Sunday, September 27, 2009

Best. Lemon. Muffins. Ever.

I've been trying to work more stress-relief activities into my daily routine lately. Since baking qualifies as such an activity for me, I made muffins this afternoon. Tasty, tasty muffins from (where else?) Smitten Kitchen.

I followed the recipe for the raspberry-topped lemon muffins. I made normal-sized muffins since I don't have mini-muffin pans, but I think a boat-load of miniature ones, each with a single raspberry on top would be an adorable and fancy addition to a party/brunch/gathering. These would impress everyone, guaranteed. Anyways!

Let me tell you, these things are totally delicious. Like, I-want-to-eat-five-of-them-right-this-second delicious. They're a basic buttermilk/vanilla muffin batter with some lemon sugar (a lot of lemon zest + sugar crushed together) thrown in to give them some citrus-y goodness.

They're sweet enough without being too heavy, and the raspberry bites provide the perfect little tartness. They're also dense enough without being too dense (kind of like Joey on Friends! Wait, what? That is a terrible joke. Forgive me.) which is really great - it's rare I find a muffin that satisfies me so completely texture/density-wise. I also really appreciate that there are absolutely zero poppy seeds involved in this lemon muffin. Raspberries > poppyseeds.

Really, I can't say enough nice things about these muffins. I highly recommend this recipe, and I will definitely make them again.

Up next on the baking agenda, just in time for October: pumpkin muffins!

Friday, August 14, 2009


It's no surprise that I get pretty excited about falafel. I love chickpeas and I love fried food. Enough said.

I happened by this recipe in the Top Chef Cookbook, which I received as a birthday present. It's a great book (especially if you're a fan of the show) but many of the recipes require what seems like a great deal of skill as well as ingredients that are impossible to find in your everyday grocery store. However, this dish has a very manageable list of ingredients and most of the work is done in the food processor, which is perhaps my favourite appliance.

The falafel came out crunchy on the outside and soft and warm with a pleasing texture on the inside. I wasn't quite expecting them to rise so much when they cooked so I might start with slightly flatter patties of the mixture the next time I make these. Also, they tasted great but could have stood up to a little more seasoning, so feel free to throw in more cumin or salt or pepper if you like. Other than that, this was a delightful and easy dinner that made our apartment smell like fried deliciousness. We toasted some pita bread, filled it up with falafel and topped it off with lettuce, tomatoes and tzatziki (we just mixed plain yoghurt with cucumbers, lemon juice and garlic). Now that it's been a day since we made these, I am happy to report that they heat up super well in the oven! The recipe below easily doubles or halves.

Falafel (from the Top Chef Cookbook)

2 15oz cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 tbsp minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
oil for frying

Place the chickpeas, parsley, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth.

Add the flour, baking soda and eggs and pulse until combined.

Form the mixture (it's pretty sticky) into 8 balls and let them rest for 15 minutes.

Heat a 1/2 inch of vegetable or peanut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Test the heat of the oil by throwing a small piece of falafel mixture in, the oil should bubble around it.

When the oil is hot, take each ball of falafel mixture, form it into a patty on a spatula, then slide it off the spatula into the skillet. Cook them for about 4 or 5 minutes per side, flipping once. They should be a deep brown and crunchy.

Eat them in a pita with toppings as we did, or eat them however you want.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Mushroom Risotto with Peas

Although it's certainly not the kind of food I grew up with, risotto is definitely comfort food. Warm, creamy, cheesy and filling. Pretty irresistible.

This recipe comes from Giada de Laurentiis, who is my go-to person for Italian food these days. I've made and eaten so many of her recipes, which are always fairly easy but leave you with a wonderful meal. This risotto was no exception. It smelled delicious, was full of mushroomy goodness and the texture of the rice was perfect - tender with a bit of a bite. This dish requires a bit of patience since you have to add the broth and allow the rice to cook in stages, but it's well worth the time. All in all a successful recipe that I'd like to try again.

I used the caps of 16oz of button mushrooms and 8oz of creminis instead of what's listed in the ingredients. I'd like to try this with other varieties of mushrooms too. The peas added brightness but it might be nice to use a vegetable with a little more heft. If you want to add some protein, I'd say try some chicken - cook it separately, then stir it in towards the end.

