Saturday, January 9, 2010

Molly D's Kitchen in Seattle: Congee

One of my favorite comfort foods is rice porridge with Chinese flavors. When I was a kid in Honolulu we called it jook (the “oo” is pronounced as in “book”), which from what I can tell from my limited research is a Korean or alternative Cantonese name. Now that I’m on the mainland it seems the more common name is congee, so that’s what I’m calling it here.

My parents never made congee when I was little, so I only ate it in restaurants, often with dim sum. Muddling through Seattle’s dreary winter, I recently decided to make congee a more regular part of my repertoire. It’s warm and filling, cheap and easy to make, and can accommodate a wide variety of ingredients and toppings.

My congee is adapted from this recipe. (The blog is worth a read, too.)

Here is the absolute base recipe:


1 c. short-grain rice
8 to 10 c. water

Wash rice and put it in a large pot with 2 cups water. Place over high heat until water boils, then add another 4 cups water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 1½ hours, stirring occasionally and adding water as necessary (about 2 to 4 cups more).

Serves 6-8

Of course, you won’t want to eat it like that; it’s extremely bland, and congee can be much more interesting. This is what I did to make the bowl pictured above:


1 c. short-grain rice
2 c. chicken broth
6 to 8 c. water
4 or 5 shiitake mushrooms
handful dried shrimp

Wash rice and put it in a large pot with stock. Place over high heat until stock boils, then add about 4 cups water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Soak 4 or 5 dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water until softened. Remove stems and thinly slice. After congee has been simmering for half an hour, add mushrooms and shrimp to pot along with a pinch of salt.
Simmer for another hour, stirring occasionally and adding water as necessary (about 2 to 4 cups more).

Serves 6-8

I topped this bowl with:

(So many of these were fried because I was already frying the tofu.)

But honestly, you can mix in or top with anything you like. Any or all of the liquid can be veggie or meat broth. In the step when I added the mushrooms and shrimp, you could also put in ginger, garlic, bits of meat, or anything else you want to simmer with the rice and flavor the whole congee.

Other toppings might include:

  • Flavorful sauces like black vinegar, chili paste, or soy sauce
  • Meats and veggies like char siu, blanched broccoli, or raw tofu
  • Garnishes like crispy noodles, pork floss, or bits of onion

You could even use non-Chinese ingredients based on what you have in the fridge and pantry, I just wouldn’t suggest combining preserved soybeans with leftover chicken mole, you know?

Congee on Foodista


Sasha's Kitchen: A Rainbow Of Honey Vanilla Cupcakes!

Vanilla cupcakes are the simplest of cupcake recipes, in that it's similar to forget about them and get caught up making all the fun and unusual flavors of cupcakes.  However, it's actually harder to get vanilla cupcakes just right than any other type of cupcake.  They're less forgiving than chocolate, for sure.

Today's vanilla cupcake recipe is a modification using honey as the primary sweetener, based on Bill Yosses' (The White House pastry chef's) cupcake recipe for honey-vanilla cupcakes found on the Obama Foodorama Website.  My recipe is a bit different for a couple of reasons:  first I doubled the recipe for 24 cupcakes, instead of 12, but also made some ingredient adjustments to get the cupcakes just the way I like them.  However, I was certainly inspired to use organic honey in preparing them, just as the chefs at the White House have been, using their own on-site beehive.  Let's clarify though - I simply bought a large container of organic honey - no beekeeping for me!

I did not use Yosses' frosting recipe at all, but used the very same frosting recipe that I developed for my Chocolate Stout Cupcakes.  Then I divided the frosting into six bowls and prepared six different icing colors, and used the cupcakes to make a rainbow of colors. 

Here's my recipe for the Honey-Vanilla Cupcakes, adapted from the original Yosses recipe:

1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
2/3 cups of sugar
1 1/4 cup of honey
4 eggs
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
4 cups flour
2 T baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

My Almost-Famous Honey-Vanilla Frosting

4 cups of confectioners sugar
1 8 oz package of cream cheese
1/3 cup of heavy cream
1 stick of butter
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 T of honey

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  To make the cupcakes, mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.  Then beat the butter and sugar in the mixer.  Add the honey.  Here's a trick for adding the honey so you don't have it all sticking to the inside of the measuring cup.  Coat the measuring cup with a T of Canola oil and then pour out the oil.  When you add the honey to the cup, it will slide right off and into the basin of your mixer, without leaving any residual honey in the cup.  Add the eggs, buttermilk and vanilla to the mixer, beating at low-medium speed.  Then add the dry ingrediants and mix well.  You can add a tad of additional buttermilk if its a bit too thick (that's how I wound up using 1 1/4 cup rather than 1 cup of buttermilk). 

Fill two cupcake trays with 24 liners.  Fill 3/4 of the way to the top.  Bake the cupcakes for about 25-30 minutes at 350 F, until very lightly browned and cooked through.  You can test with a fork or a toothpick to make sure the inside is done.  My husband usually does the test, and he just seems to know when they are ready to come out.  Allow the cupcakes to cool fully before you frost them.

To make the froasting, follow the instructions for my Chocolate Stout cupcakes, since its the same frosting.  Beat the butter, confectioner's sugar and cream cheese well.  Then add the heavy cream and the vanilla.  I then divided the frosting into 6 bowls.  To color the frosting, use gel frostings, and not the conventional frostings at the grocery store, which would make the cream curdle.  I used the same gel frostings that I used in making Royal Icing for my purse and shoe cookies, from NY Cake.  You could do pretty much any color that makes you happy.

Cupcakes make terrific birthday party cakes, in a less traditional sense.  So, for a child's birthday party, you could make a lot more cupcakes, frost in many colors, and then arrange the cupcakes to spell out your kid's name, a picture, animal or whatever would make your little one smile.  The creative options here are endless!  In this case, my goal was simply to create a rainbow of cupcakes, so I selected the colors that are in a rainbow.

Vanilla Cupcakes on Foodista


Friday, January 8, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Date Spread With Humboldt Fog Goat Cheese

This recipe is a favorite spread or hors d'oeuvre in my house, even though it was never intended as such.  In fact, this started out as a Passover recipe for my Seder plate and evolved into something that I enjoy year-round.

