Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Not-So-Best Birthday Cake

Smitten Kitchen is one of my absolute favorite cooking blogs. She's far more a baker than I am. Baking involves things like being able to follow directions, measuring and correct ingredients. These, are not my strong suites.

But when I saw her post for a Best Birthday Cake, I thought it was the cutest thing ever and wanted to try it. Except that (any day now) I'm a whole year away from a first birthday party. And really, I bet the mom is going to want to bake the cake, not have me do it. You can imagine my excitement when two days after I saw the cake, a friend sent an email for a first birthday bbq. (for her puppy)

So, in honor of Maddie, I had to decided to make the cake.

Funny thing, when you wake up somewhere around 3 ro 3:30 in the morning, can't get back to sleep and decide, at 5:15am decide to get up, and bake a cake instead of continuing to just lie there.

Well, blame it on the hour, the tiredness or whatever you want... but I didn't precisely follow some of the directions. And I forgot to hit the pan for the second layer, so there were a few bubbles on the bottom! (and I doubted this myth, silly person that I am) And then the top layer wasn't fully cool when I placed it on the second to continue icing, so the top layer started sliding and wouldn't stop until I put the finished product in the fridge. And then upon eating... it's a little denser than it probably should have been. But I blame that solely on my direction following ability.

Ah well. I'm still really proud of my first ever cake from scratch AND layered cake effort. I may be a baker yet. maybe.

Tom Yum Inspired Cauliflower and Green Beans (an attempt)

Tom Yum is one of my favorite soups of all time. It's absolutely part of how I judge and remember a Thai food restaurant. Part of what I loved was the crisp, sweet spiciness of the cauliflower in the dish. The green beans weren't too shabby either.

So when I got both cauliflower and green beans in my farm share last week - I needed to try to emulate the wonderful, wonderful result that is vegetables in Tom Yum soup. You know, without the soup because I tried that once and am far from perfecting it.

This was a little over cooked due to multi-tasking. And a little too spice due to underestimating the chilies I was working with. But I'm determined to figure this shiz out.

Tom Yum Inspired Vegetables

1 medium head cauliflower
1 handful fresh green beans
(or whatever vegetables tickle your fancy)
2-4 shakes cayenne pepper

1/2 to 1 c chicken broth
2 dried ancho chilies (I wanted 1 birds eye chili)

Add chicken broth and chilies to sauce pan and bring to a simmer.

In the mean time, break down cauliflower into bite sized florets . Remove the ends from the green beans and cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch lengths. Sprinkle with paprika and cayenne pepper (Can you tell I didn't trust the chilies to be spicy? I'm bright.). Add vegetables to simmering broth. Stir to coat vegetables and work spices into broth. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Drain broth and return vegetables to pan. Saute for another 2 minutes.


(I modified the written cooking times from what I did because, obviously, what I did wasn't quite right.)

Whip It Up: Week 4: Healthy Option (The official entry)

(See that picture next to it? That's what it was "supposed" to look like.)

This week's challenge is a healthy option. I (generally) try to eat well on a day to day basis. And because of this, I know that the (not so) occasional craving hits for something that is (far, far) less than healthy. So, why not take this week's challenge and embrace those cravings - just in a version that wouldn't derail a day's (or week's) efforts?

To keep the health factor rolling, I served it with simmered/sauteed green beans and cauliflower and mashed potatoes made with chicken broth, Parmesan, Garlic Garlic, Onion Onion, and a touch of shredded reduced fat mozzarella. Delicioso!

Courtesy of Cooking Light... (originall recipe found here)

Pan-Fried Chicken

1 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground paprika
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt, divided

6 bone-in chicken drumsticks, skin removed

1/4 c canola oil

Combine flour, ginger, paprika, nutmeg cinnamon and 1/2 tsp salt in a large zip-lock bag. Rub chicken with the other 1/2 tsp salt. Place chicken pieces in zip lock bag one by one. Seal the bag and shake. (Shake and bake! and I helped!)

Once well coated, remove from bag and place on a plate, platter, whatever you have (a rack over a plate is probably best) and put it in the fridge for an hour to an hour and a half to let the flour mixture settle on the chicken. Discard extra flour mixture.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken to pan and reduce heat to medium-low. The trick is finding the right temp - too high and the outer coating will brown well before the chicken is done cooking, too low and the chicken will absorb too much oil. Cook for 25-30 minutes, turning every 5 minutes.

