Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New Furniture and A Cobbler

Da Da Da Da!

The new kitchen island has arrived, or 'Baking Central' as I've been lovingly calling it.

My baking supplies have been homeless since we moved in; now they are safely tucked away within these cabinets and my primary workspace is its counter. I gave it some personal flair with these pretty knobs I've admired at Anthropologie.

NH and I put a lot of sweat and blood into assembling this baby on Saturday. The directions were deceiving in places; there was a moment when I thought it would remain in pieces in the living room. It was all worth it (a funny memory!), and I love the new set-up it has created- we now have a hallway through there, creating a nice flow to the room.

And the perfect surface to whip up the nice strawberry cobbler I made this afternoon as a surprise treat for NH. Seems that cobblers aren't typically made with strawberries; I couldn't find a recipe, so I made it up using my favorite cobbler topping recipe from The Occasional Vegetarian by Karen Smith. I'm planning to serve it with whipped cream after dinner tonight- hope he likes it!

Strawberry Cobbler

4 cups frozen strawberries, thawed
3/4 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose Flour
3/4 teaspoons Baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 Tablespoons unsalted Butter, cubed
2 Tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Put thawed strawberries in an 8x8 baking dish. Add sugar and cornstarch and toss to coat. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Add the butter and blend with your fingers. Add the milk to the mixture and mash with a fork lightly until a loose dough is formed. Roll the dough until thin and place over the strawberries. Don't worry if the dough falls apart, just make sure to move all the dough to the baking dish. It may not cover the whole top, that's ok.

Bake for 45 minutes until the top is golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream or ice cream. Leftovers are good for breakfast the next day.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Baby Beluga Soup

What kind of soup? No the title is not misspelled. I promise that really is the name of today's recipe. I enjoy a little whimsy when naming a dish, and I promise you there is meaning behind the Baby Beluga Soup. I'll try to be brief.

If you were born in the early eighties, chances are you may have listened to a certain children's performer named Raffi. Raffi played, sang, and wrote alot of the songs he say; he had a band and several albums and they were the primary music played in my home from 1988-1992. He moved away from children's music to environmental material shortly thereafter. You can still purchase his CDs and concerts on DVD and I'll have copies for my kids someday.

Long story short: 'Baby Beluga' is the name of one of my favorite Raffi songs. It's about a beluga whale- Baby Beluga to be specific. It's a great song, very simple and easy to remember; I can hear my dad's voice singing it in my head. Due to the song this foodie thinks of whales, not caviar.

Don't worry, I am not cooking with whale today! The star item in my soup is the beluga lentil, so named because they look like shiny caviar when cooked. I had never seen them before but I picked up a package of partly cooked beluga lentils at Trader Joe's a month ago. I've been pondering what to do with them this whole time. I love these spices and they made a good soup. I used the majority of the little package; what is left will adorn a salad or crostini someday soon.

Baby Beluga Soup

1 tablespoon Enova oil
1 teaspoon Garam Masala
1 teaspoon Cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground Ginger
pinch Red Pepper flakes
1/2 cup red, orange, and yellow Bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 Garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/4 cups fully cooked Beluga lentils
3 1/2 cups water or vegetable broth
Salt, to taste

Heat the oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add the spices and cook a few moments until fragrant. Add the bell pepper, onion, and garlic and saute for a few minutes until the vegetables have softened. Add the water or vegetable broth and 1 teaspoon salt. Simmer covered for 10 minutes. Add the lentils and simmer for 5 minutes, uncovered. Remove 2 cups of the soup and mash to a course puree. Return the mash to the soup and stir. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

If you can find dry Beluga lentils, (I've only been able to find this package of full cooked ones at Trader Joes) add them with the broth and simmer covered for 20 minutes, then uncovered for another 10. If you want to garnish the soup I'd use some chives, maybe a little sour cream or yogurt. I thought it was great without garnish, and really quick to make.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Eftychismenos Paraskeyi

...or 'Happy Friday' to you in Greek.

I'm very proud of the pictures hanging in my new kitchen. They bring a homey feeling to the room. I love pictures of herbs in the kitchen, showcasing the tools often used in the room.

The top frame was recently purchased at Ikea; they match well with the bottom three individuals. These are my own photos that I took at my parents' home in Los Gatos, of mint, rosemary, and sage. I reframed them to match and it came out just as I imagined.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Strawberry Muffins

Check out my new kitchen workspace!

