Thursday, January 21, 2010

you fool night

there's something comforting about desserts made with fruit. add sugar to that and we have a winner! my friend uses the expression "you fool!" all the time. (in a jesting manner, don't worry.) in honor of her, and our 1 year anniversary since leaving to study abroad, i hosted a "you fool" anniversary dessert party, where we made an english dessert that goes back to the 1600s called fool. it only has 3 ingredients and you can be creative with toppings!

--> feasting fact - JAM vs. JELLY:
jam is thick and made of pieces of fruit and pulp. it's more like a spread.
jelly is clear and is made of fruit juice, sugar and pectin. it is more likely to jiggle!

3 c. heavy cream
3 tbsp confectioners sugar
jam (i used a jar of strawberry and a jar of blackberry but as long as it doesn't have seeds and is not jelly, it's good)
berries (i used strawberries, sliced and blackberries)
granola (this isn't traditional but it's delicious on top if you like a crunch)

whisk or beat the cream and sugar until soft peaks form. it will feel like you are just stirring milk but after a few minutes it will thicken and you'll feel a little resistance as you stir. i used a whisk attachment on the electrical beater.

dollop about 1/4 c. of cream mix into clear stemmed glassware (or, if you're cheap like us, small clear punch cups) per person.

swirl in about 1/4 c. of jam per glass. add toppings as you like! this should yield about 12 servings with room for seconds. :)

*recipe adapted from martha stewart's website. i'm definitely going to try the infinitely more elaborate version next time!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

cheddar ranch chicken

i love ranch dressing. no seriously. i LOVE it. but somehow i have always found the ranch at restaurants to be so much better than the store bought bottles. did you know that hidden valley ranch is the original, first ranch dressing created? maybe i need to put up a recipe for creating it here-- but for now, here is a dish that uses ranch, along with many other distinctive flavors. i would say that the green onions are key to pulling everything together, appealing to all three strong tastes of ranch, teryaki sauce, and cheddar.

--> feasting facts - CHEDDAR CHEESE:
what's the difference between mild and sharp cheddar? age. the longer a cheese is allowed to age, the stronger (or sharper) its flavor. they are also different in terms of how easily they melt- the younger, the quicker it will melt.

cheddar ranch chicken
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 c. teryaki sauce
1/4 c. ranch dressing
3 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1.5 green onions, chopped
1/4 can bacon bits
1.5 tsp parsley, chopped
pinch pepper
1/2 c. cheddar cheese, shredded

combine oil, teryaki and ranch; marinate chicken ahead of time.

heat oven to 350.

heat some oil in a skillet over medium-low; saute on each side (about 4-5 min each) until light brown.

arrange chicken in dish, pour leftover marinade on top. sprinkle green onions, bacon, parsley, and pepper on top. bake for about 30 minutes; add cheese 15 minutes before done. serves 3.

*this recipe is a slightly modified version of this one. i just made the sauce into a marinade, which holds the flavor for longer, and only cooked the cheese toward the end. you could also use a slow-cooker.

Friday, January 8, 2010

the french way: chicken francese

pasta + meat + some kind of sauce = a simple recipe for dinner with a large group of people. it's not too complicated but gives you endless combinations, and most people like pasta. i had two awesome sous chefs help me with this meal. we added fresh green beans seasoned with salt and pepper (something simple to go with the complexity of the sauce) and a nice pear & apple salad with lemon poppyseed dressing. i'll put those recipes up in another post.

--> feasting facts: FRANCESE
like it looks and sounds, francese just means "the french way." if it helps, you can think of "french" toast as something that is dipped in egg. something francese means it is dipped in flour and egg, and then fried. most cookbooks will tell you to "dredge" the chicken in flour- don't be worried by this word, it simply means to coat something with something dry. in this case, roll the chicken around in flour (making sure it's evenly coated), dip it in the egg and voila!

