Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Daring Cherry Strudel

It's that Daring Baker time of the month again.

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

I'd never even thought of making a strudel before, so when I discovered that this month's challenge was just that I was quite happy. The rules for the challenge were fairly straightforward, we have to make the dough recipe from the selected cookbook but were free to decide what kind of filling we wanted.

I wasn't feeling super creative this month and I just happened to have bough some of the first fresh cherries of the season at the farmer's market, so cherry strudel it was. I halved and pitted the fresh cherries and used some crushed pistachio to give it some crunch.

The filling wasn't what intimidated me about making the strudel though, it was the dough. Although there isn't a great deal of it, the point is to roll it out as super thin as you possibly can so that there is layer upon layer of flaky, crunchy dough surrounding the filling - kind of like phyllo. The problem with this is that it requires a great deal of flat work space - ideally a large dining table.

However, the husband and I live like total college students and the only kitchen table we've ever had was commandeered to be the new computer desk for his gigantic computer when we moved to California. We do have a nice little table in the kitchen that we eat breakfast at on the weekends, but it's nowhere near the size one needs to roll out strudel dough.

My solution? Mini strudel.

It worked amazingly well. This dough is so supremely easy to work with it's kind of ridiculous. I was anticipating all sorts of headaches with this baby, even with only making strudel a fraction of the size of a normal one. I couldn't have been more wrong. It was like the dough was actively conspiring to help make this successful. Oh to have all my Daring Baker recipes go this well.

Linda has the recipe posted for the strudel and the traditional filling posted over at her blog, make life sweeter!, so if you're interested in trying it out yourself you can find it there.

If you're like me and don't have the space to roll out one enormous strudel, or you're too lazy - which is also like me, quite frequently - it's quite simple to make some mini strudels. This also gives one the opportunity to try out many different types of filling with only batch of dough.

My method for cherry-pistachio strudel:

Divide strudel dough into eighths, roll out as thinly as possible,

brush with melted butter, sprinkle with crushed pistachios,

top with part of cherry filling (which is merely a pound of pitted, fresh cherries tossed with a tablespoon of sugar), roll into a tight cylinder, and brush with more melted butter.

Bake at 400 F for about 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown, let stand for ten minutes, devour.

Easy as pie.

...or strudel.

Be sure to check out all the other Daring Bakers and their lovely creations this month at the Daring Bakers Blogroll.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Thai Sticky Rice With Mangoes (Khao Niao Mamuang)

Sticky rice with mangoes is a Thai dessert often sold by vendors with street carts in the spring and early summer while mangoes are in season.

It's an incredibly simple dessert to make, given that one has the ability to steam the sticky rice properly, with only 5 ingredients.

First a note on sticky rice itself; sticky rice, also called glutinous rice, is a short grain rice that is widely cultivate in Southeast Asia. Although it is called glutinous rice, it does not contain any gluten. 'Glutinous' is used in the sense that the rice is sticky, unlike other varieties of rice that are dry and fluffy when cooked. Sticky rice is also frequently called sweet rice, waxy rice, and botan rice.

Additionally, while most rice (at least in the West) is boiled, sticky rice must be soaked for several hours and steamed. I use a traditional steamer that is available in many Asian stores and on that looks like this:

Water is put into the lower basin and set to boil, while the rice is placed in the steamer basket. Some prefer to wrap the rice in cheesecloth before putting it into the basket. I used to take this extra step, but once I realized that the rice easily releases from the basket and cooks exactly the same way I eliminated the cheesecloth. A lid from a pot (I use the lid to my 2 quart saucepan) is placed over the top of the rice to trap the steam in the basket. The water boils and steams the rice for about 20 minutes, and voila - sticky rice.

I imagine that one can use any type of steamer that uses this method to cook the rice, it doesn't have to be a traditional basket steamer. I've never attempted it any other way, but I'm sure that someone could McGyver up a method to make it work.

For this recipe, once the rice is steamed it is simply left to soak in a pot of warmed, sweetened coconut milk until it absorbs it all and then topped with chopped, ripe mango and some sesame seeds. It's one of my husband's favorite things to eat, and if I can remember to soak the rice (it must soak for at least 8 hours before steaming) I usually make it for him whenever I find mangoes on sale.

I've used regular coconut milk for this recipe, only because the commissary was out of lite coconut milk. Coconut milk is one of the only plant products that is extremely high in saturated fat. As such I have usually tried to limit our intake of coconut milk, but according to this article on, I may have the wrong idea about coconuts. All the talk about good fats vs. bad fats gets can be overwhelming - but apparently even though coconuts are high in saturated fat, it's a Medium-Chain Triglyceride that the body burns as it would a carbohydrate, for energy, instead of storing it, like normal saturated fat.

