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Monday, September 27, 2010

Strawberry Bread

Strawberry dirge:

I spent a little time over the weekend researching graduate schools. I can't say I feel very good about it; you wouldn't either if you had my GRE scores. As a liberal arts major I don't believe in standardized tests but graduate schools absolutely love them, especially when they are filled with impossible isosceles triangles. I am not Susie-Q test-taker extraordinaire. The only triangles I like are made of cheese or peanut butter and jelly. Some blogs can give off an "all-mighty" vibe but I just want to say for the record that this isn't one of those. I make mistakes, I flub the quadratic formula and I panic when the blue-screen-of-death shows up (this is a new fear). But let me tell you, can I ever do fractions! And, despite my test-taking ineptitude I fully support slapping around SATs, GREs, LSATs or GMATs or whatever else you can dig up to qualify yourself with. I am an unlucky test taker and I can come to terms with that pretty easily. I'm just not sure whether or not those terms can be repeated aloud here on SPUDS. But, I can say this: that SAT essay section would have done wonders for me back in the day. Give me fifty pages from "Paradise Lost", a cafe cubano, 40 minutes and I'll give you a masterpiece. I fully blame my low score on the fact that the GRE makes you defecate every ounce of positive energy into a paper cup before the examination to ensure fairness. I mean that. Well, the defecating and the quantitative section too.

So, what did I do when I couldn't take the exam day flashbacks, the agonizing negative energy anymore? You guessed it. I baked the most cheerful strawberry loaf imaginable. I know, I did just chase summer out of the door with a broom but that was and for good reason! And even though it is autumn *fist pump* strawberries were about the only thing that could possibly lift my otherwise eternally cynical mood. Ironically, this recipe came from one of many discount cookbooks I bought at our campus book store. I haven't baked much from it since there aren't many pictures and I love pictures. But, I may have turned a corner last weekend because this loaf, tragically unphotographed, is the prettiest, loftiest and most perfectly cracked loaf of strawberry bread I have ever come into contact with. What other gems are there hiding between those covers, I wonder? Over all, I think it appropriate then that this cheeky pink glaze punctuate the last of the summer posts until next season. Adieu, strawberry. Adieu.

Notes: Frozen strawberries can be substituted according to the recipe. I used the last of our fresh berries that were quickly going to waste in the refrigerator. The glaze, however, is purely optional and a personal addition (we keep homemade strawberry jam around this joint year round). Buying berries this late in the season is chancy; farmers will box up almost anything just to get it off the plant so you will get a mix of ripe and under ripe fruit. They also may not be quite so sweet and fragrant. Be sure to use fresh berries quickly as they will start to ooze and mold (mooze?) within days. Almond extract is a delightful addition to your spice cabinet because it is delicate but very distinctive in flavor. You might try substituting some late season raspberries in for the strawberries but that is just a thought.

strawberries, fresh or frozen
almond extract
strawberry jam (optional)

Recipe from "The Best Bake Sale Cookbook ^Ever"(2006)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs
1 cup crushed strawberries (or 10 ounce package frozen)*

*thaw the berries and then drain on a stack of paper towels

1. Preheat oven to 325. Grease a 9x5-inch loaf pan.
2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until combined. Add the almond extract and beat until light and fluffy. Beat the eggs in and combine.
4. Add a little of the flour mixture to the batter and beat. Alternate with the strawberries, beating after each addition.
5. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
6. Cool the bread in the pan for 5 minutes before turning out and letting it cool completely on a plate. While the bread is still warm (but not hot) add the glaze if desired.

