Sunday, September 28, 2008

Spinach Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

I love spinach. Always have. For all those haters out there, you are truly missing out on what spinach can do. I like it as a salad (with bacon), stuffed into various things, and it makes a heck of a side dish (with garlic). I could go on and on about spinach, its nutritional value, and many other reasons why this vegetable should be high on your list, but instead I am going to share a recipe with you. Recently at my local supermarket I found spinach on eye-boggling sale. Being the bargain diver that I am, I bought a lot of it. More than would just do for side dishes. So I set about trying to make something new that would have multiple uses. I turned to pesto. I have had made spinach pesto numerous times with varying degrees of success, so this time I wanted something a bit different. What if I used something other than oil for my base? Sour cream was out, too runny. What about cream cheese? Perfect. So into the blender went cream cheese and a lot of spinach (dried thoroughly). It tasted like, well, cream cheese and spinach (surprise). So with a little tinkering, I adjusted it to my liking and the strengths of the spinach. Garlic, lemon, and thyme compliment the sauce while just a little bit of olive oil helps give it body. I served this two ways, over pasta as well as in a quesadilla. Both turned out remarkably well. So the next time I see spinach on sale, I know exactly what I am doing.

Sorry there are no pictures attached with this, I made the sauce before I got the good idea of using a camera.

Spinach Cream Cheese Pesto

4 ounces cream cheese
1 large bunch spinach, about 8 ounces
2 garlic cloves
1 T olive oil
2 t fresh time (or 1 t dried)
1 oz parmesan cheese (approximate)
1 t lemon zest

Add cream cheese and half of the spinach to food processor. Pulse until mostly smooth, add the remaining spinach and repeat. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until at a desired consistency, adjust for taste with salt, pepper, and lemon zest. Keeps up to 1 week in the refrigerator (it did not last long enough for me to freeze).


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Chocolate Cream Pie

Finally! If there is one recipe you make while reading this blog, make this one. I kid you not, its quite possibly one of the best things I have ever eaten. This is a family recipe, so full credit goes to my mom for teaching me this. And not to brag or anything, but one she made went for over $200 at a charity auction. I relate this pie to Sunday morning, because it is often not ready until the following day, which prompted us to eat a slice while reading the morning paper. Breakfast of champions and yes, I would do it again.

So what is chocolate cream pie? Its the pie you wish you had when you were eating chocolate pudding in a graham cracker crust. That pie. There are very few tricks to this recipe, but the ones that exist are crucial. My two main points would be the milk and stirring. Use at least 2% milk. I know, I use 1% for recreational purposes, but the extra bit of milk fat is the difference between pie and runny goop. If you use whole, more power to you, it will actually be even better. The other point is the stirring. When this pie is on the heat, you best be stirring it constantly. No "oh, I can go wash the dishes and stir occasionally" stuff. This recipe is more stir happy than risotto, and that's saying something. Stir constantly. The pie should be ready to go from the pot in about 15ish minutes (or as I timed it, 3 songs off the new Metallica album). Just...don't....walk....away!!

I hope you enjoy this pie as much as I (and my family, and my fiancee, and anyone who happens to be in the area to get a slice) do.

Chocolate Cream Pie

2 1/4 cups graham crackers
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 375°F. Crush gram crackers in bag with rolling pin or with food processor until fine. Combine ingredients in medium bowl and mix with hands until the butter is incorporated. Dump into a 12 inch pie pan, pressing down with the heel of your palm and fingers to make a firm, even crust (it should go part way up the sides). Pop in the fridge for 15 minutes, then bake for 12 minutes, let cool.

4 squares semi-sweet baking chocolate
3 3/4 cups milk
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
3/4 t salt
3 T cornstarch
3 T butter
1 T vanilla

In large pot over medium heat, heat milk until almost simmering, stirring occasionally. Add chocolate and stir until melted. Meanwhile, while milk is heating, in stand mixer or large bowl, combine eggs and sugar, beat until fluffy. Add salt and cornstarch, mix well. Reduce burner heat to medium low, pour about 1/3 of the milk mixture into the bowl (this will temper the eggs), mix and dump entire contents of bowl into pot. Return to heat and stir (constantly!) for about 15-20 minutes until slightly thickened. Remove from heat, add butter and vanilla, stir to combine, and pour into pie shell. Let sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes, then move to the fridge for at least 3 hours. Your patience will be rewarded. Make sure the pie is firm and cool before cutting. If its a bit runny, cook it a little longer next time. Serve with Cool Whip slathered on top.

