Thursday, August 30, 2007

Blueberry Pie, Backyard BBQ, and Burgers

go together like bees and honey. Actually, many foods go with backyard BBQs. I was fortunate to make something that started with the letter B so that the title of my entry could be full of them. This past Sunday, Ron and Ursula, he's in the picture above, hosted a backyard BBQ to celebrate summer and the finer things in life. In honor of such an event, I made blueberry pie (see Jan 2007 for filling details; see May 2007 for pie crust). The second time around, this pie was even better.

I found my recipe on cook's illustrated and I disagree with one step which is to wait 15 minutes to roll out the dough if it's been in the fridge. When I have waited, I find that the butter softens before I can roll out the dough so this time I rolled it out straight from the fridge and it was so much easier to work with and I felt that my pastry was even more flaky, light, and crisp. The pie went so fast the hosts and I almost didn't get any!

I did all this fancy crimping of the edges and it clearly does not show. Now, how does one get the crimping to remain crimped for beautiful results, like they do in bakeries?

The other picture is of Ron holding up chicken apple sausages trying to tempt me into submission. I have been mostly vegetarian for years but the past few months I've been tempted by meat and have indulged when eating out with friends. A few weeks ago, I went to Korean BBQ where I had great fish and thought I had reached my meat saturation when I wasn't even tempted by the meat on the grill. The next day I went to a local festival and the craving for meat returned when I saw corn dogs. There's nothing like meat on a stick. Last week I came to the conclusion that I could not make the decision to be vegetarian until I have fried chicken and steak. I sort of had friend chicken last Friday and it was darn tasty. My friends are convinced that if I have steak, I'll never go back. In any case, an hour later, I had a sausage. It was SO good. I compensated by eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Good things do come in small packages!

Yes, there were burgers but I didn't have any. They looked amazing though.

Monday, August 27, 2007


Homemade pizza is so good and relatively easy to make. I was inspired by other foodies making their own dough and after reading several recipes decided that I had worked myself into a frenzy for no reason. Never made a yeasted dough in my life and thought I would give it a try. It was easier than I thought but the process is a little long with having to wait for the dough to rise, punch down, and rise again. Next time, I'm going to make more and freeze the dough. Apparently, the best time is to freeze after the dough has risen for the first and has been punched down. When you're ready to use, defrost in the fridge over night and let rise for 30-60 minutes or so.

Too tired to write much else though I am seriously thinking about making cinnamon rolls now that I know I can deal with yeast!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Foodie BlogRoll

Live well, be well, eat well, and drink well! Join the Foodie Blog Roll. There are so many folks creating fantastic edibles and writing about it. Thanks to the Queen of Leftovers for thinking of such a novel idea.

I must also thank Kevin, of closetcooking, for helping me keep all my entries single spaced! He cooks every day and blogs about it. It's nothing short of amazing.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Tomato-Basil Pesto

I really dislike it when I have to buy a bunch of basil for a recipe that calls for a whopping 2 T. Today, I was determined to use something with the remainder, and I think I hit a home run with this tasty topping which is so versatile. Deborah Madison suggests using this red pesto to season soups or to spread on grilled cheese sandwiches (yummo!). I decided it would be a good topping for whole wheat crackers and it was awesome. The garlic is sharp and contrasts with the sweetness of the basil and tomato paste. The cheese gives the side creaminess and salt, without having to add it from an outside source. So easy, so simple, so tasty, so scrumptious. It's a no effort crowd pleaser.

Makes about 3/4 cup
Cooking Time: 10 minutes

-2 garlic cloves,
-1 1/2 cups loosely packed basil leaves
-1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (use slightly less)
-1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
-2 to 3 T tomato paste

Pound the garlic with 1/2 teaspoon salt in a mortar until smooth. Chop the basil in a food processor and gradually add the oil to make a coarse puree. Remove and stir into the garlic with the cheese and tomato paste.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting

I've learned my lesson. I now share cupcakes. The last time I made cupcakes and blogged about it, I received a friendly scolding from Patti on the virtues of sharing such delectables treats with the neighbors (namely her and her husband, Patrick). I know! Patti and Pat! It kills me too.

