Friday, September 30, 2011

Pain de Provence

On my sourdough starter's fifth birthday (I should really give it a name if I'm going to be talking about it this much, shouldn't I? Any suggestions?), I finally used it to bake bread.

Here's how it looked when I uncovered it to get started:

Day 5

As you can see, there was a lot less Hooch on top, which I was happy to see. I felt like I was doing something wrong with it producing so much. The consistency was still that of very thick pancake batter, but that's pretty much what we're going for.

I chose not to do a plain, basic sourdough just because I wanted something a little more exciting. The recipe I used was from my collection from school, so the ingredient amounts are in weight (sorry about that). I really love the addition of herbs to bread doughs though; it makes them so yummy and savory.

After I removed the amount of starter I needed, I replaced it with double the amount of flour and warm water (so if you remove a cup of starter, add back a cup each of water and flour), stirring to incorporate. I then wrapped it loosely in plastic and put it in the fridge for long-term storage.

Thanks to the bread hook for my mixer, kneading the dough was a breeze. I know all bread recipes tell you how long you should knead bread, and that's definitely a good guideline, but what you really want to do is check for a window.

Wait, what the wha?

Ok, if you're not into bread baking just skip down and look at all the pretty pictures of the dough rising because this will sound a little crazy and strange. Pulling a window is a way to test if your dough is done kneading and ready to start rising. With slightly greased fingers, pull off a little section of your dough. Avoid the dough hook or you'll lose those fingers. Kidding; turn the machine off. Hold that little piece of dough up to the light (perhaps a...window? What, too far?) and stretch it gently. If it pulls right apart, it's not ready yet. Keep kneading. But, if you can stretch it GENTLY so that it becomes very thin (thin enough that you can see light through about an inch of it) BEFORE it tears, the gluten has developed fully and you're ready to let the dough rise.

*Crickets, crickets*

Look! Dough!

In a nicely oiled bowl. Another tip: if you're covering your dough with plastic wrap (which I recommend rather than a dishtowel), spray the underside of the plastic with non-stick spray so your dough won't stick to it.

And 45 minutes later, BOOM

It's rising. Time to beat it up a little. Show it who's boss. But first, do yourself a favor and oil your hand. I didn't. I regretted it.

Another 45 minutes and wah la!

Now, turn this dough out onto a floured board. This dough is a little sticky. Don't be shy with the flour.

Cut it in half. Yes, cut it! Don't pull it. You'll tear all those gluten strands apart. Use a scale if you want to be fancy. And even. And precise. Or just wing it. Totally cool too.

Shape each into a puffy ball. I just love the way yeasted dough feels in your hands. So puffy! Let these proof for another 10 minutes.

You don't need a fancy french silpat. You can totes use parchment paper. Or just lots of Pam.

Now, silly me. I decided these were going to expand so much in the oven, that I decided they couldn't share a sheet pan. So I transferred one to another sheet pan. Then, and here's the fatal flaw, I didn't let it rise again. I just slashed it a few times and sprayed it with water, and popped it in the oven.

You see the problem was that as I moved the dough, I deflated it (just like when you punch it down as it's rising). I should have let it rise again before I baked it, but I didn't. So I got one lovely round loaf. And one sort of sad, flat one.


Be sure to let your bread cool completely before you cut into it or put it away to store it. The best way to store bread is in paper, not plastic. Don't wrap it in plastic wrap (ever, really), especially if it's still warm. Wrap it in some parchment or put it in a paper grocery bag. Bread also freezes really well, in which case you can put it in a plastic bag, but make sure it's 100% cool first!

So we've made it this far and I haven't even told you how it tasted. Was all this effort even worth it? I say yes, for the smell alone that wafted into the kitchen for the 20 minutes the dough was in the oven. But also for the taste and texture, which was so fresh, and so herbacious and delicious. I'm a little disappointed to admit that I didn't really get that sour tang I was expecting from the sourdough starter. I'm thinking that may be because it was still so "young," and the more it ages, the better the flavor it imparts will be.

Good thing it's taken up residence in the back of my fridge. Any takers for a "starter sitter" if I go away on vacation in the near future?

*crickets, crickets* 

Pain de Provence
Yield: 2 loaves

300 g warm water, 105-115 degrees F
3.5 g active dry yeast or 10 g fresh compressed yeast
pinch granulated sugar
500 g bread flour
200 g sourdough starter
7-10 g salt
3 g herbes de Provence
150 g oil-cured olives, whole; green or black, pitted

1. Dissolve yeast in warm water with sugar. Once it bubbles, add flour, starter, and herbs.
2. In an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, knead dough on speed one or two for 5-7 minutes, or until the dough is close to finished kneading.
3. Add salt and continue to knead until the gluten is fully developed, another 3 minutes, or until you can pull a window. Fold olives in by hand.
4. Place dough in a well-oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Place in a warm spot (75-80 degrees F) and proof 45 minutes.
5. Punch down the dough, folding it over in the bowl to redistribute the yeast. Cover again and proof another 45 minutes.
6. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Turn the dough onto a well-floured bowl. Cut in half. Form each piece of dough into a ball and bench rest for 5-10 minutes.
7. Shape into final loaf shape, boules or batards. Place on a sheet pan. Proof 10-15 minutes.
8. Slash the top of the dough with a sharp paring knife. Hide any exposed olives by pinching the dough over them. Spray with water.
9. Bake the loaves for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to 475 degrees F. Bake another 20-25 minutes or until golden brown, and until loaves reach an internal temperature of 210 degrees F.
10. Cool completely on a wire rack. Store at room temperature in paper.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sourdough Starter, Part II

Yup, we're back talking about yeast again. Are you ready? It's going to be a good time.

