Friday, June 26, 2009

Strawberry Muffins

Michael Jackson is dead. The man who wrote the soundtrack to the 80s - to my childhood - has passed on. In honor of his passing, this is the second of two recipes that will not feature step-by-step instructions.

Instead, let me point you to our current favorite breakfast recipe: Strawberry, Almond, and Coconut Muffins

Photographs by Rebecca

Right now, it's strawberry season. They're fresh, cheap, and plentiful. And what's better than strawberry muffins?

There's really only one trick to making muffins: whisk together the dry ingredients in one bowl, mix the wet ingredients in a separate bowl, and then fold the wet into the dry until just moistened. Overmixing can make your muffins really nasty.

How come FoodBlogga has pretty muffin tops? Mine always, ALWAYS turn out flat. But they're still delicious.

Robert's Take: It's like eating sweet, moist strawberry cake for breakfast. Not the healthiest breakfast, but - because of the almonds and fresh strawberries - not the worst. This one's definitely going into regular rotation.

Rebecca's Take: These are perfect. Absolutely perfect. Eating them for breakfast is like a dream, and I keep finding myself craving them throughout the day... The crunchy top is my favorite part! And as a side note, you may have noticed that we used silicone baking cups (Silicups to be precise) - they're a bit expensive but they're so handy and reusable. I got a couple dozen a few years ago and I love them! Perfect for muffins because they pop out of the cup easily - not so great for cupcakes because the icing is hard to clean off.

Graham Crackers

And now, for something slightly different: these next two 'recipes' are lazy. Links and pictures only; no step-by-step instructions.

Why? Well, in this case, because this is a recipe that's not only viewable online at the Food Network - if you search youtube for "Alton Crackers", you can even find a video demonstration. Additionally, it requires equipment that not every cook has: a digital food scale and a food processor.

Photographs by Rebecca

Still, we have to share this. These graham crackers are absolutely delicious, and there's a feeling of power in knowing that - yes - if Kraft was ever overthrown by revolutionaries, you could make your own S'Mores from scratch.

So, helpful tips:

* Making the dough is as easy as weighing out the ingredients and pulsing them in the food processor. Then, roll out the dough to 1/8" thickness. How thick is that? Who holds up a ruler to their dough? Just try to make it as thin as a grocery store pie crust; that's my rule of thumb.

* Slice into identical sized crackers using a pizza cutter (or, you know, into drunken, haphazard semi-squares.) If you were sassy enough, you could sprinkle these with cinnamon and sugar!

* Use a fork to dock the crackers - in other words, fork each one 3-4 times so that they don't puff up in the oven.

* Bake for 20-25 minutes. I know that the recipe says 25, but check out the edges on these bad boys - they're a little darker than they should be!

* The best part is breaking them across the lines into squares. It feels so natural and healthy, like this is what man was meant to do. Just sit around all day and break graham crackers. Is this what we should be working towards as a species?

Serve and enjoy! Make S'mores! Drizzle with honey! Feed them to unruly toddlers! The ideas aren't endless - after all, they're just graham crackers - but they're still nonetheless tasty!

Robert's Take: While these aren't easy - and these require some equipment not every new cook has - they're really tasty. And way, way healthier than the storebought variety. I don't think I'd ever make these again; it's so much easier to just head to the store - but there's this feeling when you make your own graham crackers... like you've gained the ability to cross the Oregon Trail. It's magic.

Rebecca's Take: I'm really glad we can make these - it's always comforting to know how to make basic things you would normally buy at a store. These were a bit crunchier than store-bought, but they were so good! Above you can see how we used our imagination: we crumbled them up on frozen yogurt with honey! Robert claimed it was a healthy snack, but it was actually too sweet for me, and that's saying a lot.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Potato Soup

Potato soup and summer go together like plaid and spring formals. Truth is, we had a few extra potatoes and needed something to do with them. Potato soup is easy, filling, and goes great with bread or a salad. Maybe it's not the ideal time of year for potato soup, but it's still tasty. And it's easily made vegetarian!

Potato Soup (Serves 6-8, depending on how hungry you are!)

