Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Caramel Banana Smoothie - snack or dessert??

Here's another super fast smoothie recipe to add to your repertoire that goes outside the usual fruit and yogurt. I made it as an excuse to try out my fancy new immersion blender and it worked great! Just dump the ingredients in the measuring cup, blend, add the ice, blend, pour into cups and serve! No fumbling with a setting up a big blender and only 2 small things to clean when I was done. I felt so spoiled and my sisters didn't mind being my guinea pigs :)  Whether it's a rich snack of a lighter dessert is your choice, it's good either way! The recipe is for a large single serving or 2 small servings, but its is very easily multiplied.

§ 1 very ripe banana
§ ½ cup dulce de leche (or more, to taste)*
§ A tiny pinch of salt
§ A few drops of pure vanilla extract
§ ¼ cup 2% or skim milk (or heavy cream for a richer drink)
§ 1 cup crushed ice
§ (optional) whipped cream and caramel or chocolate sauce

* you can make your own dulce de leche by cooking a can of sweetened condensed milk (must be done carefully!) or you can usually find already prepared cans in the international aisle at the grocery store with the Mexican food.

1.       Break up the banana into roughly bite-sized pieces and place in blender (or you can use an immersion blender and just place the ingredients in a 2-cup measuring cup instead). Add the dulce de leche, salt, vanilla, and the milk or cream and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust the balance of banana/dulce de leche to your liking.
2.       Add the ice and blend again until thick, adding more ice if needed. You should not hear any crunching when you are done blending, meaning all the ice is blended and any other bits.
3.       Top with whipped cream and a drizzle of chocolate or caramel sauce if you like.

 You can go simple...

 Or dress it up with some whipped cream!

Caramel Sauce and banana slices look great too!

 Don't confuse this with an iced coffee though!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

What to do with Nori? Cabbage Seaweed Rolls Of Course!

So the other day I happened to be in the grocery store (not an unusual occurrence...) in the international aisle ogling all of the Asian sauces and ingredients that I DIDN'T have (it was rather sad), when suddenly I saw a package on the bottom shelf that caught my attention: NORI! (aka: a type of edible seaweed) I never knew my favorite grocery store actually had any so of course I had to get some (AFTER checking the price and affirming the bank would not be broken of course)!
I felt very adventurous indeed when I arrived home and reverently placed the flat square package in my overcrowded baking cabinet, but in the back of my mind was the doubtful voice saying "now WHAT am I going to DO with this??". Once again I pushed that thought away and decided I would be making something Asian for dinner very soon.
My first attempt a few days later was a project I've been experimenting with for a while now: Miso Soup. However, though it would most definitely make a good story...I won't bore you with the detail of that epic. fail. Not this time anyways...let's just say I found out that nori cooks up great in soup, but rehydrated shitaki mushrooms not so much. Oh well...we'll revisit miso soup some other time. This is the seaweed adventure.
SO...I decided to make up for that grossness the next day by coming back with a delicious stirfry. A cabbage stirfry. Without a recipe. I'd never tried making this before, but my thought was to sort of mimic my favorite store-bought eggrolls that have this amazing cabbage and carrot filling except make seaweed rolls instead. This was quite a risky endeavor in my opinion...dabbling with Asian food that I have little experience working with and all...but I had a good feeling...and I was hungry :)
I'll try to keep the whole experimental cooking process short (as I could easily make it all long and drawn out and blah). So yeah, I went with a combination of 2 parts cabbage to one part carrots and left out white onions because I had some scallions I wanted to throw in. The sauce I used is typically made using teriaki sauce, but I wanted some soy sauce too, so I used half and half, but I'm sure using only one or the other would work. I also added LOTS of freshly ground black pepper throughout the whole cooking because I know it tastes especially good in my eggrolls. The finished stirfry actually was quite good I thought! People kept coming up and just eating it right out of the pan with forks before I could even roll it up in the nori! As for the seaweed rolls themselves...I thought they were really good! My family is not really accustomed to the taste so they weren't huge fans (my brother compared it to licking the inside of a goldfish bowl...) but they didn't mind it so much after the ocean flavor was masked a bit with soy sauce or teriaki dipping sauce. There ended up being NO leftovers and I now have a new favorite recipe that is fast, easy, tasty, and healthy! Booyah! I just wish people hadn't gobbled them up QUITE so fast so that I could have gotten a few better pictures, but I won't complain :)

NOTE: I used eggs and brown rice to thicken up the stirfry and add some nice flavors and textures, though if you wanted to lighten it up, you could just add some bean sprouts or bell peppers instead. Also, if you don't care for the vegetarian factor, my brother and I agreed, some pork would compliment the flavor very well.

