Sunday, June 22, 2008

promises like pie crust


For some reason, I was under the impression that Peabody's other blog, Northwest Noshings, was purely a restaurant review of spots in her area. Then I found an entry linking to this amazing-sounding Smoked Salmon, Leek and Goat Cheese Quiche. I pretty much gasped just looking at the photos, and nearly passed out when I got to the part about a cream. cheese. crust. I wanted to make it immediately, but Matty's not really into warm smoked salmon, so I set the recipe aside for a moment.

I happened to click over to the quiche tab on my Firefox when I had Matty looking over my shoulder, and he just pointed and asked what that photo was. I explained to him that I thought it sounded great, but I told him about the whole warm salmon thing, and to my surprise, he asked me to make it anyway. Whatever my baby wants...

The crust was a freaking dream to work with. I'm still not quite sure if I was supposed to use the whole recipe for one crust - it's got twice the flour and butter than my usual crust recipe. It was just so easy to roll it out to fit the pie pan, that I just went ahead with it even though it seemed a little thick.

I think the next time I use this crust, I'll give it a little pre-bake time. Mine didn't end up raw or anything, but I think it could have stood to bake a little longer. The quiche is really great - so creamy from all the goat cheese. The crust is amazing, but because it was so thick (and the whole loads of goat cheese thing), a very small piece will stuff you silly. Not that that's a problem. Just saying. :P

Saturday, June 21, 2008

slip sliding away


This Double Chocolate Layer Cake was due to make an appearance last week for a Father's Day celebration, but due to some understaffing, my mother was pulled into work at the last minute, and our celebration was pushed back to today.

My dad's got a pretty big sweet tooth. We'd always have various cakes and ice creams stocked at our house when I was growing up. Since I couldn't come up with anything specific, but when I asked my sister, she immediately said, "chocolate cake." It seems that a while back, Dad had bought this ginormous chocolate cake for the house, and with my mother constantly concerned about such awful things as health, calories and diet, refused to partake in it. So some of the cake went home with my sister, and Dad apparently polished off about 3/4ths of the cake on his own. Impressive. Perhaps we are related after all. :P

Chocolate cake recipes are so easy to come by, but since they're so ubiquitous, it's hard to narrow down the field. I think I found this one initially through Orangette, and then when I visited Epicurious, I saw that it had 1159 reviews averaging 4 forks. Well, 1159 chocolate fans can't be wrong, so I went ahead with it.

This does make a whole mess of batter. Even thought the recipe very clearly states that 10-inch pans were needed, I managed to overlook that and just used the 9-inch pans I have. They fit, but they were dangerously close to overflowing in the oven. Thankfully, they didn't.

I used milk chocolate in the ganache because that's Dad's favorite. It was a little too sweet for me, and I will definitely be using something darker when I make this cake again. I was also afraid of running out, so I spread a very thin layer between the two layers. Turns out there was plenty left, so feel free to spread generously!

I also pretty much suck at frosting cake, but I think this one looked pretty good. I attempted to do a crumb layer, but didn't have much time to refrigerate it, and it was about 110 degrees in LA today, so it didn't set up too great. I pulled it out anyway, and frosted it as best I could. I still think this is my best-looking cake to date. :)

All for naught, though. I put the cake in my little cake carrier, and stuck it on my front seat for the 30-minute drive to my parents'. On the way, I noticed that it had sort of slid to the edge, but I wasn't too concerned about it. I figured I'd just smooth the frosting out a bit once I got home.

Except. I took the top of the carrier off and found that the top layer of the cake had slid OFF the bottom layer by about 2 inches. In doing so, it cracked. After a silent curse, and a little bit of cake surgery, I managed to make it look like this (minus a few slices):


Sigh. All my hard work literally melted away. However, this was still the finest chocolate cake I've ever tasted, and was definitely worth the week-long wait. I'm very much looking forward to using this for all my chocolate cake needs in the future.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

who knew


I'm so very glad I didn't get a chance to blog about these mini Vegan Coconut Pies until today because I got the most amusing chain of emails today from the guy I baked them for.

9:50:27 AM
Subject: The Answer to Your Question
Who woke up and had 4 carob tarts with coconut cream for breakfast?
Me.
:)

4:46:25 PM
Subject: Carob Tarts
Yep.
...All gone.
J

Our good friend Jason is vegan. We once invented a "Tour of Pleasures" in Sunset Junction - dinner at Flore, a stop at Pazzo (gelato for us, sorbetto for Jason) and a stop at Cru for his favorite dessert - this amazing coconut custard. I think it was my first foray into the world of vegan desserts, and I was blown away. I think we've stopped by Cru once of twice since then, and slowly started learning that the custard was only appearing on the menu once a week, and may have since been removed from the menu. Made a mental note to try to replicate it in some fashion for his birthday.

