Monday, October 29, 2012

Lunch during the hurricane

I've never encountered a hurricane but the notion that there's going to be a big horrible one was a tad terrifying for me. My fears were further reinforced when I went to the local grocery store and drugstore. Giant was completely packed, with families carrying cases upon cases of water in their shopping carts. We were lucky enough to nab one of the last remaining cases, but we weren't so lucky with the flashlights. Both Walgreens and CVS were sold out of those, as well as umbrellas and candles.

Now that we're in the midst of Hurricane Sandy, it really doesn't seem too bad. It seems that a hurricane is just a super windy rain storm. Work was cancelled, but when I woke up this morning, I could barely even hear rain. It's gotten a little worse since then, but it's not too bad, although I don't want to jinx anything. I'm laughing at it now, but watch the power, water, and Internet will go out tonight because Mother Nature wants to spite me.

Irene and I are just sitting around the dining room table, waiting on the storm to pass. I decided to make a fancy-ish lunch, which was delicious and very simple. It's based on this recipe for chili rubbed salmon with cilantro avocado salsa, except I simplified it a bunch. When it comes for recipes for entrees, I like to look them up for interesting flavor combinations, but I usually don't measure anything because you don't need the ratios down to the exact 1/8 teaspoon. For the salmon, I threw together pinches of the listed spices in arbitrary amounts: chili powder, cumin, sugar, salt, and pepper (plus powdered garlic which is not listed, but fish always tastes better with garlic), and then pan fried it over medium heat. For the cilantro avocado salsa, I didn't make it from scratch because I have store bought guac at home. I just enhanced it with powdered garlic, powdered onion, pepper, and chopped cilantro, and it went perfectly with the fish. We're having some friends who live in our building come over for dinner tonight since there's not much else to do, and I'm excited to cook for that.

P.S. My post made Reddit front page! Bucket list item, check.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Clone of a Cinnbon

Cinnamon rolls are one of those gorgeous, mythical things that you can only eat if you're lucky to live close enough to a Cinnabon (or an Ikea). However, it is really not that hard! I'm saying this from the perspective of a bread machine owner, because all I have to do is throw in all of the dough ingredients in and run the dough cycle. That is the bulk of the work, and everything else is easy peasy.

To make the dough, use 1/2 cup milk, 1 egg, 2 Tbsp butter, 2 1/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1 1/4 tsp yeast. Run the dough cycle. 

Annd this is what the dough should look like after the rise(s). In a separate bowl, mix together 1/2 cup brown sugar and 4 tsp cinnamon. Also, in another bowl, melt 2 Tbsp buttered. Flatten the dough to a long sheet covering your surface...

Brush the flattened down with butter and sprinkle with topping. Then, starting on one end (on the long side), roll the dough jellyroll style.

Use a sharp knife to cup up the roll into 9 equal pieces, and place into a greased 8x8 pan. You can either stop here by putting the rolls into the fridge tonight, and then let it reach room temperature when you want to use it, or just bake it right then and there. I waited overnight, and then baked it the next morning at 400F for 20 minutes. 

While the dough is baking, make a frosting of 4oz cream cheese, 2 Tbsp butter, 3/4 cup powdered sugar, and a drop of vanilla and salt. I forgot to add vanilla and salt, but it made no difference on the taste... .>_> suspicious

YUM fresh from the oven

Now, smother it with our cream cheese frosting

It's like a sweet fluffy pillow

Would I make this again? definitely

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Curried Chicken with Coconut Rice

I went Halloween costume shopping today. The mall was closing at 9 but by 8:30, I still had no idea what I was going to be. I ended up grabbing a few props and plan to just be a cop (yes I'm a walking stereotype). By the time I got home, I was a bit hungry, but my only options were yogurt, pumpkin muffins from my last post, or cook something to eat. I decided on the last one because I needed something balanced and savory, and this was perfect. This recipe may seem deceivingly challenging, but it's actually really easy; my idea of an easy recipe is anything that takes under an hour to prepare, and this fit the bill. The taste to effort ratio is high with this one.

Sprinkle 2 pounds of chicken (I used drumsticks) with a dash of salt, a dash of cayenne, and 2 tsp curry powder, and rub in.

In a deep cast iron pan or dutch oven, add some oil and brown the chicken pieces. Remove from heat and transfer the chicken pieces to a separate plate.

To the pot, add some salt, ginger, garlic, and half a diced onion. Cook over medium heat until onions are translucent, being sure to stir frequently to avoid burning the onions. 

Add 1 Tbsp tomato paste, then stir and cook for a minute. Add 1/2 a can of coconut milk, 1 cup of water, and 1 cup of rice. Stir well, then bring to a boil

Lay the chicken pieces into the pan and pop it into a preheated 350F oven for 20 minutes.