Vegetarian Cabbage Seaweed Rolls:

-4 c shredded white cabbage (about half a large head)
-2 c shredded carrots (about 4 large)
-2 T canola, vegetable, or sesame oil
-salt and LOTS of freshly ground black pepper, to taste
-1/2 c vegetable stock
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-1/2 c soy sauce or teriaki sauce OR a combination of both
-3 T cornstarch
-1 c cooked brown rice
-4-5 large eggs, beaten
- 1 bunch of scallions, sliced, not too thinly
- 1 package of roasted nori (10-15 sheets I think)

1) Prepare the vegetables ( I used the shredding blade attachment on my food processor, but I think hand-shredding would have given a bit nicer of a product)*also if you haven't cooked your rice yet, DO IT NOW. Mine was quick-cooking rice so that helped :)
2) In a large wok or frying pan, heat the oil to med-high and then add the cabbage and carrots. Season with the salt and pepper and saute for 5-10 min, stirring occasionally, until not-quite soft and fully cooked. Meanwhile, whisk together the garlic, stock, sauces, and cornstarch.
3) Pour the sauce mixture over the cooked vegetables and stir until evenly covered and thickened (the sauce should thicken quite quickly) then add the cooked rice.
4) Reduce the heat slightly to med. Push everything in the pan over to one side if using a frying pan, (if using a wok, just get out small frying pan and oil lightly) and add the beaten eggs. Scramble the eggs and then incorporate into the rest of the mixture. Then stir in the scallions and remove pan from heat.
5) Set out a sheet of nori and work quickly to scoop stirfry mixture onto the sheet and spread around so that there is a fairly even layer all over (you can do a practice one to see how much filling you want to add, but it shouldn't be a whole lot). Then quickly roll up the nori and allow it to sit for a minute or two. The idea is that the heat from the stirfry will slightly cook the seaweed and make it nice and soft. 
6) With a very sharp knife, slice the seaweed logs thickly ( I got about 6 slices per log) 
7) Serve immediately with dipping sauce if you are very hungry, or chill and save for later. I liked them best chilled, while my mom liked them hot so experiment and see what you like!

 Be ready to go, the cooking goes pretty fast!

 If all the veggies don't fit at first, wait til they cook down a bit and add the rest

 Tee hee I like how my burner is purple in this pic!

 Looks kinda gross right now, but it really was yummy, promise!

 I thought they looked fairly decent for not having a sushi roller or anything fancy

 Sweet 'n sour sauce would probably have been good too...

 I'm pretty sure I ate this many all by myself!

Mmm teriaki and fake sushi, don't love it til ya try it! :p

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Brussels Sprouts...yes, I had to!

