27 May 2010

Cheesecake Brownies

(this recipe for the cheesecake and this recipe for the brownies)

I've been baking for birthdays a lot (duh). Cakes are great, but if there's no party, a cake is silly. Cakes are for big groups and should be cut with lots of people around. When I'm bringing a dessert to school a cake is really too much to deal with. I've been trying out different bar things. I looooove brownies but the problem with being the birthday fairy is that you always have to one-up yourself. I worry that I have to keep it fresh!

Thus, cheesecake brownies. This recipe called for a box brownie mix which is totally sacrilege in my book. (I remember last year I made brownies for my boss for his birthday and one of the people in my lab said, "wow, I've never eaten brownies not from a box before!") I used my favorite brownie recipe instead. If you have a favorite, feel free to substitute. This one is super easy, the brownie part takes less than 10 minutes to make, and... these brownies are just about perfect if I do say so myself. Then you take something perfect and add cream cheese and sugar. Ohhhh!

For the brownies
1 cup melted butter
3 cups white sugar (some of the reviewers on this recipe recommended using some brown sugar, but I tried that and don't like it as much)
1 Tbsp vanilla extract (or more, I never measure vanilla, I just pour until I'm happy)
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup cocoa powder (sifted to remove clumps)
1 tsp salt
1-2 cups chocolate chips (at least 1 cup, use more if you're indulgent, but don't skip these!)
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional, I didn't use them this time, but I often do when I just make brownies without cheesecake on top)

For the cheesecake
8 oz. bar of cream cheese at room temperature (use Philadelphia! it's the best for baking, seriously)
2 Tbsp butter at room temperature
1 Tbsp cornstarch
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

1. Preheat your oven to 350. Line a 9x13 pan with aluminum foil and grease generously.
2. In a large bowl, mix the melted butter, sugar and vanilla.
3. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
4. Mix in flour, cocoa and salt.
5. Fold in chocolate chips and nuts (if using)
6. Pour the brownie batter into the prepared pan.
7. Cream together cream cheese, butter and cornstarch in a medium bowl or mixer. This will take a little while if you are doing it without a mixer, so make sure it's very soft!
8. Slowly mix in vanilla and egg, followed by sweetened condensed milk and keep mixing until everything is fully worked in.
9. Pour the cream cheese mixture evenly over the brownie batter, smoothing with a rubber spatula.
10. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the cheesecake is starting to brown. The top might crack a little. DO NOT OVERBAKE. If you're unsure, just take it out of the oven. These (like almost all brownies) are better undercooked.
11. Allow to cool completely (at least 2 hours) before cutting into bars and eating more than you intended to.

24 May 2010

Potato Salad – Two Ways

I used gold potatoes, which make for a particularly creamy tasting potato salad. Cut the potatoes into Boil the potatoes until they can easily be pierced by a fork. Try not to cook them too long; if they are too soft they will turn into mush as you mix everything together. Drain the potatoes and let cool.

Cilantro Potato Salad

Caramelize a large onion (chop the onion and sauté in olive oil on medium heat for about 20 minutes or until the onions turn golden brown). Remove from heat and let cool.

Finely chop a big bunch of cilantro (just go ahead and chop the entire bunch that you get from the grocery store). Finely mince 1-2 cloves of garlic.

Combine some olive oil and lime juice together in about a ratio of 3:2. I really have no idea how much I used, but I’m guessing that 3 teaspoons of olive oil to 2 teaspoons lime juice might be good. It also might not be enough dressing. Add the cilantro and shake up everything together. I like to do this in a small Tupperware. I find this is the best way of mixing and emulsifying everything together.

Grate some parmesan cheese. Really however much you want. Mix this together with the potatoes, onions and Cilantro-Lime Dressing. It’s perfectly enjoyable right away, even still slightly warm, but it is even more delicious the next day.

Mustard Potato Salad

This potato salad is even simpler. Because I was feeling sick and lazy perhaps. But just ask Heather to choose her favorite.

Make a vinaigrette with olive oil and a good quality mustard. This time I might try a ratio closer to 2:1. Though again, I’m really not sure what I did.

Chop up some garlic chives (or green onions). Mince 1-2 cloves of garlic. Add these to the vinaigrette and shake everything up. Mix with the potatoes and enjoy.

19 May 2010

Veggie Burgers

Last weekend Heidi and I made veggie burgers, something we'd talked about doing for a long time. We used sweet potatoes, lentils, onions, and brown rice to make a somewhat sweet but still savory burger. Now that I know how ridiculously simple it is, I am going to do it all the time! It seems like a great way to use up extra vegetables you have lying around.

We had this recipe as a guideline, but since we substituted most of the ingredients and used different amounts of everything, I'm going to just tell you how we did it.

Note: The burgers took almost no time to make, but our potatoes, lentils and onions were all cooked ahead of time. If you don't have those ingredients pre-cooked, plan for it to take a bit longer.

