Archive for July 2011
On Thursday morning at 6 am sharp my family (or rather, my parents, my twin sister Lindsey and I) boarded a plane for San Fransisco. My family takes an annual pilgrimage to my grandparent’s house near Santa Barbara every summer, but this time we decided to stop by and stay with my older sister Melissa for a few days at her svelte new job with Google in Mountain View (ooh, ahh). Lindsey brought her camera and snapped some really cool (in my opinion) shots of where we went–including San Fransisco’s Alcatraz Prison, Ghiradelli Square and downtown area, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, as well as some shots of what we have called “Google Land.”
I think I’ve always romanticized California in the past, but it’s pretty hard not to considering my experience with it: constant sunshine and clear skies, fresh, juicy fruit on the side of the roads, grandparents who always, always have the cookie jar stocked (never anything but butter pecan Sandies and crisp gingerbread snaps), and going out to eat while spending time with family. It’s basically the most leisurely, most wonderful way to spend your time–and did I mention the weather? I feel like I haven’t even had a summer yet, what with the mid-60 degree weather and constant overcast that Washington consistently blesses its citizens with. Because of this, I haven’t gotten that into seasonal cooking which is a real shame because there is practically nothing better than eating the freshest fruits and vegetables of the summer (preferably by the beach while wearing a bikini, of course).
But here in California, it just feels right to have a salad with fresh tomatoes, avocados, olives and a simple vinaigrette for dinner, or a ripe nectarine for lunch by the pool. After arriving at my grandparents last night and seeing the mounds of fresh, ripe peaches on the counter, I decided to make simple peach shortcakes for dessert tonight. My sister was a little mad at me with this– she said I was silly for not putting them in something a little more show-offy, like a peach upside-down cake or a lattice-crust pie. But the way I saw it, is I just wanted something that messed with the peaches as little as possible, and just had something on the side complement them.
I think this recipe is a classic, a tender, buttery and light shortcake that is versitile and the perfect vessel for ripe, tasty fruit. The batch I made tasted a bit funny and stale, due to my grandparents flour that might in fact be ancient. Oh well, even if they tasted a bit off tonight, at least I know I have a recipe I can go back to if for a simple but classic shortcake.
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
Amy’s Notes: You don’t have to peel the peaches if you don’t want to, but I think it’s nice. As Cook’s Illustrated instructed, if the peaches are firm enough to peel with a vegetable peeler, do that. If too juicy, submerge them in about 1 inch of simmering water and cover, for about 15 seconds or so. After that the skin should peel right off.
2 pounds ripe but firm peaches (4 to 5 medium), peeled, pitted, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick wedges
6 tablespoons sugar (or adjust to the sweetness of the fruit)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup buttermilk, cold
1 large egg
8 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted and cooled slightly
For the fruit, gently toss three-quarters of peaches with 4 tablespoons sugar in large bowl. Let stand 30 minutes.
For the biscuits, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 475 degrees. While peaches macerate, whisk flour, baking powder, 1 tablespoon sugar, and salt in large bowl. Whisk together buttermilk and egg in medium bowl; add melted butter and stir until butter forms small clumps.
Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients and stir with wooden spoon until dough comes together and no dry flour remains. Continue stirring vigorously for 30 seconds. Using greased 1/3 cup dry measure, scoop up mound of dough and drop onto parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet (if dough sticks to cup, use small spoon to pull it free). Repeat with remaining dough, spacing biscuits about 1 1/2 inches apart, to create 6 biscuits. Sprinkle remaining tablespoon sugar evenly over top of biscuits. Bake until tops are golden brown and crisp, about 15 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and let cool 15 minutes before assembling. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
I know the Food Network is quite controversial, especially among “foodies” and the food-blogging network. And yes, for the most part I agree with the usual criticisms that are attached to characters like Rachel Ray and Paula Dean. I find it especially irritating when I hear someone throw in one of the Food Network names to give validity to some food item or menu, as if Sandra Lee and “Semi-Homemade” is the standard by which to judge good cooking. But then again, I feel like an awful elitist whenever I catch myself being annoyed by someone else’s food judgments and faith in mainstream food media. I mean, I owe lot of credit to the Food Network–it was what pretty much what got me into cooking when I was around 12 years old, flipping through the channels as a girl. I used to love it, watching the TV “personalities” with their little clear glass bowls filled with 1/2 teaspoon this or 2 tablespoons of that. (By the way, back then I made my own cooking video, featuring an oatmeal-raisin recipe on the back of the Quaker’s oatmeal box. Not very successful.)
