food

Simplistic Cooking

If there is anything to know when it comes to basic home cooking, it’s that simple recipes and fresh ingredients yield a better outcome.  Have you ever noticed that on many occasions you may have thought that whatever you were working on—whether it be cooking or art, the more details you added, it did not look or taste as great as it did originally when it had less going on? This phenomenon applies to a bunch of things in life; especially in the culinary realm.  Here are three brief recipes that are perfect examples of this philosophy.  All of them have minimal ingredients, but their flavors stand out in a way that is straight to the point.  There are certain ingredients a home cook should always have in their pantry and fridge for most recipes and they should always be the best.  Arguably the most important of these ingredients that can pull a dish together is a very good quality bottle of olive oil in your cooking arsenal. An ingredient so versatile and flavorful if used correctly, has the ability to add a backbone to whatever dish you are making.  

 

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Asparagus with Parmesan

Yield: serves 4

Ingredients

  • One bunch of Asparagus
  • 3 regular kitchen tablespoons of olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  •  1 tsp of fresh lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons of grated Parmesan Cheese

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Toss all of the ingredients with the Asparagus on a baking sheet.
  3. Put it in the oven for 15 minutes until roasted.

 

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Herbed Italian Orzo

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

  • 1 pound orzo pasta
  • 1 yellow, red, or orange bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • ½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed (optional: my version does not have it)
  • ⅔ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 white onion chopped finely
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ cup fresh basil
  • A squeeze of lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Cook orzo in salted water according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water.
  2. Combine cooked orzo with  bell pepper, tomatoes, onion, and the optional mozzarella cheese.
  3. Dress the pasta salad by pouring in olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, oregano, salt, parsley, pepper, and basil.
  4. Stir to combine. Refrigerate until chilled. Serve cold.

Honey “Glazed” Carrots

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Yield: 4 people

Ingredients

  •  1 lb. carrots
  •   3 tablespoons of butter
  •  2 tablespoons of honey
  • 1/4 cup of parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1.  Wash, peel, and cut the carrots lengthwise in half and cut once again through the middle.  Boil the carrots for three minutes and no more than that because you do not want those soggy carrots that taste gross.  Drain it afterwards.
  2. Melt the butter in a pan like the one pictured at medium low.  Add the carrots as well as the seasonings and honey.  Do not add the parsley until the end.  Toss and cook for 3-4 minutes.  The carrots should still have a bit of a bite to them, and should not be fully “cooked” per-say.
  3.   Add the parsley after turning off the heat and toss to coat.
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This poster was bought at a farm in Martha’s Vineyard, but is originally an advertisement during World War Two when America was encouraging rationing.  However, what it says is still valid when it comes to choosing the right ingredients to cook with.

 

 

food

Healthified Big Mac

My blog is full of contradictions.  On one hand I have posts about healthy eating and resolutions, but on the other I have recipes for marshmallows and ice cream.  Don’t be so quick to judge though.  I’m all about being able to strike a balance.  This recipe is one that I’ve made inspired by a similar dish that my aunt always used to make for my family, but healthified and still just as amazing.  Whenever I cook, my style is always “a little bit of this and a little bit of that”, so the recipe has ingredients that can be adjusted to your preference and as you see fit.  At first glance, it does not seem like there are many ingredients.  With most things, less is more, and when you don’t complicate things, flavors stand out more.

Ingredients:

1 Pound of Ground Turkey

Half an Onion

Four Cloves of Garlic

Good Olive Oil (do not use the cheap stuff)

Herbs de Provence

A small bunch of cilantro (about ¼ cup)

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce or Hoisin Sauce (completely different sauces, but both add the extra concentrated flavor)

An egg

Salt and Pepper to taste

 

Extras/Garnish:

Cheddar Cheese Slices

Arugula

Whole Grain Bread (I cut them into circles, removing the crust)

Avocado Slices

 

