Thursday, February 28, 2008

Baklava Disaster

I have 3 packages of phyllo dough in my freezer. I'm not sure why, but they're there. So I figured I'd try to make some baklava. I bought some walnuts and honey at the store, and I was ready to get started. Yeah, I know, they look delicious, but they weren't.

My first mistake: not enough layers.

Second mistake: not enough brown sugar

Third mistake: I thought I would substitute some chopped dates for brown sugar. Not a good idea.

Fourth mistake: not enough butter brushed over each phyllo dough sheet.

Fifth and most important mistake: making up a recipe before practicing with a tried-and-true recipe.

Because I didn't do enough layers, the baklava was too airy. Without enough brown sugar, the layers didn't stick to each other during baking. The dates got chewy during baking and gave the baklava a weird texture. And without enough butter, it just turned out crispy.

Let me just say, for the record, this was my first attempt at baklava. I read through some recipes and I thought I could wing it. This method has worked for me before, but it certainly didn't this time.

Don't make the same mistakes I did. Follow a good recipe and then modify once you've gotten the method. And when they say to let it sit for several hours before eating, do it!
P.S. Watch the cloves. Too much and it'll be all you can taste.

Good For What Ails Ya (Ancient Chinese Recipe)...

...if what ails you is a cold, a sore throat, a stopped-up get what I'm saying.

Well that's what is ailing me - I guess I picked up a bug from someone a few days ago.

When I was lucky enough to have my mom around to take care of me when I got sick, she would make us this (ancient Chinese!) recipe to help me feel a little better. So whenever I catch a cold, I make it for myself.

1 sweet potato
1 medium-sized ginger root
brown sugar

Peel one sweet potato and cut into 1 ½ to 2 inch cubes.
Peel the ginger and slice – doesn’t have to be perfect because you’re not going to eat the ginger.
Throw your potatoes and ginger into a medium sized pot. Pour enough water to cover the potatoes and then a little more. About 4-6 cups of water.
Add ¼ to ½ cup of brown sugar – depends on how sweet you want it. You might start out with less and work your way up.
Bring to a boil and simmer for 30-45 minutes.

Serve hot and sip like coffee or tea.

I like mine sweet, so I make sure to put enough brown sugar. It all depends on your taste. Besides, the ginger is the active ingredient in this recipe, so just be sure to have enough of it in your soup.

I read somewhere that ginger is as effective for nausea as Dramamine. I also read that ginger was known for its warming action on the upper respiratory tract. I can attest to the fact that when I drink this soup, my nasal passages immediately clear up. Anyone who walks in the house while you're making this soup will agree.

I don't know what the purpose of the sweet potato is, but it's delicious and that's good enough for me.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Orzo-Stuffed Bell Peppers

I have a few rules about the meals I make for my customers. They have to, at the very least:

1. Taste great
2. Be healthy
3. Be easy to reheat
4. Incorporate protein, starch, and vegetables
5. Be as appealing to the eye as it is to the mouth

I think this recipe for orzo-stuffed bell peppers really fits the bill:

½ cup orzo
4 bell peppers – any color you prefer ( I like assorted colors)
½ lb ground turkey
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
½ red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed and diced
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
1 tsp tabasco sauce (optional)
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 400° F.
Slice bell peppers in half, longwise (from top to bottom). Set aside.
Cook orzo to al-dente as directed. Drain and set aside.
Brown ground turkey.While cooking, add worcestershire sauce. Drain and set aside.
In the same pan, saute garlic in olive oil for about 2 minutes over medium heat taking care not to burn.
Add the diced red bell pepper and cook for another minute.
Slowly add the diced tomatoes, crushed red pepper, tabasco, and 1 tsp salt and simmer for about 2-3 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the orzo, ground turkey and tomato mixture. Mix well to combine.
Scoop orzo mixture into each bell pepper half. Place the peppers in a large casserole dish. Carefully pour about 1 cup of chicken broth into the bottom of the dish.
Cover dish with foil and bake for 35-45 minutes.

While the diced red bell pepper in the stuffing is not necessary, it did add a nice bite. I added it because I had some left over from my salmon cakes.

