Monthly Archives: May 2010

Spaghetti w/ Creamy Spinach

I’ve never been a cream sauce lover; I don’t know if it’s because I genuinely don’t like cream sauces or because I know how unhealthy they can be.  As a young child and even today, I’ve always preferred eating spaghetti with garlic and olive oil (aglio e oglio). The flavors of garlic, olive oil, and even a little red pepper were enough to complement a nice spaghetti or linguini. My mom and my grandmother even used to set a little bit of the just-cooked, plain spaghetti aside for me before pouring the red sauce on top for everyone else.  As I grew older, my taste buds began to appreciate homemade red sauces, pestos, and wine sauces.  However, I’ve still steered clear of ordering and/or making cream sauces…. until about 4 days ago.  I found this recipe for spaghetti with creamy spinach in Epicurious, and even though it’s not a true cream sauce (there’s no real cream in it), it was enough to convince me that a healthy “cream” sauce is agreeable with my palate, my stomach, and my eating habits.  Substituting the cream with low-fat, plain yogurt not only saves you hundreds of calories, but also prevents the sauce from becoming rich and heavy. Try this recipe as a healthy alternative to a traditional cream sauce!

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb. whole wheat spaghetti
  • 1 1/2 c plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3 c baby spinach
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 c Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the spaghetti until al dente. Drain and return to the saucepan.
  2. Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk the yogurt with the flour until smooth.
  3. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and red pepper and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add the yogurt and bring to a simmer over moderate heat, stirring.
  5. Add the spinach by the handful and cook until wilted, stirring. When all of the spinach has been added, stir in the lemon zest and juice and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Add the sauce to the spaghetti and toss well to coat.
  7. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and serve right away.
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Filed under Main Course, Pasta

Quick & Easy Chorizo Paella

What ever happened to those good old-fashioned butcher stores where slabs of meat hung in windows or in freezers in the backroom? You could ask for whatever cut of meat you wanted, and you could tell that the man handling your meat knew his stuff and cared about his customers. Nowadays, butcher stores are not as prevalent as they once were; many of them have been replaced by mainstream grocery stores. However, I recently went to a butcher store in Clarendon, VA called El Chaparral that specializes not only in meat, but in South American meat.  They had succulent looking, homemade chorizo that I decided to buy; 4 Argentinian links and 4 Salvadorean links.  The Salvadorean links were far more red in color and thus, more spicy.  The Argentinian links looked more like sweet Italian sausage in color, but with Latin American spices. I instantly decided that I’d freeze 4 of my links and then use the other 4 to make a quick and easy paella.

Paella is a Spanish dish that has saffron in it along with rice, peas, tomatoes, chorizo, crawfish, chicken, etc… Saffron is a very expensive spice and one that I don’t have on hand.  However, you can get away with not using saffron in your paella.  A few months ago, I volunteered at a cooking school in DC helping an Indian chef prep for his cooking class.  One of the things he shared was that tumeric is an Indian spice that is also called “poor man’s saffron.”  It is often substituted for saffron by many Indians who cannot afford it or who don’t have it on hand. Since I had tumeric, I decided to use that in place of the saffron. Some examples of short or medium-grained rice are Arborio rice or Spanish rice. There’s also specialty Spanish rice that has already been seasoned with saffron.  You can opt to use tumeric in place of saffron or you can use the saffron-seasoned rice.  Either option would be suitable for a quick and easy paella. For two people, this recipe will give you dinner and leftovers for the next day.  Hope you guys give this one a try!

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 4 chorizo links, cut into 1/2 inch slices on the diagonal
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 cups short- or medium-grain rice
  • 1/2 tsp tumeric
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Heat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Heat oil in a skillet over high heat. Add chorizo and cook until browned and fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add onion, red bell pepper, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add rice (medium or short grain rice), tumeric, paprika, and bay leaves. Stir to combine and coat the rice, about 1 minute.
  5. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil.
  6. Add the frozen peas and tomato; stir to combine.
  7. Transfer skillet to oven. Cook uncovered until rice is tender and no liquid remains, about 20 minutes.
  8. Remove from the oven, fluff with a fork, and serve immediately.

