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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Avocado Toasties with Kiwi Salsa and Bacon

w/ kiwi-cilantro salsa:

In college I had a roommate who loved avocado so much that she made Avocado-Lettuce-Tomato sandwiches and nixed the bacon all together. I can't say that I blamed her since there is something otherworldly about the creamy, fatty flesh of an avocado that is undeniably superior to almost every other vegetable. A true bacon-phile would find this vegetarian substitution a sacrilege, but I am not one of those. Who wants to choose between bacon and avocado, anyway? Luckily, with this sandwich from Julie Buiso in Bon Appetite, you can have both. The only difficult choice you will have to make will be whether or not to have a second.

I was initially skeptical of the kiwi and cilantro salsa that got spooned over the top of the crispy salty bacon strips. After all, kiwi, that beautiful fruit with its trademark tang and micro-crunch is... a fruit. After I thought about it I realized fruits get swapped into salsa all the time: pineapple, mango, apricot etc. etc. So what is stopping a kiwi? I can tell you, not much. The kiwi is reminiscent of a tomatillo - a traditional ingredient in salsa verde - in texture and flavor intensity and right up mango alley as far as sweetness. Plus, it has a trademark tang that is hard to find anywhere else. In all honesty it is a no-brainer: kiwis are affordable, relatively easy to find and extraordinarily forgiving when it comes to storage. What could be better?

As much as I liked the kiwi salsa I wasn't opposed to enjoying it on some corn chips or smeared on crackers either. In fact, I enjoyed it on some whole grain bagel crisps almost immediately. In the sandwich's defense the avocado makes this dish very filling. The salty bacon, which I skipped on my first round of sandwiches, is the perfect partner for the sweet salsa and creamy avocado and a natural accompaniment to any good sandwich. Plus, the ingredients can morph seamlessly from a lunch to happy hour to a simple snack with very little effort. Step aside egg salad, this is my new favorite weekend sandwich.

Apparently, Tuesday afternoons a farmers market sprouts on the street behind our building. I stopped by after work and was pleasantly surprised to find stalls with bison, grass fed beef, herbs, fresh cut flowers and potted plants and, best of all, bread. I bought one beautiful loaf of sunflower-flax bread and have been exceedingly pleased with it. There is no better excuse to make a good sandwich than a gorgeous loaf of bread.

Notes: A ripe kiwi will give just slightly when light pressure is applied to the skin - the same can be said of an avocado - But, if you wind up with unripe fruits just leave them on a warm counter for 1-3 days. If you need to speedup the process put them in a paper bag, rolled shut, with a slice of apple. Overnight, the fruit should ripen sufficiently. To do the opposite, and keep the fruit from ripening, just put it in the vegetable keeper of your refrigerator.

Tips: Prepare you avocado just before serving. Once the flesh is exposed to oxygen it will begin to darken. Use lemon or lime juice to slow down the browning, but don't expect bright green flesh more than a few hours after cutting. Slice the fruit long ways, sliding the knife along the pit. Then, score each half, to the skin but not through it, like a tick-tack-toe board. Use a spoon to scoop out the flesh.

Avocado Toasties with Kiwi Salsa and Bacon
Julia Buiso
Bon Appetite December 2010
Serves 4


4 slices of crispy bacon
1/2 tablespoon lime juice, plus 1 teaspoon
1/2 teaspoon sugar or honey
3/4 cup peeled, diced kiwi
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 green onion, finely sliced
1 teaspoon hot sauce
4 slices of good sandwich bread
1 avocado

1. Cook bacon until crisp. Peel and dice the kiwi.
2. Whisk the honey and lime juice in a bowl. Toss the kiwi, cilantro, green onion and hot sauce in a bowl with the honey and lime juice.
3. Toast the bread on both sides in a skillet or under the broiler.
4. Peel and mash the avocado with the remaining lime juice. Spread in fourths over each slice of bread. Top each slice of bread with kiwi salsa and a slice of bacon. Serve immediately.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

SPUDS: Update & Farewell

As summer quickly approaches we prepare for a metamorphosis. Many of us will graduate and move into the working world, some of us will fall into the comfortable bosom of summer vacation and a few of us will return to the esteemed world of higher education. And through it all, SPUDS will see a significant transformation as well.

Due to extenuating academic circumstances (my impending enrollment in graduate school) May will be SPUDS last month as an active recipe blog hosted by the Fajita Bandita. Even as a tiny tuber, SPUDS was conceived with the purpose of being a project blog - a virtual test kitchen. Since the blogs inception back in March 2010 SPUDS has grown in many ways.

For those of you who have been with me since the beginning, you will agree that SPUDS has come a long way since our first post:

But it is my personal hope to see SPUDS truly take root and find itself not as an interest entity, but as a virtual knowledge source for cooking and baking. September 2011 is the projected launch date of a new privately owned site showcasing the next phase in the SPUDS evolution. In some ways things will look very much like the old SPUDS. But, after months of broken and borrowed cameras and transplanted kitchens I look forward to settling down and getting the chance to acquire newer and better tools, assessing the past year and realigning my goals with my original intention: a cookbook with an angle for affordable recipes with a sleek and youthful interpretation.

So with that teaser I leave you to enjoy the month of May, it's brilliant recipes and your impending vacations. The SPUDS page will remain available for your recipe browsing pleasure - please continue to post comments and ask questions! I will be monitoring the page for new comments and doing my best to answer your questions. There will probably be the occasional update, but I will not be posting new recipes weekly. During the next two months I will be editing and restyling the recipes, providing better tags and photos and reorganizing the site to make it more navigable. As always, your insight and suggestions are always appreciated.

Thank you for your kind patronage!
Fond regards and best wishes for a delicious spring!
-Fajita B.

-May Recipes-

1. Avocado-Bacon Breakfast "Toasties"
2. Salmon Sandwiches
3. Strawberry Shortcakes
4. White Bean Crostini with Olives

Friday, April 29, 2011

Lunch Box: Cucumber Tea Sandwiches

Pictured: Cream cheese, Cucumber and Rocket
+ the Royal Wedding:

For those of us who didn't merit an invitation, but have been a fussy dribbling mess over the whole business for weeks, this post is for you (er, me too). I woke up at five thirty to get ready for work and brew a few cups of tea; which, is no small order at quarter of six o'clock. The real die hards got up even earlier, and even though I missed Catherine's (formerly Kate) grand automobile entrance, and the live coverage of the balcony kiss, I count the morning as a success. Where would we be without the Internet, I ask? It was a small consolation to know that I was not alone on this auspicious day, and an even greater consolation to have shared the morning with early rising friends over tea with cream and these traditional English cucumber sandwiches. For those of you who missed the great event, I've posted a highlight of links at the bottom of the page.

Once the glow and applause of the ceremony wore off everyone - a select few hundred - retired to an elegant royal luncheon while I clung to a germy hand rail in a train rattling through clouds of exhaust towards Friday morning at the office. All the kitsch and the hype could never have prepared me for the gentle elegance of the event: the beautiful femininity of the gown, the easy smiles and happy poise of the couple, the pageantry and subtle reminders of the union of tradition and a lustrous vibrant history - and the hates, my God, the hats! The hats alone would have been worth waking up for.

There were a number of commemorative efforts made well before the bells rang in Westminster, however. My personal favoritewas, in fact, the Royal Wedding donut distributed by Dunkin Donuts: a heart shaped donut, glazed and drizzled with chocolate and a romantic - if indiscriminate - red jelly filling. Call me conservative, but I hope no event in my life is ever commemorated with something as homely as a donut. The lack of a belly-button like hole and a "jelly" that, undoubtedly, squirts out after the first bite could not really make it worthy of commemorating royal nuptuals, could it? Perhaps not in the United Kingdom, but here in America it most certainly did. (For a more complete list of the edible honor guard check out the Eatocracy blog on cnn.com)

The British, for all their indulgent tea-time sweets, have a reserved and elegant palette when it comes to luncheons. I have no doubt that the Queen's post-ceremony lunch will be the embodiment of that elegance. So, for the peons who faced and eight hour work day instead carriages, parades and quail eggs this recipe for Cucumber Tea Sandwiches is quietly appropriate. The recipe itself comes from Waitrose Super Market (a British chain). The cool crisp cucumber pairs beautifully with the soft, sweet bread. A few sprigs of watercress (or rocket) add a lightly peppery flavor that blends perfectly with your Earl grey or English breakfast tea. Packing your lunch, even if it is just to go to work, does not have have to be a drab affair. After all, peanut butter and jelly is no way to celebrate a royal wedding.

