Sunday, April 25, 2010

Friday Night In

Jason and Melissa are friends we've made in our building, and after spending a few nights together heading out and about for food and drinks, we decided to have a night in. We thought we'd play games- I'd make some food to munch on and they would bring the drinks.

Well, games never happened, which is not surprising considering the strength of Jason's cocktails and the fact that the four of us don't shut up long enough to actually get out a game to play. Five hours into our evening we realized it actually just felt like half that time. This is a nice discovery to make with new friends.

Jason made two different cocktails. One was called a Transfusion and was 1 part vodka, 1 part grape juice, and 1 part ginger ale. It was fantastic. On the second round, we used a little soda water to lighten the grape juice flavor. The other drink (in picture) was 2 parts Absolute Acai, a touch of simple syrup and lemon juice, and topped with blueberries and mint. It packed quite a punch as you might imagine.

Dinner was on me. Initially, I was just going to make some heavy snacks, but pizza was calling since JB's recent post. I made the dough from Tyler Florence's recipe this time. I will use it again. The only change I made was using a lot more evoo- that tip being from Amber- she says you can't use too much, so I was generous throughout the entire process. The crust was crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle- perfect. It was also much thinner than the crust I made on my last attempt and this is an improvement in my book.

For the tomato sauce, I used a can of tomato paste, a few glugs of evoo, water, oregano, fennel, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper flake, and two garlic cloves that I grated with my microplane. I made it in the morning and gave it all day to sit on the counter and blend and blend it did- quite nicely in fact.

I roasted broccoli, zucchini, squash, asparagus, a red, yellow, and orange bell pepper, a head of garlic cloves, and a red onion. I just chopped them all into big pieces, coated with evoo, and roasted them on 425 til they were golden sweet delicious. After allowing them to cool a bit, I prepared them to top the pizza by giving them a really good coarse chop.

I layered the sauce, veggies, and- STOP. WHOLE MILK MOZZARELLA. The 2% part skim crap you buy in a bag is disgusting in comparison. I can't even remember when/who/how I was enlightened to only use whole milk mozz, but I am thankful for the experience. (I buy the big pack, grate it all in my food processor and freeze half) I finished topping the crust with some freshly grated aged Parmesan and into the oven it went. When it came out, I garnished with chopped scallions and of course- my homemade ranch dressing. Please see my AMB post for that recipe... it blows everyone away- and Jason and Melissa were no exception.

For dessert, I made chocolate peanut butter swirl brownies. I really like baking, I just don't do much of it. I have a cook's mind, not a baker's, and all the exactness is just too much for me sometimes. I used a recipe from my Martha Stewart holiday magazine. It's my go to for cookies/bars, etc... the empire that is Martha has never let me down. The chocolate part was bittersweet chocolate, butter, sugar, vanilla, eggs, and flour. The peanut butter part was peanut butter, butter, confectioner's sugar, and vanilla. With Haagen Dazs, whipped cream, and some candied cashews I had in the pantry, it made for a terrific late night snack.

The food was a hit- everything was just really super good. Melissa fretted about how much I had done until I convinced her that nothing makes me happier. I love it so much... really. Having Jason and Melissa as new fans of my cooking is also quite nice. They offered to always bring the drinks. Deal. Maybe next time we'll actually play a game.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Egg it up.

I really enjoy eggs. I always have, but I went a good long while without eating them. I'm glad I got over that. Eggs have been a very controversial topic over the years, but it seems it has settled down. Most nutritionists say one egg per day will not elevate cholesterol- if you don't follow it with loads of other high cholesterol foods and if high cholesterol isn't a problem for you. An egg has 270mg of cholesterol and we're supposed to keep it under 300mg per day.

When you just use the whites- which I do about half of the time- you get plenty of protein, but not much else. When you include the yolk, yes, you get cholesterol and fat, but you also get a ton (around 25% or more of your daily value) of Vitamin B6 and B12, folate, Riboflavin, Vitamins A and D, Selenium, and Phosphorus and quite a few others...
For more go here.

I've done my research on the purchasing of eggs and feel it more than necessary to be very picky. This also tends to mean I buy the most expensive- it's more than worth it. Not only do they taste a million times better, but it is much, much more humane. I won't go into detail about why battery cages (you know, where they are all cramped and can't move) are so horrible, I enjoy writing my blog and thinking of the research I've done and what I've learned brings tears to my eyes and I'm not even actually typing it. Spend a second looking it up- The Human Society has good information. Parts of Europe have already banned battery caging. Hopefully we will follow suit.