And the thing is, I kind of still do love the Food Network. I am awfully suspicious when I watch most of the programs, but for the most part I just enjoy watching any sort of entertainment that revolves around food. I may not look up to the cooking show hosts like I once used to and I now much more prefer the cooking shows on public television, but I still have a soft spot for it, espeically Barefoot Contessa and Tyler Florence. They’re just so warm and friendly! Which I know, that’s the reason they’re on TV– to be warm and friendly and attract average people that aren’t normally interested in things like fresh produce from the farmer’s market or fun ingredients like truffles and infused oils. But still, is it bad to still be enjoying these shows? Am I alone in my affinity for mindless food television?
Anyway, this recipe is a short and quick one, and it originates from Claire Robinson’s show “5-Ingredient Fix” on the Food Network. She featured a tapas show, that included a recipe for crunchy, spicy, roasted chickpeas. After looking through a few more recipes for it, I discovered a very similar recipe in Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day, ultimately drawing from both sources to create my own version. I liked how it turned out– perfect snack item foods, or for a simple quick lunch (I put some over cottage cheese which may sound gross but was so satisfying at the time). Heidi also suggests putting them over salads (as I have pictured), soups, or including them in grain bowls and stir-fries. She also advises they are best served warm, and she was right. Once put in the fridge for storage the once crispy and spicy snacks turned soft and, well, flavorless.
Adapted from Claire Robinson and Heidi Swanson
Amy’s Notes: Make sure you dry the chickpeas extremely well, as that’s what ultimately determines how crisp and crunchy they get in the oven. While drying, I liked to remove the husks from the chickpeas as much as possible, just to help prevent steaming instead of crisping. Also, as noted above, they do not keep very well.
3 cups cooked chickpeas (about 1 1/2 cans), rinsed, drained, and spun dry in a salad spinner
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
a couple of pinches of cayenne pepper
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees with a rack placed in the top third of the oven.
Pour the well-dried chickpeas onto a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer and roast for ten minutes. Shake the pan and roast for another eight to ten minutes, until the chickpeas crisp up a bit. Keep a close eye on them to avoid burning, particularly if you suspect that your oven runs hot.
In the meantime, combine the olive oil, paprika, cumin, cayenne pepper and salt in a large mixing bowl. Carefully transfer the chickpeas to the bowl and toss until well coated. Return them to the baking sheet and roast for another 5-7 minutes, until fragrant and crispy. Let cool for a couple minutes and serve warm.
On Friday I had my three wisdom teeth pulled. I realize this is a coming-of-age thing most young adults in my generation get when they’re around the ages of 14 or 15, but I’ve protested as long as I could. I kind of like my wisdom teeth and would have preferred them to stay, but honestly the real reason I’ve been avoiding my consultation with the oral surgeon was because I really didn’t want to have to go through the whole procedure of it. You know, the getting an IV and them poking at your mouth for an hour, the getting extremely delusional from the painkillers alongside a numb jaw and mouth which makes no sense at the time, and the not being able to eat anything solid for three days following the surgery. I know I sound completely whiney right now, but frankly I’m kind of a wimp. So much of a wimp in fact, that as the doctor inserted the IV in my arm I passed out. I know, so embarrassing. Here I am a twenty-year-old ADULT, whimpering about getting my teeth pulled and getting dizzy at the sight of a needle. Luckily I have a wonderful mother who, although she may be getting impatient at how long it’s taking me to “grow up”, sympathized with me and made me smoothies and pureed soups. It probably didn’t hurt that my twin sister got the procedure done at the same time and was arguably in a slightly crazier and more delusional state than I was, giving me a little more credibility.
