Method Break: Poached Egg by Microwave

In case you’ve not heard, you can poach an egg in the microwave! It took me a few tries but I finally got it about right for my particular microwave.

In vintage (a.k.a. janky) microwave:
1. Add 1/2 c water to a small bowl, carefully crack egg in, cover loosely.
2. Heat 50 seconds at power level 8.
Voila!

You may need to fiddle a few different ways to figure out the right amount of time and power for your microwave, and it’s not exactly the same as an over easy fried egg fresh from the pan since it cooks more evenly, but I found it quite satisfying to be able to have a soft, yolky egg to top whatever leftovers I had, be it rice, squash, ramen, or even salad.

20131205-131831.jpg

Meatless Moping: Chickpeas with Chard & Pan-Roasted Tomatoes

I like making meals my spouse isn’t a big fan of when he’s out of town, which usually means no meat, and more carbs. Today’s recipe is one from Real Simple Magazine shortly after a honeymoon to New Zealand, where for breakfast we had thick-cut bacon, a fried egg and a succulently delicious sautéed tomato half almost every morning we were there. Surprisingly, I found the tomatoes the tastiest feature of the dish, despite my love of bacon, and missed it when we got home (along with the warm friendliness of the kiwis on our travels). So of course, this is a reminder of that nostalgic deliciousness, even though roma tomatoes out of season from the stores here don’t taste nearly as good as in New Zealand on honeymoon. It’s a quick fixup, goes good with your staple grain/false grain of choice, with a side of Mindy Project and silent moping about.

the finished product
the finished product

Chickpeas With Chard and Pan-Roasted Tomatoes
Original Real Simple recipe here, version below is minorly altered. Time adjusted to match a gas stovetop, you may need a minute or so longer for an electric range.

Serves 4
Hands-on Time: 20m
Total Time: 50m

Ingredients
* optional: serve with brown rice, spaghetti squash, or quinoa
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* 4 small roma tomatoes, halved lengthwise
* 1 small bunch Swiss chard, thick stems and ribs removed and leaves torn (about 8 cups)
* 1/3 cup golden raisins or dried cranberries
* 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
* kosher salt and black pepper
* 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
* 2 tablespoons lemon juice

rainbow chard, roma tomatoes, dried cranberries, sliced garlic, chickpeas, lemon juice and salt.
the ingredients

Directions

1. Cook your grain/squash/fake grain of choice accordingly.

2. Twenty minutes before the grain is done, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes, cut-side down, and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until browned and starting to soften 2-3 minutes; turn and cook for 1 minute more. Transfer to a plate.

3. Reduce heat to medium and add the chard, raisins/cranberries, garlic, 2 tablespoons water, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper to the skillet. Cook, tossing, until the chard wilts, 2 minutes.

4. Return the tomatoes to the skillet, add the chickpeas and lemon juice, and toss until heated through, 1 minutes. Serve over the rice/squash/quinoa.

Notes:
I don’t ever have golden raisins on hand, and regular raisins don’t look too appetizing in this dish, so the dried cranberries usually in my pantry work fine to add a little sweetness on top of the tomato flavor. I tried this with heirloom tomatoes once too, and I don’t recommend it. Their complex flavor was lost when they turned too mushy in the pan too fast. For this post, I only made a half portion, as I had other methods to try for the rest of that chard.

ChickpeasChardTomato_Collage

Today’s Recipe Rating:
Novelty Rating: 2 of 5 stars
Made it before, but I mostly only make it when my “roommate’s” out of town, so it’s still a little rare..
Likelihood of Repeat: 75%
It’s too fast to NOT do!

Almond Florentines

Cookies Part 3 of 4.

almond florentine: the orange zest makes all the difference
almond florentine: the orange zest makes all the difference

(originally from a Food Network recipe, with minimal substitution)

Makes: ~5 dozen 3-inch Florentines, or 2 1/2 dozen 6-inch Florentine
Total Time: 1 hr 35 min
Prep 30 min
Inactive 45 min
Cook 20 min

I first had these a few years ago at Zeitgeist Kunst & Kaffee, a coffee shop in downtown Seattle near my work, and it lit up this light bulb in my head that insisted I look it up to make myself an infinite supply. It has a great crunch, and the orange zest with chocolate drizzle is just the right combination.