As it neared his birthday (and since custard isn't the most portable gift), I started Googling vegan coconut cream pie, and was beyond thrilled when I came across Fueled by Popcorn. Since this was my first attempt at vegan baking, I decided to make mini pies using a mini muffin tin. That way, I could at least sneak one to quality-control. (In case you haven't noticed, that's my excuse for sampling anything :P).

For the crust, I made Elise's Pate Brisee, substituting Earth Balance for the butter, and adding 4 Tablespoons of carob powder. I pre-baked them for about 10 minutes at 375 degrees before filling them with the coconut custard.

I used about 2 1/2 Tablespoons of cornstarch, but I may add more next time. It didn't set up quite as much as it looked like it did in Webly's photo. I also couldn't find coconut cream, but I had read that the cream of coconut you can find at the liquor store is the same thing, so I used that. If it's not the same thing, maybe that's the problem.

In any case, it didn't matter because as you can see from our dialogue today, Jason loved them. My only problem now is that I have to figure out a way to top them next year.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

finally, it has happened to me


I've been meaning to make these Strawberry Lemonade Bars for weeks, and I finally got a chance when Matty came home from his run this morning and announced that he felt like smoking some meat. Who am I to argue? So, we texted a couple friends and had ourselves a little late-night barbecue.

This has to be one of the easiest desserts in creation. Really, the most difficult part is juicing all those lemons, but I still managed to finish the filling by the time the crust finished baking.

Comments from the guys on first bite:
Greg: "Are you freaking kidding me with these?"
Freddy: "Whoa!"

Sweet. These were very pleasantly lemon-y, but not too tart that you make a face biting into them. The strawberry isn't a very present flavor, but it doesn't pink-ify the bars rather nicely (not that you can tell from that horrific photo).

Friday, June 13, 2008

and the livin' is easy


After being in Meringue City last night, I had quite a few egg yolks hanging out in the fridge. Since they don't keep too well, I find myself tossing out yolks (or whites) when I do something that requires the other. I mean, if I were really smart, I'd plan the next day's meal around it, but unfortunately, I just can't seem to plan that far ahead.

I also always blank on the uses for egg yolks (or whites, as the case may be). I knew I wasn't going to make creme brulee or anything - we had plenty of cookies left even after I packed Rebecca's present. Then it dawned on me. Carbonara. My favorite thing in the world. I didn't feel like anything quite as heavy, so I'm glad I bookmarked Bittman's Spaghetti with Zucchini and Mint when it appeared yesterday.

This may be my summertime favorite. I could easily have eaten the entire thing by myself, but luckily, Matty had invited his drummer over for dinner between soundcheck and showtime. Being social will save my waistline. It's definitely a substantial dish, but the zucchini and especially the mint make it seem somehow ethereal. I sliced the zucchini into rounds, and then each round into 4 matchsticks and sauteed it for just under 10 minutes - just until soft. Instead of the two whole eggs, I used four egg yolks as in the previously linked carbonara and beat the cheese and chopped mint right in. The just-cooked brown rice fusilli got tossed in and lovingly coated with goodness, and dinner was served with a side salad. Matty was a little upset that bacon wasn't involved, but I think he was won over in the end. However, I've still had to promise that I will attempt this again with both the bacon and the zucchini.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

it's burning me to hold on to this


Dear Lakers,

Well, would you look at what you made me do. I was so distraught in the final minutes of Game 4 tonight (pacing back and forth with my head in my hands in front of the hi-fi because ABC doesn't come in on our black & white television, cursing and stomping with every missed shot), that I did not hear my oven timer go off. You blow a 20-point lead with 7:08 remaining in the third quarter (but who's counting?), and I didn't even have Deep Dark Chocolate Cookies to console myself with. Well, to be fair, they were definitely "dark." I just don't think they would have qualified as "cookies."

Luckily, I had about 6 unbaked cookies on another baking sheet, so I baked them up right quick. They were unbelievably good. I'm not quite sure how a meringue-ish cookie can even taste the way these did. They weren't marshmallow-y. They weren't taffy-y. I would even go so far as they are the gluten-free equivalents of my favorite chocolate chocolate chip cookies ever.

They were initially supposed to go into a gift box of meringue-y cookies for our dear gluten-free friend Rebecca, but since I ruined over half of them, I'm glad I had already made a batch of these Chewy Chai Meringue Cookies.