Anyway, this post-operation status of only being able to eat things with textures equivalent or similar to that of baby food hasn’t been a real treat, but I thought it would give me a nice opportunity to eat and make things I usually brush off. I had great plans for a post today–I was going to whine about my operation (already done), and then introduce a pureed chickpea soup I made today for lunch that was going to be phenomenal and fantastic. I did make the soup, with garlic croutons and bacon and skillet cornbread on the side (obviously those parts are for the benefit of the rest of my family). The lunch looked beautiful, but unfortunately it’s taste was not near that. The soup tasted kind of like chickpea-carrot soup, and I really would have just rather preferred a carrot ginger soup, because it lacked depth of flavor and the croutons weren’t enough to save it. The cornbread, although wonderfully crackled and crispy in the cast iron skillet, tasted a bit dry and bland. This did, however, reaffirm my belief that my usual go-to Cook’s Illustrated cornbread recipe I made for Father’s Day really is the best.
And so, my grand plans for today’s post were canned when I realized I would feel too guilty putting up recipes on this blog that I didn’t enjoy too much and wouldn’t make again. What you see here is a dinner I made a few weeks ago that I’ve had apprehensions posting not because of the quality of the food, but because the main item, chicken empanadas with chorizo and green olives, came from the highly popular blog Smitten Kitchen. I can’t imagine anyone that doesn’t follow it, so I thought it would be a little pointless to blog about myself. However, in my slightly-still-drugged mind, I’ve justified it by thinking that I will seek merely to reaffirm that this is a fantastic recipe for emapanadas, and that everyone should indeed try it.
Because really, you should. The empanadas are flaky, filling and flavored wonderfully with the spicy chorizo and smooth dark meat of the chicken. I’m pretty sure my Dad related them to See’s candy, meaning that you plan to eat one but you can’t stop when you grab your second, third, or fourth one to munch on. They’re delicious. And although they take awhile to put together (making and chilling the dough, cooking and cutting up the chicken, baking the filling in the dough), they aren’t too hard and they are one hundred percent worth it, if not more. I paired them with an orange-jicama-cilantro salad from Cook’s Illustrated, and I think we all liked the combination of the spicy, fresh salad with the heartiness of the empanadas. I can’t wait to make these empanadas again, maybe to experiment with different fillings of beef or pork (the dough is fantastically easy to work with and perfect, I wouldn’t change or experiment with any part of that). And really, these are the perfect grab-and-go meals. I almost want to make them again for the sole purpose of packing away some for my dad or boyfriend to take to work, even if it sounds a little silly.
Chicken Empanadas with Chorizo and Olives
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Gourmet
Makes about 18 empanadas
Amy’s Notes: My only changes to the recipe is that I would add more chorizo, noted below. Also, the dough may feel a little tough when forming it, but have no fear! It will bake up beautifully flakey and buttery and not rubbery in the slightest. I think it’s just a heartier dough to hold the empanadas. You will (probably) have extra dough leftover, which can be used for any other experimentations of empanadas that you like. Also, you may flute the edge any way you desire.
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3 teaspoons salt
2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 large eggs
2/3 cup ice water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
3 whole chicken legs, including thighs (2 to 2 1/4 lb total)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large onions, halved lengthwise, then cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-wide strips
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California
2/3 cup finely diced Spanish chorizo (cured spiced pork sausage; 3 oz; casings discarded)
1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (not hot)
1/4 cup chopped pitted green olives
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water
To make the dough, sift flour with salt into a large bowl and blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Beat together egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl with a fork. Add to flour mixture, stirring with fork until just incorporated. (Mixture will look shaggy.) Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together, then knead gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring dough together. (Deb note: If you use a large-ish bowl, you can do this step in-bowl.) Form dough into two flat rectangles and chill them, each wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour. Dough can be chilled up to 6 hours total.
