January 31, 2010

Strawberry Shortcake: An Interpretation

 So my co-worker, who has watched me bring in various baked goods for other co-workers’ birthdays, had her own birthday request–strawberry shortcake.  Now, I generally adore strawberry shortcake, but unfortunately, her birthday was last week, not the most ideal time for sweet strawberries.  Plus, I was a little intimidated by the process baking, assembling, and then carrying them on my 25 minute walk to work.  So I decided to improvise.  First I thought, why not strawberry shortcupcakes? Everyone loves cupcakes (if they have a soul…) and they’re ideal for work parties.  Then I thought, what’s the best way to sweeten even the tartest of berries?  Add sugar!  So I made a small batch of strawberry jam and a batch of Nigella Lawson’s fairy cakes and layered them together.  The result was sweet, light and definitely reminiscent of a strawberry shortcake.  One word of warning, since I took the lazy woman’s approach and layered the jam rather than piping it into the middle of the cupcake, the jam did fall to the bottom.  Not unpleasant, just a little messy when the wrappers were peeled off.  This cupcake does not need much icing, in fact I think it would be overkill with the sweet jam and light vanilla cupcake.  I mixed a little confectioners sugar, milk and vanilla and just lightly iced the cupcakes, topping each with a dollop of jam.  Oh, and in case you were wondering, they were a hit with the co-workers.    

Strawberry Shortcupcakes
Makes 12 cupcakes

Strawberry Jam
1 pt. strawberries, hulled
1 c. sugar
juice from ½ a lemon

Add the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice to a small sauce pan.  Heat to a boil and stir frequently until the berries have started to break down.  Continue to cook at a rolling simmer and use a candy thermometer to measure the temperature of the mixture.  When the thermometer reads 220 degrees, the jam is ready.  Cook completely before adding it to the cupcakes.  Store the leftover jam in a small mason jar.  It will keep for approx. 2 weeks.  To keep it longer, can the jam and store for later use!

Cupcakes (slightly adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Fairy Cakes)

½ c. unsalted butter, softened
7 tbsp. sugar
2 large eggs
¾ c. cake flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar.  In a separate, small bowl, mix the flour and baking soda.  Add the vanilla to the butter and sugar and combine.  Add the eggs, one at a time, adding a little of the flour mixture after each egg and stir to combine.  Add the milk and stir just until combined.  The batter will look as if you’ll never get 12 cupcakes out of it, but it will rise impressively.  Just be sure to dole it out evenly over the cupcake cups.  Layer jam into the batter–batter, a teaspoon of jam, more batter–and bake the cupcakes for 15 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.  Wait until the cakes are cooled to ice them.

A couple of tips for the tiny kitchen dweller: 
1.  If you have a toaster oven, and do not have a muffin tin that will work in it, I like the aluminum foil cupcake holders, they really keep their shape!  Just be sure to place them on a flat baking sheet/pan first.
2.  If you do not have a piping bag, a ziplock baggie will do the trick.  Just fill the bag and cut off the tip of a corner (that's what I'm using in the photo at right).

January 27, 2010

Brunch for Dinner

Sam was pretty skeptical of this one.  Asparagus and eggs on toast?  That just didn’t compute for him.  But the minute I received this recipe in one of the dozens of food related emails I get daily, I couldn’t wait to get home to make it.  I love asparagus, and although I know it’s not in season, I just had to find some.  Luckily, it was available at my local grocery store and I decided to prepare it similarly to a dish I made for Easter last year.  This dish is actually much more appropriate for brunch and would be really wonderful if you were serving a crowd.  The eggs are soft-boiled—which I’ve decided is my new go-to egg variety—and you can pre-cook the asparagus, assembling everything just at the very end.  With the addition of a lemon vinaigrette (that I used in the lemony panzanella recipe here), this was a light dinner that reminded me of spring.  I will absolutely be making this for brunch in the very near future, probably with a mimosa on the side.

