Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Retro Recipe Challenge # 6 (Food of Love) Deadline in 12 Days!

Whether you're shopping for that perfect box of candy (for your true love) or searching for that perfect pig's heart (to nail to the door of your mean and horrible ex), don't forget to stock up on ingredients for the latest Retro Recipe Challenge. The theme is "Food of Love" and full details can be found here or here.

Please (pretty, pretty please, with sugar and cream on top) email your entry by Sunday, February 11 at 11:59pm EST to RetroRecipeChallengeATgmailDOTcom.


Vegetarian Chili

On Monday, I played with a Goya recipe and came up with veggie chili.

Now, I am not a fan of veggie chili. I don't usually think chili isn't chili until it has pounds of artery clogging (yet responsibly raised) beef in it. And kidney beans? No thank you.

But maybe I'm changing my tune. This chili contains no beef or dreaded kidney beans, but has plenty of black and small red beans supported by a flavorful tomato base. Dinner came together quickly, and the result is both delicious and filling.

With nary a meat product in sight. How is that possible?

Serve as is, or top with a bit of shredded cheddar, a dollop of sour cream, and a few tortilla chips.

Veggie Chili
1 Tbsp oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper (or more), chopped
1/2 large red onion, chopped
2 15.5 oz cans black beans
1 15.5 oz can small red beans
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
3 packets Goya Sazon
salt and pepper to taste

In a large stockpot, heat oil over medium heat and saute garlic, pepper, and onion for about 3 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Stirring frequently, turn heat to high and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low; let chili simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Grade: A-

Monday, January 29, 2007

Turkey Shepherd's Pie with Mashed Sweet Potatoes

I'm trying to eat better: more whole grains, veggies, fruit, less sugar, fat, and non-lean meats.

I like to eat (is there a food blogger who doesn't?) so I'll frequently eat too much -- especially tasty, delicious stuff, like cookies, mashed potatoes, or anything covered in melted cheddar -- and then feel stuffed and nasty. I call it the Flurry effect: given the chance, our dog will gorge himself, then collapse in a heap on the floor, his gurgling stomach keeping him company.

So to avoid that end, I signed up for the online Weight Watchers program, which allows me to keep a food diary (again, detailing food minutia is very appealing) and gives access to hundreds, maybe thousands, of recipes, without ever having to sit in a room and hear someone wax poetic over Crystal Light.

I keep telling myself that my primary reason for joining is to become a healthier eater and not to lose weight, because in America while hydrogenated and sugared food in gigantic proportions is thrown at you almost everywhere you go, it's still a horribly awful -- if not catastrophic -- character flaw if you are overweight. Especially if you're a woman.

The American dream isn't having a happy family, a good job, and a house with a white picket fence. It's being able to gorge on Big Macs and fries and still fit into a size 2 bikini.

Anyway, my main issue with WW is their recipes, which seem to have been developed by "industrial" chefs. As in, the chefs are less likely to work for Le Bernardin than they are for Swanson's frozen dinners.

It's not that the recipes are bad -- they're not -- but most of them need some adjusting. I've noticed that a lot of the recipes shy away from hot spices, but overdo the herbal ones.

This recipe falls into the latter category. It's a great recipe -- nice idea to substitute white potatoes for sweet to pack in extra vitamins -- but it calls for way too much thyme. I felt like I was eating a box of Bell's Poultry seasoning. (Come to think of it, Bell's would have been more balanced.) The thyme took over the dish; what's the point of using sweet Italian turkey sausage if you can't taste any of the sausage's seasoning?

So I've adapted the recipe below, reducing the thyme to 1/4 tsp. If you're really crazy about thyme, you might want to increase it to 1/2 tsp. but I wouldn't do anything more than that. I like to taste different flavors in my food, not one dominant assault on my palate.

I also tossed in about a cup of peas, because what's shepherd's pie without peas?

Turkey Shepherd's Pie with Mashed Sweet Potatoes

1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/4 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
2 medium garlic clove(s), minced
6 medium baby carrots, chopped
20 oz raw turkey sausage, sweet Italian-variety, casings removed
1 cup frozen peas
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried thyme
black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
10 3/4 fl oz can of condensed low-fat tomato soup

Preheat oven to 400-degrees F. Lightly coat a 9-inch pie plate with cooking spray.