Strawberry glaze:
2 tablespoons strawberry jam
4 tablespoons powdered sugar

1. Heat the jam in the microwave until it is runny, stir to break up any lumps.
2. Add the powdered sugar and whisk until smooth.
3. Pour over the warm (not hot) loaf, using a knife to smooth.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Creamy Parmesan Dip + video

Snacking lighter, even late:

dip: (n) 23. a creamy mixture of savory foods for scooping with potato chips, crackers and the like, often served as an hors d'ouerve, esp. with cocktails*

Not much to say about this really. I mean it's dip (see above). I can't tell you how long it took me to spell hors d'ouerve, though. What are all those vowels doing mashed up together, anyway? Silly French. What is wrong with just saying "tapas" anyway? Doesn't everyone know what tapas are... My French prejudices aside, this dip is pretty delicious. I got off work early today and wasted the afternoon on the two dozen food blogs I oogle (see below). During that time I decided I needed something that fed the habit of procrastination inherent to the college lifestyle without making me revisit my freshman-15. With that in mind I made this a 'low-fat' version because I don't have the back-bone to make anything fattier; I have a lipid sensitivity. If you have some plain yogurt on hand you can always substitute that in for the sour cream. Other than that, just get dipping.

Notes on blogs: If you didn't notice I've added a new blog to the SPUDS listing. A friend recommended it to me last weekend and I'm a big fan of it so far. Check out Video Blog 2 for some real-world post graduation reality. Spoiler alert! If you like to procrastinate in your spare (and not so spare time) the Post-Modern Talk-o is just the place to do it.

Grocery List:
Veggies / Crackers / Chips
Garlic salt
Green onions

1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
1/4 cup low-fat mayonnaise
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1-2 green onions, painstakingly finely sliced
fresh cracked black pepper

1. Mix everything together in a small bowl, reserving half the green onions.
2. Break up any clumps of Parmesan and season to taste. Chill, if possible, before serving.
3. Top with the remaining green onions and serve.

*elitist definition from dictionary.com

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Lentil Salad w/ Lemon Dressing

Dirt never tasted so good:

Some things are easy to defend. Take the ethereal creaminess of a really good goat cheese, with all its wondrous tang, for example. Last week I worked an event at a local grocery that has the most delightful cheese counter, complete with the most delightful staff. I always manage to feel totally accepted when I'm there for a tasting, despite my being about a third as cool as even the most uncool employee. I also always fall for the (marketing) trap and leave with a slew of things I didn't know I needed. Last Friday's purchases: a $7 loaf of French goat cheese (the very French name and label escape me at the moment) and a bottle of hard cider. Can I just say that I don't even have to begin to defend my spending $7 on cheese because a) buying the whole loaf would have cost about $25 and b) all I have to do to defend that luxuriously smooth, nutty, creamy cheese is salivate all over my keyboard. *salivating* Did I mention we drizzled honey over it too and served it with slices of really beautiful Honey crisp apple? *more salivating*

Other things, however, are a bit more difficult to recommend, especially to a stubborn less-beans-more-meat sort of audience. With that in mind I would like to take a moment to endorse the lentil. Some people, you know who you are, can be totally insensitive to the delicate nature of beans and lentils especially. Lentils taste like dirt and thanks to tragically poor preparation and flavor pairings they often receive a bad wrap, winding up as filler in about a hundred vegetarian burger recipes or occasionally on the wrong side of a badly seasoned soup. But the lentil, highly fibrous and chocked full of protein, is an impossibly noble bean and more deserving of a place in your recipe arsenal than that sell-out the black bean. (sorry black bean) Did I mention lentils taste like dirt? I like that.

I realize that not everyone likes the way dirt tastes which is why I chose to post this salad recipe with its bright lemon dressing and green onions. Believe it or not the lentils undergo a transformation when paired with the olive oil and lemon; the earthy flavor mellows out considerably in the sauce while the whole dish is brightened by the sweet crunch of the fresh peppers and green onions. This is a great lunch dish, served warm or cold, with some "everything bagel" style flat breads or even a few wedges of pita with some, forgive me, goat cheese. Scratch that, the goat cheese is mandatory. You could always toss half the lentil mixture in with some wild rice for a heftier side dish at dinner though. And since lentils are extraordinarily cheap and keep in the pantry with little to no babysitting (just an airtight container) they are the perfect thing to have on hand as the semester gears up and the weather cools down.

