Monday, July 20, 2009

For the love of basil...

A friendly coworker lamented that his basil plants were producing way more basil than he knew what to do with. "Make pesto!" I told him. But what then? He was getting sick of pesto with pasta. "I'd be happy to take some off your hands," I told him. The next day he presented me with a gallon size zip-loc bag packed with basil.

Me: Wow, that's a lot of basil!
Him: Make pesto!

Hah. Okay fine. Pesto it is! As far as pesto recipes are concerned, I love Ina Garten's. But since everyone seems to be complaining about being fatties, I opted for a light version from Cook's Illustrated. I've made it before and though it is lighter in taste, it is still just as delicious.

Lighter Pesto
The New Best Recipe, Editors of Cook's Illustrated Magazine

1/4 cup pine nuts
3 medium garlic cloves
2 cups fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
1/4 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put the pine nuts and garlic cloves on a baking sheet and place in oven for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the garlic is lightly browned and the pine nuts are lightly toasted. Put the toasted pine nuts and garlic in a food processor with the basil, parsley, chicken broth, olive oil, Parmesan cheese and salt and process until smooth. One tablespoon is counted as a serving.

Makes 2 cups

Of course I wasn't going to do pasta + pesto. That is so, like, 1995. I had scoured a few blogs and come up with... pesto bread! I was especially intrigued by the jellyroll-fashion of making the bread and the pretty swirly pattern it would become. Pretty pattern = pretty impressive.

This bread is delicious with a capital D. It is worth the effort of turning on the oven in the summertime!

Pain Pesto
Marcy Goldman

1 1/4 cups warm water (100 to 110 degrees F)
1 tablespoon rapid rise yeast
4 cups (approximately) bread flour
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 teaspoons sugar
2 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 (10 oz) jar of prepared pesto (I used the entire contents of the above recipe)
olive oil, salt, pepper, parsley and Parmesan cheese, for sprinkling

Stack two large baking sheets together and line top sheet with parchment paper.

In a mixer bowl, hand whisk water and yeast together and let stand 2-3 minutes to dissolve yeast. Add 1 cup flour and stir briefly. Then stir in oil, sugar, salt and most of the remaining flour. Mix ingredients and then attach dough hook and knead on lowest speed 6-8 minutes until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if needed.

Remove dough hook from machine and spray dough with nonstick cooking spray. Cover entire mixer with clear plastic bag. Let rise for 45-90 minutes or until almost doubled.

Gently deflate dough on a lightly floured surface. Let rest 10 minutes and then roll out to a 20 x 20 inch shape. If dough resists, let it rest a few more minutes then roll out gently. Drizzle some additional olive oil on the dough and then smear on pesto all over dough's surface. Roll up jellyroll style. Shape into an "S" shape and put on prepared baking sheets.

Drizzle oil on top and dust with salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese and parsley. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until puffy, about 45-60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350.

Gently press bread down slightly before it goes into the oven. Bake until it is well browned, about 35-45 minutes. Cool to warm on baking sheet before cutting.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Fruits Of My (non) Labor...

Now that I am unemployed I have lots of time to try new recipes. This week's theme? Fruit.

Cherry Apricot Galette
I bought a lot of cherries on sale this week. After washing, de-stemming and pitting enough fruit to make this galette + chef's snacks, I found I had enough leftover to dehydrate an entire tray of cherries as well.

My mom used to make this super easy and very tasty dessert during the summer because it's so light and infinitely adaptable to whatever fruits you have on hand, but cherry apricot is particularly tasty.
I made pie crust from scratch for the first time using Alton Brown's recipe but I used all butter. I think my kitchen was too hot and that I should have used an additional alternate fat because the pastry tasted more like a butter cookie than flaky pastry.
(as an alternative, nothing wrong with frozen pastry dough!)


nota bene: the amount of fruit, nuts, preserves etc all depends on how big your want your galette and how think a layer of fruit you'd like. I don't recommend too thick or much wider than 10" final diameter, or else your crust gets soggy.