When I was younger I loved to watch Mr. Bean, a character performed by Rowan Atkinson. (Of course, Rowan was in attendance at William and Catherine's wedding) I couldn't help but remember this skit "Making Sandwiches in the Park" when I was writing this post. It is grosely humorous in a subtle British way that is almost beyond my grasp. Almost. I about died when he put lettuce leaves in a sock and spun it around his head like a helicopter. In the end, Mr. Bean taught me everything I needed to know about a good, wholesome British sandwich. Educate yourselves before continuing.

Notes: I love tea sandwiches, but I never can never bring myself to use white bread. A classic tea sandwich would be served on white bread, but you can also use pumpernickel or wheat and still be on the right path. Make sure you use something fresh and steer clear of baguettes and anything with a crispy, chewy crust. If your bread is particularly fresh be sure to let your butter come to room temperature, otherwise you will tear the bread trying to spread it with butter. If you prefer, you can also cut these sandwiches into shapes using cookie cutters or, for an even more elegant twist, thin the bread slightly by rolling it with a rolling pin and moderate pressure between two sheets of waxed paper.

Classic Cucumber Tea Sandwiches
Recipe by Waitrose market, via cnn.com

3 1/2 tablespoons butter (goat's)
4 tablespoons chopped watercress or rocket (aka arugla)
8 slices sandwich bread
1/4 cucumber, peeled and very thinly sliced
cracked black pepper (optional)

1. Let the butter warm up on the counter 20-30 minutes. Or, give it a zap in the microwave, but don't melt it.
2. Wash and dry the cucumber, peeling it if desired. Slice 1/4 the cucumber into very thin rounds.
3. Stack two slices of bread one on top of the other. Using a serrated knife, cut down to remove the crusts completely. Butter both slices of the bread lightly.
4. Layer a few slices of cucumber on one slice of bread. Top with the chopped water cress or rocket, pepper and the second slice of bread. Repeat.
5. Cut on a diagonal to form triangles.

For a little more sustenance you can butter one slice of bread and spread room temperature cream cheese on the other side, topping with cucumber and water cress as listed above.

Links from the big day:

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Dean & Deluca Coconut Macaroons

w/ orange peel and cranberries + C0conut nests:

A few weeks ago I went to Georgetown - where I enjoyed the notoriously delicious "Goat cheese and Asiago" crepe - and happened upon the most beautiful macaroon display at Dean & Deluca's. I was enthralled by the tower made of tiers upon tiers of pastel colored french macaroons: lavender, vanilla, passion fruit, chocolate and mango (pictured). Alas, I ardently lamented my lack of photographic equipment. I wouldn't have been able to bring myself to actually take photos inside a D&Ds, of course. I would have been too worried the trays of ethereal confections would simply disappear in a cloud of vanilla scented smoke the moment I did. Around the corner there was a more homely display of apothecary jars, chocked full of coconut macaroons dipped in chocolate. These were hardly as elegant, but equally as inspirational.

I bought a box and took them home to share. The coconut macaroon was dense, not overly moist and with beautiful crispy edges. One or two of them appeared a bit darker than I would have liked, but the insides were sweet and sticky enough I didn't much care in the end. I was not a fan of the white chocolate the macaroon was dipped in, but the tart and sweet flavor of the cranberries was perfect with the smooth, fatty coconut. The only thing that could have made them tastier would have been a little orange zest. I can't even begin to talk about the mango flavored French macaroons with their sensual vanilla butter cream - not here, not like this. They were almost too delightful to put into words.

So, time passed and I mused and mused about macaroons. I went home last weekend for Easter, and in addition to dying Easter eggs, getting a pedicure and consuming copious amounts of candy I managed to dig up my "ye ole standby" coconut macaroon recipe. I was pretty sure I could re-create the Dean & Deluca's coconut macaroons with only a little trouble, but I wanted to make them my own. So, I nixed the white chocolate (a blessing) and added a teaspoon or so of fresh orange zest. I also upped the amount of coconut and flour from the original recipe and added a little more almond extract as well, just to keep things lively. The results were, in a word, scrumptious. Sure, they lacked some of the elegance of the French macaroon, and they weren't filled with butter cream, but they were ready to eat in half an hour, and just as sweet and even more satisfying.

As the first pan was baking, I noticed something extraordinary through the open kitchen door. In the dew speckled grass there were perhaps a dozen Easter eggs scattered around the yard. Was it an Easter miracle?! Had the Easter bunny come to visit... ME! Upon closer inspection I realized it was just a show of good will on our neighbor's part; after all, their Easter egg hunt started at a robust 7:30 that morning right under my bedroom window. Despite a little broken sleep, I was thrilled and promptly crept out in my pajamas and scooped them up. I was so tickled in fact that I used the remaining macaroon batter to re-create a nostalgic childhood favorite: the jelly bean coconut nest. There was always one tucked in our baskets as children. My macaroon was, per the original, very nearly, sickeningly indulgent even without the chocolate. But, it was dreadfully simple and the unconventional flavors of the jelly beans (I used Jelly Belly) added an extra element of surprise. I only wish I had found the time to whip them up earlier this week so I could have given them to neighbors and friends.

Notes: The first time I laid eyes on a French macaroon I was enraptured. I have never made any out of shear, unadulterated fear. But, I feel comfortable enough with whipping out some coconut macaroons until I get my nerve up. According to wikipedia a macaroon (or macaron) is composed of egg whites, almond powder and sugar. However, industry names like David Lebovitz describe the macaroon as more of "the result of a technique, rather than following a mere recipe". Lebovitz provides a list of great links to learn more about that mysterious, beautiful confection on his website. For the humble, timid follower of the coconut macaroon I list my recipe for "D&D Macaroons" here. Enjoy!

D&D Macaroons
Variation from a "Pillsbury: Best Desserts" recipe

2 egg whites
1/3 cup sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 (7 ounce) bag coconut
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 cup dried cranberries

1. Preheat the oven to 325. Lightly grease and flour a cookie sheet.
2. Whisk/Beat the egg whites until they are frothy and white. Add the sugar, flour, salt, almond extract, orange zest.
3. Add the coconut and cranberries and mix until thoroughly coated.
4. Drop the coconut mixture by tablespoonfuls onto the cookie sheet. Bake for 13-17 minutes until lightly golden. Immediately remove from cookie sheet.

Coconut Nests:

1. Add two drops of green food coloring to the prepared macaroons, stirring until the dye is evenly distributed and the coconut is the desired shade of green.
2. Drop the macaroons by tablespoonfuls onto the cookie sheet and bake as directed.
3. As soon as the macaroons come out of the oven, press 2-3 miniature jelly beans into the hot coconut, pressing gently to create a "nest".
4. Remove the nests from the cookie sheet and allow to cool completely.

Disclaimer: Better photos to follow shortly, I got my hands on a family member's Nikon this weekend so I'm at her mercy for the actual photos.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Tibetan Style Chai Tea

+ SPUDS on TastyKitchen.com:

Did it rain where you were yesterday? It did here, and it poured.

I can't say I minded much, though. A rainy, sleepy Saturday was exactly what I needed. The Friday finale at work wasn't as bright and uplifting as I had hoped it would be. Responsibilities are piling up, as they seem to do in the government, with much grumbling and nit-picking while the clock ticks. I did some grumbling too, but it came in the form of despondent sighing and much cleaning of messy desk drawers instead of outright apathy. I wonder, does that make me more or less disgruntled than my co-workers?

Regardless, I didn't step out of the house once all Saturday. I even skipped stretch class and only got gussied up in my sweat pants and t-shirt because we had a visitor a little after lunchtime. It was the sort of Saturday when you watch an entire season of your favorite Showtime drama, order sushi for takeout (and have your very thoughtful boyfriend pick it up) and drink three or four cups of tea just because cradling something warm and aromatic is the perfect, if not picturesque, way to spend your cozy day off. It is also the type of Saturday a bandita like me spends trolling food blogs. I've been a closet Tasty-Kitchen follower for some time, but on Saturday I made it official. See that badge on the right-hand side of the page? Give that a click. SPUDS is very excited to, finally, be a part of it. We even think the Pioneer Woman herself gave our recipe a peek - if even if it was just to make sure we weren't posting any lewd advertisements instead of a delicious, easy cake recipe. But that counts, right?

