Flashback Friday – Habit

The following post originally appeared on BAH on 24 August 2009.

Steaming

Just because I am a creature of habit, doesn’t mean I won’t try a new way of doing things. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes it works but I like my way better.

This recipe falls into that last category.

Restaurant Style Asparagus

Washington Post

Asparagus can be parcooked 1 to 2 hours in advance; refrigerate, then saute just before serving.

  • big pinch kosher salt
  • 1 pund asparagus, woodey ends discarded
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • lemon zest

Fill a large skillet with 1 or 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Have a clean, dry towel ready.

Add the asparagus, adding water if necessary to  make sure the vegetables are covered. Cook until just tender, 4 to 5 minutes for thin spears or 6 to 10 minutes for thicker spears. Use tongs to transfer the asparagus to the towel. and pat dry.

Use just enough oil to coat the bottom of the skillet and heat over medium-high. When hot, add the asparagus and salt and saute for 3 to 4 minutes, until they start to brown a little. Garnish with lemon zest and serve hot.

{Printable Recipe}

Flashback Friday – Shorted

The following post originally appeared on BAH on 19 August 2009.

Used to be that when a recipe called for 8 ounces of pasta, I could just measure out half a box and be done. Not anymore. Have you noticed how with many of the things we buy, like pasta, ice cream, and coffee, you don’t get as much as you used to? But you’re still paying the same price.

The packages haven’t changed so much that you notice you’re being shorted. But look closely. That box of Barilla Penne that I picked up at the store? It’s 14 ounces instead of 16. And your cup of yogurt, is it still 8 ounces or have they sold you 6 ounces for the same price?

The Washington Post recently mentioned this trend. For me, it’s an annoyance, an inconvenience. If I’m making a dish that needs a cup of yogurt I have to choose between buying a second container and having more than I need or possibly throwing the recipe off because I don’t have enough. My kitchen is small. I don’t have the room to store cans and jars and boxes that I wouldn’t need to buy if it weren’t for this shrinkage.

Why are we being forced to make this decision? Blame it on the companies for wanting to make more money. Blame it on the grocery stores for trying to find higher profit margins. Blame it on consumers for not noticing the changes. We’re all to blame. But it still feels sneaky.

How do you feel about it? Are you ok with products being downsized while still paying the same price or would you prefer to pay a little more to get the old “standard” sizes?

Flashback Friday – Peeps Show ’09

Flashback Friday

The following originally appeared on 4/17/09 at Exit 51.

Peeps Show ’09

I like to think I am a good host.  At a minimum, that means that I try not to leave you with incomplete stories.  So by my own definition, I would not be a good host if I didn’t bring you the results of the 2009 Washington Post Peep Diorama Contest.

image from the washington post
image from the washington post

Now that the contest is over, enjoy your Peeps.

Flashback Friday – Notes On Cooking With SFC

Flashback Friday

The following originally appeared on 3/25/09 at Exit 51.

Notes On Cooking With SFC

Each week, SFC picks one meal that he will cook.  As hard as it is for me not to jump in and take over on these nights, I really do like the days when I’m just the sous chef.  I’m much happier sitting on the couch turning the pages of a book than standing over a stove whisking or reducing.

Chili Rub

We did have to establish one major rule though.  The first time we make a recipe, we do not deviate from it as written.  No substitutions, no omission, no tinkering with technique.  Ok, so maybe we do allow minor substitution and omissions.  But we do not deviate from technique.  It may sound a bit harsh but how can someone new to cooking know what steps are critical and what steps are negotiable?  I’ve been standing at the stove for years and I still try and stick to this rule anytime I try a new recipe.

And here’s why.  If I don’t try and create a dish as specified by the author, how can I form an accurate opinion about whether it’s worth making again?  If I don’t like the results, is it because of the recipe itself or is it because in tinkering with it, I broke something that did not need fixing?

SFC’s most recent meal is my latest case study.  In theory, it should have been outstanding.  But after dinner, we both looked at each other and said it was missing something.  I’m not sure what this elusive something is.  Maybe more spice?  Maybe more heat?  But it definitely needs the volume turned up.  And I don’t understand what the marinade really does for the dish, besides give you the 20 minutes to make the salsa.  Maybe next time we will make more spice rub and skip the marinading.

For now, this recipe is tagged with a question mark and goes back into the test folder.  It’s got one more chance to impress me because in my kitchen, a recipe rarely gets a third try.

