Monday, May 16, 2011

Some Quick Fix Ideas with an Asian Flair

Since our Champlain Valley Voices spring Mozart concert was over this past weekend, I have a Monday night free for the first time all semester! And as luck would have it, I didn't have a final scheduled today, so I got to stay home all day. Still, I didn't feel like making anything elaborate for dinner. What I had on hand was a TON of overgrown chives from my herb garden, so I was surfing the 'net for something delicious to do with them, when I ran across several recipes for savory Korean pancakes called Pa Jun. That sounded like just the ticket. I amalgamated several different recipes, and here's what I came up with:

I whisked together two cups of flour (one was white whole wheat) with two cups of ice water, four eggs, and one tablespoon of sugar. Then I seasoned the batter with maybe a teaspoon of salt, a 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper, and about a 1/2 teaspoon of granulated garlic. Finally, I stirred in about a cup of sliced chives (they were as big as scallions!) and a cup of chopped smoked chicken, because I also had that on hand.

I let the batter rest in the fridge for a half hour. Then I heated a nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat, added a little more than a teaspoon of vegetable oil for each pancake and a generous half cup of batter, cooking the first side for about two minutes, and the other side for about a minute. I held them in a warm oven until they were all cooked. Then I sliced each pancake into six wedges and served them with a dipping sauce made of 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon of minced ginger, 1 teaspoon of minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon sriracha, and a scant tablespoon of water.

I made six (6-inch) pancakes, but there's enough batter there for about two more. So this recipe probably makes eight pancakes.

Scallions are usually the main ingredient of Pa Jun, but you can add whatever sliced/shredded veggies you like and also various meaty bits, if you so choose. Quick, easy, yummy. This would make a great party appetizer, too.
***While we are on the topic of Asian quick fixes, this idea is probably not substantive enough to warrant its own post, but it's an excellent tip nevertheless. It's a trick I learned from my friend, Janice Padula: Use the leftover bits of last night's Chinese food to make an unusually delicious omelette. Fried rice, vegetable lo mein, Szechuan beef, what have you--throw it in there and scramble it up! YUM! You're welcome.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

What's better than brunch? Nuthin.

Here's a great recipe that you can set up the night before and bake off right before you're ready to chow down on a lazy weekend morning:

Baked Almond French Toast
(Source: Kitchen Daily)

1 14- to 16-inch long soft Italian loaf
3 large eggs
2 cups milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

1 large egg white
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup sliced almonds

Accompaniment: fresh raspberries and vanilla ice cream

Make French toast: Cut loaf crosswise into 1-inch thick slices and gently squeeze as many as possible, a cut side up, into a buttered 13- by 9-inch pan. Whisk together eggs, milk, butter, sugar, salt, and extract and pour evenly over bread. Chill, covered, until bread has absorbed custard, about 1 hour or overnight.

Assemble topping: Preheat oven to 375 F. with rack in middle.

Lightly whisk egg white with sugar and a generous pinch of salt and stir in almonds until well combined. Spread mixture over bread and bake until bread is puffed and golden, 25 to 35 minutes. Serve warm.

Notes and Tips:
Custards combine well if you begin by whisking the eggs first, then add the milk. When you add the butter, do it in a slow stream, whisking all the while.
Use a long serrated knife to cut the bread.
Use a rubber spatula to spread the almond mixture over the bread.
French toast is delicious on it's own or with maple syrup but it's particularly nice with fresh berries.
In addition to being a great brunch main, French toast is an excellent dessert.

Game Plan:
1 1/2 hours Ahead and Up to 1 Day Ahead:
Butter pan, then slice bread and fit it into pan.
Make custard and pour over bread, then chill, covered.
45 Minutes Ahead:
Assemble almond topping while oven is preheating.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Happy Easter...Italian Style

At Easter, one of my PBGV/Facebook friends made an amazing-looking Italian Creme Cake. She kindly shared the recipe with me, and I thought I might try to make them into cupcakes instead of a layer cake. EPIC FAIL! To be sure, this recipe is decadent and DELISH! The little cakes flavored with the coconut and pecans don't really even need frosting. However, the batter is so light that it makes cupcakes that are TOO tender and not structurally sound. They bake up with flat tops, and as they cool, they sink in and break away from the edges. So it was a tasty experiment, but lesson learned--stick with baking this cake in layers. Therefore, I only have the picture of the cake that my friend Beth made to give you an idea of what it looks like:

Beth's Italian Creme Layer Cake

1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon soda
2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup shortening
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 egg whites
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup coconut*
1 cup finely chopped pecans*

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour two 9 inch round cake pans.