I was raised in the Ashkanazi (of Eastern European descent) Jewish tradition, where Charoset, a traditional Passover food, is always made with apples, walnuts and wine.  I always enjoyed eating Charoset this way and never thought of making it any other way until I met my husband Brad, who has some Sephardic Jewish relatives on both sides of his family (Sephardic Jews include those from various Middle Eastern countries, as well as Greece, Spain and Morocco).  I learned that making Charoset with dates is actually a pretty common Sephardic tradition.

It happens to also be a delicious recipe.  After making it for my family this past spring when we hosted a Passover seder, I decided to make the recipe again (after Passover had ended) and served it on crackers with Humboldt Fog goat cheese, that we purchased at nearby Bierkraft.  This wound up being my husband's favorite snack!  The combination of the Humboldt Fog with the dates is a dynamic duo.  Another note here: if you like goat cheese, you must try Humboldt Fog - it is absolutely my favorite cheese, and is a thousand times better than any ordinary goat cheese. 

Here's the recipe for the spread, which is quite simple, thanks to my mother-in-law, Lynne.

1 lb pitted dates, chopped finely
1/2 cup raisins
1 1/2 cups warm water
6 to 8 T sweet wine (depending on how you like it, so make to taste)
1 tsp cinnamon

Soak the dates and raisins in the water for about half of an hour.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat in a saucepan.  Simmer for 30-60 minutes, stirring often.  Keep simmering until this gets to the consistency of a chutney.  When it is done, allow it to cool to room temperature.  Then add the wine and cinnamon and puree in a food processor.

Serve with Humboldt fog, on a water cracker.  The leftovers store well in tupperware.

Note:  All photos are my original photographs, except for the photo of the cheese from the public domain, available at  Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of the spread served with the cheese and crackers, but below is a photo of it on my Seder Plate.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Kelly's Kitchen On The Road At The In-Laws (Salt Lake City): Thick Cut Pan Seared Steaks

My husband and I met each other while living in Utah. He lived there for 9 years, I lived there for 6. While Steve was living there his dad come out there for a change of pace. After living there a few years, Steve's dad got married and stayed around even though we've moved away nearly 4 years ago.

I am so grateful to have somewhere to stay when we come out to go skiing at our favorite resort: Alta ski area. We have even left our skis and such at their house which makes makes popping in for a quick weekend even easier.

We always try and bring something out or do something to thank them for their hospitality. Steve's dad is a big fan of a good steak. So, on this trip we made them our favorite steak preparation- Pan Seared Thick Cut Strip Steaks. We are big fans of Costo's USDA Prime steaks, but only Choice was available in Utah, which is still tasty.

I think it's the scientist in me that loves Cooks Illustrated. I always like to know not only how to cook but the background behind the cooking method.

This recipe is almost completely backwards from everything that I've ever tried with a steak. It starts in the oven then sears in a hot pan. This technique controls the temperature of the steak so well, and by drying the surface in the oven first, it creates an amazing crust.

One note of caution- your smoke detector is going to go off! We always have the windows open and the fan going but it never fails. It's worth the hassle though. In this picture, Steve is searing and I am fanning the smoke detector.

The Perfect Medium Rare Steak
1. Start by cutting a strip steak in half to create 2 portions (should be around 1 1/2 in thick)
2. Season with salt and pepper liberally.
3. Place steak on a metal baking rack on a rimmed sheet pan into a 275 degree oven.
4. Bake until 90-95 degrees internal temperature (about 20 min)
5. Heat a skillet to medium high with some vegetable oil and sear for 2 min per side.
6. Rest for 10 min under loosely tented foil.
7. Don't forget to re-attach the smoke detector!!

Steak on Foodista

Cindy's Kitchen in Brooklyn: Food and Wine Pairing with New Zealand Pinot Noir

Seeing as how I'm the resident wine expert here, having worked as a wine rep* for a whole two months now, I thought I'd do a little food and wine pairing column, perhaps on a regular basis.
* If you want to know about me and my company, just click on my bio.

Wine and food go hand in hand, they always have. According to Wikipedia, which we know is always so super reliable (they did change Brittany Murphy's profile about ten minutes after she passed), evidence suggests that the earliest wine production took place in the Mid East around 6000 BC, and winemaking in Europe dates back 6,500 years. And, well...people ate back then too! Coincidence? I think not. Well, regardless, I dare you to eat a hearty lasagna and not long for a nice Italian Chianti, or a sausage and seafood-filled paella and not wish you were sipping on a quality tempranillo from Spain.

Ok so, new world wines might lack the history and pedigree enjoyed by those wines from the old country, but they can exhibit some of the greatest flavor profiles, rivaling their European predecessors. For example, Pinot Noir is not just a Burgundy grape; some of the absolute best pinots hail from the Pacific Northwest and Down Under.

Today I'm focusing on a 2008 Pinot Noir from the Marlborough region of New Zealand. This wine has a lovely red fruit profile, with some hints of oak and spice. It pairs famously with chorizo, mushrooms, roast chicken, and of course, New Zealand lamb. As such, I present to you Spiced Lamb with Double Tomato Couscous Salad

Serves 4-6
For the lamb
4 lamb short loins (or fillets) about 1/3 pound each, fat removed
2 cloves crushed garlic
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
1 tbsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp ginger
2 small hot dried red chillies, finely chopped

For the couscous:
1 1/2 cups instant couscous
1 tsp salt
6 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
4 spring onions, thinly sliced
1 roasted red pepper, thinly sliced
4 vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into thin wedges
8 sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced
zest and juice of 1 lemon
salt/ pepper

Directions Put the lamb in a shallow, non-reactive dish. Mix garlic, yogurt, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, ginger and chilies. Spread mixture over lamb, cover with plastic wrap and marinate for minimum two hours.

Put the couscous, salt and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil into a heatproof bowl, mix well, and add enough boiling water to just cover the couscous. Quickly cover the bowl with foil and leave for 20 minutes. Fluff the grains with a fork to break up any lumps. Cool until warm and then add remaining ingredients, including the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Season well with salt and pepper.