To make the filling, pat chicken dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then brown chicken, turning over once, about 6 minutes total, and transfer to a plate. Sauté onions, garlic, and bay leaves in fat remaining in skillet, stirring frequently, until onions are softened, 4 to 5 minutes.
Add chorizo and paprika and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add olives, wine, and broth and bring to a boil, stirring and scraping up any brown bits. Return chicken to skillet along with any juices accumulated on plate, then reduce heat to moderately low and simmer chicken, covered, turning over once, until tender, 25 to 30 minutes total.
Transfer chicken to a clean plate. (Sauce in skillet should be the consistency of heavy cream; if it’s not, briskly simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.) When chicken is cool enough to handle, discard skin and bones and coarsely chop meat. Stir chicken into sauce and discard bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper, then cool filling, uncovered, about 30 minutes.
To form the empanadas, put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 400°F. Divide first dough and half of second dough into 18 equal pieces and form each into a disk. (The remaining dough can be stored in the freezer for future use.) Keeping remaining pieces covered, roll out 1 piece on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 5-inch round (about 1/8 inch thick).
Spoon about 2 tablespoons filling onto center and fold dough in half, enclosing filling. Press edges together to seal, then crimp decoratively with your fingers or tines of a fork. Transfer empanada to a baking sheet. Make 17 more empanadas in same manner, arranging on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets.
Lightly brush empanadas with some of egg wash and bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until golden, about 25 minutes. Transfer empanadas to a rack to cool at least 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Orange, Jicama and Cilantro Salad
Adapated from Cook’s Illustrated
3 medium oranges, segmented
3 tablespoons lime juice from 2 to 3 limes
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon dried cumin, toasted in a small dry skillet until fragrant, about 30 seconds
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium jicama (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into 2-inch-long matchsticks (about 4 cups)
1 medium red bell pepper , seeded and cut into 1/8-inch-wide strips (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 medium jalapeño chiles , quartered lengthwise, seeded, then cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves , chopped coarse
3 medium scallions , green parts sliced thin on bias
Place orange pieces in nonreactive mesh strainer set over bowl; let stand to drain excess juice. Meanwhile, whisk lime juice, mustard, cumin, and ¼ teaspoon salt in large bowl until combined. Whisking constantly, gradually add oil.
Toss jícama and red bell pepper with 1/8 teaspoon salt in medium bowl until combined. Add jícama mixture, oranges, jalapeños, cilantro, and scallions to bowl with dressing and toss well to combine. Divide among individual plates, drizzle with any dressing in bowl, and serve immediately.
This last Friday I joined my mom and her friend to visit the local lavender festival, set on a small lavender farm about 10 minutes away from my home. While I was there, between the rows of soft purple lavender and the smell of their sweet perfume, I had wonderful images of me going home with a large bunch of dried lavender and cooking and baking all sorts of treats with them. Alice Medrich’s recipe for lavender caramel sauce, from her book Pure Dessert, distinctly popped in my head and became the featured item my thoughts… but of course, like most daydreams, none of this was actually realized.
Because although the whole festival was centered around lavender, it was the simple, golden jars of honey and handmade honey jars featured at the lavender farm that won me over in the end. I even ended up leaving the festival that day with my own beautiful little honey jar, shown at left. You see, even though I love lavender, I can’t resist honey. I still had thoughts of that silky, rich lavender caramel in my head (and you very well might see a post in the future of it), but first and foremost, Alice Medrich’s “heavenly” honey ice cream was begging to be made. I rationalized this in my head by convincing myself that I would make the caramel sauce immediately following the ice cream, to serve as a decadent topping.
Of course, the caramel sauce was never made. But if you make this ice cream, you’ll see why I couldn’t follow through with making a topping for it: frankly, it’s too good for caramel sauce. At first the recipe almost seemed too easy, requiring simply to heat milk, and once cooled, add in cream, honey, and a pinch of salt. After a chill and a little whir through the ice cream machine, viola! Finished. But this simple process produces nothing less than the best ice cream I’ve ever had (my mom and boyfriend agree). It’s creamy in taste and texture, but the flavor of honey is pure and clear. It doesn’t fuss with a yolks or a custard base to promote richness, but rather relies solely on a few full-tasting ingredients.