Combine soda and buttermilk and let stand while you work on the rest of the cake. In large bowl cream sugar, butter, oil and shortening. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating after each addition. Alternate buttermilk and flour into mixture. Stir in vanilla.

In mixing bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold 1/3 of the whites into the batter. Gently fold in the remaining whites until there are no streaks. Gently fold in pecans and coconut. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until done. Cool completely.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 8oz pkg cream cheese- softened
1/2 cup softened butter
4 cups sifted powered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat cream cheese and butter together add in vanilla and the powdered sugar. You can add nuts and coconut to the icing, or use to decorate the top.

*Because I hate coconut (mostly a textural thing), I decided to toast it first and then chop it up in the food processor. This yielded some extra coconut flavor, but the texture was similar to the nuts (oh, and I toasted those, too).

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Feeling a little krabby these days?

I recently made one of my signature dishes for dinner: krab linguine with peppers and mushrooms in a lemon-butter sauce. YUM! It's one of my very favorite meals, but I don't make it very often, and I always have to eat it alone, as my roommate Cyd hates it. Oh makes great leftovers to take to work for lunch.

I can't imagine how anyone could dislike this dish, but if the krab offends you, you could easily swap out shrimp or scallops or, if you can afford it, real crab. Still, I love the sweetness and tenderness of the white fish in this saute along with the spicy peppers, savory onions and garlic, and tangy lemon finish. And the best part is, it's done in less than a half hour--definitely a weeknight go-to meal!

Krab Linguine with Peppers and Mushrooms in Lemon-Butter Sauce

1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced
2 long hot peppers, seeded and chopped
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
4 cloves garlic, minced
one tablespoon Italian seasoning (or one teaspoon each dried parsley, basil, and oregano)
1 lb. surimi (imitation crab)
salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons butter
juice of one large lemon (or white wine)
1/4 cup shredded parmesan, divided

1 lb. linguine, prepared according to package instructions

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the olive oil, onion and peppers. Cook for a few minutes until the onion starts to turn translucent, then add the sliced mushrooms, garlic, and dried herbs, and cook until the mushrooms are tender. Add the krab to the pan and break up the pieces a bit with your spoon as you mix everything together. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper, and cook until the fish is heated through. Melt the butter in the center of the pan, squeeze in the lemon juice and toss in a couple of tablespoons of parmesan. Stir everything together, adding 1/4 to 1/2 cup pasta water to make it saucier, then serve over prepared linguine garnished with more shredded parmesan.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

I got your proteins right here!

I have not been a great fan of the pork chop in the past, as I always end up overcooking them and drying them out. But in last month's Bon Appetit, there was a recipe from Mario Batali's restaurant, Babbo, that looked very appealing. The secret is to brine the chops overnight before grilling them. This is a great summer recipe to showcase those fresh veggies from the farmer's market. (In addition to the peppers and onions, I also brought some mushrooms to the party.)

Along with the Babbo pork chops, I made a quick side dish from my local co-op's newsletter. I have had quinoa in dishes here and there, but I had never cooked it on its own. Besides being nutty and yummy, it's SO good for you--a complete protein by itself. With the addition of garbanzo beans, I have a suspicion that this would be an excellent dish either hot or cold as a salad with a vinaigrette dressing. Tonight, I prepared it as my friend Melissa suggested in the co-op's newsletter, so the spice palette was Middle Eastern. With the Italian entree, we ended up with a bit of a fusion meal, but it was delicious blending of cuisines!

Babbo's Grilled Pork Chops with Cherry Peppers, Cipolline Onions and Balsamic Vinegar
(Source, Mario Batali, Bon Appetit, April 2011)

1/2 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
(4) 8-oz pork chops with rib bone
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 bell peppers, one red, one yellow
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper (I would omit this--the cherry peppers are enough for me!)
8 pickled cherry peppers, sliced thin
Aged balsamic vinegar

Brine pork chops overnight in 1/4 cup sugar and 1/2 cup kosher salt. Grill chops till done throughout.

Blanch cipolline onions in large saucepan of boiling water, then peel. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in large heavy skillet, brown cipolline onions, 8-10 minutes. Remove.

Add bell peppers and red onion, saute till softened, about 5 minutes. Add crushed red pepper. Reduce to low and simmer til vegetables are softened. Stir in cipolline onions and sliced cherry peppers.