Panfry or barbecue the lamb over high heat, about 3-4 minutes on each side for medium. Remove from heat and let rest 4 minutes before slicing thin. Serve on the couscous salad with lemon wedges.


To read more about wine, specifically the wines and wineries of Napa & Sonoma Valleys, click here for SashaInTheKitchen's travel wine review.  Click here for Christina's article on chicken prepared using red wine in Budapest.

Lamb is one of the roundtable features of the month at Akitcheninbrooklyn.  Click here for SashaInTheKitchen's braised lamb ancho chile tacos and rack of lamb with fresh herbs.

Lamb on Foodista

Pinot Noir on Foodista


Sasha's Kitchen: Top Brooklyn Foodie Spots In Park Slope


When I moved to Park Slope nearly two years ago, I thought the neighborhood was lovely, charming and full of life.  I loved all the cute restaurants and shops, plus its proximity to the bustling noise and urban center of Manhattan.  However, I didn't realize, until my foodie friends started sending me articles, that it is an epicenter for some of the best food, restaurants and other culinary businesses in the entire New York Metropolitan area.  Yes, Park Slope is famous for something other than baby carriages and puppies (as it is portrayed on the new HBO show, Bored to Death ) - its culinary hot spots.  Park Slope has everything Manhattan has, without the hectic crowds and the noise.  It's also a bit less expensive, which is good in these economic times.  I have found that my trips into Manhattan for dining are far less frequent these days, because it's all right here, and don't let any Manhattanite tell you otherwise.

Below, I highlight some of my favorite food-related spots in "The Slope," in no particular order.  (Note: to be fair, a best of Manhattan entry from me is soon to follow in the next couple of weeks, since I did live in Manhattan for 8 years, before realizing that Park Slope existed).

1.  Bierkraft - Bierkraft is an entire store that specilizes in beer.  They carry every beer (thousands, literally)you could possibly imagine, and those that are simply beyond your imagination, from domestic and international breweries, large and small.  This is the best place in the New York Area, hands down, to buy beer from the typical brews to the eccentric.  If it's a beer, you can find it here, and they also always have 10-12 beers on tap in the store that you can purchase in growlers (click here for the current menu). My favorite season at Bierkraft is fall (specifically October) when they have an enormous selection of pumpkin ales and Octoberfest beers from breweries all over the world, large and small.  In addition, Bierkraft carries a wide selection of cheeses (better than Whole Foods, in my opinion), chocolates and some of the best sandwiches in the New York area.  My favorite sandwich is their Waygu beef sandwich with cheddar cheese, arugula, horseradish, mayo, tomato and onion.  Yum.  The search for the perfect sandwich ends here.  The staff is helpful and always friendly.

2.  Rosewater - I am a big fan of the farm-to-table approach to cooking and dining.  This is one of the reasons that I like Blue Hill, in Manhattan, which I wrote about in December.  Rosewater is just as good, but a fraction of the price.  This is the best brunch in Park Slope, hands down, and that says a lot given that New Yorkers come from every part of Brooklyn and Manhattan for Park Slope's famous brunches in the spring, summer and fall.  Everything is made with farm fresh, seasonal, organic ingedients.  In the summer, they have a duck entree with peaches that is one of my favorite dinner entrees ever.   Some other favorites; pumpkin cashew soup, quince crepes, duck confit sandwich.  They don't take reservations for brunch (so get there early), but make one if you are going for dinner on the weekends because it is a small restaurant, which enhances the lovely dining experience.  The dinner wine pairings are also excellent.  Their use of seasonal organic vegetables and fruits in their original cuisine is second to none.  In the winter, have some of their hot apple cider or hibiscus iced tea.  My husband loves their soups as well, so make sure to order whatever soup they are featuring when you go.

3. Al Di La - Al Di La is Park Slope's most famous restaurant.  There is always a long line and an hour wait for this wonderful small Italian, even if you go at 7 PM on a Monday.  Don't give up because it is worth the wait, and once you get seated, it is quite affordable.  Get the tasting menu as everything is fresh, delicious and artfully prepared.  If you want to avoid the wait, try getting there when they open at 5 PM.  If that's not good for you, check in and wait at their own wine bar around the corner.  The wines there are excellent, and they will tell you when your table is ready.  Once you sip some of those wines, an hour will pass quickly.

4.  The Chocolate Room - The Chocolate Room has two locations, one in Park Slope and one in nearby Cobble Hill.  We went here a couple months ago with visiting friends from Colorado.  They have everyhting from homemade chocolates, to chocolate cakes, to chocolate beer floats.  Once you leave, you may actually need a week or so to take a break from chocolate.  This is a great alternative to going to a bar on a Saturday night, and has a fun, lively nighlife feel to it.

5.  Weather Up - When one of our friends in nearby Prospect Heights told us about this bar, she accidently referred to it as Weather Underground, which brought nothing but hits for Bill Ayers when I searched for it on google.  I'm glad I finally found it though.  Weather Up is a new bar owned by Sasha Pestrake who owns a bunch of similar style prohibition-era speakeasys in Manhattan: Milk & Honey (the address is a secret; I've never found it myself), East Side Company Bar (more for the proletariat) and Little Branch, my favorite of his bars.  His drinks are masterpiece cocktails, artfully created in ways that few could imagine.  I especially love their "Flips," which incorporate an egg white into the cocktail. Don't be afraid to try it, as your whole conception of the cocktail will never be the same.  There are some other good prohibition era speakeasies that I will recommend in my Manhattan editition in a couple weeks.

6.  Clover Club (In Cobble Hill / Carroll Gardens) - Clover Club is another wonderful prohibition-era speakeasy (see No. 5 above), located in nearby Caroll Gardens/Cobble Hill.  Clover Club is actually one of my two favorites of these bars anywhere in New York.  It is a very pleasant environment to have a unique and artufully created cocktail with friends.  In addition, the small plates are amazing, if you also want to enjoy their food.  Hands down the best bar bites in NYC, paired with some of the best cocktails.  This is a fairly new spot - opened in 2008.

