Friday, December 30, 2011

Asheville






Last January my friend and I drove to Asheville, North Carolina. The cold, mountain air was crisp but refreshing in every way possible. Being surrounded by rolling hills was comforting, it made me feel like we were tucked away. The thing I remember most about our mini-vacation there was the abundant amount of fresh, organic food. All of the produce the restaurants use is local, which is so rare in America, a country that seems to favor over-processed foods from factories.

As you know by now, I'm a huge foodie. Being able to walk into a restaurant, any restaurant, and know that the food I'm eating is fresh and pesticide-free makes my experience so much better. Not only does their food taste ten times better than most other mid-sized city's food, but it is better for you.

My friend and I are going back this January, and I am beyond excited. If we could make it a yearly tradition to go here every year, my life would be complete.

(They also have tons of hidden cafes, specialty chocolate shops, and boutique clothing stores. Needless to say, Asheville is my dream town).

gli spaghetti con i pomodori e parmesano








Pasta is always good to make when you don't know what to make for dinner. It's fast, simple, and you can easily throw together ingredients you already have to make it delicious. Tonight I was in the tomato mood, so I created a dish with a name that boasts about my Italian speaking skills. "Gli spaghetti con i pomodori e parmesano" sounds complicated but it's really easy. It's almost like regular spaghetti, but a little fancier. And yes, Bella the dog will show up if you add as much parmesan as I did.

Ingredients:

-Spaghetti noodles
-A large can of diced tomatoes
-Pesto
-Parmesan cheese
-One long baguette
-A clove of garlic
-Butter
-One to two cups of baby tomatoes
-Olive oil
-Sugar


Steps:

-In a large pot, boil three to four cups of water and add the noodles.
-While the noodles are cooking, pour the can of diced tomatoes in another pot and simmer with two tablespoons of pesto and about half a cup of parmesan cheese.
-Slice each baby tomato in half (use as many as you want- I used about a cup).
-Line up the halved baby tomatoes on a baking sheet.
-Drizzle about two tablespoons of olive oil over the tomatoes, making sure to spread it evenly.
-Sprinkle about two teaspoons of sugar over the tomatoes. This helps them caramelize and get that pretty golden brown color.
-Roast them in the oven at 320 degrees for around 20 minutes, or until they start to look light brown and wrinkly.
-While everything is cooking, cut up some bread.
-Dice the garlic clove and spread evenly over each piece of bread with butter.
-Sprinkle parmesan on each piece of bread and put in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the parmesan starts to brown.
-Once everything is cooked, put noodles onto plates, scoop sauce on it, top it with some parmesan cheese and baby tomatoes.

Buon appetito!

a long shirt



red pants


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

leavenworth

Last weekend we made a two hour trip east to Leavenworth. It's a little German town full of quaint cafes, vintage shops, and cozy bars. We spent most of our time walking around, enjoying the scenery and the sun (although it was freezing). It feels great to be back in Washington state. Being away from home always makes me appreciate it much more.

sweet & salty brownies

The first thing I ever baked were sweet & salty brownies. The recipe is from a bakery called "Baked," famous from Opera's favorite things episode. It's a little complicated and very tedious, I'm amazed I was able to do it. But since I had no cooking experience prior to making these, that means anyone can make them. If you love dark chocolate, gooey brownies, and salt (an unexpected but amazing ingredient in this dessert) then you'll love these.


Ingredients:

For the caramel filling


1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon Fleur de Sel
1/4 cup sour cream

For the brownies

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder
11 ounces quality dark chocolate (60 to 72%), coarsely chopped
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

For the caramel filling


1. Combine the sugar and corn syrup with 1/4 cup of water in a medium saucepan, stirring carefully so as not to splash the sides of the pan. Cook over high heat until an instant-read thermometer reads 350F or until the mixture is dark amber in color, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat, and slowly add the cream, and then the Fleur de Sel. Whisk in the sour cream and set aside to cool.

For the brownie

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Butter the sides and bottom of a glass or light colored metal 9 x 13 inch pan. Line the bottom with a sheet of 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 the bowl of the double boiler set over a pan of simmering water, and stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and combined. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water of the double boiler, and add both sugars. Whisk until completely combined and remove the bowl from the pan. The mixture should be at room temperature at this point.
5. Add three eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Add the remaining two eggs and whisk until just combined. Add the vanilla and stir until combined. Do not over-beat the batter at this stage, or your brownies will be cakey.
6. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate. Using a spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until there is a just a trace amount of the flour mixture visible.
7. To assemble the brownie, pour half of the brownie mixture into the pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Drizzle about 3/4 cup of the caramel sauce over the brownie layer in a zigzag pattern, taking care to make sure the caramel does not come in contact with the edges of the pan or it will burn. Use your offset spatula to spread the caramel evenly across 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, and check to make sure the brownies are completely done by sticking a toothpick into the center of the pan. The brownies are done when the toothpick comes out with a few moist crumbs.
9. Remove the brownies from the oven and sprinkle with an extra 1 1/2 teaspoons Fleur de Sel and 1 teaspoon coarse sugar.
10. Cool the brownies completely before cutting and serving.