And look, a picture! I will try to include more of these in upcoming posts so you can see what you are getting into.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My Two Timing Pork

I love pork. And I love stir fry. So this dish just makes sense. This remains one of my favorite Asian When I first tried this recipe (courtesy of my girlfriend's, oops wait, she’s a fiancĂ©e now!, dad), I had no idea why the pork was cooked twice. Why in the world would you call for cooking pork in water and then stir fry it? Well, after cutting the first step out when I prepared this dish (I guess you can just call it cooked pork then), I understood why. When you sear pork slices at a high temperature, a lot of their liquid is expelled (pork shrinks) and ends up in the stir fry oil, effectively steaming the rest of the dish and making it quite soggy. So your choices are mop up the liquid (and flavor) with a paper towel, or just cook the pork before hand. The latter, I have found, is a much easier option. Simple, actually, as you heat some water over medium high heat until it is slightly simmering, then add your pork cutlets in until they are just barely cooked. Strain and use in your stir fry. Now you can keep the liquid level down, which allows the sauce to do its thing and be awesome. To make the pork cook quickly, I like to slice mine thin (more surface area=quicker cooking).

Twice Cooked Pork

1 pound pork loin or loin chops, trimmed of fat and sliced thin
½ head green cabbage, cut into about 1 inch pieces
5 green onions, cut into 1 inch pieces

2 T peanut oil

1 T minced garlic
1 T minced ginger

¼ C soy sauce
½ C hoisin sauce
1 T chile paste with garlic
¼ c dry sherry
2 T water
1 T sugar

1 T cornstarch dissolved in 2 T water (mix just before using)
1 T sesame oil (optional, even more optional is the hot kind)

Mix together soy, hoisin, chile paste, sherry, water, and sugar, stir to dissolve and set aside. Bring a medium pot of water to a bare simmer, add pork and cook for about 2-3 minutes until loses pink color. Remove, drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large wok over medium heat, add peanut oil. Once heated, add garlic and ginger, cooking for about 1 minute (stir often so they don’t burn). Add the cabbage and stir fry for around 2 minutes (don’t let it get too wilted). Add pork and sauce, cook until sauce boils. Add scallions, mix to combine. Add in cornstarch slurry and mix until sauce thickens. Finish with the sesame oil and serve immediately.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Feasting on Waves

As a cook and a scientist, I am a pretty big Alton Brown fan. I watch "Good Eats" as often as possible, as well as cook his food a lot. So it should be no surprise that I am about to plug his new show. He started a show titled "Feasting on Asphalt", which was a cross country journey to find local and traditional roadside food. This year Brown returns with "Feasting on Waves" where he sails throughout the Caribbean islands in search of native food and local history. There are three reasons why you have to watch this show.

1) The food. By finding what the locals like, this show exposes food that has been lost amongst our chain-oriented minds. Most of the food he tries makes me want to be standing next to him shoveling it down while he explains what it is.

2) The history lesson. Alton Brown is a huge nerd. Science, history, and pop culture constantly are brought up when he is on screen, and a good portion of this show is about all of that. If you ever wanted to learn interesting things about the Caribbean islands (like why essence is so huge), this is one of your best chances.

3) The amazing photography. Seriously, why has this show not been given some kind of award for cinematography or the like? The photos are amazing, the way they show is shot makes you feel like you are there, and they focus so much on the people it never fails to astound me.