Pie crust/pastry dough (fresh or frozen)
Fruit preserves (I used apricot)
Dried fruit is best, but fresh fruit that isn't too watery is alright too (I used cherries)
Chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans, something with a sweet, soft meat)
White sugar

1. Roll out your dough to make a rough circle, approximately 1/8"-1/4" thick.
2. Spread your preserves of choice on the dough, leaving approximately 1" of crust around the edge.
3. Sprinkle a moderate layer of dried fruits and an accent of chopped nuts into the center. Leave about 2" of crust around the outside.
4. Fold the edge of the crust into the center. You want to show off the fruits in the middle and the edges do not have to be pretty; think "rustic" style...
5. Brush the crust with milk and sprinkle with a few teaspoons of white sugar (brown sugar has too much moisture but will work in a pinch)
6. Bake in a 400 degree oven for approximately 40 minutes, or until your crust is pretty.

Cherry Pie with Coconut Crumb Topping

Did I mention I had a LOT of cherries? I had to get rid of a bunch- fast. Cherry pie was the obvious pick here. I snagged the recipe from epicurious and had so much leftover filling that I made four mini crumbles, one of which is seen here.

After reading reviews I added extra vanilla and a splash of almond extract to the cherry filling. I probably would have done way more oats to the topping because I love oatmeal and maybe would have added sliced or slivered almonds for extra substance. I didn't have quick cooking tapioca, just small tapioca pearls, which I threw in nonetheless.

Now, I haven't tried the actual pie with the crust bottom and crumble top, only a little ramekin which has just filling and some crumble. But based on that: The filling was really well flavored. The lemon juice adds just enough tart to keep it interesting and accent the sweet of the cherries The coconut in the topping was an excellent addition in both texture and flavor. My only complaint? My mouth was very, very sticky afterwards. This definitely required milk or ice cream or whipped topping to go with it. Or maybe if you added cranberries or raspberries to the mix to lighten it up a little... that would probably be delicious.

For asthetic (spelling?) reasons, I would use cornstarch in future. The little dots of uncooked tapioca pearls looked like pomegranate seeds, with much the same texture.

Orange Pecan Ice Box Cookies
(adapted from Sunset's Orange Refrigerator cookie recipe)

I was up late one night with a lack of ingredients, an urge to bake, and an old orange. Alas! What to do? Zest the orange, and find a recipe.
I found a Sunset magazine's "Best-Ever Cookies" issue hiding on my bookshelves from christmas and got the basic idea from the following recipe, then changed a few minor things to my liking.

1 cup butter (at room temperature)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
3 cups flour
1/2 cup minced walnuts (in this case, pecans)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
(and a splash of vanilla)

  1. In a bowl, beat butter, sugar and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in egg, orange peel and vanilla until well blended.
  2. Add all dry ingredients and nuts, mix well.
  3. Spoon the dough onto a sheet of wax paper or saran wrap and form a 2.5" thick log. Wrap the logs in the paper or plastic wrap and freeze until solid, about 2 hours.
  4. Slice the logs into 1/8" inch slices and place on greased cookie sheet.
  5. Bake at 375 for 12 minutes until edges are barely browned.
I actually halved this recipe and made thicker slices. If you like cripy cookies, go for thin. Otherwise they stay a little softer the thicker they are.

I'm usually kind of hesitant on the orange + baking combo, but wow these were delightful. And they made my kitchen smell fantastic while baking. They remind me of tea cookies, thin and crispy, light flavor and not heavy at all. A nice buttery cookie with a more elegant twist.

Dehydrator-dried Cherry Tomatoes

Definitely doesn't sound as romantic as "sun dried", but remember these guys? Well, about 36 hours on the dehydrator turned them into red raisins. I tried one straight up and I think I actually overdid it or cherry tomators are just not good candidates for drying, it wasn't fantastic. It might be an ingredient that can only be used in combination with other flavors, but we'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mapo Tofu

Yum, yum, yum! I love Mapo Tofu.