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Warm Arugula Salad

I’ve adapted Warm Arugula Salad from Jamie Oliver’s Happy Days with the Naked Chef. This is the perfect recipe to make right now because arugula is all over the farmer’s market.  It’s quick and simple and because arugula has a spicy, peppery flavor already, you don’t need to add that many additional ingredients to make this salad a huge success.  I made this salad for 2 people, so feel free to adapt the recipe if you’re making it for a larger crowd.  Also, be sure to eat the salad immediately after it’s prepared.  I love salads, or I should say, I love eating all the goodies in a salad minus the actual salad.  However, I found myself eating every last arugula leaf on the plate.  Arugula just has that beautiful, peppery flavor that no other lettuce can compare to.

“Warm salads can be blooming amazing or complete disasters. First, you have to get your hungry guests around the table before you plate up, so as soon as their bums are on the chairs, you are tossing the warm ingredients in with the arugula leaves. Boom, boom, boom on a plate and it’s in front of them. ~Jamie Oliver

Ingredients:

  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 4 slices bacon or pancetta
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1/4 c nuts chopped
  • 1 TBSP fresh lemon zest
  • 4 c arugula
  • salt and pepper to season
  • Balsamic vinegar to taste
  • Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Heat a skillet over medium heat and fry the pancetta or bacon until crisp. Transfer to a plate.
  2. Add 2 TBSP of olive oil to drippings in the skillet. Add the thyme leaves, onions, and nuts along with a pinch of salt and toss around gently. Cook about 5 minutes, until the onions are caramelized.
  3. Return the pancetta or bacon to the skillet along with the lemon zest and toss to coat.
  4. Throw everything into a salad bowl on top of the arugula.
  5. Drizzle generously with balsamic vinegar and top with Parmesan cheese.

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Filed under Main Course, Side Dishes, Soup & Salad

Fig, Apricot & Peanut Biscotti

Every so often I look through my cupboards or my refrigerator and see items that I realize are on the verge of going bad. This happened the other day; I opened up my cupboards and found dried figs and apricots that I had forgotten about and were now starting to look a little on the soft/mushy side. A rush of panic came over me – I did not want to lose these guys! They’re just too tasty and even too pricey to waste. I instantly switched gears and began searching for a good recipe. I found one from Leite’s Culinaria for fig, apricot, and nut biscotti that I adapted. The first two things I decided would have to be omitted from my biscotti, to my chagrin, were the hazelnuts and pistachios. My husband does not like various types of nuts, hazelnuts and pistachios included. Trust me, I’ve tried sneaking crushed nuts in here or there and every time, without fail, he notices. After giving me a “stern” talking-to, I promised him I wouldn’t try to dupe him with the nuts again (don’t worry… he’s not allergic). However, he does like peanuts, so I decided I’d crush up some peanuts and that would have to do. So I made fig, apricot, and peanut biscotti. I also decided to dip them in white chocolate because white chocolate makes a lot of things tastier, biscotti included.

The result?  The saltiness from the peanuts combined with the sweetness of the white chocolate was the perfect balance; not too sweet, but not too salty either. The fig and apricots added a burst of color to the biscotti, not to mention an Italian flavor that reminded me of Cantucci I’ve had in Siena. Make this recipe for an after-dinner treat or a perfect accompaniment to tea or coffee. To make this biscotti truly authentic, Italian biscotti, add anise, almonds, or hazelnuts.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup peanuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 4 dried apricots, cut into small pieces
  • 4 dried figs, cut into small pieces
  • Freshly grated zest of 1 small lemon
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 c white chocolate chips
  • 1 TBSP vegetable oil

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 300°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Mix the flour and baking powder into a large bowl. Stir in the sugar, peanuts, raisins, apricots, figs, and lemon zest.
  3. Pour in the lightly beaten eggs and mix well until you get a dough-like mixture. Wet your hands with cool water and, using damp hands, bring the dough together into a ball. It will be quite sticky. Transfer the ball of dough to the prepared baking sheet.
  4. Wet your hands lightly with water again and pat the dough into a log (you can use a sheet of parchment paper to help shape the sticky dough, if you wish), flattening it slightly so that it is about 3 inches wide.
  5. Bake for 24 to 30 minutes. To check if the block of biscotti is ready, press very lightly on top. If it springs back, you can take it out of the oven. If it feels firm, leave it in the oven for a few more minutes. Let the block of biscotti cool on the baking sheet for about 10 minutes. Leave the oven on.
  6. Transfer the biscotti to a cutting board and, using a large, serrated bread knife, slice it into 1/4-inch-thick slices.
  7. Lay the slices on their side on the baking sheet and return to the hot oven until pale gold, turning them halfway through cooking, about 10 minutes total. The biscotti should appear dry; if not, leave them in the oven for a couple more minutes on each side.
  8. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
  9. In a small bowl, mix the white chocolate chips and vegetable oil and microwave for 1 minute or until chips have melted.  Stir until smooth and dip biscotti tops into white chocolate.
  10. Allow to cool completely on parchment paper.