When you read the title for this post, you were probably thinking "ugh, I hate Brussels sprouts!" or "not another one! Everyone is blogging about these guys!" or maybe both things came to mind, but nevertheless, I couldn't resist! As a "future chef" I want to record my adventures in the kitchen for my own benefit even if everyone else is sick of the topic (sorry!). If your still reading, you must not be completely sick of hearing about Brussels sprouts or you just like to hear what I have to say...I'll take either! :)
Anyways, moving on, I had actually first wanted to make some Brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving as a little something different. Unfortunately when I went shopping for all my food, they were out :( so I had to postpone my adventure til later...which ended up being yesterday!
I've had Brussels sprouts only one other time before and it wasn't a very noteworthy experience. My mother made them the way she had had them as a child: steamed. Now don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against steaming, it's just that that was it. No salt, pepper, herbs, butter, or anything to give them flavor, it was just steamed little balls of cabbage, period. If you've ever had 'em, you understand why I wasn't too thrilled, if you haven't, be glad I'm clearing this up for you.
I'd read numerous posts on how wonderful and amazing Brussels sprouts were if cooked properly and I was very interested. Also, many of my classmates at culinary school agreed, saying that roasting was the way to go. They said it was fast and easy and that the little outside leaves got all crispy and delicious. This sounded too good to be true to me. So I HAD to give it Brussels sprouts another try, and roasting was my plan.
I went back through some blog posts and recipe sights and got the basic idea for making roasted Brussels sprouts. Coating with olive oil, salt, and freshly ground pepper was the basic preparation and a common variation I found was adding some balsamic vinegar to the mix. I had all of these items on hand as staples and decided to give it a shot. I also read that cutting off the tough stub at the end of the sprouts was a way to make them less bitter and cutting each one in half allowed for more even cooking and better flavor penetration, so I thought I'd do that too. With all of these proven methods I felt sure I had a winner on my hands!
Cutting up 4 cups of Brussels sprouts took a little time, but only because I had to go one at a time. Then I threw them all in a big bowl, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, a little balsamic, and a pretty good amount of salt and freshly ground pepper.
Threw THAT into the oven preheated to 400 F and set the timer to 15 min, as was the recommended time.
15 minutes later the kitchen smelled strongly of cooked cabbage and the little half Brussels sprouts were shiny and slightly browned, with the fallen-off leaves turning almost black. They looked done to me and I was trusting the "recipe" so I took 'em out and served 'em up! The evaluation? Well...even my mom, who LIKES Brussels sprouts, was slightly skeptical about this side dish, but my picky younger sister surprisingly tried ONE, which was pretty impressive. My dad ate quite a few, but he wasn't a huge fan. I ate a lot of them, but not really because I thought they were good, but because I was trying to figure out what to make up them. First off, all I could taste was cabbage, despite the fact I thought I hit them really well with S&P. Then there was the textural issue: they were not soft and tender as I had been aiming for, but still kind of on the chewy, not-fully-cooked side of things :/ STILL, I noticed that the dark, crispy little leaves that had fallen to the way side were pretty tasty and I felt there was still hope yet.
The next day for lunch I decided to go round two with these puppies and REALLY hit 'em up with seasoning and fix the texture problem. I could have just roasted them again, but I wanted to be able to monitor them better, plus I thought I could keep more flavor on the sprouts if I were stirring them around in a pan and getting them completely and evenly cooked and covered, thus I chose to saute!
I dumped all the Brussels sprouts in a large saute pan on med-high heat, with about a tablespoon of olive oil and started cooking! I added LOTS of salt and pepper, a clove of garlic, and about 2-3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar since I couldn't taste it AT ALL before. I cooked the cabbages until I could easily piece them with a fork, but they weren't mushy.
Then I tasted...WHOA! Total difference! The flavors came through great and the texture was perfect!!! The vinegar definitely helped a lot and I think I might add more garlic next time. My mom agreed, they were waaaay better the second time. Later that day I pulled the left-overs out of the fridge for a snack and they tasted better yet with the flavors just really soaked in. I ended up eating all the rest of the Brussels sprouts and now...I want some more. Honestly, I do! They were such a tasty little finger food snack and so fast...I can't wait to go to the store to get more!! Sorry I don't have a real recipe typed up for these guys since I just winged the whole thing, but I can tell you what I might recommend. I'll try a more precise procedure next time and hopefully have some real measurements for you all! Then again, you may prefer to just experiment and do everything to taste like I did. Sometimes the adventure is more enjoyable than the end result anyways :)

- about 4 cups Brussels sprouts
- olive oil
- salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- a few cloves of garlic, minced
- balsamic vinegar