--> feasting facts: COOKING PASTA

does adding salt help water boil more quickly? i did a little shameless research on this question. the short answer is no. chemically, salt raises the boiling temperature of water, which means the water must be at a higher temperature to start boiling, and thus will take longer. however, the long answer is that once you achieve boiling, the water is hotter, and thus the pasta, or whatever you are cooking, cooks more quickly. for this reason it seems that many chefs opt for this method. p.s., "rolling boil" just means that you can't stop the water from boiling when you stir it.

oh, and about adding olive oil to keep pasta from sticking-- i wouldn't recommend this because it makes the pasta slippery and your sauce will not "stick" as well to the pasta. however it depends on the kind of pasta you are making-- if you have something with many grooves (such as penne or conchiglie) or cavities (such as fusili or farfalle) it will hold the sauce, but if it's flat (such as fettuccine) it will be more likely to slide off. pasta has been around since before marco polo's time. and there are literally hundreds of varieties and shapes!

chicken francese with pasta and white wine & lemon sauce
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into small strips
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp seasoned salt
1/2 cup white flour
3 eggs
1/8 c. milk
2.5 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
3 garlic cloves, crushed
4 servings worth of dry pasta (check box depending on the kind you use)
1/3 c. dry white wine
juice of one lemon

heat a skillet on medium heat. for the pasta, fill a pot with water and add a dash of salt. set on high heat to bring to boil while you cook the chicken.

mix the salt, pepper, seasoned salt, and flour in a bowl. "dredge" the chicken in this mixture- basically roll each piece around until it is evenly coated and set aside on a plate.

beat eggs in another bowl and add the milk and a sprinkle of salt. don't dip the chicken yet though! wait until the skillet is ready.

now, add the oil in the skillet along with the butter. once the butter has melted, add the garlic. wait a few minutes, and then when you hear the garlic sizzle, or speak (yes it talks), now you can cook the chicken.

dip a coated piece of chicken into the egg mixture and transfer immediately to the pan. i had to take a few tries to get this right. you really only want a thin coating over the chicken or else it will actually get too eggy. (like, it will be a piece of chicken with part of a scrambled egg attached.) so, make sure you let the egg drip off over the bowl before transferring to the pan.

if you work quickly, you can get all the chicken into the skillet around the same time. i always try to have a pattern for how i put the chicken in-- i set the first pieces go farther away from me. this way, i know which pieces to check, and which to flip, first. let the chicken cook on a side until golden brown, and then flip and do the same for the other side. this should take about 6-7 minutes on each side, but always check and make sure to cut the largest piece of chicken in half to make sure they are all fully cooked!

put the cooked chicken on a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. at this point you will probably want to put your pasta in the now boiling pot of water. now, the leftover oil and seasoning from the chicken, which you'll cook first, serves as the base for the sauce!

add the wine to the pan and let deglaze so you can whisk up the chicken or flour pieces left over. the addition of the wine allows those pieces to get unstuck from the pan and dissolve a little to create the sauce. reduce the heat for 1 minute, and add the lemon and parsley.

hopefully, if everything is timed about right, the pasta will be cooked (make sure you taste test it first!). strain the pasta and pour it into a bowl (don't rinse with cold water). add the chicken and pour the sauce on top! stir and enjoy, serves 4. :)

*adapted from rachel ray's recipe. i added lemon to the sauce and also made it into a pasta dish. 

Sunday, January 3, 2010

back to budapest: hungarian goulash

i used to be a semi-vegetarian. well, okay, i ate all meats except for beef. i still don't eat a lot of beef but i believe i have had about six hamburgers in my lifetime, tried steak, and eaten meat sauce maybe three times. hey, give me some credit...i had a traumatizing dream when i was little that my brother was turned into a cow by a magician and he never turned back into a person! where am i going with this? oh yes. goulash. my first time to cook beef!

let's rewind though. picture yourself having just arrived in budapest, hungary with some friends. you're cold and hungry and after dropping off your bags you decide to wander the streets and find a good warm restaurant. never mind that it is apparently "loot your neighbor's trash" day, where everyone has spread out their, well, junk, and it seems to be for sale. it's dark, and you pass by a strange building where a semi creepy man beckons you to come inside...and down to the dungeon. uh, no thanks creepy man. but you end up coming back by the building, and the man tells you again, come inside...we have warm food. e to the nough. you're tired, so you go inside, down cellar stairs and through, literally, the most legit dungeon you've ever seen. but all of a sudden you see a glow up ahead through the dark and- what's that sound? piano music? and then you eat one of the best soups you've ever had. hungarian goulash.

at least, that's what it was like for me. so i decided to try and recreate the dish for my friends from the same journey!