Even before the weather changed - Friday was a beautiful, breezy sixty-something with sun - I had it in my mind to make this chai for the weekend. I got the recipe form a yoga instructor who, in turn, got it from a fellow yogini who begged it from a very zen and generous soul in the Himalayas. I'm awfully glad that they did. I have always been in love with chai - it is probably my favorite thing on the lunch buffet at Indian restaurants. The warm, milky sweetness and aromatic spices make it the perfect accompaniment to anything from a bad book review to a wedge of cake. I've wanted to make it at home since I started spending a fortune on watered down versions at cafes the country over. But, I've never found a recipe I quite liked or that didn't seem like it would cost a fortune to make. There is a trick to making good chai at home: not going broke on the ingredients.

In the past I have always been leery of "difficult" international recipes because of the pricey ingredients. After all, most chain grocery stores have limited stores of expensive exotic spices likes cardamom seeds. Take cinnamon sticks, for example. In our local Safeway a regular jar (5-6 sticks) was $5.99. But, if you go to your local Indian or Asian grocery you can buy double the product for about half the price. If you stop to think about it, this makes perfect sense. Chai tea, for example, is something every family makes. Therefor, any grocer with a savy business sense would keep these popular ingredients well-stocked and reasonably priced. Isn't it the same way with spaghetti sauce? And since most bigger cities have one or two International markets you're bound to find what you're looking for. So the next time you're trying your hand at making Miso or paella or even this chai tea (highly recommended) stop in at your local international market before heading to your normal grocer to pick up the more exotic items called for in your dish. Your wallet will be very glad you did.

Before I go off on a tangent about how delicious, and easy, this recipe is let me talk a moment about the ingredients. I used a Darjeeling tea; although, the recipe mentioned Orange Pekoe as an alternative. A cup of Darjeeling without any accompaniment might be a little too strong for most casual tea drinkers, but paired with the barely sweet milk and warm spice it provides the perfectly balanced tea flavor. Therefor, I highly recommend it. Dried spices like powdered ginger should not be substituted. For me, the fresh ginger is the real star of this chai because it provides a spiciness that is incomparable to the powdered version. Fresh ginger is sold, almost universally, in the produce section of your grocery store. You can peel the root or leave the peel on in which case I would wash it to remove any dirt. You can even freeze it if you're afraid you won't find a stir-fry or quick bread to use it in before it goes bad. But, once you start using it you really will have a hard time putting it down. Lastly, the milk. I used a skim milk because that is what we had available, but feel free to use a whole milk or even a soy milk if you're into that. Regardless of whether your version is non-fat, "skinny" or soy it beats the stuff in that green and white paper cup - you have my word on that.

Notes: This tea is so soothing and warming it is bound to dismiss the rigors of even the most vigorous of days at your desk. I reduced the amount of sugar used from the original recipe because I am not one for overly sweet tea. But, feel free to add a few teaspoons more if you like -the original recipe calls for 1/2 cup. Let the milk cool before storing in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Warm gently before enjoying.

Tibetan-Style Chai Tea pictured here with a Maple Snack cake. Also try Cinnamon Raisin Biscotti.

Tibetan-Style Chai Tea
A (slight) variation on a recipe from Lacy

5 cups water
3-4" piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and cut into coins
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
3 cinnamon sticks
4 Darjeeling tea bags
4 cups milk, warmed
1/4 cup sugar

1. Bring the water, ginger, cardamom seeds, cinnamon sticks and tea bags to a boil in a large pot.
2. Reduce the temperature and let the mixture simmer for 7-10 minutes. The longer you let it simmer the stronger the tea flavor will be.
3. Warm the milk in the microwave, 30 seconds to one minute. Remove the tea bags from the pot.
4. Add the milk and sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Turn the heat up and bring the tea mixture to a boil.
5. Reduce the heat and let the chai tea simmer for another 5 minutes. Strain the spices out and serve warm.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Lunch Box: Chicago-Style Hot Dogs

The post you thought you'd never see:

I wrote this post last week and I liked it so much that I have to post it, even though I've got a delicious salmon (salad) sandwich still on my lips and on my mind. It goes without saying that the shadowy threat of a possible government shut-down ignited fears as well as appetites last week. Even my candy jar had been all but wiped clean by lunch time. On my way to the Metro Thursday night I noticed a food truck, that usually clogs the courtyard at lunch time, was poised for sale at four-fifty in the afternoon. Since I was hungry, I slowed down just to catch a glimpse of the smiling vendor squeezing mustard onto a naked pink hot dog as his customer clawed through a basket of bagged chips and pretzels. I quickened my pace.

As a child I understood the magic that held a hot-dog together and gave it that remarkable texture. It never failed me. I always picked a hot dog when we cooked out, and cherished the cracked, charred surface slathered in mustard and onions or covered in coleslaw or, more traditionally, mustard, ketchup and relish. I even remember a fellow student exclaiming at lunch one day, "ew, you put boogers on your hot dog," in the fourth grade. That sort of killed the relish fetish for me for a good five or six years.

As I grew up I became less enchanted and more eerily aware of the hot dog and its place in society, the refrigerated section and my lower GI. My aversion to boiled hot dogs was already strong thanks to my Mother. I seem to be a minority, however, here in the states, and especially in the hungry working cities like the Nation's capital where food carts abound, drawing workers like flies. That wasn't quite the imagine I was hoping to conjure, but so be it. Still, I'm not surprised, really. Hot dogs are cheap, quick and easy to eat - either while driving or navigating your blackberry - and inherently satisfactory to the American psyche. College students and single young adults rely just as heavily on the hot dog as the rest of us at lunch time. But, that doesn't mean you have to settle for that insipid dog with the pert squeeze of mustard and not much else just for the sake of convenience.

A recent article in the Washington Post's "Express"showcased a variety of hot dog carts and diners in the Metro area. My own campus back out west had a local grease pit that had been around since the tertiary period, serving up heinous dogs, burgers and grilled cheese for dastardly cheap prices. I went once, maybe twice, just to be indoctrinated. I was disgusted with myself and the institution that little hole in the wall had become. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to taking my children there one day. But this article, with the artistic combinations and brilliant photos, reignited a little bit of the magic that marked the end of cold, rainy days and the beginning of a long, if sweltering, spring and summer.

I was especially intrigued by the Chicago style dogs with their menagerie of veggies - just never ketchup. And while I couldn't bring myself to make a special trip to downtown (read: to actually eat the mysterious cart hot dog regardless of its toppings), I also couldn't help but want to try the hallmark Chicago flavors - I had missed my chance in the Windy City a year ago. And as fate would have it a trip home last weekend would break my five year hot dog hiatus. Originally, I wanted to make make a rudimentary slaw of sorts, using all the same Chicago flavors. But, in the end, a Chicago-style hot dog is easy enough to make for your lunch box that making a "slaw" of your toppings would probably pan out being more trouble than its worth. Granted, the recipe below is more of a guide line than an actual recipe so don't say I took any credit. In my opinion the cheddar cheese was the best addition, as was the crisp dill pickle spear, but the preparation of your dog is what really makes or breaks your frank. I, personally, like mine grilled - if it's raining we've been known to split our franks in half and saute them in a dry pan to simulate the same crisp, grilled outside. But, whether you boil or microwave your hot dogs just do it to your taste.

Notes: I really don't want to know too much about hot dogs. But, the truth of the matter is no one really does. If you want some questions answered, or a little inspiration, check out the links below. Also, forgive my photos, but they were taken via iPod and lack a certain... level of clarity. You get the idea. How about those paper plates?!