When the outer coating is brown and chicken cooked, remove from the pan and place on a platter with paper towels (really, the brown bags on a rack is better, but I don't have those). Let rest for 5-10 minutes, turn half way through.


Because this is the healthy options week, here's the health information (Probably a little different because of my ahem modifications)
Calories: 245 Fat: 10.1g (sat 2g,mono 4.1g,poly 3g) Protein: 28.2g Carbohydrate: 9g Fiber: 0.8g Cholesterol: 87mg Iron: 1.8mg Sodium: 240mg Calcium: 17mg

Was it easy?
Yes! I forgot to get the peanut oil, but the canola worked well. I also didn't' read some of the directions so well - so my spice ratio is different than the original.
Was it good?
Yes! ...but still not quite the fried chicken real deal.

Would you make it again?

To be honest, I think I prefer grilled chicken to this method...put perhaps.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Whip It Up: Week 3: Regional Favorites

I've lived in Boston since the fall of 2001. I guess that makes it just shy of 8 years. Since I've moved, I've been made aware, time and again, that there are a number of New England traditions of which Connecticut is entirely unaware. There's no clam bakes - but perhaps that can be blamed on the shore line being entirely taken up by the Long Island Sound, and not an ocean (by any stretch of the imagination). There's the undying loyalty to the Sox, but maybe that's because of the proximity of NY and the number of people residing in CT that work there. Connecticutioners completely lack any sort of accent. On the plus side, the pizza's actually really good.

But then there's the lack of Baked Beans, brown breads and fanaticism of Italian Sausages. However, since I now associate myself with Boston far more than Connecticut, I figured it was about time I tackled this rampantly regional dish.

Now, when I mentioned that this plan to Matt, he so kindly mentioned that his Grampy was an award winning baked bean maker. Well crap. Talk about expectations. Of course I couldn't make any recipe other than his Grampy's. But then, how could I ever live up to a blue ribbon legacy on my first attempt?? Well, in short, I didn't. First of all, Grampy's recipe, along with most Boston Baked Beans, calls for salt pork. Which I don't eat. I will count this as my saving grace. The two recipes couldn't possibly be the same, and I'm off the hook.

(also, I've never had and am sort of afraid of brown bread. only one, one!!, friend has ever said it's good. and again, this was when I was talking about making this dinner. so, i went with northern style corn bread)

Grampy's Boston Baked Beans

1 lb great northern beans

3 tbs molasses
1 tsp dried mustard
3 tbs brown sugar
3 tbs catsup (or 6 packets, you know, whatever you happen to have)
2 slices turkey bacon (not in the original recipe)
2 thick slices uncooked, fatty corned beef, cubed (also not in the original)
1 small onion, fine chopped

Sort and soak the beans overnight. Drain well and pour into a bean pot (or a casserole dish with a lid, like I did, if you don't have a bean pot).

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a separate bowl, combine molasses, mustard, brown sugar, and catsup. Combine well and add to beans as well as the bacon and corned beef. Stir until well mixed. Add water to cover. Place lid on the pot and put it in the oven for 5-6 hours. Check periodically, stir and add water as needed. You don't want it to get dried out. For the last half hour or so, let the sauce thicken without letting the dish dry out.

Upon removing and tasting, we decided to add some salt and a little more brown sugar.

Twas delicious, but I've still some work to do before I live up to Grampy's legacy.

For the corn bread, I followed this recipe. Before posting it to my site, though, I want to tweak it. First thoughts are it needs more salt and sugar.

Was it easy?
Yes, exceptionally so.

Was it good?
As mentioned above, yes, very good. However - it's not there yet.

Would I make it again?
Again yes. Hopefully at some point with supervision/guidance from Grammy or Mary Jo.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Unexpected Goodness

I have, what is probably an irrational, distinct dislike of Martha Stewart. So imagine my surprise when trying to figure out what was in my farm share last week and then figuring out what to do with my apparent fava beans, I came across a person who modified a Martha Stewart recipe that I wanted to try.

But then when I went to make it tonight, I figured out I had only the orzo and shallots. And so using it as an inspiration, that is where our two recipes part ways. Whew.

