Monday, May 16, 2011

Guac is Love

I cannot be controlled around guacamole.  I find it absolutely divine.  Even when it's not that great, it's still amazing.  However, that being said, I can only think of two places I've had guac that is like, HOLY CRAP, that was amazing!  Anywhere else I've had guac is still edible and I definitely have to be restrained from licking the bowl - but these places REALLY stand out. The first place is Sol Cucina in Newport Beach.  The Guacamole Sol is unlike anything I've had before - it has mangos, pepitas, and goat cheese in it.  Crazy combo, but boy does it work.  Add in a margarita and my life is complete.  The other place, which I just tried last weekend, is La Sandia in Santa Monica.  I knew it was going to be good when they asked how hot we wanted it.  And I was beyond thrilled when all 3 of us at the table agreed on HOT.  None of that pansy mild crap that's as spicy as ketchup.  I like everything spicy!  Anyway, there wasn't any fancy ingredients in it other than whatever hot sauce they used, but it was definitely delicious enough that I will likely remember it and want to go back there.

Anyway, I finally started making my own guac a few months ago.  And at first try, I basically made the Best Guac Ever.  My second batch got me a high five from a random person that sampled it.  Tonight was my third batch, and it is Dinner.  And an amazing dinner at that.

My only problem with making guac is that it's sorta depressing to see how little guac 3 avocados actually makes because I have definitely consumed more guac than that in one sitting before.  Yikes.  Also its pricy but luckily my fabulous roommate has access to an avocado tree so its much cheaper than normal for me to make.

How I do it...keep in mind, I don't measure...I just make it look & taste right:

3-5 avocados
2-4 Roma tomatos
1/2 or more Red Onion
2 or 3 Limes
1-2 Jalapenos or 1 Serrano pepper
A bunch of cilantro
Seasoned Salt

Split the avocados in half, take out the pit, use a spoon and remove from the skin.  Mash 'em all up in a bowl with a potato masher.  Cut the limes & squeeze all the juice in, mix together before the 'cados turn brown.  Dice the onion very finely (I don't like big chunks of onion), add in and mix.  Slice the tomatoes and remove the seeds and juice before dicing.  Dice the I use 2 Jalapenos but last time I used 1 Serrano.  Chop up the cilantro.  Sprinkle on some seasoned salt.  And then some more because it's really good.  Mix it all up.  Enjoy!

Mmm....dinner :)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Back in the kitchen!

Wow, I've been slacking.   A month and a half since my last post?  I truly have not cooked much since then.  10 days of my college roomie in town (although I did cook twice - shrimp & pasta concoctions), an unexpected 2 week trip to Michigan, my mom visiting (we made a pizza together, it was delish) and during her trip, an unexpected killer sinus infection that knocked me out for the last 2.5 weeks.  I have basically been eating cereal, yogurt, veggie burgers, and take out Combo salads from Hosum Bistro.  Last weekend I was feeling somewhat better and bought a few ingredients intending to make some sort of Pineapple Fried Rice....yesterday I threw out a moldy pineapple  *sigh*.  I did manage to make some cupcakes in the brief window I was feeling better...those are below.

Well, today was the day.  I finally feel about 95% better and I want to make my OWN food.  Plus I have nothing left in my freezer for lunches.  I had found numerous recipes for Pineapple Fried and liked parts of each one but wanted to make it my own way.  Some had shrimp (yum), red peppers (holy expensive), curry powder (I can handle it), but there wasn't once recipe that totally caught my eye.  So here's what I did for what turned out to be tonight's dinner & 4 extra servings for lunches:

3/4 lb chicken breast
Dry Jerk seasoning
1 cup brown rice (dry)
1 15 oz can black beans (drained & rinsed)
1 20 oz can pineapple (drained, liquid reserved)
1 10 oz bag of matchstick carrots
1/2 red onion, diced
soy sauce
red pepper flakes
minced garlic (from a jar)

I actually cooked the rice last weekend and when I realized I wasn't going to do anything else with it, I stuck it in the freezer until yesterday.

For the chicken, I seasoned with the Jerk Seasoning (bought a pre-made mix but I probably could have made my own), salt and pepper.  Browned and cooked it through in a skillet, and slice into thin strips.

Heated large skillet, used just a little bit of cooking spray, and added the diced onion.  Cooked until soft, added one heaping spoon (probably about a TBSP) of the minced garlic.  Added the black beans, pineapple chunks (not the juice) and carrots.  Sauteed for a bit, then added about half of the pineapple juice to help soften the carrots.  Added some red pepper flakes (I like HOT), soy sauce (maybe a TBSP or two), and let everything cook down until the carrots were almost done, and then added the chicken.  I had cooked it earlier & let it cool so it needed to warm up again.  Then I took everything out of the pan, sprayed it with cooking spray again, and added in just the rice and let it sizzle for a bit.  Not exactly "fried" since I didn't use any real oil but whatever...I prefer to cook healthy.  Then I added everything else back in after a few minutes, stirred it around, and added the rest of the pineapple juice, and salt & pepper.  Tasted it...not bad...added cilantro, and dang, it was pretty good.  I also made some broccoli on the side to get some extra veggies.  I feel like overall, it could use SOME work - I had ginger & forgot to use it, but I'm not sure yet what else I would do differently.  It was definitely spicy but it could use some depth instead of more spice.  I'm definitely willing to play around with it and make another variation, probably with shrimp.  All in all, I liked it, AND it was really healthy.