--> feasting facts - PAPRIKA
paprika is the major spice for most traditional hungarian dishes. there are many varieties, but we only have a basic version available at the supermarket. paprika, which can be a bright reddish or orangeish color, is responsible for not only the taste of the goulash, but the color as well. in europe, paprika flavored potato chips are quite popular!

hungarian goulash
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 tbsp paprika
tender beef, cut into cubes
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon ground caraway seed
2 bayleaves
1/4+ tsp black pepper
1/4+ tsp salt
2 carrots, diced
3 medium potatoes, cubed
2 celery stalks, diced
1 can of diced tomatoes
1 green bell pepper, chopped

*note: all of the veggies are variable. if you want to add something, or have more or less of something, do it!

heat oil over medium-low and add onions, until tender. sprinkle with paprika but stir constantly to prevent burning.

add beef cubes and sauté until brown.

add garlic, caraway seed, some salt and pepper, and the bayleaf.

pour in enough water to cover the contents of the pan and let simmer on low heat for a while.

when the meat is half cooked (an hour maybe) add the carrots, potatoes, celery and a little more salt. add a little more water to cover contents (2-3 c.).

when the vegetables and the meat are almost done add tomato and green pepper. cook on low heat for about 7 minutes. add a pinch more paprika.

(removing the lid of the pan thickens the soup)

bring the soup to boil and then let simmer until ready to eat. serves 4-6, depending on how hungry you are!

*this recipe is modified from the budapest travel website. when i decided to make goulash, i figured the best source would be one from the city itself! and indeed, it was pretty darn close to our dungeon goulash. :)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

greek food night:: chicken pitas, tzatziki, baklava

one of the best meals i ate when i studied abroad was in athens, greece. it was basically a round table of goodness. my fellow travelers and i had been looking for a place to eat (as usual) for a long time and finally came across this cool restaurant, Exapinis. the plate you see below was heaven on earth!

since i try to host dinners from my study abroad friends every so often, one of the first meals we decided to share was a feast of grecian delight, modeled after our experiences in athens and santorini. a basic kebap or souvlaki meal consists of a meat (pork, chicken) marinated with 4 basic ingredients: olive oil, garlic, lemon, and oregano. olive oil, or "liquid gold," as homer called it, is one of THE food items of the mediterranean.

happily, the 4-ingredient combination is pretty much foolproof no matter the ratio! all of those ingredients have been around as staples in the greek diet since, well, ancient times. the seasoned meat goes well with some toasted pita bread and veggies like lettuce, onions, olives, tomatoes, and carrots. it's topped with a wonderful cucumber and yogurt sauce that's called tzatziki. tzatziki sauce is usually served as a side dish with a meal (or sometimes as an appetizer) with pita bread, or inside a kebap. kebaps are usually made with pork meat, but here is a chicken version!

greek chicken marinade
6 tbsp lemon juice (i squeezed real lemons, much better)
2 tsp oregano
7 tsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp pepper

mix all ingredients and marinate boneless, skinless chicken breasts for at least an hour (half a day if you want to really bring out the flavors) in the fridge. i usually put it in a large plastic baggie and stop by the fridge every once in a while to shake the bag around.

when ready to cook, heat oven to 350 and slice up an onion and some bell pepper and mix with the chicken and leftover marinade in a baking pan. bake for about 30 minutes (or until fully cooked). you can also cut the chicken into cubes, and alternate onion and bell pepper with chicken on wooden skewers and cook in a grill! this marinade is good for enough chicken for 4 people.

tzatziki sauce
--> you can buy tzatziki at the grocery store, but it is so much better and more rewarding when you make it yourself!

1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
8 oz greek plain yogurt
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
pinch pepper
1 tsp dill (if you have some, if not it will still be tasty!)
olive oil (up to you how much, just don't let the sauce get runny)

dice or shred the cucumber (so that it is in small, small pieces). squeeze excess juice out of the cucumber (i set it in paper towels and let the towel soak up the moisture. you don't want the cucumber to be juicy because you are already adding juices to the yogurt and you want the sauce to be kind of thick).

combine the cucumber and rest of the ingredients in a bowl, adding the olive oil last (just add a teaspoon, stir and taste-- keep adding until you like the taste and before it gets runny). stir well and set in fridge for at least an hour until you want to use it, this lets the flavors really come out. (one time it was too runny for me so i tried to set it in the freezer for a little while...i don't recommend that haha, but it works if you don't have the right kind of yogurt!)

