June 25, 2011

Summery, Minted Fruit Salad

There are a lot of things that I love about summer. For example: watermelon stomachaches, of which I have had a least half a dozen since I've been back in Cincinnati. Any day that I have the opportunity to eat enough watermelon to cause me physical pain is a good day.

Also: not wearing pants. I don't have anything against pants, specifically (except when I have watermelon gut and they don't fit). But it's pretty fantastic to go from running shorts to skirts and back again, over and over again. From June through August, the only purpose my jeans serve is to be tried on occasionally so I can make sure that they'll still fit come cooler weather.

But summer has an ugly side, too. Namely: bug bites. After a day of adventuring in the woods, the boy and I stopped to compare the damage. I had at least 17 bug bites. His final count? Zero. Not fair.

Luckily, I have a loving mother who consulted the Interwebs for the latest and greatest bug bite home remedies. They included (and I'm not embarrassed to admit that I tried most of them, desperate times and all): a dab of toothpaste, rubbing alcohol, egg membrane, the inside of a banana peel, and (I'm not joking) circling the bites with a ballpoint pen. Shockingly, even the ballpoint pen failed to work (to be fair, that was listed as a mosquito bite remedy, and mine are almost certainly chigger bites. That was probably the problem.).

Fortunately, I have wonderfully colorful and delicious summer produce to console me in the rough times. I am 100% supportive of just chopping up whatever looks good and serving it plain for fruit salad, but this guy is for when you have just a few extra minutes (or need something just a tad more fancy). It's the absolute best of summer flavors: whatever fruit strikes your fancy, fresh mint, crisp white wine, and a touch of sweet agave. Light and bursting with the bright flavors of the season, it's perfect for any summer occasion, or for no occasion at all.

June 13, 2011

Chocolate Meringues

There have been an unsettling number of dessert recipes coming out of my kitchen these past couple months, I know. But sometimes the sweeter things in life are unavoidable, and these latest little guys are the least likely to send you out shopping for bigger pants. With only six ingredients, they're also unlikely to send you to the grocery.

I've done meringues twice in the past week; they're that dead simple and delicious. Light and airy in a way that crunches and then immediately melts in your mouth, I'm convinced they're the perfect summer dessert. The first meringue adventure came in the form of a cupcake topping. Moist vanilla cupcakes topped with a light lemony fluff, it was delightful. But the second time around I did chocolate. I love fruity, summery desserts as much as the next guy, but chocolate will always have a special place in my heart, so that's the recipe you're getting today.

My new most favorite thing about being an adult?
No one can make you scrape the beater before you lick it.

Just a couple things to know about meringues:
1. They're super simple. As in, about ten minutes of prep followed by a couple completely unsupervised hours in the oven.
2. I've heard that they'll keep for a few days under the right circumstances, but I have yet to experience it myself. It probably has to do with the Cincinnati humidity, but mine were totally soft and sad the second day. Still delicious, though.
3. You'll be separating egg whites for these guys. You may want to involve multiple bowls in the process, because if you get just the teeniest bit of yolk mixed in, you're going to be starting over.

May 31, 2011

Orange-Scented Creme Brulee

The problem with blogging about things made for dinner parties is that there is limited time for taking lovely photos. I realized halfway through dessert that I had zero pictures of my finished creme brulee. So let me tell you about it: it was delightful, delicately flavored with both orange and vanilla. The custard was dense and perfectly smooth. The sugar layer didn't quite crackle and harden under my broiler (my rack was definitely too far down), but it melted enough for a satisfying crack through the top layer. And the whole thing was actually quite simple. Best of all, you can make it the night before and just stick it in the fridge until you're ready to pop it under the broiler for the crispy top sugar layer.

May 29, 2011

Chocolate Drenched Coconut Macaroons

....this is embarassing. I've been completely MIA for over a month, but I can explain! First came the hectic last couple weeks of the semester, followed by a hellish finals week. That awful week also kicked off three weeks of low-carb sadness, because I had to lose 3 pounds for a jiu jitsu tournament (actually, there were few enough women that they didn't bother weighing us in. I. Was. Not. Happy.). Turns out, not being allowed to eat fruit, pasta, bread, rice, or any kind of sweetener that's not made of chemicals dampens my love of cooking. I texted my sister about four hours into the diet to tell her that I was starving, probably to death.

