes for cooling the rice (metal will change the flavor)
wooden or plastic rice paddle/spoon
small bowl of water for dipping your hands

To cook the rice:
soak the sushi rice in cold water for 5 minutes, rinse it a few times, and let it sit in a drainer for a few minutes to get the extra water out. Using equal parts water and rice, cook the rice as you would normal rice. Okay, fine: bring the water and rice to a boil in a pot on the stove, then cover with a tight fitting lid and turn down the temp to a low simmer (med? depends on your stove). Cook for about 10 minutes, until you no longer see water in the holes that form in the rice (you'll see it, don't worry). Turn off the heat, remove the pot from the stove, and let it sit, covered, for another 10 minutes steaming itself. Fluff.

While cooking the rice, combine the vinegar, salt and sugar in a small pot and heat, stirring constantly, just until the salt and sugar dissolve. Remove from heat.

The rice needs to be mixed with the vinegar mixture and brought to room temperature before making the sushi. To do so, spread the rice out in the glass baking sheets and stir in the vinegar mixture, fanning the rice all the while. Sounds complicated, I know. I am of the belief that there is room for error in this step, but you might prove me wrong.

Once the rice has cooled, spread saran wrap over your bamboo mat for easy clean up (or dont) and place one nori sheet on top, rough side up. This is important. The rice will only stick to the rough side!!!

In terms of placement, make sure the lines of the bamboo mat are parallel to the side of your counter. Lay your ingredients in this same parallel line. This seems common sensical, but just in case...

Cut your ingredients, whatever they may be, into long thin strips.

Wetting your hands first, pat down enough rice to cover all but a couple inches at the top edge of the nori. Add your ingredients in one long line at the side nearest you, parallel to the lines of your bamboo sheet. Using your fingers, wet the exposed top section of the nori.

This part is the trick to good sushi: the roll needs to be tight. Using the bamboo mat, pulling up from the edge closest to you, roll the first 360 degrees of the nori together, and pull it tightly back toward you, using your fingers to keep the ingredients inside. Continue to pull tightly back toward you with the bamboo as you finish rolling the sushi. The last bit of exposed seaweed paper that you wet should stick to the roll, sealing it.

Yay! Sushi roll! Using a VERY sharp knife, start by cutting the roll in half, then cut slices off of each remaining log. The pieces hold together better that way, says Mirna.

Enjoy! Next time, we are going to try spicy mayo from scratch... ballerrrrr

Friday, April 9, 2010

Vegan coconut, pecan, caramel-ish bars of love

*Best with Turkish peppermint hookah


This recipe is from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, an AMAZING cookie cookbook for vegans and non-vegans alike. They are more innovative and creative than most bakers can dream of becoming.

One of the best things about this vegan recipe is that the chewy coconut milk mixture cooks into the top of the graham cracker crust, imitating a good caramel.

Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring constantly:

1 can (14 oz) coconut milk
2/3 cup brown sugar

(if a film develops, just stir it back in)

Combine, until all moistened:

2 cups crushed graham cracker
- just put one of those little packages of graham crackers in a bag and crush them with your hands, no fanciness required
1/2 c margarine, melted (1 stick)
2 T sugar

Line a dish of your choosing (the book says 9x13, but I did more like 9x6, so it was extra thick and delicious) with parchment paper (or if its glass, no need. the margarine from the crust on the glass will make it easy to get out).

Smash the graham cracker mixture into the bottom using your hands and pack it as tightly as possible. The tighter it is packed, the better the final bars will turn out of the pan.

Pour the cooled, simmered coconut milk mixture over top.

Spread chocolate chips, flaky sweetened coconut flakes (redundancy is necessary), and chopped pecans, in that order, making sure they are all... incorporated (im too tired for preciseness... to be precise, whatever). moistened. submerged.

The book suggests:

1.5 cups chocolate chips
2 cups flaked, sweetened coconut
1 cup chopped pecans

But exact measurements are not a must here. sprinkle as generously, or not.

Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes - until bubbly around the edges.

Cool completely. Breezy windows work well.

Refrigerate overnight (or just shove them in the freezer for an hour because you dont want to wait until tomorrow. but seriously, 4+ hours in the fridge is best). enjoy.

Eating from pan with forks is acceptable. Especially in the event that everyone finishes their first slice and wants more.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Cream of Broccoli Soup, Broccoli Cheddar Soup... cheese in soup form, whatever.

1 medium-large Yukon Gold potato
1 large onion (sweet is best, but apparently they're not in season. Yellow was good)
3 broccoli stalks
~3 garlic cloves, chopped

3 broccoli heads
2 qt water

a few cups vegetable broth (or chicken broth, or just save the water from the cooking the broccoli heads, water, or any combination of the above)
2-3 bay leaves
generous marjoram
salt and pepper
2 tsp dijon mustard

1 cup cream (or soy milk, or coconut milk, or just plain milk)
LOTS of shredded cheddar cheese

*If you're making it vegan, add a couple of tablespoons flour along with the liquids to make it thicker.

