Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Meet Erica

The internet is good for many things. Finding recipes, for example. Learning new cooking techniques on YouTube. Finding bizarre cupcake decorating ideas and unicorn poop on Pinterest. And, most important of all, making new friends. Once upon a time, almost 10 years ago, I met my friend Erica online through a different blogging site. We have been very close friends ever since then, despite the fact that she lived in Ohio and I lived, well, everywhere else. She recently decided to move to the East Coast and decided to make her home here in PA as well. It's an hour from NYC, an hour from Philly, and I think I've covered how many amazing food festivals occur here. It's a fun place to live, and hopefully a good place for her to begin the next chapter in her life.

So it's important that you get to know Erica. I'm still primarily cooking for myself, but she'll definitely be my partner in crime here. If she ever does eat anything or have any input, I'll let you know. This woman is one of the pickiest eaters I've ever met and I'm not about to try to change that, but it means that you can trust that if she likes something, it's worth making again.

Now I'm going to interview her.
chopsticks
{Erica learning to use chopsticks at Imperial Garden for Chinese food}

What is your favorite food of all time?
Guacamole! I will eat it with anything!

What is your least favorite food?
Mushrooms of any type.. or fish. it is a tie.

What food do you want to try someday?
Avocado sushi

What food are you afraid to try?
Sushi, but I am determined to overcome this.

Describe the food culture of Cincinnati.
It is not very exciting. We are most famous for our chili, which is special because it is made out of cinnamon and cocoa and it is usually served either on a hot dog with onions and cheese or on a pile of spaghetti with cheese.

In one week, have you noticed any food-related differences between Ohio and PA?
There are sushi restaurants EVERYWHERE here.

If you could go to a festival dedicated to one particular food (and there probably is one here), what would it be?
The almighty avocado

Describe the best meal you've ever eaten.
It was at the top of the CN tower in Canada. It was a huge waffle with chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce and a chocolate bar and strawberries and blackberries .... it was just wonderful.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Tomato Pizza with Garlic & Smoked Gouda

Wednesday night I made Tomato Pizza with Garlic and Smoked Gouda. I had found a delicious applewood-smoked mozzarella that I used in place of the gouda. It was wonderful and enjoyed by all.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Peanut Butter Cookies

A coworker's birthday is today so I offered to bring in baked goods, and he stated he loves peanut butter. Thus, I decided to try this recipe for the ever-popular Magnolia Bakery peanut butter cookies. The recipe note said that the cookbook called for creamy peanut butter but that the bakery uses crunchy, so I used half crunchy, have creamy. Super. Once I finished making the dough, I noticed it was REALLY soft. The recipe was instructing me to make rounded tablespoonfuls and mark them with a fork, but my dough was WAY too soft to do that. I couldn't figure out what was wrong. Maybe I transcribed the recipe incorrectly? I checked over it, everything was the same, so I baked the cookies.

They are supposed to be kind of chewy and thick. Mine came out very flat. They are supposed to be cakelike. Mine did NOT come out cakelike. They are flaky, soft, and delicious, but something was not right. I pondered as I ate one and realized that I screwed up the butter. I had had a rough day and I was tired, so that's my excuse for thinking that 1/2 a cup of butter equaled 2 sticks. Oops!!! NO. Half a cup of butter, as is called for in this recipe, is ONE STICK OF BUTTER. Oh my gosh. I pulled a Paula Deen.