Place potatoes in a medium saucepan and pour in enough water to cover potatoes. Set pan over high heat and bring to a boil; boil until fork-tender, about 8 minutes. Drain potatoes; return potatoes to pan. Mash potatoes with buttermilk and garlic powder until smooth; season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté until tender, about 3 minutes. Add carrots; sauté 1 minute. Remove vegetables from skillet; set aside.

Add sausage to skillet; sauté until browned, breaking up sausage as it cooks with a wooden spoon, about 5 minutes. Return vegetables to skillet, adding frozen peas; stir to combine. Add oregano, thyme and pepper; cook 1 minute. Add soup; simmer until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and spoon mixture into pie plate.

Spoon mashed potatoes over turkey mixture and spread into an even layer using the back of a wooden spoon.

Bake until filling is bubbly, about 25 minutes.

Yields 6 servings. Leftovers reheat nicely in the microwave.
Grade: B+

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Gingerbread Cupcakes

Vanilla Garlic is hosting a Cupcake Round-up -- such a good idea! Cupcakes are so lovely: petite and beautiful, who doesn't love a little cake topped by a swath of rich frosting and a few sprinkes?

But sometimes you're not in the mood for something light and sweet, but something a bit denser and spicy. Something that can stand up to a strong cup of tea or coffee. Something that won't leave smears of chocolate on your face.

Gingerbread is that something. And in cupcake form? Even better.

While this is a "light" recipe, you wouldn't know it. The cupcake has a crisp top with a moist and dense middle, brimming with spice and molasses flavor. I changed the source recipe a bit, adding some more spices, a bit of salt, and substituting egg whites for merigue powder mixed with water.

I finished these with a simple dust of powdered sugar, but I'm thinking about playing a bit more. A light dip in a lemon glaze would add a nice bit of zing.

Gingerbread Cupcakes

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-grain wheat flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup molasses
3 large egg white(s) (or 1/4 cup water plus 2 Tbsp and 2 Tbsp meringue powder)

Preheat oven to 325-degrees F. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper muffin liners.

Combine flours, sugar, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and allspice in a large bowl; mix well. Add applesauce, molasses and egg whites; stir until mixture is moist and well-combined. Fill each muffin tin 2/3 full with batter.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool cupcakes to room temperature and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Grade: B

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sugar Spot Banana Muffins

This is my second submission to Weekend Breakfast Blogging and it's another banana recipe. What can I say? I like bananas. And the name of the recipe -- "sugar spot" in reference to the little brown dots bananas get when they're sweet and ripe -- I couldn't resist.

I was hoping for something reminiscent of banana bread and that flavor is there, but this muffin has more of a healthy/hearty quality from the wheat germ than what you'd fine in a typical quick bread. Perhaps that's because I substituted regular wheat germ for the honey-crunch variety the recipe calls for. (I'm still surprised we even had wheat germ in the house, but I guess it's leftover from Martha's oatmeal cookies.)

The recipe is definately something I want to add to: here, I sprinkled a teaspoon of mini chocolate chips on half of the muffins before baking, but tossing in some flaked coconut would be nice too, I think. (I prefer the chocolate topped muffins to the naked ones -- big surprise.) Or, instead of chocolate or coconut, perhaps vanilla, cinnamon, and chopped pecans?

Sugar Spot Banana Muffins
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 large egg white
3/4 cup mashed ripe banana
1/3 cup fat-free milk
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (6 ounces)
2/3 cup honey-crunch wheat germ
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. Combine first 4 ingredients in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add banana and milk; beat well.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, wheat germ, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Add to sugar mixture; beat just until moist.

Spoon batter evenly into 12 muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Bake for 22 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Cool in pan 5 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pan. Place muffins on wire rack. Yield: 12 servings (serving size: 1 muffin)

Grade: B+

Not a damn thing to do with food...

"Oh my God, you guys! We totally saw Kelly from The Office!!!"

...but I have to mention it. As Shane and I sat waiting in the JetBlue section of JFK for our flight to Cancun, a very slender, attractive Indian-American woman sat down across from us.

"She looks like Mindy Kaling, " I thought. I snuck another look -- the woman still looked like Mindy Kaling -- and began to get moderately excited.