All about hot dog toppings, sales and famous joints: LINK
For the "Express" Article that inspired this post check out this link: DOGS

How to lunch box your Chicago Style Hot Dog:
-Grill, boil or pan fry your dog the night before
-Wrap your bun in a paper towel and wrap in plastic wrap
-Layer your toppings in a Tupperware container and refrigerate

@ work:
-Simply reheat your hot dog and bun (still wrapped in paper towel) top and serve

Chicago Style Hot Dogs
From the books

Cheddar Cheese, shredded (not strictly traditional)
Hot Salad Peppers
Dill pickle spears
Onions, diced
Mustard, plain
Tomatoes, chopped
Poppy seeds, or poppy seed hot dog buns

Hot dogs

1. Cook your dog according to your preference.
2. Warm your bun in the microwave wrapped in a barely damp paper towel to steam it for 10 seconds.
3. Top your dog with cheese and the remaining toppings. Serve immediately. Sprinkle with poppy seeds to finish.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Lunch Box: Middle Eastern Carrot Salad

Middle Eastern Carrot Salad, a Clementine, pita and Greek yogurt to round it out.

w/ couscous, carrots and cinnamon:

I have been a terrible bore recently. What's worse, I have been a terribly reclusive bore. I could blame sitting at a desk for eight hours, staring at one of three "work appropriate" web pages, as the culprit, but that wouldn't be fair. The knockdown, drag out truth of the matter is: I am just being lazy. There, I said it. Here I am virtually swimming in a pool of weird human behaviors, and I haven't taken more than a few minutes to observe and evaluate them. I spend two hours a day commuting to work, five days a week and I have posted perhaps two minutes worth of anecdotes and comical character sketches. I mean the things people say, do, EAT!? Today, I saw a man today cradling a bag of Chipotle burritos, near to bursting, with all the careful reverence of a new-born. I mean, burritos are good but... are they that good?

Like students, working professionals consume food constantly as a means of staying awake, wasting time, combating boredom and out of general need for nutrients - these first three being stronger reasons than the last. In many ways I feel more like I have returned to college, rather than abandoned it entirely. I wake up early - I rarely had the luxury of afternoon classes - I guzzle caffeinated beverages to fight spells of mid-afternoon drowsiness and I wage a constant battle against the bulk candy bin at the convenience store downstairs. To me, this all sounds eerily similar to fall semester of my freshman year. But, the most startling bridge between the professional world and the academic bubble is the pinnacle role lunch time plays in the daily grind. It remains the highlight of the day - the golden hour you work towards all morning and then cherish as precious "me" time sandwiched between boredom and drudgery. Other than breakfast - which is largely the only reason I can get out of bed at the crack of dawn - it is the most important meal of the day. Bearing that in mind, a great and wondrous variety of lunchtime options is essential to making your hour of freedom, actually feel like an hour of freedom.

Eating out, whether at a dining hall or the falafel truck outside, chews up your cash flow, and just like in college expenses abound in the working world. I spend about seventy-five dollars weekly in metro passes and parking fees, and about thirty dollars bi-weekly in gas - that's roughly three hundred-fifty dollars a month just to get to and from work. (I rue the day I ever complained about taking the free campus bus service). For me, tacking on another fifty dollars a week in take-out lunches would only exacerbate the already irritating rash of hidden expenses, but options like the traditionally spongy ham and cheese, chips and a soda can be an ordeal rather than an afternoon delight. Luckily, there is a solution: recreate popular take-out meals at home. Think you can't without the price tag? Think again.

At work "Perfect Pita" is a popular, but disappointing option. For about five dollars you can get a giant pita bread filled with iceberg lettuce, grainy tomatoes and, if you're lucky, a spattering of feta cheese - tack on a few extra dollars if you want lamb or chicken. The catch is that you have to pay extra to get minute portions of all the good stuff: hummus, tabbouleh, marinated olives etc. Grab a drink and you've brought your lunch total to a less than satisfactory twelve dollars. A twelve dollar lunch can be a steal at some places, but for a greasy pita it is all but highway robbery - a six pack alone of pita bread only costs $2.99. The good news is that you can make a variety of delicious "Perfect-Pita" style dishes at home for a fraction of the price per lunch. Try this recipe by Cooking Light for "Middle Eastern Carrot Salad", for example. It is chocked full of fresh parsley, sweet carrots and tangy garlic and lemon and Israeli style couscous for only about seven dollars - and serves 4 generous servings.

Notes: This is the second or third time I have made this dish, and I have to say I'm always a little disappointed the couscous is as soft as it is. Personally, I think it is just an overly critical cook being, well, overly critical. The flavor is amazing but it is best served warm. The truth of the matter is, reducing the cooking time by a minute or two and reducing the cooking liquid by a few tablespoons should help keep both (carrots and couscous) from becoming too soft. At least that's what I did. The original recipe calls for a mixture of parsley and cilantro, but since I didn't feel like buying both, using one or the other is just fine. I've also added extra lemon juice and went generously on the garlic. I have even been known to toss in some green onion or fresh spinach to make the couscous heartier. Tossing in some tangy Feta cheese, or even grilled shrimp or chicken, would do the trick too. Need a quick dinner? Serve this salad (ready in under 30 minutes) with "Spice Rubbed Chicken".

If you're planning on eating this dish at lunch, reserve some of the dressing and pour over after reheating. Otherwise, the couscous will soak up all the sauce and become a little more like a jello salad and less like the couscous wonder it really is.

Middle Eastern Carrot Salad
Variation on the recipe by Cooking Light

2 cups carrots, sliced
1 cup Israeli style couscous
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons chicken or vegetable broth
1 cinnamon stick or 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 bunch parsley
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
juice and zest of 1/2 a lemon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 large clove of garlic
1/3 cup finely diced green onion

1. Combine the first 4 ingredients in a small saucepan.
2. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally with the lid off.
3. Prepare the rest of the ingredients.
4. Remove the couscous from the heat, draining any excess liquid. Stir in the remaining ingredients, serving some of the dressing if you plan on eating this for lunch. Serve at room temperature.

For our European Friends:
Cook your couscous according to the package directions (it should give you appropriate measurements and cooking times). I would still reduce the cooking time slightly though just to ensure your couscous doesn't get too soggy. The rest of the recipe can be surmised according to taste - no exact measurements necessary. Just go with the flow.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

SNAP Cheese Crepes

with Asiago, Goat Cheese and Love from Georgetown:

I'm trying to make friends at work, and the fastest way to do that is to break down and buy a candy jar. Personality alone, no matter how sparkling, won't bring people to your frigid little corner of the second floor. This week I filled said jar with Tootsie rolls of wondrous variety. Who doesn't like Tootsie rolls? But, there is steep competition around the cubes - the man behind me brings cupcakes from his soon-to-be-retired-bake-aholic wife almost every day. Maybe my motivation for making friends is a little self-centered (e.g. I'm rushing to build bridges and secure a constant personal supply of cupcakes). Well, maybe. But I get lonely too.

Last weekend, to cure one such lonely spell, I met with two of my old roommates from undergraduate for a luncheon in Georgetown. After an hour of wandering, and one harrowing ride up the Metro escalator, we arrived at a sunny street corner and a sign that read "SNAP - Cutest Cafe in Georgetown". At first we were skeptical, we didn't seen anything particularly adorable in the general vicinity. But the orange cartoon fox had peaked our interest. Although, I may have been reminded of Dora the Explorer, we followed the arrow pointing down the side street. The menu, pea green walls and low-prices were visible through the open door - obviously, they typically cater to students who aren't willing to commit to an expensive menu. There were smoothies (of course), a few vegetarian plates, one or two carnivorous paninis, but the main fare was crepes.

The cafe itself was what you'd expect from a college town, even one like Georgetown: small, sparsely furnished, chalkboard menus subject to unexpected changes and a friendly, talkative staff of 2-4. Was it the cutest cafe around - probably not. The wobbly plastic table and chairs were quaint at best, and the narrow, cobblestone garden and rickety space heaters were just short of Spartan. But, I forgave every paper napkin and plastic basket when I spied this gem on the menu: Goat cheese and Asiago Crepe.