Notes from the cheese counter: I learned a beautiful lesson last week: ask questions. People who have a passion for food, especially foods like cheese, like to give suggestions. They really do want you to go home happy. I would never have picked up the cheese I ended up buying without some guidance. Left to my own devices I probably would have sauntered out with a rather ordinary wedge of some cows-milk something or other which, in retrospect, would have been a disaster. Be honest when they ask why you like something. Also, ask for a sample. At the cheese counter you can often taste something before buying it or have an amount cut down to a size that fits into your budget. Just because a cheese is expensive doesn't mean you can't afford to enjoy it.

Lentil Salad with Lemon Dressing:
Variation of Whole Living Body & Soul 2006 "Lemony Lentil Salad"
Serves 4+

1 1/2 cups dried lentils

1/4 teaspoon salt

zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons olive oil (I prefer extra-virgin in this recipe)

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

2 diced red, yellow orange (or a combination) peppers

3 scallions, finely sliced

1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese, to serve

1. Add the lentil to a pot and cover with a few inches of water, stirring in the 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the lentils are soft.

2. Drain and rinse the lentils in cold water, draining off excess water. Set aside.

3. In a bowl whisk the lemon zest, juice, oregano, Dijon and lots of fresh cracked black pepper. Whisk in the olive oil and continue whisking until combined.

4. Seed and chop the cleaned peppers. If you like raw peppers use more; alternatively, if you don't like raw peppers very much use a little less.

5. Stir the peppers and cooled lentils into the dressing and toss to coat. Chop the scallions and stir into the lentils gently. Serve warm or chilled with some freshly crumbled goat cheese and an extra wedge of lemon.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tips: Packing your Lunch

+ Baby Cheddar and Apple Frittatas recipe:

All the cutest things come in miniature sizes: gummy bears, pink sequins, chubby babies or bagel shaped earrings. Considering my addiction to small individually wrapped things, namely cupcakes, ginger candies and sushi, I am surprised it took me so long to discover bento boxes. I'm not talking about the beautiful lacquered boxes you get at restaurants, but the home-made bento packed up with anything from a star shaped pb&j to your roommates left-over Thai food (innovatively disguised as your left-over Thai food).  I consider myself the perfect bento candidate; I eat with all the variety and fortitude of a chipmunk.  Of course, we can't all get a rush from kitten shaped boiled eggs or smiling carrot sticks, but luckily some popular bento packing guidelines are easily applied to a student-friendly brown bag lunch (see this Top 10 list for ideas and advice).

A bagged lunch is a great way to reduce the cost of astronomical campus meal plans and to use up leftovers.  Plus, you can customize it to your heart’s content.  No longer will you have to choose between greasy heat-lamp grilled cheese or a spongy slab of vegan "meat" when your tummy starts grumbling. Which reminds me, I am supposed to be giving you recipes so your tummy doesn't grumble!

Although the ideal lunch-box meal should be made the night before for convenience, an arsenal of quick, easy and versatile recipes is essential to good lunch packing. With that in mind, I have added the tag "lunch box" to our recipe cache to indicate recipes that are easy to make, store well and travel without a fuss. These Cheddar and Apple frittatas were made using the 4 egg whites from the Vanilla Pudding recipe we made earlier this week. It didn't take me more than 6 minutes to pop 3 of them into my lunch box, steam a cup of edamame and slice up a sumptuously juicy apple this morning. The frittatas are light and perfect with big chunks of sweet apple and sharp cheddar cheese. I even threw in a few slices of black forest ham. These crust less wonders are even simpler to make than a quiche and can be enjoyed at breakfast with a little maple syrup, at lunch, as an afternoon snack or even a casual appetizer before dinner.

Notes: I used a miniature muffin pan to make these. If you don't have a mini-muffin pan I suggest you get one in the interest of increasing your cute factor.  It works wonders! These pans are as practical as they are charming and are perfect for bite size snacks or mini desserts like baby cheese-cakes, cupcakes or muffins. Also, while you're at the store, pick up a pack of mini-liners that can be filled with any number of scrumptious batters or used to present melon, ice cream, candy or anything else that looks undeniable miniaturized and in a crinkled paper liner.