Then Shane leaned in close to my ear, and spoke in his he-thinks-he's-whispering-but-really-it's-louder-than-that-and-I-start-to-get-uncomfortable voice, "PSST! She looks like Kelly from The Office."

In a hushed voice, because possible-Mindy is four feet away from us, "I know!"

And in a split moment, my TV geekiness goes into overdrive as I try to remember if The Office was on break, if I've ever heard that Mindy is from NY, and laughing as I think of that bit when Kelly asked Jan what "second base" meant.

She's seated near the gate for the Burbank flight, but why is she flying JetBlue?

So Shane and I sit there for about 20 minutes, shooting glances at each other, shooting glances at her, generally acting like idiots and getting increasingly excited.

Our flight is called for boarding and as we're standing in line, Shane says, "I'm going to get her autograph!" And I, giggling, say, "NO! I don't think they like that!" As if famous people are some exotic species.

Anyway, in the following weeks, I've tried to confirm this sighting. The Office was definately on a break from shooting (it was January 2) . And now, I just found this on Mindy's blog, dated January 4:

"I went to New York, took cabs everywhere instead of walking, and visited A Salt & Battery, Mas, The Fatty Crab, Donut Plant, and Babbo."

See?!?!! She was in NEW YORK! It was her! (Also, I lived in NY so why haven't I eaten at Mas, The Fatty Club, Donut Plant, and Babbo?)

(She also claims on her blog that she "put on seven pounds over the holidays" but I can't see how that is true. She is super fucking skinny. But maybe she stepped on the scale while clutching a giant Coach bag. )

Shane and I took seeing Kaling as an auspicious beginning to our trip.

UPDATE: More Proof!! Kaling digs JetBlue!

As a side note, on our Jungle Crossing tour, we met Atom Egoyan, director of Where the Truth Lies (allowing me to make a Six Degrees to Kevin Bacon joke), his incredibly awesome and friendly actress wife Arsinée Khanjian, and their son.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Sugar High Friday #27 Submission: Chocolate Decadence

David Lebovitz is hosting this month's Sugar High Friday and chose chocolate as the theme ingredient.


This desert, Chocolate Decadence, not only fulfills David's requirements but also fulfills mine for 2007: a healthy (or healthier...) dessert that doesn't taste that way.

Wonderfully (luckily, Thank God-ily), this recipe does just that: it is a decadent dessert. Served warm from the oven, a serving of this deeply rich cake is packed with enough flavor to sate the deepest chocolate craving. Dense and moist, the fudge-like consistency is punctuated by pockets of velvety melted dark chocolate.

To really impress, sprinkle a bit of powdered sugar on the cake, and drizzle a smidge of raspberry coulis on the plate.

Creating a good chocolate flavor was simple, using ingredients readily available at the grocery store. I used Hershey's cocoa, Ghirardelli 60-percent cacao chips, and Scharffen Berger 99-percent cacao unsweetened baking bar. I haven't been impressed by Scharffen Berger's chocolate punch, but the bar was in my Christmas stocking and therefore, in the house. Maybe it's a better bar, or maybe the small amount used in the recipe (1/2 ounce) didn't have too much effect on the end result, but the dessert is excellent.

Chocolate Decadence

Cooking spray
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup 2% reduced-fat milk
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/2 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 large egg white
8 teaspoons semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350-degrees F.

Lightly coat 4 (2-ounce) ramekins with cooking spray, and sprinkle 3/4 teaspoon sugar into each of the ramekins, shaking and turning to coat. Set prepared ramekins aside. (If you don't have ramekins, you can use a standard muffin tin.)

Combine 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, milk, and cocoa in a small saucepan, stirring well with a whisk. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook 30 seconds or until sugar dissolves, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; add the butter and 1/2 ounce unsweetened chocolate. Stir until the chocolate melts and mixture is smooth. Cool chocolate mixture 10 minutes.

Add flour, vanilla, salt, and egg white to chocolate mixture, stirring with a whisk just until blended. Spoon 2 tablespoons chocolate mixture into each prepared ramekin, and top each with 2 teaspoons chocolate chips. Divide the remaining chocolate mixture evenly among ramekins, spreading to cover the chocolate chips. Bake at 350-degrees F for 20 minutes or until barely set. Cool for 10 minutes. Invert onto dessert plates. Serve warm.

