Monday, January 28, 2013

Seriously Delicious Yogurt

A few weeks ago, I found myself perusing the yogurt isle at Whole Foods Foggy Bottom.  I was in the mood to try something different seeing as Fage 2% accounts for 90% of my yogurt consumption.

I ended up finding Noosa, an Australian style yogurt.  It comes in a handful of flavors: blueberry, mango, peach, honey, raspberry, passion fruit, and strawberry rhubarb.  I didn’t purchase any that day because my basket was way too full already.  However, I ended up purchasing some last weekend when I was at Target.

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The package contains two four ounce servings and each serving is 140 calories.  I had the yogurt this past Saturday for breakfast.  It was delicious, rich, smooth, and creamy.  To be honest, it tasted a lot like full fat Greek-style yogurt. 

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Apparently, Australian style yogurt is basically Greek-style yogurt infused with honey.  The honey is supposed to add a “sweet-tart tang”.  I may have not tried a notably different type of yogurt but Noosa was so delicious I don’t really care.  The two servings were pretty filling and wonderfully decadent.  Next time you are at Target of Whole Foods, pick yourself up a container.  You will  be glad you did.       

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Ingredient 3 - Cashews

I love peanuts.  They are tasty, inexpensive, and ubiquitous.  However, this week I decided to work with a nut that gets less attention, the cashew.

Cashews are tree nuts native to Northeastern Brazil.  The nut we consume is found inside the kidney shaped seed that grows at the end of the cashew apple.  These apples have a sweet flavor and are delicacies in Brazil and the Caribbean.   

I was originally hoping to make a snack or energy bar so I could feature a healthy treat.  However, I wasn't feeling any of the energy bar recipes I found via Google and most of the cashew bar recipes I found were basically cookie bars.  So I gave up on being healthy and decided to make cashew cookies instead. 

Almost all the cookie recipes I read featured caramel and chocolate, delicious, but I really wanted to make something that didn't include milk or dark chocolate.  That left white chocolate on the table.  I used the original Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe as a guide for the recipe listed below.  However, I made a few changes to the base dough:  1. I added baking powder in hopes of getting cookies that weren't flat as pancakes.  2. I used more brown sugar and less granulated sugar.  Many of the cashew cookie recipes I scanned did this.  3. I reduced the flour from 2 and 1/4 cups to 2 cups.  I wanted to see how a little less flour would affect the cookie.  

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White Chocolate, Cashew, and Cranberry Cookies
- makes roughly 3 dozen cookies
2 cups all purpose flour 
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs 
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup roughly chopped cashews
2 cups white chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried cranberries
Let butter soften on counter; this will take 60 to 90 minutes.  20 to 30 minutes before dough preparation, place the eggs on the counter so they can come to room temperature.

While the butter is softening, prepare the nuts.  I bought a can of cashew haves and pieces and chopped the halves into large pieces.  You don't actually need to use a knife, you can break them apart easily with your fingers. 
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Combine flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in medium sized mixing bowl.  Mix thoroughly with a fork. 

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Crack and beat eggs in separate bowl.

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Once the butter is soft (easily spreadable), place it in a large mixing bowl with the two sugars.  Use an electric mixer to cream the ingredients. Start the mixer on low and slowly increase the speed.  Creaming will take about 2 to 3 minutes and the end mixture should appear fluffy.

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Next, add the eggs and vanilla extract to the bowl with the creamed butter and sugar.  Beat on low for 1 to 2 minutes, until thoroughly combined.

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Once combined, add the flour mixture to the bowl in 4 segments, beating on low to medium speed.  Don't worry about mixing the dough perfectly between flour segments.  Just make sure you do not have visible veins of unmixed flour after all segments have been added.

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You can use the mixer to incorporate the dried cranberries but do not use the mixer to fold in the nuts and chips.  This is best done with a wooden spoon or spatula.
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When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 or 375 degrees.  I tried both temps and it did not make a difference in the cookies.  Lightly grease a metal cookie sheet and place 9 to 12 balls of dough on sheet.  Be sure to keep dough balls on the small side and leave room for the cookies to spread, they will.  If the cookies get too big they are prone to breaking when you try to take them off the sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes.

