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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.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


perfect for Valentine's Day:

I have this horrible knot in my shoulder. I keep thinking, "how did this happen". Then, I woke up this morning with my left arm wrapped around my head in some contortion of "eagle arms". Apparently, my subconscious finds demanding yoga poses comfortable. I would say it is worth it, but I really can't. Doing spinal twist in class is great, but a lethargic, drooling version - sustained for the better part of seven hours - cannot be very good for the spine in question. So, stop imagining me as you may (or may not) know me, and imagine a snarling hunchback that thrives on chocolate graham crackers and festive sprinkles, instead.

Luckily, my temporary disability hasn't kept me from tempering and dipping chocolate. We're up to our eyeballs in the stuff at work with Valentine's day coming; which, is probably why I was inspired to make these darling little chocolate-grams. This weeks work schedule will not leave much time for making Valentines before the big day, so these do double duty as a card and a sweet treat. And what better way to express your most secret desires than with streamers of colorful melted chocolate and crispy sweet graham cracker? I'm a dark chocolate kind of bandita, otherwise I might have been tempted to use some white chocolate - dyed hot pink, of course. One of the best things about this recipe is that depending on your piping skills, the message can be as creative, personal or expressive as you want. Try a Hilton inspired "ur hot" or a more Jackson Pollock approach with red, white and pink icing.

Notes: Chocolate covered graham crackers are a popular addition to almost any gift basket. At a fraction on the price you can serve these up to a dozen friends, or fill a box with them and give them to someone very special. Just be sure to allot at least two grahams per person; trust me, even your most disciplined Valentine will want to eat more than one.

Makes about 16 grams

1 package (1/3 of a box) of plain graham crackers
2 cups good quality chocolate chips (milk, white or dark)
sprinkles, candies, icing to decorate

1. Set a heat proof bowl on top of a pot of simmering water (only 1- 1 1/2 inches). Do not let it touch the bottom of the bowl, and if possible, keep it from coming to a boil.
2. Using a serrated knife, cut the graham crackers in half. Set aside on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper.
3. Add the chips to the bowl and stir until smooth and melted. Keep stirring the chocolate for a minute or so once the chips are all melted to ensure a smooth finish.
4. Drop the graham crackers, one at a time, into the chocolate. Use a spoon to cover the crackers in chocolate, including the sides. Lift the crackers out of the chocolate using a fork. Let the excess chocolate drip off before you set the crackers on the waxed paper. Repeat with remaining crackers.
5. Once all the crackers are coated, place them in the fridge or in a cool place to set up. This will take 5-7 minutes. The chocolate will still be soft set, which is perfect for decorating. Dust with sprinkles or crushed candies (if desired) and drizzles of icing.
6. Once the grahams are decorated, let them harden for at least half an hour before storing. Once the cookies are totally set, store them between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container for up to a week.