Yield: 4 servings

Grade: A

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Gringo's Chicken Tikka Masala

No picture because, no matter what I do, I can't make this dish look like anything other than cat sick. Mmmm, mmm, nummy!

Last month, I had some tikka masala for the first time at Thali of India . It was eye-poppingly delicious. Tender tandoori chicken is simmered in a flavorful tomato cream - a bit sweet and a bit spicy and completely fantastic.

So I came across a recipe -- a low fat recipe -- for chicken tikka masala and gave it a go. Not bad (even after I played around with it a bit) but not nearly as delicious as Thali's.

(The name is an nod to Idriss, an Indian fellow Shane works with. Idriss used the word "gringos" in a conversation about Americans and after saying that I hadn't realized 'gringo' was an Indian word, he smiled and replied, "It's international."


Gringo's Chicken Tikka Masala

2/3 cup low-fat plain yogurt
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp ginger root, fresh, grated
2 medium garlic clove(s), minced
2 tsps. garam masala
1/2 tsp black pepper

1 pound uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 2-inch chunks

2 tsp olive oil
3 medium garlic clove(s), minced
1 small jalapeno pepper(s), minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground coriander
8 oz canned tomato sauce
1 cup fat-free evaporated milk
1/4 cup cilantro, fresh, chopped

2 cup cooked white rice, basmati, kept hot

To make chicken, in a large bowl, whisk together first seven ingredients. Add chicken and toss to coat. Cover bowl and marinate for 1 hour and up to 24 hours.

Grill (on skewers) or cook in a hot skillet for 5 to 7 minutes, until chicken is cooked through, turning frequently. (If using wooden skewers, make sure to soak in water for 30 minutes prior to using to prevent charring.)

To make sauce, heat oil in a large, high-sided skillet (or wide saucepan) over medium heat. Add minced garlic and jalapeno and cook 1 minute. Add spices and stir to coat. Add tomato sauce and evaporated milk, reduce heat to low and simmer 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add chicken (removing from skewers, if applicable) to tomato mixture and simmer 1 minute to heat through. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro. Serve with rice.

Serves 4.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Retro Recipe Challenge 6: Food of Love

As the merchandise in every grocery store, card shop, and confectionary can attest, Valentines' Day is right around the corner. (And that that glow-in-the-dark Christmas sweater has yet to be returned.)

So for the next RRC, whip up dish a perfect for your favorite lov-ah. (Sadly, "Whipped Cream on a Taut and Tanned Stomach" isn't really a recipe. But I'm not saying it shouldn't be tried.)
Your creation should come from a recipe first published between 1900 and 1980. For help in searching for a recipes, visit the “helpful links” sidebar at the Retro Recipe Challenge Blog.

Once you've created your swoon-worthy amuse bouche, simply take a picture (SFW, please) and post it along with your thoughts and the original recipe, including the year it was first published and its original publication (Gourmet? Joy of Cooking?). A tag for RRC 6 and a link to this post would also be appreciated.

Then, send an email to RetroRecipeChallengeATgmailDOTcom by the deadline of Sunday, February 11 at 11:59pm EST. Please include "RRC#6" in the subject line, with your name or blogging nickname, your blog's name and URL, plus the recipe's title and the post's URL in the body of the email.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at LauraRebeccasKitchenATgmailDOTcom.

Get it in the kitchen: the products of a hot stove can leave to an even hotter boudoir.

Or something.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Pork Cutlets with Arugula Salad and sautéed Tomatoes

We had some friends over before we left for Mexico and, overall, I was pleased with this recipe from Everyday Food. The sharp, peppery bite of arugula is set off by the lemon vinagarette and salty parmesean shavings. And the cherry tomatoes -- well, a bite into a good tomato is like a bite into a warm summer day.

The pork cutlets, however, were disappointingly bland. (Everyone said they liked them, but I have trouble believing this. Bland is bland, and no amount of salt, pepper, or lemon juice could revive them.) So for lunch the next day, I tried the cutlet recipe again, substituting some breadcrumbs mixed with a bit of parmesean for the flour mixture. (I also cooked them over medium, not medium-high, heat.) Much, MUCH tastier.