Cage Free isn't always cruelty free either, but it's a better bet. They can at least lay their eggs in nests and spread their wings. Know your company. I've found Organic Valley to have a very good reputation from my research. I also prefer the chickens be fed an organic vegetarian diet and I get all of that with Organic Valley. I'd eventually just like to find a farmer I can buy from directly.

So, that said, here are some ways I prepare eggs... I'm not going to go into technique, because honestly, it's just practice and every one likes their eggs a little differently anyway. Eggs are super fun to cook- I was surprised when I heard Bobby Flay say eggs were his favorite food to cook because I really just thought it was me being sort of... I don't know- fascinated with everything? :)

The top picture is a fried egg. I love fried eggs. Sometimes I just smash one up with a fork and put it on toast. But, I really love to put fried eggs over food. Here I put it on top a garden burger on Ezekiel bread. Romaine and Duke's brought it all together. Putting fried eggs over leftovers for breakfast is awesome. My favorite is any type of tomatoey pasta warmed up in the skillet so it gets a bit of crust... and then a fried egg on top... omg, tomato eggy pasta heaven. Try it on something you have leftover in the fridge right now- I promise, it will rock... I've never been let down and I have tried it on a lot of different foods.

Next is an omelet. Most of the time when I make omelets or scrambles, I use like 2 whole eggs to 1 egg white. For this particular omelet, I'd sauteed jalapenos, tomatoes, and onions. I'd also crisped up some Tofurky Italian Deli slices. My daddy taught me everything I know about making omelets. And rule #1 is that you ALWAYS cook everything you put in an omelet first. He was very persistent about this rule and after having a few in restaurants where they do not follow this procedure, I more than agree on its importance. For the cheese, I used a pepper jack. They were spicy and perfect for a morning following a few margaritas.

I will also say this about omelets. Beat the hell out of the eggs with a splash of cream or milk. You have to get some air into it and you have to have the whites and yolks come together for a nice even light yellow color. Watch some You Tube videos on the details if you are not comfortable with making omelets- they aren't hard, it's just practice and a good pan.

Up next was a soft scramble. I follow the same prep as mentioned about omelets- the cream and the whisking is also important here. I put smoked salmon and cream cheese in this scramble and topped it with fresh scallions and lots of smoked paprika. Killer.

The last picture is a rougher scramble. I used a smaller whole egg to egg white ratio b/c I was only cooking for myself, so it was one to one. I'd sauteed a bunch of veggies, reserving most for other uses, but leaving some in the pan for my current breakfast situation. I added in the egg and let it sit much longer than I would for a soft scramble. Once the egg browned a bit- I just like this consistency sometimes- I broke it all up and let it finish cooking. I ate rye toast slathered with Earth Balance alongside and it was heavenly.

Eggs are just such a great food companion. There is so much you can do with eggs. So many ways to prepare them. You can put anything in a scramble, omelet, or fritatta. You can put a fried egg on whatever you'd like or just eat it alone. Hard boiled and soft boiled just make salads more dynamic and interesting- no matter what other ingredients are along for the ride. Eggs are often called the perfect food because of their vitamin and mineral makeup and because they have all 9 amino acids, but I'm not sure that's the only reason.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Taco Night in 1241

Even though Trader Joe's is a 2 minute walk from my apartment, I don't go too often. I love it there, but it's more of a novelty grocery store vs. the place where you pick up your weekly groceries. When we go, we spend a lot (not that it's expensive!) on stuff we probably really didn't need, but is super fun to have around. I mean, I can buy some of the basics that I need there, but I inevitably end up with things like Baked Jalapeno Corn Puffs and such.

The other day I had a huge craving for Pizza Fusion's previously mentioned roasted beet salad, so we popped in there, ordered it to go, then did some shopping at Trader Joe's while it was being prepared. This led to the discovery of their soy chorizo. I said I would make some tacos one night soon. The chorizo was sold in one large link, just like the real stuff. We wondered if removing the casing would allow it to crumble as the real stuff would...

I started thinking about these tacos and I decided I was going to make my own corn tortillas. Could it be that hard? If I messed it up, we could always just have taco salads, right?

I went right to the source of all that is Mexican cooking- Mr. Rick Bayless. The man is not only an amazing chef who specializes in Mexican cuisine, he is an absolute presence. Even from seeing him only on TV, you can tell you'd be better just for knowing him.

Well, corn tortillas really were no big deal. Unless you were going to grind your own corn, and that was not what I was going to do. You only need masa flour. A tortilla press would be great, but a rolling pin would work. I have Grandma Phoebe's rolling pin, so I was ready.