NH's new desk arrived so I was able to requisition this table from the office. It was in my childhood room before the wedding and we've been using it as a desk for the past year. We'll be purchasing a freestanding kitchen island soon; until then, this nice table will serve as my 'island.' I don't care that it's a little low to work comfortably; look at the added space! I have a place to put my cookbook holder and my knife block. My favorite cutting board is in use again; it's too big for a lot of spaces and has been living in a corner for the past year. Hurray for its return!

I was dying to bake for the inauguration of my new workspace. I wanted to do something summery with the wonderful frozen strawberries I had. I'm a huge fan of frozen fruit- it's such good quality these days and I can bake when the fruit is off season. I especially like peaches and strawberries for this, since their seasons are short and good specimens can be rare; I prefer to save the fresh fruit for eating in hand. That being said, you could certainly use fresh strawberries here if you like.

I decided on some strawberry muffins for NH to enjoy for breakfast. As usual I compared a dozen recipes, then schlepped together my own version with what sounds good and what I have in my pantry. I love making muffins and quick breads because they are precisely that: quick and easy to throw together. They can be schlepped together in no time and require very little elbow grease.

Strawberry Muffins

1/4 cup Enova or canola oil

1/2 cup Milk
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla extract

1 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry Flour
2 teaspoons Baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/4 cup baking Splenda, or 1/2 cup regular white sugar
1 cup chopped frozen strawberries, slightly thawed

Preheat the oven to 374 degrees Fahrenheit.
Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper cups, or grease with a bit of oil.

In a small bowl, beat the oil, milk, egg, and vanilla extract together lightly. In a larger bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and sugar. Add the chopped strawberries and toss to coat them with the flour. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and fold together until just combined. Spoon the batter into the muffin tin.

Bake for about 25 minutes; cool for 10 minutes before removing the muffins from the tin to a rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

I used whole wheat pastry flour but you could easily use all-purpose. I like to use whole wheat and the pastry flour is lighter than regular WW flour. But it does create a denser crumb so muffins made with all-purpose will be lighter and probably rise a little more. If you like, add a little cinnamon sugar to the tops before baking to create a crusty top.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Improv Miso Soup

I experienced a wonderful moment of inspiration that needed to be shared.

Weeknight dinners at my house are very casual and usually consist of two meals. To put it nicely, we don't favor the same foods so I make two different plates. This sounds impressive until I tell you that one is homemade and the other is either packaged or extremely simple. Most of the time I cook NH's meal and scrounge for mine, although to be fair sometimes it's the other way around. Last night was one of those nights. We took a trip to Costco the previous weekend- my first!- and NH bought a frozen bag of ravioli he had loved as a kid. At his request he ate this ravioli last night; a simple boiling and drizzle of olive oil and his meal was complete.

For me? I have a habit of surfing the net for recipes in the evenings and this often changes whatever plan I have for myself. At about 5:30pm I was struck with a sudden desire for some miso soup. And not the packaged kind- I wanted it fresh and homemade. I immediately jumped up to put a pot on the stove.

I made some miso soup last week with baby bok choy and shiitakes, so I had the base ingredients: miso paste, bonito flakes, and kombu to make the dashi broth. I looked up a refresher for the proportions and headed into the kitchen.

Dashi broth is the base for miso and other Asian soups. I followed the process for creating the base and improvised after that. I had garlic and ginger, but opted for some chopped shallots instead. I substituted orzo pasta for soba or udon, and added some carrots and corn near the end of cooking. I added about 2 Tablespoons of red miso; I decided this was probably a little too much and will use less next time (I have made the adjustment in the recipe below). I usually like to add a little soy sauce to my bowl so I put a Tablespoon in the pot off the heat. Conclusion? It was a deeply satisfying meal and cooking experience.

Nothing like a little improv to go with dinner.

Improv Miso Soup

1 large Shallot, chopped
3 cups water
2 pieces kombu
a handful bonito flakes
scant 1/4 cup orzo pasta
a handful of shredded carrots
1 Tablespoon red miso
3/4 cup frozen corn
2 Tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce (optional)
2 green onions- green parts, chopped

Saute shallots in a bit of oil in a saucier pan. Add water, kombu, and bonito flakes. Bring to a simmer, do not boil; cook for 30 minutes. Remove the kombu and add the orzo pasta. Cook for 5 minutes and add the carrots and corn. Cook for another 2 minutes and add the red miso. Allow the miso to dissolve in the soup and remove from the heat. Stir in soy sauce if desired and green onions. Serve immediately.

There is nothing like being struck by inspiration and having it turn out well. I hope I've inspired you to put down your cookbook and give it a go in the kitchen on your own.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

100% Whole Wheat Bread

I can hardly believe it...