Inspired by Everday Foods Apple and Cheddar Frittata
Makes 12 "baby" frittatas

4 egg whites + 1 egg
1/2 an apple, peeled and chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
fresh cracked pepper
1/4 cup good quality, sharp cheddar cheese
3-4 slices good quality deli ham, cut into slivers

1. Preheat your oven to 365.
2. Generously whisk your eggs together in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Grease your muffin pan with butter or shortening or something of similar "non-stick" quality.
4. Peel your apple. I like to cut it in half and then in half again, using a vegetable peeler to remove the skin. Cut the apples into a small dice (you don't want to overwhelm your tins). Add to the egg mixture along with your cheese and ham (or bacon).
5. Spoon the apple, ham and cheese into your muffin tin, filling to the top with the egg white. Bake for 10-12 minutes. You know they are done when the egg is opaque and no longer runny and they have puffed up considerably. Don't worry though, they will fall after being removed from the oven which is fine.
6. Run a butter knife around the circumfrence of each tin to remove your frittatas, pushing up gently with the end of the knife they should lift free easily. Serve warm or chilled from the fridge.

Tips and Tricks to Packing a Scrumptious Lunch:Bulleted List
  1. Make it balanced: packing a bag of cheetos and oreo cookies might be a fast fix but it will certainly leave you hungry. Try and balance carbohydrates and proteins to ensure you stay fuller longer; carrot sticks and peanutbutter or yogurt and granola are two healthy options. Leftover pork fried rice is another great choice.

  2. Channel your inner 5th grader: invest in a lunch box. There are tons of sites that have bags and boxes featuring everything from eco-friendly designs to retro super hereos. Pick something you really love (and preferably something with refrigerated capacities) so you are less likely to forget. Plus, you'll be the coolest kid on campus.

  3. Cook once, eat twice: Think ahead when you cook dinner. Making an extra serving saves you the time and effort to pack a lunch. Plus, if it was something you really liked you'll be salivating just thinking about it.

  4. Pilfer your families tupperware: Believe it or not tupperware, even the 'disposable' kind, isn't cheap. The next time your Mom sends you cookies or tuna casserole don't toss the container. Re-use it! Eyeball the pantry the next time you are home and stock up while you can!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Vanilla Pudding

Peaches and Cream:

So it wasn't exactly what I set out to make but honestly I didn't expect a pudding recipe to put up any resistance. It did of course, even though the whole ordeal was the simplest thing in the world. I mean, anyone can make pudding from scratch; even hungry, penniless college students. After all, pudding is only milk, sugar and cornstarch with the addition of egg yolks in some particularly decadent recipes (see below). In fact, homemade pudding is so simple I made it dozens of times in college. One recipe in particular, Emily Luchetti's Bittersweet Chocolate Pudding, was a favorite among my roommates. It was so rich and easy to make, without even a stitch of cornstarch, who could blame us for craving it? It was chocolate and we were hungry, stressed college girls. But the mellow days preceding autumn call for vanilla, not chocolate. Logically, I thought omitting the bittersweet chips was the simplest, most natural substitution in the world: (chocolate pudding - chocolate = vanilla pudding). I should have known. Math has never been my forte. But, in the slow hours of afternoon a tiny voice inside me, the same one that makes me order the double scoop of french vanilla instead of chocolate-peanut butter cup, told me the vanilla version would be fine, even better than fine it would be great. And maybe it was; but sin of sins, without the cocao solids my milk and cream came out more like a creme anglaise than a friendly American pudding. Even after a turn in the refrigerator it was too soft-set be be called "pudding" and too utterly sumptuous to be called a disaster. So, I spooned it into the most adorable dessert glasses (over-sized square shot glasses) and slipped a few slivers of fresh peach into it after dinner. Voila, a miracle... just not the miracle I was hoping for.