7.  M&S Prime Meats (no website) is a wonderful Italian Market and butcher in Park Slope, right near my apartment.  They make their own motzzarella cheese and actually have classes where you and your friends can learn how to make it as well.  All of the meats are fresh, delicious and reasonably priced, just like all of the other goods they carry in the Italian market.  Plus, the staff couldn't be friendlier.

8.  Union Market - Great organic grocery store with very reasonable prices.  Go here for organic veggies in the Slope if you don't belong to the Food Coop (I don't belong because I don't have the time to do four hours a week of grocery store chores).  Eveyrone here is friendly, helpful and knows their food.

9.  Beer Table - Beer Table is Park Slope's best new restuarant/bar of 2009.  It's a tiny place that has a fantastic brunch and serves wonderful and unusual beers on tap (changing ever day).  Some are inexpensive, some are super-expensive, but everything is delicious.  When I went there for brunch, I had a reaosnably priced banana flavored beer with waffles topped with blackberries.  Delicious.  They have great small plates as well.  They have a lot of very high end beers for true beer connoisseurs.

10.  Applewood - Applewood is another great, upscale restaurant here in Park Slope that uses only the best, fresh organic ingrediants, true to the farm-to-table philosophy of cooking.  Brunch here is delicious, as is dinner.  Can we talk about their lobster appetizer, because it might just be the best lobster I've had outside of New England.  Once again, get there early if you are going for Sunday brunch because brunch in Park Slope is always crowded and no one takes reservations.

11.  Ocean Fish Market - Best fresh fish in NYC at affordable prices.  Click here for a full discussion by me in a prior post on the use of their fish in making sushi (and to find out how my husband proposed over homemeade sushi).

12.  Sheep Station - Howdy! In 2004, after I finished taking the New York Bar Exam, a spent four weeks travelling around Australia and New Zealand.  This was one of the best trips I have ever taken in my life.  Sheep Station may look and feel like a dive bar, but it gets Australia just right.  My favorite item on the menu is their lamb sanwich.  They also have delicious poutine (gravy frieds with melted cheese), which is a Quebec thing, to mix it up a little bit.  We went here with my cousin from Montreal once, who loved it as well, though inexplicably, she did not order the poutine.  Also, they carry some good Australian beers.

13.  Miriam - Miriam is an Israeli restaurant with a huge international wine list, including a wide variety of Israeli wines.  I have only been here for dinner, but am told they have a great brunch as well.  My husband and I enjoyed the lovely meal we ate here, form the tapas middle eastern / Israeli appetizers to the wonderful entrees.

Did I miss somewhere in the neighborhood that you absolutely love?  Let me (and other readers) know in the comments!!!


Mixueer's Kitchen In Vancouver: Olympic Preview - My Top 5 Vancouver Sweet Destinations

Usually, I write from Mixueer's Kitchen in Toronto, but for this special article I'm mixing it up! As you all know, the Winter Olympics are coming to Vancouver in February. I just moved to Toronto in October from Vancouver - which I considered home for 5 years - so I've decided to share some of my insider information for any of you fellow foodies headed that way next month. Many of you out there have a huge sweet tooth just like I do, so I present to you my Top 5 Vancouver Sweet Destinations! (In no particular order, because this really is a Sophie's Choice situation).

1. Qoola - Scrumptious Frozen Yogurt, all without Genetically Modified ingredients, and only 90 calories! And really, how do you beat buying frogurt and going to watch the sunset at English Bay Beach, all in the span of 5 minutes? Amazing location! 1116 Denman Street, Vancouver, BC V6G 2M8 - (604) 801-6338

2. Cupcakes - Amazing cupcakes, they come in many delicious flavours like Lemon Drop (Lemon with butter cream frosting), the Koo Koo (coconut with cream cheese frosting), and my personal favorite the Red Velvet (red cocoa with cream cheese frosting). They have multiple locations, including on Thurlow Street and on Denman Street, but the Broadway location is my personal fav. Cupcakes can even make wedding cakes! 2887 W Broadway Ave V6K 2G5 - (604) 974-1300

3. Mondo Gelato - The best gelato I've ever had, with the most creative flavors! Where else can I get Durian flavoured gelato? With the small size cup, you can get two scoops and ask for them to be different so you can taste a couple of flavors at a time. And bless them, Mondo Gelato carries gelato, sorbetto and soy gelato for us poor lactose-intolerant suckers. Sample the spectacular grapefruit ice, biscotti, Ferrero Rocher and over 100 other flavours. There is a store on Denman, but for pure variety, the Robson Street location is my favorite. 1222 Robson Street, Vancouver, BC V6E 1C1 - (604) 694-0108

4. New Town Bakery - I used to live in China, and the New Town Bakery has the most spectacular egg tarts this side of the PRC! Right in the heart of Chinatown, they also have a little restaurant at the back if you want to sit. On a savoury note, New Town has some of the only steamed buns I've had in Canada that actually taste like the bao zi I used to buy on my way to school as a student in Shanghai. Try my favorite, the pork and vegetable buns. 158 East Pender Street, Vancouver, BC V6A 1T3 - (604) 689-7835

5. Trees Organic Coffee - This is my favorite cheesecake on the planet, bar none. Thin graham cracker crust, the softest, most pillowy cream cheese filling. Try the chocolate, it's a revelation. 450 Granville Street, Vancouver, BC V6C 1V4 - (604) 684-5060

Though I cannot be in Vancouver for the Olympics, I was lucky enough to be at my parents house in Guelph, Ontario when the torch passed through town. My mother and I trooped out in the cold and stood by the side of the road and watched the flame pass. We were lucky enough to watch the hand off from one runner to another and I was about two metres from the torch. What an amazing moment to witness, it reinforced to me how proud I am to be a Canadian.


Sasha's Kitchen: Green Pasta & Vegetable Medley

When I was in college at Haverford College, once a month or so, the Haverford dining center has a dinner special called Pastabilities, that just about the entire student body looked forward to.  Pastabilities basically involved stir fry pans where students could pick their own ingrediants to be mixed in with the pasta of their choice, to create their own pasta dish.  This was by far and away the most popular night at the dining center (yes, even more so than chicken tender night).