I began my own sourdough starter after Dan made a request for fresh bread. I flipped through some of my recipes from school, but so many of the ones I wanted to make needed a starter. At school, we simply went down the hall to the Bread kitchen and pilfered some of theirs. Clearly without this convenience I just couldn't proceed. Until Dan of course suggested I just make my own. Always thinking, that one.

So I did a little research and that's what I did!

I chose to use some active dry yeast to get things started. It's important to use a container that is big enough so your starter doesn't overflow, and also to use something either glass or ceramic (no plastic or metal). I used a casserole dish, probably 4-5 quarts in volume. I mixed all the ingredients together, getting something similar to bubbly pancake batter, covered it with a dishtowel and left it to rest out of the way on top of the fridge. And that was it. Simple enough.

 Day 1, Just Mixed

About 24 hours later, I took down the dish for a peek. Something was definitely happening. It smelled strongly of alcohol, very similar to beer. There was a lot of liquid floating on top. This alcoholic by-product is called Hooch and is totally normal. You have two choices: you can either stir it back into your starter, or pour it out. I gave mine a stir and saw that the whole mixture was very wet, so I poured some of the hooch down into the sink. And back onto the fridge it went, still covered with a dishtowel.

 Day 2

The next day, Day 3, the starter looked basically the same. More Hooch had accumulated, so again, I poured it away. This time though, I replaced the lost amount with additional flour and warm water, a cup of each. Again, I gave everything a stir and put it back in its resting place.

 Day 3

On day four, I forgot to take a picture. But it looked basically the same as day three. The process was essentially the same as well. Poured off the hooch, replaced it with flour and warm water. This was the day that Dan chimed in about the smell.

"It smells like warm beer."
Does that smell different than cold beer?
"It's like day old beer. Like 'wounded soldier.' You can quote me on that."

A "wounded soldier," for all of you who don't live in a frat house, is a half-empty beer left over from the night before that's been sitting out on the coffee table/kitchen counter/front porch and is thus, room temperature and completely flat.

On Day 5, I made bread. Don't worry, that post will be coming soon!

Sourdough Starter


2 cups AP flour
2 tsp granulated sugar
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
2 cups warm water (105-115 degrees F)

1. Choose a container that is made of either glass or ceramic. Be sure it is thoroughly clean and that it can hold at least 2 quarts.
2. Mix together the flour, sugar, and yeast. Stir in the warm water, forming a thin paste. No need to get all the lumps out. Cover with a dishcloth and place in a draft-free area that stays around 70-80 degrees F.
3. For the next four or five days, stir your starter once a day. It will start to look bubbly, which means the yeast is feeding and giving off carbon dioxide (good!). Once this happens, you can start feeding your starter.
4. Pour off any excess liquid or Hooch (or stir it back into the starter if your starter is a little dry).
5. If you choose to continue to store your starter at room temperature, it must be fed daily. Remove one cup of starter and replace it with one cup of warm water and one cup of flour. Keep covered with a dishtowel.
6. If you choose to transfer your starter to the fridge after the initial 4-5 day period, if must be fed twice a month. When you are ready to use a refrigerated starter, first let it sit at room temperature over night. Feed it with 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of warm water and again, let it sit at room temperature for at least 8 hours or overnight. Then, it is ready to use!

Recipe Source:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Potato, Cheddar & Bacon Pizza

Fall is my favorite season. Cozy sweaters, leather boots, crisp cool weather, changing leaves, and Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday of the year.

Oh, and football.

I'm completely apathetic about football, college or NFL. My not. He's a die hard University of Virginia fan (where we both went to school) and every Saturday I relinquish control of the remote so he can watch us lose play. The one thing that does interest me about football is the food. Chili, chips and dip, fried chicken, nachos, alcohol- all good things. And this pizza.

This pizza would convince me to sit down and peruse Pinterest watch a game. It tastes just like the best potato skin you've ever had, except better. Because all that flavor is sitting on top of a thin and crispy pizza crust

Potato, Cheddar & Bacon Pizza
Yield: 4 servings

1/2 recipe Homemade Pizza Crust
3 medium red potatoes, skin on
7 slices bacon
1 1/2-2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
1 Tbsp fresh chives, minced
Ranch dressing or sour cream (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Coat the bottom of a sheet pan with cooking spray.
2. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pizza dough to approximately the same size as your sheet pan. Fold the dough in half and transfer to the greased cookie sheet. Unfold and stretch as necessary so it nearly reaches the edge. Brush the outer edges with olive oil and set aside.
3. Slice the potatoes thinly, about 1/4''. Drop them into a medium pot filled with water and salted. Bring the potatoes to a boil and cook 2-3 minutes, or until tender. Drain into a colander and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
4. Place a large saute pan over medium to med-low heat. Add bacon to warm pan and cook, turning occasionally, until almost to your desired doneness (it will cook more in the oven). Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Coarsely chop or crumble and set aside.
5. Assembly: Lay the potato slices onto the pizza dough, overlapping them slightly. Fill the entire dough, leaving a small outer crust exposed (or cover it entirely, your choice). Cover potatoes with shredded cheese. Last, sprinkle bacon over top.
6. Bake pizza in preheated oven for 12-15 minutes, until the outer edge of the crust is light brown. Allow to cool for 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and garnish with fresh chives. Cut into desired slices. Serve with optional dipping condiments.