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes


1/4 cup butter (please, use butter instead of margarine. Margarine is so gross.)
1 large onion
Optional: 2 stalks celery
Optional: 1 1/2 cups broccoli crowns, diced
5-6 medium potatoes, peeled and diced (Use 5 if adding broccoli)
2 carrots, diced
3 cups water
2 tablespoons chicken (or vegetable) bouillon powder, or six small bouillon cubes, or three large bouillon cubes - enough to flavor six cups of liquid, in other words
ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
1/4 cup fresh parsley, or 1 tablespoon dried parsley (Dried parsley is pretty gross and fresh is pretty cheap.)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

Dice the potatoes, carrots, and (optionally) broccoli. Add the potatoes, carrots, and bouillon to the three cups in a medium stockpot and cover.

Bring to a boil and cook for ten minutes until tender. If you're adding broccoli, toss it in around the five minute mark. You don't want it to get mushy!

Meanwhile, dice the onion (and optional celery) and sauté in butter in a larger stockpot. You're going to add the potatoes and carrots later, so you need something that can hold a good 3-4 quarts. Sauté until brown.

Browned onions are delicious. Add the flour and stir for two minutes. You're making a roux, which is a delicious, creamy, milky base.

Whisk in the milk, parsley, and thyme, and bring to a simmer, still whisking. Let it bubble for two minutes, making sure that it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot.

When it's slightly thickened, add the potato / carrot / bouillon mixture. Stir through until mixed.

Serve warm! Any leftover soup can be refrigerated (after cooling) and reheated on the stove later.

Robert's take: Potato soup is one of those childhood dishes that's sort of a comfort food. It's not like I ever crave it, but it's easy, quick, and cheap to make. And it's so, so easy to adapt: want it thicker? Add more butter / flour to the roux in equal proportions. Want to add green onions or cauliflower? That works, too. This is a good base recipe, if not a little simple.

Rebecca's take: I'm not really a soup person, but this is pretty good! Especially with crackers or homemade sourdough bread... And you can feel like you're eating something healthy. Vegetables!

Monday, June 15, 2009


Summer is no longer approaching. It is upon us. Its hands dig into our throats as it stutters a warning about drinking water to prevent dehydration. That's why mankind holds cook-outs. To scoff at Summer's heat and itching.

However: when one goes on a diet (because of - say - an approaching high school reunion), one is not always able to eat the ubiquitous hot dogs, steaks, and hamburgers. Vegetarians, too, are left indoors, sadly eating potato salad out of a tupperware container using an index finger as a spoon.

Salvation comes in the form of kebabs.

Kebabs! We haven't had them since we were kids, and we figured it was time to see what we were missing, especially since summer is here. That means cook-out time, right? It doesn't matter if you don't own a grill. Or if you're afraid of going outdoors. We sort of are.

Kebabs (Serves two, but easily can be doubled... or trebled... or whatever.)

Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 10-20 minutes
Total cook time: 40-50 minutes


3/4 lb meat or tofu cut into 1.5" cubes (chicken - white or dark meat, flank steak, sirloin steak, and tofu are all acceptable. Or none, if you prefer.)
Marinade (see suggestions below.)

1 1/2 cups vegetables and fruits, cut into 1" cubes (suggestions: onions, bell peppers - green or red, mushrooms, squash, zucchini, pineapple, apple, peaches... nearly anything, except for root vegetables like potatoes and carrots)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Bamboo skewers (available near the toothpicks and matches at your local store)

Step one: assemble your marinade. You'll need about a half cup. This can be anything from teriyaki sauce to flavored oil. I blended six cloves of garlic, a quarter cup of oregano from the farmer's market, and a quarter cup of olive oil.

Step two: Soak your meat, chicken, or tofu for three hours before you're ready to cook. The best way to do it? Put it in a plastic bag with the marinade and squish it around. Put it in the fridge and forget about it. This is the most disgusting part of kebabs. Rebecca would not take a picture - and for good reason. It's highly unappetizing.

Step three: Now, the fun begins. When you're ready to cook, heat your grill to medium-high - or, if you don't have a grill, heat a cast-iron pan to medium-high. That's what we did. Now, slice your vegetables into inch-wide pieces.

We opted for green bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms. We also got some pineapple. Sadly, we had to use canned, and it doesn't look - or taste - nearly as good as fresh. When you can, always go with fresh fruits and vegetables. Mix your fruits and vegetables with the tablespoon of vegetable oil - and, if you like, a generous splash of teriyaki or soy sauce. Let this sit for ten minutes.

