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Strawberries, Two Ways

18 Jun

Summer in a cake

While we’re on the theme of excellent dishes to bring to barbeques/potlucks, both of these fit the bill. I hope you’ve been checking out your local farmer’s market recently, and if you have you probably have lots and lots of strawberries (and not too much other fruit yet, unfortunately). The first dish, a strawberry-balsamic flatbread-y thing, is awesome because it allows you to use up those strawberries even if you don’t want to make a dessert! The dough was also so much fun to work with– really pillowy and soft, it was very easy to knead, so don’t be put off by that. I did end up thinking the bread was a little dry, however– I might reduce the baking time next time. I also don’t think the bread itself would suffer from adding a few more flavorings (though this could be because I forgot to add the salt till the last minute. D’oh). But even as is, this was a delicious addition to a potluck my friends and I had last week.

Foccacia/flatbread/delicious thing

The second dish is a super simple strawberry cake. Though it takes a little time to bake, it’s perfect if you want a dessert to use up a ton of berries and wow your friends (or yourself), without spending a long time messing with pie crusts or anything like that. My batter was a little thick and absolutely COVERED in berries, so I was a little unsure that it would rise up as shown in Deb’s pictures, but it turned out looking absolutely amazing. My one tip would be to layer up more on the edges than in the middle… the middle became basically a pool of strawberries on my cake, which was delicious but perhaps not optimal.
So hurry down to the farmer’s market (or, ok, the supermarket) and snap up some strawberries before the season’s over!

Cramming in as many strawberries as possible

Strawberry Balsamic Flatbread with Goat Cheese (Adapted from Joy the Baker)
Equipment: baking sheet
5 teaspoons (about 2 packages) active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
3 cups of flour, divided into 1 cup increments
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
zest 1 orange
1 cup thinly sliced strawberries (less than a pint)
coarse sea salt
1/2 cup goat cheese
balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh mint or basil


In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water.  Stir with a fork to dissolve and break up any clumps.  Add one cup of flour and blend together until smooth (can use the fork).  Cover with a tea towel and set in a warm place to rise for 1 hour. If your oven has a “proof” setting, and there is no warm place in your house, you can use this.

After the mixture has risen, remove the covering and stir in 3 tablespoons of olive oil, sugar, and orange zest.  Add one cup of flour and stir to blend.  Add the remaining cup of flour and salt and work together into a dough with a wooden spoon or your hands.

Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes.  If the dough is too sticky, add up to 1/3 cup more flour and knead.  Dough will be slightly sticky, and that’s alright.

Clean out the large bowl and coat with 1 teaspoon olive oil.  Place dough in the bowl, and flip it over so that it’s entirely coated in oil.  Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

Punch the dough down and knead for just a minute, before pulling and stretching the dough into a 16×9-inch rectangle (a little smaller than a standard baking sheet). Place on a greased baking sheet and let rise, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.

When dough has risen, use your fingers to make random indentations in the puffed dough.  Drizzle with olive oil (carefully, it is difficult to not have it all go in one place!).  Top with sliced strawberries, and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.  Bake bread for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden, crisp and baked through. As noted above, if you want it a little softer, perhaps bake for a little less time. If one side is browning faster than the other, rotate the pan once, halfway through baking.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes.  Chop mint or basil and crumble goat cheese. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar, and then sprinkle with herbs and goat cheese. Slice into twelve pieces with pizza cutter. Serve immediately, it only really keeps for a day.

Simple Strawberry Cake (Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
Equipment: Electric mixer (hand or stand), 9 or 10-inch springform or cake pan, or 10-inch pie pan

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (can substitute 3/4 cup for barley flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound (450 grams) strawberries

Method: Hull and halve the strawberries, set aside. Butter your 9 or 10-inch springform/cake pan, or 10-inch pie pan (or 9-inch deep-dish pie pan).
Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder. Set aside. In a larger bowl, beat butter and one cup sugar together with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, about three minutes. Mix in egg, milk, and vanilla until just combined. Mixture may look slightly curdled, this is fine. Add dry mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth.
Pour (or spoon, in my case) into prepared pan. Spread mixture evenly, if needed, and arrange strawberries on top, cut side down, in as close to a single layer as you can get. (I had to overlap them a bit, and ended up using just shy of a pound because I felt there were enough on there.) Sprinkle remaining two tablespoons sugar over berries.
Bake cake for 10 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 325 F and bake for another 50-75 (my time) minutes, until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter. I found I was still getting some crumbs sticking to my tester after quite a long time, but eventually decided that was just due to the moistness of the cake. Let cool in pan on a rack, and serve. It should keep for two days, lightly covered, at room temperature.