Even with the mistake, the cookies are delicious. I plan on keeping this around to try again with the correct amount of butter. I hope my coworkers like them!

butter

Peanut Butter Cookies
Magnolia Bakery via Smitten Kitchen

The brilliance of these cookies is that they have include two different formats for peanuts–three if you use chunky peanut butter. They’re crisp on the outside, and almost cakey on the inside. Bake a batch and then hide the results in the furthest and most forgettable reaches of your kitchen. You’ll thank me later.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup peanut butter at room temperature
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (for sprinkling) sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup peanut butter chips
1/2 cup chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, the baking soda, the baking powder, and the salt. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, beat the butter and the peanut butter together until fluffy. Add the sugars and beat until smooth. Add the egg and mix well. Add the milk and the vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and beat thoroughly. Stir in the peanut butter chips. Place sprinkling sugar on a plate. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls into the sugar, then onto ungreased cookie sheets, leaving several inches between for expansion. Using a fork, lightly indent with a crissscross pattern (I used the back of a palette knife to keep it smooth on top), but do not overly flatten cookies. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Do not overbake. Cookies may appear to be underdone, but they are not.

4. Cool the cookies on the sheets for 1 minute, then remove to a rack to cool completely.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Thin Mint Pudding Trifles

My best friend Erica moved in this weekend, so I didn't really do any cooking. We mostly went out to dinner. My brother came down, so we all went out. Fun times were had. Tonight I made Quick Black Bean Burgers, which was enjoyed by all (it's so fun to have other people to review food again). BUT! Last night, I felt inspired to make something minty. I think I was inspired by Walking Dead in some twisted fashion. Unsure. Regardless, I ended up making these parfaits. I didn't have regular milk so I ignored the warning on the pudding box and used almond milk. It says the pudding won't set up, but it lies. The pudding was just fine. The cool whip, however, was kind of weird tasting. I did not love it. But the whole thing together was very enjoyable. Thank goodness I have so many boxes of Thin Mints!

parfait

Thin Mint Pudding Trifles
Shaken Together

Chocolate pudding
Crushed Thin Mints
Mint Cool Whip (1/2 tsp. mint extract stirred in a small tub of Cool Whip) Thin Mint cookie garnish

Layer in a glass or bowl. Magic ensues. Eat.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Brown Butter Soda Bread

My unit at work had a little St. Patrick's Day party yesterday at lunch, and my assigned contribution was "bread." Naturally, to me, that meant I needed to make Irish soda bread. I've tried other variations before, and I really don't love the regular soda bread with the raisins in it so I've never even bothered making that kind, but I always end up coming back to my Brown Butter Soda Bread recipe that I first tried six years ago. I made two huge loaves of it, which went really well with the soups people brought in. I think sometimes people are nervous about making bread, but this is just a mix-and-bake bread. There's a little bit of kneading but not much, and there isn't any yeast. I love this bread. You still have time to try it before St. Patrick's Day!!

sodabread

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Greasy Sae's Spicy Vegetarian Chili

I finally found it. The perfect vegetarian chili. The kind you have to cook on the stove for hours until all the flavors blend seamlessly into one amazing, delicious bowl of spicy goodness.

Where did I find it? The Hunger Games Cookbook. Look: for a cookbook that was made to capitalize on a book/movie phenomenon, this has far surpassed expectations. I would venture to say that this is one of the best cookbooks I own. I have not made a single thing from it that wasn't delicious, and I can easily say that some of the things I've made were entirely epic and went into my "most favorites" folder almost immediately. GUESS WHERE THIS ONE IS GOING?! Love it.

If you are sensitive to spice, cut down on the chipotle significantly. You could omit the jalapenos as well. Other than that, I followed the instructions exactly. SO GOOD. Hoorah!!

I forgot to take a picture because I'd been waiting 2 1/2 hours for my food to be ready, so instead please enjoy this still from the movie, of Katniss buying food from Greasy Sae:
sae

Greasy Sae's Spicy Vegetarian Chili
The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook, page 44

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, diced
1 teaspoon cumin (more to taste)
2 cups vegetable broth
6 plum tomatoes, diced
2 jalapeno peppers with seeds, sliced
1 yellow pepper, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
5 chipotle peppers (canned), sliced
1 8 ounce pack fresh white mushrooms
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 12 oz can tomato paste
1 10 ounce pack soy crumbles (found in freezer section)
1 15 oz. can kidney beans, drained
1 15 oz. can pinto beans, drained
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained
Kosher salt to taste
Ground black pepper, to taste

In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook sliced onion, diced garlic, and cumin in olive oil until lightly browned. Add vegetable broth, plum tomatoes, all the peppers, white mushrooms, chili powder, and tomato paste. Mix thoroughly, then cover and let simmer for 45 minutes.

