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Achievement Unlocked: Making Yogurt Tasty Again

Another from the backlog; sorry about that!

I don’t like yogurt.  Never really have.  The sourness and the consistency combine to make something I have a hard time swallowing.  I know it’s amazingly good for you and probably shaves pounds off your waistline and puts hair on your chest and everything, but now that I’m a grown-up, I refuse to eat something that’s “good for you” if I just plain don’t like it.  (That’s part of what being a grownup is, right?  The first rule of Grownup Club, as we say in our house, is that YOU get to decide what the rules of Grownup Club are.)

Yet on one of those ill-planned shopping trips accompanied by hunger, I was somehow sucked in by a display of Greek yogurt at something like seventy cents a cup.  I bought three, let them linger in the fridge for a while, and then broke them out last weekend when a friend came over.  T is planning to start a baked-goods stall at the farmer’s market down near where he lives, which is awesome.  When I first met T, he made awesome snickerdoodles; now, he makes awesome snickerdoodles and biscotti.  In the spirit of Baking Saturday, I made Smitten Kitchen’s Chocolate Yogurt Snack Cakes.

These would make adorable mini-muffin-shaped snacks, but all I have are two pans of very large muffin shapes, so the recipe made twelve.  They’re so rich that I couldn’t eat more than half of one at a time, but between me, three housemates, T, and T’s dad, they didn’t last.  🙂

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Chocolate Yogurt Snack Cakes

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 and get out your cupcake liners.  You don’t have to use the Valentine’s day ones you picked up on sale when you were raiding Target for cheap candy, but go right ahead if they’re still hanging around.
  2. Chop seven ounces or so of chocolate (or, if you’re me, find a bag of chopped chocolate in your pantry from CHRISTMAS, then add some more), and place in a bowl with a quarter-cup of neutral vegetable oil.  Place over pot of boiling water, preferably one which contains pasta, or perhaps your attempt at candied orange slices.  (No post about those; they really didn’t turn out very well.)  Stir until chocolate is deliciously melted.
  3. In another bowl, while that’s melting, mix half a cup of yogurt (about half of one Fage individual-size cup), a quarter-cup of oil, one cup of sugar, three eggs, and a splash each of vanilla and almond extracts.
  4. Pour your liquid mixture on top of a cup and a half of flour, a pinch of salt, and one-and-a-half teaspoons of baking powder.  The original recipe says to make a well, to which I responded: there’s more liquid than solid here!  The heck with a well, that’s a volcano!  (Oh so witty.)
  5. Stir that whole mess until incorporated, then add the melted chocolate.  Stir the heck out of it.
  6. Divide your batter evenly among your muffin cups.  Bake for twenty to twenty-five minutes; mine were pretty much perfect at twenty-three.
  7. Remove from oven, stack on plate, and chow down.  😀
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Achievement Unlocked: Deformed, But Homemade, Pasta

Hi!  I swear I haven’t vanished.  Is it any coincidence that I haven’t posted since Diablo III came out?  (Hint: no.  It is not.)  When you work from home like I do, certain things tend to swallow up chunks of your time and hey, look, you’ve cooked in the past three weeks but there have been no posts!  What’s up with that??

(My level 58 wizard certainly isn’t complaining, though.)

I’m working through a backlog of, oh, eight recipes? so I’ll start today with the pasta experience.  Sounds like the name of a band.  “Hello Baltimore, we’re The Pasta Experience and we are going to ROCK YOUR WORLD TONIGHT!”  I don’t go to many shows.  Can you tell?

So.  Pasta.  I’ve made homemade pasta a total of twice in my life before the experience I’m posting about today.  Once was in eleventh-grade cooking class, complete with pasta machine, mess, enthusiastic parents and slackoff group members.  The second time was in my dorm in December of freshman year, past midnight, rolling with a metal water bottle and drying the pasta on cookie sheets on my desk.  I think it was meant to be an end-of-semester cozy dinner with friends, and a celebration of one friend’s birthday; it turned into a lovely little ten-person kvetch-fest and a much-needed time to let down our hair.  And ignore the one egg that broke on the carpet and remained covered with baking soda for…at least a week and a half.