Recipe Notes:
  • Other toppings to consider: caramelized onions, jalepenos, broccoli florets

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Whopper Cookies

Question: When was the last time you had a whopper? Maybe you can't remember because it's been so long. Maybe you've never had one (in which case, who are you?).

Unlike a Whatchamacallit, which is so obscure that you probably think I've made it up, Whoppers are just obscure enough that you're probably familiar with them, maybe you'll try a few of your friends', but they're never your first choice in the candy aisle- Hello Snickers OR peanut m&ms and sour patch kids omgperfectmoviecombo.

 Told you I wasn't making it up. Source

If, in fact, you've never heard of or had a Whatchamacallit, pleeaasse rectify that situation immediately. Go to the nearest gas station or 7-Eleven. Do not stop to pump gas. Do not stop and get a slurpee. Go directly to the cashier. Look down and get two Whatchamacallit bars. Yes, two. Because one just won't be enough. Also, pick up some Whoppers because today, we're putting them in cookies.

Keep chopping. These are still too big.

The other secret ingredient that you've maybe never had or never used is malted milk powder. It's in the baking aisle. I have no idea what you use it for except milkshakes. And now, cookies.

This recipe has been hanging out in my word files for a while, and stupidly, I didn't record the source where I found it. So, to whoever you are that created this recipe, I don't know you, but I want to french kiss you. It's awesome.

Now, there are two very important steps you must follow when baking this recipe. First, when you open the malted milk powder, smell it. It smells DELICIOUS. Second, do yourself a favor and taste this batter. Then do yourself another favor and PUT THE BEATER DOWN and walk away. Also, try not to eat all the whoppers before they make it into the cookies. It's totally worth it, I'm telling you.

Whopper Cookies
Yield: 18 large cookies

1¾ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup malted milk powder
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup whole milk

2 cups (6 ounces) chocolate-covered malted milk balls (Whoppers), coarsely chopped

1 cup chocolate chips (or 6 ounces chopped chocolate)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line three baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, malted milk powder, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt; set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until very smooth and light in color. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition. If the batter looks grainy or separated after the first egg, scrape down the sides of the bowl and continue to beat on medium speed until the batter looks smooth and cohesive again before adding the second egg. Beat in the vanilla.
4. Turn off the mixer and add half the dry ingredients. Mix on low until mostly incorporated. Add the milk. With the mixer off again, add the remaining dry ingredients. Mix on low just until everything is incorporated. By hand, with a rubber spatula, fold in the malted milk balls and chocolate chips.
4. Drop about 2 heaping tablespoonfuls worth of dough onto the sheets, leaving about 2 inches of space between each. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until puffed and set but still slightly soft to the touch. Let the cookies rest for 2 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack to cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Recipe Notes
  • This batter is a bit loosey goosey, not the kind you'll be able to roll into a ball, so if you have a cookie scoop, now's the time to use it. 
  • I baked mine for 12 minutes which resulted in very soft cookies (almost falling apart). If you want a crisper cookie, bake for an additional 2-3 minutes.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Sourdough Starter, an Introduction

One of my chef-instructors told us the story of a famous restaurant that had been around for decades, and was in need of some renovations. During construction, in order to preserve their unique sourdough starter that had been around for as long as the restaurant had, the head chef divided it in half and gave each half to a different sous chef. That way, if one of the sous chefs killed their half (and was subsequently fired, no doubt), the other half would still have a chance at survival.

You see, sourdough starters are serious business.

Let me back up a little. A loaf of sourdough bread has three ingredients: flour, water, and yeast. But so does ciabatta. And a French baguette. So what gives sourdough that distinctive sour tang that hits your tongue when you bite into a nice, hearty piece? That's all thanks to an aged pre-ferment known as a sourdough starter or liquid levain.

Sourdough starters are essentially a forum for wild yeast to gather and grow. In order for them to thrive, they must be fed on a regular basis and with proper care, they can survive for years. Kind of like a dog. Or a child. The longer they survive, the more depth of flavor they will impart to a loaf of bread.

There are two basic ways to make a starter. For either, you combine warm water and flour. Then, you can either add in active dry yeast, or you can simply wait for wild yeast to flock to your creation. Either way, as the starter ages, wild yeast will eventually begin to collect, and different locales will foster different kinds of wild yeast. So, sourdough bread in New York may taste completely different than sourdough bread in Paris, even though the ingredients and method are exactly the same. San Francisco supposedly has some of the best wild yeast in the country.

So why am I telling you all of this? Because I've been feeding one for the past three days. Stay tuned!

Friday, September 23, 2011


This is a picture of the chalkboard hanging in my kitchen. It did actually hang in a classroom at one point, and we found it at my favorite thrift store for about $3. Sorry if you can't read my chicken scratch; according to my 7th grade Algebra teacher, I have the handwriting of a teenage boy. But basically it's where I jot down savory dishes I come across or that pop into my head that I want to make in the near future. And where we completely ineffectually threaten our dogs (hence the Dexter stew and Jager salad) since they can't read. It also helps when we're trying to figure out what to have for dinner during the week. We can just look at our "menu" and pick something.

For my baking adventures, I keep a separate (much longer) list as a word document that I update frequently whenever I come across a new recipe or something that inspires me. Periodically, I print it out and hang it on the fridge and when I'm in the mood to bake, I ask Dan to pick something that looks good to him. I also collect recipes on Pinterest whenever I want to remember where I found something specific.