1) Wash the Brussels sprouts and remove any wilted or discolored outer leaves. Trim off the tough stem on the end and cut in half lengthwise (some outer leaves may fall off, that's fine, just at them to the mix, they will be reeeeally yummy!).
2) Preheat the oven to 400 F and heat the olive oil in a large saute pan (or do this in batches) to about med-high heat.
3) Add the Brussels sprouts and VERY generously season with the salt and pepper.
4) After a few minutes, add the garlic and stir.
5) When the Brussels sprouts are beginning to soften, remove the pan from the heat and add the balsamic vinegar, stirring to let it absorb and coat evenly.
6) If your saute pan is oven safe, put it directly into the preheat oven, if not, put the sprouts on a jellyroll pan or other pan and place it in the oven and cook for about 10 minutes, watching carefully after 5 to see that they cook to the amount that you would like. Take one out and taste it to check if you like. 
7) Serve warm with MORE pepper OR chill and eat later with your fingers because it's sooo good you won't be able to wait to get a fork :) 

 ~ Oh and as a side note, just for of my sisters asked the question of whether Brussels sprouts get their name from the city of Brussels, the capital of Belgium. The answer is...yes! These sprouts were thought to have been first cultivated in Italy and Belgium as early as 1200s, but it was their popularity in Belgium, near the Brussels area that won them their name. So now if you get will know!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Homemade Jam: great snowday activity and Christmas gift!

Well...December is here!!! For me this is both exciting and frightening as it means I have a great excuse to do TONS of baking and cooking, but I have SOOOO many other things to do! I got a Cook's Country magazine in the mail the other day and it had some great cookie recipes as always, but the first place winner was the one that really caught my eye: Lemon Hazelnut Thumbprints. The flavor combination intrigued I've never made thumbprints, but always wanted to. I scanned the list of ingredients...I still had some hazelnuts just begging to be used....and one fat lemon should be enough to whip up some lemon curd, yep the stars were aligned!
However, before I got to work on those yummies, I decided to find a second thumbprint recipe to make while I was at it (not that I have all this time on my hands, but because I just can't help myself when I get cooking and then I pay for it later when I have done nothing but made cookies all day). So anyways...I went searching for something festive and I kept seeing lovely raspberry jam-filled cookies, but I wanted to kick it up a about replacing the raspberry jam with cranberry? Yes? Yes! But where to buy cranberry jam? Hmm...well I did just stock up on fresh cranberries, but I've never made jam before, it was always so intimidating-looking! Still, I decided to look around for some cranberry jam recipes just to humor myself. Turns out I actually found one that sounded REALLY easy and I had ALL the ingredients, was this fate or what?
I made the lemon curd for my Lemon Hazelnut Thumbprints first, using a recipe that I really like from Bon Appetit magazine. It is a really easy recipe and just the right flavor in my opinion. The only thing I think I will try next time is straining the whole eggs first to get out those stringy white things (called "chalazae" prounounced kaLUHzee, which is like the umbilical cord for a baby I was told by one of my chefs) because when the lemon curd is cooked they get all...nasty >:p so yeah...other then that it was fantastic and I probably would have eaten all of it, but I still needed some to fill my cookies!

Lemon Curd:

- 2 large eggs
- 2 large egg yolks
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
- Pinch of salt

1) Whisk eggs and egg yolks in medium bowl and strain to remove lumps and chalazae.
2) Melt butter in medium metal bowl set over large saucepan of simmering water.
3) Whisk in sugar, lemon juice, lemon peel, and salt; gradually whisk in egg mixture. Whisk until thick and thermometer inserted into curd registers 178°F to 180°F, about 8 minutes.
4) Transfer to small bowl. Press plastic wrap on top of curd; chill 4 hours.
Deliciousness <3 (especially on toast, rolls, ice cream, or pretty much anything!)

K anyways, so then I worked on the cranberry jam while I threw together the Lemon Hazelnut Thumbprints. The cookies came together really quickly as the dough was nice and soft (and VERY tasty). Unfortunately, this softness meant they spread out a bit more than I would have liked, but it wasn't too bad...

 (I'm def going to have to double the recipe next time...)

