Use it up: The buttermilk edition

One of the things that makes me antsy when I cook and bake is buying a special ingredient for a recipe and having a lot of it left over after I am done making the recipe. Sometimes I decide I really like the ingredient and start cooking more recipes that use it like I did with fish sauce. Other times I look at a recipe and decide to leave the ingredient out like skipping one of the three herbs that were recommended for the Thai Ground Pork Salad I made last week. Sometimes though you cannot leave out an ingredient if you want a recipe to turn out right.

Last week I had to make a dessert for a lunch for the teachers at my kids school. I wanted to make something would look and taste great so I decided to make a bundt. I found a delicious sounding recipe for a Double-Chocolate Bundt Cake with Ganache Glaze and checked the ingredient list. I had all the ingredients with the exception of buttermilk which was something I could not leave out if I wanted the cake to turn out right. I figured I could get a pint of buttermilk that I would be able to mostly use up in the recipe and then I might have just a little left over to make banana bread. However once at the grocery store I could only find a larger quart of buttermilk that meant I would have a lot left over. The cake turned out great with the exception of needing to add a little more cream to the chocolate ganache glaze to get it to pour smoothly over the cake. 

I used up the rest of the buttermilk by making a variety of great treats over the next week:

  • Cinnamon-Buttermilk Muffins – Delicious muffins that my kids and co-workers ate right up. I used pre-ground nutmeg instead of freshly grated nutmeg.
  • Orange and Dark Chocolate Buttermilk Scones – This was another great recipe that my co-workers loved. I used the left over oranges that I needed for the zest to make fresh squeezed orange juice
  • Red Velvet Cupcakes – I really like red velvet cake as it has a nice chocolate flavor but it not overwhelming like a regular chocolate cake recipe. I made these cupcakes for a Super Bowl party and then took the left overs to work. 

I still have at least a cup of buttermilk left and am trying to decide what to bake next. I’m considering these Cheddar and Leek Muffins since I also have a leek to use up or maybe these scones which I’ve made in the past. Either way I’ll be happy once I’ve got my buttermilk used up!

Cooking and eating new foods: More Thai recipes

In my last post, I talked about how I have been cooking more Thai food and I’ve continued that trying out two more recipes in the last week with a few new ingredients.

The first recipe is for Pad See Yew from Food & Wine Magazine, which is a rice noodle based dish. One of the nice things about this recipe is that is uses noodles which can be a nice change for Asian recipes that suggest serving them with rice and the noodles are also gluten free (since they are made with rice not wheat). It is a good recipe to make on weeknights as it just requires minimal chopping of the vegetables and you can reuse one pot for cooking both the bok choy and rice noodles. The sauce for this recipe uses miso paste, fish sauce, and oyster sauce that gives it a strong unami flavor. The recipe does not specify a specific kind of miso paste so I went ahead and used left over red miso paste that I had from making Grilled Beef Tenderloin Skewers with Red Miso Glaze. I followed the recipe and sliced the chiles in rings and put them on top of the noodles but I think they would be better if they were diced and then sprinkled on top. The recipe was a hit on my house and I’ll be making it again.

The second recipe I tried was Thai Ground Pork Salad. I like this recipe because like the Thai Beef with Basil using ground pork means there is less prep work that again is great for a weeknight dinner. The sauce for this dish once again uses fish sauce along with Sriracha for heat and three kinds of herbs for lots brightness. You can chop the herbs by hand or if you have a mini food processer or herb chopper I would recommend using it to speed up the prep work. The recipe recommends a leafy lettuce like Boston lettuce for serving. I went ahead and used Romaine hearts for serving and also ate some of the pork right over rice.  This is another recipe that we will be eating in my house again.

