Tuesday, June 29, 2010

pesto 3-in-1

This is another favorite that I discovered on Recipezaar ages ago, "ages" here being defined as "7 or 8 months." It's easy and delicious and I have a bunch of basil plants now because I want to make pesto out of basil I grew myself. This is ambitious and may never happen, but I remain hopeful.

You can buy pesto to make this, but I much prefer to buy a bunch of basil and pine nuts and romano and garlic and olive oil and make it myself. It keeps for about a week in the fridge if you seal it, or you can freeze it in ice cube trays and have little single-portion cubes of frozen pesto to melt whenever you feel is appropriate.

RECIPE: Basic Basil Pesto

-about 4 cups loosely-packed basil leaves
-about 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese
-about 1/3 cup pine nuts
-3 or 4 cloves of garlic
-about 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1. Put everything in a blender or food processor and puree. If it's too dry, add small amounts of olive oil until you achieve your desired consistency.

Ooh, yeah--make sure to wash the basil first! I try to avoid including any stems. I'm not sure what the normal protocol on stems is.

You may find it easier to blend the basil before adding everything else, especially if you're using a blender. I used my mini-food processor and did the basil in small batches before putting everything else in the blender, but my blender is pretty lame and doesn't work so you'd probably be fine just putting everything in at once.
Once it's done, put it in a container and refrigerate until you're ready to use it! I love the bright green of a fresh pesto--you don't get that from the jarred varieties.

Okay, so that was pretty much the easiest thing ever, right? If you have the basil, it's absolutely worth it, but basil can get pretty expensive so you might want to skip the 'making pesto' step and buy pesto instead to make this chicken. Because it's SO GOOD. I call it "caprese chicken" because, well, it's tomatoes, basil and mozzarella, but I think "pesto chicken" works just as well.

RECIPE: Caprese Chicken
-6 thin-sliced chicken breasts
-3 plum tomatoes
-pesto (above)
-a ball of fresh mozzarella (or a bunch of the tiny ones)

1. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Wash the chicken and trim any excess fat off the edges.
2. Slather the pesto all over each chicken breast and place on a foil-lined baking sheet.
3. Place chicken in the oven for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, slice the tomatoes and grate (or slice) the mozzarella.
4. After 15 minutes, remove the chicken from the oven. Lay slices of tomato on chicken and coat with mozzarella. Return to oven for 3-5 minutes, until cheese has melted.
5. Remove from oven. Serve on a bed of pasta (with pesto!) and with some vegetables. Enjoy.

I scoop some pesto into a bowl and cover about 2 thin chicken breasts with it, then add more. This isn't properly coated--it's just to point out that this recipe does get quite messy at times.

Apparently I didn't get a good picture of how the chicken looked once it was thoroughly coated, and you shouldn't go by this because it looks less coated once it's baked. This is the 'slices of mini mozzarella' version.

The chicken comes out juicy and flavorful. I love trying to get everything in one bite--the chicken, pasta, tomato and cheese. I also tend to always serve this with asparagus, but that's just because I love asparagus!

Okay, so you can clearly see that I made 7 chicken breasts, even though I said 6. The package came with a different amount than usual. The thing here is to make a lot of leftovers--I was serving two people with this, but everything left goes to good use: it makes the best sandwiches ever! Which I'm ALSO going to tell you how to make! (In addition, the sandwiches are why I use thin-sliced breasts. If you don't care to make sandwiches, then you can use thicker breasts if you'd like, but I think this provides an awesome ratio of pesto to chicken.)

To make the sandwich, take your favorite kind of bread--I highly recommend rye in this situation, but your tastes may be different--and slather some of your remaining pesto on each slice, the same way you did the chicken in the first place. Grate some leftover mozzarella onto one side. Heat the leftover chicken, then put it on the inside, wrap in tinfoil, and toast (I use the 'dark toast' setting). Or, if you have a panini press, this would be a great time to bust it out! I, sadly, don't. These are excellent, sandwich-shop quality sandwiches that you make at home with leftovers from a really simple dinner.
Like this.

Holy blurry picture, Batman. Sometimes there's nothing I can do to stabilize my camera. But you can still see this, and just look at all the delicious layers in there. The pesto gives the sandwich a super creamy texture inside, and the bread is nice and toasty.

So, there you have it: how to make pesto, what to do with it once you've made it, and what to do with the leftovers. Now I'm starving! I wish I still had some left.

I also can't help but wonder how this chicken would fare on the grill--has anyone grilled pesto before? Does it work? (Maybe I'll try it and let you know.)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Sage-Roasted Potatoes

So, a while ago I finally got around to getting those plants I wanted and potting them--I have four tomato plants that are growing amazingly fast, three basil plants (I know it's a lot, but I really REALLY want to make my own pesto from my own basil) and a sage plant. The thing is, I only bought the sage plant because my friend and I made some delicious chicken dish from Giada that involved sage, and we didn't have sage, so she went to buy sage, and a jar of dried sage cost TEN DOLLARS. So despite the fact that that was the first time I'd ever used sage in my life, the fact that it was $1.99 for my own sage plant or $10 for a jar of dried sage...well, I had to buy one, right? But then I had to find out what to do with it.

