Saturday, August 28, 2010

Friday Night Fix

Brownies, as I sure many of you already know, are one of my favorite treats. Perhaps because my Persian/Indian upbringing didn't run into much chocolate, let alone baked chocolate with frosting. This week my roommate and I started classes and after only two days, I was already excited for the weekend. And a night with a good friend, good food, and a great movie (Ever After!) sounds like a awesome way to kick start a (hopefully) productive weekend.

While visiting the Student Services office, I picked up about 4 of these little caramels and decided to throw them into the batter.

I prepared the mix just like it says on the box, substituting milk for water as usual. I am also particularly proud of the eggs I picked up at the store: aren't they gorgeous: organic AND free range!
My new favorite thing is to bake brownies in a cake pan: I just think it makes the brownies more moist. And I like a cake pan because I like thicker brownies that hold tall on their own. Another thing I've fallen in love with is my brilliant idea to make two kinds of brownies in one pan. Caramel on one side, regular on the other. You can also go M&M on one side and toffee on the other, or chocolate chips (white or milk or dark), or swirl in a little peanut butter.

Finished Product!!!! I love how the caramel bits are hidden in there :)

On to dinner... I decided to do a little Asian flair night...

Asian noodles are a bit chewier than Italian ones, but equally delicious. The sauce on Asian food is typically acidic and heavy (peanut butter and soy sauce), so you need the noodle to stand up to these liquids. Making this dish made me hungry for some Pad Thai. Anyone know a good place?

So then I made the Asian sauce - I used the peanut sauce that came with the noodles and then added some peanut butter, soy sauce, and garlic powder.

Then I chopped up some broccoli florets and carrots and steamed them. First I blanched the broccoli then I sauteed it. I also cooked up some chicken and seasoned it with pepper, salt, garlic powder, and chili flakes. To this I added the sauce and plated the whole thing in a black bowl. I know a lot of people like white plates, but I think Asian food looks beautiful on a black one :)

And here we have a picture of the delicious brownie with caramel spilling out :)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mexican Wedding Cookies

Oh the baking urge - it's a scary thing when it hits. For the past week or so, I've been craving these tasty cookies. I think it's positively silly to wait until the holidays to make them. They taste wonderful year-round. I used this recipe off the Food Network site.
I added 2/3 the amount of sugar and then tasted the dough to make any adjustments. I hate it when cookies are too surgery - especially these cookies, since the pecans have such a delicate, buttery flavor. Oh! And I threw my pecans into a grinder so they became more like pecan meal. I think this is the best way to do it since the cookie is quite crumbly as is. Usually I cut down on the amount of butter in my cookies, but this time I didn't because the dough can get very dry without the added fat content.

Shout out to Domino Farms - hometown, Baltimore!!!

The dough should look a little something like this :) Resist the temptation to add more flour to increase the batch size - these little sweeties need the extra fat content to keep a tender crumb.
Roll them into 1 inch balls and place on a cookie sheet 2 inches apart. Bake for about 20 minutes, as the recipe indicates, but check towards the end. When you smell them, they're most likely almost ready to take out of the oven.
The prep station. Allow the cookies to cool on the tray for about 3-4 minutes, otherwise your fingers will burn off - nuts retain heat VERY well. Roll them in confectioner's sugar and place on a serving dish.
Munch away!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sushi Lovers - I Need a Place to Go for My Birthday

Does anyone know a good sushi restaurant I can try?
I love eel rolls, so if those are a specialty, that's a definite plus.
Thank you!

The First Meal - Pasta with a Pop!

Hello Everyone :)

Geez, I am just full of posts this week, aren't I? Probably because classes haven't started yet and I am going stir-crazy. There's just been so much to share/document before my memory is overcome with the names of enzymes and the processes of oxidative phosphorolation. Last night was the day I decided to christen my apartment with it's very first dinner. I wanted something challenging, but as I do not have any sushi wood rolly things, or seaweed, or fish for that matter, I settle on a tried and true pasta recipe. Except this time I used one of my favorite cheeses, Gorgonzola.
For the Gorgonzola Cream Sauce:

1/2 cup gorgonzola crumbles
3-4 Tbs flour
2 Tbs butter
sprinkling oregano
salt and pepper to taste
red pepper flakes

I would like to take a moment to note that you know when you are a truly crazed with the love for food when you open a container of red pepper flakes for the first time and feel such a rush, you must take a picture. Don't judge...