I substituted nutmeg for the cloves since I didn't have any ground cloves, and I used almonds instead of macadamias. I debated chopping up some crystallized ginger and swapping out some of the chocolate chips, but in the end, I just dropped one chunk on top of each unbaked cookie.

They weren't my favorite, but I know Rebecca, lover of all things gingersnap-y, will like them. Actually, ginger is one of my least-favorite flavors. so I shouldn't judge them at all. I didn't taste any white chocolate, though, so I may swap out some chopped dried fruit or regular chocolate chips instead.

I think I overbaked them a bit (and this was actually no fault of yours, dear Lakers). When I hit the 30-minute mark, they weren't yet set on the outside, so I left them in for another 10. By then, the insides had dried out quite a bit. I had hoped for something more marshmallow-y. (EDIT: Rebecca said these are the best things I've made yet, so what do I know? :P)

So there you have it, Lakers. Lesson learned. I shall not bake when there is an important game on. I will surely not be doing anything during Game 5 Sunday night. Just praying.

Love,
Ngoc

Monday, June 9, 2008

come together


There is almost nothing I adore more than making dinner out of a whole bunch of appetizers. This one was a total winner. The order of prep:

Chicken Pate
We took Jeff and Marcela to Palate Food + Wine a couple weekends ago, and it immediately jumped to the top of our Favorite Restaurants list. We shared quite a few dishes, but the one that made me want to replicate the most was the Potted Poulet, this tiny mason jar of braised chicken that was very similar to pate. It was divine spread on little crackers.

Since I have no real patience for braising things, I decided to just research chicken pate recipes. Matty was a little wary of ones that involved chicken livers (although that's next on the list to try), so when I landed upon this one from a 2005 article in the Washington Post, I decided to go for it.

It's not difficult at all. I started on it yesterday, and was extremely disappointed once all the food processing was done. I had basically made chicken dip. It wasn't anything close to the potted poulet.

However (and thankfully), I didn't pull it out of the fridge for another 24 hours. By then it had set into something remarkably resembling the poulet. Not it by any means, but notches and notches above chicken dip. I brushed slices of sourdough baguette with olive oil, toasted them under the broiler for 3 minutes on each side and spread the luxurious pate on top. After we ran out of baguette, Matty dug out some crackers to have more. I'll be spread it on regular sliced bread to make tea sandwiches soon.

Chickpea Salad
This was unbelievably easy and delicious. The most difficult thing is grating the Parmesan (or opening the can of chickpeas if you have a piece of crap can opener like we do). I stuck this in the fridge to chill/flavor-meld while I made the other dishes.

Grated Carrot Salad with Avocado
Also supremely easy, thanks in large part to the grater attachment on my food processor. Upon reviewing the recipe now, I think I forgot to add the balsamic vinegar, and I didn't add chicken or tofu. Just straight avocado, lemon juice and carrots. I also only used about 2 carrots - I preferred the avocado-to-carrot ratio better that way.

Polenta-Brie Stacks
I made this mainly to use up the last of the tube of polenta I had in the fridge. And, let's be honest, to get Brie into my belly. I toasted the polenta slices under the broiler for five minutes on each side, then stacked a slice of tomato and a chunk of Brie on each and broiled for another 3 minutes. Yum.

This was really a perfect meal to close out a hectic day. None of the dishes took very much time to assemble at all, which is always helpful. We each had a full plate of food, but we didn't leave the dinner table feeling like we gorged too much. I really liked how balanced this assortment was. It was like the freaking yin and yang of dinner - warm and cold (polenta and chicken), bright/fresh and earthy (carrots and chickpeas). Just perfect.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

be my hangover girl


Last night, I had 3 glasses of wine, and we didn't get home until 2:30a. As it usually does, that means this morning consisted of eggs, at least 5 strips of bacon and a fair amount of carbs. When I became such a cheap date, I'll never know. I was such a champ in college! Anyway, at least I had all this at the respectable hour of 2:00p (instead of 2:00a followed by more of the same when I woke up at 2:00p).

This breakfast was inspired by the Poached Eggs on Artichoke Bottoms with White Truffle Cream and Mushrooms I found browsing Epicurious, but Matty wasn't in the mood for poached eggs, and I wasn't in any shape to be making a cream sauce, so I simplified the recipe a bit (read: a lot).

Scrambled Eggs on Artichoke Bottoms with No Sauce, but Bacon
1 T. butter
half of an onion, diced
6 eggs
1 14-oz. can of artichoke bottoms (not hearts)
as much bacon and toast as your hangover requires

1. Melt the butter in a medium skillet. Add onion and saute until golden, about 5 minutes.
2. Briefly beat eggs in a medium bowl. Add beaten eggs to skillet, and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the eggs are set to the consistency you like.
3. Drain a can of artichoke bottoms, and divide them between two plates. Pile scrambled eggs on each.