After all, there is something miraculous about an ultra-thick, ultra-fragrant vanilla pudding. After fail-boating the first attempt I scoured my cookbook and dug up a recipe by someone with better natural talent for proportions and substitutions. Why didn't I go to this, the thickest, creamiest vanilla pudding, recipe first I don't know. Hubris, I guess. The corn starch is what sets a pudding apart from a custard and exactly what was missing in my chocolate-free attempt yesterday. Custards are egg based and the sort of thing you find grilled fruits swimming in (see photo), layered in a trifle or filling up the sticky interior of a Boston cream donut. The addition of corn starch, a natural thickening agent, allows the milk and sugar to turn a creamy base into a homely, put-on-your-sweats sort of dessert that begs to be eaten gluttonously with the biggest spoon you can find. The catch? Corn starch must be used carefully and reverently and should always be added while the liquid is cold; otherwise your pudding will have big starchy lumps. In case, despite your vigorous whisking, your pudding has a less than baby-smooth texture running it through a sieve ensures a silky finish.

Notes: This recipe is from Everyday Food and it is in a single word: decadent. It is sinfully thick and rich and while the original recipe says it serves four I think cutting down the portion size and spooning some homemade whipped cream on top would be a great idea. If there is ever a time to use whole milk it is now but if you only have 1 or 2% on-hand the pudding should still set up just fine. The full-fat milk will add an extra depth of flavor. The hardest part about making pudding is that it requires patience. Take your time at the stove and keep the pudding at a low temperature so it doesn't scorch the milk. Do NOT cook the cornstarch for more than 1 minute; really 60 seconds is all it takes! The good news? It is d.e.l.i.c.i.o.u.s!

*Reserve your egg whites in a small bowl covered in the refrigerator to use later this week in some mini frittatas.

Grocery List:
1 dozen eggs
1 gallon milk
corn starch

Vanilla Pudding by Everyday Foods, serves 4

2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/1 cups whole milk
4 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Separate four eggs, reserving the yolks. Set aside. Set your sieve over a heat-proof bowl (something that can go in the microwave or dishwasher).
2. Whisk the sugar, cornstarch and salt in a saucepan, removed from the heat. Slowly whisk in your milk a few tablespoons at a time and continue whisking until the corn starch is totally dissolved. Then, add your yolks and whisk again.
3. Return the saucepan to the stove and, whisking constantly, cook the pudding over medium-low heat. As the mixture heats up it will begin to thicken. When the first big bubble forms turn the heat down to low and whisk vigorously for 1 minute and then immediately remove from the heat.
4. Pour the pudding through the sieve, stirring gently to help work it through the mesh. Stir in the butter and vanilla into the strained pudding until totally incorporated. Cover the pudding with plastic wrap, pressing it against the surface (this keeps a skin from forming). Refrigerate until chilled, about 3 hours, or up to 3 days. Let warm up slightly and whisk it generously to remove any lumps before serving.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Pork Fried Rice

And you thought take-out was cheap:

If I've said it once I've said it a hundred times: Chinese food is much more than a meal. In a way, getting late-night delivery is a coming of age. Other than a few high school dates I came from a "strictly-pizza" sort of family that rarely did delivery. Unsurprisingly, Chinese food became a pillar of my college experience. It was the last supper of my freshman year, the traditional post fencing tournament team dinner and the Friday night date of my senior year.

After all, takeout is a no-brainer, right? The only real question you have to ask yourself is this: beef, chicken or pork. Luckily, making fried rice at home takes the guess work out of it. By using whatever left-over meat and veggies you've got from earlier this week you'll clean your plate as well as your fridge. I don't relish handling raw meat so making something meaty and juicy once in a week is enough. Tuesday night I tried my hand at pork loins and I'll be blunt, I overcooked them. They were somewhere between cafeteria pork chops and shoe leather.

But, the beauty of cooking at home is that it provides endless opportunities to re-make meals, regardless of if the first round was a flop. In this case I used one of two left-over pork loins and a cup or so of steamed broccoli from earlier this week. Pairing the pork with the 2 cups of white rice I had intended for rice pudding and a fresh carton of eggs was the perfect quick fix. This dish is so simple I cooked it after work in about 15 minutes before a babysitting stint at our neighbors. Compared to the typically long wait for delivery this home-made version of pork fried rice provides almost instant gratification. Tragically, I didn't have time to grab some scallions from the market on my way home but with some thready scrambled egg and an extra drizzle of sesame oil I wasn't complaining.