My concept for dinner tonight reminded me a little of those days.  I decided that I wanted tonight's pasta to be as green as possible (which meant no juicy red tomatoes), so I basically took every vegetable I could find in the kitchen that was green, yellow or white.  I diced them all together and cooked in our saute pan with some olive oil and spices. 

All of the senses are pretty important when it comes to food.  Taste and smell are the obvious ones - you're not going to eat something that tastes or smells unappealing.  However, our sense of sight when it comes to food is underrated.  I wanted to create a visual appeal with this dish by the use of color, having a strong sense of fresh green, created by various vegetables from our local market (I can't wait to make this again when the farmer's market returns in the late spring).  For this reason, I felt the presentation would be better without the use of red tomatoes (though perhaps yellow tomatoes would have been a fine addition, had they been seasonally available).  Also, my husband sometimes finds tomatoes to be a bit harsh on his stomach.

4-5 T of olive oil (I used Napa's Round Pond Estate's Blood Orange Oilve Oil, my favorite olive oil)
 1 onion, diced
2 shallots, diced
1 head of broccoli, cut up into small pieces
1/2 cup sugar snap peas
About 15-18 smallish artichoke hearts
5 large sprigs of thyme
1/2 an anaheim chile (not spicy, just flavorful and pretty)
2 zucchini
1/2 tsp saffron
salt and pepper to taste
juice of half of a fresh lemon
box of penne

To prepare the dish, saute the onions, shallots and anaheim chile to the olive oil,  and cook on medium high, until soft.  Add the sugar snap peas, broccoli, artichoke hearts and zucchini, and cook for about 10 minutes, until all of the vegetables are cooked to your liking.  Mix in the saffron, thyme, salt and pepper towards the end.  Aftertaking off the heat, mix with the juice of half of a lemon, squeezed fresh, and stir in the penne.  Serve hot.

 The use of the spices here is key.  While a lot of other spices might be overpowering, saffron and thyme give a perfect, unique flavor to this dish, and the lemon provides an excellent pick-me-up freshness.  This dish is obviously a great kosher, vegetarian, or otherwise healthy meal, and I highly recommend it with farm to table ingredients from a local farmer's market sometime other than the dead of winter.  This was a pretty off-the cuff experiemental recipe for me, especially the choice to use saffron, but it was a huge success.  I plan on making this healthy vegetable medley again, very soon!

Coming soon from my kitchen to this site: how to make limoncello, honey-vanilla cupcakes, date spread with goat cheese, berry tarts and carrot-potato souffles.

Penne on Foodista


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Amasea's Kitchen in Sun Valley: Another Squash Soup

Perhaps it's the season, or the fact that it hasn't been above 40 degrees in six weeks here in Sun Valley, or that squash from Idaho's Bounty is incredibly inexpensive, but I've made another squash soup.

I started with a small butternut squash (one that was almost acorn-squash-shaped rather than oblong), cut it in half, removed the seeds, and placed the halves in a baking dish. I added about a tablespoon of butter in pieces, a tablespoon of brown sugar, and heavy sprinklings of cinnamon and red pepper powder (still trying to use up the joint spice cabinet). I baked that at 350 for, oh, two hoursish? Until it smelled really good and was soft to a fork, anyway. When that was done baking, I removed the dish and let it cool.

While the squash was cooling, I sauteed about half a white onion, two or three shallots, and half a head of garlic (all chopped fairly fine) in about a tablespoon of olive oil and half a cup of white wine. Once the onions were half sauteed, I added more cinnamon and some smoked paprika (probably about a tablespoon or two of each). Once the whole mess was lightly browned, I put it in the Cuisinart. I added the flesh of the squash, and about three cups of the pureed potatoes that were such a failure in that last post (they had been in the freezer).

As the contents pureed, I added a bit of heavy cream. Probably less than a total of a cup, but I'm not sure, I just poured until it looked right. Out of the Cuisinart and into a medium-sized pan, I added a bit of vegetable broth to thin out the consistency. Again, probably a total of a cup or so, but I'm not sure. Also, a teaspoon or two of black truffle oil. As you can tell, I tend to cook by the seat of my pants, (today, the new jeans I won from Lee off Facebook!) which makes me a poor baker.

There was some toasting and buttering of San Francisco sourdough slices going on as I served up the soup. Thinking about visual and textural contrast, I diced up some cilantro left over from our elk fajitas last weekend. That went onto both bowls, and some grated reggiano onto my bowl (but not the fiance's). He said the cilantro could have been sliced finer, as it created too much of a textural inconsistency, but I liked it. Eh, to each his own.

For another soup recipe, check out Kelly's Carrot Soup, by clicking here.

Butternut Squash on Foodista

Christina's Kitchen in Budapest: Coq Au Vin

Hungary is a cook's paradise, with fresh produce from around the European Union and delectable meats available at markets and grocers everywhere. Also, while most Hungarian wines taste delicious and are well-priced (eat your heart out, Charles Shaw), there are also so-so table wines that work perfectly as guilt-free cooking wines, priced as low as $1 a liter.

My first week here, I was beside myself when I discovered the holy grail of budget cooking at my local supermarket: A whole chicken for the equivalent of $3. See, back home in Washington, D.C., I tried to buy farm-raised, cage-free birds, and the only place I could find one for under $2 a pound (at the Farm Womens Market in Bethesda) would regularly sell out by noon, so I'd settle for more expensive ones at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods, savoring every last shred of back-meat and crunchy bone.

So to find a whole hen - even a scrawny one, probably no more than 3 pounds - for 600 Hungarian forints, I thought I'd found nirvana.

Then I cooked it, making a spicy curry with tomatoes, onions and diced potatoes, and the bird wouldn't get tender. So I cooked it some more, letting the potatoes turn to mash and the sauce reduce to paste, and still the meat was rubbery, hard and dry. I was terribly disappointed, even though my tolerant beau ate it enthusiastically and even took leftovers to work the next day.

