Friday, February 26, 2010

Soba Noodles with Grilled Shrimp and Cilantro

For the most part, I try and eat healthy. Sure there is the occasional Short Rib Sandwich and Gigantic Chocolate Cake; and I have been known to go through a couple of pounds of butter at a time when I go on a baking binge. But I usually try and force those treats on others so as not to eat them all myself. And when it comes to making meal choices, I try to balance the good with the bad. Because when I eat healthy I do feel better. That's not to say a piece of cake can’t make me feel good once in a while as well.

This month’s Food and Wine magazine is geared towards healthy eating, with an entire issue devoted to recipes that won’t make you feel bad for consuming them. I was excited after reading it, because not only are all of the recipes healthier than normal, but they still look just as delicious. Of course wouldn't you know it, that I gravitated towards the one recipe that involved noodles? Because what can I say, I’m a noodle nut.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


A wise guy named Aristotle pointed out that sometimes, a whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  I think that when he said that, Aristotle may have been eating a spoonful of cajeta, an extraordinary sauce that starts out as humble milk and sugar.
What, you may be asking, is cajeta?  Think dulce de leche, silky smooth, rich, sweet perfection. Cajeta is the secret to everlasting happiness.  Cajeta is what heaven would taste like if you could eat it from a spoon.  Cajeta should be renamed "Mexican Wonder Sauce."  Cajeta probably cures male pattern baldness and halitosis. 
Ok maybe it can't do that...  But put a dollop of it on your next plain Jane bowl of ice cream, and tell me you don't get all tingly inside.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Red Pepper, Orzo and Goat Cheese Frittata

Iced oatmeal cookies.  A hot chocolate cake with four chocolatey layers.  A ridiculous red velvet cheesecake.  We've been hitting you pretty hard with the desserts lately.  And while I refuse to apologize for all that sugar and chocolate and butter, I thought you might enjoy something savory.  Something with (gasp) vegetables.

Next time you go to a potluck brunch, consider bringing a frittata.  Often morning meetings at the office turn into carb fests, with muffins, pastries, and fruit as far as the eye can see.  This colorful, hearty egg dish will be a welcome addition, without sending anyone into diabetic shock before 10 am.  The best part is that you can make the whole thing the night before, and then simply reheat before serving.

Crack some eggs in a big bowl, and whisk in some half and half.  Season with salt and pepper.
Then chop some onion...
And grab a big pile of spinach.  Studies have proven that spinach counteracts all effects of chocolate cake.
Heat some olive oil in a skillet, and saute the onions until they are translucent.  Add the spinach and some salt and pepper, and stir until the spinach has wilted.  Transfer the cooked spinach and onion to a buttered pie dish.


Best-Ever Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

You wouldn’t think that having a recipe for the best-ever oatmeal raisin cookie would be a problem, but for me it is. First though, let me describe these ideal cookies. They are the perfect consistency (in my opinion), thin and chewy, soft in the middle but crispy on the outside. The flavor is buttery and rich, faintly spiced with cinnamon, and speckled with the perfect amount of plump, sweet raisins. I call them the best-ever, which seems to imply that I tested out other recipes before deciding this one was best. But if I’m being truthful, it was the first oatmeal raisin cookie recipe I ever tried, and I just knew there could be no better cookie out there.
So what is the problem, you may ask? You see, my father, my brother, and my boyfriend all adore these cookies and if I make them I must make sure to give some to all three of them. If I don’t, I get a lot of, “Where are my cookies?” and “You gave some to him, but not to me?” And so, I’ve learned over the years that when I bake up some oatmeal raisin cookies, I better have enough to share with everyone.

But the real problem isn’t that I have three grown men harassing me about oatmeal raisin cookies, it’s that each one of them want them prepared a different way. It started with my brother, who likes his oatmeal raisin cookies without raisins. Oh and he also likes them iced. I think it has something to do with these cookies of his youth. Once my boyfriend found out there was icing involved, then he wanted in on it, only he likes the raisins. And finally, my father. Who bless his heart, just likes good old-fashioned oatmeal raisin cookies, no icing or raisin removal needed.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hot Chocolate Layer Cake with Homemade Marshmallows

Sometimes, you just gotta bake a cake. At least that's how I was feeling last weekend. I had absolutely no reason to bake a gigantic cake, but I did it anyways. You know why? Because I felt like it. And that's just one of the joys of being an adult. You can bake a cake just for the hell of it.