Step four: Time to skewer. Take out your meat. Remember what I said in our last post: chicken is a biological terror weapon. Don't let it touch anything in the kitchen. Anything you touch with chicken-y hands either needs to be cooked thoroughly or sterilized and destroyed. Beef, not so much. Tofu is perfectly safe.

Hold two skewers a half-inch apart. This will help stabilize your kebabs. Or make a huge mess, depending.

The fun thing about kebabs? They're totally customizable. Add whatever you want in whatever order you want. Leave an inch or two of empty skewer on each side so that you can easily turn these guys.

Our skillet will only hold two at a time, so it's time to toss these on.

Cook on each side 2-3 minutes, until well done. And if you're using chicken, I mean, like, REALLY well done. You don't want any pink at all in there. We had to leave them on an extra five minutes.

Serve so that you can snack on them while the others cook!

Robert's take: I never understood kebabs. I still don't. They're fun and they look pretty, but it was hard to make sure the chicken was done in the middle. The outsides got pretty charred, but the insides? They wouldn't stop being pink. Next time I make these, I'm omitting the skewers and stir-frying everything together. I think that'd be a lot more tasty. The only problem is that without the skewers, you won't be able to put them on a grill without making a big mess. I guess that's why they're barbeque food.

Rebecca's take: The pineapples were definitely the best part. The chicken scared me - how could I be sure the inside was really cooked? I'll tell you: I just nibbled around the edges. I have to agree with Robert. These were kind of neat, but not worth repeating unless we make some drastic changes. By drastic I mean... Can I just use these skewers to dip strawberries in chocolate? Please? Honest opinion: these would probably be best without any meat.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Kung Pao Chicken

This recipe - like so many of my favorites - is from Cooks Illustrated. It's the only website where I gladly pay for a subscription. The recipes are that spectacular.

Kung Pao chicken! What is it? I don't know. This is one of those foods that I only seem to remember when I'm trying to stay away from General Tso's. General Tso's is too unhealthy; fried chicken, grease, and sugar all glopped together. Kung Pao is my 'healthy' alternative. And it's absolutely delicious.

Pictures by Rebecca

Kung Pao Chicken (Serves 4, but this recipe can easily be halved for a couple.)

Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Total cooking time: 30 minutes

The Ingredients!

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs , trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch pieces
(NOTE: Vegetarians can replace the chicken with one pound extra-firm tofu sliced into 1-inch cubes.)
1 tablespoon dry sherry or rice wine
2 teaspoons soy sauce
3 medium cloves garlic , pressed through garlic press or minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1/2 inch piece fresh ginger , peeled and minced (about 2 teaspoons)
3 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil
1/2 cup roasted unsalted peanuts or cashews
6 small whole dried red chiles (each about 1 3/4 to 2 inches long), 3 chiles roughly crumbled, or 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons black rice vinegar or plain rice vinegar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 medium red bell pepper , cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 medium scallions , sliced thin

And - last, but not least - RICE.

If you're notice, there's no chicken in this picture. It wasn't allowed. That's because raw chicken is the equivalent of a hobo's tongue. It is nasty, and you don't want it touching ANYTHING in your kitchen. Keep it away from everything else, and when you're done with it, wash EVERYTHING that might have glanced at it. The knife. Your hands. Your counter. Your house.

Now, some of the other ingredients might not be in your house. Chances are, you might not want to go to the store to buy them, either. The good news is, with all the garlic and ginger and red chiles going on, you really aren't going to taste some of the subtle flavors provided by, say, oyster sauce. A few helpful hints:

* For sherry or rice wine, you can substitute more or less any cooking wine. Really; it's not like you're going to be able to taste it.

* Hoisin sauce has a very, very unique taste, so I really wouldn't recommend substituting. It's good stuff. But in a pinch, you can mix equal parts ketchup and molasses and add that. This is basically asian barbeque sauce, so I'd imagine real barbeque sauce might also work. But with all the artificial hickory flavoring in there, you might end up with smokey kung pao, and where would you be then?

* Oyster sauce: Try adding two teaspoons soy sauce and upping your cornstarch to two teaspoons.

* Rice vinegar: I used some topaz hibiscus vinegar given as a gift by my sister-in-law! Any white-wine vinegar will also do.

Ready? On with the show.