I turned to Google. I'll admit it--I'm a google fangirl. I use Gmail, Gtalk, Google Chrome, Google Docs, Google Reader, Google Calendar, Google search, and googlegooglegooglegoogle.com (which doesn't seem to exist anymore, unfortunately). Oh, and Blogger. They're Google now too. I'd want one of those awesome phones that uses Google to browse the internet, but I'm super anti-internet-on-my-phone. I mean, I spend all my time in my house online--I need a break, so I won't give myself the opportunity on the phone. However, those of you who visit frequently may notice that I recently added a google search bar to my blog, so if my labels don't help, then you can search for things! Hooray! ANYWAY. The point here is that whenever I have absolutely no clue as to what to do with something, I turn to google, and it gives me something. This time I basically found "roast potatoes on top of fresh sage!" and that's it, but it was way more helpful than it sounds. So anyway, I made some delicious roasted potatoes off of a half-made-up recipe and I'm sharing it here. Hooray.

RECIPE: Sage-Roasted Potatoes
Warning: Amounts aren't really gonna work here.

-A bag of small potatoes (we used purple; red and yellow would also work)
-A handful of fresh sage leaves
-Enough olive oil to pour a thick coating (about 1/8 in) on the back of a baking pan the size of a baking pan that will fit the amount of potatoes (cut in half) packed closely together
-A couple large cloves of garlic (3 or 4, more if they're smaller)
-Salt and pepper

1. Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.
2. Wash the potatoes and cut them in half. If you have really small ones (I had some the size of cherries) poke a bunch of fork-holes into them; they'll make good filler between the larger potatoes.
3. Pour an eighth of an inch of olive oil into a brownie pan (or whatever other pan you would like to use). Lay the sage leaves over the olive oil so they almost completely cover it. Cover with potatoes, cut side down, filling as much of the pan as you can but keeping it to one layer.
4. Cut the garlic cloves in half or thirds (or leave whole if they're smaller) and place them on top of the potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
5. Place the potatoes in the oven (I hope you heated it already) for 40-45 minutes.
6. Remove the potatoes from the oven, let them cool a for a few minutes and serve!

Brownie pan with oil and sage.

Filled with potatoes! And garlic!

All done! WOOO!

Okay, so in that last picture, can you see how the sage leaves are darkened and stuck to the bottom of the potatoes? It's kind of hard to see because we used the purple potatoes, but it's there. The sage (well, and the cut side of the potatoes) gets SUPER crispy in the oil, and the potatoes come out perfectly creamy on the inside with nice crispy outsides. The best part? The garlic. You can barely even see it in the picture (the bottom piece of asparagus points right above one piece)--it gets dark brown on the outside, nice and crispy, and, like the potatoes, amazingly creamy inside. I mean, I could have SPREAD this garlic on the potatoes if I'd wanted to, but instead I savored each piece on its own. So delicious.

I served these with a pork chop recipe that I found on an Italian blog that I started reading in order to (hopefully) not completely forget how to speak Italian before I go to Italy. Not that I have any real plans to go to Italy; I just want to some day. They're dredged in flour, then sautéed in oil, adding a sprinkle of sage and rosemary, and drizzling some balsamic vinegar into the pan right before they're finished. They were delicious, and I was super proud of myself for cooking from a recipe in Italian! (I mean, I had to look up pretty much every word because we didn't learn about cooking in the first two semesters of Italian, but hey, I can learn from here!)

Overall, a delicious meal--and these potatoes absolutely beat oven fries. I hope my sage grows a ton and I can make this a lot! Yum!

I hope everyone has a great weekend! I'll be super busy, helping some of Mike's friends move and then celebrating Father's Day a week late (I might be able to sneak in another post, depending on how long these things take) and waking up ABSURDLY early to go out for breakfast tomorrow. (And somehow I have to make a pie or cake or something for my dad. Awesome.) Anyone else have a busy weekend coming up, or are you planning on relaxing and savoring some free time?

Sage Leaf on FoodistaSage Leaf

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Taste&Create: Fried Chicken Point Pizza THINGS

Hi everyone!

This month, I decided to participate in Taste&Create, a food-blogger-community event that pairs you off with another food-blogger and you each have to cook something from each other's blog and blog about it. Sound fun? It is! Interested? Click on the Taste&Create logo to the right to go to the site and learn more. (Okay, wait, nevermind that doesn't work. It just takes you to the picture which you see here and clearly don't need to see again. Click here to go to the site.)

Anyway, I was paired with Dave from My Year on the Grill. At first I was excited because, as you know, I've been looking forward to grilling things. And then I saw that he had to abandon his grill to go live in the Caribbean (U.S. Virgin Islands, to be specific) and I became extremely jealous. Which doesn't really make sense. I hate the sun and I don't swim and I don't like beaches but the Caribbean is just gorgeous. Anyway, this meant that his most recent posts were not about grilling and I was too lazy to go back months and months to find something that was, especially when he had so many delicious-looking posts since he's been there. He even made my life easier (totally not intentionally) by having a recent post that was basically a list (with pictures) of everything that he'd done since he got there, so I looked through that to decide what looked good.