For the balsamic reduction:

1/2 to 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar

Pour the two into a saucepan and cook down until basically there's nothing left. You could use a cheapo balsamic for this and add more sure, but beware that your sauce would then have two notes - sickly sour and super sweet. So I'd say use a mediocre quality and save the good stuff for salad. At the end of the reducing process, the vinegar should now have a saucy consistency and be slightly thick (see below).

For the broccoli:
1/2 head of broccoli florets

Simple blanch them in salted boiling water for about a minute. I noticed that after I drained them, I didn't need to shock them in ice water, but you can do that if you're making this in advance. Also, find some way to shake out the water that gets stuck in the tops - this is what speeds up the sickly-looking process. I just shook each one individually, but maybe a salad spinner will do the trick.

You also need...
1/2 pound cooked spaghetti pasta
1/2 cup cooked chicken breast (optional)

To Serve
Just mix the pasta, sauce, and broccoli together when you are ready to serve, then drizzle over the balsamic vinegar. Store separately so that nothing gets too mushy - you can also freeze the sauce if you make more than you need.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Kitchen Essentials

The other day, while my boyfriend was in town and I had a car, we went food shopping for everything I could possibly need to start off my new kitchen. My credit card is tired, needless to say, but my tummy and brain are VERY happy. I have more than enough interesting ingredients to experiment with.

Here's the thing. Start with a list, but be forewarned that probably only half of what you really need is on it. Be flexible and allow yourself to wander the aisles, looking and what's on sale and what ingredients excite you. This might sound weird, but it really is true. If you buy things that appeal to your eyes, they will probably, hopefully, appeal to your stomach, too. And I not talking Twinkies here, I mean fresh produce. When you hear "eat the colors of the rainbow," it's not a joke. We learned that in Weight Watchers. Wouldn't you rather eat a friendly platter of carrots, red bell pepper, hummus, olives, and feta than a plate of cheese sticks? Just think about it - one leaves you full and energized, the other makes you lethargic. I'm not knocking the cheese sticks - oh no, I love me some feta sticks from Pizza House - but when buying food at the grocery store, you should really be conscious of what's going in the cart. Because chances are, you'll be snacking on it throughout the day, and that can be good or bad depending on the choices you make.

Next tip, bite the bullet. You're going to spend a lot - you have NOTHING in your CUPBOARDS :) So if you bake a lot, go ahead and get your flour, baking powder, sugar, oatmeal, etc. You most likely won't have to purchase these things for a long time. If there is a certain style of cooking you like, then stock up on those staples. I, for instance, like Mediterranean flavors so I bought olives and peppers and goat cheese.

Finally, peruse for things on sale. Even if you don't need them now, you will later. Like tuna fish, canola oil, beans: these things won't go bad and you can make them anytime.
Happy shopping!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Every Block Is Different

In my short time living in this city, the most surprising thing has been how each block has a different flavor. Within four blocks of my apartment - in each of the four directions - I've seen Cuban food, American food, Indian Food, and Pub food. How glorious!


A couple days ago I visited Cary Town and ventured over to a lovely French bistro called CanCan to meet with a friend for drinks. I was blown away, to say the least. I tried the Mumbai Cooler, simply because of the sugar/cardamon rim, which I had never seen before. I am now inspired to crush any Indian spice, mix it with salt/sugar and take my own cocktails to a totally new level of YUM. Check out their cocktail menu and go try one for yourself.

After drinks, we parted ways with our new Richmond friends, and it was off for dinner. We had originally planned on visiting a diner featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, but were told of a splendid Cuban locale which peaked my interest. It's called Kuba Kuba. Is it possible for me to say I was blown away yet again? Because I was. From the moment we walked in, we just knew this place was going to be good. What I love about it is that it doesn't try to be anything it's not. Kuba Kuba serves amazing Cuban food, it doesn't try to woe you with fancy-schmancy decor and it doesn't need to because that in itself leads to a chaotic environment reminiscent of the country it's named after.

