Thursday, September 29, 2011

Crumbly Apple Pie

So when my roommate tasted this pie and announced it had, "Changed her life," I figured I'd better post the recipe.

It's a simple one, but in case anybody wants a literally no-brain-required pie recipe, this is the one for you:

What you need for the pie:

6 apples - any kind - Golden Delicious is what we used
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 Tbs flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar

What you need for the topping:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar and 3 Tbs regular sugar
2 Tbs cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
5 Tbs butter

What you do:

Mix the filling ingredients and set aside to let the juices meld together.

In a bowl, mix the topping ingredients until they are well incorporated and pull together to form a well-defined crumb topping.

Pour the apples in the crust and top with the crumble.

Bake at 375 for 40 minutes.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Crystallized Ginger and Apricot Granola Bars

It's not so much the method here that's different - it's the ingredients: I used my standard granola bar recipe - modified here, and added an amazing combination of ingredients which literally was inspired when I saw the crystallized ginger at Trader Joe's the last time I was there: ginger and apricots.

I mean, it sounds so right now that you think about, right? These are probably my all-time favorite bars - they hold together perfectly and the ginger punch mellows out when coupled with the apricot.

What You Need:

1 cup flour
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
pinch salt
1 egg
1/2 cup vegetable or grapeseed oil
1/2 cup honey
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/3 cup finley chopped crystallized ginger
1 package apricots, chopped (about 6 oz)

What You Do:

Mix it all together - mixture should be a little sticky, and spread into a greased 9x13 Pyrex

Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes. Let cool about 5 minutes and then cut into squares - lift them out of the Pyrex and let continue cooling on a wire rack.

Store in a cool place, wrapped tightly in aluminum foil. Take along with your lunch or as a healthy breakfast on the go!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Real Lasagna...with Bechemel

Every year I tweak my lasagna recipe. A few things that never change: if using meat, I make sure it's turkey because it's lighter and absorbs flavor better than beef. I also like adding a veggie - vegetable lasagna is great, but even in my meat lasagna I add spinach. Cheeses: pecorino is great to finish off the cooking process, fresh grated mozzarella is better than pre-shredded moz (this gets really dry between shipping from the factory to the grocery store). Ricotta cheese is not a staple - I think you can definitely get away with just fresh mozzarella and maybe a bechemel sauce.

This recipe combines some of my favorite methods and ingredients.

1) Spice up a regular ole jar (actually a jar and a half to 2 jars) with garlic powder and pepper.

2) In a frying pan, sautee 1 onion that you've cut up really small along with 4 cloves of chopped garlic (use olive oil for this, it adds a great flavor). Add one pound of ground turkey and continue cooking until the onions are dark golden and the turkey is almost cooked through. Add this to the sauce and cook down for about 20 minutes.

3) Mix 1 medium sized container of ricotta cheese with 3 cups of cooked down, sauteed spinach. Season this mixture as well with salt and pepper.

4) Make the bechemel by melting 2-3 Tbs of butter in a saucepan. Add 3 Tbs flour and whisk together until they come together. Add 2 cups of milk and continue cooking until the mixture has thickened (medium high heat for about 10 minutes should do it). Add salt and pepper to taste - throw in a few red pepper flakes for good measure, too :)

5) To assemble, spray a 13x9 inch Pyrex with Pan or butter lightly, then add 2 ladles of the sauce, enough to coat the bottom. Put one layer of any non-cook lasagna layers over this, then another couple ladles of the meat sauce. You need to put the meat mixture above and below the first layer of lasagna so it has enough moisture to cook thoroughly. Over the meat mixture, add about 3/4 cup of the bechemel and another layer of pasta. Cover this with the ricotta cheese mixture, more pasta, meat sauce, a final layer of pasta, and the rest of the meat sauce. Over the top, pour the rest of the bechemel sauce and enough mozzarella cheese to cover the top. Cover the top with aluminum foil and cook for 35 minutes at 375 degrees. Take the aluminum off, raise the temperature to 400 degrees and let the cheese brown - another 10 minutes.

The key here is to season as you go - by assuring each layer tastes right, you eliminate the need to alter proportions at the end.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Trick to Continuous Compliments in the Kitchen

One of my favorite things about being a foodie is explaining my passion to a curious friend. I love answering questions like, "What pairs well with this?" and "How can I improve this to intensify the flavor?" Scrolling through my text messages, I saw one from a friend asking me to give my thoughts on how to make a super garlicky garlic pasta (LOTS of fresh garlic, a hint of salt, and garlic infused olive oil).