Well, it all looked good, and I was having quite a hard time making a decision--a few different things caught my eye, but they all had ingredients that I didn't have access to because we don't have the same foods around here as he does in the Caribbean. And, though not everyone does this, I wanted to stay fairly true to his recipe and not make something I didn't have the ingredients for. After all, the whole point is to taste something that, in theory, someone else made. (I guess we do this whenever we follow a recipe directly, but I adapt pretty much everything these days. I even ended up adapting this, albeit accidentally.)

Okay, so I was trying to decide whether I should make one recipe and use wine instead of whatever crazy flavor of rum he had used, or another one and just plain leave out the black sesame seeds, when Mike and I went to my grocery store and found a half off bin that had two jars of black sesame seeds in it. My grocery store doesn't normally carry black sesame seeds. Not that I've ever looked for them specifically, but I have spent quite a lot of time staring at the spice shelves wondering why sage is so expensive or what I would do with allspice, and I tend to enjoy oddly-colored variations of normal foods so I would have noticed and remembered black sesame seeds. The point here is that the fates made my decision for me: I would make Dave's Sesame Chicken Points.

He tells an interesting story with these points. He made up the recipe based on something he'd had years ago at a Thai restaurant (ooh, is this asian fusion?), and a couple weeks later got an email from a cook at a Thai restaurant giving him a more accurate recipe, which he then followed to make shrimp points. The cook also mentioned that sales increased drastically when they started calling them "fried pizza," but I agree with Dave--points sounds better.

Anyway, I said above that I adapted the recipe--basically, I took his chicken points post and tried to add a few elements of the shrimp points post (specifically, more chicken and ginger). So! Here's the recipe, along with pictures, and you should all go check out Dave's blog because it's funny and has good recipes and he spends one day a week making all the bread and doughs he'll need for the rest of the week, and that's just cool. (I want to do that someday. When I have one day a week that I can dedicate to making breads. Right now I just try to make homemade pasta whenever I run out so I don't have to eat boxed pasta.) Oh, also? I need to give you two recipes. Because I used his pizza dough, too. (But I didn't take pictures of that because, I mean, it looked like pizza dough. Not really all that exciting.)

RECIPE: Quite Excellent Pizza Dough
Recipe (indirectly) from The Bread Baker's Apprentice

-4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, chilled
-1 3/4 tsp salt
-1 tsp instant yeast
-1/4 cup olive oil
-1 3/4 cups cold water

1. Make sure you have cold water and flour. If you don't, flash-chill it in the freezer for about 20 minutes or in the refrigerator for a few hours.
2. Combine flour, salt and yeast in a bowl. Stir thoroughly.
3. Add the olive oil and water in bits (about a quarter of each at a time). Stir until it becomes doughy and you need to knead it. (Dave kneaded his in a gallon ziploc bag, I did mine in a bowl with a quart ziploc bag over my hand because dough feels icky.) Once it forms a ball, continue kneading for about 10 minutes.
4. Flour a surface and put the ball of dough on it. Then flour the ball of dough. Then cut the ball of dough into six pieces. This will make individual pizzas; if you want larger pizzas, then cut it into fewer pieces.
5. Spray the inside of sandwich-sized ziploc bags with oil (hooray for Pam's extra virgin olive oil spray!) and put each small ball of dough into one bag. Refrigerate for at least six hours or overnight.

Woo! Pizza dough! I never made pizza dough before, and it was SO easy. It took about 15-20 minutes total, and from what I found googling pizza dough, this is just about the best you can make. I'll definitely keep some in the freezer for homemade pizza nights! Okay, onto the chicken points.

RECIPE: Sesame Chicken Points
Adapted a tiny bit from My Year on the Grill which I already linked you to

-two balls of the pizza dough I just told you how to make
-about 1 cup of pulled-apart leftover rotisserie chicken (oh yeah, one of the reasons I liked this was because it meant that I'd have an excuse to get a rotisserie chicken and make soup with it later. I don't care that it's summer, I like chicken soup.)
-3 cloves garlic, sliced thickly (for once I didn't increase the garlic, and I was quite happy with how it came out--then again, my garlic cloves were abnormally huge)
-1 large shallot or tiny onion, also sliced thickly
-about 2 tbsp olive oil
-about 1 tsp powdered ginger
-2-3 green onions, chopped fairly thin
-about 1 tsp black sesame seeds
-about 1 tsp normal sesame seeds
-salt, to taste
-a bunch of oil for the pan (they cook in about 1/8 in. of oil)