Im going to guess a couple stalks of celery and/or chopped celery root would be good

ooh! or! I read in a recipe once the suggestion to use cauliflower and guillere cheese instead... mmm

Peel and cube the potato, onion, and the broccoli stalks. The potato will be easiest, but the onion and broccoli aren't all that complicated. Just make sure you peel them both, first, and try to make your cubes roughly the same size. And don't skip the broccoli stalks. They really make the soup.

Cut the broccoli heads into florets and boil the water. Throw in the broccoli heads and cook them for 2-3 minutes. They should be softer, but really shouldn't be cooked for too long. When they are done, use a slotted spoon (or something like it) to take out the florets, keeping the water! The less water used the more concentrated the flavor in the water.

Sautee the cubed veggies in a large pot with margarine, butter, or olive oil for about 5 minutes, stirring to keep the bottoms from burning. Add the garlic about half way through (garlic burns easier than onion. thanks Mirna!). Once they start to look softened and smell delicious, add the bay leaves, some salt, your liquid (broth, water, broccoli water), the marjoram (I really don't think you can add too much marjoram), and mustard. Simmer until the veggie cubes are fully cooked, and even a little longer if you'd like, adding more liquid if it starts getting too thick.

Add the cooked florets and simmer for 5 more minutes.

Remove Bay Leaves and puree the entire mixture, leaving chunks only if you prefer it that way.

Return to a very low heat and stir in the cream. salt, pepper, etc. to taste.

Only add the cheese right before serving (and I would suggest adding it to each bowl individually so as not to have left overs with cheese already mixed in). This is for two reasons; most importantly, the cheese will become tough if it gets over heated or boils in the soup. Secondly, cheese just seems to retain more of its flavor when it is just barely melted.

As with most soups, this is even better a day or two later.

Mini Cheesecakes

I've been craving these for about eight years now, and they surprisingly lived up to their reputation, by which i mean the reputation they had developed in my head.

No comment about using little cookies for the crust. No, they're not from scratch, but i tried making a little graham cracker type crust and it was nowhere near as good.

16 oz cream cheese
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
3/4 c sugar
Nilla Wafers
cupcake paper liner things

*note: use a mixer, seriously. It will start out kind of chunky, but use a higher setting if you need to and continue mixing until it becomes very creamy. I would even suggest turning up the speed afterwards so that it gets a lighter, whipped consistency.

Heat oven to 375 degrees and line your muffin pan with the paper liners. Place one Nilla Wafer in each one, and fill them about 2/3rds full with the cream cheese mixture.

Bake. The recipe says 15 minutes, but my oven seems to be kind of weak and they needed more like 21 minutes.

Basically, they should puff up and take on a more firm, less shiny texture. Experiment by doing one small pan first and adjusting as you go.

*Trick: when not using all of the cups in a muffin pan, add water to the empty cups. This keeps the heat spreading evenly, and pretty much everything baked comes out more moist if there is a little cup of water in the oven.

These are way better after sitting for at least until cool, but they really mature by the next day!

Also, a dollop of strawberry jelly makes them gourmet-ish. Mom's jelly, of course.
makes about 18.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bosnian savory pastry thing?

The problem with these kinds of recipes is that its really hard to get exact measurements out of the cooks, in this case Mirna and her mother. The awesome thing about these kinds of recipes is that you have to make it up yourself. This round was all Mirna's doing, so Ill try to stick down some exact measurements when I try! consider this post to be in-process.


2-3 cups all purpose flour (King Arthur's Flour!!!!)
~ 1 T vegetable oil
Salt dissolved in warm water: enough to make it a soft dough

Good lord these ingredients are vague. But I would guess about 1.5 tsp salt and about 1.5 c warm water, but you can always add more water, 1/4 a cup at a time if the flour isnt getting absorbed.

Stir the oil into the flour and dissolve the salt in the water. Form a well in the middle of the flour and pour in the water. Stir with a fork, slowly incorporating more and more flour until you have a dough. Add more water if needed.

Knead this until it is a fairly smooth dough.

Rub it down with some oil.

Let it sit for about an hour or more.

Anchor a sheet over your table and sprinkle a handful of flour first. I don't know why.

Using a rolling pin and your hands, and all the friends' hands you can find, work the dough out as flat and huge as you can manage. This took us a lot of time, and a lot of dough skilz, but in the end, us 1: dough 0. woot

A couple tips Mirna showed me: use small amounts of oil to moisten the dough as it gets spread super thin and gets kind of dry. You really want it to be as thin as possible, and it helps if you can get it to the edges of a table as shown in the picture so that you can anchor it around the corners, keeping it stretched out.

Another beauty, you can probably fill it with whatever you want. Here Mirna used a spinach recipe, but you best believe my first batch will be made with ground beef.