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Filed under Baked Goods, Desserts

Strawberry Champagne Cupcakes

I’m currently enrolled in a food writing course and one of our latest assignments was to write our own recipe using champagne.  Because I have a sweet tooth and because champagne, or the kind I like, is sweet, I instantly thought of writing a dessert recipe.  One of the things I learned in this writing course is that no one will ever write an original recipe or at least it takes an extremely gifted and creative individual to craft an original recipe that no one else has ever made before.  If you think you’ve created something original, chances are someone else has tried making the same thing before.  But that’s not to say that you can’t try right?  This is what chefs attempt to do everyday; create an original recipe that will change the culinary world as we know it.

Baking is really a science – it’s all about weights, measurements, and ratios.  If you have too many egg whites, your batter will be dry.  However, too many egg yolks will make your batter too runny.   There are so many idiosyncrasies in baking that it can be overwhelming, but with a little research and a lot of patience, you can write your own baking recipe.  Champagne is an odd ingredient to bake with, but a lot of people have done it, so the first thing I did was to think about what pairs well with champagne.  Well, strawberries obviously pair well with champagne.  So here’s what I came up with – strawberry champagne cupcakes.  Yes, I know there’s probably a zillion recipes for these cupcakes, but I didn’t cheat – I didn’t look at or use any other recipes for references.  How did I create my own baking recipe?

The first thing I did was figure out what the basic ingredients in cupcakes are: flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, butter, eggs, extract, liquid (oil, milk, water, champagne).  If you look at various baking recipes, these ingredients are generally the main ones used.  Sometimes you add baking soda or cinnamon or lemon zest or strawberries.  The next step was to research ratios and measurements.  There are two sets of formulas – one for pound cakes (they have less sugar than flour) and the other for “high-ratio” cakes (they contain more sugar).  There are also different ratios for the “high-ratio” cakes (i.e. eggs = butter, sugar = flour, eggs + liquid = sugar, etc..)  I chose to start off with the ratio formula in which the weight of sugar = the weight of flour.  From there, I added on to my recipe.

The next step in my recipe development was to tweak it several times.  My original recipe had 1 egg and 3 egg yolks.  It sounded like a lot for 1 batch of cupcakes and made me nervous to be honest – to have all those yolks plus the champagne?  It made me think my recipe would be too runny and would not hold together.  I then decided that 2 eggs would be perfect and if during my first initial recipe testing it looked like my batter was too dry, I’d add another egg yolk.  After looking over my recipe several times and buying my strawberries and champagne, I decided to proceed to the final step (i.e. the recipe testing).

To my utter amazement – I was sure something was going to go wrong – my cupcakes came out moist and flavorful!  I could not have been happier with them.  The chunks of real strawberries were enough to give my cupcakes sporadic little bursts of strawberry flavor as well as splashes of color.  I played around with the frosting and am still perfecting that recipe.  The frosting tasted absolutely decadent with pureed strawberries, cream cheese, champagne, etc…  However, it was a bit too runny, and I still want to perfect that before I share it with you guys.  Please try out my cupcake recipe though!  If you don’t want to make your own frosting, grab some from the store.  I’d love to hear your comments and feedback on this.  Hope you enjoy and maybe learned a few things too!

P.S. Strawberries will be in season at the end of May/beginning of June.  This recipe would be even tastier with fresh, local strawberries!

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 c flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 c sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, room temp
  • 1/2 c champagne
  • 1 c chopped strawberries

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Grease or line a muffin tin
  3. Combine flour, salt, and baking powder
  4. In another bowl, cream butter and sugar
  5. Add eggs one at a time to butter mixture, beating on low speed until mixed
  6. Add champagne and beat on low speed until mixed
  7. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and beat on low speed until incorporated
  8. With a wooden spoon, gently fold in strawberries
  9. With an ice cream or cookie scoop, fill each muffin tin to the top
  10. Bake for 20 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the middle comes out clean
  11. Allow to cool completely before frosting

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Filed under Desserts

Grow Your Own Herbs

Fresh herbs are one of those items that I rarely ever have on hand or if I do buy them, I use them for one recipe and forget about them until they rot.  My mom came down to visit a couple weekends ago, so I asked her if she’d be willing to get me a few herb plants at her local farmer’s market.  I would have bought them myself down here in Northern VA, but I knew my dollar would go further in NY (My mom doesn’t charge me for shipping and handling either!).