There are very few things that I have absolutely zero tolerance for, but goat cheese is one of them. If there is goat cheese in a twenty mile radius I'm going to find it, ask to eat it, and then talk about it for the next 24-48 hours. There is no way that isn't going to happen. In this case, I obsessed over these crepes all week and promised so profusely that I may have been ruthlessly made fun of if I didn't make them Sunday morning. The creamy goat cheese was a given, but the sharp, firm Asiago was so unexpected I couldn't get enough of it. Originally, I had seen it as a mere sidekick to the obvious hero of the dish - the goat cheese. But, every bite was laced with a little Asiago, a few thready chives and, in some cases, a bite or two of tomato. They all danced around in wild pagan homage to the goat cheese - quite beautifully. I may even be inclined to say that the Asiago stole the show a little bit in the second act.

The crepe itself, I think, was buckwheat because it was starchier and a little more firm in texture than the crepes I make at home. Whatever it was, it was bigger than my hand, dripping with cheese and only about $5. After that first bite, I knew I was going to have to make this crepe at home - I had to. The flavors were so clean, so unassuming, I knew I could recreate it. The only difficult part would be making the crepe itself, and we both know that isn't very difficult if you are in possession of a little butter and a non-stick skillet. Since I don't have my Julia Childs baking handbook at the moment - how dreadfully shameful of me, but I choose to fill the last quarter of my suitcase with extra pairs of underwear instead of a large and cumbersome cookbook - I went to Martha instead. My only beef with the recipe was that the amount of butter and oil they suggested for cooking the crepes was absurd. Using 2 tablespoons in the batter itself worked beautifully, and brushing the pan (non-stick) once with a little more melted butter was sufficient. My first crepe was a dud since it separated the oil and and butter and just seethed up at me from the pan. After that disastrous waste of batter, I could see absolutely no reason to dredge the pan with more butter and oil between crepes. I stopped short of the actual recipe, which is for a blintz, and therefor did not fry the filled crepes in butter afterwards. A shame? Maybe, but not really.

Notes: The first crepe is usually a flop; however, it is useful for gauging the temperature of your pan. I used a rather small 8" pan, so I ended up making a ton of crepes. Use a larger pan for a more substantial crepe - all the same rules apply. Ideally, your crepe is silky smooth and soft without any crispy edges. If these happen, certainly don't throw the crepe away, but you may want to turn the crepe sooner or turn down the heat, very slightly. Be sure to get a good and tangy goat cheese. The flavor profile of the crepe is really dependent on the quality of the cheese. With so few ingredients splurge on something really scrumptious. Plus, if you have leftover cheese you can toast up some bagels with a little Asiago, or mix in some goat cheese with your next platter of scrambled eggs. You can't go wrong.

Savory Crepe Base:
Variation of "Blueberry Blintzes" from MarthaStewart.com

3/4 cup milk, plus 2 tablespoons
2 eggs
1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
2 tablespoons melted butter

Inspired by Snap! of Georgetown's "Goat cheese and Asiago Crepe"

5 ounces crumbled Asiago cheese
6 ounces tangiest Goat cheese
scant 1/4 cup chives, finely diced
1 plum tomato seeded and diced, optional

**To our European Friends - you probably already have a great crepe recipe, but if you want this one I can make an attempt at a conversion soon.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Chicken Sausage and Gruyere Strata

+ a trip to Trader's:

On Saturday, I took an hour and a half stretch class at a ballet studio in Rockville. As I grumbled along, hitting pot holes and red lights, I took the time to scout out a Trader Joe's I had heard was nearby. In the web of small Asian groceries, yoga studios, gas stations and "high rise" apartment buildings, I found it. Sure, we had a Trader's back home, but I had only been there once in a feverish panic looking for mochi: I had bulldozed through the first frozen food isle, found the last three boxes of green tea mochi, and b-lined for the check-out. I can't remember why I was in such a hurry to begin with, but I am glad I was.

My first real Trader's experience was, probably, made yet more blissful by the brilliant sunlight, and rush of endorphins and lactic acid being released from every fibrous IT band and tendon in my body. Although I was on a mission to acquisition sausage, plum tomatoes, bread and Gruyere cheese for the Sunday breakfast I was planning for my house mates, I took my time browsing the isles. I was in 7th heaven. The layout of the store itself was not quite what I was expecting, but less than five minutes in the cereal isle, and a quick peek in the dried fruit section sold me. They could suspend boxes of bow-tie pasta from the ceiling for all I care. All those hard to find ingredients like flax seeds, high fiber cereals, dried (un-sweetened) mango, Bartlett pear and even strawberries were right out in the open. No more searching bottom shelves or settling for the only brand available. Here, there were choices, and considerably low prices. I was so engulfed in my discoveries, I almost forgot one of the key ingredients I was looking for: sausage.

Luckily, I remembered before I got in the check-out line. There were 5 different flavors of chicken sausage lined up, and every packaged was made with pasture-raised chicken! No artificial ingredients, preservatives or even sausage casings! Amen. Rapture ensued, but I managed to make it out of the store in good time. I even enjoyed an all-nature fruit and fiber bar on the way to car. It was glorious, and I highly recommended a trip to your local Trader's as a means of dismissing the winter weather blues. I think it even helped ward off sore muscles.

Why did I go to Trader's to being with? Well, I have been enjoying the generous culinary efforts of my house mates/hosts for two full weeks now, without preparing a single dish. Since I was planning on staying in town this weekend, I vowed to whip something up for Sunday brunch before my trip downtown. This strata (a layered egg and bread dish) caught my attention immediately. I loved the idea of big cubes of bread soaking up eggs and milk and then being baked, much like a savory bread pudding. Although the recipe said it was a crowd pleaser (and it was), I did make some alterations. Firstly, the idea of using a spongy wheat sandwich bread didn't sound very appealing. I am all about fiber, but I just couldn't imagine it with anything less than eggy and barely sweet like a brioche or challah. But, since I couldn't find either brioche or challah, I picked up a crispy loaf of French bread. I also used a chicken sausage infused with sun-dried tomatoes instead of the turkey the recipe called for - it was just what struck my fancy. When Sunday morning rolled around, things went swimmingly. The strata is dense and moist but with a lot of structure. The cheese creates a crispy web on top of the eggs and bread, helping it keep it together and making it much easier to serve. And, unlike most breakfast casseroles, the strata comes out moist, but not greasy. I attributed this to the chicken sausage (with 60% less fat than pork sausage); which, I drained after cooking, and the absence of the traditional cheddar cheese.

Notes: The recipe was very warmly received, and could be eaten for dinner (with a nice tossed salad), reheated for lunch as well as for breakfast with some fresh fruit. I prepped the dish the night before, so Sunday I could sleep in. If you can't find a sun-dried tomato infused sausage, you're probably not shopping at Trader Joe's... But, you could always substitute some sliced roasted red pepper or soft sun dried tomatoes sliced finely and tossed in with the bread and sausage. In fact, you might want to do that anyway. The strata cooks for 30-45 minutes, leaving just enough time to slice up a nice bright fruit salad to serve with it. Definitely, worth a trip to Trader's.

+ a trip to Trader's:

Chicken Sausage and Gruyere Strata
Variation on the "Sausage, Cheese and Tomato Strata" from "Betty Crocker Whole Grains"
Serves 12

1 lb chicken sausage
1 French baguette, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 7 cups)
2 cups Gruyere cheese
2 cups chopped plum tomatoes (drained slightly)
6 eggs
2 cups milk
2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt

The night before (or at least 2 hours before baking)
1. Spray a 9x13" baking dish with cooking spray, or rub with butter.
2. Dice the bread into 1" cubes and place in the prepared baking dish.
3. Slice the sausage and cook in a sauce pan with a little butter or olive oil until it is browned. Drain on a paper towel before adding to the bread.
4. Sprinkle the bread and sausage with 1 1/2 cups of the cheese. Dice the tomatoes, pouring off most of the liquid before adding the bread mixture.
5. In a bowl mix the eggs, milk, basil, mustard and salt. Pour evenly over the bread mixture and season with black pepper. Cover tightly; refrigerate for no longer than 24 hours (but at least 2 hours before baking).

To bake
6. Heat the oven to 350. Uncover the dish and bake for 35-40, or until a knife inserted in the center of the dish comes out clean.
7. Let the strata cool slightly before serving.

*Photos to follow shortly; as soon as we find Burrito's camera cord. Again.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Strawberry Swiss Buttercream

It is that nasty pre-bikini time of year again, when the blog circuit shorts out thanks to an overload of "good for you", "fat burning" dishes. Recipes for mac 'n cheese, lasagna and banana bread all but disappear as the comfort food revolution comes to a quick volatile end.