Asparagus and Soft Eggs on Toast (adapted from Real Simple)

½ lb. asparagus
olive oil
salt & pepper
2 slices good, country bread
4 eggs
grated parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Trim the asparagus and place in a heavy roasting pan.  Toss with olive oil, salt & pepper and grated parmesan.  Roast the asparagus for 8 minutes, turn, and roast for an additional 10 minutes.  Take out and let stand as you bring a pot of water to a boil.  Carefully lower the eggs into the water and let simmer for 6 minutes.  The yolks will be runny, but the whites should be cooked through.  Take out and cool under cold water.  Toast bread, place on plates with the asparagus on top and pour the vinaigrette over the asparagus.  Peel the eggs and place on the bed of asparagus, cut into the eggs and sprinkle with salt, pepper and grated parmesan before serving.

January 25, 2010

A Meat Pie Fit for a Scotsman

Although I’m not a particular fan of the 18th century poet, Robert Burns, tonight I decided to embrace my Scottish heritage and observe his birthday with a Burns Night celebration in my own way.  Not with the traditional whiskey, haggis and poems, but at least with my version of a meat pie.  The pie was simple and satisfying and I’m pretty sure that my Scot ancestors would love the thriftiness of this meal.  I tried it two different ways, one a pot pie of sorts, and the other that was more like an English pasty, which, I realize, was probably sacrilege to my Scottish background, but at least gave a little nod to Sam’s British one.  All in all, this was an easy and excellent way to use up ground beef and extra vegetables, although I wish I had saved more of the puff pastry to use up the leftover filling!  One of these days, I promise I will make my own puff pastry, but to be honest, it will probably be when I have a real freezer, and then alas, no hotplate.

Meat Pie in Honor of Robert Burns
Serves 2-3

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
¾ lb. ground beef (or meat of your choice)
2 carrots, diced small
2 celery stalks, diced small
1 russet potato, diced small
2 tsp. tomato paste
1 c. chicken stock
salt & pepper
Puff pastry

Heat oil in a heavy pan.  Add the onions and sauté until tender.  Add the garlic and sauté for another 2 minutes.  Add the ground beef and cook until completely browned, or about 10 minutes, then add the tomato paste and stir to combine.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add the rest of the vegetables to the mixture and cook for an additional 10 minutes until the vegetables are just tender.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees, then pour the cup of chicken broth into the meat mixture.  Allow it to simmer for roughly 15 minutes, or until the liquid has been completely absorbed.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. 
At this time, either prepare the puff pastry by cutting it into 8 squares, or by cutting it into two larger squares to cover whatever size ramekin you choose.  Mine were 5 inches in diameter and because I used store bought, pre-cut dough, I used two squares of dough for the ramekins and then one each for the pasties.
For either version, make sure you brush the tops with egg wash and cut small slits in the dough. Bake for 25 minutes or until the puff pastry is completely golden.

In the end, I think I liked the way the pasties came out better than the pie, but that may have been due to the lovely ratio of puff pastry to meat.

January 21, 2010

A Lemony Pick-Me-Up

Citrus fruits in winter just really do it for me.  I know, not the most profound or new concept, but there’s something about a lemon tart or a zesty vinaigrette that really lifts me right out of the doldrums of January.  So it was that on a regular (although stress-filled) Tuesday, I came home and baked myself a lemon loaf.  It was courtesy of Ina, of course.  Her lemon-yogurt loaf is one of my favorite simple breads.  I don’t even remember what we made for dinner that night – we’ve been eating a lot of leftovers – but the resulting bread was lemony and tangy with a delicate crust.  The smell lifted me right out of the funk I was in.  I don’t know about you, but there’s something wonderfully therapeutic about baking a simple bread or cake after a stressful day at work.  It’s comforting to know that even in my tiny toaster oven, in my tiny non-kitchen, I can still manage to make a gorgeous lemon loaf with a perfect crack right down the center.

In this recipe, I substituted ½ cup of vegetable oil with a ½ cup of melted butter.  I don’t keep vegetable oil in my “pantry” because I generally try to avoid using it in baking, and I found that at least with this recipe, the butter didn’t change a thing.  Except maybe the calorie count.

Lemon Yogurt Loaf (Slightly adapted from The Barefoot Contessa at Home)

1 ½ c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. kosher salt
1 c. plain whole-milk yogurt
1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
3 extra-large eggs
grated lemon zest from 1 lemon
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
½ c. melted butter (a little less than a stick)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour an 8 ½  by 4 ¼ by 2 ½ -inch loaf pan.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt into 1 small bowl. In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, 1 cup sugar, the eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the melted butter into the batter, making sure it's all incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 55 minutes, or until a cake tester placed in the center of the loaf comes out clean.