The fried plantains made my mouth water - the texture was pretty much spot on for each one I tried: golden crispy on the outside, tender and sweet on the inside. The sprinkling of salt on top brought out the gentler notes of the fruit. I ordered Ropa Vieja and my boyfriend had the Cuban Sandwich. Both were quite tasty. He, being half Cuban, assured me that the flavors in the Ropa were spot on. I myself could have used a tad less juice over mine, but I'm a curry-girl and am used to a thicker texture on sauces.


It was my boyfriend's last night in Richmond, so we weren't ready to leave yet. It was about, oh, 8pm at this point. We were both stuffed, but still wanted dessert. Story of my life. So we headed back to the main strip of Cary Town and thought we could find one of those romantic, chi-chi restaurants and split something. Long story short, I stopped a Richmond local in the street and asked where the best dessert place was. "Bev's" she told me, "It's an ice cream parlor." Can this town be any more perfect? Ice cream is Weston's favorite thing in the world - I never touched the stuff before I met him, for fear of blowing up to a size 18 again.


The ice cream here is divine. I think I tried every flavor before deciding on a special, Rum Raisin. You wouldn't think it, but being Persian, I do know how to make a good ice cream. We make this saffron, pistachio one at home for special occasions. The key to telling a good ice cream from a bad one is the elasticity. When you dip your spoon in, you should find some resistance and then if you beat it a little, the cream should get a little stringy. That's exactly how this ice cream was. I was highly impressed. And the little ice crystals around the raisins told me they'd been added in my hand. Oh-Oh! And did I mention the homemade whipped cream!!!! When I saw the server pull a KitchenAid bowl out of the freezer, my eyes lit up with joy. And the hot fudge. Don't get me started...If you don't believe me, see their reviews.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Ok y'all, let me just get something off my I ate my dinner in a mixing bowl, on the floor of my new apartment, in partial darkness. Sad? Perhaps...but I had a great time. Because my salad was delish and I made it in all of about 5 minutes.

Here's what I did (literally)

  1. Ripped open a carton of pre-washed salad leaves. I used those mixed greens - and I buy them in a tub from Kroger (because there is no Meijer in the south).

  2. Threw in 4-5 vine-ripened cherry tomatoes

  3. Drained and added 1/2 can Northern Beans (organic and on sale, a wonderful combo)

  4. Sprinkled over garlic powder, black pepper, and salt

  5. Crushed in a few pecans and added 2 pinches of dried cranberries

  6. And here's the good stuff - I added a splash of olive oil I bought in Italy and a some pomegranate balsamic vinegar from a specialty store in Kerrytown, Ann Arbor called Fustini's

And that is how to spruce up a salad with the stuff you have on-hand. Pretty cool, huh?

Why am I writing about this? Because I realized something very important today: food should make you feel good. It doesn't have to be "gourmet." It doesn't have to sit on the stove for hours. At the end of the day, when you realize you're in a new city far from those you love, and somehow shoving your face into a mixing bowl full of salad makes you FEEL GOOD, then do it. And don't be embarrassed - someone, somewhere, is probably doing the same.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Richmond - A Town for Foodies

Well, dear readers, I have officially moved to Richmond, Virginia. Wow. Let's soak that in , shall we? I always said I wanted to live in a big city and boy did I find one. Each street has a different atmosphere, the people are wonderful, and it's always sunny. I think I'll fit in here, but I am still anxious about the future...

I am making it my mission to leave this city knowing at least a dozen good food joints. I really think the food tells a lot about a city and from the looks of it, Richmond is a very eclectic place.

Yesterday I got the name of a good place to eat from a nice lady in my leasing office. Random, right? Not so much - people here are really proud of their city and love sharing it with out-of-towners. The place was called Jamaica House and you can check out their location/reviews here. We had their Island Fried Chicken and Curried Goat. I really loved how the food was served over rice and beans AND with a crunchy salad. It made for a great textural profile. And the flavors had really developed because we ordered the curry later in the day, so it had all day for the flavors to meld together. The portions were HUGE and tasty and made fresh on site and right when you order. KFC doesn't cut it, guys. This fried chicken was bangin' ;) - wayyy better than anything I've ever had in Michigan - but then again, I still haven't tried homemade fried chicken, which I am sure is a totally different beast all together. Their website is - you can see some pictures there.