First Attempt at Empanadas

1 Jun

Not the prettiest empanadas around

I think there are definitely some foods that are easier to cook if you grew up watching them being made in your kitchen. I may not have picked up the exact recipe for risotto from my mom, but I made a pretty good version on my first attempt because I knew what the technique was all about from watching her make it many times. Empanadas, however, had never been seen in our kitchen until a couple of weeks ago, when I decided to try making them. My parents noted that they are essentially Cornish pasties, a British staple, with a different dough… but that didn’t help much, as we’ve always bought Cornish pasties instead of making them. So I was on my own here, hoping the sauce was the right consistency and inexpertly rolling out discs of dough to inconsistent thicknesses. I’m sure they would have been prettier (and maybe tastier) if I had had years of experience watching and helping someone make them, but I think they turned out pretty delicious regardless, and hopefully I will just get better at it. Next time, I would probably chop the chicken finer and thicken the sauce even longer, as I felt I ended up with mainly big chunks of chicken in these, instead of all the other delicious things.

Making things round is hard

Empanadas, and especially these empanadas, are definitely not a quick dinner. The dough can be made ahead of time, and I would suggest making the filling well ahead of time, as well, so that you are not sitting around hoping it will hurry up and cool already. The original recipe from Smitten Kitchen/Gourmet made extra dough for the amount of filling. I went the opposite route and made more filling than dough (because I couldn’t be bothered thinking through too many conversions). I still came out with 12 empanadas, which left lots of leftovers after 3 of us ate them for dinner, and the filling was delicious on its own for lunch. I also accidentally had Mexican/fresh rather than Spanish/dried chorizo. It worked fine but required pre-cooking, which the Spanish would not.

The finished filling

Chicken, Chorizo and Olive Empanadas (Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
Makes 12 empanadas, with leftover filling
Equipment: Baking sheet, preferably with silpat; large skillet with lid
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 stick (1/2 cup, 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cold
1 large egg
1/3 cup ice water
1 tbsp distilled white vinegar


About 2 pounds chicken. Whole legs (including thighs), or whole bone-in breasts, split.
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
4 1/2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 large onions
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 oz (1/3 cup chopped) dried Spanish chorizo, or 2-3 links fresh Mexican chorizo
1/2 tsp smoked Spanish paprika
1/4 cup chopped pitted green olives
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 egg for egg wash

Make Dough: Up to six hours ahead of time, sift flour with salt into your largest bowl. Cut butter into 1/2 inch cubes, and work into flour with fingertips or pasty blender until it resembles coarse meal, with some (roughly pea-sized) lumps. Beat together egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl. Add to flour mixture, mixing with fork until just incorporated, the mixture will look shaggy. If bowl is big enough, gather dough in bowl and knead gently once or twice with heal of your hand until it just comes together. If your bowl is not big enough, do this step on a lightly-floured surface. Form dough into a flat rectangle and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill 1-6 hours.

Make Filling: If using fresh chorizo, remove from casings and brown in large, heavy skillet over medium heat until some fat has rendered out. Drain fat and remove chorizo. Pat chicken dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in the large, heavy skilled over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown chicken, turning over once, about 6 minutes total, and transfer to a plate. Halve onions lengthwise and then cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wide strips. Mince garlic cloves. Saute onions, garlic and bay leaves in fat remaining in skillet, stirring frequently, until onions are softened, 4-5 minutes.

Add chorizo and paprika and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add olives, wine, and broth and bring to a boil, stirring and scraping up any brown bits. Return chicken to skillet along with any juices accumulated on plate, then reduce heat to moderately low and simmer chicken, covered, turning over once, until tender, 25 to 30 minutes total.

Transfer chicken to a clean plate. (Sauce in skillet should be the consistency of heavy cream; if it’s not, briskly simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.) (Gina’s note: no idea if my sauce was the right consistency, but it seemed pretty thin even after simmering for a few minutes.)When chicken is cool enough to handle, discard skin and bones and coarsely chop meat. Stir chicken into sauce and discard bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper, then cool filling, uncovered, about 30 minutes.

Form Empanadas: Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 400°F. Divide first dough into 12 equal pieces and form each into a disk. Keeping remaining pieces covered, roll out 1 piece on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 5-inch round (about 1/8 inch thick).