Cooking and eating new foods: The Thai food edition

thai been with basil

Growing up, I was raised on a pretty basic American diet of things like macaroni and cheese, tuna noodle casserole, basic grilled steak and chicken, some Mexican food (since I lived in San Diego) and fish (because my Dad loved to fish). The most exotic food we ate was Chinese food when we went out and we usually stayed with dishes like sweet and sour chicken or lemon chicken. After college I moved to the bay area and discovered how diverse Asian cuisine really was. I lived in the east bay not far from a Berkeley neighborhood known as the gourmet ghetto where there were a wide range of restaurants from Japanese, Burmese, Thai and more. I started out cautiously eating teriyaki chicken and edamame and overtime moved on to sushi (with raw fish!), Thai dishes like pad see yew and pad thai, Indian curries, and more. I still live near a wide range of Asian restaurants but with two kids who live off of chicken nuggets I don’t eat at them often. Instead I’ve started making more Asian food at home and found that it isn’t too hard. I have accumulated the basic ingredients for Asian cooking at home like fish sauce, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, oyster sauce and add to them depending on the recipe I want to try out.

Recently I have been focused on Thai food and recently tried out a new recipe for Thai beef with basil from Bon Appetit. This recipe is great as it uses ground beef that does not require any prep work. It also uses basil two ways, wilted in with the beef and then on top like a salad which means you most likely will be able to use up a whole bunch of basil in this recipe (instead of having any left over basil which can go bad quickly). The soy-fish sauce-lime dressing adds a great flavor contrast to the spice from the beef and carrot salad. Overall this is a great weeknight meal that can be cooked in about 30 minutes or less if you can do some prep the night before to shred the carrots like make the salad dressing. A few more notes on the recipe:

  • The recipe calls for red chiles but green are fine as well, they just don’t look as pretty. If you don’t have Thai chiles use Serrano chiles in their place. 
  • If your basil leaves are very large, I would suggest either tearing or cutting up the ones that are being used in the salad on top of the beef. I had some really large basil leaves when I made this recipe and I found them difficult to eat. 

More food to keep you warm

One of the best Christmas presents my husband ever bought me was a Staub cast iron coq au vin pot. The pot is beautiful cobalt blue and is just the right size for the classic French dish coq au vin (chicken braised in wine). I however prefer to use it to make for another warming winter dish, braised beef short ribs. Before I got this pot, I had them eaten in restaurants but never thought of trying to make at home. Once I had this pot thought I wanted to try to tackle them and found that they were fairly straightforward to make. 

This winter I’ve tried two different braised short rib recipes. The first was a recipe from Food and Wine Magazine by Tom Colicchio, the top judge on the television show Top Chef. The recipe did not call for too many ingredients but the recipe was too complicated (despite only having 5 steps!). The second recipe came from Bon Appetit. It required more ingredients but was simpler to make with fewer steps. One of the great thing about this and most braising recipes is that once you sear the meat and get all the vegetables and braising liquid into the pot, the meat will just cook on its own for 2 hours giving you time to do something else. The other great thing about this recipe is that you can make it ahead and then keep it in refrigerator overnight. When the braising liquid cools, the fat in it will turn into a solid layer on the top of the liquid which you can then just pull out if the pot. Taking the fat off this way is much easier then trying to skim it off while cooking and leaves you with rich meaty braising liquid to use as a sauce without any fatty flavor. I love serving the braised ribs with sautéed spinach or roast root vegetables and mashed potatoes. 

A few more notes about making braised beef short ribs:

  • When you get your short ribs, try to get ones that have a nice thick amount of meat of them and that all the ribs you get are about the same thickness. If you are getting them from a meat counter, you want English cut short ribs in 2 inch pieces. My butcher gave me a few skinnier ribs which don’t leave you with much meat after the braising is done.
  • If you don’t have all the fresh herbs called for in the Bon Appetit receipt, don’t sweat it. I left out the oregano since I did not have any on hand. I would not substitute in the dried version of any of these herbs as it might be hard to strain them out of the braising liquid. 

Food to keep you warm

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Winter is officially here and in most places it is pretty cold! To combat the cold, I like to cook warm, conforming food that can be made quickly or even made ahead. In the last month I’ve tried two new recipes that fit this bill.

