Wednesday, December 30, 2009

New Year, New Kitchen

This isn't the big Christmas goodies post (though it's coming!), but more a year-end round up of some of my thoughts on cooking and eating from this year.

I started this blog to try my hand at a little food writing - which I'm finding isn't coming all that naturally. I have a slightly disheveled style to cooking (as I rarely follow recipes, and tend to measure things in handfuls), which translates into non-sensical rambling when I try to write it out.

But, I'm finding that it's helpful to read a ton of other blogs -- I've recently started reading Amateur Gourmet, The Recipe Girl, The Pioneer Woman and A Tiger in the Kitchen, in addition to some great friend blogs.

I also just like to keep a record of this time -- stumbling through recipes and new techniques, building up my repetoire, and of course, stocking my first "real" kitchen.

So, here's a quick list of things that stick out in my mind from cooking in 2009:
* pâte-à-choux became a game changer for me. The New York Times did a major post on how easy it is to make in summer 2008, but it took me until last year to really start using it. I started easy, with some cream puffs last winter, and ended the year with some beautiful cheese gougeres.

* Soups and stews
were new territory, when I branched out beyond the world of chili. I came up with a great chicken tortilla soup (after moving from Washington and missing Eddington's for lunch!), tried seafood stew to go over quinoa, and am really excited to try this Potato Leek soup in 2010. I'm debating whether or not an immersion blender is a worthwhile purchase.

* Pitas (and bread in general) became almost a hobby during the stay in Washington. From my grandmother's Irish Soda Bread, to my old standby (half-wheat artisan loaf) to green onion flatbread, Thanksgiving rolls, and of course, pitas. I'm still amazed at how easy it is to make bread from scratch -- even if you don't have a stand-mixer with a dough hook, or even a loaf pan.

* Ethnic grocery stores really changed the way I shop and cook -- for the better. Rather than relying on pasta (because it's 10 for $10), I was able to get a lot more creative with fresh meat and produce, since I wasn't over-paying for it at the "traditional" market. I'm excited to be even closer to an H-Mart in our new apartment!

Dreaming? of a great year for cooking - 2010. A new kitchen, a knife technique class (amazing xmas gift!) and I'm also taking part in a 10-week shape up hosted by The Recipe Girl.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snowed in

So, for those who haven't heard, the entire East Coast got hammered with a snowstorm this weekend. In hindsight, it made me wish I had done a full grocery shopping this week. Could have done some very serious baking.

Instead, two things came of the weekend: delicious onion flatbread and homemade pasta sauce.

Green onions are one of those great things to keep in the house, and they are 5 for $1 at the Korean market I shop at, so I always have a ton around. This bread is the cheapest, easiest way I have found to put those onions to good use (ham and leek quiche, subbing the onions for leeks is the other).

Recipe: green onion flat bread (2)
3 c. all purpose flour
2 c hot water
pinch of salt
olive oil
2-4 bunches of green onions cut into tiny pieces (I use scissors), divided

Combine flour, salt and water in mixing bowl until a dough forms. It shouldn't be too sticky, add more flour if needed. Cover with a towel, or invert bowl over dough for 30-45 mins. Knead gently on a floured surface and roll into 2 large circles (or round-ish shapes).

Press your fingers into the dough to make tiny wells. Drizzle or brush with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and half the green onions on each. Fold the ends in (to make 3 layers), brush top with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Bake at 350 for 20 mins or until golden brown.

Snowed in Pasta Sauce -- I didn't have everything I wanted for this, but it turned out REALLY well.

1 can diced tomatoes (wish I had had 2 cans or a big can)
1/2 can plain tomato sauce
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp red chili flakes
6-8 cloves garlic, rough chop
salt and pepper
splash of white wine
drizzle of olive oil
meatballs or italian sausage

Combine all ingredients in a medium sauce pan and simmer for 3-4 hours. I also added 1 small can of tomato paste, 1 can full of water (the small can) and 1 can of white wine when I added the meatballs, since it didn't look like enough sauce.

The result was awesome, full bodied sauce (the wine, meat and chili flakes REALLY developed over the afternoon) that was super easy to make, and helped clear down my pantry a little. :)

Sadly no photos, since we scarfed it down pretty quickly!

Next up? Giant gougeres, a la Serious Eats, once I get home for Christmas!!

Dreaming? of my new kitchen! Moving in January.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas cookies

Jake and I had our third annual christmas cookie baking this weekend, with some mixed results.

Being that we're still in my "temporary" kitchen from the summer internship situation, we didn't have any cookie cutters.

Also, because of my big love for red velvet cakes and cupcakes, I had a ton of blue, green and yellow food coloring, but no red. So, mostly, we've just been icing them white or green as we get hungry.

 So, some of our cookies are holiday-festive shapes, such as the attempted freehand gingerbread men, the gift boxes, and some are just kind of weird odd shapes. Oh well.

We also had a great pasta dinner tonight, recipe below. Sadly, I forgot to grab a picture of it before we boxed up the leftovers for lunches!

This made a TON. Very excited about the left overs!!

Creamy ham and spinach pasta
1 box gemeli or rotini -- something with grooves to catch the sauce
1 box frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed of all liquid
3 cloves garlic, minced (or about 2 heaping tsp)
1/3-1/2 c onion, minced (to your liking)
3/4 c sliced ham (I used deli ham, cut into ribbons - you could use pancetta if you wanted to get fancy)
black pepper
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp red chilli flakes
splash of white wine (optional)
olive oil
3 TBS butter
3-5 TBS flour
1 pint half and half, plus a few TBS milk (opt)
1/3-1/2 c shredded or grated parmesan
2-3 TBS mozzarella (optional) for melting

Boil pasta to al dente (don't over cook) in salted water

In a large skillet over medium heat, saute garlic, onion and ham in the olive oil. Season with pepper, chilli flakes and nutmeg. Mix in white wine and allow to reduce.

Melt butter into the mix, and flour lightly. Combine until thickens slightly. Mix in spinach, half and half and cheese. Add more flour if needed.

Reduce heat and simmer until thickened. Toss pasta directly into the sauce and stir to coat. Mix in shredded mozzarella if using. Serve with fresh cracked pepper and parsley to garnish.

Dreaming? of Kitchenaid mixers - so many of which can be found on major christmas sales, $100 or more off the list price. Alas, it would not radically change the way I cook, I do not have $200 for a mixer, nor have I any where to store it. Maybe next year. :)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Weekend fun

Took my first swing at holiday baking this weekend after seeing a great post by a friend on caramel making.

I used her recipe exactly, but my candy thermometer appears to have lied to me. Hers turned out soft and chewy, from what I can tell. But mine came out a bit like those old fashioned Sugar Daddy candies (which my mother always swore would crack your teeth in two).

But, the hard candy product did save me the challenge of attempting to wrap the little buggers. It also created the challenge of how to best break them down (as when I turned out the caramel, it was a solid, un-cuttable brick).

Best kitchen tool I own is my ice cream scooper:

Which I used as a hammer and chiseled with a kitchen knife until the aforementioned bite sized pieces were born.

Tonight, pitas were up again. Jake and I stopped for some late night shwarma the other night and ended up with far too much hummus.

The best solution, of course, being to bake lots and lots of pitas! These were fried up in skillets over medium heat (rather than the faux-grilling method used in the past). The resulting pita has a harder bottom (nice though, not unlike a large cracker) and still a soft top.

Still using my wine bottle ($6, Target) as a rolling pin for these guys

Mmm pitas. Tasty