Wednesday, June 29, 2011

why can't it wait till morning

In almost all aspects of my life, I like, no love, planning ahead. Like way ahead. Like I have a calendar that books gym time through the end of the year.

But when I bake, I somehow like the thrill of doing things at the last minute. Why bake a pan of brownies Tuesday night when you can wake up at 6a to do it Wednesday morning? I mean, there are episodes of Property Virgins to watch! (Did I just sign up for spam by using the v-word?)

Anyway, for some reason, I like the small freak-out I can have worrying about whether the brownies will finish baking by the time I have to leave for a breakfast meeting. I mean, the recipe says 30 minutes, but my ancient oven sometimes says otherwise. It's a sick thrill.

But these brownies were worth any stress, self-imposed or otherwise. I love this book - frankly I was surprised these brownies weren't the first thing I made from it. I mean, I watched that episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate: Salty Goodness. They were worth the wait.

Except when you're bleary-eyed at 6:00a, sometimes you forget key ingredients. Like the salt. In the salted caramel. I mean...

Frankly, I was so tired this morning, I'm surprised I didn't burn the house down making the caramel, and that the batter made it into the pan. But despite all of that, these turned out great. They're very sweet, so the salt would cut it well. I definitely won't forget next time.

Sweet + Salty Brownie
adapted from Baked Explorations
Makes one 9x13 pan of brownies

For the filling:
1 c. sugar
2 T. light corn syrup
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 t. fleur de sel
1/4 c. creme fraiche

For the brownie:
1 1/4 c. flour
11 oz. dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 c. (2 sticks) salted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar
5 large eggs
2 t. vanilla extract

1. Make the caramel: In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and corn syrup with 1/4 c. water, stirring them together carefully so you don't splash the sides of the pan. Cook over high heat until an instant-read thermometer reads 350 degrees, or until the mixture is dark amber in color, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat, and slowly add the creme and then the fleur de sel. Whisk in the creme fraiche. Set aside to cool.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9x13-inch pan with parchment paper and butter the parchment.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and cocoa powder.

4. Place the chocolate and butter in a large microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 1-minute increments, stirring after each minute, until they are completely melted. Add both sugars and whisk until completely combined.

5. Add the eggs and vanilla, and whisk until thoroughly combined.

6. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until there is no trace of flour visible.

7. Pour half of the brownie mixture into the pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Drizzle about 3/4 c. of the caramel sauce over the brownie layer in a zig zag pattern, taking care to make sure the caramel does not come in contact with the edges of the pan or it will burn. Spread the caramel evenly over the brownie layer. In heaping spoonfuls, scoop the rest of the brownie batter over the caramel layer. Smooth the brownie batter gently to cover the caramel layer.

8. Bake the brownies for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. The brownies are done when the toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs. Cool the brownies completely before cutting and serving.

Monday, June 27, 2011

fill me up

I nearly destroyed myself today.

I guess I should back up a little. So my quest for Bangin' Bikini Bod 2011 lasted all of the weekend, and then I came to the realization that nothing significant was going to happen in a week, for better or for worse. So when the other enabling co-worker (there are 2 in case you're keeping track) suggested we try Coney Dog, which just opened near my office, I was in. Coney Combo and chili cheese fries, I love you forever.

And then there was Los Feliz DinDInAGoGo. The moment I saw the line-up yesterday was the moment my resolve officially dissolved. I needed sandwiches from every single one of them. And I can't even bring myself to think of the specials.

I went in with a mission. To get banh mi from Mandoline Grill, a BLT from Lardon, a Cubano from No Jodas, a paneer naanwich from Naan Stop, and close it with an ice cream sandwich from CoolHaus.

No, I wasn't going to eat them all in one sitting. Thank you for thinking I could though - I'm flattered. The plan was to portion out the sandwiches to last the rest of the week - sample bites of each for dinner next to a big Kale Salad (from the pile of produce I had stockpiled when I was going to be healthy this week). I think everything worked out really nicely - it was certainly a better-balanced meal than lunch. I did have to eat the ice cream sandwich there, though. I mean, it was going to melt!

Food trucks, I love you forever.

