Thursday, February 28, 2008

baby shower weekend

alas my day-job work week will finally be over today. the words "joy,excitement, relief" come to mind after having a week that seemed endless. the weekend brings an opportunity to spend OODLES of time in the kitchen and i couldn't be more excited. me and my siginificant other will be catering her cousin's baby shower.the cousin has all ready had the baby- her third- and it's a boy. the theme is going to be Carolina blue her husband's favorite college basketball team. if it works for them, it works for me. i'm just excited about getting to cook, doesn't matter for who.
delana will be in charge of the cake since baking is her calling, not mine. i'm sure eventually i'll start to work on improving my cake and cookie skills but for now i'm content just being the taste tester. she's decided on a traditional white cake with a buttercream frosting which she's pulled out of her go to Baking Illustrated book which comes from the makes of Cook's Illustrated. it's an awesome book for anyone learning to bake or trying to tweak their baking skills. the only thing i've made from it has been their pizza dough and it is quite yummy but i think i ultimately prefer King Arthur Flour recipes when it's time to whip up some pizza dough. she's also making her version of a chicken salad pulled off from the Food Network. She's made some customizations that I think are even better than what's on the site. it's very yummy on some jumbo sized, buttery,flaky crescents. ill be sure to post the recipe first opporunity i get this weekend.
my job is to make everything else. the must haves are my famous corn and pepper dip, spicy tortilla chips, and a spinach and artichoke dip. i've fortunately been given room to throw in whatever extra dishes i want and i've decided to go with:

  1. polenta fries inspired by 101 cookbooks
  2. parlsey pesto pasta salad tossed with rotini and some cherry tomatoes
  3. a cilantro pesto also with some rotini (spiral noodle) or farfalle(bowtie pasta).
  4. a roasted red pepper and chickpea dip
  5. homemade pimento cheese- again i'm in the south so have to incorporate a traditional southern dish somehow.
  6. pita chips- quite possibly a seasoned mix? maybe some cumin? and a honey glazed mix
  7. a cream cheese fruit dip.

the shower is saturday so come sunday, i'll be sure to come back with an update of the final menu as well as recipes and pictures to match. if you have any menu suggestions, please comment and share. what's your favorite party food to have in general?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

bbq and pomegranates

last night while some were trying to figure out where to get their starbucks fix, i was trying to figure out how to use the pomegranate molasses that i had ordered from the Zingerman's website
.i'd all ready opened it once and had a taste and it was definitely more on the tart side, somewhat vinegar-y you could say. i've been researching different ways to use it and nothing had really inspired me so i knew i was on my own. i ended up deciding on trying to make some good ol' bbq sauce with it. i mean, i am in north carolina right? and bbq is big here so why not try and create something based on local fare with a non-local ingredient.
after reaching that decision, i had to think about what goes in a bbq sauce? i knew vinegar, sugar, and either tomatoes or ketchup and a medley of dried seasonings were the norm. for mine, i wanted to keep it low key and easy to do again if i were to be happy with the result. i started out by skimming the fridge and trying to see what i might need from in there. hmm... what to grab??? ketchup, some rosemary i had in a glass of water and half of a yellow onion leftover from monday night's hotdog and coleslaw dinner. again, im in the south. hotdogs and coleslaw are not reserved for the summer. and no, they don't have to be nathan's and your slaw does not have to be from the kfc down the street. there are just some things us ny'ers are oblivious to i guess. anyways, my time at the fridge was done. off to the cupboards.

my raiding of the cupboard produced a gallon sized ziploc bag of dark brown sugar,a jar of regular sugar, sweet hungarian paprika,one clove of garlic, olive oil and white distilled vinegar. now to the spice carousel. spin,spin,spin,weeee! good ride no? now stop.after that lovely ride, down came the red pepper flakes. i was now set and ready to venture into bbq world. oh wait, i did make one last stop at the wine rack and grabbed some armenian pomegrante wine that i thought might work nicely in tonight's sauce creation. so really now i was set. here's what i had gathered:

  • 1 large bottle of ketchup
  • 1/2 of an onion
  • fresh rosemary sprigs
  • dark brown sugar and regular sugar
  • sweet paprika
  • 1 medium garlic clove
  • olive oil
  • plain vinegar
  • red pepper flakes
  • pomegranate wine
  • our star ingredient - pomegranate molasses
  • salt/pepper- always at hand

i had now acheieved what the french would call "mise en place." all that i needed was ready. time to get busy. here's the breakdown of how much you'll need of each of these ingredients...

