Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cobblestone bento (17)

Yes, another bento lunch. Almost done posting all my old pictures, whew!

On the left, General Tso's eggplant, sprinkled with some sesame seeds, plus some broccoli that I did in a quick ginger-soy marinade. In the middle, brown rice with snips of seaweed for garnish. (I literally used scissors to snip off strips of seaweed. Homemade furikake!) On the right, some leftover corn on the cob, and pieces of pluot. I put the corn in one of those silicone baking cups to keep it separated from the fruit.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Happy belated Mardi Gras! (Although I suppose this post is coming at an unfortunate time - Lent! Ah well.)

So beignets are basically doughnuts. In French, the word means doughnut, but it can contain a variety of fillings - sweet or savory. The popularized version in the States originates from New Orleans - a plain puffy fried dough covered in heaps of powdered sugar.

Surprisingly, the dough is a straightforward yeast dough. Perhaps the only thing that is unique is that it calls for the use of evaporated milk?

Kneading. That's how you get the nice, chewy texture. You need to knead it thoroughly to relax the gluten in the flour.

Once the dough has rested and risen to double its size, roll it out and cut it into squares.

Let the squares of dough rest again for about 40 minutes.

Once the dough is about ready, heat up a thick-bottomed saucepan or whatever device you normally use to deep-fry. You only need a couple of inches of oil, because the dough pops to the surface immediately if the oil is hot enough. It puffs up prettily, too.

Dust with powdered sugar. I didn't go crazy with this because I don't like super-sweet things - weird, yes, I know, but there's sweet then there's a toothache. Cafe du Monde, the most famous place in New Orleans for beignets, pours like mountains of powdered sugar on top, no joke.

If you're thinking these are unhealthy, well... you're coming to the wrong food blog. However, I will say that these beignets were suprisingly light on oil. They were not greasy at all. Which I think is attributed to oil temperature. You need to get it hot enough that the dough basically cooks immediately as it drops in, which I think forms a sort of barrier and keeps the insides from absorbing too much oil. But don't make the oil so hot that the exterior is fried to a crisp before the insides cook adequately. It's a delicate balance.

Showing you the inside.

Yummmy. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Continental Mid-Town - grilled tofu

I went out to dinner with a couple of friends earlier in the semester at the Continental Mid-Town, which is one of the many Stephen Starr restaurants in Philadelphia. Many of them are fusion-Asian themed - actually, I think all of them are. (Also, check out the Continental Mid-Town website. Possibly the best website music ever! I don't know why I like it so much. It's super cheery.)

Continental Mid-Town is in Center City, and it was pretty good, but maybe not worth the price tag for what you were getting.

The lighting was also horrible for photography purposes (very dim and slightly orange), but I did the best I could.

The Continental Mid-Town is a two-level restaurant, with some wicker chairs on the second floor that hang from the ceiling. Yeah, I don't know, either.

We got grilled tofu as an appetizer.

And I got pad thai for my main dish, but the lighting was so awful that I couldn't salvage any of the pictures of it. Sadness. Imagine a big bowl of pad thai with red chopsticks, and you've got the idea.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Leek and Potato soup

Okay, figured I should post this before winter is completely gone.

One of my faaavorite soups of all time is leek and potato. It's a good, hearty winter soup, and it's ridiculously easy to prepare.

Possibly the most complicated part is cleaning the leeks. Leeks are like... giant green onions? That's how I think of them. Except they are sweet and have a very mild onion flavor, which makes them great for soup. Look for ones with a large white portion, and a shorter green portion. Their stalks are prone to having mud and dirt getting stuck between the layers, so you need to cut off the tough green part at the top, the scraggly bit of the bulb at the bottom, and then split the leeks in half lengthwise. Like so:

Then rinse out the insides thoroughly. I run the leek halves under the tap and rub my thumbnail over them, flipping them like a pack of cards.

The rest of the recipe is super easy. Chop up the onion into a small dice and the leeks into strips. Good opportunity to practice your knife skills - which is probably why so many cooking courses start with soups. A lot of knife work!

Melt down a couple of tablespoons of butter in a big pot. Toss in the onions and leeks.

Slice the potatoes. You don't even have to peel them! Just wash them and scrape off any blemishes. Once the onions and leeks are pretty much cooked, and soft, toss the potatoes on top.

Okay, my pot was slightly too small for this, but it still worked out fine.

Cover all that with vegetable stock (or chicken stock, if you like), and let it simmer until the potatoes are soft. Then, use a potato masher, and just mash the potatoes. Yes, inside the soup. Mash them until you have a consistency you like - you can go chunky or completely smooth, up to you. Then stir in a cup of cream and salt and pepper to taste.

And that's all. It's delicious and easy, trust me.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Chocolate Pudding

My sister got me a set of green ramekins for my birthday! I've been wanting them for a long time to make creme brulee, souffles, and other custard desserts. I wanted to try them out immediately, so... chocolate pudding it is.

Chocolate pudding is such a great dessert, and is surprisingly low on added sugar. The recipe I have, which came from Ms. Dorie Greenspan, requires only a few added tablespoons of sugar, and tastes amazing.

This recipe also requires a lot of in-and-out in the food processor, but all the maneuvering is worth it because you get this silky smooth end product. Dorie, I find, is really good at the custard and curd desserts.

Anyway. Start with whizzing up your cocoa powder, cornstarch, eggs, vanilla, etc. mixture.

After you've got that together, the cornstarch/egg mixture goes on the stove top, and you cook it until it thickens.

In the meantime, cutting up the bittersweet chocolate block to melt it down.

Then the thickened cornstarch/egg mix goes back in the food processor, along with the melted chocolate.

More whizzing. And then, filling the ramekins. Aren't they adorable?

After 4 hours in the fridge and some whipped cream, all ready to eat.

Whoo! Seriously, once you try this stuff, you'll be amazed at how you ever put up with pudding mixes. There's an amazing depth of flavor here that just can't be beat.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Microwave Potato Chips

Did you know you can make potato chips without a deep-fryer? Without oil, even? AND they will be crunchy? Impossible, you say.

Behold the power of the microwave.

Now, believe me, I was skeptical at first, too. But I was amazed because the microwave cooks and dries the potato slices to the point where they actually are very crunchy. This recipe was adapted from a post I saw at Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen.

First, you need to wash and slice a medium-sized potato. A mandolin slicer would be super-helpful here, because the slices need to be reasonably thin and also need to be reasonably uniform in thickness. Or you could just use a sharp knife and slice super carefully, like I did, since I had no mandolin to help me.

Then, take the turntable of your microwave and line it with parchment paper. The drying potatoes will tend to stick, which is why this helps. But I tried this recipe out with a paper towel, and they came out fine. I just needed to be careful when removing the chips, but they detached themselves with minimal fuss and no ripped paper, so.

Make sure none of the slices are touching each other. Season how you like. I used my handy little sea salt grinder for this. But other suggestions include cracked pepper, Old Bay, chili powder, and even a dash of cider vinegar.

The microwaving is not actually that tricky - you just need to pay attention. I microwaved on high for 3 minutes, then opened the door to let the steam out, and then microwaved for another 2 minutes. During that last minute, watch closely and stop it when you see spots of brown start to appear. It's a fine line between a crunchy chip and a scorched one!

In the end, your efforts will be rewarded.

I swear, they were super crunchy. You'll never even miss the oil.