But I'll make it up to you, I swear. I'll make it up to you with drippy dark chocolate, smothering coconut macaroons that manage to be both gooey and crispy in the same bite. I'm pretty sure I've given myself diabetes in one fell swoop this weekend. And the abs that appeared around day 19 of low carb misery? Gone. Totally worth it, by the way. You'll see.

Teeny chocolate chip and coconut sandwiches
are delightful, but not very resilient.

That's a month's worth of delicious right there, but there's more. The macaroons call for five egg whites. And the boy doesn't like coconut, but he didn't want to run the risk of there not being enough to go around just in case  he likes coconut when it's in a macaroon. So, he decided that we (I) should make a double batch. And while I can talk myself into throwing away two or three egg yolks, ten is just too many to waste. I was clearly morally obligated to make creme brulee as well. I'll get that recipe up for you later this week (trust me, you want it), because the macaroons deserve their own time to shine.

Everything should be bathed in chocolate.

I used to not like coconut, but I'm pretty sure I was just confused for the first decade and a half of my life. Maybe I wasn't ready for true happiness yet, but I've come a long way. And of course, a good drenching in dark chocolate makes anything better. These guys come out sticky-sweet, in some delicious limbo between cookie and candy. Your hands will get messy, and if you bake like I do, you're in for a (again, totally worth it) tummy ache before the oven even enters into the equation. But messes aside, this is a pretty simple recipe that keeps beautifully and is more impressive than difficult. And it turns out, by the way, that the boy does like coconut when it's tucked inside a macaroon, so there you have it.

April 24, 2011

Pistachio Pudding

Happy Easter! In addition to such lovely things as teeny girls in poofy dresses and a perfect excuse NOT to work on finals, Easter means something very important to me this year in particular: I get to eat sugar again! Mom (er, excuse me, the Easter Bunny) tortured me with a giant box of candy that arrived several days early, but I officially made it through. I celebrated at midnight with a decidedly disappointing Tootsie Roll: it turns out my no-processed-sugar dessert concoctions are more delicious than many sugar-laden treats. However, I did very much enjoy a stolen bite of the boy's cereal this morning. Off-brand Smacks, mmmmmm.

So, Lenten resolutions more or less fulfilled (I didn't have any official lapses, but I also didn't ask as many questions as I could have), today seems like the perfect time for a sweet treat. I actually had some trouble choosing a recipe. I wanted to make this or this, but I realized that neither of them call for any processed sugar! I'll for sure try those another day and let you know how it goes, but they just weren't right for today. Turns out, today is a pudding kind of day. Which is not a bad day, at all.

Normally, I post a day or two after making something, but not today. I wanted to get something up for Easter, but I also am well aware that I don't have the self-control to not taste while I'm cooking (also, I'm pretty sure that's how almost everyone gets kicked off of Chopped. Is that show still on?). I clearly couldn't make pudding a single minute before Lent was officially over. So this time around, we get to enjoy delicious things together! Well, kind of. In that I get to enjoy it, and you get to imagine enjoying it. Almost the same.

On the bright side, you also only have to imagine what a pain it is to pry open an entire cup of pistachios at a time.

This pistachio pudding turns out a lovely, Eater-appropriate pastel-ish green. My initial reaction upon seeing the recipe (which calls for only white sugar) was to tweak some maple syrup or agave into it, but that seemed out of the spirit of winning at Lent (that may not be the official term...). So I give you the recipe in all it's deliciously American, processed-sugar glory. The pistachio flavor is definitely present, but pretty mild. Think vanilla pudding with a twist. Five scraped-clean dishes suggest that it's a damn tasty Easter dessert. A dollop of homemade whipped cream certainly wouldn't be out of place here, but my swimsuits suggested that I keep things reasonable for now. But next time...

Ready for the fridge.
Also, possibly protected from mind readers.

April 5, 2011

Strawberries and (coconut) Cream

I gave up processed sugar for Lent. The thing is, I kind of forgot about Lent for the first week. By the time I remembered, it seemed like I had to either go big or just continue ignoring it. Of course, as soon as I decided to give up processed sugar, I made the mistake of trying to eat something. You know what has processed sugar in it? Everything.