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The cookies should be a medium brown when they come out of the oven.  If you take them out when they are light brown they will fall apart when you try and take them off the sheet!!  Be sure to let the cookies cool before removing them from the sheet (15 minutes).

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I thought the cookies tasted pretty good but I might add more cashews and cranberries next time.  The cookies had a good texture, soft and chewy, just the way I like.  Next time I make the cookies, I will definitely add back in the 1/4 cup of flour I omitted.  The dough was a little stickier than I liked and I hope the addition of more flour will keep the cookies from spreading out so much on the pan.  Overall grade - B.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Lunch Fit for a President

 A few days ago I stumbled on a Huffington Post article highlighting the menu for the inaugural luncheon that will be served at the US Capitol on Monday.  A luncheon, in some form, has been served during every inauguration since President McKinley's inauguration in 1897.  This year’s luncheon is being hosted by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, headed by Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York.

Usually, the menu for the luncheon features ingredients native to the President and Vice President’s home states.  However, this year the menu will feature ingredients from the chairman’s home state of New York.  I am not exactly sure why the menu doesn’t highlight products from Illinois, Hawaii, or Delaware.  Maybe the committee feels less of a need to follow tradition for a second inauguration?  Maybe Senator Schumer felt it was his right as chairman to throw some tasty bones to producers in his home state?  I believe the latter to be the more likely of the two. 

All I know for certain, the menu is making me green with envy.  I guess my invitation got lost in the mail.

First Course: Steamed lobster with New England clam chowder sauce, served on sautéed spinach with sweet potato hay.
Wine: Tierce 2009 Finger Lakes Dry Riesling (NY)
Main Course: Hickory grilled bison with wild huckleberry reduction, strawberry preserve and red cabbage, red potato horseradish cake, baby golden beets and green beans and butternut squash purée.
Wine: Bedell Cellars 2009 Merlot (Long Island, NY)
Dessert: Hudson Valley apple pie with sour cream ice cream and maple caramel sauce. Aged cheeses and honeycomb will also be served, including Toma Celena and Jersey Girl Colby from Cooperstown Cheese Company (Milford, NY).
Wine: Korbel Inaugural Cuvee (California)

As a lover of apple pie, I am crushing hard on the dessert course.  If I get inspired, I may make it myself.  The inaugural committee posted all the recipes; just in case you feel the need to bust out your best place settings and throw your own mock inauguration on Monday.  The site also features a video of Senator Schumer trying his hand at making the dessert.  It really should be titled Senator Schumer puts food on plate.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ingredient 2 - Scallops

I selected scallops as my second ingredient because they scare me.  I have a fair amount of experience cooking chicken, beef, and pork, but I get nervous anytime I cook a new fish.  The first time I prepared uncooked shrimp, I paced my kitchen checking the timer every 45 seconds.

sea scallop

Scallops are mollusks.  We eat the white muscle that opens and closes the scallops two shells.  They can be found in all of the world’s oceans but most wild scallop fisheries are found of the coasts of the Northeastern United States, Eastern Canada, and Japan.  Sea and bay scallops are in season October through March.  However, frozen sea scallops are available all year round. 
When selecting scallops, fresh scallops should have white firm flesh with no browning.  They should be odorless or smell slightly sweet.  They can be refrigerated for up to two days after purchase.  Frozen scallops should be solid and shiny and the inside of the packaging should be free of frost. 

Before going to Whole Foods to purchase my scallops, did a little reading on the America’s Test Kitchen website.  Their site explained it is preferable to buy dry scallops.  Wet scallops are are chemically treated with a solution of water and sodium tripolyphosphate.  This solution is used to increase shelf life and retain moisture.  I asked the man who assisted me if the scallops I was purchasing were wet of dry.  Apparently, they were wet.  I thought for sure that Whole Foods would have sold dry scallops; maybe dry scallops are fairly hard to come by?  