If you have any suggestions on where I should head next, let me know!


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Georgia Peach Cobbler

My boyfriend is in looove with Georgia peaches and I honestly didn't know why until his sister brought home a few the other day. Let me compare for you: the peaches we get in Michigan have a stringy texture with a watery flavor tinged with sweetness, but more of a fake sweetness. And so, we've created the idea of what a peach tastes like through the variety of artificial peach flavors we sample in things like ice cream and those weird gummy peach ring things.

A Georgia peach, however, is unlike any of this. It's texture was the first thing I noticed because it was almost creamy. It was less juicy than I imagined it would be - the flavor was just so concentrated. It was also heavy - hence the dense flavor as well. I'd urge you to compare one to what you normally consume and taste the difference. I myself still haven't decided which is "better" - just that there is definitely a difference between varieties. But Georgia peaches are a dream to cook with - see the following recipe.

Happily, I have been able to turn Weston on the idea of pie - but with these special peaches, I wanted to make something a little more special, so I made a cobbler-esque dish. I really like this recipe - I've been using it for the past 6 or 7 years and I have no idea where I found it - somewhere on the Internet for sure. But I've tweaked it so many times, it would be impossible to find it again at this point. So, thank you random website for your recipe base.

For the peach (or any stone-fruit) filling:
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
6 to 7 Georgia peaches
2 Tbs lemon juice
Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan . Then add the peaches and lemon juice and cook over medium heat until the mixture thickens. Turn off the heat and let stand covered.
For the cake:
3 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup cold butter, chopped
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
Mix the flour, sugar, and powders and cut in the butter until it looks like this:
Then combine the rest of the ingredients and pour them into the flour mixture, mixing only to combine.
Layer 1/2 of the batter in a greased 9 x 13 inch pan.
Cover with the fruit mixture.
Dollop over the reserved batter.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 or 50 minutes, until the top is a golden brown
Tips from the Chef

You can use any fruit with this recipe and that's what makes it one of my fav's - sometimes I'll even just make the fruit part and put it in a pie crust because I love gooey pie fillings. Seriously, try it :)

I really like this recipe because of it's idea to layer the fruit over the cake and then dollop over bits of reserved dough. Seeing that fruit peek through makes for a very pleasing, homey-chic look. I like this without any sides like whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, but that's up to you and what your preferences are.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Surprise Goodbye Party

Tonight I set out for what I thought was a coffee date with my good friend, Kristen. But what ensured was an wonderful evening planned and executed by four of my lovely friends - Alyssa, Kristen, Morgan, and D'Ana. Morgan and I are leaving for grad programs in Virginia and so these sneaky three planned a surprise going away party for us at Kristen's house. Of course my bf was a part of this plan and he played his part quite well, telling me that he had dinner plans with a friend and so he had to "drop me off and Kristen's house." I have never been more touched and I really will never forget the amazing time I had this evening.
Ok, so I didn't make any part of this meal. But I think it is important to showcase the cooking talents of others and my friends have gots some skillzzzz :)

D'Ana made a delicious and unique "pizza" for lack of a better word. She made her own pesto and smeared it on pita bread and focaccia bread. She topped this with melted cheese and cut baby heirloom tomatoes. It was sooooo good.

Alyssa made stir fry with chunks of ginger (NOT chicken, as I originally thought - haha). Her father made his famous noodle dish which I am absolutely in LOVE with. I forgot the exact name, but it's a Filipino dish. He also made homemade egg rolls!!! I have never had anything as yummy.

Finally, Kristin ordered an amazing cake from Zingermann's - dark chocolate cake, chocolate ganache filling, and homemade butter cream. Oh my gosh, I could totally taste that butter...

Mid-day Getaway

Yesterday was a very busy day, to say the least. It was the last day of my internship and I was preparing for the ceremony and showcase when I received the cutest message from my sweetie: "My friend cancelled our lunch date. Can I come home and eat with you?" Now, how could I feed him random leftovers after that? For the past 2 weeks I have been promising to make scallion, jalapeno, cheddar scones but with all the lunch and dinner meetings, I just haven't had a chance! So I got to thinking, what if I made them as part of a delicious, summertime lunch?