The first recipe is for Cider Braised Pork Meatballs from Dinner a Love Story. I am a big fan of the traditional Italian meatball and these are a fresh take on meatballs. They are very fast to mix up and the nice thing about the recipe is once the meatballs are formed they pretty much cook own their own in a braising liquid letting you do something else (set the table, cook other side dishes, help kids with homework). The recipe calls for apple cider but I just used a regular apple juice which seemed to work fine. After cooking the meatballs, you add some cream into the braising liquid to turn it into a sauce for serving. The sauce is very thin and liquidy so I would recommend serving these meatballs in a bowl instead of on a plate so the sauce does spread out all over the plate. These meatballs freeze great in a little extra sauce/braising liquid.

The second recipe I tried was Soft Polenta with Mixed Mushrooms and Gremolata from Food and Wine. Don’t be scared by the word “gremolata”, it is just garlic, parsley and lemon zest. The recipe calls for uncooked polenta that needs to be whisked and cooked for 30 minutes on the stovetop. If you want to speed the recipe up you can use a precooked polenta like I did (Trader Joes makes a great one) and just add water or chicken stock to get the creamy consistency that the recipe requires. For the rest of the recipe I used shiitake mushroom and a few chanterelle mushrooms that I had splurged on at the farmers market and baby spinach. Since the spinach leaves were already small I skipped chopping them up. The mascarpone cheese, which is just dolloped on top of the polenta, mushrooms, and greens makes the dish nice and creamy when it melts on top of everything. I would definitely recommend this recipe for a vegetarian meal if you want to reduce the amount of meat you are eating or if you having vegetarian guests over for dinner.

School potlucks and cakewalks

With the school year fully under way for my two kids, I have been spending time looking for recipes for a range of school events. Here are two new recipes I tried out last week.

The first recipe I tried was for a pumpkin carving party and potluck for my daughter’s kindergartener class. I had to go out of town for work right before the party so I needed to find a recipe that could be completely made two days in advance and then baked right before the event. I also wanted to make something that the kids and adults would both like. I settled on a baked pasta dish and found a recipe for Marja’s Mac-and-Cheese from Food and Wine. Marja is the wife of a famous celebrity chef, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and supposedly he likes this recipe so much he put it on the menu at one of his restaurants. The recipe is very easy to assemble in advance as the only thing to do is boil the pasta and then mix everything together. I put the ready to bake pasta in the refrigerator for two days and then baked it right before the party. It turned out great and it was almost completely eaten by the end of the party. Make sure you bake it in a 10 by 15 inch baking dish or at a minimum a 9 by 13 inch dish as one of the best parts of the mac and cheese if the cheesey top formed by the various cheese melted and browned together.

The second recipe I tried was for Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcakes from Bakerella. I needed something for a cake walk contest and thought the cupcakes looked really fancy so they would get chosen right away. Like the recipe states, the cupcake batter is very liquidy so it is easier to pour in the batter than trying to spoon or scoop it into the muffin pans. The frosting was very easy to make but I had a hard time getting the two different kinds into the frosting bag side by side. I wound up with a lot of peanut butter frosting at the tip of the bag before I got the peanut butter coming out at the same time as the chocolate.  Regardless of how the frosting mix came out, the big swirls of frosting looked really good and the women organizing  the cake walk were both impressed when I dropped the cupcakes off. Bakerella also made peanut butter cookies for the top of the cupcakes but that was a little much for me so I just left them off. The frosted cupcakes were amazing all by themselves. 

The pumpkin recipe round up

The weather has finally cooled down in the bay area that means that instead of spending all my time outside grilling, I am back inside cooking and happily baking. Since it is fall and almost Halloween and Thanksgiving I have been finding all sort of new pumpkin related baking recipes. I have been trying these new recipes out one at a time in preparation for a few bake sales coming up with fall.