We found that the artichoke-to-egg ratio was a little too high if you keep the eggs piled neatly in the bottoms. Thankfully, we had plenty of eggs, so after the photo for this blog's sake, we piled the rest of the eggs on top of our plates. In hindsight, it was probably a little more food than we should have eaten, but at that moment, nothing felt more right.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

everybody's gonna be happy


I don't remember the last time I actually made lunch. I mean workdays consist of making boring wraps when I'm trying to be frugal, and then blowing any savings I've managed to pull together on one order from Real Food Daily. Most weekends, we go the brunch route because, really, there is nothing better than a nice lazy brunch.

However, this Artichoke, Asparagus, and Mushroom Quinoa Risotto in the July issue of Bon Appetit screamed out to both of us - I had mentally bookmarked it and meant to show Matty when I had a second, but the other night, as we were staring deeply into each others' eyes, he pulled the magazine out and made a request. The same risotto. Cute.

So. After going to the gym for a swim this morning, I was ready for some filling, restorative food. (I've said it once, and I'll say it again - it's so tragic that I peaked athletically in the fourth grade. I used to be such the fishy! Fourth grade was probably about the last time I swam in a community pool, too).

It took a while to make, as all risotto does, and I really didn't think the quinoa would absorb all the liquid that was called for in the recipe, but it finally did. This lovely dish is vegetarian, and if you sub out the butter used to saute the mushrooms and the little bit of Parmesan that's called for, you've got yourself a vegan dish.

It's quite tasty. I'm always looking for dishes that are nice enough for vegetarian/vegan company, and this one certainly fits the bill. I can't imagine any omnivores complaining either, which is also a plus.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

simple as that


Another magnificent, yet simple, dinner prepared by my better half. He started way before I got home because we had to run out to see some music, but it looks like he sliced up a leftover rib-eye steak, made a little dry rub out of salt, garlic powder and pepper, and then seared/sauteed the strips in a very hot cast-iron pan. The steak went over a bag of mixed salad greens, and the cilantro pesto went on top of the steak. No need for dressing at all. I continue to be the luckiest girl in the world

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

i'm about to break


You know how the bottom of your Pyrex has "Not For Broiler" or some variation on that theme etched onto the bottom? Well, I am here (barely) to tell you they're not kidding.

Remember the polenta fries from our last cooking adventure? Well, I had baked them in a 13x9x2 Pyrex dish. There were a couple left over after I doled out our first serving, so I stuck them back in the oven to keep warm. And forgot about them. Until tonight when I turned on the broiler just as I was about to put that gorgeous looking pan of Sliced Mushrooms with Fresh Mozzarella under it. I stuck it in for a minute, and smoke started pouring out of my stove-top. I didn't panic too much - after all, I've already set my oven on fire once. What's a second time?

I opened up the broiler. No fire there. I was very confused as to where this smoke was coming from. I opened up the main oven compartment. Well, balls. There was my Pyrex with about 7 very blackened fries, smoking away. I grabbed an oven mitt, placed it on the counter to return my attention to the broiler, and the damn thing SHATTERED. In. My. Hand.

Thank goodness for the oven mitt. And thank goodness it didn't shatter between the oven and the counter. A piece fell into our trash can, melting the plastic bag right into the plastic can.

And if that wasn't already enough excitement for the day, this dish was a freaking party in my mouth. I can't believe how good it is considering it's just some cheese and mushrooms. Oh, and tortellini. Because that was my carb of choice to sop up the mushroom juices. I cooked about 8 oz. of tortellini al dente, piled it into a cake pan (because that was the only broiler-proof platter I had), laid on about 4 oz. sliced cremini mushrooms (I can't wait to use better mushrooms), and finally 8 oz. of those little mozzarella balls. Salted and peppered, then broiled. Easy, gooey perfection.

Monday, June 2, 2008

after all the stops and starts


I don't know what my problem is, but I just can't seem to get chicken to cook. It was especially stressful because we had our friend Marco coming over, and it's one thing to cry over roast chicken to your boyfriend, but it's quite another to make a friend you've never cooked for before wonder why they said yes to the invitation. I've never been more thrilled that a dinner guest was late because this chicken took just about twice as long as it should have to get edible.