Pork Cutlets with Arugula Salad and sautéed Tomatoes

2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice plus lemon wedges
6 tsp. olive oil
Salt & pepper
4 boneless pork chops, fat trimmed
¼ c. flour
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 lb arugula, thick stems trimmed & washed well
Shaved parmesean cheese, for serving (optional)

Make dressing: In a large bowl, combine lemon juice and 1 tsp oil. Season with s&p. Set aside.

Place chops on a work surface and butterfly. (Cut each chop in half horizontally on the side without fat, opening the chop like a book but stopping before cutting all the way through.) Place between pieces of plastic wrap and, using a meat or the bottom of a small, heavy pan, pound until each chop is ¼ thick.

On a plate, combine flour, 1 tsp salt and ¼ tsp pepper. Coat each cutlet with flour mixture, shaking off excess. Set aside.

In a medium skillet, heat 1 tsp oil over medium high. Add tomatoes, and cook until softened about 5 minutes. Remove tomatoes and set aside (keep warm in a 200-degree oven --LR).

In the same skillet, heat 1 tsp of oil over medium high heat. Add one cutlet and cook until browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn over and cook until opaque throughout, about 30 seconds more. Transfer to a plate and cover loosely with foil. Repeat with remaining cutlets using 1 tsp oil for each.

Add arugula to bowl with dressing and toss. Place tomatoes and 1 cutlet on each plate with lemon wedges. Top pork with arugula and, if desired, parmesean.


Cutlets as is: B; Cutlets with breadcrumbs and parmesean: A

Arugula Salad: A

Tomatoes: A

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Back from the Yucatan!

Shane and I had a great time in Mexico. We stayed at the Hotel Villa del Mar in Playa del Carmen (which was not without its problems, but it worked out in the end) and hung out on the beach, went snorkling, visited cenotes, traveled through the jungle, climbed Coba (well, I got about 2/3s of the way up before I realized I would need to come back down...), visited Chitchen Itza, Tulum, and Valladolid, knocked around Xel Ha, and generally ate and drank like it was our last week on Earth.

At Coba on the Mayan encounter tour through Alltournative. Supposedly, this is the only Mayan pyramid tourists are now allowed to climb due to an accident at Chichen Itza.

Shane zipline-ing through the jungle. I chose not to.

Shane about to rappel.
One of the many dogs we saw just sort of rambling about. This one was snapped in a Maya village. In the background, you can see a few Mayan men sitting under a palapas roof, a traditional material used on many buildings and homes.
Another day, another tour. We liked this one, the Jungle Crossing, much better than the other. (Probably because we had a much friendlier tour leader. Thanks, Edwardo!)
This is the entrance to a cenote.
And here's the cenote! We were able to snorkle in this amazingly clear water -- there were tiny fish and huge stalagmites everywhere.
After kayaking and snorkling along the reef in Soliman bay, we had about an hour to hang on the beach, eat fruit, and drink agua frescas. It was heavenly.
After the tour, we went back to Playa (this is on 10th Ave around Calle 8) ...
...night fell (this is 5th Avenue, the tourist-heavy, pedestrian throughfare)...
...and we got bombed.
A few days later, we rented a car and set out for Chichen Itza and Valladolid. Some of the roads have been expanded but, for the most part, we traveled on this type of road.

The pyramid at Chichen Itza!

The day we went to Valladolid and Chichen Itza was the one day it rained. (The morning was cool and cloudy, perfect for knocking around Chichen). But then the skies opened up and the streets of Valladolid were flooded. I had high hopes for Valladolid based on our guidebook, but the recommended restaurant was pedestrian, the artisans' market sold Hello Kitty backpacks, and the public mercado was deserted. So it was kind of Suckadolid.

On our last full day in the Yucutan, we visited Tulum, the only Mayan ruin located on the Carribean. We thought it the prettiest of all we'd seen.

Me at Tulum. I'm not smiling because I'd just drank a large bottle of water only to find out that there aren't any restrooms in the immediate vacinity. After this we headed to Xel Ha, bought an underwater camera, and then promptly lost it. So, no pictures of Xel Ha!

The morning we left, we had breakfast -- again -- at the Hotel Casa Tucan, just around the corner from where we stayed. If we come back to Playa with the kids, we'll probably stay here. It's funky, charming, and pulls in an international clientel.
And that's it! It was lots of fun, and lovely to think about, especially when we're at home stuck inside because there's an ice storm outside!