Okay, that’s officially too much remembering.  Back to this time around!

So I’d been having some rotten cooking karma for the past couple of days, the kind that you don’t post about because it’s embarrassing (but I’ll mention it anyway!).  Empanada dough is still just a bowl of batter, meatballs were flat-tasting and shrunk like whoa, and matzo balls…well, I haven’t cooked them yet, because I have no desire to eat a bowl of broth topped with matzo mush.  The orecchiette I made last night were my last hope for this week; if they hadn’t turned out, I’d be copping out and making a veggie tray for Sunday’s game.  😛

I’ve figured out part of what’s dooming me with regard to bread: doughs that don’t come together by themselves, and that sit in the bowl as a bunch of shaggy bits that need incorporating, freak me out.  I sort of shoved the pasta together, panicked at the thought of making coherent ears out of that pile of shagginess, added another egg, and finally dumped the lot in the food processor.  It came together, finally, but I assume your pasta will be much lighter and friendlier if you follow the recipe and the Hitchhiker’s Guide.  DON’T PANIC.  (HTML note: how do I turn those last two words red?)

So eventually, dough became rough approximations of ear shapes (and I do mean rough), ear shapes became cooked pasta, pasta became dinner.  This is not exactly the kind of thing I’d make for company, but since “company” in this case was the boyfriend, it really didn’t much matter.  Ugly but tasty dinner for two: win.  😀

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Orecchiette (recipe bastardized from Smitten Kitchen, originally from Delicious Days) and Fresh Tomato Sauce With Capers

  1. In largeish bowl, mix two cups of flour, two eggs, and a pinch of salt until they form a kneadable ball of dough.  Pause and laugh at the idea of that last sentence while wiping flour off your forehead.  Pour contents of bowl into food processor, add another egg, and whirl until you have a lump of dough.
  2. Remove lump, break off pieces, and knead them into dough snakes, no more than 3/4 of an inch wide.  Orecchiette expand when cooked, so unless you want the pieces to be the size of actual human ears, keep your snakes small.
  3. Once snakes are assembled, slice off coins and indent them to make ear-like shapes.  Flour your hands well, otherwise you WILL have to re-roll half your ears.  Don’t worry too much about shaping them, as they’ll boil up into cauliflower-head-looking lumps.
  4. Either let your ears dry overnight or boil them right away.  If drying overnight, lay them out so they’re not touching each other; otherwise, you will end up with a disgusting lump of ears in your pot.  Here’s hoping that image doesn’t creep into anybody’s dreams tonight!
  5. Boil the hell out of your orecchiette until they’re tender, white, and big enough to hold your sauce.  I don’t have an accurate measurement for this; all I can say is that it takes a very, very long time indeed.
  6. While the hell is slowly boiling out of your pasta, make a sauce.  Amanda’s Sauce du Jour was composed of: three diced tomatoes, one diced medium shallot, about an ounce-and-a-bit of capers, a little bit of the brine they were packed in, and two cloves of minced garlic.  Pile into a skillet, simmer until liquidy and delicious, then remove from heat and pile on top of pasta.
  7. (Drain pasta.)
  8. Eat.  Enjoy.  Store the leftovers.  Eventually use up your pasta and plot to make more.  Start shopping for pasta machines on Ebay. 🙂

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Achievement Unlocked: Vegan Empanadas

I was going to put something about soy chorizo in the title, but I figured that’d scare people off.  Soyrizo, found right next to the beef stuff in my local Safeway, is…weird.  It actually tastes much the same as the beef stuff, but it looks terrifying and doesn’t brown well.  I have yet to clean the carbonized soy protein off my skillet.  (I’ll get to it.)