Also, you don’t have to add the crushed red pepper. We like things just a little spicy around here, so I like to add pepper and Tabasco whenever I can.

To make this vegetarian, you can leave out the ground turkey, double the orzo, and use vegetable broth instead. You can also add spinach.

Lastly, you don’t have to use orzo. Using brown rice would work as well. The only drawback is that brown rice takes a long time to cook. Orzo, being pasta, cooks in about 9 minutes.

Chinese Fast Food Breakfast

I'm typing this, and I'm already giggling about how envious my sister is going to be when she sees what I had for breakfast!

We were lucky to have a very "international" childhood. We spent a lot of time in Costa Rica, Taiwan, and the Philippines. I remember being a kid and going out for the day with my sister and my mom in Taipei, but before we started running whatever errands had to be run, my mom would take us out for breakfast. My favorite was a cup of hot soy milk, sweetened of course, and this thing that sort of looks like a long crueller. It is basically bread shaped like a long stick and then fried so it's crunchy on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside. It is called a "yu tiao" which (sort of) translates into "fried strips." I guess you could call this the Chinese version of a doughnut. YUM!

All I did (because I was lazy) was heat soy milk in the microwave and heat these pre-made yu tiao (from the Chinese store). Mom used to make soy milk, so I'll see if I can get a recipe from her and post it later. I was looking for a recipe for the yu tiao but all I found was:
1 loaf frozen bread dough
oil for frying
- Thaw dough overnight
-Cut dough into 24 strips
-Allow the dough to sit at room temp for an hour
-Heat oil for frying
-Fry each strip till golden brown and crispy
I'm all for making things at home, but I'd rather get someone else to do my frying for me - big pots of hot oil scare me. I picked up a 3-pack of yu-tiao for less than $2.00 at the store. The reheating instructions were:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook for 3-4 minutes. Enjoy!
So anyway, this is what Chinese people eat for breakfast :)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Turkey Chili

One of our friends, Forrest, has been talking about chili lately. His office is having a chili cook-off. Since it's a little cold today, and I've had chili on my mind, I made chili for lunch.

The funny thing about chili is that everyone I know who already has a recipe for chili is most likely not going to change that recipe. I did, however, try something different today, and I think it's a keeper.

This recipe includes adobo chile, something that I tried for the first time last week. Technically it's chipotle chile in adobo sauce. A chipotle is a smoked jalapeno. The adobo sauce is made from vinegar, spices, and tomato sauce. I used both the chile and the sauce in my recipe.

The adobo chile and the cayenne in the recipe give the chili a back-of-the-mouth heat while the Tabasco gives it an initial bite. We like to use ground turkey because we try to keep the red-meat intake at home to a minimum. And we like lots of beans so I use three different types (mostly for color).
I like to top my chili with cheddar and sour cream.

Turkey Chili

1 lb ground turkey (85/15 is best)
1 can black beans (14.5 oz)
1 can kidney beans (14.5 oz)
1 can pinto beans (14.5 oz)
1 can diced tomato (28 oz)
1 can adobo chiles
¼ cup chili powder
2 tbsp cumin
2 tsp onion powder (or dried onion)
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp cayenne
Tabasco sauce
Salt to taste

In a small food processor, chop 4-5 adobo chiles with about ¼ cup of diced tomatoes. (You will have leftover chiles – you can keep these in a plastic bag in the fridge for a few weeks).
Brown the ground turkey in a large Dutch oven. With ground turkey, you have to keep separating the meat while it is cooking, or you’ll get big chunks of turkey.
Once the turkey is browned, add your adobo chile and tomato mix. Mix to combine.
Add beans, the remaining tomatoes, and the spices.
Allow chili to simmer for at least 15 minutes.
Add tabasco to taste.
Add salt to taste.
**Update: Forrest's chili won Most Beautiful Chili. Maybe he will share his recipe with us!**

