Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Zucchini Ricotta Puffs

So, in case you hadn't heard, this girl got to go to the White House. I know, I'm so baller. Don't be jealous. I know I made some awesome sangria, but I had also mentioned that I had made an appetizer. Well don't fret...I'm going to tell you...that this is that appetizer. I know CELEBRATE Y'ALL!

Just kidding. To be honest, we had a dinner reservation for 8:45 that night, and I knew that all of us would get hungryyy. So I wanted everyone to leave with bellies [slightly] full. And how would I do that? Well, thanks for asking. I would do that by creating a puffed goodness!

Truth be told, I was originally looking for pastry dough. Yes, I know. I can create my own pastry dough. Don't judge. I didn't want to. I wanted something I could roll out. And sadly, when I went to Whole Foods, there was no refrigerated pastry dough. Well screw you too Whole Foods.

But, I was and am resourceful. I looked at the variety of refrigerated dough and contemplated......

And then I thought yes, why yes, of COURSE crescent rolls would work.

Flaky and delish, crescent rolls could be a quick fill in for pastry dough.

And then we were on.

Or so I thought.

So the day before I had bought this beautiful heavy cream from a local place. Being new to creating cheese I thought well of COURSE heavy cream can be made by itself to make ricotta. Let me let you in on a little secret. It don't. It don't at all. In fact, don't use heavy cream and think THIS WILL BE GREAT RICOTTA! Because it won't. Stick to my other recipe for ricotta. Use whole milk.

So on a second batch of ricotta, and crescent rolls, this was still a successful recipe. I hope that you enjoy!

Stone Fruit and Raspberry Sangria

So. A very exciting thing happened this weekend. I got to go to....THE WEST WING! Like real life, lookin in at the Oval Offices, sneakin outside the Situation Room. It was my real life SQUEEEEE. I'm a total political nerd.

So of course, what did I want to do? Make an appetizer and a sangria. Because I mean, why the hell not? My friends Melissa and Anne Marie were coming over to meet up with Brett and me to head on over to the White House. And I had previously come upon a recipe for a stone fruit sangria from Bon Appetit. I decided that given the bountiful amounts of stone fruits, it looked like a good idea.

I made some adjustments - if you so care to do so, look at their recipe and mine - but it was a total hit. And I promise, when I was in the White House, I was neither drunk nor disruptive. USA ALL THE WAY!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Tajine Spiced Braised Lamb

Is there anything better than braised meats? No. The answer is NO. Okay maybe there are SOME better things, but really, fall off the bone succulent meat is a delicious treat. One of my favorite meats to braise and cook sloooowly are lamb shanks. There really is no quick way to cook them either. But the low and slow method really brings out the flavor. 

Lamb has a wonderful almost earthy flavor. The shanks can be cooked in anything. Really braised meats can be braised in anything. But this recipe pairs tajine spices, red wine, garlic, thyme, and tomato. Cooked over the course of 8-10 hours, it's a perfect meal to make when you're off at work. Or they can be made in the morning for a weekend late night meal. 

AND as it is sweltering hot outside, this recipe requires very little over the stove cooking. So there's that. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Garlic Basil Soft Shell Crabs

Every year growing up, my mom would make me my favorite meal for my birthday. And since I was about 15, that was always soft shell crab. There's something very carnal about consuming an entire thing.... And it's a lot easier than taking apart crabs, which is something I also enjoy doing. 

So when a friend asked me to prepare soft shell crabs for a dinner party, I relished the opportunity. Soft shell crabs are easy to prepare, and extremely quick to execute. These just have a simple preparation.  Dredged in whole wheat flour with some extra spices thrown in, cooked in my garlic basil compound butter, and finished with a lemon based butter sauce with capers, the flavors work really well. Hope you get a chance to make these! They will impress anyone. 

(these pictures were for 14 crabs, but the recipe is for 4)

Marinated Eggplant and Cucumber Salad

I love eggplant. It's such a great vegetable. It's like a little sponge. You can roast it, grill it, saute it. Wonderful vegetable. And plentiful at this time of year.

I was contemplating a good side dish to bring to a BBQ that could sit out for a while and could be made ahead. This clearly leaves a lot of options on the table. But, as I said, I love eggplant. So I wanted to make a new dish that had eggplant as the main ingredient.

So, as I always do, it was off to search the interwebz for inspiration. That is when I came across Smitten Kitchen's marinated eggplant with capers and mint. I'm sure you're thinking well that sounds like a weird combo. But I was intrigued.

I wanted to throw my own touches in. For one, I've been loving the combo of cilantro and mint. And Cucumbers add crunch and texture and always seems to add a bit of coolness. And it worked out really well. It's a great side dish that held up well for several hours. A great cookout dish!