The first recipe I tried out was from Martha Stewart for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Squares. The recipe is very easy to make using an electric mixer. The lining of the baking pan with aluminum foil was a little awkward but it did help the bake squares pop right out. I used mini chocolate chips instead of regular ones and only used a little over ¾ of the bag of chips (9-10 ounces) to make sure the chocolate would not overwhelm the pumpkin flavor. The resulting bars were really moist but still firm enough that they did not fall apart too easily. My kids and coworkers really seemed to enjoy them so I will likely make them again.

Since the Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Squares only used half of a can of pumpkin puree, I decided to make a recipe from Bakerella for Pumpkin Pecan Chocolate Chunk Cookies to use up the rest of the puree. Once again the recipe was easy to mix in an electric mixer however a few of the ingredients were challenging for me. First I did not have self-rising flour but thankfully Googling returned several recipes for making your own self-rising flour. Second I did not have chocolate chunks so I just used regular chocolate chips. The baked cookies came out soft and crumbled more easily than a regular chocolate chip cookie. They tasted great though and once again got the kid and coworker approval. 

If you are looking for more pumpkin recipes, here are a few I found that I though looked good and will probably make in the near future:

Salad for dinner

Since I cook a lot I often wind up with small amounts of left over herbs, vegetables, fruits, meats, and cheeses that I’m not sure how or when they will get used up but that I would feel guilty just throwing away. My new go to solution is to combine them into a salad. I often start with the idea of reproducing a salad that I’ve had at a restaurant or with a salad recipe from a magazine or book. Since my goal is to use up my ingredients, I give myself a lot of leeway to leave an ingredient out or substitute something similar to the recipe instead of buying more items that I’ll need to figure out how to use in the future. A couple of key substitutions that I often make:

  • Switching one protein for another like shrimp for chicken or pork for beef.
  • Swapping tomato type, like using a large diced tomato instead of cherry tomatoes.
  • Being flexible on the type of lettuce that is called for in a recipe.
  • Interchanging crunchy vegetables like celery for bell peppers or fennel. Switching these can be a little trickier based on the flavors of the vegetables.
  • Using left over cooked vegetables especially grilled or roasted ones in the place of raw vegetables.

The first salad I like to make to use up the extra items in my kitchen is a play on the BBQ Chicken Chopped Salad from California Pizza Kitchen. There are recipes on the web that attempt to recreate the salad in intricate details including how to make buttermilk ranch dressing and fried tortilla chips from scratch. I take a more casual approach to the salad using items from each the following to make something similar to the recipe at CPK.

  • Lettuce – any kind of mixed greens, basil or cilantro leaves if you have them
  • Chicken – ideally left over barbequed chicken but could also use plain roasted or poached chicken
  • Fruits/vegetables – some combination of the following based on what you have on hand: avocado, tomato, bell pepper (raw or roasted), corn (canned, frozen or fresh, raw or grilled), jicama, scallions,
  • Other items – black beans or cheese (Monterey jack, cheddar, or cojita cheese), fried tortilla strips
  • Salad dressing – ranch or buttermilk, barbecue sauce

You can assemble the recipe by tossing everything together or if you want something nicer looking you can line up the ingredients like on top of the lettuce like a Cobb salad and use a squeeze bottle to drizzle the dressing and barbecue sauce across the top of the salad. If you are a vegetarian, just leave out the chicken for a Mexican salad.

The other salad I have started making is a chopped Italian salad based on a recipe that I found in the cookbook, Salad for Dinner. The recipe from the book was pretty straightforward but again it was something you could customize based on that you were trying to use up.