Pan seared and sashimi are my two favorite ways to enjoy scallops.  And because I have no desire to try and prepare sashimi at home, I decided to pan sear my scallops.  After a bit of browsing, I settled on a recipe for Lime Seared Scallops with Spinach and Candied Walnuts from the Whole Foods website.  I was in love with the recipe after first sight.  A simple marinade, sautéed spinach, and candied nuts, I was sold.
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The recipe serves six, but I decided to half it.  I began by dicing the shallot (1 clove), garlic (1 clove) and tarragon (1/2 tsp) for the marinade. 
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These Ingredients were placed in a shallow baking dish along with the olive oil (2 tsp).  I then juiced half a lime and added the scallops (1 lb) to the marinade.  I gently turned the scallops a few times to ensure they were fully coated.

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Right as I was putting the scallops in the fridge to marinate, I realized I had forgotten the lime zest.  I decided not to sweat it and grated the zest (1/2 tsp) right on top of the scallops.  I do not have the best grater, so I spend a good five minutes banging the zest out of my grater.

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While the scallops were marinating in the fridge (20 minutes), I candied the walnuts.  I did not make a half batch of nuts because candying an 1/8 of a cup of nuts seemed silly.  Despite my attempts to continuously shake the nuts, I had to get out a wooden spoon and stir them to prevent a giant nut cluster from forming.

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Once the nuts were finished, I prepared a paper towel mat to dry the scallops before cooking.  Gently patting the scallops dry before cooking allows the scallops to gain a nice brown crust from the direct heat.

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After the scallops were dry, I placed 2 teaspoons of oil in the pan brought it to medium heat.  I placed the scallops in the pan for 2 1/2 minutes before turning them with tongs and cooking them on the other side for the same amount of time.  Once cooked, I immediately placed the scallops on a covered plate to keep warm.

I cooked my scallops in two batches because America’s Test Kitchen said not to let the scallops touch when cooking and I wanted plenty of room to make turning them easy.  I probably could have gotten them all in one pan if I had worked from the outside in when initially placing them in the pan.

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Once all the scallops were cooked, I attempted to deglaze the pan with lime juice (juice of 1/2 a lime) like the recipe says.  However, I failed miserably.  The contents of my pan were charred and looked inedible.  There was no way I was putting it on my scallops.

I believe the deglazing failed for one and or all of the following reasons.  1. I did not have enough lime juice for the job.  2. I did not remove the bits of tarragon, garlic, and shallot from the scallops before they went in the pan.  3. My pan got too hot.  I used my hottest burner for the job and had it hot for a while with the two batches.  However, America’s Test Kitchen recommends using high heat when searing scallops.  To be honest, I am not sure what is the best course of action.  Maybe next time I will use a recipe that calls for making a sauce in a separate pan.

After the deglazing debacle, I cut my losses, washed the pan, and prepared the spinach.  I placed a splash of olive oil (approximately 1 tsp) in the pan I brought to medium-low heat and sautéed 1 clove of chopped garlic.

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Once the garlic had turned light brown, I added 1 package of baby spinach (5 oz) to the pan, turning it until all the spinach had wilted.  I am always amazed by how much spinach cooks down. 
Once wilted, I turned off the heat, added a few grinds of salt and pepper, and plated the spinach, scallops and nuts.

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I thought the scallops came out pretty well.  I would give them a B.  I did not taste any lime but that is probably due to the fact I botched the sauce.  Next time I make scallops, I will likely prepare a risotto to fill out the meal.  The spinach and the nuts were both good.  Now that I have candied nuts stovetop; I am sure I will be including them in dishes any chance I get. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza

I am a pizza lover; always have been and always will be.  So I was pretty excited when my sister suggested we get pizza from Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza for our Saturday night get together at her place. 

I have walked by Pete’s Claredon location a handful of times and have always been curious what’s unique about New Haven style pizza?  The Internet tells me that New Haven style pizza is a Neapolitan pizza crust topped with oregano, tomato sauce, and a little bit of grated pecorino romano cheese, no mozzarella..  These pizza were originally baked in coal-fired ovens but are no made in brick or high temperature gas ovens.