Orzo with Green and Fava Beans

1 1/2 c. dry orzo pasta
1 shallot diced
2 tbs olive oil
1 tbs capers
1/4 - 1/2 c. shelled fava beans, white casing removed
1 c. green beans, cut to 1" lengths
1 glug white wine (about 1/4 cup)
1 tbs dijon mustard
6 - 7 slices turkey bacon
2 tbs fresh diced parsley
shaved parmesan
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 415

Fill a medium pot with water, salt lightly and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente according to directions on the box. Drain pasta and rinse with cold water to stop cooking.

Place turkey bacon on a baking sheet and place in oven until crispy. About 15 minutes. No need to flip. Remove from oven until cool. Dice/crumble.

Add olive oil to pot. When heated, add shallots and capers until shallots are translucent. Add white wine, dijon mustard. Combine well. Stir in cooked orzo and bacon. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and add parsley.

After plating, top with parmesan shavings.

Personally, next time, I wouldn't add the capers. That's it. I would have liked more fava beans as well, but I used all I had. The contrasting crunch of the green beans was very nice.

Room for Improvement

Since starting this blog, something has become more and more obvious to me.

I direly need a new camera. The one I have is only a few years old. However, it takes forever to turn on, does not have a micro-zoom (or whatever the take pictures of things, like food, close up feature is called), somehow it needs to be really bright or the picture comes out fuzzy, even with the flash a lot of the time.

Just generally, it's no longer cutting it.

I want a small one that I can put in my pocket. I can't tell you how much I loved being able to keep my camera in my side pocket while hiking the Inka Trail. Easy access = key, even for a camera.

It has to be easy to use. I've been known to threaten physical violence against electronics, and mean it.

Ideally, it would be able to take pictures of the beautiful vistas from hikes and ocean visits, antics of friends and glamor shots of my kitchen adventures (food porn) all equally comparably well.

And probably some other features I want but am forgetting.

So I ask, what do you use? What should I look for? Do you know the perfect camera for me?

Monday, July 13, 2009


My first ever hobo submission got a mention in this month's post!!! An actual food blog. That people actually read. Linked. To. My. Page.

...I'm such a dork.

But this totally made my night. The fantastic dinner of black bean burgers and healthy potato skins definitely helped. But when I sat down at the computer to do some work, at midnight, I wasn't looking forward to the next hour. And then I saw Thursday Night Smack Down's post.


This, of course, means I need to play again next month. And need to step it up. Hopefully it'll be a long time before she realizes I don't eat pork. I think it'll lower my standing in her eyes.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Whip It Up: Week 2: Guilty Pleasure

That's right, a guilty pleasure. In regards to this, I think most people would automatically jump to dessert. The really rich, ooey-gooey stuff. Probably involving lots of chocolate, maybe some peanut butter. Or brown butter. But then, I've never been much of a dessert person.

I'm also not much of a chain restaurant person. I like eating local, supporting local business and seeing what the best chefs in town are capable of creating for my own gastronomic pleasure. And then there's the one food dish that I crave far more often than anyone should crave something from a national chain.

PF Chang's Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps (this version on Recipeezaar)
Cooking Sauce
1 tbsp hoison sauce
1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp dry sherry (I used an open bottle of red table wine)
2 tbsp oyster sauce (omitted because I could not find vegetarian oyster sauce)
2 tbsp water
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp corn starch

1 tsp corn starch
2 tsp dry sherry (same as above)
2 tsp low sodium soy sauce
1 tsp Chinese chili sauce (I use Sambal Olek)
2 tsp water

2 tbsp sesame oil
1 c baked tofu (recipe used below), diced
1 tsp fresh minced ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 green onions, minced
1/4 large red onion, small diced
4 oz bamboo shoots, diced
4 oz water chestnuts, diced
1 8oz package cellophane noodls (could. not. find. Help!!)
1 head ice burg lettuce (or your wrapping lettuce of choice)

Spicy Sauce

1 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp dry mustard (Coleman's)
1 tbsp water
1 tsp Chinese chili sauce

While the tofu is baking...

Mix cooking sauce in bowl and set aside.

For the spicy sauce, mix the dry mustard and water until well combined and smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients and set aside. I ended up adding about another tablespoon of soy sauce.