Spoon about 2 tablespoons filling onto center and fold dough in half, enclosing filling. Press edges together to seal, then crimp decoratively with your fingers or tines of a fork. Transfer empanada to a baking sheet, lined with a silicone mat or waxed paper. (Mine stuck fiercely to parchment paper.) Make eleven more in same manner.

Beat an egg with 1 tbsp of water. Lightly brush empanadas with some of egg wash and bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until golden, about 25 minutes. Transfer empanadas to a rack to cool at least 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.



Rhubarb-Onion Compote plus Top Chef tour

18 May

Rhubarb compote, pork chop, and roast veggies. Yum.

I am a huge rhubarb fan, and have been craving some delicious rhubarb baked goods since the season started. But last night we were having pork chops for dinner, and I thought I’d pick up some rhubarb to try it out in a savory dish. We often make an apple-onion compote to go with pork chops, so I thought I’d sub in rhubarb for the apple and see how it turned out. I was pretty pleased with the results, though it hasn’t quite satisfied my craving for strawberry-rhubarb pie.

Rhubarb-Onion Compote
Equipment: Heavy-bottomed saucepan, knife, wooden spoon
1/2 tbsp butter
1 medium-sized onion
About 7 stalks rhubarb
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp sugar, or to taste (I used turbinado/raw sugar)
1 tsp ground ginger
Method: Roughly dice onions. Discard ends of rhubarb and chop into half-inch pieces. Melt butter in heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook over low heat until they are starting to soften, a few minutes. Add rhubarb, balsamic, and about a tablespoon of sugar, and ginger. Turn heat to low, and simmer for about fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally and making sure the bottom isn’t burning. Add a splash of water if things are starting to look dry, but rhubarb has a lot of water in it. Taste after fifteen minutes. If it is too tart, add more sugar. Rhubarb is quite tart, but the onion provides some sweetness as it cooks. It is done when the onion has lost all of its crunch. Serve over grilled pork chops.

In other food-related news, the Top Chef tour stopped at the Stew Leonard’s near us today, so I went to check it out. The basic idea of this tour is that they have two previous contestants, who come up and have fifteen minutes to make a dish using certain ingredients (they were given some time to prep beforehand, so this wasn’t exactly like the high-stress quickfires on the show). Then judges decide which chef wins. There were two judges from Foodspotting already there, but they picked one from the audience as well. Thanks to my Top Chef trivia knowledge, I got picked! The two chefs were Ash and Angelo, and the food was delicious. Angelo, of course, went all Asian-inspired with a mock kimchi and a spicy chocolate sauce on his beef (the sauce was incredible, but kind of overpowered everything else). Ash made a very fresh herby salad, with an amazing aioli that he made in front of us. We went with Ash as the winner, though I might try out that sauce of Angelo’s when the recipe goes up online. It was fun being able to chat to the chefs and eat the food that I’m always craving when I watch the show… definitely check out if the tour is stopping by near you!

Here are some pictures from the day:

Angelo's dish, a bit more Top Chef-y

Ash's winning dish

Ash makes his aioli

Angelo doing some blending action

Sweet Potato and Kale Soup

17 Feb

Thanks to Spice cousin Alida for the beautiful Polish bowl!

It’s true, Father Spice has finally gotten to me with his kale-obsession. I was craving kale hardcore last week and so went and bought two huge bunches from Whole Foods. Two bunches of kale for one person (who is going away for the weekend and thus needs to eat it quickly) is, apparently, quite a lot of kale, but I have been enjoying it thoroughly. I made some delicious kale chips to snack on, steamed it as a side to my pancake dinner tonight (surprisingly a good combination), and put it in this soup.

About this soup. It’s awesome. The chunky sweet potato base makes it very filling– I tried eating bread with it once and it was way too much. It also kind of blew my mind because it’s a puree-type soup that I made without a blender. You can just mash the sweet potatoes once they are boiled, and then add the other stuff! This is a revelation that has me itching to go back and see if I can adapt all those soup recipes I’ve passed over because they require a food processor or blender… except that suddenly it is 60 degrees out and I am not craving soup quite so much anymore.

The curliness is deceiving-- use more kale than this!

But yes, this soup was delicious. I would definitely make some adjustments next time though, and have reflected that below. 1) Not enough kale! The kale-y flavor kind of got lost in the sweet potato and spices, and I just didn’t put enough in to begin with. 2) I definitely saw why sweet potatoes have the “sweet” in the name. Again, probably my fault as I omitted the pepper flakes when making it because I wasn’t feeling the spice. It probably would have done a good job at balancing the soup better. 3) I totally skimped on the raisins because I felt like a lot was already going on. They were actually awesome in the soup, and I added more every time I heated up leftovers.