  1. Prep the ingredients.  Chiffonade the cilantro. Chop the onion and mince the garlic.  In a pan, drizzle olive oil and heat it at medium low. You can toss a piece of onion into the pan and if it sizzles, its hot enough.  Add the onion and garlic and cook until glossy and a bit soft.
  2. In a medium sized bowl add your turkey, salt, pepper, cilantro, preferred sauce, and herbs de Provence.  Mix well.  Now add the sautéed garlic and onion, mixing everything well.  Lastly crack the egg in and make sure everything is incorporated.
  3. Heat up the pan again after cleaning the remaining onion off on medium high with a bit more olive oil.  Make sure you have a spatula handy.  The turkey is a bit difficult to form into rounds, so try your best to do so, and just plop them on the pan once it’s hot.  The burgers should be about an inch-ish thick and fairly small compared to a regular burger.  I made mini burgers, so they were about two inches in diameter.
  4. Once the bottom browns, flip it over and cook the other side until it browns as well.  The sides should be cooked as well, but not necessarily browned.  It should take about 6-8 minutes.  You don’t want to overcook the burgers, so if you are not sure, cut one of them in half a little early to check for redness.  With beef it’s okay to have the center red, but with poultry, it is obviously not.
  5. Plate the burgers with the garnish ingredients listed.  If you would like cheese, turn the heat off, but put the cheese on top of the burger while it is still hot and on the pan.
  6. Enjoy!

 

featured, food

Marshmallow “Peeps”

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Right after Valentine’s day, stores are always quick to set out all the Spring and Easter themed candy, one of the most well-known and coveted treats being peeps.  A few years ago, I was trying to find something more interesting to make and stumbled upon a marshmallow recipe.  My first thought was “You can make those?”.  Marshmallows are a trivial thing that people usually just buy from the supermarket, so I never considered the possibility of making my own.  Surprisingly, they are relatively easy to make and require minimal ingredients.  This recipe is adapted to the upcoming holidays and general Spring theme, but you can make many varieties.  Cut into pretty shapes and packaged well, they make great gifts or party favors.  If you are too grown up to eat peeps, these are definitely a step up and a bit more sophisticated.

 

Ingredients:

3 packages unflavored gelatin

1 cup ice cold water, divided

12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cup

1 cup light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

Nonstick spray

Lemon juice or Strawberry Flavoring

Directions:

  • Add the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer along with 1/2 cup of the water.  If you would like lemon flavored marshmallows make sure you have ¼ cup lemon juice and ¼ cup water included in this addition of water.  If you would like strawberry flavored ones, skip adding lemon juice and add strawberry flavoring to the sugar syrup later in the recipe.   Have a whisk attachment standing by.
  • In a small saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat, and let the mixture come to a rolling boil and let it boil for about 30 seconds. All the while, keep a watchful eye to make sure the sugar syrup doesn’t overflow.  Take it off the heat and immediately begin with the next step.
  • Turn the mixer on low speed and  slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and fluffy; about 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping. While the mixture is whipping prepare the pans as follows.
  • Combine the confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Cover two sheet pans normally used for baking cookies with plastic wrap.  Then, lightly spray the two sheet pans with nonstick cooking spray By using sheet pans the marshmallow will be spread thinner so you can easily cut it into shapes.  Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around over a sink to catch the powder, to completely coat the bottom. Return the remaining mixture to the bowl for later use.  It makes for very little mess and removal if you use plastic wrap.
  • Once the mixture is thick and fluffy and has been whipping for the allotted time, you can separate half of the marshmallow fluff into a bowl.  Put a very very small amount of red food coloring into one of the bowls of marshmallow and a small amount of yellow food coloring in the other.  Obviously, you can adjust to your color preferences, but I was going for Pastels.  Mix well to combine or leave a bit under-mixed for a marble effect.
  • When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pans, using a spatula for spreading evenly into the pan. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest of the powder for later use.  At this point, you could leave the marshmallows on the counter overnight to set, or leave them in the fridge for 3 hours.
  • Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into shapes using a cookie cutter dusted with the powder. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow by tossing them in a big bowl with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary.  Put the marshmallows covered in the powder in sieve and toss to get rid of extra powder. You can store these in an airtight container for about 3 weeks.  They do get sticky, so I recommend layering parchment paper in between stacked marshmallows.DSC_1363DSC_1366

 

food

Time to Par-Tea!