Ingredients
* 1 3/4 cups sliced, blanched almonds (about 5 ounces) (I still have no idea what unblanched almonds would be, I just buy sliced almonds, however they come)
* 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (can substitute: almond flour, same amount)
* Finely grated zest of 1 orange (about 2 tablespoons)
* 1/4 teaspoon fine salt (I use kosher salt without much consequence)
* 3/4 cup raw sugar
* 2 tablespoons heavy cream
* 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
* 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
* 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Chocolate Topping, optional (but why would you ever skip it):
* 2 to 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (or chocolate chips)

Directions
– Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
– Pulse the almonds in a food processor until finely chopped, but not pasty. Stir together the nuts, flour, zest and salt in a large bowl.
– Put the sugar, cream, corn syrup and butter in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a rolling boil and sugar is completely dissolved. Continue to boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla, then pour mixture into almond mixture and stir just to combine. Set aside until cool enough to handle, ~30 minutes.
– Scoop rounded teaspoons (for 3-inch cookies) of batter and roll into balls. Place on prepared baking sheet, leaving about 2 to 3 inches (shrink accordingly with cookie size) between each cookie since they spread.
– Bake 1 pan at a time, until the cookies are thin and an even golden brown color throughout, rotating pans halfway through baking time, about 8-10 minutes. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool. Repeat with remaining batter.

“Optional” chocolate topping:
– Put the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl (or smaller saucepan).
– Bring a (larger) saucepan filled with 1 inch or so of water to a very low simmer; set the bowl over, but not touching, the water. Stir the chocolate occasionally until melted and smooth.
-Drizzle melted chocolate over Florentines as desired (after trial with chopsticks, metal spoons, and other options, a rubber spatula works best).
– Set aside at room temperature until chocolate is set.

Storage tip: Store baked cookies carefully, separated by parchment or waxed paper, in an air-tight container for up to 3 days. Florentines are best stored separated from moist cookies and cakes.

Note: Special thanks to my chocolate-know-how friend for advising that getting any water in the smaller sauce pan (including a porous wooden spoon that’s wet), and using any metal for distribution would cool the chocolate too fast.

Today’s Cookie Recipe Rating:
Novelty Rating:
4 of 5 stars
In my head, this is a big ordeal to make (not especially true), so when I do make them, it still feels novel. Plus, that crunch!
Likelihood of Repeat: 99%
Chocolate, almonds, sugar, and orange zest, yum yum yum! This time I even verified that you can make it with gluten-free flour for your gluten-liberated friends, hooray! Try it with some tea or coffee too.

Sweet & Spicy Almonds

Cookies Part 3 of 4. This one whips up fast, and it’s even vegan!

sweet & spicy almonds: roast, melt the slurry, coat, add dry mix, cool. easy!
sweet & spicy almonds: roast, melt the slurry, coat, cool. easy!

(originally from All Recipes, HQ’d in Seattle! ..one adjustment here)
Makes: 2 1/2 cups almonds
Total processing time: less than 30 minutes

Ingredients
1/4 cup raw sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 1/2 cups whole almonds
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon olive oil

Directions
1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Spread the almonds onto a baking sheet, and toast until the nuts start to turn golden brown and become fragrant, about 10 minutes. Watch the nuts carefully as they bake: they burn quickly.
2. Stir together the sugar, salt, and cayenne pepper in a mixing bowl; set aside.
3. Stir together the water, honey, and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the mixture begins to bubble, stir in the toasted almonds until evenly moistened. Pour the almonds into the sugar and spice mixture, and toss until evenly coated. Spread onto baking sheets in a single layer, and cool to room temperature.

Notes: don’t breathe in too deeply when you’re mixing the dry ingredients, or you will end up coughing. I keep reading this note and still doing it. :p Also: you could use agave syrup instead of honey, it won’t stick as well and will feel a little more oily.