  • 2 tsp of olive oil
  • 2 tsp of chopped rosemary
  • 1 tsp of minced garlic
  • 1/4 tsp of red pepper flakes
  • 1 c of chopped onion
  • 1/4 c of pomegranate molasses
  • 1/4 c of vinegar
  • 1/2 c of dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 c of sugar
  • 1/4 c of pomegrante wine
  • 3/4 c of ketchup
  • 1/2 tsp of sweet paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste

1. in a medium saucepan over a low flame, add the 2 tsp of olive oil and swirl to coat. add the next 3 ingredients and allow to cook for about 7 minutes. it should look something similar to this...

2. once these 7 minutes have passed, add the chopped onion and increase your heat to medium.toss the onions to coat them with the garlic and rosemary mixture. cook long enough for the onions to have time to soften. you don't want the onions to caramelize, you just want them to be somewhat glossy. this should take 8-10 minutes.congratulations- you've made it past the halfway mark. 3. add the next ingredients from the molasses to your sugars and give this a quick stir. once the sugars have melted and we are now onto step 4.

4. add your final 4 ingredients- ketchup through the seasonings and give your mixture one final stir to combine everything and then bring to a boil. once it hit's that boiling point, down goes your heat and bring on the simmer. 15-20 minutes is plenty.

5. this step is optional but i chose to do it this time- you can strain your final product through a sieve to remove the onions you cooked in step 2. however, if you want a chunky sauce, then go ahead and leave them in there. it's not going to have any impact on flavor, just texture.

now, to figure out what to serve this sauce with. chicken? sure. pork? why not. turkey? go for it. beans? could work. if you decide to venture out and try to make this, let me know how it turns out and what you pair it with. have an idea of your own? please share because i do still have quite a bit more of that molasses left and i'd like to put it to good use. if you're looking for more ideas,here are some recipes that highlight the use of pomegranate molasses:

Simply Recipes
Food Network

Monday, February 25, 2008

sunday's spiked marinara

do you have more cans of diced tomatoes than you know what to do with? how about some leftover wine from dinner the other night? if so then get ready to make some extra room in your pantry and an excuse to go to the liquor store because tonight we're having some spiked marinara. here's what you'll need:

  • 2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic - about 2 small cloves
  • 1.25 cups of finely diced sweet onion - 1 medium sized onion should yield this much.
  • 2 cups of diced tomatoes - canned in sauce works just fine. How do I know? it's what i used
  • 1 6 oz can of tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup of dry white wine - I used a Alsace Riesling
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • Few grinds of black pepper
  • 3/4 tsp and 1/2 tsp of dried parsley
  • 3/4 tsp dried basil
Heat the 2 tsp of olive oil with the red pepper flakes and minced garlic in a 3 to 4 qt sauce pan over medium-low heat to allow the oil to become infused with both of these flavors, about 5 minutes. Toss the diced onion with 3/4 tsp of dried parsley and 1/4 tsp of dried basil. Once your oil has steeped, turn the heat up to medium and add the onion. Allow the onion to soften and once it has a clearer color to it, add the diced tomatoes and white wine. If using canned, add the white wine to the can to pick up whatever remnants are left and pour into the pot.Once the summer comes, I'd like to try roasting some fresh tomatoes instead but since it is winter, i'll have to leave that for a future experiment.

Proceed to add the can of sauce along with the remaining seasonings. Bring to a boil, then turn your heat down back to a medium-low flame and allow to simmer for about 25-30 minutes. I've never added white wine to my marinara sauce and I have to say, it added a nice dry heat to it. The addition really was quite satisfying. We served this atop spaghetti fixed according to package directions with a small salad of field greens on the side and the leftover rosemary, olive oil batard. To add some zing to the bread, feel free to just rub it with a clove of garlic and top it off with your favorite kind of mozzarella or even some parmigiana reggiano.

saturday seafood soiree

this weekend went by a little faster than i had hoped for but it was definitely one filled with some tasty dinner and breakfast treats. saturday's menu was in honor of delana- she had been craving fish for quite a few weeks now and we finally decided that this weekend we were going to put an end to that. after putting in our time at the gym, we went over to The Fresh Market- a local equivalent to Whole Foods- and loaded up on all that we need for our seafood fest.

to start we grabbed a pound of some zucchini and squash, followed up with a pound of new potatoes. these 3 ingredients plus some frozen broccoli from earlier in the week as well as some carrot rounds would make up our side dish. after finishing up at the produce section, off to the fish counter. we knew we definitely wanted salmon so we went ahead and asked for half a pound of that. the next question was did we want a) tilapia b)flounder or c) cod? our answer: b) flounder. we now had our sides, and entree. we made our way past the meats section and into the bread section. though not part of our original menu, we decided some good, crusty bread was not something we could pass up on and went ahead and grabbed a "rosemary olive oil batard." i cannot lie, a good crusty bread can be quite heavenly and this one was close to it. we were set and paid our dues at the checkout line. our fish fest rounded out to about $18 dollars. not bad for dinner for 2.