Just bubbling away. It smelled awesome, by the way.

And finally, a word of (obvious) warning: I forget every time I make soup myself that it will be much hotter than soup I have heated up from a can. Do yourself a favor, and let it cool for a few minutes before you dig in! The hot pieces of kale were especially vicious.

Sweet Potato and Kale Soup (Adapted from KERF)

Equipment: Pot, potato masher or blender, big knife

About 2 pounds of sweet potatoes (What college kid has a kitchen scale? I used two huge and one mini one, for a very thick soup)
2 cloves garlic
1 can light coconut milk
1 cup other kind of milk (ie cow’s, but I used almond)
1 tsp garam masala or 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp cumin, and pinch of cloves (or other spice combination of your choice!)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
4 cups kale (Ie however much kale you want)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup raisins

Wash sweet potatoes and cut into small (about 1 inch) cubes, leaving skins on if you want awesome pieces of chewy skin in your soup (you do). Dice the garlic. Add a bit of olive oil or cooking spray to a large pot over medium high heat, and add potatoes and garlic. Add coconut milk, other milk, and spices. Make sure potatoes are covered in liquid, otherwise add a bit more. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about thirty minutes, or until potatoes are soft.
While potatoes are cooking, wash and trim kale of thick stems and tear or chop into bite-size pieces. When potatoes are soft, turn off heat and mash with a potato masher in the pot (or blend). Potato pieces should be gone but pieces of skin will remain. Add raisins, kale, and vanilla, and cook 8-10 more minutes, until kale is bright green. Allow to cool slightly, and serve!

Chocolate Chip Cranberry Coconut Cookies

17 Dec

Try to be less messy than I am when putting cookies on the sheet

I only realized as I was typing the title to this post that all of the ingredients in this cookie start with C!  I did not do that on purpose, but it does make a fun alliteration.  These cookies were made when at 9:30 one night I decided I really wanted homemade cookies, despite the fact that I was planning on going to bed in an hour.  I happened to have a container of some dried cranberries, coconut, and chocolate chips in my fridge, so I decided just to throw them in some batter, and thus, Chocolate Chip Cranberry Coconut Cookies were born.  And then I chopped up another bar of chocolate and added that as well, just for good measure.  I’m completely guestimating the amount of ingredients used, as I didn’t measure the add-ins at all.  Mine had very little coconut, but I would definitely suggest adding some more, as when the flavor comes out it really adds to the overall cookie experience.

Your batter will not look exactly like this if you remember to add flour.

I got the recipe from this chocolate chip recipe on All Recipes, just because that was the first thing that came up when I googled chocolate chip cookies. I used the basic batter as a starting point, and it turned out very well- the cookies were chewy and crispy at the same time when first out of the oven, and lasted very well for the next few days (I know, because one night I ate about 4 while I was waiting for my dinner to cook).  I have to admit though, these were very nearly a complete cookie failure, because the first time I scooped out the cookies onto my baking sheet I realized I had forgotten to add flour.  In case you are not familiar with baking, the flour is a pretty important ingredient in basically any cookie.  I blame the fact that I was rushing in my cookie-craving state, and also that I was distracted by how good the sugar and butter mix tasted that I forgot I was missing the main ingredient.  Luckily I realized before putting the sheet into the oven, otherwise I would have had a very buttery messy situation on my hands.  If you’re looking for a cheap gift for anyone for the holidays, these would be a great holiday cookie to make and wrap up nicely!  They only take about 30 minutes from start to finish, and as long as you remember the flour, they are pretty much foolproof.

Chocolate Chip Cranberry Coconut Cookies
Makes 24 cookies

Equipment: Big mixing bowl, stand or hand mixer, spatula, spoon, cookie sheet and parchment paper or silicone mat

1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons hot water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup dried shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together the butter, white sugar and brown sugar until smooth.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla. Dissolve the baking soda in hot water, and add to the batter along with the salt.  Beat to incorporate, then stir in the flour, chocolate chips, cranberries, and coconut (with a wooden spoon or spatula). Drop by large spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat (but not greased).  Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the edges are brown.  Cookies will keep for a few days in an air-tight container at room temperature.