And this was one hell of a cake. I had my eye on making it ever since I saw it in the October issue of Fine Cooking magazine. I loved the idea of a hot cocoa flavored cake with the quintessential marshmallow topping, made even more special by making the marshmallows from scratch.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Carrot Soup with Dungeness Crab

While I was growing up, having cracked crab for dinner was always a special meal. My family and I would sit around the table, silent at times while we concentrated on getting the precious meat out of its shell, dipping our treasures in melted butter. And yes, maybe it has something to do with the melted butter, but that's still my favorite way to enjoy crab. In fact, it's kind of difficult for me to eat it any other way. I'm so used to eating it straight from the shell that making a pile of it and waiting to consume it just goes against my very nature.

So to go against my typical crab eating style, it would have to be for a darn good reason. And this soup just happened to be it. I absolutely adore creamy vegetable soups, and the idea of topping one with a pile of freshly cracked crab seemed too delicious to pass up. And I was right. The combination of the warm and creamy carrot soup with the coolness of the fresh crab is a wonderful combination. The addition of lemon juice adds a wonderful acidity that cuts through the sweetness of the carrots, and there's never anything wrong with a sprinkling of fresh chives.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Be a Menu Master

One of the most important skills a home cook can learn is how to menu plan for the week.  Thoughtful planning will save you time and money, and it will keep you from ordering bad takeout just because you're too tired to do anything else.  It's especially important for anyone trying to follow a diet or eating plan, as it will set you up to eat the things you want to eat, and not just the snacks that are easy and quick.

As any employees at the Ralph's in Westwood can confirm, in college I had my fair share of clueless shopping trips that looked something like this: wander through the store for 45 minutes, spend $75, and get home with some Pirate's Booty, ice cream bars, yogurt, and wine.  And no ingredients for an actual meal.  Sound familiar?  Here are some tips to avoid getting sucked into the grocery store vortex:

1.  What are you doing this week?  Look at your schedule for the week, and let it dictate the kinds of meals you'll cook.  I find that I always end up having meetings and activities on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, so I use those evenings for crock pot dinners, make-ahead casseroles, and quick paninis.  Fancier or more labor-intensive meals are saved for evenings when I know I'm coming straight home from work.

2.  Do a pantry check.  Save some big cash by doing a quick inventory of food that you already have.  At one point, I had seven different boxes of pasta because I kept buying new boxes and then only using half the noodles.  Sometimes I'll make a list and realize that I have the components for a whole meal, and won't need to buy a thing.  This is also a great way to ensure that you use all of your fresh produce before it goes bad.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Dinner for Two- By You!

All week long you've heard Allison and I yammering on about how we love cooking Valentine's Day dinner at home, so we'd be neglecting our cooking blogger duties if we didn't share some tips so that you can do the same.  Nothing says, "I love you" (or "I like you... in that way") like a delicious home-cooked dinner, and cooking together can be just as enjoyable as sharing the meal.  So if you're ready to forego the prix fixe menus, long lines at the valet, and overpriced bubbly, here are some tips to help you seal the deal:

1.  Get it up- Your hair that is!  Ladies, there is nothing sexy about pulling a long hair out of your lobster bisque.  When you're primping for the night, opt for a messy/chic bun or a casual updo.  Who knew you'd get hair tips on a cooking site?

2.  Look the part- Do you and your sweetheart eat most of your dinners in front of the television?  Create some restaurant ambience by setting a table, lighting some candles (unscented!), and turning on some music.  Not a DJ?  Log onto, set your channel to Otis Redding, and let the magic of the internet do the rest.

3.  Have a happy hour-  Have you ever tried to cook a nice dinner when you're starving?  In my experience, it leads to rushing through the steps and munching on ingredients until you're not even hungry when it comes time to sit down to your meal.  Crack open a bottle of wine and set out a few little snacks.  Some olives, grapes, or toasted almonds will allow you to enjoy the cooking process without inhaling your food when it's ready.