Lemon Hazelnut Thumbprint Cookies:

- 1 c all-purpose flour
- 3/4 c shelled, toasted hazelnuts
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 c (1 stick) butter, softened
- 1/3 c granulated sugar
- 1 large egg yolk
- 3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
- Lemon curd (about 1/4 c)
- powdered sugar (optional)

1) Preheat the oven to 350 F. Process flour, hazelnuts, and salt in a food processor until finely ground (not too long or it will get mushy when the nuts release their oil)
2) With an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and mix until incorporated. Reduce the speed and gradually add the flour mixture. The dough should be very soft.
3) Roll dough into 1 inch ball by the Tbsp (or smaller if desired) and place on baking sheets lined with parchment paper or silicone mats, about an inch apart. Gently create indents with your finger or a teaspoon. 
4) Bake the cookies until just set, about 10 min.
5) Remove the cookies form the oven and gently reinforce the indentation with a teaspoon. Fill the cookies with 1/2-1 tsp of lemon curd. Bake again, 8-10 min until lightly browned on the edges.
6) Cool completely on a wire rack, dust with powdered sugar if desired and serve or store.

Anywho...back to what you have been wondering about - the JAM! The recipe said I could use a whole vanilla bean or a tsp of vanilla extract, but I wanted to go all out and make my very first jam REALLY good, so I opted for the vanilla bean, expensive as they may be. Plus I didn't have any oranges so I had to use orange juice from concentrate and thus I was hoping using the high quality vanilla bean would balance out the lack of fresh orange juice. Other than that I followed the recipe exactly and I thought it came out quite well. The vanilla was stronger than the cranberry I think, but yummy all the same. I'm more eager to try more jams now :)

Cranberry Vanilla Jam:

- 1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise (or 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract)
- 3 1/2 c. fresh or frozen, unthawed cranberries
- 1 1/2 c. sugar
- 1/2 c. fresh orange juice
- 1/2 c. water

1) With tip of a sharp knife, scrape vanilla seeds from pod into a 2-qt. heavy saucepan.
Add pod and remaining ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickening, about 20-30 minutes.
2) Puree jam through a food mill set over a bowl OR (I don't have a food mill) force it through a fine-meshed sieve, pressing on the solids, occasionally scraping the bottom of the sieve with a spatula to get every last drop. Discard the cranberry skins and vanilla pod. Cool, stirring occasionally.

Removing all the teeny tiny (very good smelling) vanilla

Vanilla and orange juice and water

 You can use either fresh or frozen cranberries, I used frozen

 Some sugar...ok a LOT because it's jam...and cranberries are quite sour

 The mixture got really foamy and cool looking, don't be alarmed, but don't let it boil over either!

 The berries got dark and mushy as they cooked

 Being food mill -less I had to go this slow, difficult route to lumpfree, skinfree jam, but it wasn't too bad...I actually felt very old fashioned and resourceful (still, I would NOT do this everyday!! If you are lucky enough to have a food mill I say USE IT!)

Here is the visual ratio of jam to waste products (the bean pod and the cranberry skins)

Finished product :) Wouldn't that make a lovely gift?

 Or even these guys?? Mmmm

Cranberry White Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies

- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- ½ cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 to 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, sifted
- Cranberry Jam (about 1/4 c)
- White chocolate chips

1) Preheat oven to 350 F. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla on medium-high speed until smooth. Beat in flour, beginning on low speed and increasing to medium high, until a dough forms – it shouldn't be sticky.
2) Roll dough by tablespoons (or smaller if you prefer) into balls, and place 1 inch apart onto prepared sheets. Bake for 10 minutes, remove from oven, and press thumb or spoon into tops of cookies to make indentations. Fill with 1/2 -1 tsp of jam.
3) Return to oven, and bake until light brown on the edges, about 10-12 minutes more. Remove to a wire rack to cool.
4) Melt about 1/3 c white chocolate chips (or baking squares) in the microwave (microwave on high for 1 min, stir and repeat process until the chocolate is almost melted, then remove from the microwave and stir until it completely melts) spoon the melted chocolate into a pastry bag or small plastic bag, snip the end just barely and then drizzle the chocolate over the cooled cookies. Allow the white chocolate to harden before serving or storing.