I thought I knew what I was getting into. I knew I'd have to read labels on things like bread and ketchup. Turns out I shouldn't have bothered. You just can't find things like bread or ketchup at the grocery store without loads of sugar or corn syrup. I've had to decide to be flexible (ie, not crazy) on a few things. For example, I will not buy a fifth jar of peanut butter just because the four I already have all have sugar (shut up- two of them are flavored). I just eat the one with sugar listed nearest the end.

I also will not ask a restaurant if things like croutons or pizza sauce contain sugars, for two reasons: one, I've worked in restaurants, and I don't want to be that guy. And two, I already know the answer: This is America, so yes they do. I also went ahead and finished my box of All Bran, the only sweetened perishable item I couldn't talk Erik into eating for me. I don't feel bad about it; All Bran is hardly a splurge.

The thing is, though, I really like sweet things. Plus, it's Girl Scout cookie season, which seems like a cruel joke at this point. But I'm both resourceful and committed enough to dessert to work through this potential disaster.

Behold my new favorite discovery. It's almost as easy as scooping out some ice cream (maybe easier, depending on how cold you keep your freezer) and just as delicious. And that's coming from a girl who takes her ice cream very seriously. Sweet, creamy and delicious, it's a fresher take on strawberries and cream (it's also a great way to salvage bland strawberries). I've had it almost every single night for the past two weeks, and I've yet to feel deprived when it comes to dessert time (which, by the way, is shortly after dinner, every single night). I think this discovery has single-handedly saved my Lenten promise.

My favorite thing about this picture? I blog in the morning, so this became second breakfast.

March 12, 2011

Homemade Mayonnaise

No one ever accused mayonnaise of being photogenic.

The twin visited over Mardi Gras, which was a fantastic opportunity for lots of delicious things, and we will get to those things in just a moment. Twizits also open the floodgates to a barrage of twin-related questions. This leads me to believe that maybe the rest of the world needs a quick primer on twindom, so let's go over a few of the most common questions and answers:

What's the one, big difference between us? Mostly that we're two different people. Some other smaller things, too. Variation on this question: Which one is the smart/ sporty/ pretty one? It's important to note that you cannot possibly hope to assign these labels yourself without insulting someone. A very good friend once told us that I was the smart one, and Annie was the pretty one. She meant it as a compliment, I think, but you can see how it went awry.

A similarity: Neither of us is a sandwich.

March 2, 2011

Orange-Balsamic Glazed Beets

I know, not everyone is the beet fanatic that I am. Maybe it's the purple fingers (and counter, and cabinet...), maybe it's the earthy sweetness (um, maybe dirt apples isn't actually such a bad description), but I adore them. And I'm confident that someone, somewhere will be just as excited as I am at the prospect of a bowlful of tender, sticky-sweet orange-balsamic glazed beets. Probably.

I didn't mean to buy them at the farmer's market this weekend, really. But were cheap and gigantic, and how can you possibly say no to this guy:

Monster beet!
Okay, maybe I do have a problem...

February 27, 2011

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

My life should always have a sea of cupcakes in the background.

I know this may be difficult for some of you to hear, but here goes: it's officially springtime in New Orleans. I know, I know, it's February. I think it's weird, too. I'm still half afraid to say it out loud, for fear of scaring it off. But celebrations of spring and all the wonderful things that come with it- sunshine, shirtless boys, nighttime runs, and playing outside- are in order. So, in lieu of the hearty soups you may still need up north, this week I'm cooking picnic fare.

When deciding what to bring to our potluck picnic, I took stock of what was already in the kitchen. Earlier this week, I had been on my way out the door when I realized that Erik's bananas were about to go bad and desperately needed to be cut up and frozen rightthisveryminute to avert banana disaster (side note: no, we do not share bananas. He has a very strict banana-eating schedule for the week, and I get cranky when I run out of fruit unexpectedly.). With a tupperware full of frozen bananas, I remembered Heidi Swanson's carrot cake recipe.

Sweetened with nothing but ripe bananas and dates, and topped with a thick smear of maple-syrup spiked cream cheese, it's a dense, almost rustic loaf cake that's almost as fitting for breakfast as for dessert. It's delicious and substantial as written, I've made it several times. For cupcakes, though, just a few tweaks were in order.