1/2 - 1 lb spinach
2-3 eggs
about 8 oz cottage cheese
4 oz sour cream
Feta, the more the better, in my opinion
Salt and and pepper

Cut the stems off of the spinach (baby or adult is fine) and stack the leaves into little mounds. Slice them crosswise, making little strips of spinach. Soak this in water for about five minutes, squeeze them dry, and rinse again. Sprinkle some salt in the spinach, toss, and repeat.

In a bowl, stir all of the ingredients together and put the mixture in the refrigerator until you're ready to assemble.


Make a line of filling along the long side of the dough and fold the dough over it, lengthwise. Use a knife to cut a perpendicular line out of the dough so you have a long strip of dough with a similar strip of filling. Fold the ends of the dough in, as shown in the picture, and roll it lengthwise so that you end up with a tube of dough with filling on the inside. Repeat until you run out of dough and filling.

At this point you have two options: you can either wrap each one into an individual spiral, or wrap them around each other, one at a time, to form one big spiral that can be served in slices, as shown here.

Bake at 350 degrees "until its not light on the sides anymore." hmm.... Im going to guess it was about 20 minutes.

After you stick it in the oven, heat together about 1/4-1/2 cup milk with a couple tablespoons of butter.

When the pastry is ALMOST done, drizzle this glaze over top and finish baking.

Once browned all around, remove from the oven and cover it with a cloth as it cools.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Red Velvet Cake: crooked but delicious

There will be no hating on this cake. It might be a little bit crooked, but it was the perfect compliment to Mirna's Bosnian Vday Dinner.

The idea first came from "Cunt," an awesome book. I don't really know how to describe the book, but I think a line from the first pages sums up the book's beauty: " 'vagina' originates from a word meaning sheath for a sword. Ain't got no vagina."

Anyway, she mentions a community she visited that throws an all red party for girls when they start their periods to celebrate their femininity and share stories between generations of women. They ate red velvet cake. Hence, we ate red velvet cake at our valentine's day party. damn good red velvet cake. Thanks to mom's good southern church ladies for the awesome recipe

1/2 cup butter, left out to "soften" for a few hours
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tbsp cocoa
1 oz. red food coloring
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups sifted cake flour (all purpose was fine. I'm sure cake flour would have been better. As always, I think King Arthur's Flour is by far the best)
1 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk

The order of these steps is best for most baked goods with similar ingredients. Basically, you are making a cream of the butter and sugar, combining the wet ingredients, then the dry, and adding the last two alternately to the creamed mixture.

But to be more specific:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Leave the butter out for a few hours before starting to let it "soften," as many recipes will say. Letting it soften makes for a smoother cream. Once creamed, add in the sugar and blend until smooth. Then, add the eggs, one at a time, blending just until the yellow gets fully incorporated (in chocolate cake recipes the yellow of the egg will disappear, but for this recipe it all just turns yellow)

Make a paste out of the food coloring and cocoa powder. Add to creamed mixture.

Using two separate bowls, mix together the buttermilk, vinegar and vanilla in one, and the flour, salt and baking soda in the other bowl. Add these two alternately to the creamed mixture, letting it all blend between additions. Alternating in this way keeps the batter from getting either too moist or too dry at any point.

This cake has 4 layers, so I used a full sized cake pan and cut the finished cake into fourths, but you could also use two 9" round cake pans for a two layer cake, or probably even a bundt pan, depending on what shape you want the cake. If you just want a one layer, in pan cake with icing on top, use something smaller, like 9x9.

Whatever your pan, coat the inside with butter, and throw a small handful of flour into the pan, shaking the flour around until there is a think layering of flour coating the pan. Make sure to do this thoroughly, including corners, or the cake could break as you try to get it out of the pan.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 30 minutes, more or less depending on your pan choice: a little less if using more shallow pans, and probably more like 45 minutes at 325 if you're using a bundt pan.

I also put a small dish of water into the oven while it baked. I am not really sure it helps with this kind of recipe, but my hope is that it makes the cake more moist.

Let the cake cool for about 10 minutes in the pan, then run a knife around the edges. Place your drying rack over top of the pan and gently flip both drying rack and cake pan together so that the cake wont break in the transition. Let cool fully, and even refrigerate it for a while before icing.

I was a little torn on the icing. I wanted to try the method that came with the cake recipe, but couldn't help adding cream cheese. This recipe turned out fluffier and lighter than the cream cheese icing recipe I usually use. It was yummy, but I think I'm sticking to mom's cream cheese icing from now on.
Here is the fluffier version I used tonight.

8 oz cream cheese, softened (left out for a while to warm up)
1 cup of butter (2 sticks), softened
5 tbsp flour
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup granulated sugar (Im guessing a box of confectioners would be better)

On the stove, heat up the milk and flour, stirring constantly. After a few minutes on the stove it will suddenly thicken into a paste. Keep stirring and remove it from the heat. Maybe this is curdling the milk? Im not really sure. Either way, cool this mixture COMPLETELY before adding it to the mixture below.