I adore home made cupcakes; can't get enough of them; could eat them for every meal. I always love sharing my food with others but there's something about cupcakes that makes me a little selfish. Every tiny morsel brings back grade school memories when all the moms would bring cupcakes to school to celebrate their child's birthday. I greatly disliked my ugly little plaid uniform, knee high socks, and blue velcro tennies that I was forced to wear 5 days a week but lived for those birthdays and other school parties. Those moms, especially my own, were darn good bakers.

I decided to make chocolate. Having recently tasted chocolate cupcakes from the "hot" local bakery, I decided to make my own. I didn't think the ones I tried were all that -- they looked good but didn't taste like chocolate, kind of like a really attractive person with no personality. This recipe is kind of annoying with the whole X cup + Y T bit but you do what you have to do to get a good cupcake. You bring it! This recipe was great. Light, fluffy, moist, and chocolate-y. I loved the use of melted chocolate rather than cocoa powder.

This recipe is by Nancy Kux of Nancy's Fancies which was written up in the SF Chronicle.

-1 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (use Pound Plus from Trader Joe's; inexpensive, high quality)
-1 cup +2 T cake flour
-3/4 tsp baking soda
-1/8 tsp salt
-2 1/2 ounces unsalted butter, at room temp.
-3/4 cup + 2 T sugar
-1/2 tsp vanilla
-1 large egg, at room temp.
-1/2 + 2 T water
-chocolate frosting (see July 2007 entries)


Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper cupcake liners.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over warm water. Set aside to cool slightly.

Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.

Using an electric mixer, beat butter with sugar for about 2 minutes, until fluffy. Add vanilla and egg. Beat on high speed for 4-5 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl from time to time. Slowly pour chocolate into butter mixture, beating on medium speed until fully incorporated.

Add the dry ingredients alternating with the water in 3 additions, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Mix until fully combined. Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling each about three-quarters full.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the top of the muffins springs back when lightly touched in the center, and a wooden toothpick inserted in the cakes comes out free of uncooked batter.

Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes before transferring them to wire racks to cool completely.

Yields 12 cupcakes.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Red Peppers Stuffed with Corn and Fresh Mozzarella

Bell peppers are naturally abundant in August which inspired me to make this dish which I found in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I went to my local farmer's market where I spent a rather leisurely Saturday morning perusing all the produce twice before making purchases for this dish. It's amazing the little tidbits you learn about produce and the farms they grow on. I love the stories people have to share. I also love all samples; I was stuffed by the time I finished shopping.

When I read the recipe it seemed like a lot of stuffing for just 2 peppers but I used almost every single morsel of stuffing. Those peppers have bottomless pits. There was probably about a half a cup left after stuffing all the peppers. The stuffing alone could be a meal in of itself. Quick, simple, easy, and delicious; this recipe uses some of summers finest ingredients (except the garlic pictured).

My taste tester and I disagreed on the salt level of the dish. When I tasted the filling, I felt that it had enough salt from the cheese so I didn't add any as Madison's book suggests. But after eating one of the peppers in the final stage, I felt that I should have added a bit of salt to enhance the flavor. But the taste tester thought the salt level was perfect. I say add the salt but taste the filling first, after it's cooled a bit.

Makes 2-4 servings
Cooking Time: 30 minutes, Prep is about 15

-2 red bell peppers, halved lengthwise
-2 T butter
-1 bunch scallions, including the firm greens, thinly sliced
-2 1/2 to 3 cups kernels from 5 ears of corn (common on, Deborah! Too much work. I used frozen)
-2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced (skipped the peeling, etc.)
-1 fresh mozzarella cheese, 4 to 5 ounces, finely diced, or 1 cup grated Cheddar or Jack (used Jack)
-2 T finely sliced basil leaves
-2/3 cup fresh bread crumbs
-Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly butter a baking dish just large enough to hold the peppers. If the red peppers won't stand upright, slice them lengthwise in half, leaving the stem end intact. Steam them for 5 minutes and set aside.

Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the scallions, corn, and tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes over medium heat. Turn of heat and stir in the cheese, basil, and half the bread crumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Fill the peppers and top with the remaining bread crumbs. Set them in the prepared dish, add a few tablespoons water to the dish, cover, and bake until the corn is hot and peppers are cooked, about 25 minutes. Uncover and brown the tops under the broiler. Dust with paprika and serve.

Now get out and enjoy your local farmer's market.

KM, you were "by my side" while I shopped. Te pierdo.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Making Eggs in a Basket

I received a few requests on how to make eggs in a basket. I thought I was the only one that didn't!