In my continuing quest for total-party-friendly D&D food, I was staring blankly into my fridge when I got the idea for a vegan empanada filling.  For anyone who’s not aware, empanadas are another entry in the Pastry Pockets Of Awesome department, usually filled with a mixture of meat, onions, and often olives.  (Note to self: buy olives.)  I switched that around a little and started with kidney beans, onions, and garlic, then added the tube of red soy protein from the bottom of my fridge.  I hacked together a dough recipe from a Terry Hope Romero posted on Yahoo, baking times from Smitten Kitchen, and my own mostly-improvised filling to create the following.  I haven’t tried them yet, as I’m saving them for Sunday; I’ll let you know in the next post how that works out.  🙂

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Vegan Chorizo-and-Bean Empanadas

  1. Make the dough.  In your handy-dandy food processor, place three cups of flour, a quarter-teaspoon of baking powder, and a teaspoon and a half of salt.  Through the chute, add one stick of margarine, cut into small chunks.  Blend until mixture looks sort of crumby.
  2. Add three-quarters of a cup of ice water, a little at a time, while blending.  When dough starts to really stick together, remove from food processor and knead together a little bit.  Flatten into large disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill overnight in fridge.  (If you’re in a hurry, this step can be shortened to a couple of hours.  Don’t cook in a hurry.)
  3. Filling time!  Drain and rinse a can of kidney beans and scrounge around your kitchen for other ideas.  Gather the white ends of some scallions, four cloves of garlic, a tube of soyrizo, a can of tomatoes, and half the contents of your spice cabinet.
  4. Slice the scallions, mince the garlic, and saute them in olive oil.  Pour into a bowl when finished and set aside, for your one roommate who hates onions.
  5. In the same olive oil, cook the kidney beans until they’re kind of mushy, but not falling apart yet.  You can also try cooking the soy chorizo, but honestly, mine just burned a bit and underwent no noticeable state change.  It’ll get cooked in the empanadas, anyway.
  6. Put soy protein and kidney beans in a bowl; add half a can, drained, of petite diced tomatoes.  Mush everything together with either a potato masher or, if you can’t find yours, a fork.
  7. When ready to prepare, remove dough from fridge and knead until most of the random crusty bits have gone away.  Roll out thin, but not so thin as to not hold its shape.  Cut circles with upside-down glass dipped in flour; lay circles on plate or empty part of rolling board.
  8. Spray cookie sheets with oil and preheat oven to 350.  Fill each little circle with a spoon of filling; add onions and garlic after filling the first two or three.  Seal by pressing down the edges of half of the circle onto the edges of the other half.  If having trouble sealing, use a little water.
  9. Bake each sheet of empanadas for 13 minutes.  Pastries will be edging toward golden brown, but not actually brown.  Remove from sheet, place on serving plate, and try not to eat four of them before they cool.  🙂

I’ll also throw in the bonus recipes for the two sauces I served with these delicious pocketfoods.  The green onion slaw comes from Smitten Kitchen by way of Bobby Flay; the chimichurri sauce is from Good Clean Eats.  They’re both delicious, especially the latter; I shall put it on everything and anything henceforth.  😀

Green Onion Dressing

  1. Place one cup chopped green onions, a quarter-cup of red wine vinegar, half a cup of olive oil, and hot peppers of choice in a blender.  The original recipe called for two serranos; I substituted half a habanero.
  2. Blend until smooth.  This makes a rather ugly dressing, so I added three drops of green food coloring to the mixture.  The result is an unnaturally green and very kicky dressing.  It’s awesome.

Chimichurri Sauce

  1. Remove the leaves from about half a large bunch of parsley and drop in a blender or food processor.  You’re looking for about three-quarters of a cup of parsley when it’s chopped.
  2. Slice four cloves of garlic and add to the blender.  Shake in a fair amount of crushed red pepper and a bit of salt.  Pour in three-quarters of a cup of olive or vegetable oil (if you used up all of your olive oil in the last recipe) and a quarter-cup of apple cider vinegar.  Blend until saucy.
  3. Serve with empanadas and enjoy.  Then plot to serve with everything else ever.  🙂

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Achievement Unlocked: Too-Many-Flavors Focaccia

After another late night when I stumbled in the door exhausted at one pm (long and not-bloggable story), the logical thing to do would be to take a nap.  Not me.  Being a chronic insomniac and a fidgeter, I lay down for about half an hour before deciding to go make bread.