In a medium bowl, make the marinade and set aside. Prep all of your ginger, garlic, green and red onion, bamboo and water chestnuts. When the tofu is done baking (if not done ahead) dice and add to the marinade. Stir until coated well and let sit for 15 minutes.

Heat a wok or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and stir fry the tofu for 2-3 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add the ginger, garlic and green and red onion; stir-fry for about a minute. Add the bamboo and water chestnuts; stir-fry for another 2 minutes. Return tofu to the wok, add the cooking sauce. Cook until thickened, about 2 minutes.

Place cellophane noodles on a platter and pour the tofu mixture over the noodles. Serve with lettuce and spicy sauce.


Baked Tofu (recipe found here)

1 lb extra firm tofu, drained and pressed
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp low sodium soy sauce
2 tsp olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 c vegetable broth (I used chicken. the ppk vegan would be mad)
1/4 c white wine (I didn't have any. replaced with broth)

Preheat oven to 400

Add the dry ingredients of the marinade to a small goal. Mash a bit to release the flavors better. Add wet ingredients, combine well.

Cut tofu into 8ths. I did this by cutting the long way. I might do it differently next time for slightly thicker pieces of tofu. Pour some of the marinade into a 9x15 baking pan. (or the cookie sheet with a rim that I used) Dredge tofu in the marinade and place in pan in a single layer. Pour remaining marinade over the tofu slices. Make sure some garlic and lemon zest sit on top of each slice. Cover.

Bake for 30 minutes. Remove tin foil, flip the tofu and continue baking for another 20 minutes. Remove from over and cool a little before serving (or you know, dicing and putting in the marinade)

Was it easy? Surprisingly so. There are a lot of ingredients, but most are already pantry staples for me. Seriously people, if chili sauce and soy sauce are not a part of your pantry, they should be.

Was it good? Yes, it was good. However, though close... it wasn't quite PF Chang's. So I will keep looking for recipes, playing tweaking and trying. And until I get it right. Mr Feinstein (or whatever supremely Jewish name that the F stands for) will continue to get my money.

As for the baked tofu. I tried some out of the recipe. It was okay. I couldn't really taste anything. Next time, if I use the same recipe, I'll try it with the wine. And add salt and pepper. I was surprised it didn't call for any, but figured I'd never made baked tofu, so what the hell did I know. Apparently, something.

Would you make it again? See above. If I didn't want the PF Chang's version this would be very good and certainly made again. And I will try again, just maybe not this exact version.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hobo Mondays Tuesdays

I've recently discovered a new food blog. And I love it. She's snarky, smart and interesting. The food looks amazing. And she hated Stefan from last season's Top Chef almost as much as I did. (almost because I didn't care if it was Josea winning... just anyone but that cocky jackass)

Seriously. You should check out Thursday Night Smackdown. (Unless there are little eyes about, she doesn't censor)

So on my first visit there, I saw a tab labeled Hobo Guidelines. Obviously I had to see what this is about. The first (now) Tuesday of each month, you have to create and blog about a meal. But not just any meal. It has to be able to feed 2 people for $5 or 4 people for $10. This is no small task. As an added challenge bonus, this month, we have to find something that travels well - in honor of summer (you know, all three days we've had so far).


3/4 c. dry quinoa
1 1/2 c. water

1 c. diced carrot
1/2 c. diced red pepper
2 sliced green onions
1/4 c. minced parsley (dried is okay)

1-2 tbsp lemon or lime juice
1 1/2 tbsp low sodium soy sauce (I usually add more upon tasting)
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp chili paste

Rinse quinoa in a strainer and drain well. Place in a medium sauce pan over medium heat and toast until you smell a nutty aroma. Add water to the pot. Bring to a boil and then cover and simmer until all the water is absorbed and quinoa tender. Usually about 20-30 min. Let cool thoroughly.

To make the dressing, whisk together lemon or lime juice, soy sauce, garlic and chili paste.

Mix together the cool quinoa, carrot, red pepper, green onion and parsley. After well combined, add dressing and mix well. Add more soy sauce or chili paste to taste if desired.


As you can see, it travels very well. Quinoa is so very more than healthy. It's a grain, it's a seed, it's a protein. Delicious and filling. And you even sneak some vegetables in. Not to mention, it looks pretty.