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Chocolate Cherry Muffins

I was at Central Market in Fort Worth the other day, just browsing my favorite section of the store: the bulk foods section.
I could spend an hour in this area. They offer dried fruits, flours, beans, candies, spices, coffee, rice, and pasta. It's like the Jelly Belly section at Target but for adults (though I like to spend time at the Jelly Belly section too).
Anyway, I bought some dried cherries because I'd never had any. I ate nearly half the bag before I got home which is why this recipe makes only a small batch of muffins! I thought I'd pair them with chocolate because I love chocolate and cherries.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup sour cream
1/3 cup milk
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup chocolate chips (you can use milk chocolate, though I used semi-sweet)
1/2 cup dried cherries, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners
Into a bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Melt butter and in a small bowl whisk together with sour cream, milk, egg, and vanilla.
Stir butter mixture, chocolate chips, and cherries into flour mixture just until combined (don't overmix, please!)
Using a 1/3 measuring cup, scoop muffin mix into lined muffin cups.
Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

Grilled Lemon Chicken & Couscous

Grilled Lemon Chicken

3 lemons, halved and juiced
5 cloves garlic
5-6 sprigs rosemary, leaves only and roughly chopped
½ cup olive oil

4-5 lbs chicken (breast or thighs) with skin

Mix the marinade ingredients together. Toss chicken in a large gallon bag; you’ll probably need two. Pour marinade and lemon halves in the bag. Mix well to cover the chicken. Marinate for up to 4 hours.

Turn grill on high to heat grills. Once the chicken is on the grill, turn down to med-low. Grill each side for 10-15 minutes if grilling breasts, or 8-10 minutes if thighs, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken registers 150-155° F. Take the chicken off the grill, place on a plate and cover with foil. The temperature will continue to rise even after the chicken has been taken off the grill, allowing the chicken to reach 160°. Allow the chicken to rest at least 10 minutes before serving.

Lemon Couscous
1 box couscous, prepared
6-8 strips of roasted red peppers, roughly chopped
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 lemon, juiced
1 ½ tbsp olive oil
salt to taste

Mix red peppers, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt into prepared couscous. Serve hot or at room temperature. You could top with feta or goat cheese.

A note about preparing couscous: My sister always says that everytime she’s ever had couscous, it’s been lacking in flavor, and I tend to agree. I find that using a chicken bullion cube (Maggi brand is my favorite) in the two cups of water required to prepare the box of couscous gives it a really yummy flavor.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Roasted Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Sandwiches

Roasted Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Sandwiches

½ recipe of Homemade Rosemary Focaccia or 1 round store-bought focaccia
4 oz goat cheese
4 oz neufchatel cheese (or cream cheese), softened to room temperature
1 jar roasted red peppers
4 oz spring mix lettuce

Cut focaccia in half (through the middle of the loaf so that you end up with a top and a bottom half).
Place the bread, cut side up, on a cookie sheet and broil until just toasted.
In a small bowl, mix goat cheese and softened neufchatel cheese until well mixed.
Spread the cheese mixture on each half of the focaccia.
Top one half of the bread with spring mix; press the lettuce slightly into the cheese mixture so that it will stay put when you cut the sandwiches.
Top lettuce with roasted red peppers.
Put the two focaccia halves together and cut the bread into smaller sandwiches.

You can cut into small pieces to serve as finger food, or you can cut into larger sandwiches for lunch.

Rosemary & Garlic Focaccia

1 lb store-bought pizza dough
1-2 sprigs rosemary (leaves only), roughly chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400° F.
Allow the pizza dough to come close to room temperature. This makes the dough easier to handle and roll.
In a small bowl, mix the olive oil, rosemary, and garlic. Allow the flavors to blend a little while you are preparing the dough.
Cut the dough into two, if you’d like to have two smaller loaves.
On a lightly floured surface, roll each half into long, rounded rectangles. Transfer the dough onto parchment paper.
Brush the rosemary & garlic oil on the top of each loaf. Reserve a little bit of the oil.
Bake for 20-25 minutes.
After removing from the oven, brush lightly with remaining olive oil and sprinkle the bread with salt and pepper.

Honeyed Figs with Goat Cheese and Prosciutto

Disclaimer: This was an experiment.