once it was close to dinner time, we got started on some prep work. to start, i made a homemade tartar sauce comprised of the following:
  • fat free mayo- again we are health conscious but feel free to use regular mayo
  • white vinegar
  • chopped dill
  • minced sweet pickles
  • ground mustard powder
  • creamy horseradish sauce
  • worcestershire sauce
  • kosher salt
  • fresh ground pepper

i wish i had an exact recipe but i just added each ingredient to taste and just neglected to write the exact measurements down. after i've played around with it some more, i'll be sure to give an updated recipe.

once that was done, i went ahead and set the oven to broil. the next step was to chop up our veggie filled side dish, which went a little like this :
  • 1 zucchini and 1 squash - each halved lengthwise and cut into semi circles
  • 2 medium carrot stalks - peeled and cut on a bias/angle
  • 1 medium new potato- halved lengthwise and diced
  • 2 cups of broccoli florets

place all your cut up vegetables in a bowl and toss with 1.5 tsp of olive oil, coarse salt and pepper. in a large skillet, add 1 cup of water to steam the vegetables, adding your potatoes first followed by the broccoli,then the carrots and lastly the zucchini and squash. all together, it should take about 15 minutes for these to cook.

you're still reading? awesome. it's now time for our entree: broiled salmon and flounder.

Once i had the veggies going, i got started on the fish. i cut the salmon in half lengthwise, to ensure that we would each get an even sized piece. i did leave the skin on just for simplicity's sake and seasoned each one with a touch of kosher salt and a mix of cracked black and white peppercorns. the flounder underwent the same procedure, except that it spent a little more time under the knife being cut into 4 equal sized fillets. since i don't own a broiler rack, i made my own using a cookie sheet and two cooling racks that i sprayed with pam to prevent the fish from sticking and just layed each filet onto the cooling racks and placed the onto the lowest rack of my preheated oven.

dinner will now be ready in about 12 more minutes. the following is the end result, plated and ready to be dug into.

if you have any recipes for tartar sauce, or cocktail sauce or any type of sauce that you think might go with this type of dish - let me know. what's your ideal seafood night? favorite fish? favorite side dish to compliment fish? not a fish fan? then let me know what your favorite weekend dish is hands down. i might want to try fixing it sometime.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

opa! i made some hummus!

since delana (my girlfriend) was having to work late tonight i figured i'd take the time to try something new in the kitchen.i've been wanting to try and make some hummus but just haven't had the chance so i decided to seize the moment or in this case, the can of garbanzos that has been in my pantry ? months and go ahead and make it. my list of ingredients was short as well as the tools i would need. here's what i used:
  • 1 can- 16 oz - of garbanzo beans or chick peas. you'll drain these but be sure to save the liquid - it's going to help make the hummus nice and creameee
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 2 tsp of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Pinch of Crushed Red Pepper
  • 1 Food Processor
  • 1 Can opener

based on what i've seen, you can add tahini paste if you have it but it's not a must have. i didn't have any and didn't deem it worth the five dollar splurge. you can also add lemon juice but i didn't have any of that either so again,just went those few basic ingredients. once you've got your beans rinsed, just throw them into the food processor along with the garlic and pulse away, drizzle in the olive oil and some of the reserved liquid in between pulses and once it's reached your desired consistency whoila! it's done. personally, i did about a tablespoon of the liquid but once again this is something you can definitely do to taste. pour the hummus into your serving dish of choice and go ahead and season it with the salt, pepper and crushed red pepper. once it is to your liking, you can garnish it off with some pine nuts or i would say even some chopped almonds. for me, im just going to leave it as is. i'm open to suggestions though because really i haven't had to much experience with this but it just sounded good. here's a preview...

disclaimer: no plates were broken in the production of this hummus...

tex mex cakes

this morning i had the pleasure of fixing one of my favorite things to eat - black bean cakes. the first time i ever had black bean cakes was at a local restaurant here in greensboro called lucky 32's, which is another fave. they have an awesome wine list and are nationally recognized for it- having won quite a few wine and spectator awards. the food is equally top notch and consists of Southern- creole fare. the menu is based on local seasonal ingredients and it shows through in dishes like shrimp and grits, sweet potato hushpuppies, cormeal crusted catfish and ketucky ribeye to name a few. i bet you're hungry now- i know i am.
when i first ordered the black bean cakes, they came topped off with a dollop of sour cream and a sweet yellow corn,onion and pepper medley as well as a side of star pasta and steamed green beans. i may not have their exact recipe but i do think mine comse pretty close. i have fixed them once before but omitted the pasta and replaced the green beans with steamed broccoli. both my mouth and my wallet were equally satisfied.