Mushroom Risotto with Peas (from Everyday Italian by Giada de Laurentiis)

6 cups canned low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1/2 stick unsalted butter
2 cups finely chopped onion
10oz white mushrooms, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
2/3 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Bring the broth to a simmer in a heavy, medium-size saucepan. Add the porcini mushrooms. Cover and set aside for 5 minutes. Remove the mushrooms and chop finely. Keep the broth warm over low heat.

Melt the butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until tender, about 8 minutes.

Add the mushrooms and garlic and saute until the mushrooms are tender and the juices evaporate, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the rice, add the wine and cook, stirring often, until the liquid is absorbed, about 2 minutes.

Add 1 cup of hot broth and simmer over medium-low heat, stirring often, until the liquid is absorbed, about 3 minutes. Repeat this step until the rice is tender and the mixture is creamy (taste it before adding each cup of broth!)

Stir in the peas and the Parmesan cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Chicken Soup with Zing

I love soup. A big warm bowl of really good soup can sometimes make the most satisfying meal. Unfortunately, in my experience, even the simplest soups have subtleties to them that make them pretty hard to get just right. I'm certainly not going to stop trying though!

This recipe comes from Barbara Kafka's Roasting: A Simple Art but there is no roasting involved here. I actually haven't made any of the roasting recipes from the book as they all require cranking the oven to 500 degrees F, which just scares me. One of these days, I'll work up the nerve to do it (and buy a roasting pan) but until then, back to the soup.

There aren't a whole lot of ingredients involved here and most of them are for flavour as opposed to forming a substantial part of the dish. This isn't one of those thick, creamy soups that's chock-full of proteins and vegetables and what-have-you. It's light but very tasty and the chicken adds some heartiness to make it into more of a meal.

The soup came out wonderfully! There was a really nice balance of flavours and you could taste all the ingredients, which I love. The ginger and jalapeno gave a really nice warmth, the garlic and scallions added nice flavour and the cilantro gave it some freshness. Now, I'm not very comfortable using lemons in savoury dishes. Every time I've done it, I just don't use the right amount or I don't use it in the right way and it throws something off. I'm happy to say that the lemon juice worked really well in this, lending a nice sour note.

If you're worried about buying a whole bunch of cilantro which seems impossible to use up, fear not and skip on down to Heather's post on cilantro pesto below! As a final note, I can see this dish being easily made vegetarian, with vegetable broth and tofu substituted for the chicken. I'll have to try it some time (or you should feel free to try it out and let us know how it goes!)

Chicken Soup with Zing
(from Roasting: A Simple Art by Barbara Kafka)

4 cups chicken broth (store-bought or home-made if you're fancy)

1/2 cup water
2 thin slices fresh ginger
2 medium cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
1 jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed and chopped fine
6 fresh mint leaves (I didn't have these and they weren't really missed)
3 scallions, white and green parts cut separately lengthwise into thin slices
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup tightly packed cilantro leaves
salt and pepper, to taste

1 to 2 cups cubed cooked chicken: This is suggested as something you can add to give the soup more substance. Bring some chicken broth to a boil, then reduce it to a simmer. There should be enough broth to completely submerge a chicken breast. Poach one or two chicken breasts in the simmering broth for about 12 minutes, during which time you can chop up all the other ingredients. When the chicken's done and cool enough to handle, cut it into 1/2- to 1-inch cubes.

Put the chicken broth, water, ginger, garlic and jalapeno in a medium saucepan and cook, covered, over medium-low heat for 15 minutes.

Add the mint and scallion whites and cook for 3 more minutes.

Add the scallion greens and the chicken and cook for 1 more minute.

Add the lemon juice, cilantro, salt and pepper and warm through.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Cilantro Pesto

One thing about all of this making-lots-of-new-recipes business is that you end up with a lot of leftover ingredients in your fridge. And sometimes they end up going to waste. And that is annoying. But I have a new tactic. I go to Google or to some cooking website like Epicurious or Smitten Kitchen (new reference - thanks Susan!), and I type in the ingredient I'm looking to use. Voila! I get a bunch of recipes.

Today's secret ingredient was cilantro. (I feel like I'm on Iron Chef.) I came across a cilantro pesto recipe on Perfect!

I made the cilantro pesto with two changes. It called for 1/2 cup of olive oil. I used 1/4 cup. Secondly, I replaced the white wine vinegar with lemon juice. I left it in the fridge for a day to "let the flavors come together," tossed it with some whole wheat pasta, and wow! The cayenne gives it a real kick. It is VERY cilantro-y. For me that's a good thing, but you should definitely not make this if you don't love cilantro.

