Cooking with Friends ~ H.


I've been meaning to cook with my friend H. for a while. You may remember H. from the post I did of her Black Russian Cake.  While her adorable dog Asher didn't help with this meal, H. and I had a great time creating a dinner. She made a pasta dish with Campanelle pasta, cheddar cheese, sun dried tomatoes, olives and toasted pecans. It's a combination ingredients that I wouldn't imagine would go well together but I kept an open-mind and encouraged H. to try it. I was pleasantly surprised and helped myself to second and leftovers. The toasted pecans added a nice crunch and while I don't usually like sun dried tomatoes they added just the right amount of tomato to the dish. One of the great things about cooking with friends is being able to try someone else's dish/creation/specialty. It's wonderful to try something new and different and to expand your culinary horizons this way.

A long time ago, I remember H. saying that she grew up hating green beans. Mostly because the green beans she had were of the canned kind. Blech. Canned green beans are mushy and they take on the flavor of the aluminum can they've been stored in. Fresh green beans are much better. Steamed, sauteed and even roasted, you just can't go wrong. Just don't overcook them! I decided to make Green Beans Almondine to go with H.'s dish. It would be a good way for her to experience a different way of eating green beans. And Green Beans Almondine, although a very simple dish, tastes incredibly luxurious. The combination of butter and almonds adds flavor and texture to the green beans in a way that nothing else can.

A special thanks to H. who is always a pleasure to hang out with!


Green Beans Almondine

1 bunch of green beans
2 tablespoons of butter
1/4 of sliced almonds.

This makes 2 servings.

Lightly steam the green beans for about 5 minutes. Set aside. Melt the butter in a sautee pan and add the green beans. Coat the green beans in the butter and then add the almonds. Cook for a few minutes just so  everything is coated and warm and the almonds toast a little bit. Serve hot.

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Cooking with Friends ~ Kevin

When Kevin first moved into his condo, I took one look at his kitchen and declared that I must help him cook a meal there. He owns the bottom level of a gorgeous Queen Anne style home and he's got a big kitchen/dining area that has a lot of character. Last night, I lived up to my promise and we cooked a nice meal together in his kitchen. I've cooked with friends before and it's something I want to do more of because there is something special about preparing a meal with someone and sharing it with them.

On last night's menu was the following:

Mesclun Mix with Grape Tomatoes, a Dijon Vinaigrette and Fried Goat Cheese
Carrot, Leek and Orange Stir-fry
French Silk Tartlets with Fresh Raspberries

Kevin is a vegetarian so we didn't cook anything with meat, which was fine for me because I love creating vegetarian meals. Kevin doesn't cook as often as I do, but when he does he whips up very unique creations. He's famous for his wonderful carrot cake which is so beautiful and so delicious that everyone can't help but be impressed by it. He also makes a great carrot-ginger soup and I'm dying to try his special lasagna and his new recipe for vegetarian chili. He's also a top-notch host and has entertained many guests in his lovely home.

Here are the recipes for the different items on the menu. 



Mesclun Mix with Grape Tomatoes, a Dijon Vinaigrette and Fried Goat Cheese

Ingredients:
Bag of Mesclun Mix
1 cup of grape tomatoes (or a small container)
2 teaspoons of dijon mustard
2 teaspoons of white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons of light olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 egg beaten with a bit of water (egg wash)
1/4 cup of breadcrumbs
1 small log of herbed goat cheese cut into chunks

Coat the chunks of goat cheese in the egg wash then in the bread crumbs. Cook in a skillet with a bit of oil until both sides of the breaded goat cheese are nice and brown. Set aside.

In a small container, mix the dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper. Shake shake shake. Taste the mixture and add more of any of the ingredients if you want to adjust the flavor.

In a big bowl, toss the mesclun mix, grape tomatoes and dressing. Serve on a plate topped with some pieces of fried goat cheese.


Carrot, Leek and Orange Stir-fry

Ingredients:

Sunflower oil
2-1/4 cup of grated carrots
1 leek halved and sliced
2 oranges sectioned
1/2 cup of dry roasted peanuts

Sauce:
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons soy sauce

In a large skillet or a wok, heat up a couple of tablespoons of sunflower oil (or another really light oil). When the oil starts to sizzle add carrots, leeks and oranges and stir and fry until cooked. Mix the the brown sugar, ketchup and soy sauce in a bowl. Stir in the sauce. Serve hot in a bowl topped with the roasted peanuts.

Note: If we were to make this again, we may try mandarin oranges instead of regular oranges.