Notes: Don't use fresh rice when making fried rice. My rice was two or three days old but even rice from the night before would work; it is important that the rice hardens a little so it soaks up the sauce and gets that beautiful crispy golden color. Since you can substitute whatever meat you have on hand for the pork and broccoli there is no earthly reason why you need to go out to buy the ingredients for this dish (that is unless you are totally out of all things edible in which case you've got the delivery guy on speed-dial). But, if you're in the mood for pork fried rice you can always buy a few thick slices of ham (not lunch meat) from your deli and use that just as easily. Also, relax. You don't need to stir your rice constantly; let it get a little crusty and soak up some color.

Recipe inspiration from blogchef.net and steamykitchen
Makes 2 cups

2 cups cold, day(s)-old rice
1 tablespoon veggie oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (or 1 clove fresh garlic)
1 cup pre-cooked broccoli florets
1/2 cup chopped pre-cooked pork (loin, chop or chicken/beef is fine)
2 scallions, green only sliced thinly
2 eggs

1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the veggie oil and then the two cups of rice. Don't panic, the rice will pop and spit a little oil. Don't lower the heat (unless your pan starts to smoke) or stir the rice immediately.
2. Chop your meat and veggies and set aside.
3. Stir the rice and cook for another 2 minutes, breaking up any stubborn lumps. Add the sesame oil and soy sauce quickly followed by your garlic salt (or fresh garlic), meat and veggies.
4. Heat everything through, tossing to coat. If you're using fresh garlic you may want to toss it a little more frequently to keep it from burning and turning bitter.
5. When the rice is toasted and has soaked up the sauce remove it to your serving dish(es). Lower the heat. Take the pan off the heat for a few seconds to bring down the temperature.
6. Crack the eggs into a small bowl and whisk. Add to the pan you just cooked your rice in and scramble, stirring frequently until totally cooked through and dry.
7. Stir the eggs into the rice and top with the scallions. Serve with a little extra soy sauce for drizzling.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

French Toast

Grade A:

If anything says autumn it is a hot buttery slice of French toast and
I couldn't be any more anxious for fall. Not as stoic as the waffle, not as dime-a-dozen as the pancake a slice of just sweet "toast" is the kind of thing that warms your heart. And, even though it seems pretty mediocre that doesn't mean it is any less delicious than the rest of the fancy breakfasts out there: fritattas, "stuffed" this,"poached" that. French toast doesn't try to make itself out to be anything other than a slice of bread dipped in egg and milk and fried in a little butter, simple as that. And who doesn't need a little simplicity in their lives these days?

I can say honestly that I would pay a lot of money for a little simplicity right about now. Things have been especially hectic around the house and as a result I find myself increasingly drawn to simple meals like a big plateful of salad, a grilled cheese or a bowl of grapes juicy unto bursting. I can only attribute it to cooler days, clearer skies and the all-around increasing radiance of fall. Okay, so it isn't technically fall just yet... But brew a cup of tea and bath a plateful of warm French toast in maple syrup and you won't know it is still just September.

This recipe is the simplest of simple recipes which provides the perfect excuse to dress it up. Personally, when I'm not in the puddles-of-syrup-dotted-with-crispy-bacon sort of mood I like to eat my toast with a little yogurt, walnuts and a drizzle of honey. For something a little more decadent try blueberry sauce and fresh whipped cream or just a pad or two of butter and some powdered sugar.

6 slices good bread, preferably potato bread
2/3 cup milk
3 eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg (if you have it)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1. Heat a nonstick skillet or large frying pan over low-medium heat.
2. In a bowl whisk the eggs, milk, spices, sugar and vanilla.
3. Once the skillet is hot add a little butter to the pan. Lay a slice of bread in the egg mixture and turn to coat. Add to the skillet.
4. Cook the "toast" for 3 minutes and then flip, cooking for another 3 minutes.
5. When the toast is thoroughly cooked, 6 to 8 minutes total depending on the thickness of your bread, serve it warm with butter and a little powdered sugar or syrup.