Today’s “Cookie” Recipe Rating:
Novelty Rating: 1 of 5 stars
Likelihood of Repeat: 85%
Since these are marginally better for you than cookies, I make them year-round, so they are very familiar. I also like that they don’t require egg whites, another recipe I tried used egg whites and things turned out funny.

Renee’s Grandma’s Sugar Cookies (a.k.a. Ardene Hindman’s)

Cookies Part 2 of 4.
Happy Thanksgiving to any fellow American friends out there! Maybe with the long weekend, you’ll want to try a cookie recipe?

sugar cookies: if gluten-free, roll between saran wrap, and add flour for less stickiness.
sugar cookies: if gluten-free, roll between saran wrap, and add flour for less stickiness.

Renee’s Grandma’s Sugar Cookies (a.k.a. Ardene Hindman)
Makes: ummmm, a whole bunch of cookies. I lost count, and I only did a half portion from what’s prescribed below.
Total Time: 60 minutes+, due to cooling time

Ingredients & Directions, per Renee:
“Cream 2 c sugar and 1 c butter.
Add 3 eggs, 1 c sour cream, 1 t salt, 2 t baking powder, 1 t lemon extract, 6 c flour.
Chill for 1-2 hours
Bake at 375 for 8 min (I do these thinly rolled with cookie cutter shapes)

+After cooling, this is the frosting, which, how my great grandma did it, went on the flat side (or what you’d think of as the back):

4 oz cream cheese
2 1/3 c powdered sugar
4 T butter
1 1/2 t vanilla

Soften cream cheese and butter in the microwave, add sugar and vanilla.
Then, of course, pretty sprinkles…”

Note: I found I bought the wrong lemon vial, so I used a combo of equal parts lemon flavor, rum, and lemon rind.

Okay, I confess, I only did the mixing and refrigerating (one batch with regular all purpose flour, the other with pamela’s gluten-free), my gluten-free friend did a lot of the rolling out, and chocolate friend did the frosting (more on chocolate friend in the 4th post). Thanks to Renee for her grandma’s recipe, and kudos to her grandma, who raised the woman who raised the woman I have been good friends with since college, who has always had a sage word in difficult times, and kept me in my sense of humor. Good luck on your Thanksgiving, Renee!

Today’s Cookie Recipe Rating:
Novelty Rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am familiar with sugar, and I’m familiar with cookies, but never any with sour and cream cheese..
Likelihood of Repeat: 65%
I definitely think this is worth trying again. More recent discussion with Renee has revealed that her mom only puts a thin layer of frosting on, which may explain the reviews from friends who said, “wow. that’s really sweet, I think I know some one who would like that..” Cookies pictured above were the gluten-free ones, which ended up with chocolate drizzles after we ran out of frosting. I am curious if it might be easier to roll out with more refrigeration after mixing so you can use cookie cutters, or if it’s just meant to be rolled into balls and flattened, definitely worth trying again to find out.

Cookie Mania!
Gingersnaps

Cookies Part 1 of 4.
Last Saturday night, the ingredients for baking cookies and cookie-like items started amassing on my kitchen countertop..

ingredients inventory: marshaling up the troops
ingredients inventory: marshaling up the troops

Okay, so they weren’t doing it all on their own. I did an inventory for my ideas to figure out what I still needed to get at the store.

insane inventory of ingredients to consolidate what was not already in the pantry
insane inventory of ingredients to consolidate what was not already in the pantry

Clearly, I overcommitted on types of cookies:

  • gingersnaps
  • chocolate chip
  • sugar cookies
  • sweet & spicy almonds
  • macaroons
  • almond florentines (my personal favorite)

Layer on top of that the plan to make some of the sugar cookies and florentines gluten-free and we have confirmation I was seized by that once-a-year crazy cookie spirit that happens around now. Must be the primal need to store up fat for the winter or something. I also stopped taking photos, as I suffer increasing embarrassment the more photos I take (even if the cookies aren’t asking me to stop). I conned a couple friends to come over and help (with the promise that they could also just come help eat them), thanks, friends! They were the saving grace, both from all their extra hands, baking expertise, gluten-free chocolate chip cookie dough (thus enabling me to abandon my non-GF efforts of that), and even a special macaroon recipe (thus allowing me to entirely cede any claim to making the macaroons with my own hands). 4 out of 6 ain’t bad. I often forget the particulars of baking things since I don’t bake year-round, so it was nice to have a few more brains in the mess. Hopefully they didn’t feel trapped at my house into baking hell..