But, not at SPUDS. As an individual, I understand the importance of bikini-body cooking. Two weeks in the workforce have left me feeling like an exhausted, gelatinous blob by the end of an 8(eight) hour work day. Sometimes, it makes me appreciate the nights my parents had short cranky tempers and dinner was just a box of boxed mac and warmed up green beans when I was younger. But mostly, it makes me wish I still lived within walking distance of my workplace, and that I wasn't begging to be in bed by 10:30 every night. But this weekend's warm weather has energized me. With warm weather comes the allure of Jordan almonds, clouds of dreamy cream and meringue, tangy curds and breathless butter creams that are all but impossible to resist. For all the resolution fuss, spring isn't the ideal time to deny oneself the luxuries of the season. Luckily, SPUDS has an excellent reason (as if we needed another one) not to support the healthy body building movement - at least not yet.

Friday March 12th marked SPUDS 1 year anniversary! You will forgive me for not posting that day, but I was enjoying a dinner of left-overs, pajamas and NEW SuperMario Brothers and couldn't be bothered with celebrating successes outside of wall-kicks and spitting fireballs. You have to understand that SPUDS has, and continues to be, a bit of a surprise for me. Firstly, I can't believe I've been posting recipes for a year - I'm usually far too critical to stick to something as easily criticized as a blog. I suppose it is for that same reason I can't help but feel a little saddened my success, however, sweet, remains crepe like in depth. Don't we all want a follower list as bottomless as the most sinful chocolate chocolate torte - the kind you buy because you don't really want to know what is inside. That said, I'm awfully glad you're here. I have this feeling, we're going to be fast friends.

The first SPUDS post was the unassuming, all-occasion "Hot Milk Cake". I am glad to say that, despite the passage of time, the cake remains an excellent no-brainer that is easy on the mouth as well as the wallet. But, a year later I am happy to imagine that SPUDS has grown. Take this Swiss Butter cream recipe for example - neither easy nor extraordinarily cheap. It comes from an amazing blog called C&C Cakery. If the recipe wasn't enough in and of itself, the fact that they do some amazing fantasy baking (they have a "Nerd" label) would be more than enough reason to flag the page as a favorite. This was one of many forays I've made in the past five years into the wide world of butter cream, but by far the most successful. The fact that it doesn't include confectioners sugar it what makes it a "Swiss" butter cream - don't ask me why. It will taste intensely of butter and a little less sweet than most shop butter creams that come piped on by the quarter pound. I love this butter cream not just for its unassuming, but beautiful, color, richness and over all amazing texture (and did I mention richness) but especially for the bright, springy flavor and flecks of strawberry. Cheeky. Burrito and I had a great time piping, smearing and eating it right out of the bag - or at least I did, just a little bit. I was coerced.

Notes: This is the second time I've made this recipe, and it is still as good as it was that first sinful bite. Matcha is a green tea powder, and widely available in Asian markets and specialty stores; however, it isn't cheap. For that reason I've elected to only post the Swiss Butter Cream (which is insanely delicious). For now, at least. The hard part about this butter cream, if it can be called hard, is going to involve your hand mixer. Just bite your lip and admit to yourself that you are going to get mixeritus. Don't worry - it is worth it. Or, you can just rope in a friend. The extra set of hands is really helpful. If you use frozen strawberries, thaw and drain them thoroughly before you begin making the butter cream. You don't want a lot of excess water mucking things up. Also, I just mash my berries with a fork since they get pulverized with the blender and things turn out swimmingly.

"Kaylee's Cupcake" Strawberry Swiss Butter Cream
C&C Cakes - SPUDS didn't change a thing about this recipe. It's that delicious.

1/2 cup sugar
2 egg whites
3/4 cup softened butter, cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (clear preferably)
3/4 cup pureed strawberries

1. Place the egg whites and sugar in a double boiler - I use a microwavable glass dish - with the water simmering (but not boiling). Whisk the whites until the sugar grain have dissolved. They will be frothy and gorgeous.
2. Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl - I carefully wipe the bottom of the bowl off to ensure no water infiltrates the new bowl with the egg whites. With an electric mixer, beat the eggs until they form stiff, glossy peaks on high. This will take a while. To test the egg white turn off the mixer and lift it out of the bowl - if the eggs don't drip off and form a soft serve like curl they are ready.
3. Reduce the speed of your mixer and add the butter cubes one at a time, mixing well. (This is where a friend comes in hand). Mix until the mixture has begun to curdle (just how it looks) and then keep mixing until it is smooth. This will take a while, but don't give up!
4. Once smooth, slowly add the vanilla and pureed strawberries. Use immediately.

*If you have to, refrigerate your butter cream after you decorate with it. It will change the texture slightly, so only use as a last resort. When I have to do this I let the butter cream come to room temperature again before consuming.

For our European Friends... (attempt II)

"Kaylee's Cupcake" Strawberry Swiss Butter Cream

180 g butter
splash vanilla
2 egg whites
100 g sugar
110 g pureed strawberries

1. Place the egg whites and sugar in a double boiler - I use a microwavable glass dish - with the water simmering (but not boiling). Whisk the whites until the sugar grain have dissolved. They will be frothy and gorgeous.
2. Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl - I carefully wipe the bottom of the bowl off to ensure no water infiltrates the new bowl with the egg whites. With an electric mixer, beat the eggs until they form stiff, glossy peaks on high. This will take a while. To test the egg white turn off the mixer and lift it out of the bowl - if the eggs don't drip off and form a soft serve like curl they are ready.
3. Reduce the speed of your mixer and add the butter cubes one at a time, mixing well. (This is where a friend comes in hand). Mix until the mixture has begun to curdle and then keep mixing until it is smooth. This will take a while, but don't give up!
4. After smooth, slowly add the vanilla and pureed strawberries. Use immediately.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Best Ever Cake

The Best I Ever Had:

Burrito: "Whatcha doing?
Fajita: "I'm making a post about a cake."

Burrito: "What kind of cake?"
Fajita: "The Best Ever Cake."

Burrito: "Is it really the "best ever" cake?"
Fajita: "Yes [definitively]; well, it is pretty damn close."

But how to describe it... Let's start with an alternative history. Imagine a small coastal village, long ships bobbing in the harbor, smoke belching from a dozen smoke holes in a dozen mud and thatch huts. Now imagine the heart of this seaside village pulsing with men and women in hide and fur and leather. Then, imagine those crusty vicious men and women beating wooden spoons and long-handled baking paddles against copper pans and bowls and tin dishes black from sooty fires. Imagine them spooning mouthfuls of sweet pineapple cake into greedy, bearded mouths instead of ransacking churches, pillaging abbeys and scourging the better part of every coastal town in England, Ireland and parts of France. If the Vikings had ever seen pineapple, much less tasted it, or the sweet ambrosia of cream cheese frosting, no doubt this scenario would be a little less absurd. As it stands, it is my sincere belief that this cake - with its simple instructions, delightful ingredients and minuscule price tag - could have changed the course of history with little more than one whiff of the barely sweet, fruity decadence that is "The Best Ever Cake".

There is something utterly undeniable about pineapple, walnut and cream cheese in a moist, sweet cake. Luckily, my Mom made some for her office party a few months ago and I, being very savvy, took a photo of it for future use. It was unprecedented of me - especially considering the turn my camera took back in February. (Nothing good to update there). The downside: I am really regretting not being able to eat a homely slice right now. I think it would really improve the post, and provide an honest to goodness description of just how amazing this cake really is.

Don't believe me yet? Trust me, you can afford to give this recipe a try. I love icing the cake while it is warm, but be sure to let the cake come to room temperature before you store it. If you put the cake in the fridge while it is hot it will sweat and become too moist. That said, the cake is great either straight out of the fridge or still just barely warm.

Notes: I'd love to write more, but I've been up since 6:00am (and 3:45, 4:50 before that) and I'm afraid I couldn't come up with any more adjectives or witty, helpful advice if I tried. But, honestly, there isn't much else to say about this cake. Everything really does get mixed up in the same bowl, and it does matter that everything goes into the bowl in the order listed in the recipe. But, that's about it. After all, doesn't the name tell you everything you need to know?