Garlic Basil Compound Butter

Compound butter is one of those things that always confounded me. I thought that it would require, I don't know, churning butter. While I'm all about making my own things, churning butter isn't one I quite have room for in my tiny kitchen. But, turns out, compound butter simply means let butter come to a room temp and mix things in it. Then put it back in the fridge, let it all meld together, and boom. Compound butter.

So I decided to make my own compound butter to go with a soft shell crab dish. I paired garlic with basil and decided that it would be a perfect complement to the dish. But you could use this with anything. It would be good with fish, chicken, or even just as a spread on bread. You can change what you make with the butter.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Peaches and Tomato Summer Salad

I have a very big chef-crush on Johnny Monis. His style of cooking is one I'd love to emulate. Fresh, unique, and ingenious, I have enjoyed both Komi and Little Serow immensely. I also think it's a real damn shame that he hasn't been given a James Beard award, because he deserves it.

But enough about that. About what I was getting to, the food. A while ago, a good friend of ours gave Brett two recipes printed out from the Wall Street Journal that were Johnny Monis's recipes. One of those was a Tomato and Peaches Salad with Corn and Feta. It looked easy and beautiful. So when our friend, same friend, decided to throw a BBQ, he asked if I could make this as a side dish and I happily obliged.

This recipe is simple in nature. And can probably only be best made around this time of year. This is peak peaches and tomato time, and the fruits are ripe and juicy. I picked up a whole slew of them at Whole Foods and they looked gorgeous. I did want to pick them up at a farmer's market, but most of the markets (or the best ones) are open on Saturday and Sunday, leaving me not enough time especially if the peaches needed to soften.

I did change only one thing from the original recipe. I used panko for toasting and it worked out well.

But back to the food again, this is an easy recipe that uses the best and fresh ingredients. If you're looking for a good summer side salad and one that is easy to whip together and will impress guests? This is your salad.

Thanks to Johnny Monis and the WSJ for sharing the recipe! I double the recipe, but I am posting the recipe which will serve about four people.

Recipe adopted from the Wall Street Journal Tomato and Peaches Salad with Corn and Feta


I've always been enamored with the idea of making my own cheese. But I always viewed it as an impossible task; I thought it was like baking in that it required precision and skill. Turns out, not so much. It was much simpler than I thought, and absolutely worth the effort.

Creamier and less chalky than store bought ricotta, I would have eaten the whole pile of it, if I could. I mean physically I could. But I'd be pretty grossed out by it.  Grossed out by myself. So instead, I shared it with friends! We went to a BBQ and I used this as an appetizer paired with prosciutto, basil, honey and rye bread squares. But you can pair this with whatever you would like, whether it's fresh grilled vegetables, fresh tomatoes, or use in lasagna.

I encourage anyone who sees this, thinks "I can't make cheese" to think again.  While this isn't the "traditional" ricotta (traditional is made from the whey from making other cheeses), and could really be considered a "farmer's cheese," it is delicious.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Poached Arctic Char and Spicy Tahini Cucumber Avocado Salad

Poaching. What a beautiful method for cooking fish. I've only recently really started playing with poaching salmon and the like, but I have to say it may be my favorite method of cooking fish. No threat of dry fish, obscenely easy to clean up, and almost fool-proof, it's really an underused method in my house. No more!

So with poaching on the mind, I headed to the grocery store intent on salmon. However, when I arrived I discovered I either had the choice of farmed salmon (ick, no thanks) or paying $25/lb for wild caught salmon. Cringing at the thought of paying that much for salmon, I scoped out other options. Then I saw the arctic char. Now, I've never, ever made arctic char. But the fillet looked similar to salmon. And it was $10 cheaper per pound than the wild salmon. So, I decided to gamble on the arctic char. And I'm glad that I did. A bit "fishier" than salmon, it's like a mix between trout and salmon. And it poached beautifully.

In addition to my desire for fish, I really wanted an avocado salad. So I figured pairing creamy avocado with crunchy cucumbers and topping it all off with a spicy tahini based dressing would do the trick. And do indeed. The salad kept well for days (good for leftovers) and was filling while making me think "I done picked some healthy recipe."

If you have leftovers (and who doesn't love leftovers), I'd say that having the char cold, rather than reheating, it an excellent options. Cold poached char is delicious.

I just wanted to share this picture of the wine I used. Because I thought it was hilarious.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lentils and Beef Stuffed Peppers

So occasionally, Brett does the shopping. He'll ask me for basic parameters, and I'll send him off with orders on what to get. This time, he asked what he should get for vegetables. I told him, well, whatever looks good.  Apparently....bell peppers looked good.

Unpacking the groceries I found myself starting at a good six bell peppers. And I had kinda made a bunch of recipes for side dishes last week with bell peppers. So, how to incorporate a big ol bunch of bell peppers into a main dish? Ding ding, if you thought stuffed bell peppers, you're right.