Quick and Easy Garlic Soup

14 Dec

Sometimes all you need is a good bowl of soup

I’m at home for a few days in an attempt to not go completely crazy while studying for finals, which has meant a couple of nice, home-cooked meals. But our parents just seem to get busier and busier, so tonight I was in for dinner by myself and thought I’d cook something to give myself a study break. I’ve had this recipe for “Garlic Soup for One” bookmarked for a while, because it looked easy and comforting, and is also pretty much a pantry meal. At home, of course, the vegetable I used was kale, because ever since the summer that is all Father Spice buys. It was delicious though, and has me rethinking my spinach loyalties.

I liked this soup because it was easy and filling, and basically a one pot meal. It definitely could have done with a little more flavor though… I added hot Hungarian paprika at the end because I felt it was lacking, and could have done with even more kick. I also felt that the base definitely could have been vegetable broth rather than water. Ultimately, though, I wanted more garlic flavor! It felt kind of cheated expecting a “garlic soup” because I just didn’t get the flavor in there… I added two instead of the recommended one clove and would probably double it again next time. But overall this was a good basis for some pasta and vegetables… I probably put way too much of both for the amount of broth, but it turned out well!  I’m definitely going to play around with it and make it again.

Garlic Soup for One (Adapted from the New York Times)

Equipment: Small pot, spoon, knife or garlic mincer


2 cups water

At least 2 plump garlic cloves, minced

Pinch of thyme

Pinch of hot paprika or chilli powder

Salt to taste (about ¼ tsp)

1 tsp olive oil

Handful fusilli, soup pasta, or similar

½ cup green vegetables like peas, broccoli, zucchini, spinach, or kale, chopped

1 egg


Parmesan to finish


Take egg out of fridge. Bring water to a simmer over medium-high heat in a small saucepan. Add garlic, thyme, paprika, olive oil and salt and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the pasta and vegetables (if using quick-cooking vegetable, like kale, add it a little later than the pasta). Simmer until until pasta is cooked al dente, and taste for seasonings.

Beat the egg in a bowl with some fresh pepper, and whisk a small ladeful of the hot soup into it to temper it. Turn the heat off under the soup and add the egg, which should cloud. Pour into bowl, top with parmesan and enjoy!

Most Perfectest Mac and Cheese Ever

12 Dec

Mac/Gnocchi and Cheese!

I am a big fan of mac and cheese, in basically any incarnation, from the instant stuff from a box (although since I started making my own I haven’t gone back to the powdered stuff, however easy it may be), to fancy-pants mac and cheese with bacon and truffles, etc, at top restaurants.  This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me, as clearly I love anything that starts with half a stick of butter and ends with a cup of cheese.  I started making skillet mac and cheese last year, with farfalle as the pasta, but this year I have had a mac and cheese revelation of sorts, and started making it with gnocchi instead of traditional pasta.  While it is true that this takes out the “mac” part of mac and cheese, it makes an unbelievably good companion to the cheese sauce, and somehow doesn’t feel too heavy to eat a whole plate of.  Even if you are basically eating potato pasta and cheese.

Various sorts of deliciousness

Gnocchi is easy and cheap to buy in sealed packs at most grocery stores, and only takes about 4 minutes to cook.  I still make a skillet version, which means I toss the gnocchi with the cheese in a frying pan, then top it with more cheese and put it in the oven to bake.  This recipe is very adaptable to whatever your own tastes are- I put some fresh herbs like rosemary and basil in mine, and also a bit of pesto to up the flavor, but you can leave all of that out or go experimenting with other spices and herbs.  You can also use basically whatever cheese you like, although I do usually use at least two different kinds.  Gruyere is amazing but pretty expensive, however I, being a lover of baked potatoes and grilled cheese sandwiches, almost always have my parents buy me some when they are here.  This time I used mainly cheddar (DEVON cheddar from Trader Joes, which is the best cheddar that is, and I’m not only saying that because my family is from Devon), a bit of Gruyere, and Parmesan for the topping.  Finally, if you’ve never made a roux before, which is the flour-and-butter starter for any white pasta sauce, don’t be too scared.  The key is to keep the heat on medium-low and whisk, whisk, whisk, so that the flour doesn’t burn.