-Eggs (obvious)
-Bread (preferably wheat)
-Butter or oil (butter tastes best)
-Salt and pepper to taste

Heat pan on medium heat with butter/oil. Make a hole in the bread using a cookie cutter. The traditional hole is circular but as you can see from the pictures, I made a star to make it more fun! Place bread on pan and then crack egg into the hole. Season with salt and pepper. After a few minutes or so, when the underside of the bread is toasted, flip. They key is to have the eggs and toast cook at the same rate. You don't want the eggs done before the bread is toasted.

I hope these instructions help!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Eggs in a Basket

are the classic camping food. I was partly inspired by all my friends' camping trips which I sadly could not participate in due to all my end of July work jaunts. There's something very comforting about a piece of warm toast with an egg in the middle. After a few challenging work weeks, I decided that I didn't need to wait for my next camping trip to enjoy such a treat.

Hearing about camping trips and stories, of course, jogged my memory back to the 10th grade. We were on our class bonding trip in Yosemite. I was sharing a tent with at least 4 other girls. Some boys thought it would be humorous to surround our tent with cookies so that the bears would come, and indeed they did! What were they thinking?! Did they not realize that we knew their plan before they did it? We came up with the buddy system to mitigate scary situations. My buddy's time came, we peaked our heads out, saw the glow-in-the-dark bear eyes, and ran for it. The bears were harmless enough. While we didn't bond with the guys in any way they would have liked, we girls certainly did. After a sleepless night and a 4 AM wake up call for the 18 mile hike to Half Dome, we were a lot grouchier than the bears. The cute rugged scruffy older brother of one our teacher's handing us eggs-in-a-basket with a smile slightly lifted our spirits and made our little girl hearts palpitate; re-energized we set out, beating the guys to the top was priceless!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Peach Galette

Peaches are summer's nectar. Their fragrance nature's perfume. The bright orange yellow blush reminds me of sunsets in polluted cities I lived in and bygone days when I would pass an entire afternoon picking peaches off a friend's tree, the juices dripping down my face while we stuffed ourselves silly, to the point of illness. I was deliriously high on sugar.

To show my gratitude to a book club member for helping me out a few months ago, I decided to make peach galette to share while we discussed Middlesex this evening. I actually wanted to make apricot galette but their season ended in July, and the taste test at Whole Foods quickly convinced me that I needed to move on to better fruit. After a discussion with a friendly shopper, the produce guy, and three taste tests, I ended up with more peaches than I knew what to do with. Much to my surprise, the best tasting peaches at Whole Foods were the conventionally grown ones; they were also $2 a pound more expensive than the organic ones! It was so worth it.

The galette was delicious. I thought it would be super sweet because the peaches were so very sweet, plus I added a few tablespoons of sugar but it was simply scrumptious if I do say so myself. I bet this would be great with nectarines. It's their peak season too. Eat fruit, be happy! At the very least, buy lots of fruit, cut and freeze to make summer treats in the dead of winter when such luxurious fruit is not available!

-Galette Dough (see June 2007 entries)
-1/3 cup dry bread crumbs (used about a 1/2 cup; see previous entry on prep)
-3 to 4 ripe peaches, sliced thinly
-3 T butter, melted
-3 T sugar or more to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Roll the dough into a 14 inch circle (do this on top of parchment paper). Leaving a 2 inch border, cover the center of the dough with bread crumbs (necessary to keep crust crispy with all the juices). Arrange peaches over the crumbs, making a single layer. Fold the edges of the dough over the fruit, overlapping to make wide pleats. Brush the dough with butter and drizzle any remaining butter over the fruit. Sprinkle both the crust and peaches with sugar. Bake for 15 minutes at 425, then reduce heat to 375 and continue baking until fruit is tender and crust is browned, 20 to 25 minutes more. Remove and let cool to lukewarm before serving.

So I skipped the butter step which I don't recommend. It really does help the crust brown more easily. Seriously, after 1 1/2 sticks, what's another 3 T. Don't skimp on the butter!

If using apricots, select 12 large, ripe, fragrant ones.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Dry Bread Crumbs



Homemade dry bread crumbs are to die for. The lack of uniformity, scent, rough texture, and taste made me a convert today. They are so easy to make. Not as easy as buying them but it's worth the extra effort.