Go ahead and cook the rice now. It'll take fifteen to twenty minutes. The instructions are on the bag. The only hint I can give you: cook the rice in a tablespoon of butter for a couple of minutes before you add your water and salt. Makes it taste nice. One cup rice, one tablespoon butter, one-and-a-half cups water. Get that rice started! In fact, you may want to just finish making the rice and set it aside, still covered. Don't worry; it won't get cold. The stir fry takes all of eight minutes to make once you prep it.

Before you do ANYTHING else, prep your ingredients. You should always do all your slicing and reading before you even turn on a burner, but even moreso when it comes to stir fries. When you stir fry, everything comes together very very fast, and before you know it, you're either eating or dealing with a major catastrophe. Be prepared so that you can be eating instead of ... treating... disaster? I'm never going to be able to write motivational posters.

So - chop your chicken into one inch pieces:

And toss with the sherry and soy sauce. Set this aside at least ten minutes.

Disgusting, isn't it? Remember what I said: WASH EVERYTHING. Your mom's probably told you that already. I went ahead and got a new knife and new cutting board at this point before starting on the rest.

Mince the ginger and garlic and mix them together with a teaspoon of oil. Mmmm. Aromatics!

Also mix your peanuts / cashews (I like cashews!) and pepper flakes / dried red peppers. Don't you love all these little separate bowls? Someone's got some major washing up to do after this.

Time to mix up the chicken broth, vinegar, sesame oil, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, and cornstarch. Or whatever you plan to substitute, if you can't get some (or all) of the ingredients. Doesn't look appetizing, does it? Rebecca refused to show any pictures of it. You'll like it in the end. OR ELSE.

And, last but not least, slice up your red bell pepper into half inch squares and thinly slice your green onions. Oh, the places you'll go.

Everything's ready, right?

Now, preheat your skillet or wok to medium high, and add a TABLESPOON of oil. High heat, if you can manage it. We have a smoke alarm that goes crazy when it gets a whiff of smoke, so I have to tone it down. No, there's no way to take it off the wall. It's like soldered onto the wall. It is my nemesis.

When the oil is hot - just starting to smoke - add the chicken. Move it JUST enough so that it's touching the bottom, and then let it sit for two minutes.

Don't touch it! Let it brown. I know, you want to stir it. Don't do it. Let it get brown and delicious. Like this!

Doesn't that look nice? When two minutes is up, flip the chicken to the other side, and flip another minute and a half.

Now, add the nuts and hot peppers.

You can feel free to stir this around to your heart's content. Let it get nice and fragrant and a little brown; about 40 seconds.

Take all of this out and put it in a bowl and return your pan to the heat. Here's what it'll look like!

Oh boy!!! We're almost there. Add another TABLESPOON of oil to your pan and wait a few seconds, and then add your red bell pepper. FRY IT! Fry it up. I like it a little browned; about a minute.

Now, move the peppers around so you have a little space in the middle of the pan and add the ginger / garlic mix.

Mash it all against the bottom of the pan for the next 10 seconds, then mix it into the red bell pepper! Wow, that smells good.

Stir your broth and add it to the pan. It'll start to thicken immediately. Toss in the chicken and nuts and cook another 45 seconds.

Once it's thick and amazing, remove from heat and stir in the green onions. You're done. It's spectacular. Taste for salt and sugar and serve over rice.

Robert's take: Man, it is so good. This is straight up comfort food; a big bowl of this can beat any wrong. And it's so customizable; substitute green bell pepper or onion or snow peas for the red bell pepper, change the peanuts or cashews to ... uh, leftover pistachios... there's really nothing bad here.

Rebecca's take: YUM YUM. I like pretty much everything about this, and that's coming from a picky eater and someone who's not really big into eating meat! I can't say no to Kung Pao Chicken - it tastes amazing.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Strawberry Pistachio Goat Cheese Pizza

There is comfort food: mashed potatoes, chocolate cake, waffles. There are ethnic meals: Chinese take-out, Korean, Mexican; the kind of thing you might crave once a month. There are the sublime, difficult-to-craft entrees that you might not want to try making at home: Beef Wellington and Hollandaise, perhaps.

And then you have the Surreal and the Non Sequitur. Meet our first recipe, Strawberry Pistachio Goat Cheese Pizza. Rebecca found this recipe on a farmer's market website (originally posted in Cooking Light, of all places), and we had to try it.