--> feasting facts - GREEK YOGURT:
greek yogurt is basically an unflavored, thicker version of plain regular yogurt. if you only have regular you can run it through a cheesecloth over a bowl to thicken it, but it will take a while (hours). you can usually find greek yogurt in the specialty or international food areas at the grocery store. or, one brand i have used is "oikos," which has about 3 products at my local walmart at the top of the yogurt section. as a side note, greek yogurt is also good mixed with honey and walnuts for a dessert! mmmmm. :)

if you're serving this all together, try toasting some pita bread (just enough to make it crispy) and using tzatziki as a dip. you can also make it into a kepab/kebob/kebab and wrap some chicken, veggies, and tzatziki into a pita wrap. i was surprised to note that fries are often served with this, either actually inside the pita or outside as a side dish. but it's not the same kind of fries you usually find at mcdonalds...they're healthier somehow! i've got to get the recipe for that! :)

to top this all off, a bottle of red wine (opa) and a delicious greek dessert are the perfect companions. baklava seems complicated but actually i have a few tricks to make it easy! i love to wow people with this dessert because it tastes amazing and really doesn't require too much effort!

--> feasting facts - PHYLLO DOUGH:
phyllo dough is an extremely thin pastry. it should be in frozen foods section: the dessert or frozen pastry section of your grocery. the kind i've bought comes with two packages- you should only need one package for this recipe. set the dough out on the counter and let it thaw for a few minutes before you try to unwrap it (you don't want it to be hard. i made this mistake and it all crumbled apart!). however, it's just as bad to let it dry out. so you have to work kind of quickly, because you'll notice after thawing it starts to feel more and more like paper. you can cover the dough with a damp cloth to keep moisture in if this happens.


9x9 deep baking pan
1 pound chopped nuts (you can use any kind you like. i usually get a package of mixed nuts that includes peanuts and walnuts)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 package (16 oz) phyllo dough
a can of spray butter (this is the "cheat" for this recipe! traditionally, you would spread the butter but this is faster AND easier)
1 c. water
1 c. granulated white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 c. honey

preheat oven to 350.

PART 1: nuts
put the nuts in a plastic bag and crush them with a hammer or other sufficient crushing device if they aren't chopped enough. mix in the cinnamon and shake.

PART 2: the base
spray the pan with butter and then use this. baklava follows a pattern:
2 sheets of dough
a layer of butter spray
2 sheets of dough (now you have 4)
2 sheets of dough (now you have 6)
2 sheets of dough (now you have 8)
3 tbsp of the crushed, spiced nuts

repeat as many times as will fill your pan or you have ingredients for! i think i had about 3 repeats.

cut the base into diamonds and bake for 50 minutes.

PART 3: the sauce
about 20 minutes in to the baking, boil the sugar and water until the sugar has melted and the liquid is clear again. add vanilla and honey.

simmer on extra low for 20 minutes.

hopefully you will be able to time this so that the baklava is done when the sauce has simmered for long enough. immediately after you take the pan out of the oven, pour the sauce in the pan, covering all of the baklava. it should sizzle, steam, and! leave it out for a while and it will harden and smell deeeelicious. when it's cooled down enough, serve and enjoy!

*both the greek chicken marinade and the tzatziki are a combination of several recipes i found, but i changed up the ratios. like i said, it's pretty much the same basic ingredients, just depends on personal preference how much of each you would like. the baklava recipe is from one of my favorite websites.

Friday, January 1, 2010

let's get it started

my new year's resolution is to master the art of cooking. not just to cook more, but to improve my skills and try new and exciting recipes that i've never attempted before! an english author from the 1600s called this "the art & mystery of cookery." is it elementary, my dear watson? something tells me this will be a complicated and rewarding journey.

what inspires me? the history of a dish-- where it originated, who usually cooks it, and in what context. i choose every dish for a reason. then i add my own stories to its history! so hopefully that will give this blog a little extra interest beyond just sharing recipes and pictures with you.

some would say i've come a long way since my first attempts at cooking in college. let's be honest...i didn't even know that there was a difference between confectioner's sugar and granulated sugar. but i've progressed!

i'm going to start by sharing some dishes i've made in the past and we'll catch up to now. this week so far it's been white cheddar corn chowder, greek seasoned chicken on pita with tzatziki sauce, and tonight i'm making asian mandarin salad with honey-lime chicken. but first, let me catch you up on some previous culinary conquests...

bon appetit!