Focaccia was my introduction to breadmaking and is still one of my favorite easy snack foods.  I go “rustic” with my loaves, preferring to eat them in randomly hacked wedges rather than doing something so fancy as making a sandwich with them.  A few herbs and spices, some olive oil, and boom.  With a vegetable and perhaps a bratwurst on the side, you’ve got dinner!

I’d been having issues getting my bread to rise the last several times I made it, though.  A combination of cold kitchen, not-warm-enough water, and general lousy bread karma actually resulted in my throwing away at least two batches.  Quelle horreur, I know!  This time, I engineered a solution that won’t work for everybody, but one that I’ll have to remember.  I made some pasta, removed it from the pot by means of tongs, and balanced my bowl on top of the pot of still-steaming water!  (With the weird size of my bowl, it was actually floating *on* the water.)  Not widely replicable, but perfectly functional, and for once, I have a loaf of focaccia rather than a lump.  😀

Also, flavorings.  You can’t really go wrong with this bread.  I tend to throw in whatever looks tasty at the time, resulting in some rather odd mouth combinations…like this one.  Quite the recommendation I’m leaving you with, isn’t it?  😛

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Basic Focaccia

  1. In small bowl or mug, mix one-third cup of water with a teaspoon of sugar and one packet of RapidRise yeast.  Stir until sugar is dissolved, and let foam for ten minutes or so.  Drink some tea.
  2. In larger bowl, place two cups of flour and your flavorings of choice.  If you’re me, scrounge around and add some dill, a shake of garlic powder, and a little bit of juice squeezed from a tomato.  The last really didn’t add anything to the flavor, so unless you’ve got a tomato around, skip it.  Eat the rest of the squeezed tomato.
  3. Add yeast mixture to flour and stir until shaggy-looking, then mostly doughy.  Add a couple more tablespoons of water until dough combines.  Knead or punch around for a minute or so, then remove from bowl, splash olive oil into bowl, replace bread dough and turn to coat.
  4. Let dough rise until doubled, about half an hour in ideal circumstances.  Eat pasta from pot over which dough is rising.
  5. Preheat oven to 450.
  6. When risen, remove dough from bowl/pot and smack around for a minute until fully cowed.  Grease baking sheet (cooking spray!) and plop dough on top.  Arrange dough into flat circle-like thing that looks sliceable.
  7. Poke holes in top of focaccia with handle end of wooden spoon, for authenticity.  Top with either salt or, if you’re me, lemon pepper.  It smells delicious, but the combination of spices may be just a leetle too much for less flavor-attention-deficit folks.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes or until kinda crunchy around the edges and mostly golden.  Panic eight minutes in and realize your oven is overheated; turn down to 350 for two minutes, then remove.  Eat.  Remember to offer to share.  🙂

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Achievement Unlocked: Epic Tabbouleh

Part of the Middle Eastern picnic spread!  My personal favorite part.  (This and the falafel post were written side-by-side, so apologies for any time-related inconsistencies.)

Tabbouleh, or however you care to spell it, is, in my humble opinion, the universe’s best salad.  And that’s coming from a girl who loves salads.  It’s based on bulghur wheat, which is a pain in the buttocks to find if you don’t live near a Middle Eastern grocer or specialty foods store.  I scored some from a friend who’s trying to go gluten-free.  If you really can’t find it, quinoa is a perfectly acceptable substitute, unless you’re me and you’re kind of picky about your tabbouleh.  I give you fair warning.  🙂

To the soaked wheat, add tomatoes, a whole bunch of chopped parsley, some garlic, lemon juice, and salt.  Let marinate, and try not to eat the whole bowl at once.  After all, when you’re making falafel and your own pita to go with them, might as well savor the treat.  😀