Photographs by Rebecca

Pistachio Goat Cheese Pizza (Serves a very hungry two lemurs. Double the recipe to feed a family!)

Preparation time: 10 minutes (using a pre-made pizza crust)
Cooking time: 10 minutes (with a 30-60 minute oven warm-up)
Total cooking time: 20 minutes (plus the 30-60 minute preheat.)

First, the ingredients:

1 (12-ounce) prebaked pizza crust (or equivalent amount of raw pizza dough)
1/3 cup (3 ounces) crumbled goat cheese
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 cup trimmed watercress
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Dash of salt
Dash of freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup (1 ounce) shaved fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3 tablespoons shelled dry-roasted pistachios, chopped

Nothing too difficult to find, except the watercress. We didn't have any. However, a quick google search showed us that spinach or arugula can be substituted. We've used mountain spinach (a beautiful, purple spinach) and swiss chard to great effect. That being said, on with the show.

Before prepping your pizza, preheat your oven to 450 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, stick it in; if you don't, a heavy cookie sheet will do. Preheat the stone or cookie sheet at *least* half an hour; preferrably an hour. This will help make the bottom of your crust very crisp.

The pizza crust. Nothing touches homemade. Still, not everyone has time to make their own pizza crust, so if you have to go with Boboli, go with Boboli. In the interest of simplicity, we'll save the homemade pizza crust recipe for another time.

If you're using pizza dough, press it out to twelve inches and poke it with a fork all over so that it doesn't turn into a giant football in the oven. Bake for eight minutes, until very light brown.

Leave the oven on. It isn't finished - yet. It's time to prepare your other ingredients.

Goat cheese. My very favorite. Crumble this up and set it aside. And measure out your quarter-cup of parmesan. Yeah, we didn't use Parmigiano-Reggiano. That stuff's pricy. We got a $2 bag parmesan. It'll do until we make it big. Slice your strawberries thinly.

Mountain spinach! See what you can pick up from the farmer's market? I've never seen purple spinach before, but figured it'd look beautiful with the strawberries.

Mix together oil and lemon juice, and add a dash of salt (and pepper, if you like. Rebecca does not like.) I also tossed in a teaspoon of sugar to accent the strawberries, and a teaspoon of minced oregano. You're making a vinaigrette here, so please - experiment with fresh or dried herbs. It will be good. Add the strawberries and spinach... And mix them up!

We turn our attention to the pistachios. You could chop them with the knife, which might get messy. Chopping nuts seems to make them fly everywhere. Or, you could...

Put them in a bag and smash them up! This is fun.

Okay, everything ready? Now, pop your prebaked crust back in until it's golden and very hot; about eight minutes. Mmmm! Then take it out and turn off the oven. No more cooking.

Sprinkle on the crumbled goat cheese.

That looks good. Now, add the strawberry-watercress/spinach/arugula mixture. Yeah, I know that we used purple mountain spinach above. Below is the swiss chard. We made this on two different nights, so the photos are from different pies.

Sprinkle on the parmesan... and the pistachios!

Slice and serve immediately.

Robert's Take: Pretty great. Rebecca described this as 'salad on a pizza crust', which is accurate, but better than I'd expect. Granted, I'm not going to wake up in the middle of the night craving this, but for a low-fat, non-greasy alternative to pepperoni, it's great. Especially in these early summer months when strawberries are cheap.

Rebecca's Take: I like pretty food, and this definitely falls into that category. I think the combination of textures threw me off a little bit the first time we tried it. I enjoyed it much more the second time, though I don't know if that's just because I knew what to expect or because of the small differences in ingredients used. It's definitely worth eating again in the future!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Brief Introduction

Before posting our first recipe, we wanted to give a little background on the blog. Why would a part-time fashion blogger and her writer husband post recipes?

Because we love to eat tasty food.

Home cooked food is nearly always more delicious, healthier, and cheaper than anything you can get from take-out. That's a given, right? The only problem is the occasional learning curve. Cooking isn't always straightforward. Stir fries can turn out watery; bread might not rise; pie crusts are a pain in the neck. "From scratch" isn't always as user-friendly as it should be.

Every week, we'll post a recipe or two, along with pictures of the cooking process. We'll talk about what should go right and what can go wrong. We'll answer questions and take requests for recipes.

Or just gawk at the pictures and imagine you're eating what we're eating. Either way!