A few rules I try to remember:

  • Always set the time for a little less than prescribed so you can check the food, or check it a little before the time.
  • Mix wet and dry ingredients separately before putting them together, so they distribute well.
  • Scale your recipe to the amount of the key ingredient you have.
  • Get other people to eat too so you aren’t sick later from too much sugar.

Less words, more food pr0n!

Since I overcommitted on the cookies in one day, I’ll be more reasonable here and post one recipe at a time (4 total) during this special holiday weekend. Let’s start with the gingersnaps, since it is a pretty enduring recipe I pull out every year, after that initial year when a certain ‘roommate’ started teasing me for baking it so many times (but that is how you get good at it!).

gingersnaps
gingersnaps

Gingersnaps
(originally from Joy of Cooking pg 707)
Makes: around 70 tiny cookies
Total Processing Time: 30-60 minutes

Ingredients & Directions
Preheat oven 325 F
(cream together..)
3/4 cup butter
2 cups sugar (raw sugar is fine)
(stir in..)
2 well-beaten eggs
1/2 cup molasses
2 tsp vinegar
(sift & add..)
3 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2-3 tsp ginger (powdered, not fresh)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves

Mix ingredients until blended. Form dough into dime-sized balls. Bake on a greased cookie sheet about 12 minutes. As ball melts, cookie gets crinkled surface. When cool, ice to taste (or in my case, not at all). Makes about 60 little cookies.

This one below I don’t have the recipe for, and can’t really take any credit for making..

macaroons: thanks to my friend's expertise!
macaroons: thanks to my friend’s expertise!

We had extra chocolate from the florentines (recipe in upcoming post), so we drizzled the macaroons too.

"hello! we're cookies! please eat us!"
The final product: little gift bag of cookies. “hello! we’re cookies! please eat us!”

Today’s Cookie Recipe Rating:
Novelty Rating:
1 of 5 stars
Likelihood of Repeat: 85%
I think I could bake these on a heavy dose of Ativan at this point..but it’s a nice standard recipe with ingredients that keep well in a pantry over time, and isn’t too sweet that you can’t eat more than one. It’s also quite tasty with a cup of hot tea or coffee.

Cranksgiving Seattle 2013

Gasworks Park, Seattle, WA

In the last few years, through a dramatic health-related life event, I have (a)become a little more acutely grateful of being alive at all, and (b)felt a more urgent need to put in the time investments now to ensure a longer and healthier life. So in that vein, after the unhappy consequences of Reduced Sugar Challenge October, November is Sustained Exercise Month, with a weekly minimum goal of 150 minutes of exercise activity (also smaller portion month, but that’s a different post). It feels like an uphill battle with the increasingly dreary overcast weather outside and waning hours of daylight, but also a necessary one to get a jump on holiday eat-o-ramas (not to mention snowboarding season).

I prefer tricking myself into exercise, like getting outside running before you are awake, so you have no choice but to continue running, or accidentally agreeing to long hikes with friends when you imagined a 2-mile flat path. Happily, this weekend a good friend of mine agreed to try out Cranksgiving Seattle 2013, a charity bike scavenger hunt that donates to the Rainier Valley Food Bank. So I got to fulfill my remaining 30+ minutes (bike commuted to and from work once, and yes, I counted the 40 minutes of raking too) while getting some sun, and helping some other folks who need it more get fed.