The recipe for this can be found on the Shape Magazine website. I altered it a bit. I made 6 tarts instead of 4. I used 8 graham cracker sheets instead of 6. I used a whole container of silken tofu (16 oz instead of 10 oz). Also I put the raspberries on top only, not in the center. You'll have a lot of leftover pudding which is delicious by itself. This is a super-healthy dessert. The tofu replaces any kind of dairy product, the crust has egg white instead of butter and the filling is sweetened by apple juice and honey instead of regular sugar. I highly recommend you try this.





Mesclun Mix With Grape Tomatoes, A Dijon Vinaigrette and Fried Goat Cheese

Three New Experiments

Hey, I'm not perfect. I never claimed that I was. In fact, there is still a lot about cooking that I need to learn. There are a lot of techniques that I need to fine tune and a lot more recipes for me to try out. Not to mention all the cooking equipment I have yet to use!

Here are a few firsty firsts. Dishes/plates I tried. I made mistakes and I learned from them. Because that's what cooking is all about. Learning from your failures and becoming a better cook because of them.

1. The Meatball Sub


Here I took small Ciabatta rolls and split them in half. I laid out 8 bottoms onto a baking pan and topped each with three meatballs, some marinara sauce and some fresh mozzarella cheese. I broiled it in the oven until the cheese was a little brown and very melty. Then I placed the tops back onto each sandwich.  I really love meatball sandwiches and dream of creating the perfect meatball. Alas, the right mixture of meat, filler and seasoning escapes me. I can't quite get it right. In this sandwich, the meatballs were so-so but the combination of the marinara, fresh mozzarella and the Ciabatta bread made it a worthy meal.

2. Pulled Pork Plate


Maybe my biggest mistake was making this on a queasy stomach? I saw a recipe for Slow Cooker Chipotle Pulled-Pork Sandwiches on the Betty Crocker website and thought it would be a good last hurrah for my beloved Crockpot before I put it away until the Fall. The recipe calls for a whole pork shoulder which I intended to buy but just couldn't. I carried a shoulder with me through the grocery store and freaked out about it looking like a real body part. I put it back into the meat section and picked out another cut. I don't remember what it was but it worked. I rubbed a dry seasoning onto the pork, set it to cook in my crockpot and when I came home from work it was cooked to perfection. Soft and fall-off-the-bone-that-wasn't-there-to-begin-with. I made the sauce per the directions but I think I had too little sauce for that much meat. The coleslaw was an experiment. I tried a dressing of mayo, dijon mustard, salt and grated onion. It was so-so. I wanted to put a sprinkle of sugar but my beau fought against it as he started to devour the bowl. I really wish I had pickle slices and thinly sliced onions to go with the sandwich. And that the bread was better. The salt and vinegar kettle chips went well with the meal and the sandwich was just fine!

3. Tuna Noodle Casserole


Who the heck eats this stuff? This is the first time I have ever even tasted Tuna Noodle Casserole let alone make it. My cooking and recipe skills were at it's best here. I completely created this recipe from scratch with virtually no help. 1-1/2 bags of egg noodles, Bechamel sauce made with 2 tablespoons of flour, 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 cups of milk, a cup of frozen peas and 3 small cans of tuna. Salt and pepper to taste and a breadcrumb topping. Baked it in the oven at 375 degrees for 20 minutes and when I opened it up to take the casserole out I was almost knocked unconscious from the bad fishy smell. Blech. When I tasted it I felt a bit strange. Like that feeling you get when someone looks at you inappropriately and it gives you the heebie-jeebies. I much prefer my tuna and pasta combo cold, not hot or warm or even room temperature. Double blech. Let's hope my beau doesn't get food poisoning when he eats the stinky leftovers.

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Have you had any recent failures or experiment gone so-so? What's the best lesson you've learned from a cooking mistake?

Raquelle's Ridonk Chicken Pot Pie



A fancy chicken pot pie that's fast and easy? That's ridonk! With very little effort you can create an amazing chicken pot pie.

I created this recipe out of necessity. I didn't have time to make a fancy pie from scratch with crust and all but I didn't want a boring chicken pot pie either. And I would never EVER resort to one of those frozen chicken pot pies from the supermarket. ::shudders:: So I developed a recipe which required very little cooking and could be made super fast. This is the result:

Ingredients:

1/2 rotisserie chicken, meat removed

3 celeries with leaves sliced thinly
2-3 carrots sliced thinly
1/2 onion chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon of chopped fresh dill

1/2 cup of frozen corn kernels
1/2 cup of frozen peas

1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup chicken broth

Pillsbury golden biscuits (8)

melted butter with chopped fresh dill

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This recipe makes 4 servings.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.