1. Combine chicken, garlic, onion/shallot, olive oil and ginger in a food processor. Make the blades spin around until you have a thick chickeny paste. If it seems too dry, drizzle a little more oil in until you reach a good consistency. (I started with 1tbsp but ended up adding at least one more to make it not just minced chicken-garlic-onion-with-ginger.)
2. Flour a work surface (cutting board) and stretch each ball of pizza dough into a roughly 6-inch round. Coat each round with chicken paste. (Use all the chicken paste!)
3. Sprinkle the green onions over the chickeny discs and press them into the paste. Sprinkle half of each sesame seed onto them (about 1/4 tsp on each).
4. In a large skillet, heat about 1/8 inch of oil on high heat (Mike refers to this setting as "LOTS OF FIRE!" The caps are important here.)
5. While the oil is heating, cut the discs into sixths.
6. Once the oil is heated, reduce the heat to medium/medium-high (or "less fire" as Mike is insisting I should tell you, but that doesn't help those of you with electric stoves and it also doesn't tell you how much less fire, so it's not very helpful. But if you have fire, there should be less than there was.)
7. Place each triangle chicken-side down in the oil, trying not to splash the oil all over your skirt. (I did each disc separately, letting one cook while I put the other one together. This might have been a bad idea because the first one sorta burnt, but not really, and that's probably because I didn't reduce the heat. LESS FIRE.) Allow to cook for a few minutes until they reach a nice golden-brownish color.
8. Flip the points over and sprinkle with the remaining sesame seeds (again, a quarter teaspoon per circle, so...1/24th of a teaspoon per point. But you don't have to be that obsessive about it. (If you are, I might recommend making an appointment with a psychologist, who can probably give you some excellent anti-anxiety pills that will quell that OCD.) (Oh, wait, Mike says they'd taze you. Nevermind.) Then sprinkle lightly with salt.
9. Remove the points from the pan and place on a plate. Eat. Enjoy.

So, um...I think I could take any recipe and make it look really complicated with my instructions. Seriously--if you go back through my older posts and look at the recipe I adapted them from, it's usually a few sentences, but I manage to write a million steps. I'm not sure how. The point here is that these are SO EASY to make, and they're delicious.

Step 1: Chicken, garlic, onions, olive oil and powdered ginger in the food processor, ready to go.

Also step 1: A satisfactory paste-like consistency.

Step 5: Wow, I skipped a bunch of steps in the photo-taking. Luckily they were not complicated steps. This is what they'll look like before you put them in the hot oil. (They might have fewer green onions, if you use fewer green onions. Or something like that. They'll look roughly similar to this.)

Step 7: frying chicken-side down.

Step 8: chicken side up, more sesame, a little bit of salt, almost done!

The last step is always "eat."

So these were DELICIOUS, and as I said above, sooooo easy and quick. I was a bit worried about the chicken-paste, but it was great and I'd do it again. The best part is that these seem so easily adaptable--different kinds of meat, different spices, different toppings, completely different dish! I can't wait to play around with it (and see if it works in a pan brushed with oil instead of with a lot of oil). I was happy to be able to get to know another food blogger a little bit and can't wait for next month's Taste&Create. And if you see more posts with recipes originating from My Year on the Grill, don't be surprised!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Flank Steak Pinwheels

So I know I've been talking a lot about grilling this summer and how exciting it is, but I haven't posted anything grilled yet. I know, I know. But, the thing is, there's really not all that much to post when I bought some chicken and some marinade at the store and put them in a bag for the day and then grilled them for dinner. It's just not blog-worthy. However, I had one recipe that I was particularly excited to make and I finally did and now I finally have the motivation to post it. Woohoo!

So, these flank steak pinwheels showed up in my inbox a while ago. Well, the recipe for them did, and it wasn't quite what I wanted to make but it gave me ideas. OKAY completely off topic, I'm trying to write this post while watching an NCIS marathon on USA (I'm not entirely sure USA plays anything else) and it's distracting because I'm addicted--as Abby says in the commercials (and, presumably, one of the episodes), "It's more addictive than pistachios. Well, have you ever just eaten one pistachio?" And since I love pistachios I understand her point AND she's right. Completely addictive.

Anyway, it's time for a recipe. Hooray!

RECIPE: Flank Steak Pinwheels
Adapted from Delish

-One 1-lb (or a little more) flank steak
-3 cloves garlic
-3 tbsp herbed cheese (Boursin)
-1 cup baby spinach
-1 red onion (you'll only use a few thin slices)
-2-3 roasted red peppers
-Salt and pepper

Other stuff you'll need:
-8 bamboo skewers
-Meat tenderizer with a pointy side

1. Place the flank steak between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound it with the pointy side of a meat tenderizer until it's evenly 1/4 inch thick. (We kinda failed at this, the kitchen was rattling loudly and it was taking forever so we got to about a 1/2 inch thickness but really should have kept going.) If the pointy mallet rips holes in the plastic wrap, add more layers of plastic wrap around it.
2. Once the meat is evenly 1/4 inch thick, mince the garlic and spread it over one side of the meat.
3. Down the middle of the steak, spread a wide layer of the cheese (about 3 inches thick). On top of the cheese, cover the steak with roasted pepper. Sprinkle a few slices of red onion over the red pepper, and cover with spinach.
4. Roll the steak tightly, pushing in the filling that tries to fall out. Once it's rolled, push the skewers through it at even intervals, holding it together.
5. Slice between the skewers so you have 8 pinwheels. (We only managed to get seven because I didn't measure perfectly, but it's okay because we weren't feeding a lot of people.)
6. Okay, so when I rolled it and then put the skewers through there was too much filling and not enough steak (because it wasn't thin enough) so it ended up just forming a shell around the fillings instead of a pinwheel, and I had to take each skewered not-pinwheel, pull the skewer out, roll it again, and re-skewer it. This worked fine, but I wouldn't want to do it again, hence the "yes actually try to get it to a quarter inch" because then I wouldn't have had to. BUT if you don't manage to get it rolled up right, you can re-roll them individually.
7. Grill on high heat 3-4 minutes per side for medium-rare. Allow to cool about 5 minutes before serving.