For $5, my mom was able to buy 3 herbs – where I live, you can buy 1 basil plant for around $4.  She brought basil, oregano, cilantro, thyme, chives, rosemary, and parsley.  I planted the basil, parsley, and chives in their own pots, since there was more than 1 plant and since they will (hopefully) spread out quite a bit.  I planted the cilantro, rosemary, thyme, and oregano in another huge pot that would give them ample room to grow.  Herbs are fairly easy to maintain – they need a lot of sunlight and water everyday.  However, with this crazy weather the east coast has been having, switching back and forth between hot and cold temperatures, I lost my cilantro.  Once the weather stays warm, I will buy another cilantro plant and maybe a mint plant as well.

It has been very convenient having these fresh herbs at my disposal.  I forgot how fresh basil can awaken your tomato sauce or how a sprig of rosemary can make even the blandest chicken taste that much more elegant.  What’s also nice about having your own fresh herbs on hand, is that you never have to worry about going out and buying fresh herbs for a particular recipe you want to try – no need to worry about wasting them either.

I know that many of you may not have a back yard or a deck.  If you have a balcony or a sunny ledge you can still grow your own herbs.  I’ve even put basil plants under my stove light during colder months and it has worked well.  I’m not endorsing growing herbs under your stove lights since every time you use your stove or oven you have to move them.  But if you do want a couple of herb plants, you can grow them on a sunny window ledge or balcony – it’s definitely more cost effective and far more rewarding growing your own herbs too!

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Filed under Misc.

Shrimp & Noodle Stir Fry

A stir fry is an ideal dish to make at home because there’s leeway in choosing what you decide to put into it – you can use whatever proteins or vegetables you have on hand such as chicken, beef, shrimp, pork, tofu, etc…   My husband and I made this stir fry with shrimp and then threw in whatever veggies we had on hand.  We bought some low mein noodles, but rice or even a thin spaghetti would work well too.

The word stir fry was first introduced into the English language by Buwei Yang Chao in her book How to Cook and Eat in Chinese to describe one technique of stir fry called chao: “Roughly speaking, ch’ao may be defined as a big-fire-shallow-fat-continual-stirring-quick-frying of cut-up material with wet seasoning. We shall call it ‘stir-fry’ or ‘stir’ for short. The nearest to this in western cooking is sauté. … Because stir-frying has such critical timing and is done so quickly, it can be called ‘blitz-cooking'” (Chao, 43).  Bao is the other stir fry technique in which the ingredients are added in rapid-fire succession and are constantly tossed, except when stopping to add more ingredients.  As you’ll notice in this recipe, everything is added to the wok at different times and not mixed until the very end.  Even though there are numerous steps to make a stir fry, the entire cooking time is minimal since the wok is extremely hot and the ingredients cook fast.  Use whatever protein and vegetables you like to make this recipe your own!

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz low mein noodles
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 scallions, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp dried ginger
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 1 orange pepper, diced
  • 1 jalapeno, diced
  • 2 c bean sprouts
  • 1 package fresh white mushrooms, chopped
  • 3 heads of baby bok choy, chopped roughly
  • 1 lb shrimp cleaned and deveined
  • 2 c chicken broth
  • salt to taste
  • soy sauce to taste

Directions:

  1. Soak noodles in cold water for 15 minutes
  2. Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat, add 1 tbsp oil, and heat until just smoking
  3. Add the scallions, ginger, and red pepper and stir-fry 1 minute
  4. Add the peppers, mushrooms, bean sprouts, and garlic and stir-fry until just tender
  5. Transfer vegetable mix to a bowl and set aside
  6. Add 1 tbsp oil to the wok and heat until just smoking
  7. Add the bok choy and stir-fry until bok choy is just tender.  Add to the vegetable mix
  8. Add remaining 1 tbsp oil to the wok and stir-fry the shrimp until just tender
  9. Transfer the shrimp to the vegetable bowl
  10. Add the chicken broth to the wok and bring to a boil. Stir the noodles into the broth and cook until chicken broth is absorbed, 4-5 minutes
  11. Return shrimp and vegetable mix to the noodles
  12. Season to taste with salt and soy sauce

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Filed under Main Course