-Any type of bread (used La Brea French bread)

Slice bread bread and place on a sheet pan. Set in oven at 200 degrees F until they're dry, crisp, and golden brown, 30 to 45 minutes. Let cool, and the grind in a food processor until fine. They will keep for weeks in an airtight container. Two slices bread yields about 1/2 cup bread crumbs.

So having a renter's oven, after 45 minutes the bread was crispy and not brown, so I increased the temperature to 350 or so, and left them in there until they were quite brown, probably another 20 minutes or so. I lost track of the time because I was singing to some rather cheesy 80s songs. Once I get going, I kind of can't stop.

Anyhow, homemade leave store bought crumbs in the dust!

Friday, August 03, 2007

Susie's Cookin'

I forgot to mention another one of Chicago's greats: Susie's home cooking. She loves to eat and cook; a girl after my own heart. After a hectic week in New York, I arrived to a home cooked meal at Susie's. How nice is that? It was simple and SO delicious. We had baked chicken with bread crumbs, roasted broccoli, mashed potatoes (with soy milk; couldn't taste the difference), and dinner rolls. There were very few ingredients yet there was so much flavor. While I had eaten at some fairly nice restaurants during my NY travels, this meal by far was the best meal I had all week. I devoured it.

I have to say it is quite the treat and such a luxury when any one cooks for me. Among my friends, I cook the most. So generally when I have people over I cook, otherwise we go out. And while I definitely love to cook and share food with friends, it is so nice to eat meals prepared by others. They taste better when you haven't slaved away! At Susie's, there was nothing to be done. I walked in and dinner was served. No prep, no dishes, nothing. It was just what I needed.

Being with Susie made me think about my other cooking friends and influences. Certainly my mom. She always prepares great food. Among friends, I can count all my cooking friends on one hand: Susie, Sam, Dustin, and Roneil. Come to think of it, all them live in the Midwest, except for me. All but one attended the U of C. I'm the outlier. What does that say?

All my cooking friends have been doing so since at least college, if not before. I was the late bloomer. Dustin knows more about Indian cooking than I do though he can't tell the difference between 2 T and 2 tsp to save his life! In our final two years of college, he lived one block away which was great for me. Once, he came over with two pots in hand because he was in the middle of cooking, and his stove quit working, could he use mine. Then there's Sam, the baker extraordinaire. I remember when her folks sent her a pumpkin they had grown in Maine for our Thanksgiving meal. She baked it and used the puree to make pumpkin muffins which I promptly stuffed myself with. Roneil was the king of vegetarian cooking and he never ever looked at a recipe, not once! He fed me happily and regularly when we lived in DC. He just threw things together and the food always tasted good!

I cook fairly regularly now, and when I reflect on how it is that I got to here, I look at my family and friends. It's not like any of them sat me down and said that I had to cook more. They did what they always did with passion, flare, humor, and style. They shared; it rubbed off and completely inspired me to do the same. I tip my hat to all of you.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Capitol City Brewing Company - Capitol Hill

Come here for the drinks, stay for the stories, go elsewhere for the food. On Monday night, my colleague, a few of her friends from the Peace Corp, and I went to dinner at Capitol City Brewing Company. When I lived in DC, I ate here once but couldn't remember the food. And there's a reason why.

So we ordered a round of beers which was great. My colleague and I had the pale ale, which we liked, while one friend had the raspberry wheat, which had a rather enticing magenta tint to it. There's something about the color of a drink...Over drinks, the Peace Corp stories from Paraguay started to flow like Niagara falls in the spring. There was talk of eating poisonous foods, creatures burying themselves under skin, and shaving heads. While the stories were totally engrossing and funny, I was glad we weren't eating just yet because some of them made my stomach churn just a little. There were lots of references to looking up things on Wikipedia which I will once I finish writing this up.
The company was so fine. It's amazing how good company can make you over look the food you're eating.

Dinner came. I'm really careful about what I order. While I was attracted to the crab cake sandwich, I didn't think it would be their speciality so I went with what I thought could not be messed up, fish tacos. The tortillas were dry, actually I think stale was more like it. The fish was fried. I love fried fish even though it's so bad for you but this fish didn't taste like anything. The lettuce was skimpy and the cheese, cakey. It was rather bland. Don't order the fish tacos.