Step 2: Okay, so I used a lot of garlic. This is not out of the ordinary for me. It was DELICIOUS.

Step 3: The rich herby flavor of the cheese perfectly complemented the steak and added a richness to the pinwheels, and spreading the leftover cheese on crackers was AMAZING. I think that's what it's meant for. So good.

Also step 3: I didn't take a picture after adding the spinach because it looked like a pile of spinach. But this is what it looked like before the spinach, and I think it had a perfect amount of everything. SO good.

Rolled up on the grill. It was quite difficult to keep all the fillings inside. The skewers will blacken a bit--one of mine even started to burn at the end like a stick on incense. That's okay; they'll still hold your pinwheels together!

A pile of pinwheels! Two pieces per person, perhaps with a side of black bean salad, and you've got an excellent meal!

So, these are the perfect grilled food to prepare for a summer dinner party, except that they take a lot of work and the ingredients are rather expensive--but it'd be wonderful for a party of four. Have another couple over, or a few friends, and show off your magic grilling skills! Even if you screw it up a little, you'll end up with an excellent meal. Serve something light for dessert--these rich, savory pinwheels will leave you quite full.

Well, I'm back to my ridiculous NCIS addiction. Tomorrow I'm making three pies for my little cousin's high school graduation party--I guess she's not so little anymore, huh? What are your plans for the weekend? Doing something fun with Dad? (Oooh, these would be a great Father's Day treat!)

Have a great weekend!

*I'm tagging this as gluten free but I don't know if Boursin is gluten free. But I'm sure that if it's not there's some other spreadable cheese you could use. I mean, you could probably use brie! So you might have to play with the recipe.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

attempts at organization

Hey everyone! Just a quick update today--I'm re-organizing my blogging world! Hooray! (I should be re-organizing the rest of my life, but hey, this is a start).

I now have an email address dedicated to this blog, so you can email me at edanacooks@gmail.com. I've transferred all the food-blogs I read to that Google reader instead of my old one, while leaving everything non-food related as is. I also put all my recipe site mailing lists there. It's nice to have a place JUST for this!

In addition, I'm re-doing the labels on my blog. If you're visiting as I'm re-doing them, you might notice that a lot of my posts don't currently have labels--I deleted them all, went through and decided what labels I should have, am putting those labels on this post so I can go back to all the other posts and click the ones I want, then deleting them from here...it might take a little while, but hopefully it'll be a little easier for you to find the recipes/posts you're looking for afterward.

And on a side note, I won a contest over at another blog, Haute Whimsy! Jen, who writes Haute Whimsy, just started a new thing where every Wednesday she posts an ingredient and people submit recipes using that ingredient, and the winner is featured on her blog, so go check her out--I'm featured on a blog with almost 900 readers! WOOHOO! (I think I'm the only one who entered, but I'm still excited.) The ingredient this week was banana, and it had to be a dessert, so my Peanut Butter Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies that I made way back in January won.

I'll be back with a real post (i.e. one with a recipe) tomorrow, but until then, enjoy this picture--don't these eggs look so happy to be made into whole wheat pasta? I couldn't help but smile when I noticed it!

UPDATE: Okay, my labels are all reworked. You can now click on an ingredient and it'll show you what I used it in--I didn't include every ingredient, just main ones, because that would take forever and there's a character limit for labels. I also now have VEGETARIAN and GLUTEN FREE labels, so if you need a vegetarian or gluten free recipe, you can click the link for them and it'll list all the ones I've posted! I strongly considered adding those labels to things that are easily adaptable (it would, for example, be very easy to leave the meat out of Mike's Pasta Sauce for a vegetarian version, and leaving out the meatballs [or using gluten-free meatballs] would make it gluten free), but I didn't, simply because I feel like if a vegetarian is going through here and sees a bunch of meatballs they'll be annoyed. HOWEVER, I'd be happy to change this, adding the label and possibly a "how to make this vegetarian/gluten free" line at the end of the post, if anyone feels strongly about it. Let me know!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Black Bean Salad

During the summer, I really like having a salad as a side dish, or even as a light meal. Unfortunately, actual "salad"--that is, the lettuce part--makes me really sick. I miss things like Chicken Caesar Salad, and occasionally I'll decide that it's worth feeling sick afterward and eat lettuce, but I've managed to find a few excellent lettuce-free salads to enjoy in the warmer weather.