The beginnings of the cheese sauce

Gnocchi Mac and Cheese
Makes 4 side servings or 2 main course servings

Equipment: Medium sized frying pan or skillet, medium saucepan, whisk, wooden spoon

1 pound (1 packet) store bought gnocchi
1/2 cup cheddar cheese
1/4 cup Gruyere cheese
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon pre-made pesto
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
A few fresh basil leaves
About half a sprig of fresh rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375.  Prepare gnocchi according to package directions, drain and set aside (it will probably stick together, but just pull it apart before you mix it into the cheese sauce).  Meanwhile, start making the roux for the sauce.  Melt butter in the frying pan over medium heat, then add garlic and cook for about 30 seconds longer.  Sprinkle in the flour and whisk until it starts to bubble.  Then slowly pour in the milk and continue whisking until a thick sauce is formed. Keep on very low heat or take the pan off the heat and add in the Dijon, pesto, and cheddar and Gruyere cheeses. Once all the cheese is melted, season with salt and Pepper.

Add gnocchi to the frying pan and toss to coat with cheese sauce. Add in chopped basil and rosemary, and sprinkle the Parmesan and breadcrumbs on top.  Bake until top is golden and cheese is bubbling, about 20-25 minutes.

Boeuf Bourguignon/Winter Beef Stew

8 Dec

Beef and carrots and mushrooms, oh my!

It seems that winter has at long last arrived to DC, unfortunately bringing with it a sudden 20 degree drop in temperature and winds that make my ears numb a minute after stepping out of the house.  The good things about this are 1) Christmas, by far my favorite holiday, is almost here, 2) It’s time to switch to red wine drinking and 3) Cold weather begs for my favorite category of comfort food- stews, soups, and hearty pastas.  A couple of weeks ago I wanted to make a pretty classic boeuf bourguignon (beef stew for you non-Europeans), so turned to the master of French cooking, Anthony Bourdain, for his recipe.

Mushrooms and onions co-mingling for a few minutes

I first read Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential when I was about 13, which is arguably too young to be reading a book primarily about the not-so-PG goings on behind the scenes at restaurants.  But I loved it immediately, have re-read it about 4 times, and encourage everyone to pick up a copy.  Even if you don’t love food and backstage restaurant musings as much as I do, it’s a hilarious, witty read that everyone will enjoy.  My parents, knowing of my love of this book, got me his Les Halles Cookbook one year, and it’s signed to boot, with a drawing of a knife and an inscription “To Roxana, Cooks Rule!”.  This cookbook is basically everything one needs to know about classic French cooking, with tips, techniques, basic and not-so-basic recipes.  I’ve loved French food (and wine) ever since the infamous consecutive summers my family spent hiking in the south of France, the first nick-named “The Summer of the Steak Frites”, and the second “The Summer of Duck”.  If you ever need a funny story, ask my dad to tell you about the time the steak frites DID NOT COME WITH frites (Crazy, I know! Frites are fries, btw).  The children of the group were not amused by this.

Two hours later, the finished product

My point of this is, French food is good.  Seriously, those guys know their stuff.  I would be happy eating boeuf bourguignon, mussels, rabbit, duck, pate, stinky cheeses and baguettes for the rest of my life.  And now I have convinced myself that it has been far too long since our family has gone to France.  This summer perhaps parents? I promise not to complain too much on the hikes through the Pyrenees.  The recipe for boeuf bourguigon I ended up using was a combination of the classic Les Halles recipe and Pioneer Woman’s beef stew with mushrooms, as I wanted to experiment with mushrooms and make it a meal that didn’t need any additional vegetables.  Don’t be intimidated by the ingredient list, this is really quite easy to make, it just requires some time as you leave it to reduce for a couple of hours.  The best thing is, it gets even better overnight, so can easily be kept in the fridge (or frozen) to enjoy a few nights in a row.  And if you’re planning a dinner party, this would be a fantastic and easy way to impress your guests.  Look up the correct pronunciation of the dish and people will take you very seriously.

Boeuf Bourguignon

Equipment: Large, heavy-bottomed pot, wooden spoon, knife

1 1/2 to 2 pounds cubed beef (I used 1 package pre-cut “stew beef”)
1 onion, sliced
8 oz cremini/baby portobello mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 carrots, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup red wine
1 bouquet garni (1 sprig parsley, 2 sprigs thyme, 1 bay leaf, tied together with a string, or whatever fresh herbs you have)
Salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter and oil in the pot over high heat, add the meat in batches and sear on all sides until it is well browned. Make sure not to overcrowd the pot so the meat is well-seared. Remove meat to a plate and add the onions and minced garlic, sprinkle flour over them and cook over medium-high heat until they are soft and brown (about 10 minutes).  Add the mushrooms and cook for 4-5 minutes.