January 17, 2010

Hot and Cold: A Weather Inspired Meal

It’s rainy and horrible in New York today.  After a gorgeous Saturday that felt like the beginning of March and smelled like the start of spring, we’ve been jolted back to winter in NYC.  Dommage.  But I don’t mind. Sam and I love the winter, and although I haven’t yet made it to the slopes this year, skiing is my favorite outdoor activity.  So tonight, I welcomed back winter with an easy pea soup, but said a little goodbye to “spring” with a fresh panzanella-like salad on the side.  The pea soup ended up a bit bland–D’Agostino didn’t have any ham bones. (What grocery store doesn’t carry ham bones?!?)  But the salad made up for it with a lemony Dijon dressing and garlic infused toasted “croutons” that was inspired by Meredith Shanley’s BLT Panzanella.  This salad is best with day old bread and ours was left over from a particularly delicious Amy’s Bread grilled cheese made with Gruyere.  Honestly, it was one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches I’ve had, and Sam’s standards have now been raised.  I don’t think a Kraft singles sandwich is going to cut it anymore.  So here’s to a long weekend (for at least one of us) and hopefully it’s less wet where you are…

(Nearly) Vegetarian Pea Soup
Serves 4

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
1 bag (16 oz.) green split peas
2 c. chicken broth
4 c. water
salt & pepper

Heat oil in a heavy pot or Dutch oven.  Sauté the onions, carrots, and celery until tender or about 5 minutes.  Add the peas, chicken broth, and water to the vegetables and bring to a boil.  Add salt and pepper, generously.  Let simmer for 40 minutes until the peas are tender and have absorbed much of the liquid.  Using a hand blender, or a regular blender in batches, puree the soup until smooth.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Lemony Panzanella
Serves 4 side portions, 2 large side salads

3 slices of day old bread, cubed
2 medium tomatoes, cubed
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 handfuls lettuce, washed and chopped into bite sized pieces
Salt & pepper

Lemon Vinaigrette
4 tbsp. olive oil
3 tsp. Dijon mustard
Juice and zest from half a lemon
Salt & pepper

Whisk together the mustard, juice, zest, salt & pepper.  Gradually whisk in the olive oil until combined and the vinaigrette is creamy.

In a heavy pan, heat the oil and sauté the garlic until fragrant.  Add the bread and turn continuously to coat with olive oil.  Sauté for 5 to 7 minutes until just browned and toasted. Let cool in a medium bowl. Combine the tomatoes and the cooled bread with half of the vinaigrette.  Add the lettuce and the rest of the vinaigrette and toss to combine.

January 14, 2010

Chicken Cacciatore for Two

Although the holidays are over, Sam and I have been busy almost every night for the past week and a half.  Not that we’re complaining, but we were really looking forward to some home cooking tonight.  One dish that I perfected early on the hotplate was Chicken Cacciatore, thanks to a simpler, less time consuming version from Giada De Laurenttis.  It’s easy enough for a weeknight, even one when you don’t get home until 8:45, but rustic enough to feel comforting after a long couple of weeks.

Chicken Cacciatore for Two (adapted from Giada De Laurenttis)

2 chicken breasts
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ c. dry white wine
1 ( 28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
salt & pepper

Sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. In a large sauté pan, heat the oil. Add the chicken to the pan and brown, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside. Add the peppers, onion and garlic to the same pan and sauté over medium heat until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juice. Return the chicken to the pan and turn them to coat in the sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmer. Continue simmering over medium-low heat until the chicken is just cooked through, about 20 minutes.

Serve over white or brown rice.

January 10, 2010

A Fresher Pesto

I know I’ve already told you about our fresh pasta experience, but it was just so good, Sam and I made it again on Saturday!  This time I did it with him so I would know how to do it again, but I’d still rather he make it.  I paired it with a broccoli pesto, which was delightful, even though I realized that I didn’t have any walnuts in the house to add to it.  I was missing a little bit of the nuttiness that pesto usually have, but it was much lighter and with a little lemon juice added to it, it had a nice citrus finish.  This recipe made enough to feed us both for about 3 meals so I would recommend freezing some of it. I’m personally going to use it all week on chicken and in salads, but that’s only because I don’t have a freezer…