When it's done, the rice should be fluffy from absorbing all that delicious liquid. Cut up some cilantro and sprinkle on top.

The first picture of this post is what I ate for dinner (at 11pm no less), and this picture is what I'm bringing for lunch tomorrow. I am so excited.

Would I make this again? Yes!

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffin

I love all things pumpkin, so much so that it makes me a little odd because everyone in Trader Joes can literally hear my squeals of joy when I see all the seasonal pumpkin products on their shelves. But I'm sure that I'm not alone; there must be a huge fan base which is why all these pumpkin products fly off the shelves around this time of year. I especially love making my own pumpkin things because I get that sense of personal accomplishment. In high school, I once tried a pumpkin cream cheese muffin from Starbucks and became obsessed. I went home and googled how to make it, found a random copycat recipe, and broke out the kitchen toys. But the results were a disaster. 

The key to a successful cream cheese filled muffin is the texture of the cream cheese filling, which requires preparing a filling in advance and freezing it. I didn't do this back then and the resulting filing was gummy and overcooked. I ate the muffins anyways because I'm a glutton, but because of this, I was terrified of baking with cream cheese. I finally gathered the courage to try duping these muffins the other day. And my god, the texture was spot on this time around.

Prepare the filling first! Whip together 4oz softened cream cheese and 1/2 cup powdered sugar until smooth. Cut some plastic wrap and make a log of cream cheese filling down the middle of the wrap, then roll up and refrigerate until firm.

While the filling is firming up, make the batter. Mix together the wet ingredients: 1/2 cup oil, 2 eggs, 1 cup sugar, and 1/2 cup pumpkin puree.

Add the dry ingredients: 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp baking powder. Mix well.

Line a cupcake tin. Cut the cream cheese log into 12 pieces. Add a dollop of batter into each cup with just enough to cover the bottom of each cup. Add a piece of cream cheese, then cover with more batter until the cream cheese is completely covered. Each cup should be around 3/4 full.

Prepare the streusel topping. Mix 3 Tbsp flour, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 2 Tbsp softened butter. Sprinkle some on top of each muffin, then pop the entire tray of muffins into a preheated 350F oven.

This is what they should look like fresh out of the oven after 20-25 minutes.

I cut this one open when it was still piping hot, and the insides were practically steaming. Mmmm.

Source: Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins (halved)
Would I make these again? Definitely

Sunday, October 21, 2012

So I carved this cuteness

I went to a friend's pumpkin carving potluck, which might be one of the most dangerous things I've done recently, because sharp edges, candles, and alcohol are not a safe combination. But no worries, my fingers are intact. PSA: I did not do this free handed. It was from a stencil and yes I am a cheater, but it's so cute so it's acceptable. I'm still immensely proud because the kitten's tail didn't break off or anything. True engineer right here.

Can't wait for Halloween! I don't have a costume idea yet, but it'll be brilliant. Maybe I'll dress as a binder full of women...but I don't know how to implement that quite yet. Food-wise, I have a few things brainstormed for the occasion:

Mini Apple Pie Cheesecakes

I love the kitchen in my apartment. I really do, but it just has one major flaw: there's no windows. At my old apartment, I had pictures of all my food positioned by the windowsil so that natural light can illuminate my photos, and the pictures were gorgeous albeit a tad awkward. At night, the ceiling lamps in my current apartment are much brighter than in previous apartments, which is good when I take step-by-step pictures. But I like to make the final product pictures all artsy fartsy, which is pretty impossible with fluorescent lighting. So today I had the brilliant idea of...photographing my food in my room. And look how pretty these mini apple pie cheesecakes look! Luckily, they taste just as good as they look.

To make the crust, you're supposed to crush 10 graham crackers and 1/3 cup walnuts in a food processor. I made modifications because a) I had some Special K crackers that I wanted to use up, and b) I don't have a food processor, so I omitted the walnuts and crushed the crackers into crumbs in a ziplock bag, using a cup as a rolling pin. So basically I didn't follow the crust instructions at all. I ended up with about 1 3/4 cups of crumbs to use.

To the crumbs, I added 3 Tbsp sugar, a dash of salt, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and 7 Tbsp softened butter.

Press the crust into a lined cupcake tin. You should be able to do about 12. Bake at 375F for 10-12 minutes, then cool in the fridge.

To make the filling, cream together 8oz cream cheese, 1/2 cup confectioners sugar, 1/2 cup apple butter, and a dash of vanilla extract with a hand mixer until fluffy.

In a separate bowl, whip 3/4 cups of cold heavy cream with hand mixer or stand mixer until stiff peaks form. Fold the heavy cream into the filling from the last step. 