Make-ahead: Refrigerate slices of left-over cooked French toast and pop them into the toaster for crispy, hot toast for breakfast during the week.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Penne 2

+ poor man's "pesto":

I love pasta but there is a special place in my heart reserved for pesto and pesto alone. In college I would buy a squat little pre-made jar and smear it on grilled cheese or a refrigerated pizza crust, chunks of sauteed chicken, scrambled up with eggs and, of course, on piping hot pasta noodles. A small jar isn't an outrageous expense but there is something to making your own. College students are notorious for eating anything jarred and mold free months after the purchase date thanks to intestinal-friendly preservatives; this sauce will only keep for a few days, assuming you even have any leftovers. With all the bite of fresh garlic and basil you'll never even miss those preservatives! And besides, you're intestines (and wallet) will thank you for making this.

The funny thing about pesto is that while widely available in pre-made versions or on cafe menus the star ingredient, basil, is an enigma. I can't count the number of times I failed to find even one wilted, sickly package of fresh basil at my local grocery store. Once, I went to three different chains trying to track down the 2-3 cups (packed) basil necessary for a pesto recipe (of course all three stores were totally sold out). Pre-packaged herbs can also quickly run up your grocery bill but if you don't trust yourself with a basil plant of your own try your local farmers market. Not sure if your town has a farmers market? Check out http://www.localharvest.org/ to find one near you. After all, if there is anyone who understands the starving student it is the frugal farmer.

The day I have an herb garden over-run with basil plants, and my very own dish washer, is the day I will consider myself completely and irrevocably domesticated. Until then, this recipe easily satisfies my pesto-dependency by using fresh and dried basil as well as more readily available ingredients like garlic, walnuts and Parmesan cheese to fill out the sauce; just use as much fresh basil as your budget can afford. I found the original recipe, Pasta with Walnut Sauce, in a book called "Simple Suppers Quick and Easy, Proven Dinners"(2007). I've tweaked the method a little bit, upped the basil and added the most affordable of college kitchen ingredients: cheese. Buying a head of fresh broccoli means you can use half to make your "pesto" and the rest can be served with a little butter (and lemon) as the perfect side. At just a few dollars a pound broccoli is just as affordable as it is tasty. This pesto would also be great on slices of toasted, buttered baguette as an appetizer.

Notes: My senior year our apartment occasionally held "Family Dinners" where we would each chip in to cook and then sit down and eat like, well, a family. To say it didn't happen often enough would be the understatement of the century. But, a dish like this (read: one that uses lots of potent fresh garlic) is best served to a crowd. Try it out at your next hall/apartment/family supper. Red pepper flakes and dried basil are two indispensable spices; I like them especially on pizza or tossed into a stir-fry. They will keep almost indefinitely in a cool dark place but when your pepper flakes start to loose their fiery red color it is time for a new bottle; otherwise, they will have little to no heat.

Grocery List:
1 head of broccoli
fresh basil, one package

Serve 2-4 (serving 4: Double the pasta but leave the rest as is. You will have plenty of sauce.)

4 ounces penne pasta
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
1-2 cloves of garlic, according to taste
1 cup fresh broccoli florets
chili flakes, to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons water
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
fresh basil, as much as you can afford
salt, pepper

1. Bring a pot of water to boil over high heat. Trim the broccoli, discarding the stems. Add some salt to the water followed by the broccoli.
2. Cook the broccoli for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain immediately and set aside to cool (if you are feeling especially culinary "shock" the broccoli in a bowl of ice water to keep the bright green color and crisp texture). Keep the water boiling.
3. Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in a dry pan over low heat until they are fragrant and golden. Remove to a separate bowl.
4. Peel the garlic and add the clove(s) to the walnuts along with the fresh basil, dried basil, chili flakes and Parmesan cheese. Process this mixture in a food processor until the garlic and walnuts are thoroughly chopped.
5. Add your pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package directions.
6. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the walnut mixture and puree again. Add half the broccoli followed by another two tablespoons of olive oil. Puree again, adding 1-2 teaspoons of water until the pesto reaches a smoother consistency (it will be very thick). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
7. Drain the penne and toss with the pesto, drizzling with a little extra olive oil. Serve immediately. (I use about 2 tablespoons per serving.