Broccoli Pesto
Serves 6


1 head of broccoli, cut into small florets
¼ c. fresh parsley
4 cloves garlic
1 c. shredded fresh Parmesan cheese
Juice and zest from ½ lemon
1 c. olive oil
salt & pepper


Quickly steam the broccoli florets until just tender, but still vibrant green.  Drain and drop immediately into cold water to stop it from cooking.  Add the broccoli, garlic, parsley, lemon juice and zest, and salt & pepper into a food processor.  Pulse the mizture until the consistency of breadcrumbs.  Slowly add the oil while the processor is on low.  Stir in the parmesan and add more salt & pepper to taste.  Cook your pasta of choice (but hopefully it’s fresh) and add a ½ cup of pesto to the pasta.  Enjoy!

January 7, 2010

You no eat MEAT? A Greek Pizza Night

Earlier this week I made a delicious hearty soup with brown rice, spinach, and chickpeas courtesy of Martha which I highly recommend.  But I ended up using a lot less of the spinach than I thought I would, and was left with almost an entire bag of the stuff!  So tonight, I made a pilgrimage to Whole Foods to get the rest of the makings of a delicious Greek pizza.  Whole Foods has great, cheap pizza dough and tonight I decided on their whole wheat version.  I know, I know, I really should make my own dough, but it’s just too easy to buy it!  Topped with feta, garlic, olive oil, sautéed spinach, and at the last minute, an egg, this was a perfect way to welcome in the weekend. It even drew Sam home from drinks with his co-workers!

Spinach & Feta Whole Wheat Pizza

Serves 2-4

2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bag spinach
4 oz. feta, diced
2 oz. mozzarella, grated
1 pre-made whole wheat pizza dough
1 egg
salt & pepper
olive oil


Heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Split the dough into two halves and shape the dough into two rectangular shaped pizzas.  Drizzle each with olive oil and season with salt & pepper.  In a sauté pan, heat oil and add the garlic.  Saute the garlic for a minute and add the spinach.  Add 2 tbsp. of water and cover to steam for 3 minutes.  Uncover and sauté until the water is completely evaporated.  Set aside.  Layer the pizzas first with the mozzarella, then with the spinach, then with the feta.  Finish with salt & pepper.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cheese has melted and the crust is browning.  Take the pizza out and let cool.  Fry an egg, easy-side up and top the pizza with it.  

January 3, 2010

The Best Christmas Present Ever

Happy New Year!  I’m sure that many of you have made resolutions that range from getting in shape to spending more time with friends and family, or just taking time every day for yourself.  But I submit for you another resolution to think about – cooking at home at least 4 nights a week.  It may seem like a lot, but one of the reasons I started this blog was to inspire others to cook as much as I do, especially if they have more space than I do.  I hope that you can find the inspiration here to get right to your kitchen and whip up something simple and delicious.  My own resolution?  To be better about writing up every new meal I make on my hotplate. 

So back to business.  For Christmas this year, Sam received a hand crank pasta maker, which quite possibly may have just changed my life!  He made fresh pasta for me one night this week which was a huge treat.  Not only was it an exceptionally satisfying process for him, the end product looked so professional – I would have sworn he had just gone down the street to Murray’s a bought fresh fettuccini, if he didn’t take pictures to prove it!  Paired with my Simple Pasta Sauce, this meal was an all-around satisfying feast.

Sam’s Fresh Fettuccini
Makes about ¾ lb or enough to serve 3-4 people

3 eggs
2 ¼ c. flour
pinch of salt


The whole process will take a little over an hour, minus the cooking.
In a large glass bowl, add the flour and create a well for the eggs.  Quickly whisk the eggs then pour them into the well.  Combine the flour and eggs and as soon as it starts sticking together, knead the dough until it is no longer sticky.  

Wrap the ball in plastic and let it sit on the counter for 20-25 minutes.  Split the dough in half and roll each ball through the pasta maker on the widest setting at least 3 times.  Continue rolling the dough through at least 2 times at each successive setting until you get to your desired thickness.  Finally roll the dough through the cutting attachment and let the pasta dry on the counter for 15 minutes.  

Store the pasta in a container until ready to use, and add a little flour so the strands do not stick to each other.  When ready to eat, boil a pot of salted water and add the pasta.  It will cook very quickly so be sure to check the pasta at 2 minutes for doneness, it should not take much more than that.