All that being said, this is a delicious and ridiculously easy dessert that's great for the mango season. I suggest trying it at least once, you may fall in love with it as we have.

Thai Sticky Rice with Mangoes (Khao Niao Mamuang)

Makes 6 servings (90g rice + 75g mango)

1 cup dry glutinous rice, soaked for at least 8 hours and then steamed over boiling water for 20-25 minutes
1 cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons sugar (preferably grated palm sugar, but white granulated will do)
2 mangoes, pitted, skinned, and chopped roughly
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

In a medium saucepan heat the coconut milk and sugar over med-low heat until hot, but not boiling. Reserve two tablespoons of the mixture, set aside. Place the still warm sticky rice into the coconut milk mixture, cover with lid, and let rest for 5 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed by the rice. Serve rice with the chopped mangoes on top, drizzle the reserved coconut-sugar mixture over the mangoes and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of sesame seeds.

Nutritional Estimate

This is a nutritional estimate, I do not claim it to be exact - although it is pretty close.

1 serving = 90g rice + 75g chopped mango + 1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds

Calories: 262
Carbohydrates: 43.5g
Fat: 9g
Protein: 3.5 g

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Refried Beans

I've always loved refried beans - they're filling and they're tasty - what can be bad about that, right?

As it turns out, refried beans are called refried because they are first cooked, then mashed and fried in lard/fat to give them their characteristically smooth, creamy texture.

Tell me the thought of that doesn't just totally skeeze you out. Beans frying in lard - not my idea of tasty fudz.

I decided that if I was ever going to eat refried beans again I had to develop my own method of making them. Turns out it's so easy that I'm pretty sure a trained monkey could actually do it.

Seriously, no exaggeration needed.

So, next time you've got a hankering for some tasty refried beans to add to your bean burrito, nachos, taco salad, etc. try this instead of loading up at your favorite Mexican joint.

Your arteries will thank you.

Refried Beans

Makes 4 Servings (1/2 cup/100 g)

1 (14 oz) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 small yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
kosher salt

Process the onion and garlic in a food chopper/processor until nearly pureed. If you don't have a food processor/chopper, throw on some sunglasses and chop until they're a super fine mince. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a 2 qt. saucepan until it begins to shimmer. Add the onion and garlic mixture and cook until softened, about two minutes. Add the chili powder and cumin, mixing until evenly distributed. Add the drained, rinsed pinto beans and add enough water to cover the beans. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered until water has decreased by half. Mash beans with a potato masher until they resemble your desired level "refried-ness." If still too thin for your liking, let sit over med-low heat, stirring occasionally, until they are as thick as you like. Serve immediately, or store in refrigerator with plastic wrap pressed directly on surface of beans so as not to form a skin.

Nutritional Estimate

This is a nutritional estimate, I do not claim it to be exact - although it is pretty close.

1 serving - 1/2 cup/100 g

Calories: 81
Fat: 1.5
Protein: 5g

Friday, May 22, 2009


Pork is an amazing, wondrous meat.

I've often considered going vegetarian - for health and environmental reasons - but it's always pork that keeps me an omnivore.

I like it smoked, baked, braised, cured - you name it, I'll eat it. I could abstain from all other meats for the rest of my life, just leave me my delicious oinky friend and I'll be just fine.

That being said, I bought a whole pork loin a while back and have since been finding different ways to use it. Following in the steps of my lovely, frugal mother, whenever I see a sale on a protein I stock up. I'd portioned the loin into different sizes for different purposes and finally found myself with one last piece left - a 1.5 lb. roast.

I figured I'd just treat it like any other roast, but as I was perusing the interwebz looking for what to do with it I decided that I'd much rather have carnitas. I already had everything else in the house that I'd need to make a delicious latin-style meal, but was unsure how well the substitution of loin for shoulder would go.

Traditionally carnitas is made using a boneless pork shoulder, also known as a Boston Butt (god only knows how it became both a butt and a shoulder). It's browned in a dutch oven and then slow-braised at a low temp for several hours. When it's fork tender it's pulled apart so it can soak up the residual juices - and then depending on tastes you can throw it back in the oven without a lid for a while to crisp up, or keep it tender and soft.

Although pork loin has a minimal amount of fat, there's relatively little marbling - nothing in comparison to what a shoulder roast has got going on. Nevertheless, I figured it was worth a shot. If it goes horribly wrong we can always order pizza, right?

I am very happy to say that it turned out amazingly well. Surprisingly well. Shockingly well.

I could eat a whole damn pot of it given the time, opportunity, and exemption of weight gain from eating that much pork at once.

I am aware that this is not a traditional recipe. However it is delicious, it's lower in fat than the traditional style, and it's damn easy to make.

You should eat this.