I turned to the experts, posting a question on the Washington Post Food section's Free Range chat, hoping that one of my former colleagues might offer some suggestions. And they did: Editor Joe Yonan wrote, "Indeed, if you're stuck with a tough old bird, you need to be stewing or braising instead of roasting... Remember, coq au vin was originally/traditionally made with coq -- cock, or rooster -- for that very reason."

I did a little research online, coming up with some great explanations of coq au vin (including one cook who suggested sourcing actual roosters in order to find the toughest bird). I tried out a few different recipes and was rewarded on my first try with a delectable stew that left me scrounging for the cheapest, scrawniest chicken every time I go to the store, just to have an excuse to make another coq au vin.

Here's my version of the dish. The recipe's utterly flexible, so you can add or subtract veggies, mushrooms, bacon and wine to taste. Best of all, for a purple-food lover like Sasha, a cheap-o red wine tends to turn the entire dish into a violet masterpiece, right down to the bones.

One whole chicken, skinned and quartered (roughly 2 to 4 pounds)
Three to six carrots, peeled and chopped in 1/2 inch disks
Three to six celery stalks chopped in 1/2 inch crescents
Two to three onions, quartered
One to three garlic cloves, smashed
One or two bay leaves
One sprig each of parsley and thyme
One bottle of cheap red wine (it doesn't matter how bad it is - it's said that the quality doesn't affect the stew, as long as you cook it long enough)
One quarter to one half pound of bacon, cut in 1-inch pieces
One cup of mushrooms, in 1/2 inch slices

1. Put the chicken, carrots, celery, onions, garlic and herbs in a big bowl, then pour in enough wine to cover it all. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and marinate in the fridge overnight or all day (give it at least 6 hours to let the wine work its tenderizing magic).
2. When you're ready to start cooking, remove the chicken, veggies and herbs from the bowl, and set aside the liquid. Pat the chicken pieces dry.
3. In a large skillet or pot, crisp the bacon pieces, then remove them from the pan and drain them on paper towels. Brown the chicken in the bacon fat. Work in batches to avoid crowding the meat.
4. Return all the chicken, carrots, celery and herbs to the pan, and pour in the reserved wine. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and let the mixture simmer for an hour or more, until the chicken is cooked. Add water, chicken broth or more wine if the sauce reduces too much.
5. After an hour, while the chicken is still cooking, use another skillet to brown the mushrooms, onions and garlic with a little butter. Add them to the chicken, then toss in the bacon pieces.
6. Sprinkle in some salt and pepper to taste and serve your coq au vin over rice or pasta, or just with some crusty bread.

(Photo by Jay Dater)

Whole Chicken on Foodista


Sasha's Kitchen: Simple Blueberry Goat Cheese Salad

My Dad and my stepmother, Kim, keep a kosher home.  My husband and I are not as great about keeping kosher, but we do try in certain regards (which is why I never prepare pork-based products, and use Empire chicken;  I'm not so great with sea-life, however).  When we first moved to Brooklyn, they gave us a kosher cookbook as part of our housewarming gift, called Kosher By Design, Short On Time.  This book actually has some pretty tasty kosher recipes, all of which are easy to make, including a recipe for blueberry salad.  My blueberry salad is very different from the one in that book, but it does contain blueberries and a blueberry colored dressing that is just the pretties shade of purplish-blue.  Also, it looks creamy, but there is no cream at all in the dressing and its actually pretty healthy (not to mention all those antioxidants in the blueberries).

1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
handfull of blueberries
2 T water
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1/2 tsp honey

romaine lettuce or hearts of romaine
a couple handfulls of blueberries
1/4 cup chopped pecans
crumbled goat cheese

I should probably mention that it is a blustery and cold five degrees outside.  Blueberries are not in season and will not be in season for some time, but I had a blueberry craving, probably because I wish it was warm again.  Thus, although the blueberries I found at the grocery store are actually pretty high quality, they were a bit on the expensive side.  However, this does make wonderful and fresh summer salad, especially with a glass of Chardonnay.

If you prefer strawberries, I encourage you to check out Eric In Jersey City's Strawberry Salad, and if you like citrus fruit, check out my Mandarin Orange Salad With Caramelized Almonds.

Blueberry on Foodista


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Asian Infused Blue Point Oysters On The Half Shell

Oysters make the perfect small plate, appetizer or snack.  They are actually very easy to prepare, if you live near the coast and have access to freshly caught oysters, because they really don't need very much garnishing to prepare.  My favorite oysters are the small, bite-sized ones, like Blue Point and Kumamoto.  Kumamoto oysters are actually a Japanese import that are widely cultivated in the Pacific Northwest.  Blue Point oysters, are a local Long Island catch, and thus, my choice for preparing this appetizer.  To learn more about oysters and different types of oysters, click here.  Don't forget that you will need a shucker as well.

For my small plate, I wanted to create a bite sized fresh ocean treat with an asian infused marinade or dressing.  Accordingly, here are the ingedients I used:

2 T olive oil
2 shallots, diced
2 cloves of garlic, diced
A bit of non-spicy chile, like anaheim chile (about 2 T)
1 tsp sugar
2 T soy sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 T champagne vinegar
2 T lime juice
1 T chopped cilantro
6 small oysters of the Blue Point variety (or use whatever your local catch is)

The cilantro, soy sauce, champagne vinegar and sesame oil in this dressing will give your oysters an asian infused feeling.  To prepare this recipe, heat the olive oil with the shallots, garlic and anaheim chile until soft for a couple of minutes.  Add the sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar and champagne vinegar over heat for about a minute.  Then add the lime juice and cilantro and allow to cool.  Then spoon the dressing over the Blue Point Oysters.  Perfect.   This is a simple eye catching appetizer or snack.  Just make sure that you only use a fresh local catch and prepare the same day that you purchase. 

I should mention that normally you shuck an oyster with a special oyster knife or shucker.  However, I just has my local fish guys at Ocean Fish Market in Park Slope shuck and half-shell the oysters for me, which was really much easier.