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Tabbouleh

  1. Shop around for bulghur wheat before realizing that your quest is futile in your part of the city.  Score delivery of some from friend – awesome!  Since that little delivery won’t be arriving until tomorrow, prep your salad the night before.
  2. Chop one large cucumber into somewhere between a chop and a dice.  Scoop into salad bowl.  (Seed before chopping if you’re picky, but I’m not.  I like seeds in my cukes and tomatoes.)
  3. Add three large tomatoes, chopped reasonably small.
  4. Throw in about two cups of parsley, chopped.  On the list of “kitchen skills I do not have yet” is chopping big bunches of greenery in any sort of neat manner.  I didn’t worry about it too much.
  5. Realize that your bowl is far too small for this much salad.  Frantically search kitchen for larger bowl.  Realize that you cannot find larger bowl because that’s where your pita dough is rising.  Sigh and go back to making salad.
  6. Add a handful of chopped green onions (about three stalks).  Pause to slice up rest of onions for flash-freezing, because these onions are looking pretty sorry.
  7. (Very quick flash-freezing instructions: spread food to be frozen into single layer on plate.  Stick, uncovered, into freezer for about twenty minutes or until most pieces are solid.  Store in labeled plastic bag in freezer.  This way, you don’t get a whole giant brick of onion.)
  8. Throw in four minced cloves of garlic.  Don’t be shy with the garlic in this salad.  It’s not first date food.
  9. (Take a break to go peel the rest of your household supply of garlic, because apparently this is Tabbouleh And Housecleaning Day.)
  10. Add a couple tablespoons of dried mint, in place of the fresh mint the recipe calls for.  (If you have fresh, throw in about a third of a cup.)
  11. Realize you’re out of friggin’ lemon juice, throw up your hands, stir your salad, cover it, stick it in the fridge, and come back to it later.  Sheesh.
  12. When you return from the store later, add half a cup of lemon juice, stir again, re-cover, and stick back in the fridge.
  13. The next day, soak two cups of bulghur in enough boiling water to cover it.  Stir into your salad, chill long enough to cool the bulghur, and serve.  🙂

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Achievement Unlocked: Pita-Esque Flatbread

Homemade pita.  Ambitious, but who am I to shy from ambition?  I’d be a poor blogger indeed if I didn’t share something new with you all, whether or not it’s a success.  (The picnic got rained out, but we just moved it inside and saved the trouble of schlepping around a basket.)

The key to getting the pita just right is figuring out how to make them puff.  Smitten Kitchen saved the day once again with a handy little tip: it’s all about the moisture.  She spritzes her pita with a spray bottle two or three minutes before cooking each one on a hot cast-iron skillet or baking stone.  Learning from the best, I scrounged up my roommate’s spray bottle and got to work…except it really didn’t work for me.  They bubbled, sure, but they never got that balloon-like puff I was looking for.  Lacking both time and a particularly picky audience, I left the batch as-is and merely served my falafel with tasty flatbread.  Someday, I’ll make this again and figure out what I did wrong.  For now, I’ve got a picnic to cater.  🙂

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Homemade Pita (makes 12)

  1. Start these the day or night before you’re planning to serve them.  Mix three cups flour, two teaspoons salt, two teaspoons olive oil, and a packet of rapid-rise yeast (or two teaspoons of instant).  Add one-and-a-quarter cups water, and stir and squish the mixture until it forms a soft dough lump.
  2. Turn the dough out onto your kneading surface (again, marble baking board for the win!) and knead for, oh, five minutes or so.  I pay very little attention to the kneading times given in recipes.  When the dough is smooth, the dough is smooth.
  3. Let sticky dough rise, under the overturned bowl, for twenty minutes or so.
  4. Knead some more, then plunk into oiled bowl and press down.  Cover the bowl and refrigerate.
  5. Every couple of hours, check the pita.  Punch the dough down (gently) the first two times, then let it rise.
  6. (Mess up your evening’s proceedings briefly by having used the wrong bowl.  Leave the pita where it is and go do dishes.)
  7. The next morning: remove your lovely pita lump from the fridge.  Divide it into twelve pieces and roll each piece into a ball.  Flatten each ball and leave them on your baking board to rest for twenty minutes or so.  Go have some tea.
  8. Grease your cast-iron skillet and heat it to medium (6, on a gas stove).  Fill a spray bottle with water.
  9. Roll out your pitas nice and thin, and relatively round, and spritz them with water.  Let the water soak in for two or three minutes.
  10. Cook your pitas in the skillet.  They should first start to bubble, then lift around the edges.  Flip ’em around a bit so one side is flat and slightly browned and the other side is bubbly and cooked.
  11. Slide your pita-flatbread-things onto a plate, cover with a towel, and serve with falafel and tabbouleh.  🙂