6 dried Calimyrna figs, trimmed of the stems and cut in half

3 tbsp honey

1 rosemary sprig, leaves only

1 oz prosciutto (cut into six squares)

1 oz goat cheese

1/3 puff pastry sheet

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a small pan, heat honey and rosemary until the mixture thins a little.

Add the figs and heat through so that the figs soak up the honey and rosemary flavor.

Remove pan from heat.

Roll out puff pastry and cut into 6 squares (can just be square-ish, doesn't have to be perfect)

Take two fig halves and place on top of a piece of the prosciutto. Top with a little goat cheese.

Wrap the figs with the prosciutto to make a little pouch.

Place the prosciutto pouch on one puff pastry square; fold the pastry into a little envelope by taking opposite corners to meet in the middle. Repeat with the remaining figs, prosciutto, goat cheese, and puff pastry.

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown.

Cool for a few minutes before eating. Can also be served at room temperature.

My gauge of "good" is whether I will eat all of them or not. I ate all of them. But I think I could have used a little more goat cheese. And maybe I could have topped the pastry with honey. All in all, though, these were pretty good as prepared.

Salmon Cakes with Remoulade

Salmon Cakes

6 3oz filets of salmon, cooked and flaked or 1 can (16 oz) salmon
½ red bell pepper, diced into small cubes
½ green bell pepper, diced into small cubes
1 bunch green onion, diced
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
4 slices white bread
1 tbsp mayonnaise
4 tbsp Miracle Whip
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp lemon zest
salt & pepper
canola oil

Using a food processor, process the bread into small crumbs.
In a large bowl, mix salmon, bell peppers, onion, parsley, ¾ of the bread crumbs, mayonnaise, Miracle Whip, mustard and lemon zest. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Shape the salmon mix into patties. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour. Overnight is ok too. (You should have about 8 patties)
Once the patties have cooled, put the remaining bread crumbs in a large plate. Dip the patties in the bread crumbs.
In a large pan, heat about 3 tbsp of canola oil (med-high heat).
Place 4 salmon patties in the heated oil. Cook for about 4 minutes on each side. Finish remaining batch.
Carefully transfer cooked patties onto a plate covered with paper towels.
You can serve immediately on top of a bed of spring mix lettuce. Top with remoulade and serve with a lemon wedge.

(You can also reheat later by preheating the oven to 400° and baking for 7-8 minutes on a cookie sheet.)


¼ cup mayonnaise
1 tsp horseradish
¼ tsp Tabasco
¼ tsp cayenne
¼ tsp paprika
1 to 1 ½ tsp lemon juice

Mix all the ingredients well. Serve on top of the salmon cakes.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Roasted Vegetables

I know I'm starting out with something easy, but it's so delicious! I can't help it. And it just looks beautiful. How could you possibly go wrong with simple, healthy, and elegant?

The terms "roasting" and "baking" both refer to the process of surrounding food with dry, heated air in a closed environment. Heat is transferred to the food's surface by convection; the food is then penetrated by conduction. Convection is the transfer of heat by movement of a liquid or gas. Conduction is the transfer of heat resulting from direct contact.

The point is, once the materials being heated by hot air have begun heating on the surface, the heat transfers through the material to heat the stuff underneath the surface. And in the meantime, the surface (in the case of roasting vegetables) dehydrates and then the food browns from caramelization, completing the cooking process.

Roasting is used to bring out the natural sweetness and to enhance the flavor of many types of vegetables. Roasting works best with vegetables that can withstand high heats without turning into mush.

The ingredients:
1-2 roma tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 yellow squash (cut into 3/4 in thick rounds)
2 zucchini (cut into 3/4 in thick rounds)
1 large eggplant (cut into 1 1/2 in cubes)
1 red onion (cut into large pieces)
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 can diced tomatoes (14.5 oz)
olive oil

Preheat oven to 400F. In a large roasting pan, evenly spread the diced tomatoes. Toss the fresh vegetables and garlic in olive oil and salt. Spread out the vegetables evenly over the diced tomatoes. Cover with foil and bake/roast for 30 minutes, stopping halfway to toss the vegetables. Uncover after 30 minutes and roast for another 10 minutes.