I was inspired to create a delish pasta creation for my own supper and I came up with this. It's my standard recipe: al dente recipe with whatever I have on hand. But this time I cracked open something extra, extra special. My jar of sun dried tomatoes from Crete, Greece. Yes, I've been saving these suckers for almost 3 years and no, they hadn't gone bad. They'd been vacuum sealed in olive oil. Oh my gosh were they amazing. I added some pecorino, chicken, and a few torn leaves of basil and had me a sinfully decadent dinner. While preparing my dinner, my roommate commented on how incredibly delicious my dinners looked and I thought about how just one ingredient can add so much complexity and elicit such buzz amongst others in the kitchen.

And that made me really excited because it means - with a well stocked pantry, you can be the talk of the town. By understanding how to fully highlight an ingredient, you become a wealth of knowledge for friends who've been cooking for years, and ones who are just learning. And that, my friends, is a wonderful thing.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Toasted Quinoa Mediterranean Salad

The key word here is "toasted." This is a pretty wonderful recipe without the extra step, but it's over the top with the addition of toasted quinoa.

This dish was born completely by accident because I was having a less than good day and left it on the stove too long. I had to scrape the bottom of the saucepan to get the crunchy bits off because, let's face it, quinoa is expensive and I am on a (very) limited income (possibly because I am debating buying these shoes).

So, I've modified the recipe so the toasting process is more even:

What You Need:

1 block feta, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 bunch parsley, Italian or curly-leafed, roughly chopped
1 English cucumber with the seeds taken out, chopped into 1/4 inch dices
1 cup dry quinoa

To cook the quinoa, add it to 2 cups of water or stock and bring to a boil in a saucepan. Lower the heat so it simmers, put a lid over it, and cook for another 10-15 minutes until it's nice and fluffy.

In a frying pan, add 2 Tbs olive oil and half the quinoa (or all if you want everything toasted). For extra flavor, you can also add a tablespoon of butter. Toast the quinoa gently over medium/ medium high heat until it's nice and crunchy.

Add to this another 1 Tbs of really good olive oil, season with salt and pepper. You can also add 2 cloves of chopped garlic, too.

In a separate bowl mix the cukes, feta, and parsley.

I store the quinoa separately from the mix-ins because I think it helps keep the flavors fresh. Right before serving, mix them together and squeeze over a little lemon.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Potato and Pesto Pizza

I have to get used to this. This whole new geographic location thing. After being here for over a year, I am still amazed that there are STATES close by! And CITIES. Big cities: like DC and Baltimore. Oh! and beaches and malls and theaters. I am not knocking Michigan, because we're close to some pretty wonderful places as well. I mean, Chicago - hello! But let's face it, Michiganians, you don't hear people in DC saying, "I'm off to Lansing this weekend."

For the Memorial Day holiday a friend asked if I'd like to go to DC. A completely impromptu trip to DC for an evening of shopping and nibbling. I was in. I mean, how could I turn down the chance to snag another cupcake from Baked and Wired?

Three hours later (traffic was a beast), we were in Georgetown. I love this place, I have to say. Being from Michigan means I'm allowed to love all places in the Mid Atlantic - I know there are rivalries between the cities, but I'm not sure who's involved or the details. I just enjoy myself. I love Georgetown's quaint cobblestone streets, the youthfulness of hopping along and trying not to get stuck behind a mob of high schoolers. I love the shops, all tucked away and housed in antique buildings. M street has a good mix of nice dining options, retailers, and places to rejuvenate and grab a quick snack.

For dinner we revisited a favorite of mine - Pizzeria Paradiso. I was first introduced to this place when I visited a friend who was working in the Smithsonian a couple years ago. The place is always busy and you're lucky if you don't have to wait a half hour for a seat. Tip from me: sit on the top level - the basement is kind of...well, they didn't take as much care in creating the same homey atmosphere down there. There is a huge pizza firing area and you can even eat and watch if you'd like. The menu is pretty short, but you can choose from a few pre-designed pizza options, or invent your own. There is a certain boldness factor when a restaurant has a short menu - it puts on the pressure to stand by their food and make it perfect every time.