Oysters on Foodista


Margie's Kitchen In Boston: How To Prepare Lobster

Roadside lobster shacks were common 20 years ago driving north on Route 1 in Maine. Now you rarely see any on a drive “Down East”. There is one establishment in Wiscasset (past Bath, Maine) at the base of the bridge that crosses the tidal river. In a netted bag, they boil a lobster, egg, potato, and corn on the cob, and then they serve the boiled dinner on a paper plate with a cup of melted butter. You need a hot shower when you’re all finished.

Just a word of advice: if you want a refined way to cook and eat lobster, I would suggest you prepare another entrĂ©e. But if you are up for the challenge, the Yankee Magazine’s More Great New England Recipes is you best guide. Published in 1985, the expert at the time was a woman named Bertha Nunan. She recommends a steamed approach using only 2 inches of water and it doesn’t vary by the number of lobsters or the size of the pot. No specific pot size is suggested but I use a 10 quart (8 inch high) pot that I only use for cooking lobster. I can fit four 1 pound lobsters in the pot.

Bring the water to a boil and then sprinkle in a quantity of salt. Bertha’s recipe doesn’t specify any particular type of measurement, just sprinkling three times around the pot, plus 3 teaspoons (page 98). Essentially, you want to create the same salt level as ocean water. I’ve seen other recipes that use 1/3 cup for 1 ½ gallons of water. I compromise and use 1.5-2 tablespoons and the 2 inch water level. When the water is boiling add lobster (head first), cover and steam for precisely 20 minutes. Bertha suggests serving it with melted butter and vinegar. Just a quick note, the lid of my pot has never been kicked off by a lobster; however they do make a scratching noise with their tails which might disturb some folks. Putting them in the freezer for a couple minutes numbs them, but frankly who wants to have their freezer smell like lobster.
Eating the lobster requires utensils (nutcrackers, picks or shrimp forks) and large bowls for disposing waste. I would suggest looking at the link which provides detailed instructions on how to eat a lobster. I serve lobster with home made cornbread and a gelatin-based fruit salad.


Kelly's Kitchen in Chicago: When life gives you 5 lbs of carrots for $.98

After living in Chicago for 7 months, one of my colleagues let me in to a secret. She was eating a ginormous peach with juice dripping down her chin- she said "I got this at Stanley's and it was 10 for a dollar!"

About 6 months later, I finally got over there, and she wasn't kidding! This place always has such crazy deals. It so crowded, I try not to go when it's daylight. Once, at 8 at night, the parking lot was completely full of cab drivers doing their shopping. I'm not sure what's up with that.

It's completely changed the way I cook. Just this week, they had tangerines on sale 7 for a dollar and 3 heads of cauliflower for a dollar, and 5 lb bags of organic carrots for $.98. Game on!

This is one of my favorite recipes. I love simple soups and this one is particularly good. It was published online in the New York Times recipes for health Pureed Carrot Soup.

Things that I think make this especially good are

1. The onions are sauteed for 5 min and the carrots are added and sauteed for 10 minutes in a little butter and olive oil, which develops some deep and caramelized flavors before adding the broth.

2. The thickening agent for this soup is different than most- arborio rice, which gives it a heartier consistency.

But I'm just happy when I get to use my immersion blender. I love that thing.

My dad likes to make this too, only thickened with a potato and with some creme and ginger added. He's the one who got me the immersion blender a few years ago. Thanks dad!

Check out some other fabulous carrot recipes from this site, including carrot-papaya cupcakes and carroty latkes.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Torch It! Part Deux: Pumpkin Creme Brulee

When I purchased my creme brulee torch and made my first post on basic (but delicious) creme brulee, I stuck to the recipe that came with my Bonjour Creme Brule torch.  I still advise you to take a look a tthat earlier post for general instructions and safety issues for making creme brulee.  However, I am now officially expanding into the unchartered world of flavored creme brulees (dark chocolate creme brulee coming soon!).  For today's post, I prepared spiced pumpkin creme brulee with my husband last night.  This is just as easy to prepare as regular creme brulee, but is an interesting twist on the traditional dessert.  The end result was a bit more flan like than a traditional creme brulee, and has the essence of pumpkin pie, but with the traditional creme brulee crisp surface.  My husband and I agreed that this was a great take on a classic dessert.
The following recipe makes four creme brulee desserts in traditional creme brulee ramekins, but can easily be doubled to make more for a party.  And yes, this is the quintessential party dessert.

1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 4 teaspoons
4 large egg yolks
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp cinnamon
dash of nutmeg
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (I always use Libby's)

The first step is to arrange the 4 ramekins in a large metal baking pan (I always use a roasting pan).  In a medium saucepan, combine the 1/4 cup of sugar with the heavy cream and bring to a simmer on medium high heat, just to dissolve the sugar.  Then, take off the heat.

In a bowl, whish the egg yolk and the hot cream mixture until well combined.  Then add the spices, vanilla and pumpkin puree and whisk well to combine.  Then strain and divide the preparation among the ramekins.  Add enough hot water to the roasting pan to come up about a third of the way of each ramekin.

Bake at 325 F for about 45 minutes, until the custards are stiff.  Then, chill in your refridgerator for about two hours.  Follow the directions from my previous post with respect to adding sugar to the top and torching the creme brulees.

Creme brulee might now be one of my favorite desserts to make, as my friend in San Diego warned that it would be as soon as I tried it the first time.  I think, though, that one of the reasons that I like making it is that it is very sciency.  Baking in general is pretty scientific, and cooking can often be as well.  So the inner scientist in me loves projects like this that involve a bit of kitchen chemistry (I was a biology major at Haverford College, and studied molecular/cellular biology and biochemistry, and apparently this is how I prefer to put all that biology lab experience to use). The bigger the experiement, the more interested I become (which is why making my own cheese is coming soon!)  I suppose this is a pretty good combination of my two passions in those college days - science and writing.