And of course I had to bake.  I wanted to something simple, no fancy cupcakes or multi-step cookies like I've been doing.  I found this recipe for Marshmallow Blondies and decided they sounded easy and tasty.  Not much to really say about them since it was the most basic recipe ever.  The only thing was that I baked them for longer than the recipe indicated (probably about 28 minutes) and I discovered they were definitely too soft in the middle of the pan.  They're super sticky regardless, but the middle of the pan was hard to cut and I was forced to eat that part.  Here's a pic of my new dough scrapper from my Favorite Cooking Store (as in, if you want to get me something for my upcoming cards are welcome...) stuck in the middle of the baked Blondies.  Verdict:  slightly undercooked & super sticky but really tasty.

The one project I did manage last weekend was Strawberry Cupcakes with Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting.  I had to find a new ingredient for these - freeze dried strawberries.  I happened to look through the Trader Joe's ad last week and saw they had them so I stocked up there.

I also needed fresh strawberries...mmm....I love strawberries.

So the batter had pureed fresh strawberries AND the freeze dried, which were pulverized in my mini food processor.  When I was making the batter, I thought it was too thick - and after they were baked I'd still agree.  One thing I need to learn is that while I can identify what might be wrong with a recipe, I don't know how to fix it.  The batter was very thick & dense - I don't know if more eggs (or beating the whites separately) would have helped?  I meant to try again because I ended up with leftover frosting, but that hasn't happened yet.  Here's the super thick batter:

Pretty & pink!  And the baked cupcakes, pre-frosting:

So I think the frosting was the best part.  The dried strawberries, butter, powdered sugar, and cream cheese.  There was no way that wouldn't be good.  Since I haven't used the extra yet and it is probably actually still good, I should probably just buy more fresh strawberries and dip them in the frosting goodness.  And here's the finished product:

And a whole bunch of 'em:


So I have zero plans to cook anymore this week.  Lunches are made.  At most I may make some guacamole tomorrow and call that dinner.  I fly to NYC on Thursday morning and will spend my weekend eating, drinking, and running my way through the city.  Maybe next week...

Monday, May 2, 2011

Babka Babka Babka

Boy oh boy, did you know babka tastes really really good? I mean, really good, like eat-the-crumbs-off-the-floor good? It took an afternoon of lessons learned, but I finished baking a babka loaf in time for dessert on Sunday. Christine was home in time for the tasting and I'm pretty sure she liked.

I did some research and discovered Martha had the best recipe, but it made three loaves. I reduced the recipe to make just one loaf, and I've retyped and added my personal additions (vanilla!) to the recipe below. This is by no means an every day indulgence. The amount of butter and chocolate in this recipe will my close arteries and my bank account if made every week, however after making this rich treat, I am one personal step closer to buying my new

Whether you are intrigued with babka like I was after the infamous Seinfeld episode, or you are quite familiar with the pastry, I highly suggested making a loaf, or buying one, you won't be disappointing. Heck, ask me, I'll gladly make and share an extra loaf.

Makes 1 loaf
Adapted from Martha

1/2 cups warm milk, 110 degrees

1.5 tsp active dry yeast

Squeeze of honey

1/4 cup sugar

2 eggs, divided

1 tsp vanilla

2.5 cups flour

1/4 tsp salt

6 Tbls butter, softened

12 ounces chocolate, chopped

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/3 cup sugar

4 Tbls butter, softened

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/4 cup flour
5 Tbls butter, softened
  1. Pour warm milk into a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast and squeeze of honey over milk; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

  2. In a bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup sugar, 1 egg.

  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour and salt. Add egg mixture and yeast mixture, and beat on low speed until almost all the flour is incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add 6 Tablespoons butter, and beat until flour mixture and butter are completely incorporated, and a smooth, soft dough that’s slightly sticky when squeezed is formed, about 10 minutes.

  4. Butter a large bowl. Place dough in bowl, and turn to coat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

  5. Place chocolate, 1/3 cup sugar, and cinnamon in a large bowl, and stir to combine. Using a fork, cut in remaining 4 Tablespoons butter until well combined; set filling aside.

  6. Generously butter one 9-by-5-by-2 3/4-inch loaf pan; line with parchment paper. Punch back the dough, and transfer to a clean surface. Let rest 5 minutes. On a generously floured surface, roll dough out into a 16-inch square; it should be 1/8 inch thick.

  7. Brush edges with egg wash. Crumble the reserved chocolate filling evenly over dough, leaving a 1/4-inch border. Refresh egg wash if needed. Roll dough up tightly like a jelly roll. Pinch ends together to seal. Twist 5 or 6 turns. Brush top of roll with egg wash. Bend roll in half and twist left half over right half. Fold ends under, and pinch to seal. Fit into prepared pan.

  8. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Brush the top of each loaf with egg wash. Combine powdered sugar, 1/4 cup flour, and 5 Tablespoons butter to make streusel topping. Crumble streusel topping over loaf. Loosely cover pan with plastic wrap, and let stand in a warm place 20 to 30 minutes.

  9. Bake loaf, rotating halfway through, until golden, about 45 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake until babkas are deep golden, 10 minutes more. Remove from oven, and transfer to wire rack until cool. Remove from pans; serve. Babkas freeze well for up to 1 month, but mine never made it to the freezer.