Best Ever Cake
Recipe from Mom

1 cup chopped walnuts
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups unsifted flour (not self rising)
2 teaspoons of baking soda
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 regular sized can of crushed pineapple (do NOT drain)

8 ounces softened cream cheese
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 stick of margarine, room temp

1. Grease and flour a 9x13 baking dish. Preheat the oven to 350.
2. Combine the ingredients (in the order listed) in a single bowl. No sifting is required.
3. Bake at 300 for 45-50 minutes. Prepare the icing while the cake is baking.
4. Remove the cake from the oven, let sit for 5-10 minutes, then spread with the cream cheese icing. Once the cake is room temperature, cover the cake and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Recipe for Success

+ Fish Dish:

So spuds, here I am: 122 miles from home, one dishwasher richer and currently a full-time contractor for my very first government agency. All that in under a week - it is no wonder I haven't been posting. In all the hubub of moving away from home (only for 4 months) I haven't had time to even think of putting a recipe up. Shame on me! You all even gave me some great feedback to go on. I love feedback. But don't be sad, although my camera is still on the fritz my shiny iPod touch is here to save the day. Granted, the pictures won't be as crisp, but that fact pales in the face of all the new and wonderful recipes I have, and will, come across.

Recipes, and nasty Reese's Peanut Butter Cups aside, (no really, I ate one today and it was just plain rotten tasting), I am very excited to get to share all my new adventures with you. SPUDS is coming up on its one year anniversary, and what better way to celebrate than with wild and crazy changes!? Until I settle into my new arrangements, I imagining my cooking will be limited. In the mean time am hoping to not just feature new recipes but new chefs and bakers. Being near the capital, I am hoping to make the most of the cornucopia of great eateries and bars as well. There is so much to be been seen and tasted I had better not waste any time!

Take the "Smoked Paprika Tilapia" recipe, I found it sitting innocently on the counter just now, as an example. When I got home today dinner was minutes away from going on the table and filling our grumbling bellies. The chef, let's call her Taquita, is a soon to be nursing student and can she ever bake up a storm. I guess she can cook up a storm too since she's whipped up two scrumptious dinners in just 24 hours. The fillets were so flaky and moist! Flaky and moist, and yet crispy and smoky too. We ate our fish with rice and a little green vegetable, but I am imaging it would even taste delicious cold over some rice in a lunch/bento box tomorrow too... My new housemate(s) are excellent cooks, and I am very much looking forward to picking up some tricks and tips while I'm staying here. But I'm too tired to give you the whole scoop tonight. I guess we'll both just have to keep checking out the blog to find out!

Notes: Although we used Tilapia, I am sure any other firm white fish (or even salmon) would be just as scrumptious. When buying fish make sure the fish smells fresh (e.g. not fishy). The fisher the smell the older the catch. If you're buying a fish with the head and eye balls - yuck - be sure the eyes are clear and not cloudy. Again, this indicates freshness. If you get your fish frozen just be sure to follow the package directions for thawing and cooking.

Smoked paprika is a nice spice to invest in, and one that isn't always as outrageously priced as some of the others. Just make sure you have smoked Spanish paprika - it will be a little more mild than its spicy cousin. It would also be great on some mashed or broiled spuds, or even on some scrambled eggs tortilla style.

If you want to be featured on a SPUDS post, I would be ever so excited to write about you! Just drop an email with your post idea/recipe and a little blurb about yourself to stbreadwater@gmail.com

Smoked Paprika Tilapia
Cooking Light (2008)

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 (6 ounce) tilapia fillets

1. Heat a large non-stick skillet (or grill pan) over medium-high heat.
2. In a dish combine the olive oil, paprika, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper in a bowl, stirring well.
3. Rub fish evenly with oil mixture.
4. Coat the pan with cooking spray. Then, add the fish to the pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

For our European friends (this is a work in progress, mind. I would love to know how to do this without looking dodgie!):

Smoked Paprika Tilapia

22.5 ml olive oil
3 g garlic powder
5 g salt*
6 g smoked paprika
ground black pepper
(4) 168g tilapia fillets

*I think

1. Heat a large non-stick skillet (or grill pan) over medium-high heat.
2. In a dish combine the olive oil, paprika, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper in a bowl, stirring well.
3. Rub fish evenly with oil mixture.
4. Coat the pan with cooking spray. Then, add the fish to the pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

Friday, February 18, 2011

SPUDS update + apology

Bad news with a touch of cream cheese:

My dear SPUDS followers,

Sad news. The SPUDS cam is, sadly, still out of order. As such, so is our blogspot. Please consider this post an apology, and the formal statement from the SPUDS powers that be with regards to our inactivity. It is our sincere hope that the SPUDS cam, or a suitable replacement, will be put to work very shortly.

If you would prefer that SPUDS continue to post recipes, without photos, please let us know in the Comments section below; we do so love feedback! If you would rather SPUDS just post old photos taken from our (the royal "we") undergraduate education, like this cherry-oreo lava cheesecake with festive black rider, we would be happy to do so as well. Did I mention this cake caught fire? Trick candles, they'll get you ever time. Well... at least the plastic figurine was aflame for a while, and may I say it smoked liberally.

If you would rather we stuck to our normal routine of recipes and photos, please ask a wealthy blog benefactor to donate a camera to SPUDS. No doubt our harrowing story will be a source of inspiration: our camera broke; we can't afford to fix it.

In all this "what-are-we-going-to-do-we're-still-paying-on-our-loans" hubub, I almost forgot to share the good news: this spud is about to be a student again. Yes, a real student. Again.

With homework... and stuff.

And all-nighters...

Oh dear.

Love and black beans,
Fajita Bandita

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dinner for Two

An evening in for $20 or less:

Isn't it funny how Valentine's Day can either be "fantastic" or "dreadful". Unfortunately, everything "okay" or "fine" falls under the dreadful category thanks to modern day marketing and social expectations. Don't misunderstand me: I love Valentine's Day marketing - I work in a chocolate shop, for heaven sake. But, speaking from personal experience my Valetine's Days have been slowly making an upward climb; which, is better than a downward spiral. The last two I spent at fencing tournaments, at least one before that was spent drinking smuggled champagne in our dorm suite, and I don't really care to go back beyond that.

This year, things are mostly looking up: no sweaty, stinky fencing equipment in sight. But, I've been realizing that there are some simple things that really stand out when you're trying to make a statement to your sweet heart; a tasty, decadent dinner, for example. SPUDS is happy to present you with the perfect menu for just a such a statement, and at a fraction of the price of take-out. This menu is a guideline more than anything else. For example, if you like blue cheese swap in the Gorgonzola for the Parmesan in the cream sauce. For the record, the sweet sausage tortellini about blew my mind dressed up in the nutty Parmesan sauce though, so why meddle with perfection. Want an appetizer instead of dessert? Toast up half of your fresh bread, brush it with olive oil and rub it with garlic and serve with a little of the leftover cheese from your pasta. If you're feeling up to it, you can factor in another $6-7 and pick up a meat entree at your grocer's prepared foods counter.

There is some bad news, though. My Olympus FE-340 - yes, the point and shoot that takes all my photos - seems to be badly distressed. The problem hasn't been solved just yet, although all signs point towards a trip to the technician's for a diagnosis. We are going to make a move towards the iPod camera - as soon as I find it, again... In the mean time, SPUDS will be taking a short hiatus.

Dinner for Two

Pasta with Parmesan Cream Sauce ($7.38)
-The Complete Guide to Sauces

Pictured: Sweet Italian Sausage Tortellini with Parmesan Cream

1 package refrigerated cheese (or meat) filled pasta

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup cheese (Parmesan or Gorgonzola)
pinch of nutmeg

1. Melt the butter over low heat with the cream and cheese of your choice.
2. Stir until everything begins to combine.
3. Increase the heat and simmer the sauce a minute or two until it thickens slightly.
4. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste. Serve warm.

Fresh Bread (.89 - 2.99)

Notes: The next time you are in your local grocery, check out the bakery. Many stores will have a discount basket with loaves market down as low as .89 cents. Be sure to check the loaves for freshness: is the crust still crispy, does the bread smell fresh or yeasty even? Very often, these loaves are either seasonal, specialty, duplicates or nearing the "sell by date". But, why pay full price when you don't have to?