One onion, diced small
Five cloves of garlic, minced
Cooking sherry
One large sweet potato, baked until very tender and diced
One can of lentils (or equivalent amount home-cooked), drained and rinsed
About half a cup of cooked rice, ideally a little over-cooked (you want it very soft)
One tsp coriander
One tsp tarragon
Small handful of milled flax seed (if you are a health nut like me)
Two tablespoons of chickpea flour (or any other type of flour)
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

- Heat some olive oil in a pan and cook the garlic and onions together until the onions are browned and starting to get crispy. Deglaze the pan with cooking sherry and set aside.

- In a bowl, mash the lentils up a bit with a fork. Add the rice, sweet potato, onions, and spices. If you want to amp up the nutritional value, throw in some flax seed. Stir everything together along with a tablespoon of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Then add the flour, making sure to stir it in well.

- Generously coat a stainless steel pan with olive oil and heat it on a medium-high setting. The writers of the original recipe think that a nonstick pan will not give you the ideal texture. Once the oil is very hot, take a handful of burger goodness and shape it into a patty. Place it in the pan - it should sizzle immediately. If it doesn't, your oil isn't hot enough, and you should wait before adding more burgers. Fill up your pan with as many burgers as you want to eat, and cook them for about 2 minutes on each side.

- Eat your delicious veggie burger! It should be a little crunchy on the outside and scrumptious all the way through. We ate ours on my homemade whole wheat bread with fresh spinach, smoked Gouda cheese, and some blueberry chutney I got at Pike Place Market. It was amazing.

Keep your leftover uncooked burger mixture in the fridge and cook it as you eat it. If you do end up with uneaten cooked burgers, they'll reheat pretty well in a toaster oven.

I think you could easily substitute an equivalent amount of other vegetables and grains. I'm thinking whatever vegetable combination you choose should include something starchy and something with protein. The original recipe called for beets and black beans, which sounds very tasty indeed. If you try your own version, let us know how it turns out!

Here's our burger creation, along with Heidi's mustard-vinaigrette potato salad. Heidi made two potato salads last weekend, and she had better post the recipes, because I don't even like potato salad and I could not eat enough of these. Om nom nom!

11 May 2010

Microwave Stuffed Peppers

I bought all these ears of corn (25 cents a pop!) for a BBQ and then ended up not using them... I've been trying different ways to use them, other than just off the cob. I really love fresh corn, but it's so much better BBQ'ed than boiled. I started boiling one, not sure what else I was gonna make. I looked around in my fridge and found a green pepper and scallions. (I never actually use a whole bunch of scallions before they go bad, so I love to throw them in things!) I thought that stuffing the pepper with corn and scallions would be awesome. I have to admit I have never made a stuffed pepper before and I have no idea what should go in them/how much liquid/how long to cook/whatever...

I had this idea to bake it, that sounds good, right? But I didn't even turn on the oven until I'd made the stuffing... And so I decided instead to broil it. But then I realized I had to be somewhere in 30 minutes, not an hour and 30 minutes like I had thought for some reason. So there wasn't time to even broil it! Instead I microwaved it and just hoped for the best.

Actually, I really, really liked the way it came out. The egg and pepper cooked fully but the scallions and garlic were only partly cooked which kept them spicy. The only thing I didn't really like was the pepper skin. I know its technically possible to remove pepper skins by roasting them but I've never done this. I don't know if the pepper will lose its rigidity after doing this, and I think the stiffness helped make it not be totally messy in the microwave, so I don't know if it's worth trying to remove the skin.

Ingredients (makes one stuffed pepper, so scale up if you're feeding more than just yourself)
1 ear of corn (or ~1/4 cup of frozen or canned corn if you're not using fresh)
4 scallions, trimmed to get rid of the floppy end parts
2 large cloves of garlic
2 Tbsp pine nuts
1 egg
2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese (plus a little extra for topping)
salt, pepper, oregano
1 large green or red bell pepper
olive oil
a few pinches of bread crumbs (optional)

I had put the pepper on foil when I was planning on baking it... doesn't this look totally not delicious...

1. Boil the corn for 3 minutes. After it's done, immediately remove from the water. Once it's cool enough to handle, slice the corn off the cob.
2. Put scallions, garlic and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse a few times. You want this to be minced, but not paste. If you don't have a food processor, then do this by hand.
3. In a small bowl (or a medium one if you are making more than one serving), beat the egg.
4. Mix the scallion mix, corn, and parmesan cheese into the egg. Season with salt, pepper and oregano.
5. Slice the top off of the pepper and remove the seeds and core.
6. Rub the outside of the pepper with olive oil.
7. Place the pepper in a small microwave safe bowl. Try to keep the pepper standing up.
8. Pour the egg/veggie mix into the pepper.
9. Sprinkle the top with parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs.
10. Microwave on high for 4 minutes. If your microwave doesn't spin on it's own, I'd suggest rotating it a quarter of the way every minute to make sure the egg gets fully cooked.
11. (Optional step but I think it was good!) Remove from microwave and place on an oven safe pan or dish. Broil for 1 minute to brown the bread crumbs.