Leftovers: The pesto will keep for a 2-3 days in an airtight container in the fridge but may start to loose its spring green color.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Orange-Sesame Granola

Bars for snacking, packing and saving:

Of all the "good for you" foods granola is the most seductive. What with all of its oats and fruits and that delightfully crispy texture it is no wonder we eat two to three times the actual serving size. Check out the next box you find at the supermarket; most servings are only about a fourth of a cup which doesn't look like much in the bottom a big cereal bowl. But if granola is so good for us why do we have to restrict its raptures to a meager fourth of a cup? Of course, there are plenty of brands that pride themselves on returning granola to its wholesome origins. My personal favorites are:
  • Bear Naked - pros: great variety of products, cool company story, overall sound nutrition cons: 1/4 cup serving size
  • Kashi - pros: lots of products, love the oatmeal raisin cookie bars, 1/2 cup serving size, products are consistently high in fiber and protein cons: high price when off-sale
And while making your own granola bars takes a little time (about 15 minutes with this version) it is a huge savings in the long run. A canister of rolled/instant oats, a box of raisins and a jar of honey will set you back about five dollars and dish up way more than the 12 ounce bag on the grocery store shelf it is worth the elbow grease. Plus, you can make the ultimate customized bled with just a few extra ingredients. Want chocolate chips, cherries and pistachios? Maybe pumpkin seeds, apricots and almonds? Now you can have it all; just use this recipe as a jumping off point (ditch the marmalade and use 3 tablespoons each of honey and brown sugar). This recipe is sweetened largely by the flavor of the orange marmalade and the cinnamon which I really love; be sure to get a good chunky marmalade with lots of sweet fragrant peel for the most orange flavor and little bites of sweet peel.

Note: This isn't your typical saccharine packaged bar that sticks to your teeth and fingers; you'll need to see the man in the funny hat for those.

I found this recipe at the Pioneer Woman's recipe log Tasty Kitchen; if you don't know who she is yet check out her amazing blog at http://thepioneerwoman.com/ New obsession? I think so.

Orange-sesame granola bars:
Adapted from a recipe @ tastykitchen.com

2 cups oats, rolled or instant
1/2 cup almonds, chopped or slivered
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
3 tablespoons orange marmalade
1 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, plus more for dusting
1/2 cup raisins

1. Heat the largest skillet you can find in the tri-cities area over low heat. Then, lightly butter a 9 x 9" square pan and set aside.
2. Toast the oats, nuts and sesame seeds until they are fragrant and toasted; 8-10 minutes. Keep an eye on the nuts and sesame seeds and don't let them burn.
3. Remove the oat mixture to a bowl.
4. Melt the butter, marmalade, sugar and honey over low heat, stirring constantly. You want it to start to bubble and be totally combined.
5. Toss the oats, seeds and nuts into the butter mixture and coat thoroughly. Add the raisins and cinnamon and toss again.
6. When everything is thoroughly coated pour the granola into your pan. I like to place a sheet of foil over the granola and press down firmly with the bottom of a glass to really pack it in. Don't be shy here. The more muscle you put into it the sturdier your bars will be.
7. Remove the foil and cut the granola into bars. If you like, sprinkle them with a little extra cinnamon. Make them as big or as small as you feel necessary; mine made about a dozen snack size bars. Let the bars cool totally and harden for at least 15-20 minutes before storing in an airtight container. They should remain a little pliable and soft. I promise my bars won't see the other side of the weekend so I can't say how long they last but feel free to weigh in in the "Comments" section if you have some stragglers!

1. Measure your own nuts and fruits at the grocery store. You will pay less for packaging and be able to fit more fruits/nuts into your budget.
2. Check out health food stores and Asian markets for interesting products like sesame seeds, flavored honeys or unsweetened dried fruits.