4.  Put your sweetheart to work-  If you've ever wished you had an extra set of hands in the kitchen, now you do!  Even if your Valentine is culinarily clueless, he or she can stir risotto, peel potatoes, or grate cheese.  If nothing else, they can top off your vino.  That way you're both invested in the meal, and there's not that awkward period in the dinner date where you're in the kitchen, and your love is sitting around waiting for dinner.

5.  Watch your time-  Read your recipes carefully ahead of time so you know how long things will take.  Do your best to time your cooking so that everything finishes at the same time, and all of your food is warm and delicious when it hits the table.

5.  Keep it simple- There's nothing sexy about a kitchen meltdown, so keep the menu simple.  I like to focus on one delicious, well-executed dish, and keep the rest easy and straightforward.  A beautiful rack of lamb or prime rib only needs a simple roasted vegetable and some quick polenta to be delicious and memorable.  If you're going to make a risotto or an elaborate veggie dish, serve it with some simple grilled shrimp and a green salad.  Dessert is an essential component of any romantic dinner, but it doesn't have to be laborious.  Try roasting some fruit with butter and vanilla, and serve it with a scoop of decadent ice cream (go for the premium brand for a special occasion).

Best of luck with your cooking adventures this weekend!  And when your date doesn't want to leave, you can thank your Butter + Cream buddies...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Blueberry Boy Bait

This recipe comes complete with an incredibly cute back-story. In 1954, a 15-year-old girl won second prize in the junior division of a Pillsbury baking contest. Her entry was a moist and tender blueberry cake that was named after the effect it had on teenage boys--one bite and they were hooked. Adorable right? I tell ya, I’m a sucker for cuteness.

I read about this recipe in 2006 in an issue of Cook’s Country and the story always stuck with me. When I saw the recipe on the Smitten Kitchen site last year I moved it towards the top of my to-bake list. That was way back in July, when the days were warm and blueberries were actually in season. I guess it speaks to the length of my to-bake list that I didn’t actually get to the recipe until now.

Anywhoo, the important thing is that I finally did get to bake this boy bait and boy was I glad I did. Get it? “Boy” was I glad I did? Ha, I crack myself up. You know who else cracks themselves up? My boyfriend; who seemed to think it was hilarious to continuously make remarks about how I was trying to attract other men by baking this boy bait. Luckily I had this delicious cake to shove in his mouth to quiet him down for a bit.

And it is delicious. A combination between a coffee cake and a blueberry muffin, it’s moist and filled with just enough blueberries to add a bit of tartness here and there. It’s definitely not the healthiest baked good, with a half a pound of butter and over a cup of two kinds of sugar, plus more sprinkled on top for good measure. But hey, when you’re baiting a boy, all bets are off.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Chocolate Soufflés

I couldn’t agree more with Mary that Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to stay in and cook, rather than go out to a restaurant. While I love dining out, on this particular holiday I’d rather stay in and make a special meal with a special someone. I like to use the occasion to make recipes that may seem a little too time consuming or perhaps too elegant for just any ordinary night of the week. It’s a fine time to not worry about calories, splurge on an expensive cut of meat, open up that bottle of wine you've been saving, and most importantly, take pleasure in the time spent preparing and enjoying the meal together.

As cliché as it may sound, I believe that cooking for someone shows that you care about them. And since Valentine’s Day is all about the love, what better way to show it then by preparing a special meal for those you care about? Whether it’s your significant other, your friends, family or maybe a furry friend, go ahead and take the time to cook them something really special. I guarantee they’ll feel the love.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Red Velvet Cheesecake

This weekend is Valentine's Day.  I must say that while I'm not vehemently opposed to the holiday, it does make restaurants more crowded and menus somewhat contrived, so it's one I prefer to spend at home with a movie, a bottle of wine, and a damn good home cooked meal.  Fitting with that theme, this red velvet cheesecake practically screams out for a place on your Valentine table.  It's rich, creamy, and red for heaven's sake!  Need I say more?

While I'd like to say that the inspiration for this cheesecake came from staring into my lover's eyes and looking into his soul for the perfect dessert, the truth is that Bethenny Frankel (of the Real Housewives of NY and the super awesome Skinnygirl book series) tweeted about the Cheesecake Factory's red velvet cheesecake, and I couldn't get it out of my head for three days.  Think about it.  Why do people love red velvet cake?  Two reasons:  the color and the cream cheese frosting.  The color is easily replicated, and a cheesecake is essentially a cream cheese frosting on steroids.  Some things just work, and this cake is one of those things.  

What's that?  You'd like me to stop rambling and tell you how to make it?  Ok, here goes.

Start with a bag of chocolate teddy grahams.  Take a moment and reminisce about elementary school, when teddy grahams were all the rage.
Aww...  So cute.  I love their little pot bellies.
Buzz your teddy grahams in a food processor until they're crumbly (if you don't have a processor, you could put them in a ziplock and whack them with a rolling pin or a meat tenderizer.  Or a hammer if you're feeling aggressive).

Friday, February 5, 2010

Short Rib Sandwiches

It’s Friday afternoon with the weekend in sight. This is the point in my week where I become absolutely useless. Because of this, I’m afraid I don’t have much to offer you except a recipe for Short Rib Sandwiches.

These short ribs worked double duty at my house this week. There was enough for a decadent dinner on Sunday night, and then they transformed themselves into easy yet delicious sandwiches for Monday night supper. Any recipe that can pull that off is a winner in my books.

Short ribs are perfect for a weekend meal as they take a little while to cook. They require very little prep, but need to simmer for several hours. I love setting something to cook on the stove, coming back a few hours later and having a delicious meal ready. It speaks to the lazy inside of me.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Chicken Enchiladas

Buenos noches!  Tonight was an enchiladorama...  But before I take you straight to Tex Mex heaven, there's something you should know about me.  I'm a runner.  In a few short weeks I'll be pounding the pavement in my third marathon, and I don't know how or why that happened, but it is a fact that three mornings a week, I find myself exercising on the mean streets of Culver City at an hour when it's still dark out.

I don't do this alone, which brings me to tonight's dinner.  11 of my running pals and I have decided that it's a good idea to enter The Relay, a 200 mile relay race.  On foot.  Through the night.  In the cold.  I want my mommy.  So tonight we had our first meeting, and in order to keep people from fleeing, I made enchiladas.

If you're squeamish about having guests over on a weeknight, you're not alone.  Life is hectic, and getting an impressive dinner together after a long day at work is daunting.  But there are two words that will keep your reputation as a domestic genius in tact:  Make Ahead.  All the dirty work for this meal was done the night before my guests came over, so all I had to do today was heat and greet.  Copyright that phrase please, I just thought of it.

Start with chicken.  I bought a whole chicken already cut into 8 pieces, but you could also buy a whole chicken and cut it yourself.
Cover the chicken pieces in a pot with water, and boil them for half an hour.  Doesn't boiled chicken sound appetizing?  Why no it doesn't, but this chicken will get mixed with all kinds of yummy flavors and baked into deliciousness, so fear not.  Once the chicken is cooked through, let it cool, and shred the meat with two forks.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


I feel a little bit bad for the shortbread cookie. I would like to say that I had a craving for shortbread and had been planning on making it for days, but that could not be farther from the truth. The truth was that I felt like baking but was too lazy to go to the store to re-stock some essential baking ingredients such as milk and eggs. What I did have was butter, and the handful of other ingredients this recipe needed. And so, out of an unwillingness to go to the store, came this shortbread.

But this cookie deserves more credit than that. For something with so few ingredients these are exceptionally delicious. The consistency is crumbly yet fine, and they are buttery with a savory edged sweetness. They can be prepared in less than an hour and last up to two weeks in an airtight container. So the lowly little shortbread has a lot more to offer than it was the only thing I could make with the ingredients I had laying around.

The recipe comes from the Tartine cookbook, which is a renowned San Francisco bakery and cafe.
I've never been to the bakery, but based on the mouth-watering recipes in this book, I would be remiss not to pay it a visit someday. What I like and sometimes dislike about this cookbook is the attention to detail. Each recipe is meticulously covered step by step down to the smallest detail. This means that a lot of the desserts in the book can be a little high maintenance, but the results are well worth the effort. This shortbread recipe is most definitely not high maintenance however and may be the simplest in the book. This simplicity is yet another reason this cookie deserves more credit than it receives.

For this particular shortbread recipe, Tartine recommends using butter that is extremely soft. It describes the butter needing to be the consistency of mayonnaise which is pretty darn soft. I achieved this by microwaving it in ten second intervals until it was at that point. Place your butter in either the bowl of a stand mixer or a medium mixing bowl.
Add the salt and then mix until the salt is completely dissolved.

Sift the flour and cornstarch into a bowl or on to a piece of parchment paper.
Gradually add the sugar to the butter and mix until just combined.

Add the flour and cornstarch and mix until the dough just comes together. Mine was still a little crumbly still and it turned out fine. Place the dough into a buttered pan.

Pat the dough out as even as possible and bake in the oven for around 30 minutes. You want the edges and the bottom to be just golden brown.

Once the shortbread is done cooking, take it out and let it cool on a wire rack for about 10-15 minutes. You want it to still be warm, but not too hot to handle. Sprinkle the surface with sugar and tilt the pan to coat, shaking out the excess. This will give the shortbread a sparkling top layer and add some sweetness.
While the shortbread is still warm, cut it into slices using a sharp knife. If it gets too cold it will be more difficult to cut. Once cut, let it continue to cool completely in the pan.
Once the shortbread is cooled, carefully lift out the pieces. The first piece will possibly break and be difficult to get out but it should be easy after that. It's even easier using a small offset spatula.
Enjoy your delicious shortbread and make sure to share it with some friends so it can get the credit it deserves.
Adapted from Tartine

1 cup + 2 tbsp (9 oz) unsalted butter, very soft
½ tsp salt
1 ¾ cups + 2 tbsp (9 oz) all-purpose flour
½ cup + 2 tbsp (2 2/3 oz) cornstarch
1/3 cup (2 ½ oz) granulated sugar
¼ cup (2 oz) superfine or granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degree Fahrenheit. Butter a 6 x 10 inch glass baking dish*

Place the butter in a mixing bowl. The butter must be very soft – the consistency of mayonnaise or whipped cream. Add the salt to the butter and mix well so that it dissolves completely before you add the rest of the ingredients. (I used a stand mixer with the paddle attachment) Sift the flour and cornstarch together. Add the granulated sugar to the butter and mix just until combined. Add the flour mixture and mix just until a smooth dough forms.

Pat the dough evenly into the prepared baking dish. The dough should be no more than 2/3 inch deep. Bake until the top and bottom are lightly browned, about 30 minutes (mine took about 35 minutes). The middle of the shortbread should remain light. Let cool on a wire rack for about 10-15 minutes.

Sprinkle the shortbread with the superfine or granulated sugar. Tilt the dish so that the sugar fully and evenly coats the surface and then tip out the excess sugar. With a very thin, sharp knife, cut the shortbread into rectangular fingers. If the cookies have become cold they will not slice well, so they must still be warm to the touch at this point. Chill thoroughly before removing from the baking dish.

The first cookie is difficult to remove, but the rest should come out easily with the aid of a small, thin offset spatula. The cookies will keep in an airtight container in a cool place for 2 weeks.

*I'm not sure I've ever seen a 6 x 10 inch baking dish before. I thought that was pretty random. Until I pulled down the glass baking dish that I own, measured it, and found out that it's 8 x 12 inches. Which may be even more random than 6 x 10... Anyways, I used that, and it worked fine. I'm pretty sure the more traditional 9 x 13 inches would work fine as well.

Monday, February 1, 2010


Is there anybody out there that doesn’t love pizza? I would find that hard to believe with so many different variations out there. In just the United States alone there are so many different types of pizzas. From the wide foldable slices of NYC to the deep dish Chicago style, to California pizzas with their thin crusts and unique toppings. With so many choices, there’s got to be a pizza for every type of person.

Personally I haven’t found a style of pizza that I don’t like. I even like bad pizza. I’m not kidding. From frozen pizza to the worst restaurant chain pizza, there isn’t a slice that I would turn away. But we’re not talking about bad pizza right now. We’re talking bout goooood pizza. The kind of pizza that you won’t believe came out of your own oven kind of pizza.

Last week I provided you with a pizza dough recipe but no instructions on how to cook it and no topping suggestions. And that’s just not right to leave you all hanging like that. So I’m back at ya, with Pizza: Part Deux!
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