Blend fully the softened butter and cream cheese. Mix in the sugar and vanilla until creamy. Add the cooled paste milk mixture.

Continue to blend this - it will grow in size as air is incorporated - until it looks like whipped cream. Refrigerate.

Decorating: To assemble, make sure both icing and cake are reasonably cool. There is a cake decorating technique called the "crumb layer" where you add a thin layer of icing to the cake and refrigerate it before adding the pretty outer decorations. This is because as you start to ice the cake, crumbs often get mixed in with the icing.

I didnt really think this was necessary for a homemade and served cake, but it might come in handy if you are going more public.

Either way, mom's best trick for decorating cakes is to use very generous dollops of icing and use a long, metal utensil to gently connect the dollops to each other. If you are layering, add a generous dollop to the center of the bottom layer, only spreading it part of the way to the edges because the weight of the top layer will spread it the rest of the way.

If you want to write on or decorate the cake, scoop some colored icing (just stir in food coloring) into one corner of a plastic bag and cut off the very tip of the corner, making a nice squeeze pen of icing.

Also, the layers kept wanting to slide off tonight, so we stuck some toothpicks in the corners. This seems kind of silly, so hopefully there is a better way. Refrigerating it for a while before adding each layer should help set the icing.

Other than that, good luck! You'll probably have to come up with your own techniques.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Oatmeal Bread (don't be fooled, its great basic white bread)

Inspired by King Arthur's Oatmeal Bread on the side of their awesome Bread Flour:
I've made it vegan, though, and changed the method a little bit.

Forgive me, no pics for now. I probably make this bread recipe most often, and didn't think to put it up until a served it at soup night (best night of the week!!!) and Mirna asked.

This is a really, really easy, basic bread. Seriously, its awesome. Tender, fluffy, and great toast bread.

3 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
1 cup rolled oats (optional, though you cant call it Oatmeal bread without oatmeal. I dont want to hear any existentialist arguments to the contrary!)
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 1/4 c lukewarm water
2 tsp instant yeast (about one packet)
3 tbsp brown sugar (or honey, though honey isn't vegan. Speaking of which, Ashley I owe you an apology. I think I have fed you food with honey in it before :( but that was before I knew it wasn't vegan! Ill be way more careful in the future!!! Me sorry!)

(makes 1 loaf)


Mix together the first four ingredients in a large bowl with a fork (flour, oats, salt, and veggie oil), making sure the oil gets mixed in well. It will end up looking kind of lumpy. Form a well in the middle by pushing this mixture out to the sides.

Stir the yeast into the warm water (not hot! Yeast is alive and if the water is hot you will kill it. You jerk. Why would you do that?) and once the yeast is dissolved, stir in the brown sugar.

Pour the yeast mixture into the well you formed in the dry ingredients (or mostly dry) and using a fork, stir the liquid vigorously, slowly incorporating a little of the flour at a time until it becomes a shaggy dough.

"Shaggy dough" might sound vague, but you'll know it when you see it. Most of the flour is incorporated, but it looks rough.

Cover this with a towel and let it sit for 10-20 minutes. This allows the flour to absorb the moisture, making it easier to knead.

At this point you have two options: knead it, let it rise to almost double, knead again, shape it into a loaf, and bake it.

Or, what I think makes it better:

Knead it for 5-10 minutes until it becomes a smooth, elastic dough. Let it rise for 10 minutes, and knead for ten seconds. Repeat this three times.

THEN proceed with the normal two step rising as described below:

Add some oil to a bowl after kneading the dough for 5-10 minutes (or until it becomes smooth and elastic) and "turn the dough in the bowl", meaning make sure it is coated in oil. This keeps it from sticking too much to the bowl as it rises. Let it rise to double (this should take 45 minutes to an hour) in a warm place.

My favorite rising trick is to turn the oven on to preheat, but only let it heat for a minute or two and turn it off again. This will make the perfect rising conditions (warm, not drafty) in your oven. But don't let it get too hot, and definitely remember to turn it off. I have ruined a few loaves this way :(

After this, the first rise, "punch it down" (meaning, knead it a little bit with your fists, getting some of the large air bubbles out) and shape it into a loaf shape. Using a serrated knife, slash the top of it so that it can rise as it likes as it bakes. Its also prettier.

Place it in a greased loaf pan (9x5 I think?) and let it rise again (this is the second rise).

It will look really fluffy when it finishes this rise and if you shake the pan it will shake and look kind of fragile.

(if you "over rise" it, then your slices of bread will kind of fall apart, but will still be edible. Just go for a little less than double the original size and you should be perfectly fine)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and cook 35-40 minutes (I usually go a little longer), on the middle rack. My mom always ignores rack placement, but its actually important. You don't want the top to brown before the middle is done. If this happens, put some tinfoil over the top of the bread.