Chop your onion and slice your celery and carrots. Heat up some extra light olive oil in a skillet and sautee the veggies until they start to become soft. While they are hot, place them in a bowl with the corn and peas. Season with salt and pepper and add dill. Set aside.





Now for the gravy. I make a simple gravy based on my rule of 1 tablespoon fat, 1 tablespoon flour and 1 cup liquid. In this case it's butter, flour and chicken broth. I like my pot pie light on gravy so you can double this recipe if you like more of it. Cook the butter and flour and mix until you get a roux. Slowly incorporate the chicken broth. Cook over medium heat, constantly stirring until it's gravy consistency.




Mix gravy with chicken and vegetables. Pour mixture into a casserole dish.




Cover the top of the casserole dish with the biscuits. Melt a tablespoon or two of butter and add some chopped dill. Brush the butter mixture over the top of the biscuits.

Bake in the oven at 375 Degrees for 25 minutes. You can cover with foil for 15 minutes and then uncover for the rest of the time so your biscuits won't get brown. Serve hot or at room temperature. Enjoy!


Sunday Roundup ~ April 11th, 2010

Today's Sunday Roundup is dedicated to Focaccia bread in all it's glory. I've been fascinated with this bread, which I previously overlooked until I had the most amazing focaccia bread in the form of a meatball sub panini from Deli-icious. Here are some Focaccia recipes from the Blogosphere.

Soft Chickpea Focaccia ~ Cookin' Canuck
Focaccia with Lemon and Dill ~ Closet Cooking
Whole Wheat Focaccia ~ Meatless Mamma
No-Fuss Focaccia ~ Food alla Puttanesca
Rosemary and Sun-dried Tomato Focaccia ~ Coconut & Lime
Potato Bread Focaccia with Cheese ~ Closet Cooking
Olive and Herb Focaccia ~ Tasty Trix



Mom's Rice Salad



Your comfort food is nice and all, but mine is better. My Dominican mama made this rice salad, and a potato equivalent, a few times each year and it would always be a special treat. Sure you can eat it cold, but it's so much better luke warm or at room temperature. I always preferred the rice to the potato because I felt I got better access to all the ingredients. This salad is fun to look at too because all the ingredients mixed into the rice look sort of like confetti! Chances are you won't find this salad anywhere else. This truly unique. So please don't tell my mom I'm sharing this recipe with you!

Ingredients:

2 cups of uncooked rice
3 cups of hot water
salt to taste

1/2 cup of canned tuna
1 green pepper finely diced
1/4 red onion finely diced
3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
1/4 cup of roughly chopped olives, capers and red pimentos
4 tablespoons of mayo
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the rice Raquelle-style. Set aside.


Soak the diced red onion in the red wine vinegar while you prepare the other ingredients. Let is marinate for about 5 minutes or so and drain.


Add the tuna, green pepper, olives, capers, red pimentos and red onions to the rice and mix. Season with salt and pepper. Slowly incorporate the mayo tablespoon by tablespoon until it's to the consistency that you like. I go light on the mayo but you can always add more.

Eat at room temperature. It's hearty enough to eat alone with maybe a light dessert to follow. It reheats well just make sure to only nuke it for up to 30 seconds and not to cook it because of the mayo. You can eat this cold too!

Mom's Rice Salad

Meatloaf Plate

 Cheddar Cheese Stuffed Meatloaf ~ Cucumber & Dill Salad ~ Grilled Corn with Sea Salt


I cannot count how many times I've made some version of this plate but I have yet to post it here. Usually, this meal is accompanied by buttered red potatoes but I wanted to keep things light and I omitted potatoes altogether. There are a couple things to keep in mind with this plate. For the meatloaf, instead of making one gigantic loaf, I make smaller individual loaves. Four mini-loaves per 2 pounds of ground beef. I use ketchup instead of a tomato sauce because I like how it creates a tangy coating. I stuff my meatloaves with cheddar cheese when I can. It's just nice having a little surprise in the center of each loaf. Also, Carlos loves ordering a custom plate of meatloaf, corn, pickles and mashed potatoes from a nearby restaurant, so this plate is inspired by that combination. I hope you'll give it a try!