Add soy crumbles to mixture and let simmer for 20 minutes. Add all the beans and let the whole thing cook over very low heat for at least 60 minutes. Add salt and pepper and extra cumin to taste.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Monday, March 12, 2012

Make-Agains

I bought lunch at work all last week, which is something I generally try to avoid, so I wanted to prevent it from happening this week. Therefore, I made a double-batch of Potato, Turnip, and Spinach Baeckeoffe, one of my favorite winter meals, and portioned it out for the whole week. Hoorah! I was also struck with the thought that it would be interesting to try putting sliced apples into it in the fall. I wonder if that would be good. I will try to remember.

Yesterday I had guests stop by for breakfast so I made Classic Waffles. Easy peasy, delicious, and versatile. I had regular pure maple syrup (no more Mrs Butterworth like I apparently used to use four years ago when I first made these!) and then I still had some hickory syrup from the wine festival last year. Yay for breakfast!

Friday, March 09, 2012

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes

Today was my friend's birthday, and something she likes is alcohol. Especially beer. And Bailey's Irish Cream. Naturally, that means Irish Car Bomb. What is an Irish Car Bomb, some of you might ask? It's when you take a shot glass of Bailey's and Jameson (whiskey), drop it into a glass of Guinness, and drink the entire thing as fast as you can before the Bailey's curdles. I know. Awesome, right?

So this is a car bomb in cupcake form. This is shocking, but I was out of Jameson, so I didn't make the ganache filling. Instead, I just made the cupcakes. And they were delicious. You can taste the beer, but not in a bad way. It pairs so beautifully with chocolate. The Bailey's frosting is delicious too, but it is strong and boozey! I only put it on half the cupcakes so that non-drinkers would be able to enjoy the cupcakes as well. Out of the 24 cupcakes I took to work, I came home with one. I'm pretty sure that means it is a successful recipe. Definitely keeping this one, and maybe next time I'll try it with the whiskey!

cupcakes

Chocolate Whiskey and Beer Cupcakes
Smitten Kitchen

For the Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes
1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

Ganache Filling
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1-2 teaspoons Irish Whiskey (optional)

Baileys Frosting
3-4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 tablespoons Baileys (or milk, or heavy cream, or a combination thereof)
Special equipment: 1-inch round cookie cutter or an apple corer and a piping bag (though a plastic bag with the corner snipped off will also work)

1. Make the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

2. Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them 2/3 to 3/4 of the way. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, rotating them once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly, about 17 minutes. Cool cupcakes on a rack completely.

3. Make the filling: Chop the chocolate and transfer it to a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until simmering and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for one minute and then stir until smooth. (If this has not sufficiently melted the chocolate, you can return it to a double-boiler to gently melt what remains. 20 seconds in the microwave, watching carefully, will also work.) Add the butter and whiskey (if you’re using it) and stir until combined.

4. Fill the cupcakes: Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped (the fridge will speed this along but you must stir it every 10 minutes). Meanwhile, using your 1-inch round cookie cutter or an apple corer, cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes. You want to go most of the way down the cupcake but not cut through the bottom — aim for 2/3 of the way. A slim spoon or grapefruit knife will help you get the center out. Those are your “tasters”. Put the ganache into a piping bag with a wide tip and fill the holes in each cupcake to the top.

5. Make the frosting: Whip the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, for several minutes. You want to get it very light and fluffy. Slowly add the powdered sugar, a few tablespoons at a time.