So that's how I stay organized and keep track of what I'm cooking and baking. Any questions?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cupcakes

The other day, thanks to a 50% off coupon to Michael's, I finally broke down and bought a master set of Wilton pastry tips. It has something like 56 different tips and small tools inside, most of which I had no clue what to do with, so I decided to spend some time just playing around with them. And what better medium to do that on than cupcakes?

I tried out maybe five or six tips in different patterns and designs and these were my three favorites.

This was my take on a Hydrangea cupcake. I used a Wilton 2D, which is a large closed star tip, and made loose stars around the edge of the cupcakes and then filled in the middle. I actually used two different shades of pink to make them look a little more realistic, but I don't think the picture quite does them justice.

For these (the ones on the left), I used a Wilton #104 tip. With the wider end facing out, I made each petal, pulling the tip in toward the center of the cupcake. I started with the outer ring and worked my way in to the center.

These might be my favorite: the Rose cupcake. Using the same 2D tip as before, I started in the center of the cupcake and swirled around toward the outside, doing maybe 1 1/2 or two revolutions until I reached the outer edge of the cupcake.

As for the cupcakes themselves, I'm still in search of my go-to chocolate cake recipe, and this Hershey's recipe was one I hadn't tried yet. I sampled a plain cupcake after it had cooled, but I wasn't impressed. The texture was OK but it just I took a few bites, added some frosting (which improved it a little) and then threw it away. Yeah, I said it. I threw a cupcake away. It's not that it tasted like trash, it just wasn't quite good enough to be worth the calories to finish.

And yet strangely, after dinner, I found myself going to the fridge to get a cupcake for dessert. Sometimes I'm just committed to eating what I've made. And sometimes, I just need dessert. Kind of like I NEED Diet Coke at least once a day.

And surprisingly, this cupcake was better. I don't know if it was all the frosting on top or the extra hours it rested in the fridge, but whatever tasted "off" about it earlier had disappeared and what was left was a perfectly satisfying chocolate cupcake. Thankfully there are still a few left in the fridge, so I'll be able to do some more "research" and get back to you.

Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cupcakes
Yield: 24 cupcakes

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Hersehy's cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk
1 cup boiling water

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 muffin cups with liners.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together sugar and oil.
4. Add first egg and mix to incorporate before adding the second egg and vanilla extract.
5. Add half the flour mixture and mix on low speed until almost incorporate. Add half the milk and continue to mix. With the mixer on low, add half the remaining flour, then the remaining milk, and end with the remaining flour. Finally, add the boiling water. Mix until just incorporated. The batter will be thin.
6. Fill muffin cups about 3/4ths full. Bake at 350 for about 22 minutes or until the cake springs back to the touch and a toothpick comes out clean, rotating pans halfway through. Cool completely before frosting.

Recipe Notes
  • I kept the ingredients exactly the same but altered the directions a little. If you want the classic recipe, just look on the back of your cocoa box
  • Since the batter is very thin, I transferred it to a measuring cup to make it easier to pour into the muffin liners.
  • For a layered cake, divide the batter into three 8'' or two 9'' greased and floured pans. Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fried Rice

Driving home from work today I was thinking about dinner: Ok, let's see. I could just pull something from the freezer, but the leftovers are really piling up in the fridge. We have lots of lasagna leftover but we just had that last night. What about a salad, like a deconstructed version of the lettuce wraps? I don't know about ground meat in a salad, though and we're out of cucumber. I really want to use that leftover turkey in something. Pasta? No. Quesadilla? No. Hmm, what do you eat with Chinese food..... Rice? Yes, Fried Rice!

And that's how this dish came to be.

The method I like to use comes from an old Chinese cookbook my mom has. Since I don't like eggs, I naturally hate the little pieces of egg in your typical fried rice, and they're impossible to pick out or eat around because they're so damn small. But this recipe has you beat the eggs and add them to the pan after the rice. So instead of scrambling, the eggs coat the rice and give it almost a cheesy texture. However, if you're into eggs and want those big pieces in your rice, beat them lightly in a small bowl and add them to the pan before you add the rice, scrambling them like you would for breakfast. Then, just add the rice and continue with the recipe, but omit the eggs from the sauce mixture later.

I've decided to just use my iPhone at night instead of my digital camera so I can pass off my pictures as "artsy" instead of just "crappy." Is it working?

Fried Rice
Yield: 3-4 Servings

1 cup uncooked rice, brown or white
3 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 tsp garlic, minced
1/4 tsp ginger, minced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3-4 Tbsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp rice vinegar
2 cups cooked meat
1/2 tsp Chinese five spice powder
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/4 cup frozen peas
9 oz box frozen vegetables

1. Cook rice according to package instructions, but replace half the water with chicken stock.
2. Spray a high-sided skillet liberally with cooking spray. Place over medium-high heat and add olive oil. Add onions and cook until edges are lightly browned. Add garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3. Add cooked rice to the skillet and stir to avoid it from sticking. Lower the heat to medium. In a small bowl, mix together eggs, 3 Tbsp soy sauce, sesame oil, and vinegar. Pour over rice mixture, stirring continuously, scraping the bottom of the pan periodically to prevent sticking.
4. Lower the heat to medium and add the meat, spices, and then the frozen veggies (no need to thaw). Continue to cook until the veggies are heated through, stirring occasionally. Taste and add additional tablespoon of soy sauce if desired.