It was a pretty nice day for a ride, a little chilly but sunny. I like to tell myself that trying new routes (a.k.a. getting really lost) helps exercise your brain cells to ward off Alzheimer’s later too. The gathering place was Gasworks Park, and it was darn scenic:

GasworksnBike
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Method Break: Garlic Chopper Demo

My co-worker/friend Jillian was nice enough to be my last-minute date to a charity auction dinner. She was still game when it turned out the power was out in the neighborhood, and we had to bumble our way to the dining hall entrance in the dark. I did not dupe myself (for a good cause) into any 3-day weekend getaway rentals during the live auction, thanks to the other bidders a generation or two older than me, but I did score a basket full of cooking goodies!

Basket of Cooking Goods: trust me, it was a big basket, which turned out to be a mixing bowl. I just don't have a good photo.
Basket of Cooking Goods: trust me, it was a big basket, which turned out to be a mixing bowl. I just don’t have a good photo.

Included among them was a garlic chopper, which I was very very excited about, as I already have one, but it has broken slightly, and it is oh so fun to use. Note: I am not being paid at all by the manufacturers to laud this product (findable on Amazon as a “Chef’n Garlic Zoom Rolling Garlic Chopper”). My socially adept dining companion a demo here, so here it is:

Step 1: Peel garlic cloves.
Step 2: Deposit in top hatch and close hatch.
Step 3: Roll garlic chopper back and forth so the blades spin and chop the garlic.
Step 4: Open entire top half of chopper and remove garlic.
Ta da!

 

It goes, 'zzzh, zzzht, zzzzzzht!'
It goes, ‘zzzh, zzzht, zzzzzzht!’

Novelty Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Likelihood of Repeat: 100%

Certainly, you could mince garlic without this, but it’s quite the entertaining time saver if you have more than a couple cloves to chop. The same size pieces (or smaller) could be achieved by slicing one way while leaving the stem of a clove attached, then turning 90 degrees, slicing the other, and then chopping all the pieces (like this except not slicing all the way through, so it’s easier to hold on to the whole piece together before you mince it all pieces with the final step). That method works even better for onions.

Spaghetti Squash 2 Ways

There are some days when I miss spaghetti, as my household doesn’t eat much pasta at home any more (well, even if I made it, the other half would likely abstain). If it happens to be a chilly Fall day when I’m plotting a meal to make, my mind goes to spaghetti squash. I was only introduced to this intriguing squash variety a couple years ago, when to help while away a lengthy chemo session, a steadfast childhood friend stopped by with some, miraculously procuring something that appeared both vegetable and pasta-like! How novel! I could feel my brain stretching as I ate it…

That brings us to today’s recipe, an amalgam of internet advice and my squash baking experiences. Note: I’ve starred a couple options that I consider more fattening (and therefore tasty).

(1) Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Zucchini Sausage Saute: looks like spaghetti, still tastes like healthy..

spaghetti squash as pasta dish
spaghetti squash as pasta dish

Ingredients:
1/2 spaghetti squash (you can bake the whole thing, but the rest of this only needs half the squash)
1/2 sweet onion
2 cloves garlic
1.5 zucchini squash, sliced and halved
chicken apple sausage, sliced and halved (or polska kielbasa sausage*)
butter* or olive oil (for squash baking)
saffola oil (for frying)
salt & pepper (to taste)
thyme (to taste)
parmesan, grated or thinly sliced (your choice)
cheat ingredient: bottled pasta sauce

makes: 4 servings

The Squash:

    1. Preheat oven to 350
    2. Cut spaghetti squash in halve lengthwise, de-seed (shortcut option: poke squash with a fork and microwave for a few minutes to presoften before you fight the rind to cut it, this may result in a mushier end product, though)
    3. Oil or butter (I was feeling decadent so I used butter this time) the flat surface of the squash and lay, cut sides down, on a baking sheet.
    4. Bake spaghetti squash in oven about 30 minutes (check after 20 if you microwaved before cutting), until barely tender when poked with a fork.
    5. While you wait, you can work on sauteing the other stuff per directions below, or go do a little yoga (I did the latter this time, since then the saute wouldn’t cool too much while I was scraping out the squash).
    6. Remove squash from oven, let cool to a temperature to handle, then scrape the squash flesh out with a fork. As you scrape, it will come apart into spaghetti-like shapes. For most squash sizes I’ve seen, if you scrape out only half the squash, that will be enough for this recipe to serve 4, so the other half can be scraped out and put aside for a recipe another day, or frozen.