From the moment I took a bite of the Chicken in Peanut Mole at our happy hour spot, Malo, I knew I would need to recreate the sauce for personal consumption. I happened upon this Smoky Peanut Mole recipe recently, and it sounded heavenly. I didn't have quail to roast, so I went with chicken pieces broiled/baked a la this, except sans tequila marinade.

Bad news: the chicken took twice as much time per side to broil up, and had to be kept in the oven at 325 degrees for twice as long as indicated. I took it out after the normal 325 time, and the juices definitely did not run clear. I'd blame my oven, but my baked goods seem to be turning out okay. Just bad chicken juju, I guess.

Good news: the sauce is really great. It loses a lot of its peanut flavor upon adding the broth and wine (obviously), so I think the next time I make this, I'll save myself 45 minutes out of my day, and just use the sauce that comes from pureeing everything else. Just go straight from blender to chicken.

It was a huge hit, served over a bed of sauteed spinach with Baked Polenta Fries that did not look quite as appetizing as Heidi's, but still tasted pretty grand. I have a bit of chicken left over, too, just smothered in mole sauce. I think I'll bake up some more polenta for dipping. I mean, I'm drooling thinking of leftovers, and I've just had a massive meal. That's how good this is.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

you got me


This Brown Rice Fusilli with Cilantro Pesto has got to be the best easy dinner I've ever had. And I didn't even have to lift a finger! Matty insisted on making it for me. All I had to do was come up with the idea and find the recipe.

Since we had gorged on barbecue just hours prior, we weren't very hungry for dinner when Matty came home from rehearsal. I was feeling a little peckish, though, so Matty said he'd boil up some pasta and serve it with my choice of Trader Joe's sauce or butter/Parm. Not that he's not more accomplished than that, but because that's pretty much all we had.

Then I remembered I had bought a packet of cilantro that morning for salsa, and I always end up throwing cilantro out, so I did a quick Google search and ended up with Elise's cilantro pesto recipe. I showed it to Matty, he thought he could handle it, and away we went.

We halved the recipe since it would just be me eating, but now I wish I had made the full amount so that I could have more left over. I couldn't be bothered to chop up an onion for just the bit that was required for the recipe, and I didn't have a serrano chile, so I left both out. Still perfect.

It is so very good. I love brown rice pasta - it's got this chewy soft texture that went really well with the fresh, grassy (in a good way) cilantro. Let's just say I ate way more than I should have for that late an hour, but it was totally worth it. There's a bit left, and I can't wait to put it straight in some more pasta or spread it in a sandwich/wrap.

Now, we're about to hop into bed and watch the British "Office." I'm the luckiest girl alive.

it feels so right

It's a ridiculously perfect day in Los Angeles today. We decided to take advantage of the weather and pay tribute to the good old days by calling up Matty's old roommates and having a little low-key barbecue at the house. It was so nice to not have to worry about feeding and entertaining 20+ people - I made a couple really simple things, everyone brought their meat/meat substitute to throw on the grill, and everyone had a personal 6-pack of choice.


The morning started out with Chocolate and Caramelized Banana Cake with bananas that had seen better days. I was a little terrified at having to make the caramel in which to cook the bananas since I've had nothing but bad luck with caramel, but thankfully, everything went smoothly.

I didn't have buttermilk, but I had read that you can sub an equal amount of sour cream. I didn't have sour cream either, so I used my normal sour cream sub - Greek yogurt. I don't know how much wetter buttermilk would have made the batter, but there was definitely no pouring this into the loaf pan (or in my case, muffin tin). I basically pressed the dough about a third of the way up each muffin mold, topped that with about a Tablespoon of mashed banana, and then formed another disk of dough to lay on top of the banana, filling the molds completely. It's a good thing these babies don't rise very much.

Obviously, I didn't do a very good job of completely encasing the banana filling, but it didn't matter. They were the perfect breakfast snack, and they were a big hit with the kids. The chocolate part wasn't too sweet, but could definitely not be called bland, and the banana filling was just sweet enough to be a welcome treat in each bite. I would definitely like to make this again in a loaf pan because it just looks so beautiful, but for our purposes today, muffins were more handy.


And since we couldn't just eat muffins all day, I made this Black Bean Confetti Salad. The work-to-wow ratio is amazing - never would I have guessed that mixing canned beans and colorful diced veggies would have elicited such an overwhelming response. I just used olive oil and lime juice to dress it - no doubt the honey would have been lovely, but I was too lazy to emulsify everything, so I just poured a couple glugs of oil and juice, salted and peppered some, and then put the lid on the bowl and tossed. Chilled it for a bit for the flavors to meld, and it was the perfect side for the variety of steaks, burgers and sausages that we all picked out for ourselves.