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Achievement Unlocked: Full of Falafel

The kitchen floor desperately needs a sweeping, the cook needs a shower, but by golly, I’m getting the picnic food made.

So, the day before my weekly excuse to try out new recipes (read: D&D), the boyfriend planned a picnic with me and one of our other gamer friends.  As awesome as that is, the food I had planned for the next day wasn’t exactly a snap, so around four pm, I went into Turbo Mode and whipped up a Middle Eastern spread to make my mom proud.  (They’re not her recipes, but she’s the one who introduced me to them growing up, so I credit her.)  This and the next two posts cover those specific recipes.

For anyone who’s not familiar with falafel, they’re immensely tasty chickpea croquettes that are normally served shoved into a pita with some sauce or salad.  There are a number of pre-made falafel kits out there, and I may have actually used one once – the memory is fuzzy.  These are a bit more work than just shaking out a mix and adding oil, but I really hope they’re worth it!

Recipe from Allrecipes, because I don’t have my mom’s.  I think hers have an egg in them, while these are vegan.  I did bake them rather than frying them, both because I’m scared of deep-frying and for healthfulness reasons.  Also, I fudged the proportions because of the amount of chickpeas in my pantry.  The original recipe makes about 24; this makes 35, and I will be shocked if they all get eaten tomorrow…wait.  On second thought, between the DM, the cleric, the fighter, and visiting nibblers, no I won’t.  🙂

On an unrelated note, I’ve been getting into drinking (store-brand) seltzer rather than soda and have actually grown to like the taste.  Tonight, though, Safeway was all out, so I came home with a bottle of diet tonic water instead.  Blech.  Needs a crapton of lime juice before I will consider this even mildly palatable.  Still, it’s better than brandy.  Slainte!

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Baked Falafel

  1. Drain, rinse, and empty three fifteen-ounce cans of chickpeas into a bowl.  Mash the ever-loving hell out of them with a potato masher.  Try not to wake up sleeping roommate in the basement.
  2. (Realize that you’ve had Pandora on for the past hour and were singing along to “Barrett’s Privateers.”  Reason that, if roommate is still asleep from that, the potato masher will make no difference.)
  3. Add chopped onion to taste.  The original recipe called for two small onions for this much chickpea mash; I substituted one large  shallot and one medium one.  I like my croquettes a little less onion-y than most.
  4. Add four minced cloves of garlic, AFTER figuring out where you put the bag you just peeled not four hours ago.  Question wisdom of housecleaning-type behavior.
  5. Add generous shakes (about two tablespoons each) of dried parsley, cumin, and cilantro.  Upon encountering cilantro after ten-minute hunt, pause to dream of the day when you and only you will organize your kitchen.
  6. Add teaspoon or so of turmeric and teaspoon of baking powder.
  7. Add two cups of “fine” bread crumbs; I used panko, because that’s what was around.  Stir the whole mess together.
  8. CAREFULLY.  Pause to clean spilled breadcrumbs from counter.
  9. Add drizzle of water and sprinkle of pepper, then move to table for assembly.
  10. Squish mixture into little balls and lay out on baking sheet.  I wound up with thirty-five, slightly uneven balls.
  11. (Panic for a moment and check the ingredients on your breadcrumbs.  Reassure yourself that there are no eggs.  Continue.)
  12. Slide tray into fridge overnight (if you’re planning ahead) and go take a shower.
  13. The next morning: preheat oven to 375.  Bake tahini for about 15 minutes; remove from oven, flip balls over, and bake for another 15.  Serve with delicious things!  🙂

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