Seasonal Fresh, Frozen or Canned Vegetable (.75 - 1.95)
Notes: Pairing a simple vegetable side dish with a rich entrée is a no-brainer. Too many complex flavors can overwhelm even the most well-trained palate. Luckily, there are tons of options in the modern day market. Make heart-shaped sweet and sour beets (.75 can), an easy to find fresh vegetable like green beans or fresh spinach, or even a lightly seasoned frozen option - all you will have to do is heat them up.

Pictured: Kiwi fruit Pizzettes with Blood Orange Sorbet

Sweet Fruit Pizzettes with Sorbet (5.37)
-Baking with Julia

Notes: The pizzettes can be made a few hours before your dinner, but I like them hot. Be sure to thoroughly defrost the puff pastry before you begin to roll it out. Once the pastry gets warm it will get extremely sticky so flour your surface liberally, but not excessively. Follow the package instructions to thaw the pastry. Although it has a lot of butter in it, be sure to lightly grease your cookie sheet before baking your pastry hearts; otherwise, it is possible they will stick.

Because I was using such a juicy fruit (kiwi) I chose to top the pizzettes with them after baking, rather than before. The heat drained the kiwi fruit of almost all of its color on the first try; which, is why I chose to serve them fresh. But, something like a strawberry or plum slice may not suffer the same fate. My advice: top half the hearts with fruit and leave half plain in case the pizzettes get too soggy, or the fruit too pale. You'll always have a back-up. I skipped the large carton of sorbet for reasons of fitting into my clothing after this holiday. Most stores offer a tolerable selection of single or double serving containers in the freezer section.

1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted
1 kiwi, 6-8 pieces of fresh fruit like plum or pear slices or fresh berries
goat cheese (optional)
cinnamon sugar

fruit sorbet to serve

1. Thaw the pastry in its package for about 40 minutes at room temperature.
2. Lightly flour a work surface (like waxed paper or a clean counter) and gently unfold the pastry.
3. Use a floured cookie cutter, cut out your desired shapes. Dust them with a little cinnamon sugar and place on your baking sheet.
4. Either gently press a slice of fruit or fresh berry into the pastry before baking, or bake as is for 12-15 minutes. If desired, you can crumble a little goat cheese on top of the fruit before baking.
5. Serve with a scoop or two of sorbet (or ice cream if you're into that).

Friday, February 11, 2011

Stained Glass Heart Cookies

The Extraordinary Impostor:

My feet are swollen. My eye lids are drooping. My dinner was a champagne glass of mac 'n cheese, a wedge of roast beef with mustard, a glass of a red wine and a vanilla "cake-pop".

Things have been busier than normal this week. I feel like I just said that... Well, I meant it then, and I certainly mean it now. Working at a chocolate shop during February is like being crushed in a vice. It starts off slow, slower than you expect, and you tell yourself, "this isn't that bad. I can handle this". Then, all of a sudden, you feel the pinch, and you start scrambling for your life to get out. Of course, the perks often outweigh the pitfalls. Take tonight, for instance. Although I was up extra early to stop by job number two for a few hours before the shop, I got to work/attend a great fundraising event here in the city. There were a number of other chocolate vendors there, and at least five different chocolate fountains bubbling up creme de mint, champagne and Reese cup infused chocolate; sadly, I forgot my camera. Otherwise, I would have awkwardly photographed everything from the macaroni and cheese bar to the "Biscotti Goddess" booth being spearheaded by a balding middle-aged man - even a biscotti goddess can't afford to be a discriminatory employer.

There were probably fifty or sixty different vendors there sampling everything from pastry to coffee to wine and beer. I tried everything I could convince myself to put my grubby little hands on, but the most shocking delicacy was, by far, a marshmallow dipped in melted peanut butter being pumped through a chocolate fountain. My lips were glued shut for a truly blissful thirty seconds. I'm pretty sure my eyes glazed over, and I forgot to chew for at least the first fifteen seconds. The moral of the story is... well, there really isn't a moral. I just wanted to talk about that.

Talking about delicacies, how about these cookies?! They are so easy on the eyes. They also happen to be one of the most scrumptious cookies I've eaten in months. Although they are extraordinarily simple to whip up, they are a trifle difficult to assemble. I say trifle, but I really mean they are very finicky. My Mom worked with the chilled dough first, and robustly complained about the grainy, crumbly texture. I figured things would turn out that way since the dough wasn't any old butter cookie, but a crisp, flaky shortbread. I embraced the fact, and woke up earlier than usual to bake a pan or two to take photos of. As soon as I set the disk of dough down, it crumbled to bits before my eyes. I was still in denial, so I just tried to crunch it back together with my hands. Soon though, I was just bashing it with the rolling pin and spooning the especially crumbly pieces on top. In the end, I had worked the dough together enough to cut out four hearts. Initially, I told myself they weren't worth the man-handling and the clean up, and that I would need to find another recipe to post. Then, I sandwiched two cookies together with a little warmed strawberry jam and took a bite. Believe me when I say the crumbly, hideous dough is totally worth the effort - it transforms in the oven and produces the most sumptuous crisp, buttery cookie that all but melts in your mouth.

The smashing-with-a-rolling-pin technique worked pretty well. Once the dough begins to stick together you can roll it out with only a little difficulty. I like my cookies a little more substantial so I kept the dough a little thicker than suggested in the recipe. This helped keep the cookies from splitting too much when I was cutting them. But, if your heart breaks (literally or figuratively) when you're cutting the inner designs, don't worry. Just pinch the dough back together and press firmly. Since they are covered in powdered sugar, no one will even notice any imperfections. Warming the dough slightly, for maybe eight to ten seconds, in the microwave helps soften it up before rolling. Still, be aware of what you're getting yourself into with these cookies:

Notes: These cookies would make the perfect treat for a Valentine - if you have one. If not, you could just take photos of them, post them to your Facebook page and then bask in the crisp, fruity glory that is a shortbread sandwiched with jam, and tell you're self: I'm awesome. These gems are quintessential shortbread perfection. But, that doesn't mean you have to make them only for Valentines. Using any style of graduated cookie cutters will produce an equally adorable cookie. You can also change up the flavor of jam you use, as well. In fact, the original recipe calls for a seedless raspberry jam in homage to the linzer torte which these cookies mimic in appearance, texture and flavor. Linzer cookies, the unmistakable circular cookies with jam cutouts and a dusting of confectioner's sugar, are really a torte dough cut into shapes to form "cookies". Although they look similar, I imagine Linzer cookies have their own distinctive flavor. Once you try these cookies, though, you'll be happy to "settle" for such a delightful Linzer impostor.


2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 - 1/2 cup strawberry jam
powdered sugar, to dust

1. Whisk the flour and salt together in a small bowl.
2. In a large bowl beat the butter until smooth, about 1 minute, using a hand mixer. Add the sugar and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.
3. Add the vanilla extra, and beat to combine. Gently stir in the flour mixture until just incorporated. Smooth the dough into a disk shape and flatten. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour before using.
4. Preheat the oven to 350. Great a baking sheet.
5. Lightly flour a clean counter top, or a large sheet of waxed paper. Roll the dough out until it is about a 1/4 inch thick. Cut out your cookie shapes, allotting two cookies per sandwich. Place both sides of the sandwich on the baking sheet. Then, make your cutouts using a small (3/4 - 1 inch) cookie cutter. Put the cookies in the freezer for 5-7 minutes before baking.
6. Bake for about 10 minutes or until the edges of the cookies are very lightly browned. Cool totally before dusting.

To assemble:
1. Warm up your jam in the microwave for 5-6 seconds. Then, spread the jam on the bottom (without the cutout) cookie. Leave a tiny border between the cookie and the jam so that it doesn't all ooze out when you place the top cookie.
2. Dust the top cookie (with the cutout) with powdered sugar on a separate plate.
3. Sandwich the top cookie (with the cutout) over the jam. Press gently, but firmly to seal. Serve same day, if possible*

*These cookies can be baked a few days ahead of time, and stored in an airtight container. Do not assemble them until ready to serve to retain the cookies crispiness.