Another cool trick: place a small container of water in the oven as it preheats and at least for the first 10-20 minutes of baking. The moisture will be absorbed into the middle of the bread, making it soft, and it will also allow for a crispier crust. This is actually a trick from making baguettes, but its hard to master at home, Im told.

To test if its ready, insert a knife into the middle and it should come out dry. Also, its usually better to cook it a little longer than I think I should so that it isn't gummy in the middle. A good baker knows good bread from the sound it makes when you thump the crust. Not too hollow, not too dense. But I am still working on cultivating that skill... alas.

Make sure to take it out of the pan to cool it or the sides will be soggy. And do allow it to cool for at least 5-10 minutes before cutting in. It still needs to "set" a little once it comes out of the oven.

Note: I keep meaning to put up a Baking: Lessons Learned post, but haven't gotten around to it. Hopefully I've covered the important points here!

Also, you can just make this in an electric mixer... Its so much easier to just pour all the ingredients in, but I am really in love with the method. Just mix till smooth with the dough attachment (on a kitchen aid) and rise as directed.

another note (im sorry! I keep thinking of things to share): the words I put in quotes are common baking lingo you will find in recipes, but I try to explain them after so that you can understand more professional recipes more easily!

Avocado Salsa

This is a repeat from blackbeans and rice, but I felt it deserved it's own post. Yes, its that good. This is also more thorough.

1 ripe avocado (they mark the ripe ones at the store, if you grip it in your fist and gently squeeze it you should feel it give a little and it will leave a mark)
1 tomato
1/2 a red onion
1/2-1 lime, squeezed
a generous handful of chopped cilantro (about half the bushel they come in, minus the stalks)
note: I know cilantro is not something you keep sitting around, but DONT leave it out!!!

Note: Jennifer told me to first skin the tomatoes, but its a lot more work, though its a nice alternative style salsa. If you'd like to do so: score the bottom of tomatoes (draw an x on the bottom with your knife), drop them in boiling, salted water just until the skin starts to crack around the score (30 seconds? a minute?) and then drop them into ice water. Once you can handle them the skin will come off easily. Proceed.

Chop everything, starting with the avocado and quickly squeeze the lime overtop, stirring it with your hand, so that it will maintain its color. Oh the joys of citrus acid.

Note #2: to cut up avocado, first cut the avocado lengthwise in half. The pit will stick to one side. Thwack your knife onto the pit, lodging it into the side, and it will come out easily when you twist the knife. Leaving the avocado in the skin, use your knife to score the avocado into a grid-pattern. Finally, use a spoon to scoop the avocado out of the skin. Or read here. To keep it green, squeeze lime over top of it quickly.

Chop everything else, and use your hand to mix them together, adding salt to taste.

This is my first foray into using red onion, and I have to admit I was a little nervous. But strong flavors are more amazing than scary, so rock on bad breath. You were delicious. and fresh cilantro? I need to come up with some new positive adjectives.

Its good on almost everything: for instance, a spanish omelet this morning!

Black Beans and Rice: But really, its the Salsa

I am officially making "Jon and Mirna" a tag in my recipes. I cannot tell you how awesome it is to have Mirna (and therefore Jon) as a source for food-knowledge. Its like anything you could want, they can tell you how to make it amazing.

And who knew?! There is a fresh produce market two hundred yards from my front door!!! I have been really sketched out lately seeing people duck into this boarded up shack behind Delmar. Yeah, in that sketchy parking lot.

Yesterday, curiosity got the best of me, so I followed a biker into one of those doorways that is guarded by heavy plastic flaps. Following a biker into plastic flaps sounds sketchy, I know. But so far this week I have seen a middle aged orthodox jew, a guy with a basket on his bike, an old married couple, and a few other stragglers in and around the sketchy boarded up building. So I followed him in. Yes, I fully acknowledge this was possibly a bad decision. Yes, I will probably do the same in the future. So far, even the things that go wrong have only taught me difficult lessons, so I shall proceed.

And voila! there was a twenty foot stretch of fresh veggies!!!! For six dollars I got three avocados, four oranges, a lime, four red peppers, and cilantro. Yum. Apparently its just boarded up for the winter. Summer always proves to be less sketch.


On to the Black Beans and Rice

Vegan note: minus the sausage (which I probably wont use next time, anyway) this should be completely vegan!

Also, Its the salsa that makes it. No joke. Don't leave it off.

2 cans black beans, or the equivalent in dried beans that have been cooked
3-5 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
1-2 peppers, chopped: any kind - I used a red pepper, Mirna's had 1 green and 1 jalapeno (hers is always better)
meat, if you'd like: 2 sausages in this version, ground beef is another option
a few tbsp vegetable oil
1 bay leaf
cumin and coriander (My roommate Zen is magic and had whole dried herbs in the cabinet, but crushed is fine)
salt and pepper

Chop the onions and start them sautéing on medium - medium/high in a large pot. If they start to brown/burn, your heat is up too high, but if you don't hear them sizzling it is down too low. As they start to caramelize, or turn clear (maybe not the same thing, but both mean they're cooking) add the garlic and chopped peppers.