I got the recipe from this blog and this Ina Garten Recipe but, as usual, made a couple modifications:
What You Need:

2 cups flour
1 Tbs baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks butter, cut into very tiny pieces
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1 cup New Zealand Cheddar
3/4 jalapeno, with seeds removed and minced finely
3 scallions, chopped

Mix the dry ingredients. Cut in pieces of butter until they are the size of peas. This is easier to do since you've cut the butter into small pieces already.

Mix the wet ingredients.

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the wet.
Stir to combine. Then add the scallion, cheddar, and jalapeno and mix enough to just incorporate them. Turn this out onto a floured surface and knead about 6 times.
Roll out into a rectangle about 1/2 an inch thick and but into rectangles - between 8 and 9.
Place onto a baking pan and sprinkle with a little grated cheese. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 400 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes. The cheese should be melted and the tops should be golden.

Tips from the Chef

If you don't have buttermilk, which I didn't, you can add 1Tbs white vinegar per 1/2 cup of milk. Let this sit for about 15/20 minutes and the milk will curdle, which you want. Now you have buttermilk.

Use a cheddar cheese with body and flavor, otherwise you won't be able to taste it!

Using cold butter is key here because when it is Incorporated into the mixture and then hits the hot heat, the butter will pop and that is what makes the scones super flaky, not crumbly. You don't want to over-mix either because then they'll be dense and stiff. Over-mixing develops the gluten in the flour and so the mix becomes a stiff sticky.

I served the scones with a few slices of farm-stand tomatoes which we bought at the Farmers Market.

I also cut some corn off the cob and sauteed it with butter and added a little salt and pepper - VERY simple. Sometimes it is just better to remain faithful to the honest flavors of your ingredients.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Alone in Ann Arbor

Since the bf has planned a bunch of road trips in the weeks leading up to my move, I find myself alone in the kitchen a lot which forces me to be creative because, let's face it, one can only watch so much television.

The other day I invented the most amazing brownie sundae with warmed brownie, peanut butter, and chocolate chips covered with a scoop of caramel swirl ice cream. It was divine and totally hit the spot. Next year I probably won't be able to afford ice cream, so I am savoring the moments when I can curl up with a pint of Hudsonville :)

Most recently, I am making it my mission to discover cheap yet tasty meals - meals fit for a girl on a budget and loads of schoolwork. I started thinking about what's cheap and I came to the conclusion that beans are pretty affordable and they can be spiced up very easily. Here are a few ways to turn a canned nightmare into a culinary wonder:
1) Cannellini beans: These are just white kidney beans, essentially. Drain and rinse a can and add some salt, pepper, garlic powder, fresh garlic, chopped basil, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil. It's filling and tasty and you can spice it up with red bell pepper or feta cheese, if you have some.

2) Pinto beans: These are pretty creamy in texture, so I warm and mash them, adding jalapeno, salt, and maybe a little Tabasco. Cover with sour cream and/or cheddar cheese and you have a refried beans-esque meal.

3) Lentils:

Super simple to cook. My mom would make these for me for lunch when I was little. Just prepare the dried lentils as stated on the package and serve with oil and lemon juice. Lentils are chalk full of protein and super cheap, so this is a great carry-along lunch or easy dinner if you make a lot at the beginning of the week.

4) Chickpeas: Drain and throw into a salad for a quick protein fix OR do the following. Fry 2 onions, thinly sliced, and 4 cloves of garlic. Add them to 2 or 3 cans of chickpeas then fry some cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, poppy seeds, and cardamon pods in oil until the cardamon pods pop (don't get hot oil on yourself). Add this to the onions and mix in a heaping spoon of sour cream and some Greek yogurt. If you like cilantro (or you can use Italian flat-leafed parsley as an alternative) chop some and throw that in at the end. Season with salt and pepper.

I will be making #4 for sure in the near future so get psyched for pics! If you have any recipes that YOU like, send them my way, too :)