I wasn't in the mood for a gooey, cheesy pizza. It was a little humid outside and I'd just had a Caramel Frappechino (hehe). So when I saw the Pizza Genovese, I knew I had to have it. They cover the crust with pesto, thinly sliced potatoes, and sprinkle on some really powerful Parmesan right at the end. The crust is amazing - nice and fluffy on the inside, super crispy on the outside. Perfect for dunking in a good olive oil (which they keep on the table as well). I'll admit, I've always had an aversion to potatoes on pizza because of the double dose of carbs, but the crust was so thin, I didn't feel bad about eating this. I think I'd like to try and make it at home because it was so simple and I might add some fresh basil to the top (I did this with my leftovers and really liked the punch of flavor).

Next time I go to DC, I'd like to find another place to eat - maybe a Thai restaurant. Because as much as I love the variety in RVA, I can't seem to find a Thai place I like. I'm open to suggestions, of course!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ham and Corn Chowda'

It's been about a year since I've made corn chowder, so I decided to whip out my old recipe and try my hand at re-inventing a classic. I had some leftover ham in the freezer, and I thought this would be the perfect way to use it: the ham gives a more hearty feel to the soup, as do the potatoes.

What You Need:

4 Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into small cubes
about 1/2 pound diced ham (larger sized dices)
2 onions, diced small
3 corns of corn - cut the corn off and save the cob
4 cups chicken stock (I like the low sodium kind)
salt, pepper
1/4 cup cooking sherry

What you do:

Sautee the onion in about 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter and 1/2 tablespoon of oil. Let it cook until it is translucent and pretty wilted down - then add the corn and continue to cook down. Finally, add the potatoes and the chicken stock, sherry, salt and pepper (just add about a 1/2 teaspoon of each to start, and work from there later). Put the corn cobs in with the chowder and let all this boil down for about 20 minutes, then take the cobs out, add the ham, and continue to cook the chowder for another 15-20 minutes.

This is technically not a "chowder" but I like to call it that because it is so chunky and because adding the corn husks allows for the corn milk to seep into the stew and make it creamy without having to add cream or half and half. You can alter the cook times according to how cooked you like your potatoes and on how quickly it thickens up. If you add too much stock and the chowder gets really runny, keep boiling it down, or take a little of the juice out and mix it with about 1 tsp cornstarch to make a slurry. Add this back into the pot and it should thicken the chowder nicely.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

When Even Five Ingredients Are Too Many

Being in dental school means traveling around with the same group of about 90 people for 4 years. Same classes, same clinic times, same lunch hour. So the other day as we all opened our lunches, one of my classmates commented on the hummus I had made. And another friend at the table brought up how her mom made a Lebanese feast the other night. And another talked about his babaganoush made with eggplant from the local Farmers' Market. I was in heaven - I mean, how wonderful that my classmates love food like me!

We are in the process of finding a date to hit up a few Farmers' Markets, because, can you believe it, I have never been to one in RVA? I know, it's pretty shameful - but I don't have a car, so I think that's a pretty good reason since I'm not in walking distance to any of them. I need to do my research to see which ones are closest because I've heard there are a few scattered around the area.

In lieu of attending the Farmers' Market, I was able to use some fresh lime basil the other night, and hence, this post was born. One of my classmates brought me a couple snippings of sweet basil and lime basil which he grows. I mean, come on, how much more perfect can you get? Fresh herbs picked that day? He even packaged them in a little cooler in moist towels so they'd stay fresh throughout the day.

I rushed home and opened the Tupperware and spent a couple minutes just tasting the herbs. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with them - I'd originally thought a quinoa salad with tomatoes and feta and cucumbers. But they were too good for that - as much as I love feta, it can crowd out other flavors.

What I decided to do was let the herbs shine on their own - I boiled some curly pasta until it was al dente. Then I drizzled in a few tablespoons of my very favorite and sacred olive oil. This is the best, guys, and I do mean it. I bought about 9 bottles in Las Vegas the last time I was there because there are only 4 places in the country that sell it. Of course, when I got home, I realized they have an online store. Fail.

I sprinkled in a little salt - because I think it helps bring out the flavor of any herb, and some fresh pepper. Then I tore in the herbs and finished it off with some lemon.

That's it. It really is so simple and as someone who grew up watching my mom cook, sometimes I feel like I'm cheating when I make something that tastes so good but takes no time at all and only uses about 3 ingredients. But if there is something I've learned since cooking on my own and refining my own style - it's that there is a time and a place for complicated. And it's not when you have fresh herbs from the garden.