Meanwhile: to cook the sausage, first simmer them in about 1/2 an inch of water, turning as they cook to make sure they cook evenly. As it starts to cook the outside will turn a light, almost white color. Before it is cooked all the way through, take them out and slice them. Forgive the ugly picture, but I thought it might help. You might want to take the skin off if its thick. Mine definitely needed to have the skin off, but I didn't realize it until I was eating. It got kind of messy trying to get it off...

Once the onions and peppers have cooked down a little bit, you can push them to the outsides of your pan so that they dont keep cooking as fast and add your meat into the center of the dish. If its ground beef, keep stirring it until the pink is almost gone, or if you are using sausages cook the slices well on each side.

As the meat finishes, stir everything together and add your spices. Be generous, and make sure to slightly crush your cumin and coriander if you're using whole, dried herbs.

Let these "get to know each other" for a while, and then add your black beans (dont drain the beans from the can).

Simmer on medium low for a while.


mmmm salsa

1 ripe avocado (they mark the ripe ones at the store, if you grip it in your fist and gently squeeze it you should feel it give a little and it will leave a mark)
1 tomato
1/2 a red onion
1/2-1 lime, squeezed
a generous handful of chopped cilantro (about half the bushel they come in, minus the stalks)
note: I know cilantro is not something you keep sitting around, but DONT leave it out!!!

Chop everything, starting with the avocado and quickly squeezing the lime overtop, stirring it with your hand, so that it will maintain its color. Oh the joys of citrus acid.

Chop everything else, and use your hand to mix them together, adding salt to taste.

This is my first foray into using red onion, and I have to admit I was a little nervous. But strong flavors are more amazing than scary, so rock on bad breath. You were delicious. and fresh cilantro? I need to come up with some new positive adjectives.

Cooked Rice:
I realize this may seem really tedious, but adding together a few different pieces of advice, I really feel like my rice has gotten much better. I even stopped using the rice cooker. So I wanted to share:

Ratio: 1 c dry rice to about 1.5 c water
- if you want it a little more moist, add a little more water, but stay below a 2:1 water:rice ratio. I tend to eat my rice (especially basmati) fairly dry, so probably dont go below this ratio unless you are rinsing your rice first, giving it more moisture (see below).

I am torn on this part: You are supposed to rinse rice before cooking it to get rid of some of the gluten. But Mirna taught me to sautee the rice in butter a little bit before cooking it, and I don't think wet rice would do as well. "Wet rice" also sounds weird. It also tends to throw off my water:rice ratio. So I haven't been rinsing it.

That said, a beautiful teacher of mine once told me you should wash rice three times for maximum love in your cooking. Yay for Persian mothers.

So I am torn.

Going with the first: melt 1-2 tbsp butter in a heavy bottomed pot (the heavy bottom part is important for regulating the temperature and not burning the rice)

Pour in your rice, stirring for a few minutes with a wooden spoon to get the butter evenly spread on your rice. It will sizzle at first, but then it will stop making noise.

stir in some salt and add your water.

Bring your temperature up to medium high until the water breaks into a boil and lower the temperature to medium.

Cover the pot and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes, but the cooking time will vary a lot, so make sure to check it (see below). And dont let it boil very vigorously.

You will see holes develop in the rice once the water has mostly been evaporated/absorbed. By looking down these holes you can see if there is still too much water. After 15 minutes or so, simply taste some of the rice from the top of the pile to see if it is fully cooked; meaning, not hard to chew. Do not, however, stir the rice at this point.

When it seems almost done, and there is no water left in the bottom, remove the pot from the heat but leave the lid on. Let it continue to steam itself for 2-3 minutes.

Fluff. Stack. Enjoy. (or fluff and fold, if you wish.)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Chicken and tomato... dish. aka: Junk from the fridge

I dont know how this turned out so yummy. Okay, yes I do. Here is how:

1 tbsp olive oil
~1/2 c chopped onion
1 can whole peeled tomatoes, chopped
1 chicken breast, cut into large chunks
1 tsp sugar
(always balance tomatoes with some sugar)
1 bay leaf
dash oregano
dash red pepper

shredded cheddar cheese
Diced avacado mmmm
cooked rice (try adding some butter as it cooks. REALLY makes a difference)

Sautee the chopped onions in the olive oil until they either start to brown (you probably have the temp up too high, but its okay) or they turn clear.

Add the rest.

Simmer for a while. 10 minutes?

Eat over rice with avacado and cheese on top.

the perfect post-3 hours of yoga meal.