Note:
These should keep for 5-7 days if you wrap them in plastic or put them in the fridge.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

a French dish




A few months ago I was looking for something French to cook. I knew I wanted to make something with St. Andre cheese - it's one of my favorite cheeses since it's buttery and easy to use. So I googled it and came across a great recipe for herbed stuffed chicken papillotes with St. Andre cheese. Although I'm a vegetarian now, before I stopped eating meat I loved chicken anything. But after eating this, it was pretty difficult to find another chicken dish that lived up to its standards. The andre cheese melted perfectly.

While I originally planned to make a side dish with the leftover andre, I realized I didn't have enough. So I cooked up some white jasmine rice with the herbs I had, roasted some tomatoes, and stuffed them. Voila. Along with the mozzarella garlic bread (not French, but goes well with the chicken), and the eclairs, I created a pretty easy and delicious dinner. Pair it with some French white wine and before you know it you're in a hotel balcony looking at the Eiffel Tower. Hey, a girl can dream.

Recipe for the herbed stuffed chicken papillotes with St. Andre:


(Note: because the cheese melts easy, make sure to have it in the fridge for a good hour beforehand)


Ingredients:

(serves four)
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
(7-8 oz. each)
- 1 tsp. poultry seasoning
- 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 4 cups cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 6 oz. Saint André cheese,
rind removed, quartered and well-chilled
- 4 tsp. olive oil
- 4 tsp. lemon juice
- 4 sheets parchment paper, 15" long

Steps:


- Preheat oven to 400°F.
In a small bowl, combine poultry seasoning, garlic powder, salt and pepper.
- Cut a pocket in each chicken breast. With chicken breast skin-side down, insert a sharp knife into the thinner end, following through to the thicker end to create a lengthwise pocket. Be careful not to puncture sides of chicken breast.
- Insert one slice of St André cheese into each pocket.
Rub each chicken breast with 1/2 tsp. of spice mixture.
Fold each parchment sheet in half, and cut a large heart shape using folded edge as the center.
- Unfold each paper heart and place 1 cup of mushrooms on one half, near the fold. Place chicken skin-side up with the opening to the pocket folded under to create a seal. Sprinkle chicken breast with 1 tsp. each olive oil and lemon juice. Continue with remaining chicken and mushrooms.
- Fold over other half of heart to enclose the chicken and mushrooms. Starting at the top of each heart, make small overlapping folds to seal the edges together. At the bottom of the heart, twist the last folds a couple of times and tuck under to make a tight seal.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes. Transfer packets to dinner plates and let sit for 5 minutes. Carefully cut an "X" in the top of each parchment package to allow steam to escape. Serve on plates or in bowls.

For the stuffed tomatoes:

Ingredients:


- Four large tomatoes
- A bag of white rice
- Lemon juice
- A teaspoon of thyme
- Salt & pepper
- Sugar (for caramelizing the tomatoes)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Cremini mushrooms

Steps:


-Preheat oven to 300 degrees
-Put three cups of white rice in a rice cooker (or pan) and cook with water, a tablespoon of lemon juice, a teaspoon of thyme, the mushrooms, and as much salt and pepper as you prefer. Cook until soft.
-Cut the tops off of the tomatoes, but set them to the side so you can put them on top of the rice when they are stuffed. Scoop out the contents of the tomatoes with a large spoon, being careful not to puncture the tomato.
-When the tomatoes are empty, place them on a baking pan and drizzle about two tablespoons of olive oil on them. Sprinkle some sugar on them (not too much).
-Roast for about twenty minutes or until they start to brown.
-Stuff with rice, and put the tops of the tomatoes back on.

For the eclairs:

Ingredients:

-1/2 cup butter
-1 cup water
-1 cup all-purpose flour
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-4 eggs
-1 (5 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
-2 1/2 cups cold milk
-1 cup heavy cream
-1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-2 (1 ounce) squares semisweet chocolate
-2 tablespoons butter
-1 cup confectioners' sugar
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-3 tablespoons hot water

Steps:


-Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C). Grease a cookie sheet.

-In a medium saucepan, combine 1/2 cup butter and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, stirring until butter melts completely. Reduce heat to low, and add flour and salt. Stir vigorously until mixture leaves the sides of the pan and begins to form a stiff ball. Remove from heat. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well to incorporate completely after each addition. With a spoon or a pastry bag fitted with a No. 10, or larger, tip, spoon or pipe dough onto cookie sheet in 1 1/2 x 4 inch strips.

-Bake 15 minutes in the preheated oven, then reduce heat to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) and bake 20 minutes more, until hollow sounding when lightly tapped on the bottom. Cool completely on a wire rack.

-For the filling, combine pudding mix and milk in medium bowl according to package directions. In a separate bowl, beat the cream with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Beat in 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Fold whipped cream into pudding. Cut tops off of cooled pastry shells with a sharp knife. Fill shells with pudding mixture and replace tops.

-For the icing, melt the chocolate and 2 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Stir in 1 cup confectioners' sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Stir in hot water, one tablespoon at a time, until icing is smooth and has reached desired consistency. Remove from heat, cool slightly, and drizzle over filled eclairs. Refrigerate until serving.