this morning my girlfriend asked me to fix them so she would have something to take with her to work since she was going to be working from 2:30 till 11 tonight. who am i to deny her? first i'll start out with my ingredients:
  • 1 whole red pepper, minced
  • 1 whole green pepper, minced
  • 1 red onion,minced
  • 1 jalapeno, minced with some of the seeds left in to retain heat
  • 1 cup of corn, frozen works fine if you don't have fresh as that's what i had to use
  • 3 tsp of olive oil
  • 1 can of black beans - i'm a goya fan - drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon of coriander
  • 1/4 tsp of salt
  • a few cracks of black pepper
  • 1/4 cup of crushed tortilla chips- i personally prefer the baked tostitos
  • 2 tbs of prepared salsa

start out by heating the 1 tsp of olive oil over medium heat in a non-stick skillet till smoking. once it reaches that point, add your peppers, onion and jalapeno. season with the 1/4 tsp of cumin and coriander, and add salt and pepper to taste.cook the peppers and onion until they are lightly browned. take your pan off the heat, and reserve half of that mixture for your black bean cakes. return the pan back to the stove and add the cup of corn. cook until the corn is heated through - 3 to 5 minutes. remove from heat once more and set aside. you can save that same pan for sauteeing the cakes.

the next step is to go ahead and mash up about 1/2 the beans. this step can be accomplished with the following tools:a food processor,a pastry blender, potato masher, very heavy hand and spoon. your choice. once done, go ahead and add the reserved pepper medley as well as the 2 tablespoons of salsa and about 1/2 of the crushed tortilla chips. combine all your ingredients with a large spoon and then separate into quarters. form each quarter into a small patty-like form and then dredge each one in remaining corn chips.

using the same pan from earlier, heat your remaining 2 tsp of olive oil over medium heat. once the oil has some shine to it, add your black bean cakes into the pan, being sure to leave some room in between each one- this will make the flipping process easier. cook on each side for about 4 minutes- you just want the coating to be lightly browned. after the 8 minutes are up, it is now time to dig in. transfer the cakes to a plate and top off with sour cream and corn and pepper medley.
here are some more ideas for sides:
  • yellow mexican style rice
  • avocado salad- romaine, sliced tomatoes, white onion, diced avocado and a dressed with corn oil and white vinegar
  • roasted asparagus / broccoli
  • bowtie (farfalle)/ penne rigate/ rotini pasta tossed with a cilantro/basil/parsley pesto - pick your p's
  • for tonight, i decided to make some couscous and mix it with the corn and pepper medley. this is how it turned out...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

how do you spice a yankee?

i'd be lying if i said i knew but i'm hoping i can help you figure out how to spice up other things, food-like things. my goal is to help you, your mom, your brother's wife's best friend's brother to fix simple things at home that'll be packed with flavor, filled with ease and light on the guilt level.
i love food, but i don't care for the guilt that comes with certain kinds of food. my distaste for that guilt is why i've set out to try and create the same dishes you order out and bring them home, just leaving that guilt back at the restaurant. hopefully you will think i've succeeded.

  • my level of experience doesn't expand very far- it's pretty much whatever i've done in my own kitchen or family member's kitchen.
  • my professor's consist of the following: me, my mother, father, aunts, food network and the shelf full of bon appetit's and cooking light magazines in my bedroom. my thirst to expand my knowledge is quenchless.
  • i love food- i especially love preparing food and creating something from nothing.
  • i do believe in the importance of quality ingreidients. i'm one of those people who can spend 15+ minutes at the grocery store sifting through the apples trying to find the perfect one. same thing applies to peppers, onions, potatoes, asparagus. however, that doesn't mean that i feel like you have to spend absurds amount of money to get that quality.
  • i don't specialize in any one kind of food but i will say the things i fix most commonly are a blend of Puerto Rican, Argentinian, Mexican, Italian and traditional American food.

since my girlfriend can only handle so much talk of food, i've decided to come here and maybe share with you what i know. i'm hoping you'll share too- whether it be your own recipes,questions,curiousities, complaints, praises. you can also share me with your friends - send them a link :D

now, i do think your eyes may have reached their point of exhaustion so I'm off for now. come back again? maybe bring your recipe or desire to find one back.

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