10 May 2010

Quick carrot bread

A kilo of carrots here is about 200 pesos, or 40 cents. So this one time, I asked the farmer guy at the market for 3 carrots, and he gave me 3 kilos, and refused to take them back. This actually inspired in me a love of carrots, because for a good long while, I was eating them every day and discovering new things to do with them.

I based this off this recipe, which is the best carrot bread recipe I've found.

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup oil
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups finely grated raw carrots
1 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350°F degrees.

Beat eggs and add sugar and oil. Sift together flour, soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt, and add to egg mixture.

Beat well. Add carrots, nuts and raisins. Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan and pour in batter.

Bake one hour.

My alterations were:
2 - 2.5 cups carrots
Fresh-grated ginger, about two tablespoons, added with the carrots
I used about a cup whole-wheat flour instead of white
Less sugar than is called for - quick breads are so often over-sweetened!
Extra nutmeg and a pinch of ground cloves

Doing these made it less of a sweet dense carrot cake and more of a quick bread, savory yet sweet.

Enjoy with a hot cup of tea or coffee on a chilly day!

NB: My battery charger is out of commission, and I'll probably have to wait until next month's paycheck to get a new one... no pictures for this month!

*Hey everyone who's writing in this journal - I know we all like writing, and reading the other recipes. Would anyone else be in for trying out making other people's recipes in the way you would cook it and posting those? I think it'd be neat to see what people do with some of mine!

Lentil, sausage, chard, sweet potato soup

I based this soup off of this recipe, but ended up changing a whole lot... and made a lot more, because it's getting to be winter and chilly here!

2 large sweet potatoes
1 large onion
5 cloves garlic
2 cups lentils, soaked overnight
A large handful sundried tomatoes
3 smoked sausages, any type - I used longaniza
About 2-3 cups chopped chard
2 large tomatoes.
Spices to taste: aji, merquen, dill, salt, pepper, paprika, oregano, cilantro, parsley
2 tablespoons flour (all-purpose or whole-wheat)

To start, dice two large sweet potatoes, and microwave them for four minutes on high, stir, then microwave four more minutes. They stay more tender and tasty if you very lightly drizzle them with vegetable oil and stir (or hand-mix) until they are all covered before you microwave them, but this is optional.

While this is going, you can get started on:

Boil the lentils together with the sundried tomatoes, in a small pot, until the lentils are soft.

Chop the onion, garlic, and sausage into large pieces, and throw into a large pot with the tablespoon olive oil. Saute until the onions are clear and the sausages are well-cooked and and browned.

Add in the sweet potato and let saute another couple minutes, stirring occasionally.

Cut up the tomato and chard.

Throw in the chard, lentils, sun-dried tomatoes (you may choose to cut the tomatoes into smaller pieces here, once they're soft), tomato, flour, and spices.

Simmer for about five minutes.


09 May 2010

Homemade Macaroni and Cheese: The Ultimate Comfort Food

In honor of Mother's Day, I'm sharing one of the tastiest and most reliable recipes my mom taught me: macaroni and cheese. Thanks to my mom, I never tasted the instant boxed kind until I was in college, when a friend convinced me to try it. Let's just say I was not impressed. Why would you ever eat that processed stuff when the real thing is so ridiculously simple? Trust me, if you try this once, you won't feel the same way about powdered cheese ever again.

This mac and cheese method isn't made with a cheese sauce (though I have tried some pretty excellent homemade varieties that are), so it couldn't possibly be any easier to make. Here's how:

Step one: Boil water, add macaroni noodles, and cook until done. Drain.

Step two: Grease a casserole dish or baking pan really well. Put half of the noodles into the pan, spreading evenly. Cover the noodles with a generous layer of shredded cheddar cheese. Layer on the rest of the noodles, then put more cheese on top.

Step three: Splash a little milk over the top of the dish, and put a few slices of butter on top. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes or until the cheese is melted and lightly browned.

Step four: Eat your delicious creation! It is the best thing when the weather is gross or if you've been having a rough week. Cheesy, noodley goodness!

Variations: You can easily make this dish a little fancier if you feel so inclined. When I was a kid, I thought I was very adventurous when I added a little powdered garlic with the cheese. More recently, we mixed in some Gouda cheese with the cheddar, and added caramelized onions in the final cheese layer. Scrumptious! Do you like your mac and cheese topped with breadcrumbs? Or maybe you want to add some spicy peppers for a more exciting dish? Perhaps some diced mushrooms or chopped spinach for a slightly healthier version? The only limit... is your imagination!