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I have always loved the idea of dedicating a part of the day to enjoying tea and little snacks that look too perfect to eat, like British people traditionally do (or so I’ve heard). Americans have their own version of high tea, but we enjoy our liquid energy boost to-go in Styrofoam cups or in those familiar paper cups with that infamous green mermaid. If the logo that I’m referencing has not already been ingrained in your head with native advertising, for your information, it represents Starbucks.  I love the idea of quick and easy, but it is nice to sit down and enjoy this tradition in a more slow and relaxed manner.  As much as we try, we will never be British, so we might as well adapt “tea time” to our own American culture and taste. The three types of cookie recipes included have Italian, Irish, British, and American influence.  Although they taste amazing alone, it is best to eat them with tea or coffee on the side and with good company.

DSC_1252DSC_1296DSC_1257Pistachio and Cranberry Biscotti
Ingredients
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup pistachios
Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C).
  • In a large bowl, beat together oil and sugar with an electric mixer until well combined. Mix in the vanilla and almond extracts, then beat in the eggs.
  • Combine flour, salt, and baking powder; gradually stir into egg mixture. Mix in cranberries and nuts by hand.
  • Divide dough in half. Form two logs, about 12×2 inches on a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. If the dough is sticky, cover your hands in flour.
  • Bake for 35 minutes in the preheated oven, or until logs are light brown. Remove from oven, and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 275 degrees F.
  • Cut logs on diagonal into 3/4 inch thick slices for longer biscotti or cut it across to make smaller biscotti. Lay the cut cookies on the sheet and bake approximately 8 to 10 minutes, or until dry; cool.
    Yield varies on how you cut them.

Biscotti are normally known as “the boring cookie”.  I’m convinced that once you make this recipe, your perspective on this forgotten Italian cookie will change.  The combination of pistachios and cranberries is great and the faint taste of olive oil adds an interesting flavor.  I’m not a biscotti fanatic, so maybe this is just how they are usually made.  Either way, this recipe is amazing.  By making them from scratch, you aren’t going to knock your teeth off from biting into one either. What are you waiting for?

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Lemon Glazed Cookies
Yields 2 dozen
Ingredients
1 cups butter, room temperature
1/3 cup powdered (confectioners’) sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup cornstarch (it seems like its a lot, but this amount of cornstarch makes the texture better)
Lemon Frosting (see recipe below)

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • In a large bowl, beat butter and powdered sugar until light and fluffy using an electric mixer. Add lemon zest and vanilla extract and beat well.
  • Add flour and cornstarch into butter mixture and mix until well combined. The dough might look dry, but give the butter time to “melt” into the dry ingredients. If its too wet looking, you can refrigerate it for ten minutes or so.
  • Roll cookie dough into 1-inch balls. Place onto parchment paper cookie sheets and bake 15 minutes. Remove from oven, carefully remove from baking sheet, and cool on wire cooling racks since they break easily before being cooled.

Lemon Frosting:
3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
⅛ cup lemon juice
1 cup powdered (confectioners) sugar

  • In a medium bowl, combine butter, lemon zest, lemon juice, and powdered sugar and beat with a fork.  If the mixture is too dense, microwave it for a few seconds.  If you microwave it too long, no worries.  Just put it in the fridge for a few minutes.  Additional lemon juice may be needed to get the frosting thin enough too.
  • Carefully dunk the cooled cookies into the frosting, since they break very easily.  To make the cookies look even better, grate some more lemon zest and place it on to the tops of the cookies you just dunked.

Even though the fact that these cookies look adorable should be enough motivation to make them, there are many other reasons.  These literally melt in your mouth and sweet and sour glaze is perfect for the otherwise boring shortbread cookie.  The combination is heavenly and nothing short of perfect especially when accompanied by tea, of course.