Recipe Notes
  • You can use any kind of cooked meat you like; shredded chicken, cubed ham or pork, any ground meat. Or you can use tofu or omit the meat altogether to go vegetarian.
  • If you're using leftover meat from these, the Chinese five spice powder isn't necessary.
  • You can definitely use fresh veggies instead of frozen, but you'll need to par cook them first. Just add them to salted boiling water, for 1-2 minutes depending on the vegetable, and then plunge them in an ice bath before adding to the rice.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Chinese Lettuce Wraps

When you read the title of this post did your mind immediately jump to a certain Chinese restaurant chain? Perhaps one that has those yummy spicy and sweet lettuce rolls that, last I checked, were always sitting at someone's table?

Well, these.... are not like those. But they're still so, so good.

Ground turkey (not ground turkey breast) is something I've been cooking with for years, first in chili, and then for tacos. But those were the only two things I could think to do with it. We hardly ever make burgers at home, and when we do we like to splurge and use really high quality beef. And given that there are legendary meatballs served at Dan's childhood house on a semi-regular basis, turkey meatballs are never on my menu either.

And then these lettuce wraps entered my life. Thank goodness. Given the time it took to make them (maybe 20 minutes?) and how simple they seemed, they far exceeded my expectations. I will be making them again and again. And if ground turkey's not really your thing, you could definitely use ground pork or chicken instead.

Chinese Lettuce Wraps
Yield: 3 servings

1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp ginger root, minced
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1 pound ground turkey (or pork or chicken)
salt & pepper
1 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
2 Tbsp brown sugar
3 Tbsp soy sauce, divided
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
Juice of one lime (or about 1/4 cup)
8 to 10 sturdy lettuce leaves such as iceburg
1 carrot, shredded
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and julienned
chopped peanuts

1. In a skillet over medium heat, cook the garlic and ginger in the olive oil.
2. Raise heat to medium high. Season meat with salt and pepper and add to hot skillet. Brown the meat and drain off any excess liquid or fat and discard. Add the five-spice powder, brown sugar, and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce. Continue to cook until no pink remains and meat is cooked through.
3. Combine the remaining soy sauce, granulated sugar, and lime juice in a small bowl and set aside as a dipping sauce.
4. To assemble: scoop the turkey mixture into lettuce leaves and garnish with carrots, cucumber, and peanuts. Drizzle sauce over top or use as a dipping sauce.

Recipe adapted from Victoria Granof

Monday, September 19, 2011

Homemade Pizza Crust

Ok people, it's time to get serious. About pizza.

Are you making your own pizza? You should be. When we were little, my dad would buy pre-baked Bobolli pizza crusts, and we would add the sauce, cheese, and toppings (more cheese for my sister, pepperoni for me. What can I say, we were adventurous eaters). And we loved it. But, it was just barely homemade. The crust was already baked. The sauce was from a jar. But putting it together ourselves made it 100% delicious.

But now, it's time to do it up right. With homemade pizza crust. This dough is so easy to make, I'm not taking any excuses from you. Afraid of using yeast? Don't be. All you have to do is buy it and measure it. That's it! No need to dissolve it in water that's the perfect temperature or look for bubbling, or anything. Even better, this is a Jim Lahey recipe which means there's no kneading required. Seriously, what are you waiting for? It's so quick to pull together, you can do it during the first two commercial breaks of The Rachel Zoe Project. I did.

Pizza Crust
Yield: Dough for 2 large or 4 small thin crust pizzas

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
3/4 tsp granulated sugar
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 1/3 cups room temperature water

1. Mix together flour, yeast, salt, and sugar in a large bowl.
2. Add water and mix either with the paddle of an electric mixer or by hand. If using a mixer, finish by hand so you don't overmix. Mix until the dough comes together into a loose ball and few dry bits are left in the bottom of the bowl, about 1 minute. The dough will be stiff and a little dry, not wet and sticky.
3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until the dough has more than doubled in size, about two hours.
4. Divide the dough in half (for two pizzas that will serve 4-5) or into four equal pieces (for smaller pizzas that will serve just 2) and shape into flattened discs. Either wrap and freeze the discs or prepare to bake. (To defrost from frozen, let thaw in the fridge overnight.)
5. Preheat oven to 500 Fahrenheit. Roll/stretch out one disc of dough and place on a greased sheet pan (For the larger pizza, it should fill almost the whole sheet pan). Top with whatever your heart desires! Brush any exposed crust with olive oil and Italian seasonings. Bake at 500 for 15-20 minutes.

We topped ours with mozzarella, feta, pepperoni, green bell pepper, garlic, red onion, caramelized onions, and artichoke hearts and it was A-MAZING. My favorite part: the feta. Seriously, try it. You won't be sorry.

Recipe courtesy of DALS

Friday, September 16, 2011

A First Date

Today, I went on a first date. Sure there had been small flirtations in the past, but I was never really ready to commit; I just didn't see the appeal that everyone else did.

But today, after much poking and prodding by others, I decided was the day. I was a little nervous getting ready, a bit anxious thinking about how it would go, and as I pulled up in the parking lot I took a breath to relax.

I walked up to the automatic doors, dodging red shopping carts as I went. Immediately I was faced with the deceptively small, yet overwhelming, mecca that is Trader Joe's.

That's right, today Trader Joe's and I had our first date. Are you shocked? Are you tsk tsking me right now? I know, I know, it's great! Everyone loves it! People come from miles away with coolers in their car just to stock up on organic nut butters and exotic frozen delicacies! How could I have waited so long??

I just...did. When one opened up a couple of years ago in Virginia Beach, I braved the crowds with my mom and sister to see what all the fuss was about. We bought a few frozen items (most recommended by my aunt, a TJ's junkie), and tried not to rip those annoying bells off the register while checking out. When I moved to Richmond, I was aware there was a Trader Joe's located conveniently next to Whole Foods (my other favorite place) but since both of them are located in the hell that is Short Pump, I hardly ever make the trek.