  • Lettuce – any kind of mixed greens ideally with radicchio, basil
  • Meats – cut up salami (cubes or strips), chicken grilled or roasted with Italian herbs (oregano, basil, fennel seeds)
  • Fruits/vegetables – some combination of the following based on what you have on hand: tomato, onion, bell pepper (raw or roasted), olives, artichoke hearts, roasted or grilled zucchini or asparagus
  • Other items – chickpeas or cannellini beans, cheese cubes (something Italian like asagio, parmesan, ricotta salata, pecorino)
  • Salad dressing – Italian dressing

 Once again assemble by tossing all of it together. I don’t think I’d go for the Cobb salad ingredient lines in this chopped salad but I might arrange some of the items like the artichoke hearts neatly on the top for a prettier presentation.

So there you go two new options for turning all the bits of left overs into delicious salads. Hopefully you are inspired to your hand at a new salad creation.

The Monday night dinner rush

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It’s Monday today which for most people means that it can be a hectic day of the week getting back into the work week and school week. For me, it is extra hectic as I have a conference call with colleagues in Japan, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and other parts of Asia. Because of the time difference between California and all of those other regions, we start the call at 5pm. If I am lucky, it ends right at 6pm. Some nights though, it can run late or even if it ends on time I get stuck in traffic on the way home meaning by the time I get home it can be 6:30pm at the earliest or even later. I’ve found the easiest way to deal with my late arrival home is to have something made ahead that can be cooked in the oven while I am driving home. The newest recipe I’ve found for making ahead is vegetable enchiladas from the Williams-Sonoma Taste blog. The recipe is super simple using a green jarred salsa and a combination of common vegetables. I like the green salsa as it gives the enchiladas a different flavor then the spicier red enchilada sauce. The recipe calls for corn (fresh or frozen), onions, and zucchini but I could easily imagine changing out the vegetables to use up what ever you have on hand like maybe broccoli or spinach for the zucchini (probably steaming the broccoli slightly first) and bell pepper for the zucchini. A few other notes about the recipe:

  • The recipe makes 12 enchiladas and the average serving size is about 2 enchiladas. I cooked some of the enchiladas the night I made them and then froze the rest in batches of four. I just defrosted one of the batches last night for dinner tonight and I am happy to report that they were just as good after being frozen as they are when made fresh. One key thing I think is that I froze them by themselves without the salsa in the bottom of the dish or on top of the enchiladas.
  • I serve the enchiladas with the recommended sour cream as well as avocado and diced tomato for more choices. 

How to make your coworkers happy

At the end of last year, I finally got back into the habit of baking treats to take into work to share with some of my co-workers. One thing I have noticed about taking treats into work is that breakfast type treats like muffins are usually more popular that other things like cookies, cakes, or pies. It seems like most people think of muffins as more healthy and in the mornings there will usually be people who skipped breakfast who are excited to get a muffin to eat. I recently tried two new muffin recipes to share at work.

 The first recipe was Banana Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting. I did not make the frosting so I felt like it was more like a muffin than a cupcake. I had picked this recipe because I had an abundance of frozen ripe bananas that I wanted to get out of my refrigerator and this recipe was very simple using sour cream which I usually have on hand (unlike some other banana muffin recipes that call for buttermilk). The muffins that it produced were very light and moist thanks to the extra time creaming of the butter and sugar and the alternating mixing with the flour and sour cream and banana mixture. The muffins were a huge hit with my coworkers and kids. 

The second recipe I tried was for Blackberry Crumb Muffins that I found when reading the New York Times web site. These muffins that were more like little crumb cakes in a muffin. This recipe also used sour cream to add moisture and had a longer mixing time for the butter and sugar. The one area where I stumbled was in the assembly of the muffins. As the recipe instructed I only filled the tins half way and then loaded up the tins with the crumb topping. While I thought that I had put enough crumb topping on the muffins, I was still left with quite a bit of the topping mixture after going over all the muffins. Then when the muffins cooked and expanded there were spots on the muffins that did not have any crumbs so I think the key to getting the muffins to have really crumb filled tops is to use up all of the mixture. These muffins were a big hit with the coworkers but not at much with the kids as they did not seem to like the cooked blueberries. If I was making them for kids, I might make them plain as just “crumb muffins” without any blueberries.