Place grilled pork chop on plate and top with vegetables. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

Quinoa and Chickpeas
(Source: Melissa Hartness, North Country Co-Op Newsletter)

Cook about a cup of chopped onion in two tablespoons of olive oil until the onion just starts to brown, then add two cloves of minced garlic and cook for another minute or so. Next add one tablespoon tomato paste (I used about half of a small can), one tablespoon crushed coriander seeds, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, black pepper and salt to taste.

Saute for a minute and then add one cup of quinoa and saute another two minutes. Add one can of drained chickpeas (or 2 cups cooked if using dried, which is far tastier--but you might need extra stock) and two cups of broth/stock. Cover the pot, bring it to a boil then lower heat. Simmer covered for about 20 minutes or until quinoa absorbs all the water.

Additional items: Add chopped up pieces of roasted red peppers, and/or sauted mushrooms to this. You could add some seasonal greens as well.

Gina's note: This came out with a texture like soft polenta, but the next night, when I reheated the leftovers in the oven, it became fluffy and a bit crispy on the top and edges, and was SO much better! So I highly recommend finishing it in the oven. I think next time, I will do it in my Dutch oven, bringing it to a boil on the stovetop, then popping it in the oven for 20 minutes with the lid on, then a little while longer with the lid off until it fluffs up.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Hitting the Brickyard....

After our Spring Break adventure in the Big City, we turned right around and went back the following month. I know, I know! I must think I'm made of money, right? But I had always wanted to see the finals of the ICCA acapella finals at Lincoln Center (think real-life "Glee!"), plus, I wasn't unable to secure tickets for the irreverent and hilarious "Book of Mormon" tickets the first time around. So my roommate and I made a second quickie trip to the Big Apple, arriving late Friday night, going to both shows back-to-back on Saturday, and departing Sunday by noon. That wasn't a lot of time, but we still managed to squeeze in some good eats!

First, we got brunch at the famous chocolatier, Max Brenner's with friends (note Cyd's wonderful attitude on the subway with Jaymie and Tony!). Then between the matinee and the acapella competition that evening, we ducked out of the pouring rain and into a cute little gastropub called The Brickyard that our friends, Jaymie and Audrey, recommended.

Sidebar: What in the world did I ever do without my iPhone? Jaymie showed me how to use the maps feature over brunch, and I used it to navigate my way around the City all day (buh-bye laminated folding FastMap!) and back to New Jersey where we were staying that night. And I used it to make reservations at the pub via Open Table as we were waiting for the curtain to go up at "Book of Mormon." It's all sort of incredible in a space age-y way!

Anyway, our dinner at The Brickyard was excellent. I had a lovely herby chicken pot pie, and Cyd had hangar steak in a wine reduction with garlic mash and roasted Brussels sprouts. And as a starter, we shared their wonderful signature salad that included Bibb lettuce, goat cheese, apple wood smoked bacon, avocado, sliced turkey, tear drop tomatoes, red onion and housemade roasted tomato vinaigrette. As is my way, I had to try and recreate this salad at home. The hard part was figuring out the roasted tomato vinaigrette, but I think I've done it--or something close to it!

Here is a picture of the salad at the restaurant (all piled up in that artful way that they do):

And here is my home version:
Roasted Tomato Vinaigrette

1 pound (6) Roma/plum tomatoes, halved, cored, and seeded
6 large cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 large white onion, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
generous sprinkling of salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar (or to taste)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees, and mix the tomato halves, garlic cloves, onion slices, 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs. Place in a glass baking dish and bake for about an hour and a half until everything is soft and juicy.

Add vegetable mixture to a blender along with the vinegars and mix until smooth. Stream in the olive oil and blend until emulsified. Add sugar to taste (depending on the ripeness of the tomatoes) and pulse a few more times. You could strain the vinaigrette at this point, but I prefer to leave mine a little chunky. After chilling in the fridge, it may end up being too thick, but you can always thin it with more oil and red wine vinegar or just a bit of water,

P.S. I think this will be a fabulous recipe come summertime when we have real tomatoes and fresh herbs! Okay, so it's not the gorgeous skyscraper of a salad as I had at the restaurant in NYC, but my home version tasted just as delicious!

P.P.S. We had this dressing on a number of salads, but I still had a lot left over. So I made a very tasty pasta salad with campanelle pasta, two cans of tuna, sliced black olives, red onion, parmesan, and fresh parsley. Mmm!