Next add the red wine and scrape the pan to get all of the flavor from the bottom of the pan.  Bring the wine to a boil. Return the meat to the pot and add the carrots and bouquet garni.  Add enough water so the liquid covers the meat by one third (so 3 parts liquid to 2 parts meat). Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and let cook for about 2 hours, until the meat is very tender.  You should stir the dish every 15 to 20 minutes, and skim off any foam the appears on the surface.  When done, remove the bouquet garni, season with salt and pepper, and enjoy with warm bread, potatoes, or by itself.

World Peace/Win People Over with Cookies Cookies

29 Nov

Magic on a plate

Gina was the first one of the Ginger Spices to make these cookies, but I have made them several time since and have no intention of stopping.  They are seriously delicious, melt in your mouth chocolaty, and on top of that are very simple, utilizing ingredients that I almost always have in my kitchen anyway.  I first read about them on Smitten Kitchen, which is where the “World Peace Cookies” name came about, and if you think that name is exaggerating the power of these cookies, you only need to try them to be converted.  I firmly believe that if served to any friend, boss or person you are trying to impress they will be immediately won over, and will continue to ask for “Roxie cookies” (or “Insert-your-name-here cookies”) every time you see them henceforth.  I personally have a certain friend’s mother who tried one of these intending just to taste one, then ate about three more, and now apparently asks after me all the time (admittedly, said friend may be exaggerating/this may not have to do solely with my baking skills, but I choose to believe in the power of cookies above all else).

Chopped chocolate. Say that three times fast.

I think it’s the texture of this type of cookie that make them so strange and addictive- they are apparently known as “sandies”, which makes sense because the dough sort of resembles sand and they crumble easily.  They also have a lot of brown sugar in them, which always reminds me of sandcastles, so I like to think that fact is somehow related to the name.  All you really have to do is chop some chocolate (which is super fun, therapeutic, and gets chocolate all over your hands in the best way possible), cream the butter with a stand mixer or hand held mixer, and then add all the ingredients until a dough forms.  The recipe makes a large amount, but trust me, you want to make it all.  Plus you divide the dough into two pieces to chill, so can easily bake one that day and save the other for a few days later when friends are banging down your door begging for these.  Or just for when you find you have eaten 25 cookies in three days and want some more.  They also keep very well in a container at room temperature, and as they are not chewy they last for about a week if for some crazy reason you see reason and decide not to eat them all in a day like me.

Sandcastle-like sugar

World Peace/Win People Over with Cookies Cookies
From Smitten Kitchen, from Dorie Greenspan (fantastic name, btw)

Equipment: Stand Mixer or Hand Mixer, or a whisk and very strong arms, sheet pan, sharp knife, cling film or tin foil

1 1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons butter, at room temp
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into chunks, or 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Sift the flour, cocoa, and baking soda together. Working with a stand mixer or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy.  Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.

Turn off the mixer. Pour in the flour and mix at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time.  If there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more.  Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don’t be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours.  Logs can also be frozen for a couple of months if desired.

When you are ready to bake, preheat oven to 325 and line baking sheet with parchment or silicone mats.  Slice logs with a sharp thin knife, if they fall apart just form them back together on the baking sheet.  Put them on the baking sheet with about an inch between (one log needs two batches), then bake for 12 minutes. They will still look very soft, but take them out and let them cool until they have hardened and can be handled.  Enjoy, and store any extras in airtight container!

Apple-pear Pie and Other Thanksgiving Nonsense

19 Nov

Apple-pear pie. Yes please.

We in the Ginger Spice household love Thanksgiving.  Behind Christmas it is definitely the most elaborately celebrated holiday in our family, despite the fact that both of the parental types are 100% British/Scottish/Welsh, and had no idea what Thanksgiving was until they moved to the US  twenty odd years ago. (Ok, they probably had some idea what it was. Father Spice wrote a book on American history. Or something. Should probably read that one of these days.)  Being that they didn’t grow up with Thanksgiving you would think we wouldn’t make such a big deal of the holiday.  But instead it has grown into a hybrid American-British affair, and we have been able to create traditions of our own.  For example, I somehow don’t think that having an annual “Port Report” where we drink various ports at the end of the meal and then comment on things like it’s clarity and depth of flavor, is part of a traditional Thanksgiving.  But it’s pretty fun.  Less fun are the history quizzes and being forced to memorize 16th century poetry while slaving away over the cranberry sauce.