But recently, with my growing frustration with the grocery store choices in this city (Harris Teeter, where are you?!), and seeing so many other peoples' pulls posted on their blogs, I thought, It's time.

Now, I didn't go crazy. After all it was just the first date (there was kosher brisket that desperately needed a new home in my crock pot, but at $16-20, it just wasn't happening today). But, I did get some items that I've seen around enough to know are popular, plus some things that are staples for us, to test out how they measure up to our usual brands.

The goodies:

Clockwise from the top (with notes about the stuff I've tried so far)-
Multigrain English British Muffins- Pretty good, definitely a departure from my usual Thomas'
Sunflower Seed Butter- Not as sweet as I wanted it to be, but still good with some added honey
Milk Chocolate covered Raisins- Obviously delicious
Frozen Edamame
Boneless, skinless organic chicken breasts (individually packaged)
Ground Turkey
Apple Smoked Bacon
Handmade Flour tortillas
Roasted Garlic Salsa- Seriously delicious, but a little too mild for me (even though it was categorized as "Medium")
Brussel Sprouts (not pictured because I forgot to get them out of the vegetable drawer)

How do you feel about Trader Joe's? Is there something I just desperately need to get the next time I go (Yes, I've tried the $3 wine. The jury's still out)? Anything to avoid despite the hype? I'll take all the tips I can get!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Israeli Couscous Salad

At the FCI, the culinary students were in charge of making family meal for the whole school, so each day around noon we were served a freshly prepared hot lunch (unless it was exam day which meant sandwiches and salads, which I secretly loved). Over the course of six months, there were a few dishes which popped up over and over again. Some were better than others- the roasted beets with caramelized onions changed my life and I finally tried quinoa for the first time. But when we uncovered those serving dishes and saw Israeli couscous piled high, I was first in line with my plate.

Israeli couscous (sometimes called pearl couscous) is actually a type of pasta, shaped in tiny little balls, but you can usually find it with the rice in the grocery store. It's very different than the traditional couscous you may be used to eating, and it's a great blank canvas for adding in different flavors.

You can of course prepare it and eat it warm with just some herbs and maybe a little butter, but here I've cooked and chilled it to turn it into a cold salad. I don't know why, it's just what my brain was telling me to do.

Actually, that's a lie. It's because I had this recipe for vinaigrette that I was dying to make, and rather than put it on something super healthy like salad, I chose carbs. However! You will have vinaigrette left over after making this, which I suggest you store in the fridge and pour over a pretty green salad. That's right, you just made yourself some homemade salad dressing. You're awesome.

Israeli Couscous Salad
Yield: 4 servings

1 cup Israeli/pearl couscous
1 1/4 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
5 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 squeeze of honey
squeeze of lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper
Chopped herbs (chives, parsley, dill, thyme, etc.)
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/4 cup red onion, small diced
1/4 cup green bell pepper, small diced
1-2 oz crumbled feta

1. Consult the cooking instructions on your couscous and cook according to instructions, but substitute the chicken stock for cooking liquid. For mine, in a small saucepot, I brought chicken stock to a boil. I added couscous, lowered heat to simmer, and covered. I simmered, stirring occasionally, 8-10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside to cool.
2. Make the dressing. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together mustard, vinegar, honey, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and herbs (I used rosemary, chives, and thyme). While whisking, slowly pour in olive oil. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary (You can also do this in a small food processor. Pulse all ingredients together before adding the olive oil through the feed tube with the machine running).
3. Pour about 1/4 cup of dressing over couscous, tossing to combine. Add chopped onion and green pepper. Transfer to the refrigerator to chill, at least 30 minutes.
4. Just before serving, add crumbled feta and taste. Add more dressing if necessary and/or adjust seasonings. Garnish with more fresh herbs. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

General Tso's Chicken

This was dinner Monday night: Homemade General Tso's Chicken.

It's always a bit of a gamble trying out a new recipe for a familiar take-out dish. Lots of questions go through my head: Will it taste the same? Will it be exponentially more difficult than picking up the phone and ordering it? Will it save me money? But mostly, will it taste the same?

Let me tell you, this was FAN-tastic. It tasted almost exactly like your standard delivery dish, and took probably the same amount of time from start to finish as it would waiting for someone to deliver it (unless you have a super speedy delivery guy in which case, I want his number). Plus, it gave me the option to use chicken breasts instead of thighs, so it was a tiny bit healthier.

After we were finished cooking, our house even smelled like a Chinese (American) restaurant. For days afterward. Honestly, it was a small price to pay for how yummy this was. With this, plus my standard stir-fry recipe in my repertoire (I'll post it the next time I make it) I can't imagine I'll be ordering Chinese food anytime soon. Now, if only I could figure out how to make a good version of Thai Drunken noodles...

Here's the recipe. I followed it pretty closely with these exceptions:
1) I used chicken breasts instead of thighs.
2) I had to add a splash of water (maybe 1 tsp) to the marinade so it was less like a paste and more like something that could actually coat the chicken.
3) I used low-sodium soy sauce, which I highly recommend.
4) Although I didn't actually make these changes, if I were to make it again (which, uh YES), I'd halve the amount of fresh ginger root in the sauce and double the chili-garlic sauce to make it a little spicier.
5) We had ours with steamed kale instead of broccoli because I JUST CAN'T GET ENOUGH.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream

It's rare that I create something in the kitchen that even I'm impressed by, specifically if it's a recipe of my own creation. Now, I'm not willing to say this is the best ice cream I've ever had (hello, there's no chocolate in it), but what nearly sent me over the moon is that it tastes exactly how I wanted it to.