6. When the frosting looks thick enough to spread, drizzle in the Baileys (or milk) and whip it until combined. If this has made the frosting too thin (it shouldn’t, but just in case) beat in another spoonful or two of powdered sugar.

7. Ice and decorate the cupcakes. [I used a star tip and made little "poofs" everywhere and sprinkled it with various colors of sanding sugar to keep it looking festive for New Years. I bet shaved dark and white chocolates would look gorgeous as well.]

Do ahead: You can bake the cupcakes a week or two in advance and store them, well wrapped, in the freezer. You can also fill them before you freeze them. They also keep filled — or filled and frosted — in the fridge for a day. (Longer, they will start to get stale.)

Yield: 20-24 cupcakes

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Some Make-Agains

Today I'm going to make something fun, but the past few nights have been super boring. Lots of Lucky Charms and frozen samosas (SAMosas, not MIMosas - unfortunately!). I did do a little bit of cooking though. I made some Rice & Bean Burritos, and I made the Single-Serve Coffee Cake. Oh my gosh, is that it? I could have sworn I made more than that. That's pathetic. I'm sorry.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Rochester NY

I have been in Rochester, NY since Friday night after work, hence the lack of posts. I was visiting friends. I'd been to Rochester (in upstate New York, between Syracuse and Buffalo) once about six years ago but didn't get a chance to really see much around the city. So my friends made sure to take me out!

Friday night we hit up Dogtown to eat the meal that Rochester is most famous for: the garbage plate.
garbage
I understand that a "garbage plate" or "junkyard plate" does not sound appetizing. And really, it doesn't look much better. But OH MY GOSH, it is delicious. It's basically a huge meal piled on top of itself on a plate.
plate
My friends ordered meals involving hamburgers or hot dogs, which is obviously the traditional version. I got one with veggie burgers and a veggie chili. And it was delicious! It was perfect after the four hour drive I'd just completed. Yum!

market
Saturday we went to the Public Market, Rochester's big farmer's market. I've been missing the farmer's market here in PA, so it was extra fun. I enjoyed seeing the differences between their market and mine, since it's obviously rooted in what's local or accessible. They're up closer to water so there was a lot of seafood available. Some of it was imported from Boston, but whatever. It was still neat. While we were there, we got some breakfast empanadas from Juan & Maria's Empanada Stop. So good!

Saturday night was the Big Fancy Dinner where we went out to Next Door Bar & Grill. Now, this is a fascinating fusion restaurant with lots of different combinations, but the extra exciting part is that it's owned by the people who own Wegmans, so there's collaboration between Wegmans and the restaurant. Wegmans, as you know, is my favorite grocery store. The restaurant was very pretty and very nice, and the food was outstanding. I had a great meal, and everyone else appeared to love their food as well. We started with sushi. There was a California roll, and...
bacon
...a salmon bacon roll. No, not salmon WITH bacon. Bacon MADE OF salmon. It wasn't the same, obviously, but it was deliciously smoky and made for an amazing sushi roll. For my main course I got halibut, which came with broccoli rabe, leek-morel puree, potato gnocchi, and a red wine reduction. Amazing! It was perfectly cooked and was one of the best preparations of fish I've had (and you KNOW how picky I am with fish).

Dessert was also fun. Jeremy & Lindsay both got creme brulee. The other Jeremy got sorbet, which was very good except he kept connecting the flavors with various breakfast cereals or snacks (like Trix or Fruit Roll-ups)! We had also had a few drinks at that point so really the sorbet just became a little bit hilarious on top of being tasty.
sorbet
I ordered a pineapple-almond cake topped with chocolate-chipotle sauce and coconut ice cream. AMAZING. I was a little bit disappointed that the chipotle wasn't noticeable, but it was still amazingly good. All in all, an excellent meal.
chipotle

And then I came home this morning, so thus concludes my super-quick food tour of Rochester. I'll be going back later on this summer so I'll make another post at that point. In fact, there will be a LOT of traveling and eating over the next few months, so be prepared!