Fill the graham cracker crust, and refrigerate overnight to set.

To make the topping, melt 2 Tbsp butter in a saucepan. Add 1 diced apple, 1/3 cup chopped walnuts, 2 Tbsp brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, and a dash of salt. Continue to cook until the apples are softened, which should take around 5 minutes.

When the cupcakes are ready to serve, add the apple topping to the cheesecakes. Don't do this too far in advance, because the apples will release liquid over time and make the cupcakes all soggy.

D'aww ain't it pretty? I'm going to be taking more food pictures from my room from now on. Gotta be careful not to get cheesecake all over my bed.

Source: Mini Apple Pie Cheesecakes from Shutterbean
Would I make this recipe again? Definitely

I'm never baking cookies again

Cooking is a private hobby. I love sharing what I make, but the process is all my own. I enjoy being in the kitchen when no one is watching, partly because I'm a little ashamed. I mean, if you stumble on someone at 1 am covered in cake batter, you would probably think that she's a bit cuckoo. And another reason is that I've been told I'm a little bossy when I cook with others. But really, what can you do if other people don't know how to beat eggs? There's a certain way that things need to be done to yield the best results.

So now you think I'm crazy. I'm about to reinforce that a little more. I baked 7 types of cookies at 1 am, mhm. I had a bunch of cookie combinations bookmarked on my Pinterest, and I wanted to work my way through them. It sounds like an awful lot, but it's not all that bad. I didn't make 7 batches...because 7 batches at 36 cookies a batch = 252, which is over the top even for me. Instead, I made two bases, split the dough up, and added mix-ins. Most people don't realize how easy cookies are to customize, since there are very few options for the dough. One is a brown sugar base ala chocolate chip cookies, and the other is a white sugar base ala sugar cookies. All cookie recipes are a variation on one of these two themes. So the next time you bake a batch, introduce some variety and realize that you do not need to make three dozen of the same kind.

My cookie dough canvas

For the brown sugar based cookies, I made one batch of Cook's Illustrated Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie. This is an iconic recipe, so I figured that I couldn't go wrong. For the white sugar based cookies, I made half a batch of the Fat Fluffy Snickerdoodles recipe from How Sweet Eats (minus cinnamon, which was added later).

Yummy add-ins

I split the brown sugar dough into five bowls (approx 1/2 cup dough each) and put in additional ingredients, then refrigerated for a bit and baked 1 Tbsp drops at 350F for 10 minutes.

Pumpkin chocolate chip: 1/4 cup chocolate chips, 1 Tbsp pumpkin butter, 1 Tbsp additional flour, 1/4 tsp cinnamon

These were my least favorite. They were one of the first trays to go in the oven when I was still experimenting with the bake time (I started at 325F but increased to 350F after this batch)...and then I dropped half of the cookies on the floor, so these were a complete disaster. But it gets better. 

Chocolate almond butter stuffed: 1/4 cup chocolate chips, then flattened 1 1/2 Tbsp pieces with my hands, filled with 1 tsp of chocolate almond butter, and wrapped into balls before baking

Pretty good but very unbalanced. It's deliciously sinful but way too much for me.

Peanut butter chocolate oatmeal: 1/4 cup oats, 1/4 cup chocolate chips, 1 Tbsp peanut butter

These were the healthiest. They even smelled healthy.

Mini peanut butter cups: 1/2 cup of bite sized Reeses

I was too full to try one, but you can't really mess this up.

Pumpkin white chocolate chip: 1/4 cup white chocolate chips, 1 Tbsp pumpkin butter, 1 Tbsp additional flour, 1/4 tsp cinnamon

Amazing! These were the absolute best. The white chocolate enhances the pumpkin flavor so well.

The snickerdoodle/sugar cookie dough. I started with half a batch of the sugar cookie recipe listed above, omitting the original cinnnamon, then divided the dough in half. For the lemon cookies, I added 1 tsp lemon zest and 1 tsp lemon juice.

The lemon cookies were decent, but I wish the citrus flavor was strong. It needs more zest next time.

The snickerdoodle dough. I added 1/4 tsp cinnamon, formed Tbsp-sized balls, and then rolled in a mixture of 1 Tbsp white sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon.

They came out super pillowy and cute from the oven, although they quickly deflated. These were my second favorite.

From top left counterclockwise: pumpkin white chocolate, chocolate pb cups, chocolate pb oatmeal, chocolate almond butter stuffed.

Snickerdoodles and lemon cookies. I packed everything in Tupperware and mailed some to David, then brought the rest to work.  

And here is the damage in the kitchen. It gets messy like this quite frequently, aka every time I cook.Yes, the eggs are sitting on a skillet, I'm just cray like that.

P.S. I'm sick of cookies for the rest of my life.