Instead of the rich caramel topping I had dreamed of, I paired the ice cream with honey snaps, a recipe suggested and provided by Alice Medrich alongside her honey ice cream recipe. I am now a devout Medrich fan, because she managed to make the best tasting ice cream taste even better. I was a little skeptical of the honey-caramel cookies at first, and figured I would just use them as a decoration for the ice cream. But once I tried the two together, snapping up the cookies on top of my ice cream in little bits, I knew that I had judged them wrong. The honey snaps were delightful on their own but absolutely dreamy when combined with the honey ice cream. The snaps provide crunch texture against the smooth and melt-y sweet ice cream, and the combination of the caramel, honey and cream flavors almost gives the impression of a honey ice cream version of creme brulee.
But really, Alice Medirch wasn’t lying when she called this ice cream heavenly. It really is, and especially with the honey snaps. But even with no adornments or additions whatsoever, this recipe will make you rethink how good ice cream can taste. It also stores fantastically well, keeping its creamy and light texture instead of becoming icy and hard. A great recipe that I’m sure I will turn to again (and considering how easy it is to make, I’m sure that will be quite soon).
Heavenly Honey Ice Cream
From Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert
Amy’s Notes: I ran the cream mixture through a strainer before adding it to the ice cream machine, just to make sure it was smooth. ALSO: take care to look at the type of honey you have–some run a fair amount sweeter than others. Your ice cream might come out a little cloyingly sweet if that’s the case and you might want to scale down the amount used.
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup honey
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups heavy cream
Heat the milk in a small saucepan until it begins to simmer around the edges. Pour the milk into a medium bowl and allow it to cool completely (to avoid curdling when the honey is added). Add the honey and salt, stirring to dissolve the honey. Stir in the cream. Chill the mixture for at least 4 hours, but preferably 12.
For an extra cold start, put the mixture in the freezer for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice to prevent freezing. Freeze according to the instructions for your ice cream maker.
Serve soft or transfer to an airtight container and freeze until hard enough to scoop, at least 3 or 4 hours. If the ice cream gets too hard, before serving let it stand for a few minutes, put it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes or longer, or microwave it on low (defrost) for a few seconds at a time until scoopable.
Amy’s Notes: I didn’t curl mine as directed by Medrich, rather I liked the look of the flat crisps like little medallions in the ice cream. But you can roll or shape them however you want.
Alice Medrich Notes: Even a little too much flour may result in a thick and tough, rather than thin and crisp, snap. A digital scale is preferred here.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup (2 ounces) sifted before measuring all purpose flour
2 pinches of salt
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter the baking sheet.
In a small saucepan, heat the butter, honey, sugar and ginger over low heat, until the butter is melted. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the flour and salt. Mix well.
Drop 6 individual teaspoons of batter onto the baking sheet, allowing plenty of room for spreading. Place one sheet at a time in the oven and bake until the cookies are deeply golden, 3 to 5 minutes. While they are baking, butter the handle of a wooden spoon.
Allow the cookies to cool for a few moments, then lift one with a metal spatula onto the wooden spoon handle (or cooling rack, if you don’t want to curl them). Curl the hot cookie around the handle with your fingers and slide it to the end of the spoon. Form the second cookie near the bowl of the spoon, and remove the first one to a cooling rack. Repeat, forming and removing cookies as fast as you can. If they harden before you can roll them, return the baking sheet to the oven for a few seconds to soften, and then roll them. If the first set of cookies does not spread or curl properly, add a tiny bit of extra butter and/or honey to the batter before continuing. Do not bake more than 6 cookies at a time, or you will not be able to keep up! Cool the cookies completely before storing in an airtight container, where they will keep for several days.