Monday, January 25, 2010

Stuffed Chicken/Eggplant Parmesan

Awhile back, a good friend of mine asked me to teach him how to cook. It's a pretty good set-up, I get to co-cook and eat delicious food while he buys the groceries :) For those who started reading way back at my intro, you know that I'm a vegetarian but I occasionally cook meat for those carnivorously inclined. Nate, the culinary neophyte in question, had frozen chicken breasts that he wanted to use, so I pulled out this recipe. It was a big hit two years ago at what was the start of many dinner parties with friends and I wanted to try my hand at adapting it for vegetarians.
*I store my flour in an old coffee container, this isn't actually coffee in this recipe!

Admittedly, this isn't a normal any-night-of-the-week dinner for one recipe. It takes some time and, if you have to buy all of the ingredients, can be somewhat pricey (though certainly no more expensive than dinner at Olive Garden, which is where this recipe comes from). This is a great recipe for a dinner party or trying to impress someone with a romantic dinner. The tv commercials have been out in force for the last few weeks, reminding us that there's an obnoxiously gushy Hallmark holiday coming up soon, so keep this in mind if you're looking to stay in but still impress.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Black Bean Pumpkin Soup

Tonight was a big night for me. After a day of orientation, which included being toured around the hospital campus where I've worked for the last year and a half, I had my white coat put on me by the deans of the College of Nursing! Granted, most health-oriented graduate schools have a white coat ceremony and it's mostly for show, this meant a lot to me because I spent the last two years figuring out what I should be doing with my life before finally settling on nursing. The program gives me my RN and MSN in 20 months, while each of those degrees normally takes at least two years to complete - 48 months worth of school and clinical hours in 20 is some daunting math, but luckily for everyone involved (especially my two friends in the picture, wearing equally awkward smiles!), cooking and baking is my favorite way of unwinding!

After getting home from the ceremony, I decided to make some celebratory black bean pumpkin soup that I've had my eye on for over a month. This year, for the first time, I started experimenting with cooking whole pumpkins instead of using the canned stuff. Unfortunately I didn't find this recipe until after I'd used all my pumpkins, making several delicious pies, and canned pumpkin works just fine. I found this recipe on my favorite blog to date, Smitten Kitchen, and it was everything I was hoping for.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Epic Fail (x2) at Bread Baking

I'm a reasonably stubborn person. Perhaps tenacious is a nicer term? Either way, when I decide I really want to do something, I make it happen. What I really, really want is make bread! Chewy, soaks up warm olive oil, covered in rosemary and salt focaccia bread... and I have managed to completely fail at two separate batches of dough. Pretty epic failures. It's a very good thing that flour is fairly cheap, because I've used up 3/4 of a bag of flour and still don't have any edible bread.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Homebrew #4.5: Barleywine Round Deux

As this is my first contribution to this blog, I feel like it'd be appropriate to start with beer. I got started homebrewing during October of 2009 with my friend Chris, who has been doing it for a couple years now. Making beer is a fun process, and surprisingly easy - it's basically like making 4 gallons of tea at a time, diluting it a little, and then letting it sit around for a few weeks while it becomes alcoholic.

Okay, so that's a little oversimplified, but it's not that far off the mark. Beer usually requires about an hour of boiling time, though this can vary depending on the recipe. Before the boil you add any crushed grains you're going to use and let them steep up to about 170ºF (any hotter than this and the grains will start to leech out tannins, bitter aromatic compounds that will make the final product taste gross). Once the beer hits a boil, you add any dry or liquid malt extracts the recipe calls for. Malt extract is basically sugar extracted from malted barley; roughly the same end can be achieved by steeping an enormous amount of grains, but I don't have the facilities for that, and I doubt that the final product tastes that much different. Once the hot, sugary bath reaches boiling again, you add a round of hops and start the timer. Over the course of the hour more hops will be added; hops added earlier in the brew will contribute to the bitterness of the beer, which balances the sweetness of the malt and barley, and hops added later will contribute to your final product's aroma. Once the hour is up and all the ingredients have been added, you cool the sugary, hoppy broth (known in the biz as wort) down to about 70º, and then add your yeast. Depending on the beer style, fermentation will take anywhere from one to four weeks.

The basics of brewing out of the way, let's get to my latest concoction:

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Hibernation Day 2: Moussaka

While chocolate is always good, getting through the obscene cold (it's 2º outside.... that's not very many!) we've been having here in the midwest requires actual food. Warm food, comforting food, filling food -- food that actually warms you from the inside out and induces heavy winter naps. Moussaka definitely fills this need It's not quite as dense as some pasta casseroles or seriously heavy duty chili, but the it gets the job done. The Greeks have been doing this a long time and everything I've ever tried has been delicious.

I found this recipe as I was going through all the cooking magazines I've saved over the years. I made a half batch because I don't have 12 people to feed, and I try to avoid eating the same thing twice a day for 6 days- that's how you ruin loving a great recipe. Moussaka is traditionally made with beef or lamb and a cream sauce. This recipe substitutes lentils for the meat and creamed potatoes for the cream sauce. For those of you who are carnivorously inclined, I'm including a note at the bottom for making the traditional recipe, found in The Joy of Cooking.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Day 1 of Hiberantion: Chocolate & Mint Chip Brownies

As I was driving home from the gym last night in near-blizzard conditions, I had the good sense to stop at the grocery store so I wouldn't have to go outside in the near future (the wind chill at 1pm today was -15º... definitely not going out if I don't have to!). Unfortunately I hadn't made a list, so what I came home with was an Amy's Frozen pizza, beer and a combo of dark chocolate and mint chips (they were on sale). While the pizza and beer got me through last night's football game, it didn't get be very far into hibernation food, although the chocolate and mint chips did give me an idea of where to head. So, back out I went today, with the will power to at least make myself go to the gym before the grocery store - if I'm already out, might as well preemptively work off these brownies.

A week ago I was thrilled when my apartment was finally free of Christmas confections -- no more cookies, bars, chocolate covered {insert any word}, and things of that nature to tempt my intentions of eating better. A week... that's how long it took before I was really, truly craving chocolate and these brownies have always hit the spot. I originally set out to make chocolate cookies with the chocolate mint chips in them (I wanted to use my new 3-level cooling racks I got for Christmas), but kept coming up empty when it came to a simple chocolate cookie recipe. After searching through my cookbooks and several internet sites, I decided to just make them into brownies- which was absolutely the right choice!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New Year, New Adventures

Happy 2010! After spending a great deal of time on other food blogs, I wanted to make an attempt at it. I'm not really the resolution type, but if I was making a public resolution, it would be to try new recipes as often as possible. Same for wine, and beer... and I want to learn to like scotch this year. The flip side of all the eating is intending to do as much yoga as I can. As someone whose spent quite a bit of time trying to balance the foodie side with the health nut/yogi side, I came up with a compromise: the majority of what I cook is pretty damn healthy, and often close to vegan. Healthy doesn't really include my comfort foods though, mac'n'cheese and tex-mex food are perfect as they are! Similarly, when it comes to desserts, I'm all French-"you can never have enough butter"-style -- if you want a delicious dessert, make it the way it was intended, love it and you tend to crave less of it.

There's a major snow storm starting outside which will be followed by extremely low temperatures, so I'll be spending quite a bit of time baking or cooking in the next few days -- check back and hopefully there will be some recipes and pictures up soon!