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Mini Chocolate Chip Scones
Yields 32 mini scones
Ingredients
Scones
4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup very cold unsalted butter (frozen)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup mini chocolate chips
Glaze
1 cups confectioners sugar
2 Tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375 F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
    In large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  • Cut in butter (It is better to freeze the butter, grate it using a box grater, and then cut it in that way. This method yields the flakiest scones). Stir in heavy cream and vanilla.
  • Carefully stir heavy cream/vanilla mixture into flour mixture. You do not want to over-mix, but due to the amount of dry ingredients it may be tricky to well incorporate the liquid and the dry mixes. You will need to use an electric mixer on a low setting to help coax the dough to cling together.
  • Once dough is beginning to cling together, add chocolate chips and incorporate, and then transfer to a very lightly floured surface
    Knead the dough and chocolate chips together until you are able to form a ball.
    Break the dough into 4 even pieces and round each one out into a disk about 5 inches wide.
  • Cut each into 8 wedges and transfer to cookie sheet.
    Bake for 14-16 minutes.
  • Prepare your glaze by whisking together milk, vanilla extract, and powdered sugar. Start with 1 cup powdered sugar, and if it still seems too runny you may increase the sugar amount. If it is too stiff, you can add more milk.
  • Once scones are cooled, drizzle icing on the top of each scone. Allow it to sit and harden before serving.  If you are extra like me, put the icing into a pastry bag or plastic zip lock and cut a very tiny part off of the tip.  Use the piping bag to drizzle the icing on for a neater look.

Out of all of these recipes, this one is the fan favorite.  I have made these a number of times for get-togethers, bake sales, or just given them out to friends.  It was actually the inspiration for this post, as so many people have asked me for the recipe.  These scones are sort of like the fancy version of a chocolate chip cookie but better.  See for yourself and recreate these scones!

 

 

food, Self-Help

Game-Changing Pancake Recipe

 

With many new year’s resolutions underway—the most popular one being to improve health and well-being, this recipe could serve as inspiration to avoid imminent distraction from achieving your 2018 goal.  If you are in the mood for some indulgent breakfast, since it is likely that you are trying to deprive yourself of excess sugar and junk, this is the perfect meal.

Let’s take a look at the generic pancake that is usually eaten.  So you have your butter, flour, sugar, eggs, leavening agents, and milk.  According to a simple google search, the standard medium pancake has eleven grams of added sugar.  This recipe only has three main ingredients.  People hold on to your hats, because this is going to surprise you.  My version has bananas, eggs, flour, and a couple additions like baking soda.  Do not worry ; the banana taste is not very prominent.  You will be shocked to find out how great these taste without the added fat that pancakes are normally fried in and the sugar.

Ingredients

⅔ cup whole wheat flour or oats

2 ripe medium bananas

2 eggs

½ teaspoon of baking soda

Splash of vanilla extract

Optional (for added richness and protein): a generous scoop of plain Greek yogurt

 

*Chocolate chips or blueberries

*Trader Joe’s Coconut Oil cooking spray

 

Add all of your ingredients, with the exception of the toppings into a blender and let it go at a medium speed until well combined.  Please do not overmix because this will mess up the consistency.

Heat up a non-stick pan on medium low heat (this pan type is super important, as it eliminates the need to use butter) and if you want, spray some sort of cooking spray on it.

You can make the pancakes as big or as small as you wish and add any preferred toppings.

Incorporate the add-ins after the battle settles into the pan.  Then flip the pancake after the top bubbles and the edges slightly separate from the bottom.  Cook each side until they are lightly golden and fluffier.  It is recommended to use a wide metal spatula.

Now take a second to admire how amazing these pancakes look!

 

Real Talk

Many people cannot stick to their diets or meal plans because they are restricting themselves too much.  After a few days, it is common to give in and splurge on what is being avoided.  You have definitely heard it about a billion times, but striking a balance between the good and the bad can lead to habits that stick.  Take this food for instance.  There are many ways to alter an “unhealthy” food into something delicious that can fuel your body.  Let’s say that you desperately want fries or a burger.  By utilizing the right flavors and ingredients it is so easy to make those two foods good for you and taste amazing.  In fact I will post a recipe for baked sweet potato fries and turkey burgers.  When one thinks of a turkey burger, they think of those disgusting and flavorless frozen ones, but that cannot even be considered food to be honest.  This is the cusp of the issue.  People tend to associate what is deemed healthy with those sort of descriptions.  I am here to say, that it most definitely does not have to be this way.

 

food

The Perfect Cup of Hot Cocoa

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To achieve this foamy look, put the hot cocoa into a blender and let it go for thirty seconds, and then you can pour it  into a mug and garnish with cocoa powder.

Currently it is forty degrees and outside–you know what that means.  Last time I checked there are four more days till December comes, so now we all have an excuse to listen to holiday music and drink hot chocolate.  But do not settle for a mediocre cup!  There are thousands of different variations out there, but this is kind of like all of those combined, but better.  After a while of trying to find the perfect ratios of ingredients, I finally came up an easy and super amazing recipe.  I don’t know what it is about this hot cocoa, but its close the best you can prepare at home with stuff already in your pantry.