Although the recipe is 100% mine, I can't take all of the credit for this creation. Earlier this summer I tried this flavor combination at a local ice cream shop but wasn't impressed; it tasted like plain strawberry ice cream, with no balsamic to speak of.

It may not be winning any beauty pageants anytime soon, but it does look a little pinker in person and not so brown.

This version, however, is spot on. The strawberries make it sweet and fruity but the balsamic gives it just the slightest bit of tang. Perhaps the second best thing about this ice cream is that it's really simple to make. There's no tempering eggs, or heating over low and stirring constantly until it's just right, to trip you up. Blend everything together, churn in an ice cream maker, you're done.

You'll notice that I used frozen strawberries instead of fresh which is because a) I haven't tasted a great fresh strawberry in months, and b) you can find frozen all-year round so you can make this whenever you want. I chose to use organic because out of all the frozen strawberries you can buy, I'm betting these probably taste the best; plus, eating organically when I can makes me happy.

Warning: reducing vinegar makes it super potent. Chances are your entire house will smell long after you're finished cooking it, and if you lean in too close to the steam coming out of the pot, you'll end up in a coughing spell with your eyes burning. Just ask Dan.

Strawberry Balsamic Ice Cream
Yield: 1 1/2 quarts

3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
10 oz (2 cups) organic frozen strawberries, thawed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 pint heavy cream

1. Pour balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and lower heat so vinegar is simmering. Continue to simmer until it is reduced to 1/4 cup, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
2. Combine strawberries, sugar, and reduced vinegar in food processor or blender. Pulse to combine. Add heavy cream.
3. Pour into an ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer's instructions. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze for at least 4 hours, or until solid.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Brown Butter: are you familiar with this phenomenon? The one in which you cook butter until it's melted, but then you keep cooking it until it bubbles and spits and the milk solids turn brown, and suddenly you have a pan full of warm, nutty, glorious brown butter.

I think up until now I've only seen it used in savory dishes (particularly pasta dishes, usually paired with sage, yum), so when I saw a cookie recipe using it, I thought, Genius!

I considered leaving the coconut out of these, and then I thought about doubling it, and then I left it just as it was. I do wish they'd had a bit more coconut flavor and texture, so next time I might try doubling it. And after that, I'm going to make Oatmeal Brown Butter cookies. And then I'm going to jump on the treadmill.

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yield: 2 dozen cookies

1/4 shredded coconut, sweetened or unsweetened
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper and spread coconut in a single layer over one. Toast in the oven for 4 minutes. Rotate pan and toss coconut. Bake an additional 4 minutes, or until lightly browned and toasted. Set aside to cool and replace parchment paper if necessary.
2. Place butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. As it melts, it will start to bubble and sizzle. Give the pan a swish and continue to cook the butter foaming and golden brown, about 10 minutes more. If the butter is browning too quickly, turn the heat to medium-low for the last few minutes of cooking. The butter solids will turn a dark brown, but take care not to let them burn. Pour brown butter into a small bowl to let cool slightly.
3. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine both sugars. Add the brown butter and mix on medium-low speed until incorporated.
5. To the sugar mixture, add egg, egg yolk, and vanilla extract. Beat until just incorporated.
6. Add all the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Fold in chocolate pieces and toasted coconut.
7. Spoon heaps of dough about the size of a golf ball onto lined sheet pans. Press down gently to flatten slightly (I forgot this step, whoops!). Bake 10-12 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Allow to cool 3-5 minutes of baking sheets and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Recipe from Joy the Baker

Friday, September 9, 2011

Chicken Salad

Growing up, there was this little neighborhood market near my dad's house that had the BEST chicken salad. It wasn't overly dressed or salty, the chicken meat was high quality and the perfect bite size, and they used the magic ingredient: fresh dill.  

I think this recipe is a close approximation of what it tasted like (although I still think Bazemore's was better; how did they do it?!), and is also based on my favorite potato salad recipe that combines mayonnaise, tangy mustard, and beautiful bright fresh dill. The celery and red onion add a much needed crunchy texture as well as a little heat. And I love that you can see all that fresh dill and whole grain mustard throughout the salad so you know exactly what to expect it to taste like.

Chicken Salad
Yield: 3 cups

2 cups cooked, cubed chicken
1/2 cup celery, diced
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp milk
2 tsp dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp whole grain mustard
1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

1. In a large combine chicken, celery, and onion.
2. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, milk, and both mustards. Add dill.
3. Pour as much dressing over the chicken as you would like (I used it all). Stir to coat evenly. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
4. Refrigerate for at least thirty minutes, or until chilled. Serve cold.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Chicken Pocket Pies

These have been a long time coming. I started them two weeks ago when I had some free time after work, by making the dough for the pastry and roasting some chicken. I had plans to finish everything else and freeze them the next day for some ready-made dinners sometime during a busy week, but then Hurricane Irene happened and shut down my stove for 5 days.

Not cool, Mother Nature. Not cool.

This also happened mid dough-making. Don't let that intimidate you, though. The dough is not that tough. I am just that aggressive with my kitchen tools. Whisks beware.

The beauty of making- and eating- these once is all the inspiration you get for future fillings. You could go the vegetarian route and fill them with spinach and feta. You could have a make-your-own party with different pizza fillings. Or how about a beef stew filling? Just sub in cooked pieces of beef instead of the cooked chicken. Dare I say, you could even fill these with... chocolate?