I first had this delicious black bean salad about....wow, six or seven years ago. My aunt Janny made it when we were visiting. My cousin Julia always used to whine when she made recipes from the Cooking Light magazine ("Is this from COOKING LIGHT?!"); I haven't tried many other Cooking Light recipes, but I imagine that while they're probably delicious to many adults, the palate of a 10-year-old requires more butter, sugar, hamburgers, etc. However, I'm pretty sure Julia didn't complain about this. My mom got the recipe. It's been something I look forward to in the summer every year since then, and though we use the original recipe as a reference we never quite follow it exactly so it's never exactly the same twice. I think that's okay.

I make this in bulk. It still never lasts more than three days in our fridge. My mom and I basically eat it as or with every meal until it's gone, and I'm usually immediately wondering when I should make it again. I made it probably about a week ago (a little bit more) and I think it's time to make more. It's just that delicious. So, without further ado...

RECIPE: Black Bean Salad
Adapted from Cooking Light

-3 15-oz cans black beans
-A handful of fresh cilantro
-A few sprigs of fresh parsley (2-3 tablespoons, probably?)
-3-or-so green onions
-Juice from one lime
-3 large on-the-vine tomatoes (they'll be medium sized tomatoes, but large for on the vine tomatoes.)
-2 ripe avocados

1. Open, rinse and drain the black beans. I leave them in the colander while I chop everything else up so that they drain better. You could put them in a large bowl immediately if you want.
2. Mince the cilantro, parsley and green onions. Put them in a large bowl.
3. Cut the lime into quarters. Squeeze as much juice from you can out of each wedge into the large bowl.
4. Cut the tomatoes in half and scoop out the seeds (sometimes this is much easier if you cut the tomatoes into quarters). Chop them into small pieces, about a centimeter square (fingernail-sized?) and add them to the large bowl.
5. Cut the avocados in half and scoop out the pits. I find it easiest to cut them by leaving them in the peel and using a butter knife to cut cut a grid into the flesh, then scoop that out with a spoon. I usually cut about four lines up and down and probably six sideways for a good-sized "diced" avocado. You could also extract the flesh from the peel and cut there. (By the way, those little avocado tools that do this for you? I think they're pretty useless. You can do it by hand just as easily, and washing a butter knife is a lot easier.) Okay, so add the diced avocados to the bowl.
6. If you didn't put the black beans in the bowl at the beginning, add them now. Stir (gently, so as not to crush the avocado) with a wooden spatula until everything is evenly mixed together.
7. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours (longer is okay) before serving. (You don't technically have to do this, but I always think it comes out better if you do. Somehow the flavors combine during this time.)

Mike hates avocado, and he loved this. (I was glad he did; I would hate to make something he didn't like. I haven't so far.) It tastes super fresh and summery (I think that's the cilantro; for some reason it seems like it's definitely a summer herb) and all the flavors in it combine perfectly. You can serve it over lettuce or as-is. I haven't yet fed this to someone who didn't like it, so try it out, and try not to get too addicted.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Kitchen Accidents can Also be Wonderful

It has been a cloudy, rainy, icky week. I seem to have developed something of an awful cold, with a super scratchy throat and sinus headaches and refusing to get out of bed until noon (oh...wait, I do that anyway). It's taking the fire right out of my "hooray summer cooking let's grill stuff!" mood, but I did manage to sit down and resize all the pictures on my camera from my last few meals, which made me realize that I have quite a few posts' worth of pictures saved up and I should probably get posting. (I feel a particular duty to post what I have since I signed up for this month's Taste&Create and want to give my partner as much to choose from as possible! I'm having so much fun looking through his blog and trying to decide what to make.)

However, before I post a new actual recipe, I have to post my follow-up to the strawberry rhubarb pie. I'd never had rhubarb before, and decided that before I made the pie I should familiarize myself with my new ingredient.

Before I made the pie, I was looking at this pie of rhubarb thinking, "what do I do with this?" Now I'm looking at the picture thinking, "ooh, I want more rhubarb..." So, to become familiar with it, I had to try two things: first, I chopped one stick up, covered it in sugar, and ate the pieces. Delicious. I think this inspired Sour Patch Kids, but it's way better because it has a nice crunch and a juicy freshness instead of a chewy "ow my jaw" feeling. (I have jaw issues. They suck.)

Anyway, my next step was to see what happened when I cooked the rhubarb. I tossed some butter in a super tiny frying pan, and once it melted, added another chopped stick of rhubarb and a tablespoon of sugar. I let it heat up for a little while, wondering if the crispiness would be enhanced by a layer of fried butter or whether it would soften a little, figuring that it'd probably be a little bit softer--like apples. I expected it to be like frying an apple. However, when I went to stir the rhubarb around a flip it over, each piece that I touched turned to complete mush under my bamboo spatula. I sort of panicked, wondering how I'd manage to eat it now that I ruined it completely, and then took a deep breath and added another tablespoon of sugar and a tiny bit of water. I stirred it a bunch, mashing it completely, and let the water simmer off. I put the result in a little ramekin, let it cool, and refrigerated it overnight.