Dumplings made with 0.5 lbs ground turkey, 0.5 lbs shrimp, 1/2 head of cabbage, 1 cup mushrooms, and 3 green onions (white part only). Seasoned with Chinese pepper, salt, and sesame oil.

Glad you were able to help me finish them.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Greek Hand Pies with Greens, Dill, Mint and Feta plus a work in progress

A few apartments ago, I lived with a lovely girl who was not much of cook (her idea of getting gourmet veggies into her diet was to buy pre-cooked rice packets with shredded carrots in them). Imagine my surprise (and delight!) when she suddenly was receiving Food and Wine magazine. My thoughts immediately went to how I can discreetly raid her magazines before she got to them. Turned out she got the subscription free for ordering something on Amazon and that I was allowed to read them at will... which I somehow translated into "yeah sure you can cut out recipes from my magazines".

Well, one such recipe that I cut out was for Greek Hand Pies with Greens, Dill, Mint and Feta. Since I am now unemployed I have all the free time in the world!

I did a few things differently:
  1. Thinking that this would be dinner tonight and that it should be a bit more substantial (and that there should be more filling) I added way more feta cheese.
  2. I had no parmesan, so that was nixed.
  3. I used all spinach, fresh mint but dried dill and oregano.
These are exceptionally tasty, but I think the original ratio of cheese to greens that the recipe suggests may be better, for they were very heavy. Very. Heavy.
I think this may have also thrown off the salt balance because they were way too salty, and I didn't add more salt than asked for. I would also like to try adding other greens to the recipe (dandelion greens were suggested) and I would probably make them more finger food/appetizer sized instead of just 4 big pies.

I made one for dinner, cooked a second, and the other two are currently freezing uncooked. We'll see how this affects texture when mr wong gets home...

A work in progress

A while ago I posted about my cherry tomato plant. Well it's time to face the fact that I have two problems. One being, I just don't like eating cherry tomatoes. The other being, I have a prolific cherry tomato plant. While admiring the spirit of my sad little plant I noticed a strange phenomenon. Since I don't like the fruits, I don't pick them, and because I don't pick them they just keep getting baked by the direct sunlight until they start looking a little pruney... almost like they're being dried...

See how some of them look a little crinkly already? They're on the way to sun-dried heaven! I set the crinklies aside and put the rest of the tomatoes on the dehydrator at about 5pm this afternoon. The crinklies, as an experiment, were set back out on my deck in full sun under a glass dish (to focus the heat more, maybe?). We'll see which ones are better: true sun-dried tomatoes or just dried tomatoes. Results to follow...

Wong Food: Yosemite style

This past weekend we were in Yosemite and I re-discovered among many other things (one very prominent factoid being that I am out of hiking shape) that trail mix is delicious and that it's even better when you mix it up yourself.

Wong Food trail mix
(all volumes are approximate)

2.5 cups of peanuts, salted
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup flame raisins
1/3 cup butter toffee peanuts
2 packages of m&m's

mix. hike. enjoy. repeat.

Fabulous Orange-Chocolate Cake

Because of recent social activities, I had some leftover items in the fridge that needed to be used: sour cream, melted chocolate, and candied orange syrup. I found a cake recipe on allrecipes that I was able to adapt to use everything up.

It was super easy to put together because of the prepared items used. The directions said to bake the cake for an hour, but when I checked at 50 minutes, the cake was already done! I was afraid I had overcooked it, since it had browned by then, but it was still moist and the orange syrup I added enhanced the texture.

I love the combination of chocolate and orange so I expected to love this cake. I wasn't too impressed when it initially came out. Taste is more important than how something looks but this cake will not win any beauty awards. Perhaps it was its browned appearance, but it didn't look particularly appetizing. When I initially tried it, I just thought it was "okay." I thought maybe I had overdid it with the addition of orange syrup because it tasted like there was too much going on.