My sister suggested a handful of pizza that all sounded amazing.  We ended up selecting the Metro North, a white pizza with slow roasted pork, house-cured pancetta, ricotta, caramelized onions, thyme, and extra virgin olive oil.

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She also ordered a vegetarian calzone.  It was made with ricotta, mozzarella, tomato, basil, and other seasonal ingredients.  My one of my pieces had some asparagus.

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The pizza smelled and tasted fantastic.  The crust was nicely chewy and flavorful.  You could taste the olive oil and a bit of salt.  I really liked how the sweetness of ricotta balanced the pork and pancetta on the pie. 

The calzone was also very good, the mix of mozzarella and ricotta was wonderfully cheesy and a touch sweet.  The only downside, the end piece I had was low on cheese a was subsequently a little too chewy.

My sister  sent me home with leftovers that I ended heating up today for lunch.  I placed the slices in a metal pan, then tightly covered the pan with aluminum foil.  Ten minutes at 350 degrees resulted in hot delicious pizza that was not dried out.

If you live in the D.C. area and love Neapolitan style pizza, you should check Pete’s out.  I plan to make a trip to their Claredon location next time I want to go out for a pizza date night with Dave.                  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Ingredient 1 - Leeks

My sister Megan suggested leeks for my first featured ingredient.  She noted that they have been on sale recently at Whole Foods.  When I heard leeks, my mind went straight to leek and potato soup.  My mother made leek and potato soup, both the hot and chilled versions, intermittently throughout my childhood and I always loved it.  The  D.C. metro was quite chilly and windy last week.  Hot sup sounded amazing, so I committed to making leek and potato soup last Sunday.

So what are leeks exactly?  Leeks, Allium ampeloprasum, belong to the same family as onions and garlic.  They look like giant green onions but have a milder flavor than onions.

When selecting leeks, you should look for smaller leeks with dark green leaves, roots light in color and blemish free.  Avoid looks with wilted leaves.  

Leek and Potato Soup - Recipe adapted from Alton Brown and Emeril Lagasse

1 lb leeks
1 tbs butter
1/4 lb thick cut bacon
1 quart vegetable broth
4 small to medium Yukon Gold Potatoes
2 cups whole milk
2 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 white pepper
4 or 5 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
15 to 20 whole black peppercorns
2 tablespoons snipped chives

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I began by melting the butter (medium heat) in a 6 quart pot; I used my trusty Dutch oven.  While the butter was melting, I cut the bacon into quarter inch pieces and then added it to the pot.  I then prepared the leeks.  I rinsed them and removed the green leaves and the bottom of the root.  I quartered the leeks lengthwise and proceeded to chop the quarters.  I should have rinsed the quarters before chopping them.  Apparently, there may be bits of sand inside the leeks.  I really need to read directions thoroughly before charging into the kitchen.     

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Next, I added the leeks and salt to the pot, stirring them every few minutes.  I peeled and chopped the garlic while my husband Dave peeled and chopped the potatoes.  Once the leeks had been cooking for about 5 minutes, I added the garlic and continued to sauté and stir the mix for and additional 2 to 3 minutes.  The potatoes and vegetable broth were added next and brought to a strong simmer.

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While the pot was coming to a simmer, I made a spice pack for the soup by placing the peppercorns, thyme, bay leaves, and a washed and chopped leek leaf into cheese cloth tied firmly shut with kitchen twine. 

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I placed the spice pouch in the pot and covered the soup, letting it cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Note: The soup is ready for the next step when the potatoes are tender.

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After 20 minutes, I removed the spice packet, turned off the heat, and stirred in the white pepper into the soup.  I let the soup cool down for 3 or 4 minutes before blending it with an immersion blender.  If you do not have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender.  If using a regular blender, be sure to only fill the blender 1/3 full and remove the cap on the lid so the steam can escape.  If you don’t remove the cap, you will shower yourself with hot soup.  Trust me, I found that out the hard way a few years back.  I made a god-awful mess of myself and my kitchen.  It was a rocking good time!!

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After blending the soup, I stirred in the milk and garnished it with the diced chives.  

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Just in case you were curious, my soup did not have any faint hints of sand, phew!!!