Creme Brulee on Foodista


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Ancho Chile Braised Lamb With Blue Corn Tortillas

One of the things I love most about living in America is the richness of its melting pot of cultural traditions, and its inherent diversity.  When each of our families came to America, we all brought our own cultural traditions, and those traditions gradually mixed into a constantly evolving American identity - and an ever changing American cuisine.  This reshaping of the American culinary identities, based on the cultural traditions of people from all parts of the United States (as well places outside of the United States, as the world becomes more global) is one of the reasons that I started this food website with different writers from places all over the United States and Canada.  Tonight, I noticed similar themes expressed in the epic Iron Chef America Battle tonight between Bobby Flay and Mario Batali that I watched while preparing this.  (We can save my obsession with the White House Kitchen Garden used in those recipes for another day).  I love cooking using all of these different traditions combined with traditional cuisine and not only my own heritage (Ashkanazi Jewish, Eastern European and Swiss).

Tonight's recipe uses one of the new featured indedients for the month of January on, lamb, prepared in a traditional way, by braising a boneless leg of lamb, mixed with flavors of the American Southwest.  If you are interested in other ways to prepare lamb, you can find my New Years Eve recipe for rack of lamb with fresh herbs here.  Inspired by Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill Cookbook, I prepared a similar southwestner-inspired lamb, rubbed with ancho chile powder (which I must emphasize, is not spicy at all).  Chef Flay's recipe (which differs significantly from mine, but certainly inspired me) is on page 172 of his cookbook.  Both my recipe and his are attempts to combine a pretty traditional dish - leg of lamb - with flavors of the southwest, in a way that makes sense from a culinary-taste perspective.

Here are the ingredients that you will need for this recipe:

1 three pound boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of fat (I bought mine from my favorite butcher and Italian Market here in Park Slope, M&S Prime Meats)
3 T canola oil
two big handfulls of baby carrots
lots of ancho chile powder - at least 4-5 T (note: this is not spicy at all)
3 stalks of celery, cut up
1 large onion, diced
4 1/2 cups low sodium Chicken Stock
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 cup creme fraiche (or lowfat sour cream if you prefer)
Fried blue corn tortillas
Parsley for garnishing
Scallions for garnishing

First, like Bobby Flay in his recipe, I rubbed the leg of lamb on all sides with the ancho chile powder.  I used the powder sparingly to creat a full coat, so I cannot begin to quantify how much I used.  Ancho chile powder is not spicy - it is made from dried polambo peppers and has a raisin like taste.

Next, I heated the canola oil in my dutch oven on medium high heat, and seared the lamb on all sides, which took about 10 minutes.  Then I added the carrots, celery and onions to the pot and mixed for a minute or two.  Next, I added the braising solution - in this case the chicken stock, and seasoned sparingly with the thyme, bay leaf and rosemary.  I then put the entire pot in the oven at 350 F and cooked for about an hour and a half, until it was fork tender. 

Next, I removed the lamb and the vegetables and prepared the sauce.  (Actually, my husband Brad did this part, while I worked on the spiced-pumpkin creme brulee that I will be writing about in the next couple of days).  To prepare the sauce, we strained the liquid from the braising solution into a saucepan and boiled until reduced to a sauce for about 20 minutes.

As you can see from the picture, I served the dish in a blue corn tortilla, with scallions, parsley, creme fraiche and cojita cheese (which Bobby Flay described as a firm-textured Mexican cheese that is today generally made from cow's milk).  The carrots and celery are much to tasty to go to waste, and make a nice side dish.

You can purchase blue corn tortillas and fry them to serve, or if you prefer, it also makes a tasty lamb dish on its own with the vegetable side.

Leg Of Lamb on Foodista


Cindy's Kitchen in Brooklyn: My Famous, Almost Award Winning, California Cobb Burger

So over the summer, the Brooklyn Paper ran a contest for the best burger in the borough, and the winner was to be sent to Rachel Ray's Burger Bash (an annual part of the NYC Food Festival). Seeing as how I sort of pride myself on my burgers, and considering my love for all things red meat (sorry heart), I entered. I came up with a random recipe on the fly, based on what I was eating at the time - a Cobb salad. And lo and behold, a finalist I was named!

So this reporter from the Brooklyn Paper, Gersh, and his assistant came over to taste my heaven-on-a-bun. I though I had this contest in the bag, since my husband plays softball with Gersh in the park (yay connections!). The two guys devoured my patties, were impressed that I cooked the burgers in bacon fat (sorry thighs), and loved the egg yolks oozing down their arms once they took their first bites.

After much exciting deliberation, I came in... second. Thanks Gersh, I'll make sure my husband bats you 9th in the lineup next summer. Regardless, my burgers were friggin awesome, and I'm going to share with you my almost-award-winning recipe. Don't be intimidated by the number of ingredients; the recipe is really quite easy and everything goes really well together.

(serves 4)
For the Patty
1 pound ground beef (any kind is fine, but try to use an 80:20 meat to fat ratio)
1 egg
1/4 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
2 large clove garlic, minced
1 small shallot, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons worcesterchire sauce
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flake
salt and pepper

For the Toppings
4 to 6 slices bacon
1 avocado, sliced
blue cheese crumbles
sun-dried tomatoes (preferably packed in oil)
iceberg lettuce
4 eggs, room temperature
4 buns, preferably Martin's potato rolls, available at most supermarkets

For the garlic aioli dressing
1 cup mayonnaise
1 head garlic
olive oil
1-2 teaspoons lemon juice

  1. To make the dressing, first roast the head of garlic by slicing it in half, drizzling with olive oil, wrapping in tin foil and roasting in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes. The cloves will be softened and will easily be squeezed out. Rough chop them and mix them into the mayonnaise. Add the lemon juice and salt to taste.
  2. Fry the bacon in a large skillet. When crisp, remove the slices but retain the bacon drippings.
  3. To make the patties simply mix all the ingredients with your (preferably clean!) hands. Form four equal sized patties.
  4. Cook the burgers in the skillet with the bacon drippings. For a medium rare burger, cook for 3 to 4 minutes on the first side, flip, and cook and additional 2 to 3 minutes.
  5. In a small, non-stick pan, fry the eggs for about 4 minutes. I recommend cooking each one separately so they don't bleed together. It also helps to gently fold the egg white over the yolk so it doesn't break too soon.
  6. Assemble, making sure to put the egg on the top.
  7. EAT :)
For an additional burger recipe from this site, SashaInTheKitchen's Philadelphia burger, click here.

Hamburgers on Foodista
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