Cheddar Cheese Stuffed Meatloaf

Ingredients:
2 pounds of ground beef
2 slices of cheddar cheese (half slice per loaf)
1 small onion finely diced
1-2 garlic cloves minced
1 egg beaten
1/4 cup of breadcrumbs (or less based on taste)
Ketchup
salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste

Makes 4 loaves

If you are not sure of the seasonings, make the mixture and try cooking up a tiny patty on the stovetop. When cooked, taste it. You can always add seasoning but you can't reduce it.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

In large bowl, add the ground beef and season with salt, pepper and garlic powder.

Then add the diced onions, minced garlic, egg and breadcrumbs. Mix thoroughly with your hands (don't even think about using a spoon it won't work). Separate into four servings.

Take a 1/2 slice of cheddar cheese and create a small stack by breaking it up. Mold the individual loaf around the cheddar cheese so it's completely hidden in the middle.

Once your four loaves are done, add them to a baking dish lined with foil. Squirt a generous amount of ketchup on each and coat the loaves with ketchup using your hands. Cover very loosely with foil.

Add to your oven and make for 25-30 minutes. Then remove foil and bake for 5-10 minutes more, depending on how well done you like your beef.

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Cucumber & Dill Salad

Ingredients:
3 pickle cucumbers or 1 English cucumber
1 tablespoon of dill (or less per taste)
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tablespoons of light olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Slice the cucumbers very thinly but keep the skin on. Season with salt and pepper and add the dill. Add the juice of the lemon and the olive oil and mix. Let sit for a few minutes before serving.

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Grilled Corn with Sea Salt

Ingredients:
4 ears of corn
Sea salt to taste
Light olive oil

You can use flash frozen corn if corn is out of season. Just let it thaw first.

Heat up your grill pan until it's nice and hot.

Now comes the sexiest part of this recipe. Take each ear of corn and drizzle some olive oil on it. Then with your hands, very sensually rub the oil all over that ear of corn. Trust me, the ear of corn will like it very much.

Add the corn to the grill and cook for about 2-3 minutes on each side. While it's nice and hot, add some sea salt.










Sunday Roundup ~ April 4th, 2010

Today's Sunday Roundup is devoted to sexy food shots and where you can find them. We eat first with our eyes, then with our mouths and the visual aspect of food is very important.

@FoodPorn on Twitter ~  I highly recommend you follow @FoodPorn which showcases user-submitted shots of decadent food.

Closet Cooking ~ His apartment, although small, must be bursting with light because all of his photographs are stunning.

Smitten Kitchen ~ 'nuff said. Her camera must be state of the art or she must have the most amazing photographic skills.

Cookin' Canuck ~ I also think her kitchen must be bursting with light because her food shots are superb. It's a big part of why I'm drawn to her recipes because the dishes look good enough to devour.

Coconut & Lime ~ I hardly ever make anything from this blog but I always love to look at the photographs.

Posy Gets Cozy ~ This is a craft blog but occasionally the author Alicia Paulson, will post recipes accompanied by beautiful photography. Her blog is definite eye candy for anyone who likes anything pretty.

Warm Pineapple With Coconut Sorbet




While I was searching for cleaning tips on Real Simple, I stumbled upon the recipe section and found this little gem. Caramelized Pineapple With Coconut Sorbet. It was too good NOT to make. I mentioned the dessert to a few people and they were all excited to hear about how it would turn out. I modified the recipe a little bit. I added a tablespoon of water because I felt that it made the sauce smoother.

A friend suggested adding something crunchy on top. You could always toast some coconut flakers or some crushed flaked almonds. Also, if you are not sure where to find coconut sorbet, try your local Whole Foods Market if you have one. They usually carry an array of sorbets and I can always find unique ones there. Otherwise, there are plenty of coconut sorbet recipes on the internet.

Ingredients:

Half of a Pineapple sliced into half moons
2 tablespoons of butter
1/4 cup of brown sugar
1 tablespoon of water
coconut sorbet

Makes 4 servings.

Just a few tips for the pineapple: if you don't have fresh pineapple, use 4 canned pineapple rings and cut them in half. If you do have fresh pineapple, make sure you cut out a bit of the core because that part is mostly inedible.



Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan. Add the brown sugar and water and stir. Heat a bit until the mixture is combined and add the pineapple slices. Cook the pineapple until it begins to soften and shut off the heat.


Take four small bowls and add a large scoop of coconut sorbet into each. Add a couple of slices of cooked pineapple and drizzle some sauce over the top. Serve immediately. Devour immediately.

This came out so well that I squealed with delight at the very first bite. Enjoy!
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