February 15, 2011

N'awlins Red Beans and Rice

The brussel sprouts were a bust. They were lovely and fragrant and beautifully browned, but also generally not delicious. Could have been the preparation, or maybe I just don't like brussel sprouts. It's hard to say at this point, but you will not be getting that recipe, and Erik won't have to try yet another weird vegetable just because it's Valentine's Day and he loves me.

Not the way to say "I love you"

A much better Valentine's offering: red beans and rice. Now, I know what you're thinking. Um, beans? On the most-hyped date night of the year? But after six (six!) years with the boy, I have yet to acquire any evidence that he has any kind of bodily functions at all, so your problem is not my problem. Plus, I conferred with my mom, and she decided that red beans are, well, red, and thus V-Day appropriate. Suck it, haters. 

Since we don't do a big V-Day production (as my beautiful cousin Tricia says, "I don't believe in Valentine's Day, just love, every day."), my gift to E-Dawg was mostly-vegetarian me skipping the vegetarian makeover of his favorite southern dish (one of the major issues in our relationship is vegetarian chili, which he is staunchly against). My version included meat from not one but two animals. The first: pig, duh. The second? Gator.

In the South, you can only cook a gator that you personally killed.
What? You don't know.

Well, kind of. I cooked the gator sausage and tossed it in the mix. A few minutes later, I tasted it and picked it all out one piece at a time. Turns out, gator sausage is not delicious. I left the sausage in the final recipe. Mine turned out fantastic without it, though, so consider it optional.

You have to plan ahead a little for this recipe (soaking the beans overnight and cooking for about three hours), but it's almost completely hands-off. And totally worth it.

February 7, 2011

Spiced Carrot and Walnut Loaf

Not brussel sprouts.

This is not the recipe you were going to get this week. You were supposed to get brussel sprouts. Which you may get next week, depending on how they turn out tomorrow (I've never had them before, so it's kind of a crapshoot). But this week, instead, you get this dense, spiced carrot and walnut loaf. It's rich and slightly sweet, really just a couple steps away from cake, but you can totally feel justified eating it for breakfast. You are welcome.

Also, please no one warn my boyfriend that I'm making brussel sprouts. I would like for him to come home from work tomorrow.

Anyway. I was settling in to do homework when I stumbled across this recipe that would use the carrots and buttermilk that have been  threatening to go bad in my fridge, as well as the walnuts I've been ignoring ever since I used 1/8 of the container for pesto two weeks ago. For the sake of not wasting food, homework obviously had to wait.

Roughing up the nuts.

January 31, 2011

Chocolate Mousse with Orange-Zested Whipped Cream

Great Reasons to Make Chocolate Mousse:
- You're going to a potluck, and it seems schleppy to get something from the grocery store.
- You have slightly embarrassing memories of asking for samples of mousse at the deli counter as a child (that make you wonder where your mother was. Maybe pretending you weren't her child?).
- You were given a KitchenAid stand mixer for Christmas that you haven't used nearly enough yet.
- You've gotta break that New Year's resolution sometime. Why not now?

But let's be honest, who really needs a reason for chocolate mousse? The fantastic inspiration for this absolutely drool-worthy recipe comes from The Essential New York Times Cookbook, which (along with Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian) is my current obsession. A giant tome of over 1400 recipes, the collection was painstakingly tested and arranged by Amanda Hessler, who drew from 150 years of recipes published in, you guessed it, The New York Times. I feel like there's a big emphasis on what's new and inventive in the culinary world, and it's refreshing to see the recipes from the nineteenth century that my grandmother's mother may have read. There's not a picture to be found, but Hessler's notes about each recipe are lovely and helpful. Also helpful: the book is popular enough that your local library surely has a copy.

The chocolate mousse recipe is not so old, only from 1977, but it is hands-down the best I've had. Hessler warns that you'll likely "dirt[y] eighty-seven bowls in the process." I tend to clean up as I go (a habit my dad will happily explain comes from him, not Mom), so I didn't get a final count, but I didn't think it was so bad. And while there are several different steps involved, there's nothing really tricky about it. It took less than an hour altogether. Don't be scared away, it's definitely worth a little bit of work.