I profess to a passion for making bread, but I have never posted about a single one I have made. I make it often, so why have I never written about it? I don't know the answer to that question; all I can do is try to make up for it.

Like many things, my interest in bread comes from my mom. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and she is a bread baker. I have an early memory of a large bowl of dough rising beneath the bed covers when I was three or four. During my teen years she bought a bread machine and production frequency and variety increased. Her interest grew and she'd make doughs in the machine which baked in the oven. We'd have sweet breakfast breads containing dried fruits or toasted nuts. At dinner there'd be french loaves or dense whole wheat ones. For a dessert, a bread filled with apples and glazed or a flat bread sprinkled with fruit.

My last year of college, Mom got a new bread machine. The old was still in fine condition and she passed it onto me.

My first experiences using it solo were less than successful; the first try at pizza dough ended with Round Table Pizza delivery. With experience I've developed a respectable repertoire, along with comfort in trying new recipes.

If you ask her, Mom will say her favorite recipe is the Italian Whole Wheat Bread she makes from The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensperger. She makes it often and is still working to perfect it to her satisfaction. This is the original book she used with the bread machine, and the one I know best. I received a copy of this book as a gift and it's my most-loved cookbook by far.

It contains my recipe for Whole Wheat Pizza Dough (see post), and this one- my favorite wheat bread for a sandwich or some butter and jam. I find white breads boring; this is dark and mysterious. It has great flavor and color, and it's all whole wheat flour so it is very dense.

Munch on a toasty slice of this with some sharp cheddar cheese and a little tomato- delicious.

100% Whole Wheat Bread

from The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensperger

3/4 cup water
3/4 cup milk
2 Tablespoons Enova or Canola oil
1/4 cup light Molasses (not black strap)
4 cups Whole Wheat Flour
3 Tablespoons gluten
1 3/4 Teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon SAF yeast

Makes a 1 1/2 pound Loaf in the Bread Machine.

Place all the ingredients in the pan of your bread machine in the order listed. Set the crust to medium and the program for the Whole Wheat cycle and press start. When the baking cycle ends, immediately remove the bread from the machine and place on a rack. Let cool to room temperature before slicing.

Fresh bread will start to mold much sooner than store-packaged bread because of the lack of preservative. Store bread in the fridge for a few days, and in the freezer for a longer period of time.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Apricot Jammies

I like playful names for food. The word 'jammie' has two meanings for me. It's the word for the outfit one wears to bed, whether you are old or young. I still refer to my jammies, despite my twenty-five years.

'Jammie' also refers to the delicious center of these cookies. I'm a big fan of jam in many flavors, but I think apricot is best saved for cookies and desserts. Of course you can substitute any jam you prefer, but apricot is a classic combination with these cookies. I suggest a preserve that isn't too chunky as you may have difficulty putting the right amount of jam in each cookie. A seedless preserve is also preferable, although it is easy to remove seeds before adding the jam if that is what you have.

A simple cookie, they fill the house with the delicious aroma of butter and sugar as they bake.

Apricot Jammies

1 stick Butter at room temperature (1/4 pound)
1/2 cup granulated Sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
1 cup all-purpose Flour
1/4 cup Apricot preserves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix in the egg yolk, vanilla, and salt; add the flour and mix, scraping down the sides to incorporate.

Using your palms, roll the dough into 1-inch balls and place on the baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Make a depression in the middle of each cookie with your index finger. Spoon about 1/4 teaspoon of preserves on each cookie, careful not to overflow.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time. Bake until the edges are slightly golden brown. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.

Makes 30 cookies

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Meet Padma, the other lady of the house. She was brought home from the animal shelter immediately after our honeymoon last July. Her mother was found behind a fast food restaurant's dumpster, so Padma's birthname was Chicken Wing.
She is at my side whenever I'm in the kitchen, climbing up my leg as I work or watching closely from my kitchen stool. In the past 8 months she has become a major part of our daily lives, so it seems long overdue to introduce her to my blog. As a baby she was boundlessly energetic and curious, and not much has changed. Her limited diet consists of dry soy kitten food, although she does have an affinity for frozen yogurt, just like me.

Since moving into the new house, Padma's universe has expanded exponentially. Before her world was limited to the 800 square feet of our dark, nearly windowless apartment. I think she and I were suffering from a lack of Vitamin D since we've both really perked up in the last two weeks. Her new domain is the top of the couch in front of the window, where she can survey every new sight and sound.

From here she can monitor all outside activity: cars, gardeners, neighbor's pets, and the flag mounted on the house across the street. Her world used to consist of NH and I; her world has expanded just as ours has.