Recipe:

(Makes two servings)

2 cups of whole milk

1/2 cup of semi-sweet chocolate

3 tablespoons of cocoa powder

2 tablespoons of brown sugar

3 turns of sea salt

Pour the milk into a small pot and let it come to a slight simmer.  Add the other ingredients to the pot, and turn the heat to a lower fire.  Whisk the hot cocoa until well combined and simmering slightly.   Top with whipped cream, and/or marshmallows.  Enjoy!

Whipped Cream:

1 cup of Heavy Cream

2 tablespoons of powdered sugar

With a whisk attachment whip the ingredients until light and fluffy.  This will take about four minutes total.  Do not over-beat because it will become lumpy.

food

Pumpkin Ice Cream

In lieu of pumpkin spice season, I decided that  a recipe like this one was overdue.  Yes you are thinking, why make ice cream when you can just go and buy some for a couple bucks in the supermarket—let alone make ice cream in the winter?
Well, first of all this ice cream tastes amazing and worth the work.

When you walk into the supermarket, you are hit with these bright fluorescent lights and an overwhelming amount of choices to make.  Walking down the dairy aisle, you must choose whether you want 2%,1%, whole, skim, almond, cashew, and countless types of milk (not to mention the brand you want). You purchase the milk for a few dollars or so and take it home all within the span of an hour.  This is something that has become a mindless action.  Do you ever stop to think where that carton of milk came from? Obviously, it was not always on that  refrigerator shelf.  The same goes for any other product in the store, including ice cream.  Your favorite treat was part of a large batch in a factory, and  packaged to be shipped to your supermarket  joining the countless other brands and flavors sitting on that shelf.   Of course, this is super convenient, and saves  a bunch of time, however there is less meaning in what you are consuming.  When you create something on your own, there is more pride and value in the product of your efforts.  The reason I love cooking is because the plate is a canvas for creativity and it provides the opportunity to experience food in a more fun way.  So, maybe just stop for a second before reaching for that carton of ice cream in that familiar supermarket situation.  Unless you know someone who has a cow, I don’t recommend doing the same with milk.

Anyways, making your own ice cream gives you a lot of freedom and obviously control as to what you put in it.  Most of the time, supermarket ice cream has ingredients like corn syrup and guar gum which is gross.  One day, as I was chowing down on some ice cream, I noticed that nowhere on the container did it say exactly what it was, which makes me suspicious. All this dessert is supposed to have is heavy cream, sugar, eggs, milk, flavoring—no BS.

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups (375ml) whole milk
1 cup (250ml) heavy cream
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons (95g) granulated sugar
big pinch of salt
5 large egg yolks
3/4 cup (180g) fresh or canned 100% pure pumpkin puree
1/4 cup packed (60g) dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground dried ginger
a few turns of ground black pepper
optional: 2 teaspoons whiskey or brandy
1. Make an ice bath by putting some ice and a bit of water in a large bowl and nest a medium-sized metal bowl (one that will hold at least 2 quarts, 2l) inside it. Set a mesh strainer over the top.
2. In a medium saucepan, warm the milk, granulated sugar, and salt. Whisk together the egg yolks in a separate bowl.
3. Whisk about half of the warm milk into the yolks, stirring constantly (this process is called tempering, which is done so that the eggs don’t scramble).
5. Scrape the warmed yolks back in to the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heatproof spatula, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula.
6. Immediately pour the mixture through the strainer into the heavy cream, in the bowl nested in the ice bath. Stir for a few minutes until it’s cool, then puree the custard in a blender with the pumpkin puree, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, pepper, and whiskey or brandy, if using. Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator, preferably overnight.
7. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Tired of Pumpkin Pie? For a creative alternative, sandwich a scoop of this ice cream between two graham crackers, smooth edges, and freeze to set.  This recipe is perfect on its own and great for your thanksgiving celebration.  Remember, if you have an ice cream maker that needs to sit in the freezer before use, plan ahead of time, so that it is ready.
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How I served the ice-cream at my Thanksgiving: “deconstructed pumpkin pie”.  For the record, my family made fun of this.