Artfully arranged Thanksgiving ingredients

Tonight I am hosting a Thanksgiving dinner at my apartment for friends before we all head out of DC for the real deal next week.  Both my roommate and I like to cook, so we split up the dishes and are even taking on making a turkey, once I can get the courage to take it out of the fridge and wrestle it into a pan.  Since we are basically making a full on Thanksgiving meal, we started the grocery shopping/preparations on Tuesday, so all we have left to do today is make stuffing, vegetables, sweet potatoes and the turkey.  All of these are pretty simple so I’m not too worried about getting everything done in time, and we already have mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce and apple-pear pie completed.

I know there is a lot of to brine or not to brine debate out there, but we bought a Trader Joes kosher turkey, which isn’t brined but according to the package is salted in a similar way to being brined.  At home we have never brined our turkey and it always turns out just fine. We use a so called “French method” of cooking the turkey (because clearly we have to be a bit European), which includes putting chicken stock in the base of the pan and covering the bird with foil until the last hour.  I was a bit worried about figuring out when it’s fully cooked, as we are clearly not investing money in a meat thermometer over say, more wine, but Father Spice has said for a 13 pound turkey I should leave it in for 3 1/2 hours, and “the best way to test is to put a skewer or thin knife deep into the thigh meat, leave it there for 10 seconds, and then put it on the back of your hand. It should be hot enough that you don’t want to leave it there! (ie, not quite “ouch!” but more than tepid.)” Thanks Dad! I knew he was useful for something.

Pie just before putting it in the oven. Look at my fancy lattice-ing!

Last night I made an apple-pear pie, and I’ll put the recipe below.  I used an all-butter crust because I didn’t feel like going out and buying shortening, and judging by the smells coming from my oven it worked out pretty well.  Pies are actually not too difficult to make, even the crust- I made the crust the night before because it needs to chill anyway, and then all I had to do yesterday was chop the fruit and roll out the dough and put it all together.  If you don’t have a pastry cutter or food processor I’ve always had success just rubbing the butter and flour between your fingers to get the mixture to form crumbs.  I’m also putting our recipe for candied yams/sweet potatoes below, and these are Pioneer Woman’s delicious mashed potatoes that I made.  In case you were wondering, I have used roughly 4 sticks of butter in the past two days of cooking, and need to go to the store this morning to buy more for the turkey and sweet potatoes.  So for anyone planning on eating all of this food tonight, you have been warned.

Apple Pear Pie

Equipment: Pie pan, rolling pin, pastry cutter/food processor (optional), knife

For the crust: this is the crust I use, I swear it’s not that scary: Really yummy easy pie dough

For the filling:
3 Macintosh or other sweet apples
2 Granny Smith or other tart apples
2 Pears
3/4 Cup plus one tablespoon sugar
2 Tablespoons flour
1 Teaspoon plus one pinch cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon vanilla
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Teaspoon lemon zest
1 Tablespoon milk

Preheat oven to 400 F.  For the filling, peel and core the fruit, and cut into quite thin slices (I cut each apple quarter into 4s, and had roughly the same size pear slices).  Toss fruit with flour, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, vanilla, lemon juice and zest, and leave in bowl while you prepare the crust.  Roll the crust out until it is about 1/2 inch thick, making sure to flour both the surface and the rolling pin quite a bit throughout the process.  Roll the dough over the rolling pin and place in a greased pie pan, trim excess and pile fruit and juices into the crust.  If making a double crusted pie, roll out the second half of the dough, place over, cut vents into the top, and seal with a fork around the edges.  For a lattice top pie, cut the dough into strips and weave them into a lattice (here’s a tutorial).  Seal the edges with a fork, and brush the top of the pie with the milk, then sprinkle with the extra sugar and cinnamon.  Place in the oven and reduce temperature to 375 F.  Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, tenting with foil if the top is browning too quickly.  When you take it out the crust should be golden and the filling bubbling.

Candied Yams/Sweet Potatoes

Equipment: Big pot, baking dish, knife

6 Sweet potatoes
1/2 Teaspoon salt
1 Cup dark brown sugar
1/2 Cup water
4 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Cook potatoes in jackets in boiling salted water until nearly tender, drain, peel, and cut into slices ½ inch thick.  Place in greased shallow baking dish and sprinkle with salt. Cook together sugar, water, butter in a pan for several minutes, stir in lemon juice and pour mixture over potatoes. Bake in preheated oven at 375 for 20-25 minutes, basting occasionally with syrup.