A cup of the masa flour, some water, some salt. You mix it with your hands, then divide it into 8 balls. Keeping a wet tea towel over them is crucial. You must cut a large plastic zip lock bag on 3 sides so it's like a book and you put the ball of dough in between when you roll it out. I heeded the warning: Don't even consider not using the bag. This is apparently the way it is done. Even if you use a press. After a circle is rolled out, (well, mine weren't exactly circles- the pic I'm including in the blog was honestly the best one!) it goes in a dry skillet for a minute on each side and that's IT!!! SO easy! Next time I might make them bigger, but they were sort of cute all tiny too. As I did each one, I added it to the pile I had wrapped in another wet tea towel. When I prepared everything else, I would warm them in the microwave before serving. They were tasty- way better than any I'd purchased from the store. I would be making my own from now on.

I made some pico de gallo with exactly what is in pico de gallo. I decided to stay true to form. Mr. Bayless says this is called Salsa Mexicana and that we're the silly ones who gave it the head of the chicken name. I make salsa often, and I always find when I just stick to the simple ingredients in Salsa Mexicana I am most pleased. Yellow onion, plum tomatoes (seeds squeezed out), jalapenos, lime juice, and cilantro, and salt.

Next up was the Soy Chorizo. I expected it would taste pretty good, and I figured I'd doctor it up to make it taste really good. I sauteed some yellow chopped onion in a good bit of evoo until they were soft, then added in the chorizo. It did crumble easily outside of the casing. I let it warm through just enough for a tasting and exclaimed, "HOLY HELL!! THIS STUFF IS FREAKING GOOD!" I may have used curse words. I made Scott try it right away. He yelled about it too. I honestly was way impressed. Other than the onions and salt I added to them, I didn't touch it. It was fantastic as it was... perfectly spiced.

I shredded some romaine lettuce, got out the pepper jack cheese we also purchased at Trader Joe's, and sour cream. I wrapped the tortillas up in the wet tea towel and put them in the microwave for 20 seconds. They were pliable and soft and ready to be topped with lots of goodness.

If you have a Trader Joe's near you, buy the soy chorizo, I don't care if you are fine eating the real thing- just buy it anyway. It really is crazy good. I believe I might become a more frequent Trader Joe's shopper based on this ingredient alone. If this means I buy a tub of chocolate cat shaped cookies and blue cheese frozen pizza as well, then so be it.

Monday, April 5, 2010

On a Saturday.

I don't have a picture of the final product because I accidentally deleted it. Damn. I've posted a cute picture of Henry instead. He got very excited during cooking.

We went to Maymont Park on Saturday to run. We hadn't been before. Maybe people don't normally go to Maymont to run or work out. There were hundreds and hundreds of people there, but no one was exercising. There were tons of families and groups of friends walking around, having picnics, lounging on the grass... We dodged a lot of people as we ran- maybe it was just that it was Easter weekend, but it was sort of strange.

It's a huge city park and includes a nature center/zoo, Italian and Japanese gardens, a waterfall, mansions, a view of the river, lots of interesting little paths and nooks and crannies, trails through bamboo... and that's just what we could cover in the hour I had to spare since I had to work that day. On the outskirts of the park there seemed to be an Easter egg hunt. There was also an Arbor Day Festival where I watched tree maintenance guys up in a HUGE tree trimming branches and stuff. They had safety ropes on and were climbing all over the place. I couldn't walk away, I was enthralled with this job and honestly feel like I could put this on the list of career change interests.

After the park, we were, of course, starving. Scott said he wanted citrus something. I wanted shrimp something. Luckily these two things are easy to put together.

I made a marinade from the zest of a Navel orange and a lemon, the chopped up fruit and juice from each, about 2-3 tablespoons of evoo, a few good shakes of extra hot crushed red pepper, a large minced garlic clove, ground black pepper, and salt. I added about half a pound of shrimp and let it hang out on the counter soaking up the spicy citrus goodness for about a half hour while i got ready for work.

I roasted some asparagus simply with evoo, salt, and pepper. I made some whole wheat couscous then added chopped toasted walnuts, evoo, pepper, and shallot salt to the finished product. The shrimp cooked in no time- I threw the marinade and shrimp all in the pan and allowed them to cook in the juices. When the shrimp were done, I removed them and reduced the remaining marinade down until it was a saucy consistency. Spicy sweet sour goodness...

A nice pile of the couscous, a few asparagus spears balanced across, and the shrimp and sauce on top. It was pretty and if I knew how to work my camera by now, I could share.