Chili Rubbed Salmon with Pineapple Avocado Salsa

From washingtonpost.com

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon light brown sugar
  • 2 (4 to 6 ounces each) skin-on or skinless salmon fillets, pin bones removed
  • 1 lime, for garnish
  • 4 ounces fresh or canned pineapple, cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch dice (1/2 cup)
  • Flesh of half a medium avocado, cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 scallion, white and light-green parts, cut crosswise into thin slices (about 2 to 3 teaspoons)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Juice of 1 to 2 limes (to yield 1 tablespoon)

Combine the oil and vinegar in a shallow dish.

Combine the chili powder, salt and sugar in a small bowl. Use it to rub the salmon fillets all over, gently pressing it into the flesh, then place the fillets in the oil-vinegar mixture. Turn them over so both sides are coated; let them marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes while you prepare the salsa.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the pineapple, avocado, scallion, pepper, salt and the tablespoon of lime juice in a mixing bowl; toss to mix well.

Heat a medium nonstick skillet that is ovenproof over medium-high heat. (Alternatively, lightly grease an ovenproof baking dish with nonstick cooking oil spray.)

When the pan is hot, add the fillets (if skin-on, place them skin side up) and cook for 1 minute. Turn them over, then transfer the skillet to the oven. Roast for 8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness or to desired degree of doneness.

Remove from the oven; use a wide spatula to transfer each piece to individual plates. Spoon the salsa on top of each fillet. Cut the remaining lime in half and squeeze over each portion. Serve immediately.

Flashback Friday – Peeps Show

Flashback Friday

The following originally appeared on 3/9/09 at Exit 51.

Peeps Show

What do you get when you mix Marshmallow Peeps with Pop Culture?  Not some freaky science experiment…step away from the microwave.  No, what you get is the third annual Washington Post Peeps Diorama Contest.

image from washintonpost.com
image from washingtonpost.com

Read all about it here and get moving, the entry deadline is March 15th.  Need some inspiration?  Look no further than the 2008 contest and photo gallery. My personal favorite is the Peep Art.

For those who are less artistically inclined, but still want to get their Peeps on, check out the following:

Marshmallow Peeps Official Website where you can join their fan club, get fun facts and recipes.

The Big List of Peeps Links is pretty self explanatory.  Although, the page is in serious need of an update.

And my personal favorite for the DIYer – a review of the WHAM-O Marshmallow Peep Maker.  For real, how come I never found this in MY Easter basket?

Flashback Friday – Crush

Flashback Friday

The following originally appeared on 2/11/09 at Exit 51.

Crush

Who was the first person you had a crush on?  It’s ok, I won’t tell anyone.  Me?  My first crush was probably Shawn Cassidy.  Yes, I grew up surrounded by Tiger Beat and Teen Beat magazine hotties.  Oddly enough, I was not allowed to buy those magazines. In hindsight, I think that may have shielded me from some less worthy crushes like Scott Baio, Kirk Cameron, and Duran Duran.

I still get crushes.  But let’s be honest, what are the odds of your crush ever turning into a real relationship?  Unless of course, you happen to be Katie Holmes and your crush is Tom Cruise.

tb10a

I find that more and more, I develop crushes on recipes.  They woo me with their online photos and descriptions until I can think of nothing else.  I am beholden to their charms.  And then, finally, I give them a chance.  Much like the fickle adolescent that I used to be, I tend to get over these crushes pretty quick.   The idea of them is better than the reality of them.  But some do turn into lasting relationships.  They are the TomKat of my cooking world.

Here’s my latest crush.  I can’t decide whether it’s a keeper or not.  I think I need to give it one more chance to win me over.

Crushed Sweet Potatoes with Roasted Garlic and Ginger
The Washington Post, From executive chef Ethan McKee of Rock Creek at Mazza.

The dish can be fully assembled, then cooled, covered and refrigerated up to 2 days in advance. To reheat, cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake in a 350-degree oven for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  • 4 large (3 pounds) sweet potatoes, scrubbed well, then cut lengthwise into quarters
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 10 to 12 cloves garlic (from 1 head)
  • 1 cup nonfat vegetable broth
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger root
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar substitute or light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon good-quality olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready a large, lidded baking dish.

Combine the potatoes, herb sprigs and garlic in the baking dish. Pour the vegetable broth over and season lightly with salt and pepper to taste. Cover (or use aluminum foil, wrapped tightly) and bake for 1 hour or until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork and the garlic is tender.

Transfer to the stovetop; discard the herb sprigs and use a potato masher to crush the vegetables. Add the grated ginger and the brown sugar substitute or brown sugar, stirring to mix well. Drizzle the oil over the top, mixing just to combine. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. Serve warm.

Flashback Friday – Nobody Bakes A Cake As Tasty

Flashback Friday

The following originally appeared on 11/28/08 at Exit 51.