Historically, stuffed bell peppers includes rice and meats and other vegetables. But I wasn't feeling rice.  Instead, I decided to use the rest of my green french lentils. And it worked out very well. Lighter and less "ugh I'm so freakin stuffed" feeling, the lentils stuffed peppers worked out amazingly.Took about an hour and fifteen minutes and it worked out amazingly. So enjoy the filling (but not MY STOMACH EXPLODES) peppers and this can be altered to whatever you would like to put in.

Also, I know a lot of recipes for stuffed peppers recommend either boiling or prebaking the peppers. In my opinion, this extra step is completely inappropriate. If you are baking the filling and peppers for 40+ minutes, it will already get completely soft.

So back to the conclusion (and recipe) this is delicious!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Roast Chickens with Pistachio Salsa, Peppers, and Corn

We have a summer calendar dominated by weddings. So this means going on various forms of travel across the country. Lots of travel means lots of time to distract myself with books and pretty magazines. And I'm okay with that. Really I feel like I haven't had that much time to just read for fun anyway, so this break gives me an excuse to do so.

Our latest wedding was in New York City. I have a lot of friends and family who live there, so I never mind the trip. From DC it takes about 4 hours by bus, so the rides away meant plenty of time for doing some reading. I have previously extolled the virtues of Bon Appétit's Kindle app, but I never seem to have time to read it. So it was nice to be able to catch up on about 3 months worth of issues. In one of the issues, I came across an herbed chicken recipe that sounded like it could be make a good dinner. Plus, the pictures were gorgeous. And pretty pictures makes EVERYTHING look better! I tried to make mine look as good, but yeah, I guess I have to admit I'm not quite BA level photography hah.

Paired with quick sweet sautéed peppers, fresh crunch corn and a pistachio salsa, it sounded like an interesting combination. Additionally, I still seek to master the art of roasting a chicken. I've done pretty good attempts before, but the crispy skin part eluded me. I have to say, following this recipe (although forgot the whole garlic part for the marinade, but meh it's all good) produced crispy skin and extremely tender and juicy chicken. I will absolutely replicate the chicken again. When I had removed the chicken the chicken from the oven, I tore off a piece of the skin, ran into the other room and excitedly gave it to Brett. I had done it! Look! Crispy! I don't know if he was really as excited about it as I was, but remarked that it was good and turned his attention back to his iPad. Maybe I should just give it next time to little buddy, I know he would have licked his chomps and begged for more.

I will note that while I LOVED the chicken and the peppers, I wasn't a huge huge fan of the pistachio salsa. But I'm not a huge nuts fan in the first place. I know, I know, that's sacrilege. But it's just me. HOWEVER, I'll also note that Brett did really like the salsa. And he loves him some pistachios. I think omitting the salsa wouldn't have really detracted all that much either. Although it sure is pretty. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the recipe and thanks to BA for the recipe!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Zucchini Fritters

It's summer squash time!  A few days ago, one of my lovely coworkers gifted me with two huge zucchinis.  I had been telling him that if he ever had any extra vegetables that he and his wife couldn't cook, I could happily take them off of his hands.  And then I got zucchinis!! Win! Now, I've cooked with zucchini before, but never ones this large.  So I decided it may be a good idea to turn them into fritters.

Fritters are a simple concept.  Vegetables chopped or grated finely, combined with egg, panko and spices and made into pancakes.  Pan fried in good oil, they're relatively healthy.

So after doing some research, I decided to try my hand at zucchini fritters.  Now zucchinis are a funny vegetable.  They are pretty easy to cook with, but they are full of water.

In order to make them into fritters, you really need to let the vegetable drain after being grated, or just attempt to squeeze the water out of them.  This is essentially what I did.  Push on the grated bits long enough to squeeze out the excess water.  If you don't, you risk the chance that they'll be too soggy to really crisp up.  I mean, it's not the end of the world, but it's worth having them be crispy...crispy is, after all, delicious.  It's really the only labor intensive part of the fritter process.

Also, when I was first looking up recipes, I couldn't figure out for the life of me if you needed to grate the whole zucchini skin and all.  Well, even though I didn't get an answer online, I decided to grate the entire thing.  Except for the ends, of course.  I'd recommend doing that as well.

The result of my fritters experiment was A+.  Brett loved them and told me so about ten times during the course of the meal.  I think that this would also be an excellent way to get vegetable haters to eat veggies.  Kids, or kid-like adults alike, will eat these up.  I also had them for leftovers the next day and they stayed pretty darn good.

I paired mine with some simple pan grilled chicken, fresh avocado and lime wedges.  Made for a healthy and easy meal.  The chicken was just coated in chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, and a bit of cayenne pepper.  Nothin too fance.