The Other Stuff:

    1. In a large frying pan on medium, saute onions 2 minutes in saffola oil.
    2. Add garlic, stir a bit.
    3. Add zucchini and sausage, saute 7 minutes or until at desired tender-crispness of zucchini and browning of sausage.

Combine:

  1. Add the squash to the pan, fold ingredients together, sprinkle with thyme, salt, and pepper to taste.
  2. Pour the pasta sauce and mix until warmed through.
  3. Serve with parmesan on top. You can also try it with goat cheese.
spaghetti squash as pasta recipe.
spaghetti squash as pasta recipe.

This week’s trial recipe #1 rating:
Novelty Rating:
2 of 5 stars
I’ve made this before. I get so excited when it’s plated like spaghetti, but the texture and flavor really aren’t anywhere close, it’s pretty crunchy. In retrospect I may have undercooked it, for fear of overcooking it into mush. Booooo.
Likelihood of Repeat: 35%
I’ve made this a few times, and my spouse’s reaction when he hears I’m making it is always, “that seems like a lot of effort for small gain.” So I think the spaghetti squash + pasta sauce combination is on its way out. Since I’m not on the Paleo or Atkins diets, why make spaghetti squash when you miss spaghetti?
Also, why did I make squash (spaghetti) with squash (zucchini)? C-razzy.
I think I need to find another spaghetti squash recipe that just treats it like spaghetti, and stick with Nom Nom Paleo’s Zucchini Spaghetti on those days when I can’t bring myself to cook actual pasta, but have time to julienne zucchinis. You got any?

In general, I am big proponent of eating things for the sake of their own taste, something I like to mention to my vegetarian friends when I agree on the tastiness of tofu, fried gluten, or quorn. Unfortunately, this seems to be an instance where I forgot about that in my enthusiasm for (a)my love of pasta and (b)the novelty of a weird squash that yields fun.

..so a few days later I figured I’d need to do something with that other half of the spaghetti squash (since I didn’t have an army sitting around to feed), something that treats it like squash rather than pasta. I adjusted this recipe from Cookin’ Canuck for Spaghetti Squash with Gorgonzola with Dried Cherries & Pecans for what I had and packed it up for lunch. Sorry, no pictures this time, ate it too soon during work to catch one.

(2) Spaghetti Squash Salad

Ingredients:
1/2 a spaghetti squash
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/8 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese (more lactose-intolerant friendly)
1/4 cup almonds, roughly chopped and toasted (was out of pecans)
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 green onions (white & green parts), thinly sliced

Steps:

  1. Roast spaghetti squash per steps 1-4, and 6 in other recipe above.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together, olive oil, vinegar and salt.
  3. Pour vinaigrette into the spaghetti squash and toss. Add cheese, pecans, cherries, and most of green onions, stir well, and serve cold.

This week’s trial recipe #2 rating:
Novelty Rating:
4 of 5 stars
May have baked one too many spaghetti squash this season for it to feel novel..
Likelihood of Repeat: 90%
I still have some left over in the freezer and I plan to defrost and use it as a salad later. The slight tartness of the balsamic vinegar makes me less expectant that it should be heavy and filling, and therefore I found it more satisfying to eat. My friend I shared it with also gave positive reviews.

Food-Related Entertainment from the Internet

Just a little tidbit post on Official Blog Debut Week for Food the Wong Way:
In case you haven’t seen this yet, hilarious responses to pictures (pictures only) of American food from a Tumblr user teaching in China: Chinese Students Hilariously Describe What They Think About Regional American Food.

It is extra funny because of how a normal-sounding sentence in Chinese gets distorted when literally translated into English as a somewhat pithy exclamation. For the record, despite being raised in the Midwest, I still had no idea chicken fried steak was not chicken until this year. How the heck are you supposed to ever guess that?