I'm looking forward to trying this recipe again with more modifications. A friend made it yesterday, and she used curry instead of cayenne. She also didn't simmer it and said it was still terrific on hot pasta.

So when a recipe calls for two tablespoons of chopped cilantro, don't worry. You can just throw the rest of it in the food processor with some basic ingredients and get a delicious sauce.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Irish Car-Bomb Cupcakes

My friend Sarah (one of my most favorite people ever) bakes all the time. All. The freaking. Time. It's awesome. I see the things that she bakes and usually am just jealous of the people that get to eat them or intimidated by how fancy her baked goods look. But sometimes, I am inspired to bake things myself. Like these: Car-bomb cupcakes from Smitten Kitchen!

Guinness chocolate cupcakes, filled with whiskey ganache, topped with Baileys buttercream frosting. What downside could there be to baking these? None, my friends. None at all.

My baking adventure got off to a slightly rocky start - the initial Guinness/butter/cocoa mixture didn't exactly look like I thought it should, but I figured it would all get mixed in anyways, so it probably wasn't a big deal. And I was right! The cupcakes, pre-whiskey ganache and Baileys frosting looked (and tasted) delicious!

Then it was time for the ganache. I was excited because A) I had never made a ganache before; and B) Saying "ganache" makes me feel fancy. Simple pleasures. Anyways, I ended up having to use some bittersweet chocolate chips instead of baking chocolate because our grocery store did not have bittersweet baking chocolate (ridiculous). I used about 2.5 tbsp whiskey, and I think it turned out really well. The whiskey essence was there, but it wasn't too boozy.

As for the frosting - usually I can't stand making home-made buttercream frosting. The sugar is always impossible to mix in and it takes forever. But thanks to the lovely SK recipe notes, this frosting was not bad at all! I creamed the butter, added the sugar little by little, and then when it looked thick enough, I added a tablespoon of Baileys and a tablespoon of heavy cream. And then another tablespoon of Baileys. And then some sugar. And then another two tablespoons of Baileys. Who knows how much Baileys is actually in that frosting? Not me, that's for darn sure.

I think the finished product turned out really well - very rich but extraordinarily delicious, which is good because baking these cupcakes is pretty much the only thing I accomplished today. Tasty!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Sweet Potato And Black Bean Burritos

So I've just recently completed a PhD and a move to Louisiana. I'm hoping to revive this blog with the help of some new friends that share a passion for cooking fun things. This blog will become "Academicooks." You can look forward to hearing from more of us about what we've been cooking -- good, bad, and yucky.

Today we made a recipe from the Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites cookbook. These Sweet Potato And Black Bean Burritos were my first experience using a food processor. The consensus on the dish is that it was pretty good. We think that leaving the filling slightly chunky might be more pleasant. We also felt the filling could use another flavor, maybe another vegetable. Not sure what. Finally we definitely think it could use a sauce. While we served it with the fresh tomato salsa featured in an earlier entry of this blog, the burritos were quite dry coming out of the oven.

Overall, I think idea of a bean and sweet potato filling is a good one, and I can imagine lots of uses for this filling. I suggest you give it a try!

Sweet Potato And Black Bean Burritos
5 cups peeled and chopped sweet potatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons canola oil
3 1/2 cups diced onions
4 large minced or pressed garlic cloves
1 tablespoon minced fresh green chile
4 teaspoons ground cumin
4 teaspoons ground coriander
4 1/2 cups cooked black beans (3 15 oz. cans, drained)
2/3 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
8 eight-inch tortillas

Preheat oven to 350.

Place sweet potatoes in a medium saucepan with the salt and water to cover. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

While the sweet potatoes are cooking, warm the oil in a medium skillet or saucepan and add the onions, garlic, and chile. Cover and cook on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender, about 7 minutes. Add the cumin and coriander and cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a food processor, combine the black beans, cilantro, lemon juice, salt, and cooked sweet potatoes and puree until smooth. Transfer the sweet potato mixture to a large mixing bowl and mix in the cooked onions and spices.

Lightly oil a large baking dish. Spoon about 2/3 to 3/4 cup of the filling in the center of each tortilla, roll it up, and place it, seam side down in the baking dish. Cover tightly with foil and bake about 30 minutes, until piping hot. Serve topped with salsa.