Cost Break Down
Quinoa - $2 ($6 for a box, about 3 recipes worth per box)
Carrots from farm share - $0.20
Red Pepper - $0.89
Green onion - $0.22
Parsley - $0.05
Lemon Juice - Pantry Staple
Soy Sacue - Pantry Staple
Chili Paste - Pantry Staple
Garlic - Pantry Staple

Total - $3.36
Servings - 2-4 (seriously, just depends on what you count as a serving)
Also possible to subract $0.05 off the total if you use dried parsley, which, for me, is a pantry staple. Also also, I'm not really sure what the carrots are worth. I just know I paid in the winter to get a wonderful bounty all summer. To be honest, I guessed high, they could be less.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Whip It Up: Week 1: Holiday Favorites

So here it is, the last day to post on what I made for Whip It Up. Way to wait to the last minute, right? Well, would it make you feel any better if you knew that I started it last Saturday? No, I guess not. I could tell you about how I'm tired or have been busy, or spent yesterday baking in the sun next to the river. But you're probably here for the cake.

This week's theme of "holiday" favorites had me thinking. I make almost everything for Thanksgiving, save for one recipe I don't yet know and will likely never share. I've hosted Rosh Hashanah dinners and Passover Sedars. Basically, if it's a holiday favorite, I've probably made it. Well crap. So I started looking up "holidays." You know the kind. Holidays such as "Stupid Guy Thing Day (June 23)" and "Let it Go Day (June 24)." Yes, those two follow each other.

And then I remembered one recipe from Passovers past that I have never, ever attempted.

Angel Food Cake. Added bonus? This recipe requires a lot (a LOT) of whipping. So there you have it. One cake, two holidays: Passover and Whip It Up's Inaugural Week, 2009.

(See all the whipping?)

I'm giving you the recipe as I made it... but hop over to Baking Bites for the real thing. I didn't have any almond extract, like theirs call for. However, I will write the instructions correctly. Not adding the vanilla after adding one addition of the flour mixture. I blame this for the deflation of my batter and resulting denser cake. It still tasted great.

Angel Food Cake (Courtesy of Baking Bites and The Best Recipe)

1 1/2 c. egg whites (about 10-12 large eggs) room temp
1 1/2 c. super fine sugar, divided
1 c. sifted cake flour
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 tsp. salt
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325F.

In a small bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup sugar and the cake flour. Set aside.

Beat egg whites until frothy, the add cream of tartar and salt. Beat until fully incorporated then begin to add the remaining 3/4 cup of sugar 1-2 tablespoons at a time. When sugar has been added, beat egg whites to soft peaks. You will know when you have soft peaks because the egg whites will look like soft waves and when you lift the beaters, the peaks will droop back down into the batter. If your batter is falling in ribbons, it is not quite done. Don’t be afraid to slow down the mixer and check a few times as you get close. Do not beat all the way to stiff peaks. Once you have soft peaks, add the vanilla and almond extracts and beat for a few seconds to evenly distribute. (highlighted because I missed this)

Sift the flour/sugar mixture over the egg whites in 6-8 additions and gently fold it in after each addition.

Spoon batter into an ungreased 9 inch tube pan with a removeable bottom. Smooth the top with a spatula and tap the pan on the counter once or twice to ensure that there are no large bubbles lurking beneath the surface.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the top springs back when lightly pressed. Mine took 55 minutes.

Allow to cool completely or overnight.

Gently run a thin knife around the sides, then around the bottom, of the pan to release the cake when you are ready to serve it.

I served ths with both fresh and stewed strawberries. This was easy. All you need is 1/4 - 1/2 c sliced strawberries, a sprinkle of brown and white sugar and a splash of lemon juice.

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan. Let sit for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until juices form. Place over medium heat and let simmer for 10-20 minutes until strawberries are soft, cooked through, syrup forms and both strawberries and syrup are a beautiful bright red.

So, to recap:

Was it good? Yes. Very.

Was it easy? Not exactly. Maintaining the appropriate level of whipped-ness proved to be elusive. But then, maybe it would have been easier if I'd actually followed the instructions.

Would I make it again? Probably, but I'm not a huge baker.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Still going...

Courtesy of the talented Mr. Schultz:
And one from Michael Fry and T Lewis of Over the Hedge: