Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Apple pie

Golden Delicious apples in a cinnamon and brown sugar caramel with a lattice pastry crust.

I have to admit, I've never been an apple pie person. And although I bake, I have never actually randomly had a desire to eat anything I've ever made (okay, except for red velvet cupcakes).

This is the apple pie that made me love apple pies. This is the apple pie I sometimes dream of eating when I want something sweet and satisfying. No lie.

So here we go. A pie crust I made from one of Dorie Greenspan's recipes, I believe. Thawed and rolled out:

Fitted onto the Pyrex pie plate:

That goes back into the fridge to set up again, while I prep the apples. (And I need to note that, at this point, you need to pull out the top crust dough to let it thaw.) I prefer Golden Delicious apples for baking - they're firm, but not as sour as Granny Smith, which means they usually require less additional sugar.

Peel, core, slice about 6 apples. I dunk all the slices in a bath of water and lemon juice, so that they won't turn brown while I do my other prep work. This also helps the apples to tighten up and keep their shape.

Heat together butter, flour, brown sugar, white sugar, and cinnamon:

Once the mixture is heated and melted, let it cool for a bit. Drain the apples, and toss the two together:

Toss in some more flour, and pour the apples into the prepared pie pan. After which, the whole thing will look like this:

Your top crust dough should be ready for rolling at this point. I roll it out, and cut strips out of it with a sharp knife. (You can use one of those pastry cutters to get the scalloped edges, if you want, but I'm all about efficiency here.)

Lattice the top with the dough strips. There is apparently one easy, correct way to do this, but I have always alternated strips and carefully wove them over and under. So one horizontal, then one vertical, and keep going. Pinch and seal the edges.

Aaaand... after baking is done:

Apple pie. I've learned to love it; I'm sure you will, too.

Snickerdoodle cookies

For this holiday season, I made big batches of snickerdoodle cookies as presents (rather than buying separate presents). There's a lot of cost savings in there! Yes, it takes time, but that's the one thing I actually have now that we're on winter break.

Snickerdoodles are actually, ingredient-wise, very simple cookies. They don't even require any vanilla!

So here we go, creaming together butter and sugar (without a stand mixer, I have to do this creaming process by hand, which is probably the most difficult part of the whole thing), and then adding eggs, one at at time:

Add in sifted flour, salt, and baking powder. Stir until the dough comes together:

Make a cinnamon sugar mix (about 2 parts sugar to 1 part cinnamon). Pull off small golf-ball sized chunks of dough and roll them in the cinnamon sugar:

Place the dough balls on a baking sheet. I say to flatten them a little, too, because if you don't, I think the cookies come out a little too chunky. To each his own, however, so do as you like.

After the cookies come out of the oven:

Candy bags are cheap and available at any craft store, so I think it's worthwhile to buy them. It makes it much easier to wrap up and distribute whatever goodies you've got to give.

Happy holidays!

Rouge bento (14)

Yep, another bento box. This one unintentionally had a red theme.

On the right, a really rough potato salad that I tossed together last minute. Red potatoes left over from the previous night's dinner, tossed with kidney beans and cherry tomatoes (also from the previous night's salad). In the middle, some rice crackers and papaya chunks. On the end, an improvised strawberry shortcake - pieces of a leftover Chinese egg cake with some sliced strawberries on top.

Mom's Potato Salad

Potatoes are comforting. Perhaps it's all the starch. But there's no other food that, all by itself, just lends itself to so many incarnations - all of them lovable. Who doesn't have great feelings of fondness towards fries, mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, hash browns, etc.?

I kind of feel that way about my mom's potato salad. Being Chinese, we were never that big on potatoes, except for the summertime, when my mom made potato salads for picnics.

First, peel and chop up a couple of potatoes. Relatively small, but not so much so that they'll disintegrate after boiling.

Bring salted water to a roiling boil. (See, told you rice cookers weren't just for rice.) Drop the potatoes in.

Once the potatoes get cooked to the point where they break apart when they are poked with a fork, cut the heat and drain the potatoes.

Add 2 tablespoons of sweet relish, a couple of hard boiled eggs (diced), a tablespoon of mustard (Dijon would be good here, but regular yellow is just fine), and a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise. I didn't have any relish on hand, so I just chopped up some sweet pickles.

Mix it all together thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Simple, but good! For some variety, you might want to try some of the spicy relishes or chutneys as an alternative to the sweet relish.

All American bento (13)

Yep, from the archives again. I'm determined to post these all eventually, just to get them out of the way. This is one in honor of school lunches everywhere.

On the right, some leftover potato salad, dressed up with a dash of paprika, and a few apple bunnies. In the middle, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I used strawberry jam, and also tossed in some flaked coconut (for the hell of it, I guess). And on the left, half of a banana, some carrot sticks, and some Goldfish crackers as gap fillers.

The complete lunch. In a side container, I've got some Greek yogurt and honey and blueberries.

Chole (Chana Masala)

Chole, or chana masala, is probably my favorite Indian dish. It's the best food to make ahead - and in fact, probably gets better if left to marinate and let the spices really combine and settle in. I like to make a big batch on Sunday, which gives me an easy meal, ready to reheat whenever, when I am too lazy to make anything else or to go out. I've made it so many times I can probably make it in my sleep. And I never get tired of it.

Mine, admittedly, is a somewhat bastardized version with subpar spices. But it's good enough for me - I enjoy it quite a lot. I've modified my recipe for dorm room cooking.

First, chop up a small white or yellow onion. (If I had to state a preference, a sweet yellow onion might do well here.)

Then, mince some garlic and stem ginger. I go for about 2 tablespoons worth of ginger and 1 tablespoon worth of garlic.

Put the onion and garlic and ginger in a large microwave-safe bowl. (If you're cooking on the stove, do it the normal way: toss all of that into a large skillet over medium-high heat with some vegetable oil.) Toss in your spices: 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 3 tablespoons curry powder, 1 teaspoon chili powder (yea, like the kind used for making bean chili), 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Give or take, haha. I usually end up adding more spices at the end, to taste, anyway.

Stir all that together, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and microwave on 60% power for about 8 minutes, depending on your microwave. Enough to let the onions soften. You'll definitely notice the difference when the onions are cooked. If you're unsure, pop the bowl out and check periodically - poke them to see if they're softened.

It'll look like this:

Then, toss in 1 small can of unseasoned tomato sauce, 1 can diced tomatoes (drained), 2 tablespoons sugar (to counteract the sourness of the tomatoes) and 2 cans of chickpeas (drained).

Stir it all together, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave on 60% power for about 10 minutes. (Stop it at the 5 minute mark to give it a stir. This is the point at which you'd add more of whatever seasoning you deem is needed.) Note that canned chickpeas are ready to eat, so really, at this point, all you're doing is heating the dish through and letting the spices combine.

Serve with basmati rice.

Yes, it doesn't sound like much, but this dish is a winner, trust me. Just looking at that makes me hungry...

Hot Cold bento (12)

Another one from the archives.

On the right, some white rice and chickpea curry (which tends to go by various names, so I am not clear on what it should be called - chana masala seems to be the most common name). Want to know how to make it, you say? Hold on tight, m'dears, it's coming.

In the middle, carrot sticks and supremed orange segments (in a foil baking cup, to keep the orange juice from running into other things). On the left, some Fruity Cheerios (which are kind of like Froot Loops? except apparently better for you? I dunno).

Peanut Butter M&M cookies

These cookies aren't particularly notable, baking-wise, but I thought I'd show them to you for posterity's sake. And they're cute!

What's going on with these cookies is that I took the chocolate chip cookie recipe from here. I replaced 1/2 a stick of butter with an equal amount of peanut butter, and I replaced the chocolate chips with M&Ms.

Dropping the cookies. (Please note that I was baking with my friend Mariko in her room, and she had no pans. So we improvised a baking pan out of several folded sheets of aluminum foil. Worked out just fine.)

And voila! Delicious peanut butter cookies. Like a peanut butter cup, but better.

(I love how the plate kind of matches, too.)

Ramen (but better)

Umm... hi? I know, it's been months! But you have to forgive me, as I was swamped with schoolwork once the first semester of law school kicked in. Hopefully, I'll be able to post more regularly from here on out, as law school supposedly gets "easier" as you go along. (But please note the air quotes.)

I have accumulated a fair amount of food photos to show you (things I made over these past few months that I never got a chance to post), so settle back and enjoy the ride. We'll start off easy with the dorm room staple - ramen!

I um... eat ramen a lot more than I should. :\ I make myself feel better about this bad habit by making it as healthy as I can. If you think the following recipe is unusual... well, some variant of this is the way my family always makes ramen. Some sort of vegetable green and meat/eggs always get added in. It's a good way to use up leftovers. (Say no plain noodles! That's just boring.)

First off, I get the water boiling in my rice cooker. (Rice cookers are not just for rice! Just dump some water in there, and turn it on and put on the cover, and you'll have a happy boil in no time.) Once it's at a boil, I add the noodles and seasoning. I only use about half the seasoning packet that comes with the ramen. There's a lot of unnecessary sodium in there, and you really are better off flavoring the ramen as you like it.

I also add a couple of handfuls of baby spinach. (Now you know what to do with those leftover salad greens, right?)

I always have a couple of hardboiled eggs handy for a quick breakfast. While the noodles cook, I slice up a couple and put them in my soup bowl. Once the noodles are soft, I dump them into the bowl, on top of the eggs. Then some seasoning with ground black pepper and Sriracha hot sauce, and there you go - a meal fit for a king.

Nothing better on a cold day, let me tell you.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Caprese sandwich

This past weekend, I went with a few friends to the Italian Market, in south Philadelphia. It's purportedly Philly's oldest open air market. I was mainly attracted by the promise of super-cheap produce and the famous DiBruno Bros. cheese shop.

Establishing shot of 9th Street:

It's not the nicest area, I have to tell you. But you come to expect that in Philly -- everything is just ever-so-slightly.... grungy. But! All of the outdoor produce stands were, as promised, super cheap. For only about $3, I got 1 pound of green grapes, 2 peaches, and 3 plum tomatoes.

Can't say that the cheap feature holds true at DiBruno Bros., though...

Nanda, mugging for the camera so that the cheese mongers don't think I'm a crazy person who is trying to take pictures of the cheese (except I am...):

It's a smallish shop, but it was packed. Evidently popular. I've been to their shop in Center City, which is newer and bigger -- more like a high-end grocery store. I have to say I like this Italian Market shop better, because the focus here is definitely the cheese. I got a ball of fresh mozzarella ($8) and a small chunk of parmigiano reggiano ($5).

My haul from the Italian Market, at the end of the day:

What to do with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes? Make a delicious Caprese sandwich, of course.

Caprese means "from Capri," an island in Italy. A Caprese salad is made of mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, and olive oil (and salt). The Caprese sandwich sticks that combination between two slices of bread. I didn't have any fresh basil, alas, so basil pesto would have to do.

I love ciabatta bread. It's great for sandwiches (particularly panini-style sandwiches), because the interior is soft, but the crust is hard enough to stand up against any threat of sogginess. It also has that sourdough tang that I really love.

A small roll of ciabatta, sliced:

I spread basil pesto on the bottom, then layered on slices of mozzarella and plum tomato. I also seasoned the thing with a bit of salt. (I suppose pepper would be ok if you want it, but I think it strikes out the basil flavor too much.)

Sliced up and ready to eat:

Yummy! I love food.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

General Tso's Eggplant

You all know General Tso's. I believe that this dish (primarily, the spicy sweet sauce) is not actually Chinese. I think it's about as Chinese as chop suey, if you get my drift. In fact, I know it is, because my dad (who cooks in Chinese restaurants) tells me that it's probably named after some dude who created the sauce by accident, and people ended up liking it a lot.

And the sauce has a LOT of sugar, if you didn't already guess that. But it probably contains even more than you think.

Despite all that, I really like the sauce. I do. It's probably all the sugar.

I made this recipe because I like the General Tso's taste. But all I've got is a rice cooker. So while I cooked some rice, I steamed all the vegetables in the steamer tray and tossed them in the sauce. (Don't microwave vegetables, even in a steamer bag. Microwaves zap out the nutrients, which defeats the whole purpose of eating fresh vegetables, doesn't it?) I microwaved the sauce, though, because there aren't that many nutrients in the sauce to begin with...

Cutting up the broccoli head:

Steaming the broccoli:

I had to do it separately, since my steamer basket is too small to handle too many vegetables. :( After the broccoli cooked, I set it aside in a bowl.

Cutting the eggplant:

Steaming the eggplant:

While the eggplant and the rice finished up cooking, I made the sauce.

Mincing the ginger and garlic for the sauce (I use the "attack it until it looks small enough" approach):

Whisking together all the sauce ingredients:

Since the sauce has cornstarch, all you have to do is get the mixture to the right temperature (around the boiling point) to get the sauce to thicken. I microwaved the mix (in a bowl, covered with plastic) for about 2 minutes. I popped it out, gave it a stir, and microwaved it again for another 2 minutes.

At the end, the sauce should turn sorta translucent, and it'll look like this:

Scoop out the eggplant, toss the vegetables in the sauce, and serve with rice. (I like the short grain brown rice.) Yaaay.

Admittedly, the sauce doesn't stick that well to eggplant, because it's... slick. It would work better if the eggplant had been breaded and fried, but I don't have the convenience of a stove. :( Regardless, the taste is all there. What more can you ask for, really?

I wrote up the recipe here. Put the sauce on whatever you like -- I particularly enjoy it on tofu.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Corn (an ode)

You know what I love?

Indeed, indeed. Not that frozen stuff, but the real honest corn on the cob. Maize has a weird evolutionary history in which the disproportionately huge ear became the dominant cultivar purely because humans chose to domesticate that particular mutation. But that's a story for another day. Point is, we are here, and corn is here, and it is delicious.

Corn is under-appreciated, I feel. Boiled to the point of perfection (hot, but still crisp, and not mushy), it's like... good-for-you candy. Truly.

That pictured above is an ear of sweet corn that I got from a farmer's market that shows up every week nary a block away from where I live. I bought 2 ears for 50 cents each: one white, and one "popcorn" colored one.

So I can basically roll out of bed and get farm fresh fruits and vegetables (and jam and cake and pie). Jealous much?

This one in particular is part of the Farm to City initiative here in Philly. My exploration of this farmer's market is how I came to meet some Amish folks for the first time. True story. (No Amish are in that photo above though, sorry.)

Little known fact is that a rice cooker doesn't just cook rice. (Which I have proved to you before, and will continue to prove.) Boiling the corn in my rice cooker:

Mmm. Fresh corn on the cob, with butter and salt.

Go get some corn on your plate! It's the season for it right now, so shoo, shoo.