Kale Salad

1 bunch lacinato kale, sliced into 1-inch ribbons
2-3 T. olive oil
1 14-oz. can butter beans, drained and rinsed
1 c. roasted pistachios
1 large peach, diced
2-3 T. balsamic vinegar

1. In a large bowl, massage the olive oil into the kale ribbons. Add more olive oil to your taste.

2. Add the beans, pistachios and peach pieces and gently toss. Drizzle on balsamic to taste and toss again to distribute. Serve immediately.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

not worth the wait

I waited so long to make this Lomi Lomi Salmon in an Avocado Half. First it appeared in my Facebook feed on Thursday. I was so anxious to make it for dinner on Friday, but hadn't looked far enough past the photo to see that it needed a 24-hour curing period. So when I finally got around to salting it Friday evening, it was all I could do to wait until exactly 7:30p today to pull it out of the fridge.

Unfortunately, it was devastatingly salty, even after the 30-minute cold-water soak, and I ended eating just one avocado half and tossing the rest of the salmon. It definitely could have used some citrusy/acidic help. I suppose the tomatoes I omitted could have played a factor, but I think some lemon or lime was definitely necessary. I've also seen lomi lomi recipes that involve pineapple, and I think that may be the perfect fix - both tart and sweet to balance all that salt.

Next time, I'd also leave out the ricotta I added. I had the strangest craving for ricotta, and I wanted something to bind the salmon mixture together, but you couldn't really taste it, and it definitely didn't look cute. But silver lining, the craving led me to put another Tablespoonful in the other avocado half, and I have just found my new favorite snack.

Lomi Lomi Salmon in an Avocado Half
adapted from The California Avocado Commission
Serves 1

2 T. coarse sea salt
4 oz. salmon fillet, skin removed
1/4 medium red onion, diced
1 T. ricotta
1 large avocado, 8 oz. or more

1. Place salmon in a plastic or glass container and rub both sides with the salt. Cover the container and chill in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

2. Rinse salmon thoroughly and soak in a bowl of cold water for 30 minutes, changing the water once, after 15 minutes. Remove fish from bowl and pat fish dry with paper towels.

3. Dice fish and place in a mixing bowl. Add onion and ricotta; toss gently to combine.

4. Mound salmon mixture onto each avocado half. Serve immediately.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

life gets kind of boring

This post going to be a dull one - I promise you. But I'm trying to do the eat-smaller-meals-more-often, healthy thing, and until I get back from the Fourth happy with how I look in a bikini, that's how it'll be. The dinner wasn't too dull, though. I was shockingly surprised about how much I enjoyed the butter beans. I expected to be bored, but they're so creamy and meaty - cannellini beans, consider yourselves replaced.

The heart of this salad is the tuna, butter beans and red onion. Anything else you toss in is just a way to liven it up / clean out your pantry. I'll leave you just the basics below, but the photo above also includes a 14-oz. can of hearts of palm and a 14-oz. can of diced tomatoes, drained. I can imagine this would be amazing (and more visually appealing) with artichoke hearts and olives as well, maybe with some rosemary or thyme tossed in.

I served them rolled up in butter lettuce leaves - there's something about finger food that makes you feel like you're splurging calorically, even when you're healthy as can be. Once I go back to being more carb-y, I think I would really like this as a tartine on some great bread, perhaps even with a slice of cheese toasted on top.

Tuna + Butter Bean Salad
Serves 2-4 depending on your mix-ins

one 5-oz. can of tuna packed in oil
1/4 red onion, diced
one 14-oz. can of butter beans, rinsed and drained
salt and pepper
butter lettuce leaves

1. Pour the contents of the tuna can in a large bowl (oil included) and mix thoroughly with the diced onions. If you're adding anything else, now is the time to do it.

2. Add the butter beans last and stir gently to distribute evenly, but not break up, the beans.

3. Serve immediately or chill before serving, alongside butter lettuce leaves for wrapping.

Friday, June 24, 2011

this is the last time, you say

I'd be so much skinnier if I was less cranky all the time. Every little annoyance is an excuse for cheese and carbs, and sadly, these are becoming everyday meals rather than an occasional splurge. I feel my lunch of lasagna, Parmesan-crusted chicken skewers and cheesy garlic bread (equally split with my sweet, enabling co-worker) helped ease the sting of the texting-while-driving ticket I got on my way to work this morning (sorry I have to multi-task - is there something else I should be doing at a red light?). But, it needs to stop.