Accidental Jam! Maybe it's not the prettiest thing in the world, but it was a complete accident, so what can you expect? I was going to title this post "Kitchen Accidents can Burn Down Your House but They can Also be Wonderful and Delicious on a Slice of Toast the Next Morning," but it seemed a bit cumbersome.

RECIPE: Accidental Rhubarb Jam
takes about 10 minutes, makes enough for two pieces of toast, and is totally worth it

-1 stick rhubarb
-1 tbsp butter
-2 tbsp sugar
-1/4 cup water

1. Melt the butter in a very small frying pan. Add the rhubarb and one tablespoon sugar.
2. Once the rhubarb begins to soften, mash with whatever you're stirring it with and add the water and second tablespoon of sugar.
3. Simmer on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the water has evaporated and the rhubarb has achieved a jam-like consistency.
4. Either spread on toast immediately or spoon into a small container to cool.

I can't believe I actually just wrote a recipe for that, but considering I'd definitely do it again if I had rhubarb and wanted toast, I figure it's worth it. I mean, if you're having a relaxed morning and have ten minutes to make fresh jam for your toast, why not do it? Enjoy it with a nice cup of tea or something. Or have it as a snack. I plan to take full advantage of this mistake.

And, on a related "random fact" note: while rhubarb is technically a vegetable, in 1947, a New York court officially decided that since it's used in the US as a fruit, it is officially a fruit. I didn't know the government could decide things like this (have tomatoes been legally declared vegetables?), and I would LOVE to know how this got to court in the first place. So, new contest: tell me why the government cared. If you don't know, as I'm assuming you don't, make something up. You'll win...um...bragging rights. (If I actually get a few comments about this, I'll add my favorite to this post, along with a link to your blog if you have one.)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Okay, so given the pie crust post from the other day, I doubt any of you are surprised that I'm following up with the actual pie. (I don't remember if I mentioned that it was coming, but it was.) This was the first Strawberry Rhubarb Pie I've ever made. I don't remember ever having seen much rhubarb around before, but this year there was always a little basket of it in the grocery store, so I had been thinking about it for a while before I actually made it. Unfortunately, when I finally decided it was time to make a pie (as in, there were enough people around that I wouldn't be eating the whole thing myself) I had to make three stops before I found any! Luckily a little farmstand near my house had a few bundles, and I'm pretty sure they grow it themselves. I got strawberries there too, but they were from somewhere else. And HUGE. Like, strawberries the size of my fist. I was surprised to find that they actually had plenty of flavor--they were delicious!

Okay, so making this pie is pretty much the easiest thing I've ever done. Aside from Blueberry pie, which doesn't require cutting anything. Oh, and Pecan pie, which is really just "mix a bunch of stuff together and bake it." So maybe it wasn't the easiest, but it's up there, and soooooo tasty! I also discovered that I suddenly develop decent Knife Skills when chopping rhubarb. Usually I'm super slow at cutting things, but this was so easy!

RECIPE: Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

-3 cups chopped rhubarb
-3 cups sliced strawberries
-1 1/3 cups sugar
-1/4-1/2 cup corn starch (both the strawberry and rhubarb release a lot of juices, so this keeps the pie from being a liquidy mess. My rhubarb was releasing a TON of juice so I added more, but I think earlier in the season you use less. I'm not quite sure. I just know I like my pies to hold together.)
-3 tbsp cinnamon (this is really approximate--after I put everything else in the bowl, I just sprinkle tons of cinnamon on to cover it. The recipe I was loosely working from called for a quarter of a teaspoon, but that's just not enough cinnamon.)
-1 tbsp lemon juice
-Pie dough
-1 egg, beaten

1. Preheat the oven to 425F.
2. Place rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and cinnamon in a large bowl. Mix it all together.
3. Line a 9-inch pie plate with your rolled-out pie dough.
4. If there's a lot of liquid at the bottom of the bowl of ingredients, add a little more cornstarch. If not, then don't. Pour the contents of the bowl into the pie plate.
5. Cover with the second rolled-out pie dough. Cut vents in the top to allow the steam to escape.
6. Using a pastry brush, brush the beaten egg over the top of the pie.
7. Place in the oven (you preheated it, right?) and let back at 425 for 10 minutes. At 10 minutes, reduce heat to 375F and bake for another 50-60 minutes.
8. Remove from oven. Let stand for 15-20 minutes (or longer) before serving. Serve with a generous scoop of french vanilla ice cream.

See how easy that was? Seriously, I think that's the simplest recipe I've posted here. Now, I think the quality of a pie is based almost entirely on the quality of the crust. Not everyone agrees here, but if you want a delicious crust and don't know how to make one then you should definitely look over my previous post and try to get a feel for it. Once you figure it out, it's easy as...well...pie.

This is what I mean about the cinnamon--just sprinkle a ton on top! I can't imagine eating a pie with only a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon. Blech.

I've tried using those things that go around the edge of the pie to stop the crust from burning, and I've tried just wrapping the edge in tinfoil, but neither of these things have worked for me. Now I just let it get a little burnt and make sure to have some ice cream in those bites.