Nobody Bakes A Cake As Tasty

Preparing Thanksgiving dinner is a lot of pressure.  Expectations are high and people come to the table HUNGRY.  So when dishes don’t quite hit the mark, it can be disappointing.  I’ll give you an example.  Actually, I’ll give you three.

That Mushroom and Barley Pie that I snagged from Smitten Kitchen – everything about it said winner.  Simple flavors, minimal ingredients, and make ahead preparation; these are all good things in the kitchen.  When I pulled it from the oven, the puff pastry had risen to golden brown heights and the smell of mushrooms and bacon filled the kitchen.  At least it looked good.  The taste was not what I had hoped for.  The filling was dry and overwhelmed by the shiitake broth that I used to cook the barley.  Note to self, next time don’t use rehydrated dried shiitake in the mushroom mix.  Stick with fresh portobello or crimini and use beef stock for cooking the barley.  I think I’ll be much happier with those flavors.  And what about the flavor of the red onions that I painstakingly caramelized for the better part of an hour?  They completely disappeared.  Terribly disappointing.  Especially when the smell of buttery cooked onion lingers for days in the house.  Ahhh, what could have been.

And what about the stuffing, you ask.   It’s definitely got potential but I wouldn’t say it lived up to it yesterday.  I have very fond memories of stuffing…moist but not gummy, firm but not dense.  Mine wasn’t bad, but it’s got room for improvement.  I’m going to have to quiz The Grandma this weekend on how she got hers just right.  How do you  know when you’ve added enough liquid to make it moist but not soggy?  Clearly, I should have paid more attention to what went on in her kitchen.

Maybe most frustrating was the roasted butternut squash.  I say maybe most frustrating because I KNOW how to make this.  But I decided to get a little fancy and try Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics version.   This one incorporates maple syrup.  Yes, it should have occurred to me that maple syrup in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes may have a tendency to go beyond caramelized and straight to burnt.  Nothing says Happy Thanksgiving like the wail of a smoke detector.  Fortunately, we were able to salvage most of the squash and the grated parmasean cheese added at the table gave it a nice touch of flavor.

But the saving grace of the day was dessert.  I won’t lie,  the Caramelized Apple Crumb Cake is not a quick recipe.  Don’t think you can leave this till last and just knock it out in a jiffy.  It’s going to take you some time.  Although you could probably make the cooked apples and topping a day or so in advance and then only have the batter and baking to do.  Even then, it’s a needy recipe.  Bake for 15 minutes, add apples and a portion of topping, bake 15 minutes more, reduce heat and add remaining topping, bake till done.  Not exactly an Easy Bake Oven recipe.  But I promise you this, it will be worth it.  And yes, it may just remind you ever so slightly of a TastyKake Coffee Cake.  But it will be way better than that.

Now if you will excuse me, there is some leftover stuffing that I need to take care of.

Caramelized Apple Crumb Cake

Juliet Mackay-Smith’s Recipe posted on Washington Post

  • 4 to 5 medium cooking apples, such as Honeycrisp, York, Ida Red or Granny Smith (about 2 pounds)
  • Juice of half a medium lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 tablespoon frozen orange juice concentrate
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

For the topping

  • 1 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

For the cake

  • 18 tablespoons (2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the baking dish
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup low-fat or whole buttermilk, at room temperature

Peel and core the apples and cut into 1/2-inch dice. Toss them in a large bowl with the lemon juice and orange juice concentrate until they are evenly coated, then add the cinnamon and sugar, tossing until well incorporated.

Melt the butter in a large saute pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the apple mixture; increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the apples begin to caramelize yet are not too soft. Remove them from the heat and let them cool. (If the apples have released a lot of liquid, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a bowl, then boil the pan juices to reduce them until they are thick and syrupy. Combine with the apples to cool.)

Combine the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Use 2 forks, a pastry cutter or your fingers to cut the butter into the dry mixture, forming a crumbly topping. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with a little butter.  Combine the butter and 1 1/2 cups of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium-high speed and beat for 2 minutes, until well incorporated. Reduce the speed to add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and mix for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar in a separate bowl or on a sheet of wax paper. Reduce the mixer speed to low and alternate additions of the flour mixture and buttermilk to the batter, beginning and ending with the dry mixture. Mix just until combined, being careful not to overmix. Transfer to the prepared pan and bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and spread the caramelized apple mixture in a single layer over the entire cake layer. Then sprinkle half of the topping over the apples. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 degrees.

Remove the cake from the oven and sprinkle the remaining topping evenly over the cake. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool before slicing.