For me, this recipe made 12 little pies, with filling leftover. I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to do with it, but it may involve puff pastry. And that puff pastry might be homemade. We will see.

Sorry I didn't get a final picture of my plate. I think I was too excited to sit down and dig in. Because seriously, with the leakage (my fault; don't overfill!) and the lighting, this picture does not do justice to how cute and delicious these looked. I guess you'll just have to make them to see for yourself!

Update: At the request of my sister, I served these alongside steamed Roma beans from our garden. The pies in themselves already encompass pretty much everything you would need in a meal (starch, protein, veggie), but since they're small, I would serve them with some extra veggies like a side salad or some steamed brocolli. And if you're really jonesing for some more carbs, mashed potatoes would make an equally comforting starchy side.

Chicken Pocket Pies
Makes 10-12 pocket pies


For Filling:
1 heaping cup of cooked chicken
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
1/3 cup chopped celery
1/3 cup chopped carrot
1 clove finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp dried dill
2 T all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

For Pastry:
8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, cool but softened
4 oz cream cheese
1/4 cup milk or heavy cream
1 1/2 cups, plus 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1 large egg, for egg wash
salt & pepper, for sprinkling

1. For the pastry, place butter and cream cheese in bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade (alternatively, you can mix this in an electric stand mixer or by hand). Pulse until butter and cream cheese are incorporated. Some butter pieces are OK. Add flour and salt. Pulse to combine. With food processor running, add milk. Continue to pulse until dough forms a ball. Remove from processor and divide into two discs. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or freeze to use at a later time (if frozen, allow to thaw in refrigerator before rolling).
2. For the filling, add butter to a large saute pan and place over medium heat. When butter has melted add onion, celery, and carrot. Saute 3-4 minutes, until onions are translucent and carrots are starting to get tender.
3. Add garlic, peas, salt, pepper, and dill. Sprinkle in flour and cook, stirring to incorporate flour, about 1 minute more.
4. Add chicken broth and let mixture come to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove pan from the heat and transfer filling to a large bowl. Add cooked chicken and Parmesan cheese and mix to combine. Transfer filling to the fridge to cool completely.
5. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
6. To form the pocket pies, work with 1 disc at a time, rolling it out on a floured surface to about 12'' in diameter. Using an overturned bowl or small plate (something about 5'' across), cut out 3 circles of pastry from the dough. Gather the scraps and form into a disc. Wrap and refrigerate. Repeat with second disc of dough. Re-roll chilled scraps just once, and cut more circles.
7. Place 2 heaping tablespoons of filling on one half of each dough circle. Wet the edges of the dough with water and fold the dough over to form a semi-circle. Pinch the edges of the dough together and crimp with a fork. Cut a slit or prick each pie twice with a fork to allow steam to escape. (The pies can be frozen at this point. Do not thaw before baking.)
8. Place the pocket pies on the prepared baking sheets. Beat the egg with 1 tsp of water. Brush the egg wash over the pocket pies and sprinkle with additional salt and pepper. Bake for 22-27 minutes, or until golden brown. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Recipe adapted from Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys via Shutterbean

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Peanut Butter Cup Bars

Although Peanut Butter cups aren't usually my go-to choice in the candy aisle, they're definitely in my top five. Peanut butter on the other hand? Can't live without it. I literally eat it almost every day. I used to a keep a jar in my desk at work and would just eat spoonfuls of it throughout the day. Thankfully I no longer work in an office, so an intervention is no longer imminent. 

I think these bars are magic. I had to send half of them to the hospital with Dan because I could not be trusted. The graham cracker crumbs give them that almost perfect peanut butter cup texture, and even with the hefty dose of sugar, they're not cloyingly sweet. I added salted peanuts to mine for some added crunchy texture, but you could leave them out if you want that true sense of a peanut butter cup.

Plus, they're no-bake. In fact, you don't even really need a working stove. All you really need is a microwave and a fridge. You could make these in a dorm. And give them to a boy you think is cute. Or a girl. Or a professor.

Ok, not the professor. That would be inappropriate.

Peanut Butter Cup Bars
Makes 16 bars


8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 cup smooth peanut butter
3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (6 graham crackers coursely ground)
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 cup salted peanuts (optional)
4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup milk chocolate chips
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips


1. Line an 8x8'' square baking dish with parchment paper. Spray with non-stick cooking spray (I used a disposable foil pan but I still greased it). Set aside.
2. In a small saucepan, melt the 8 Tbsp of butter over low heat. Alternately, microwave butter in a microwave-safe bowl on high at 30 second intervals until melted. Add the powdered sugar to a medium bowl. Once the butter has melted, pour it over the sugar and whisk until smooth.
3. To the bowl, add the peanut butter, graham cracker crumbs, and salt. Whisk until smooth. Fold in peanuts with a rubber spatula, if using.
4. Pour the peanut butter mixture into your prepared pan and use a rubber spatula to even and smooth the top. Set aside.
5. To the same saucepan used before, add the remaining 4 Tbsp of butter and all the chocolate. Set over low heat, stirring frequently. Continue to heat and stir until the mixture is melted and smooth. Alternately, place chocolate and butter in microwave-safe dish and microwave in 15 second intervals, stirring after each, until completely melted and smooth.
6. Slowly pour the melted chocolate over the peanut butter layer and spread gently to cover the entire surface.
7. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Slice into 16 even squares. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
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