So there is my best pitch for why you should watch this show. It's on Food Network Sunday nights at 10, and they show replays about 100 times per week, so make sure and check it out.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Eat Your Vegetables

Parents, trying to get your kids to eat their greens? Failing? Then, try my new, improved, tested-on-my-girlfriend method that is guaranteed to make them eat vegetables like no tomorrow!*

Well, while I do not enjoy the sales pitch, that is pretty much what this is, a tasty way to get picky people to eat their vegetables. Picked this inspiration up from girlfriend's dad, who picked it up from Joyce Chen. Quick tangent- I need to come up with a name for the gf on this instead of using her name all the time and skewing her Google results away from her scientific awesomeness. Give me a few posts.

Back to the subject at hand. Stir frying vegetables is simple, quick, and mostly healthy. I say this because you do have to add a little bit of oil to the pan to start the process, but this is no worse than most of you who add butter to your steamed veggies. Now, what makes this method that much more awesome? Two things, crispness and the sauce. The veggies are cooked with a small (read: SMALL) amount of water after being toasted slightly, which lets them retain their crispness and not become soggy. The sauce is just good, especially if you are using good soy sauce.

There are very few tricks to this recipe. Do it in a wok if possible (better heat dispersion which leads to more even cooking), and if the sauce is a bit thick for you, add just a bit more water to the pan. One safety note is to make sure to dry your vegetables before you add them to the wok. Adding veggies that are full of water to hot oil can lead to splattering like you would not believe (or would like to clean up). In terms of vegetables, broccoli is my favorite for this, but green beans, snap peas, and asparagus work great, among others. Make florets from the broccoli and peel the stems, use green beans and snap peas as is, and cut the asparagus down to smaller pieces (but don't peel unless you like mushy asparagus or they are super woody).

1 pound vegetables
2 T peanut oil
1 T soy sauce
1 ½ T dry sherry
3 T water
1 t sugar
1 t salt
1 t Cornstarch dissolved in 2 T water

In a wok, heat the peanut oil over medium heat. Add vegetables in one batch and cook for about 2 minutes, tossing often. In a small bowl combine the soy sauce, sugar, salt, sherry, and water. Add directly to the vegetables, cover with a lid and cook for 2-3 minutes until vegetables are bright in color and just starting to soften. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir constantly until the sauce thickens. Thin with more water if desired.

* Not guaranteed, but it's worth a shot.


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Preservation is Key

I constantly find myself in quite the pickle with some of my fresh ingredients. They just seem to like to go bad on me, and sadly, I either end up hastily using them or tossing them. And I hate wasting food. So with summer in full swing and all kinds of goodies in season, what's a home chef to do? Well, I certainly have not figured it all out, but these are a few things I do know. After you give this a read, feel free to let me know any tips/suggestions you have to keep my fridge full of fresh goodness.

- Get rid of the plastic. Keeping your veggies and fruits in plastic promotes moisture collection and in turn, decays. I am totally guilty of just putting my plastic bags in my vegetable drawer only to find them a few days later nice and slimy. Removing it from the plastic can help prevent this. If you do like to keep things in plastic, try to use something to prevent the moisture from clinging to the food. I wrap my lettuce, cilantro, and fresh herbs in dry paper towel, and this has helped elongate their life by at least a week.

- Ginger likes to be sloshed. Ginger is an ingredient I use all the time in my stir fry, but it does not keep that well left alone in the fridge. Solution? Peel it, slice it up, and put it in a small container with enough sherry to cover. I have kept ginger for up to 6 months this way. And since sherry goes well in most dishes with ginger, the storage solution works out perfectly.

- Some stuff does not like the fridge. Keep your dang tomatoes out of the dang fridge. They lose flavor (one of the key components of flavor in tomatoes inactivates when cold). Same goes for onions.

- The baking soda is a lie. Contrary to their marketing scheme, baking soda does not do much good in your fridge at absorbing odors. You are much better off with activated charcoal. You can use this two ways. First, take some charcoal briquettes, place them in a container, and place in your fridge. Second, you can now buy small containers of pure activated charcoal, which I would recommend because they have a lesser chance of leaving soot on your food.

- Just because buttermilk is expired does not mean it's bad. Shocking! It's already sour! So it's really good for about a month after the date. I kid you not. It's not like you drink the stuff from the bottle.

I hope that helps extend the life on some of your fresh stuff. If I come across any more good ones, I will be sure to post them.


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