When I tried it a day later, I enjoyed it more. I'm not sure if it mellowed (or I did!) but the cake stayed moist (important!) and the chocolate flavor won me over.

The recipe is below with my changes in brackets.

Fabulous Orange Cake
(adapted from allrecipes)

1 (18.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix
1 (3.4 ounce) package instant vanilla pudding mix
2 cups sour cream [I used 1 3/4 cup since that was what I had leftover]
2 eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup orange liqueur
1 cup white chocolate chips [I used a combination of chocolate chips and chopped chocolate -- the remnants of my melted chocolate]
confectioner's sugar, for dusting [I used about 1/2 cup of an orange-infused syrup I had made]

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F(175 degrees C). Grease a 9 inch Bundt pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together the cake mix and pudding mix. Add the sour cream, eggs, oil and orange liqueur. Mix until smooth and well blended, then fold in the white chocolate chips. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.

Bake for 1 hour in the preheated oven, until cake springs back to the touch. Allow cake to cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. When cake is cool, dust with confectioners' sugar and serve.

[After the cake cooled, I poked holes in it, and drizzled the candied orange syrup over it.]

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Hubby's Homemade Pulled Pork and BBQ Sauce + Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

Had a great day today with too much yummy food…

Ryan decided he wanted to venture off and make pulled pork sandwiches for July 4th as well as his own BBQ sauce. He used the crock pot for the pulled pork. It has this sweet and salty taste with a little kick of spice. And then made a little spicy vinegar flavored BBQ sauce. The meal was off the charts. Perfect balance of salty and sweet flavors. Sandwiches were better than any other place I have had pulled pork. Just amazing…

On top of the sandwiches were homegrown tomatoes (I ate a slice even though I am allergic) and some smoked cheese. We had a side of chips and fruit.

A closer look at the pulled pork with homemade BBQ sauce

I wish you all were here to enjoy with us.

For “dessert”, I decided to make a lemon poppy seed bundt cake. Another excellent choice, I think, but you’ll have to let me know what you think yourself…

I made some mini bundt cakes and 1 bigger bundt cake. You each get one of these to enjoy!

A look at the inside. :)

Recipe for Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
1 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk (I used 1 tbsp of vinegar + milk residual of 1 cup instead of of the buttermilk)
Grated peel and juice of 3 lemons (3 lemons does not equal 1 cup of lemon juice so get more lemons or buy 1 cup of lemon juice
2 tablespoons poppy seeds

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a mixing bowl, cream 1 cup sugar and butter. Blend in eggs and vanilla.
3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Stir into the batter.
4. Stir baking soda into buttermilk and add to the batter.
5. Fold in grated lemon peel and poppy seeds.
6. Pour batter into a greased bundt pan. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and has a crevice in the middle.
7. Meanwhile, combine lemon juice (about 1 cup) and 3/4 cup sugar in a saucepan and simmer over low heat until the sugar dissolves.
8. When the cake is done, let stand for 5 minutes, then drizzle sweetened lemon juice slowly over the top until it is all absorbed.

Lemon Berry Squares

These were supposed to be Lemon Blueberry Squares but I didn't have enough blueberries. So instead I used blueberries, cherries, and blackberry jam. I'll send them your way to try and review. Definitely something I'd make again...

In the pan

The toppings

The finished product!


1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
7 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

3 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon peel
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons light cream
2 cups (10 ounces) berries
4 tablespoons berry jam, melted

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a buttered 8-inch square glass pan with
two 18-by-6-inch sheets of foil, overlapping in opposite directions with
overhang on all sides.
2. To prepare the crust, place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse
until mixture resembles coarse meal. Press onto the bottom and 1 inch up
the sides of the pan. Bake on the middle oven rack for 20 minutes, or until
golden brown.
3. To prepare the filling, whisk together eggs, sugar, flour and grated peel.
Whisk in lemon juice, cream and a pinch of salt. Pour immediately into
the hot crust. Bake until just set, about 17 minutes.
4. Toss berries with jam; gently spoon over the top and bake 2 minutes
longer. Let cool in the pan on a rack. Chill,covered,overnight (8 hours). Lift
dessert out of the pan and cut into squares.