Don't you just adore this pie plate? I have no idea where it came from; I couldn't find any of my normal glass ones but this was in the cabinet. It's ceramic with a cream-colored glaze and blue polka dots. I've decided that when I have a house with cabinets to fill with all my own cooking things, awesome pie plates are going to be one of my top priorities.

So, this was the Speedpie that came out of those crusts! (I've made pies quickly before, but never called them speedpie. I think I like it, though.) I think this might be one of my new favorite pies, and I can't believe I never made it before. I'll definitely be looking out for more rhubarb, though! How about you guys? What's your favorite pie? I'd love to know!

Monday, June 7, 2010

One Crust to Rule them All

I hear a lot of people saying that they can't make a pie crust. This never quite made sense to me--I made my first pie when I was 12. I read the instructions and followed them and the crust came out perfectly. I was a natural, and everyone who ate this pie (blueberry-banana; I saw blueberries and decided to make a pie without realizing that you need way more blueberries than that so I added bananas and it was an excellent combination which I'll have to post here at some point) was impressed. (Wow, I've been the family's designated pie-baker for all occasions for ten years now. This makes me feel sort of old.)

I quickly became disenchanted with that recipe, however. It used shortening, and a lot of it, which my parents categorized as an Unhealthy Food. I started looking for recipes that didn't use shortening--I found a few with lard, but I wasn't touching those, and finally I found one with butter (also an Unhealthy Food but not nearly as toxic as shortening). It turned out to be the One Crust to Rule them All. It's so easy to throw together and it always comes out perfectly flaky and delicious. It's Martha Stewart's Pate Brisee recipe, which is absolutely amazing and I make one tiny modification in mine.

So, in case you don't want to click on a link, I'm putting the recipe here along with step-by-step pictures so you can see what it's supposed to look like at each different step and know if yours looks right! I hope this is helpful to those of you who could never figure out pie crust before.

IMPORTANT: You will need a food processor or stand mixer for this recipe. Martha says to use a food processor; I've always used my kitchenaid. I made it once with a pastry cutter and it just didn't work anywhere near as well.

RECIPE: One Crust to Rule them All
Adapted (only very slightly) from Martha's Pate Brisee

-2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
-1 tsp sugar
-2 sticks (one cup) unsalted butter, chilled (the unsalted part is important)
-1/4 cup very, very cold water

1. Cut each stick of butter along the tablespoon lines on the package. If it's cold, you should be able to do this without taking the wrapper off or getting pieces of wrapper in your pie. If you see any pieces, pull them off. (Alternatively, you could try to cut the stick into about 8 roughly equal pieces without the paper.)
2. Cut each tablespoon square into quarters. You'll have a lot of very, very small cubes of butter. This is good.
3. Put the flour and sugar into the bowl of your food processor/stand mixer (with paddle attachment) and mix well. (Martha says to use a teaspoon of salt, too. I don't. I prefer my crust with no salt. If you want to use salt, though, go ahead.)
4. Add the butter cubes, a few pieces at a time, allowing each addition to be completely coated in flour before adding the next.
5. Mix until the butter has been broken up into small pieces and the mixture "resembles coarse meal." Important: don't mix longer than that! It's important to not over-knead pie dough, or else it becomes dense and hard and awful.
6. Take your quarter cup of very cold water. Add a tiny bit (seriously, only very small splash) to the mixer at a time. Continue doing this until the entire thing sticks together in one big lump. (Note: I'm not sure what it'll do in the food processor, but according to the recipe you should be able to grab a handful and it'll stick together.) The tiny amounts here are key--I almost never use the full quarter cup. I'm pretty sure that using less water will give you a much more velvety and flaky crust, and more water will result in a hard, dense crust. So add the smallest amount of water you possibly can for it to all stick together. (Again, stop the mixer as soon as it gets to this point. Overkneading=bad.)
7. Take the dough out of the mixer and form it into a big even log and cut it in half. Form each half into a disc (don't roll it out yet, it should be about half an inch to an inch thick). Wrap it in plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge for about an hour.
8. After an hour, take the dough out of the fridge and roll it out. This recipe makes enough for a double-crust 9-inch pie.

Steps 1-2: chop up the butter.

Step 3: put the flour and sugar into the bowl.

Step 5: This is what it looks like before I add the water. Notice that there are still some larger pieces of butter sitting around--that's okay.

Step 6: Adding tiny amounts of water. Eventually it will form one big clump.

Step 7: The ball is about what your crust will look like when you've added enough water. The disc is what your disc should look like.

Okay, so I made a RIDICULOUS amount of pie crust. In half an hour or so. (I called it "speedpie" and decided it should be a new Olympic sport.) You're not going to have this much crust unless you make three batches, but it seems like a good way to point out another important part of crust-making: if you're making multiple pies, don't make all the crust at once. You'll have to knead it too much for it to work. Do each batch separately and your pies should be wonderful!

I used these crusts (four of the discs) to make the pasties I posted about earlier, and the other two to make a pie, which I'll obviously be posting sometime soon--I felt that I needed a post dedicated purely to making an excellent pie crust.

Thanks for reading, and have a great week!