And while I constantly strive to not let every little thing rile me up so much, I am getting some pretty good meals out of it. Tonight's dinner was a final get-it-out-of-your-system, delicious carbonara dish. Made slightly healthier with delicious smoked tofu instead of bacon and would have been even more virtuous had I not forgotten the broccoli I was going to toss in with it.

I have to keep reminding myself that my annual Fourth of July vacation (aka spend-all-weekend-in-a-bikini vacation) is (ah!!!) next week, and I have to pull it together. Call this a last hurrah.

Smoked Tofu Carbonara
adapted from Stonesoup
Serves 2 (if you remember a side salad)

4 oz. tortellini
5.5 oz. smoked tofu
1 T. olive oil
2 egg yolks
salt and plenty of pepper

1. Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add tortellini and cook according to package directions.

2. Meanwhile, cube the tofu into 1/2-inch chunks and brown in olive oil - about as long as the pasta takes to cook.

3. Beat the two egg yolks in a large bowl. When the pasta is done, drain and add it, along with the tofu, to the bowl of yolks. Stir quickly to incorporate. Serve immediately.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

twice as nice

This Blueberry Mascarpone Tart was originally going to be just one pie, but when I saw the inordinate amount of crumbs that 9 oz. of cookie thins made, it had to be divided into two tart pans. I would likely double the amount of butter just to keep everything together if I make this again with a crumb crust, but I think I would prefer just a regular butter pie crust next time. Perhaps keeping the original amount of mascarpone and blueberries for a more substantial pie. Luckily, I did have two occasions for the pie - a visit from NYC friends, and then a dinner I ended sending Matty to with the pie as his date because I was called out of town for work.

They turned out so well - I'm a sucker for blueberries, and it's so hard to resist market-fresh berries (of any sort) at this time of year. We can save all the chocolate and caramel for the fall/winter. But it's nice to have the extra decadence from the mascarpone - it's always the right season for mascarpone. I can't wait to try this with cherries (and amaretto!) as in the original recipe, and perhaps rotate in a variety of fruits throughout the year.

Blueberry Mascarpone Tart
adapted from Serious Eats
Makes two 9-inch tarts

9-oz. box of Trader Joe's Meyer Lemon Cookie Thins, processed into crumbs
6 T. light brown sugar, divided
1/2 c. almond meal
3 T. butter, melted
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 lbs. blueberries
1/4 c. sugar
2 c. mascarpone
1/2 t. pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. In medium bowl, combine shortbread crumbs, 1/4 c. brown sugar, almond meal, butter and 1/4 t. salt. Evenly press into bottom and up sides of tart pans. Bake until light golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack and cool completely, about 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, bring 3/4 c. blueberries, 1/2 c. water, sugar, and 1/8 t. salt to boil in small saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until syrupy, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add remaining fresh blueberries and toss to coat. Set aside to cool slightly, about 5 minutes.

4. In medium bowl, whisk together mascarpone, remaining 2 T. brown sugar, vanilla and remaining 1/8 t. of salt until smooth.

5. Spread mascarpone mixture in cooled tart shell and top with blueberry mixture. Chill at least 30 minutes before serving.

food for thought

I've been in a little bit of blog rut lately. I cook, and I want to share it with you, but my brain space is too full to come up with interesting stories to tie these dishes in to, and it's become virtually impossible to think of appropriate song lyrics for these titles. I hope you'll bear with me as this blog becomes slightly less about me than about the food, at least until I can unplug my brain for a bit.

We've been trying to eat healthy, especially since I've fallen off the gym wagon yet again due to time limitations (no matter how hard you try, they won't give you more than 24 hours in a day). I'm not saying pouring browned butter over fish is healthy, but it is certainly the most interesting thing you can do to simple white fillets. Eaten in front of the TV, watching the Heats lose, I couldn't be happier. Somehow it's always better if your team loses to the eventual champions.

Sole Meuniere
Serves 2

1 lb. Dover sole fillets
1 c. almond meal
salt and pepper
8 T. butter, divided
1 T. chopped parsley
1 lemon wedge

1. Dry the sole thoroughly and lightly salt and pepper on both sides. Dredge in the almond meal, and set on a baking rack to dry further.