Note: This was really only enough for one person.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mirna and Jon's Roasted Pepper Soup

**Note: I made this at home after Mirna taught me, but made some adjustments according to what I had in the cabinet, and it turned out to be a delicious second way to make it! I added about a cup of cashews before blending, and used 2 bay leaves and marjoram instead of thyme, used a can of cubed tomatoes instead of the Pomi sauce, only had three small red peppers, and also left out the broth, though the tomatoes had enough liquid. I tend to go for thicker soups, and really enjoyed this!**

Soup Night: the best night of the week

4-6 large red peppers
1 large sweet onion
3 cloves garlic

about 1 1/2 - 2 cups tomato puree (Jon suggests Pomi brand strained tomatoes, available at Whole Foods

- you can also use tomato paste, though you will need to add some liquid. Other tomato alternatives would probably work, too, but make sure the seeds aren't left in or it will not blend as nicely
Vegetable broth, about 2 cups
-more or less if you want to thin or thicken the soup
3-4 tbsp canola oil
1 bay leaf
some fresh thyme
salt and black pepper

cheese - try grated Parmesan or something else and tell me about it
chopped (fresh) basil and parsley
kalamata olives
(ooo, I bet tapenade would be good)

**Note: Fresh herbs (instead of dried), and those beautiful vegetables you get from fancy grocery stores, make ALL the difference

1 boiled potato
~To give the soup a more creamy texture add the potato after cooking, before pureeing the soup. Cubing it before boiling is much faster.

Roasting the peppers:
I am SO excited to finally know how to roast red peppers. I feel the world loves me.

Turn the oven to 450 degrees and rub the peppers down with vegetable oil. Sexy. Not olive oil, because the smoking temperature of olive oil is lower (about 420 for virgin olive oil and 375 for extra virgin) so it will start to break down at higher temperatures, keeping you from being able to use the high temp necessary to blacken the peppers as you roast. Just use canola oil and stop asking questions. (I'm going to try vegetable oil, too, and see how it goes)

Put the peppers on a tray and into the oven for around 30-40 minutes, turning the peppers every few minutes so that they cook evenly. When they are blackened in spots and tender, they're done. Mirna say stovetop works, too with a deep pan, but I haven't tried.

Mirna's awesome trick: take them out of the oven and into a bowl, immediately covering them with seran wrap and let them sit for about 20-30 minutes. The peppers steam themselves, making it really easy to peel off the skins.

Which you need to do.

Okay, so finally:
Chop the onion and garlic. Heat the olive oil in the bottom of a heavy bottomed pot and add the onion first. Mirna says the garlic can burn, so put it in after you sweat the onions (they turn clear).

Then, add the stewed tomato/tomatoe paste/pureed potatoes, your roasted red peppers, chopped, and the bay leaf. Simmer for 5-10 minutes. If you're using the paste you may need to add more liquid before pureeing.

Pour in the vegetable broth and the rest of the seasonings (salt, pepper, thyme), and simmer for another 10 minutes. or dont. whatever. It just makes it taste better if you let the flavors "hang out together."

If you're using a boiled potato for creaminess, add it now.

Blend the soup (definitely take out the bay leaf first) using whatever you have; bullet, blender, immersion blender... until smooth.

Top with chopped basil, parsley, cheese, and or kalamata olives as desired

Great with toasted brown bread!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Spanish Omelet, or something like that

Mirna is always talking about how good this omelet with potatoes from Spain is. So I added some potato to my omelet. twas quite good. Don't feel bound to this recipe, though. It was more of a first try that turned out really well.

3 eggs
1 Yukon Gold potatoe
handful of shredded cheese (sharp cheddar is cheap and good)
a splash of water
1-2 tbsp olive oil
and Vegeta (of course)
a nonstick pan is absolutely necessary

PLUS: cooked rice (I know, this is kind of weird, but I was vegetarian when I lived in Thailand and fried eggs on rice was one of my street-food staples. They eat it with some spicy orange sauce and ketchup. or i might have made up the ketchup part.)
aaand sour cream or ketchup

1)Peel the potato and cut it into small, 1/2 inch cubes.

2)Heat a splash of olive oil in your nonstick pan on medium high.

3)Add potato cubes and brown them on as many sides as possible, which took me forever. Let me know if you have a better way to do it! I just stirred/flipped them as they browned on each side until they were cooked through and slightly crispy. It took something like 15 minutes.

4)Scramble the eggs with salt, Vegeta and the splash of water. Its probably about 2 Tbsp but I've never measured it.

5)Once the potato is cooked, make sure the pan is not too hot. It will heat up a lot while cooking the potatoes that long, so lower it to med-low and take it off the heat for a minute. Once the pan is the right temp, pour in the eggs.