Mac & Cheese Substitute for Lasagna

In deciding what to bake yesterday, I saw a very tasty picture of lasagna. Being that it was after 8:00 PM, I thought the best way to get fresh, cooked lasagna in less than an hour (if I were to bake it myself) was to buy it myself. There is a restaurant called Sublime Pizza across the street from us. We haven't been there yet, only heard it had good Mac and Cheese. I was craving lasagna but to my surprise, they didn't serve it on their menu. So we decided to try the Mac and Cheese... Wow! What a selection! They had 17 different types of Mac and Cheese filled with everything from italian sausage to hot dogs to applewood smoked bacon. They even had a make your own, which is what I decided to order for the bost of us.
Choice 1 - Mac and Cheese with Monterey Jack and Gouda cheese, Italian Sausage and Red Bell Peppers topped with Gruyere Breadcrumb Crust

Ryan rated this one a 7. He said it could have used more breadcrumb toppings.

Choice 2 - Mac and Cheese with Monterey Jack and Gouda cheese (there were more choices of cheese but I couldn't decide), Turkey Sausage and Spinach topped with Gruyere Breadcrumb Crust (other choice there is parmesan)

Rating is probably a 7 as well. It was decent Mac and Cheese...pretty good but not #1. MUCH better than out of a box and you can tell it wasn't Kraft or Velvetta cheese. It tasted fresh. It could have used more fillings and a little less cheese and maybe a little pepper.

I'd still go again and try out something new and change it up a bit.

Friday, July 3, 2009

From the Garden

Just a few photos from my garden...

Second set of tomatoes this season

Squash... I really hope it gets bigger.

Jalapenos... I am getting a ton of them

The first bell pepper of the season

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Surati Farsan Mart (again!)

We have been to SFM now a couple more times since our initial visit. It has yet to disappoint. The second time we went, the service was just as friendly... they even remembered us! We still don't bother with the desserts but here are the new items we've tried:

Pav Bhaji ($3.99) - This was a spicy vegetable mixture served with hamburger buns. Very tasty, but the buns were a little much.

Pav Vada ($3.99) - These were spicy, deep-fried potato patties served with a garlic chutney in a bun. We had seen other customers order these and were intrigued. Tasty, but probably wouldn't get again.

BTW, they charge extra for those slices of cheese. So when they ask whether you'd like cheese on them, be aware!

Dahl Vada ($3.50) - Described as deep-fried lentil cakes covered with tamarind sauce and yogurt. This was the only item we didn't care for. It wasn't bad or inedible, just a little tasteless. The lentil cakes were bland but the yogurt tasted cool and fresh.

Petish ($3.50) - I loved these. These balls contained a combination of cilantro, coconut and garlic. Delicious. They were fried perfectly and the spices were a great mixture.

This is the inside of one of the balls.

Eggplant and Pigeon Pea curry - one of the curries of the day. It is served with either 4 puris (deep-fried bread) or 4 rotis (tortilla-like bread). It was good, but not a favorite. Heavy on the coriander, it was too oily for me.

Masala Cheese Dosa ($4.99) - This is the same as the masala dosa, but with cheese added to it. Strangely enough, I think it might have been American cheese. It's an interesting change, but I prefer the version without the cheese.

I also tried the lychee shake ($2.50) (sorry no picture - it's white) which was sweet and refreshing. If you like lychee, you'll like this.

Surati Farsan Mart is quickly becoming a favorite and I'm looking forward to going back!
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