2. In a small saucepan, melt and brown 4 T. of butter. Set aside.

3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. You'll likely need to fry the fish in two batches, so portion the remaining butter accordingly. My fillets were thin, so they only took about a minute per side.

4. Just before serving. warm up the browned butter and add parsley and squeeze of lemon. Pour over the fish, and serve immediately.

On the side was steamed artichokes and leftover quinoa from a particularly virtuous dinner last week. It was entirely too boring (although good and healthy) for its own post, but it's worthy of at least a mention as a side dish. Good warm or cold, reports the boyfriend whose been eating leftovers all week.

Kale Quinoa with Avocado Spread
adapted from Food52 and Culinary Competitor
Serves 4

4 c. salted water
2 c. quinoa
10 oz. kale, cut into 1" lengths
10 oz. peas
6 oz. mix of spinach and arugula
1 avocado
3 cloves garlic
1/4 c. olive oil
salt and pepper

1. Bring the water to a boil. Add the quinoa, cover, and lower the heat to maintain a bare simmer. Let simmer for 10 minutes, then add the kale and cover again. Let simmer until water is evaporated and quinoa and kale are done. Add the peas and stir just to heat through.

2. While the quinoa is cooking, wilt the spinach either in a small pan or in the microwave. Add to the bowl of a food processor along with the avocado and garlic. Process until smooth, adding olive oil as necessary to keep things moving and to achieve your desired consistency. Salt and pepper to taste.

3. Serve the quinoa with the spread dolloped on top or swirled in, according to your preference.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

too much is not enough

You know, if you call "bread pudding" "French toast," you can have it for breakfast. Unfortunately, I was very disappointed with this Thai Coffee Bread Pudding, I mean French toast. I think I might have set myself up with entirely too high expectations.

- It wasn't coffee-tasting enough for me. I didn't have espresso powder so I ground the same amount of espresso beans and French pressed them in hot milk. Apparently, that's not the same. Boo.

- It was entirely too cardamom-y. I didn't have ground cardamom, only seeds, so I cracked them open and ground them myself. Apparently, that's not the same - the stuff in the pods are supposedly more potent than the pre-ground stuff.

That being said, the original recipe is below, and if you don't screw with the important elements like I did, you might not be quite as upset.

Thai Coffee Bread Pudding
from Serious Eats

3 T. butter
1 loaf challah bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 c. milk
6 T. espresso powder
6 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
1/2 c. light brown sugar
1 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 t. ground cardamom
3/4 t. salt
1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
2 t. vanilla extract
1 1/2 t. almond extract

1. Grease 13x9-inch baking dish with 1 tablespoon butter.

3. Place 1 c. milk in small microwave-safe bowl or glass liquid measuring cup and microwave 1 minute. Add espresso powder and stir until dissolved.

4. In large bowl, whisk egg yolks, eggs, light brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt until smooth. Whisk in condensed milk, espresso-milk mixture, remaining 2 c. milk, vanilla extract, and almond extract; whisk until thoroughly combined.

5. Add bread to mixture and gently fold in with rubber spatula until cubes are saturated. Transfer to prepared baking dish and let stand to fully absorb liquid, about 20 minutes.

6. Bake on middle rack until custard has set and releases no liquid when pressed, about 45 minutes. Cool about 20 minutes before serving.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

the last time again

In all the hustle and bustle of last week's Memorial Day festivities and getting Matty buttoned up to get out of here for a week, I forgot to post our Last Supper. You know, the one I make before any of his extended trips out of town.

This one was a real doozy. All of our favorite things - perfect grilled (on a grill pan - it was too much to deal with the grill with Memorial Day happening) nat cab rib-eye from our friends at McCall's, butter poached asparagus from my new obsession, Gilt Taste, roasted mushrooms and onions...

And the very best part? The cheese sauce. It's like a classy Velveeta. It's way more expensive, and you do need to refrigerate it, but all that impossibly smooth and rich mouthfeel? This has. And I just realized that I have a little leftover cheese sauce in the fridge. I'm pretty sure that's what I'll be eating for breakfast Tuesday when I'm off my juice cleanse.