Egg cooking note: You'll see the egg start to cook around the edges, at which point you can use a spatula to lift up one side at a time, allowing some of the uncooked egg to get under and cook. To cook the egg left on top, either flip the omelet, or if you don't feel up to it, stick the whole pan in the oven on broil, watching it for a few minutes till it looks done (doesn't jiggle too much)

6) Add cheese on top of omelet, let melt, and enjoy over rice with sour cream or ketchup!

Who knew? Cabbage, Potato and Celery Root Soup

I had checked out a three foot stack of cooking books from the library and was frantically copying some recipes before turning them in when I came across this recipe. Honestly, I copied it because it looked too simple to be good and I wanted to know.

Turns out, its not only simple (four ingredients?) but cheap (seriously, one potato?) and really good! who knew?

The recipe was originally from
"Vegetable Soups From Deborah Madison's Kitchen"
but I changed two ingredients (leeks to celery root, and of course Vegeta allspice)

1 lb green cabbage (they say preferably Savoy. I didn't know there was more than one kind of cabbage)
2-3 tablespoons butta
1 med-large celery root
1 Yukon Gold (or whatever, i guess) potato
salt and Vegeta allspice to taste (about 1/2 - 1 T each?)

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Quarter the cabbage, cut out the hard center part, and cut it lengthwise into slivers. Im not really sure how to describe this, but it probably doesn't matter how you cut it. When the water is boiling submerge the cabbage into the water and boil for 1-2 minutes. Strain the cabbage.

Peel and cut your potato and celery root into 1/2 inch cubes (for 'how to peel a celery root' this site is great).

In your soup pot (it seems thick bottom is best, but I don't have one and it works perfectly fine) melt the butter and add cubed potato and celery root, stirring for a few minutes. Add salt and vegeta and stir (I think it would be good without the Vegeta, but try some other spices if you'd like as a substitute).

Add cabbage, stir, and pour in 5-7 cups water. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are cooked: about 20 minutes. Season to taste: meaning, add lots of salt. The flavors in this soup are really warm and natural, so salt definitely helps bring them out.

They suggest adding sour cream or yogurt, and minced parsley or dill. I liked it best plain.

Thank you, little cabbage and celery root, for comforting me on my stay-at-home-with-a-cold Friday night :)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Shortbread Cookies; buttery goodness

Happy New Year! I landed back in Saint Louis this week and am trying to clean out my life before the semester starts. With that goal, I decided to return the three foot stack of cooking books I had checked out from the library. Two hours later I had photocopied 21 recipes before marching down to University City public library with two huge bags of books. Ill give you each five bux if I ever get around to all of them...

But I did one! Yom Tov Shortbread Cookies from A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking by Marcy Goldman. I've only changed the recipe by one ingredient, so all credit goes to her. Where I grew up there wasnt a distinct Jewish culture that I was aware of. Turns out I was really missing out. The two recipes I have tried from this book have been some of my all time favorites. Challah is next.

Cooking from scratch is basically a pain. Ready to bake stuff is way easier. So I stuck half the dough in the fridge so that later this week I will have ready to bake shortbread cookies :) Ill let you know how that goes.

1 c unsalted butter
2/3 c firmly packed brown sugar (the original recipe uses white, so that's fine, too)
1/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 c all-purpose flour
a few drops vanilla extract (optional; potent stuff, so seriously, just a few drops)

a note on the butta: DONT USE MARGARINE! okay, thats one. The other is that you're going to cream the butter, so it needs to be softened (left sitting out until its about room temperature and very soft) before you can start. The thing is, I noticed the dough getting harder to handle the longer I worked with it, which I am guessing is because the butter was warming.

So, my suggestion is to leave it out so that its not rock hard as it is coming straight out of the fridge, but to keep it a little cold, work quickly to get them in the oven, and if it gets too hard to shape the cookies, stick the dough in the fridge for a little while.

TO BEGIN: cream the butter. I use a fork and bowl. Most recipes have the hard method; fork and bowl, and the easy method; a food processor. I don't have one. Boo. If you do, you can just pulse the butter and sugar, then add the salt and flour, pulsing all the while. Once it is crumbly, remove it from the processor and use your hands to knead it all together.

Its hard to get all of the flour in this dough because its really stiff, as you can see from the picture of the dough up top and the fact that I could press a little in it :) But just add it slowly and it will work fine.

Preheat oven to 350 and shape the cookies.

On a slightly flowered surface roll the dough out (fear not for lack of a rolling pin - I used my hands) until it is about a half an inch thick, and cut it into shapes. Goldman suggests 3x1 inch strips, marked by the tines of a fork. I thought that looked like little keyboard, hence the name. I tried some other variations and liked the way the little triangles browned the best.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until the edges start to brown, and cool on a cooling rack (this allows the bottoms to get crispy instead of soggy, as they might if they are pressed up against the baking sheet, trapping the moisture it will sweat)

The brown sugar gives it a great, rich flavor and they have a fabulous, buttery, crumbly texture.

Seriously, these are good.