Not too sweet, it hits just the right note of decadently rich but airily light. This is a chocolate-lover's dessert, for sure. I swapped out the liquor in the original recipe for orange juice and zest and added orange zest to the whipped cream, as well, and it brought just a touch of brightness to the situation. On quick note: Very little liquid is added to the melted chocolate, so it will seize up a bit if you don't work quickly. Don't worry about that, I tweaked the recipe to make that happen on purpose. The slightly hardened chocolate can still be easily beaten into the whipped cream and egg whites, and you'll have delightfully teeny pieces of melt-in-your-mouth intense chocolate. The thought of those tiny chocolate bombs had me in the kitchen with a spoon an embarrassing number of times this weekend. If you don't want them, just add a couple tablespoons of water to the egg yolks. But also be aware that we cannot possibly be friends.

January 29, 2011

30-Second Herbed Ricotta Spread

I'm not kidding about the thirty seconds, this spread comes together in a flash. It's so easy that I didn't even think about posting it until I'd been enjoying it almost every day for a couple weeks. At that point, it seemed wrong not to share! Forgot you were responsible for bringing an app until, oh, right when you need to be out the door? No problem, this is literally as simple as shaking some herbs over ricotta and transferring to a pretty dish. Pick up crackers on the way, and you're good to go.

This is simple enough that I tend to make it in single batches of just a couple tablespoons either right when I'm hungry or as I pack my lunch. Savory and flavorful but not too heavy, this spread tastes like more than thirty seconds worth of effort! It seems appropriate for this to be a short post. Plus, with only half a minute worth of commitment, how much convincing do you guys really need?

January 24, 2011

Pink Pesto Pasta with Beets, Asparagus, and Goat Cheese

You should know that I have a minor addiction to beets (or, as the boyfriend and the twin prefer to call them, dirt apples). As in, I can happily sit down to a bowl of completely unseasoned steamed or roasted beets. So, when an ironically bespectacled hipster at the farmer's market told me about a pasta she'd made with beet green pesto and garlic chevre, how could I possibly deprive you all (ahem, me) of this delightfully pink dish?

Beet greens are decidedly under appreciated. Even knowing how easy they are to use, I have a tendency to toss them out. They're a little like kale, but with a nicer flavor. I wouldn't recommend eating them raw, but they can be sauteed or tossed into any soup you'd normally use spinach or cabbage in. But here's what can be the problem: they turn everything they touch deep purple. I made my usual vegetable soup with beet greens instead of spinach once. It was as delicious as ever, but I couldn't convince the boy to eat purple soup!

Flip those suckers around. The other end is due for some damn glory.
Not a problem with this pasta. Instead of deep purple, the pasta is more of a green-flecked fuchsia after being tossed with the pesto. Add in tangy goat cheese and throw in some steamed asparagus and beets (the normal part of the beets, that is), and I am in heaven.

January 8, 2011

Creamy Pineapple Rice

Oh man, some holiday detox is definitely in order in my life, how about yours? I loved being home with the fam for a few weeks, but it's nice not to be surrounded by hundreds of cookies every day. And also sad. Christmas cookies cause conflicting emotions. You feel obligated to eat them (You don't want to insult Jesus, right? Or Santa?), but they cause tummy aches if you eat them for meals as well as snacks and dessert. Moral of the story: holidays are dangerous. Wonderful and magical and totally worth some of my clothes not fitting for a couple weeks, but dangerous nonetheless.

Let me tell you briefly how much the people that I love love me back before diving into a deliciously rich-yet-not-terrible-for-us recipe: For Christmas, the padres gave me a KitchenAid (!!!) and a coffee grinder, among other wonderful things. The boy gave me two knives, each of which cost more than the entire set we had before (also, they're made with the same folding technique used on samurai swords. That's how you know a boy bought them), among other fun kitchen things. And the twin, in a blinding example of twin-weirdness, somehow picked the same theme for my gifts that I chose for hers: mustaches.

Twins are not to be trusted. Too weird.

It was a wildly successful Christmas. So successful that the blog was shamelessly ignored (sorry) and the sugar high is still wearing off. My first week back in Nawlins has been marked almost entirely by either plain fruits and vegetables or experiments that still need tweaking, but we did enjoy one of my old standbys last night. Super easy to throw together, pineapple rice is a nice way to dress up any number of easy weeknight dinners: chicken breast or pork chops, grilled tofu or steamed asparagus. Best made with regular brown rice (although you can use quick-cooking in a pinch), it's hearty and savory, but the pineapple lends a sweetness that goes beautifully with the creamy, slightly sticky texture imparted by the last-minute addition of a couple pats of butter.