Seared Steaks with Cheese Sauce + Roasted Onions
adapted from Barbara Lynch's Stir
Serves 2

3 T. butter, divided
2 small sweet onions, trimmed and halved
5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 lb. cremini mushrooms
salt and pepper
2 large rib-eye steaks, as big as you're hungry
1 c. heavy cream
8 oz. Mimolette cheese, finely grated

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Melt 2 T. butter n a 12-inch cast-iron skillet. Add the mushrooms and onions, cut-side down, and cook them undisturbed until well-browned, about 5 minutes. Turn the onions over, give the mushrooms a stir, and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Add two sprigs of thyme and transfer the pan to the oven, roasting for 20 minutes.

3. Heat a grill pan large enough to hold the steaks over high heat until smoking. Season the steaks with salt and pepper and grill undisturbed until well-browned, about 2 minutes. Turn the steaks over to sear the other side. After the other side has been searing for 1 minute, add the remaining T. of butter and the remaining thyme to the pan. Once the butter has melted, til the pan so you can spoon up some of the butter and baste the meat with the butter during the last few minutes of cooking. Cook to your desired doneness. Transfer the steaks to a plate, tent with foil and let rest for 10 minutes.

4. Bring the heavy cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the cheese and stir until all the cheese has melted into the cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

5. Magically, everything is now ready at the same time. Serve immediately.

Salt- and Sugar-Cured Asparagus, Poached in Butter
adapted from Gilt Taste
Serves 2

1 lb. green asparagus
3 T. salt
3 T. sugar
1 c. butter, melted
1 c. olive oil

1. Trim the dry ends of all the asparagus. Toss the asparagus with the sugar and salt, and place on a baking rack set over a baking sheet. Let it sit for 15 minutes, then brush off the salt and sugar off using a damp paper towel or a cloth. Place the asparagus in a large skillet in one layer and add the butter and oil to cover the asparagus completely. If the above amounts are not enough to cover, add more equal parts of melted butter and oil.

2. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to barely a simmer, then immediately reduce heat to low and braise for 10-15 minutes, until the asparagus is tender when pierced with a fork.

3. Remove asparagus from the poaching liquid and serve.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

cool change

I am addicted to House Hunters. Don't get me started on the International version. I mean, honestly, I don't know what I did without a TV for so long.

I think I just like to be able to yell at something on the TV while football's not on. "Stop complaining about there not being a closet in the third bedroom of the house you are somehow able to afford as a recent college graduate." "Oh, really? Is this beach-front mansion you're purchasing for your surf-yoga retreat just a little too far from town?"

I never thought I'd get dinner inspiration from the show, though. At the end of one of the episodes of this afternoon's marathon, when they were showing off how many of their family they can fit into their kitchen and dining area, there was a gorgeous dish of gnocchi - half tomato sauce, half pesto sauce. Hm, pesto. I haven't had good pesto in a long time.

Of course, as I started thumbing through my pesto bookmarks, I got distracted from the standard basil-pine nut situation, and ended up this with Tomato-Almond Pesto. Besides being delicious, it was a great way to get rid of a bit of odds and ends around the house - the almost-used bag of almonds, the tomatoes-on-the-vine that I don't remember why I bought, half a pack each of mint and cilantro. I actually loved the way the herbs worked - together, they create a flavor that's not too far from basil. You can tell it's a bit different, but not in a what-is-in-my-pesto sort of way.

I think it's meant to be a similar consistency to the standard pesto, but once I started tasting while the tomato pesto was in a more rustic stage, I decided I couldn't keep going. It was way too good to further process. It was like bruschetta with pasta in place of the bread. I thought about swirling in a bit of ricotta for some extra richness, but decided to keep it light tonight. This recipe does make plenty of pesto, though, and I'm really looking forward to playing with different additions and different filled pasta.

Tomato-Almond Pesto Pasta
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

3/4 c. roasted, salted almonds
1/4 c. loosely packed cilantro leaves
1/4 c. loosely packed mint leaves
2 garlic cloves
5 on-the-vine tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 c. olive oil
your pasta of choice

1. Place the almonds, cilantro, mint, garlic and tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor and process until just shy of your desired consistency. Stir in the cheese, and with the processor on, drizzle in the olive oil - stop when it's the texture you like.

2. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve over the al dente pasta of your choice.