Serves 4

1 1/2 lb. boneless pork loin
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 (14 oz) can beef broth
2 garlic cloves, smashed and then minced
2 bay leaves
kosher salt

Preheat oven to 325 F.

In a large ovenproof skillet or dutch oven with lid, heat the two tablespoons oil over medium to medium-high heat. Season all sides of the pork loin generously with the kosher salt. Sprinkle the chili powder and cumin over all sides of the loin as well. Place the loin in the hot oil, and allow to cook, undisturbed, until it is browned. Repeat until all sides of the loin are browned, about 2-3 minutes each side. Pour in the beef broth, add garlic and the bay leaves. Cover with the lid and put in 325 F oven for two hours. After two hours check the loin, most of the liquid should be gone and it should be fork tender. If it is not, continue braising, checking every 30 minutes until it is. Using two forks, pull the meat apart and toss in the residual juices. If crispy carnitas is desired, return to the oven, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes or until the top is crispy. If not, serve as is with warmed tortillas and whatever condiments are preferred.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

What do you do with a drunken sailor?

Why save the wine corks of course!

Sadly the story behind my wine-cork cork board is not nearly so interesting as straying behind a meandering, intoxicated seafarer who willy-nilly casts about the stoppers of his preferred beverage, picking up each and dusting them off before attaching them to a board.

I'm lucky enough (or boring enough compared to the above example) to have relatives that truly enjoy this beverage of the gods. If it had been just me it would've taken years to accumulate all these corks.

Regular wine-drinker or not, I'm quite pleased with my creation. I saw a wine-cork cork board in a magazine spread on a house in Northern California and fell in love. Granted, theirs was outside and about 6 feet by 9 feet, but mine will do just fine.

It was really quite simple to make. A little tedious - and painful - but simple. Depending on the thickness of the frame you have you may have to cut each of the corks in half lengthwise so that they don't stick out too far. If you're smart, you'll go through the extra labor of finding a thick frame - I didn't, and after spending about two hours cutting corks in half yesterday morning the tendinitis in my right arm is about to kill me.

But, after collecting the corks and buying the frame, all that really needs to be done is arrange them in a suitable manner and glue them there.

Easy as pie.

Well, actually easier than pie depending on the pie.

If you like puzzles you'll really enjoy fitting the corks in and out in different shapes and designs. If you're like me and would rather gouge out your own eyes with a salad fork than solve a puzzle then the highest level of difficulty in design you'll get to is likely what you see here.

I'm so damn creative.

So get to that wine-drinkin' and save your corks. Then put them on the wall in a pretty way so people will admire your craftiness and forget that you're a lush and drank that many bottles of wine.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Daring Ricotta Gnocchi

Two and one half years after establishing the Daring Bakers, Lis of La Mia Cucina and Ivonne of Creampuffs in Venice have created a whole new outlet for my food addiction with the introduction of the Daring Cooks.

One could never think that these two ladies could be more lovely, but then they astound with you lovely notions such as this one.

The next few months of my life are going to be, in a phrase, completely effing insane. Nevertheless, I plan on participating and enjoying both groups and expanding and honing my cooking and baking skills through their gentle encouragement.

For the inaugural recipe, Lis and Ivonne chose a ricotta gnocchi recipe by Judy Rogers. The recipe is located in her cookbook, titled for her restaurant of the same name, "The Zuni Cafe Cookbook."

I've only ever had gnocchi once before - and to be completely honest I was less than impressed. When I discovered what the recipe was for this month I was vaguely disappointed, but still retained hope that ricotta based gnocchi - and those made by my own two hands - would taste better than the packaged gnocchi I'd tried previously.

I was pleased that this recipe was quite easy. The only time consuming portion is draining the ricotta of the excess whey to ensure a firm gnocchi. Considering that draining the ricotta requires little to no active participation on my part, I was even more pleased.

These gnocchi were most definitely better than the packaged kind I'd had before - no surprise there. I still don't think gnocchi will ever make its way onto my list of favorite foods - but at least I've got another recipe to add to my repertoire of things I can make that will usually impress other people.

I've included below both the recipe for the gnocchi and the helpful tips provided by Lis and Ivonne if you wish to try these out yourself. I highly recommend these for anyone who 1) likes gnocchi, 2) likes ricotta, 3) likes Parmesan (that's what they taste like mostly), or 4) has some spare time and feels like trying a recipe that's entertaining and relatively tasty.

I didn't get too crazy with my version of the recipe, though we were granted latitude in deciding what flavorings or sauces we wanted. I stuck with some good old Parmigiana-Reggiano, sauteed them in French butter, and sprinkled them with some freshly ground black pepper, a few shavings of the PR, and some fresh chopped chives. They were pretty tasty, though a little egg-y in my opinion - something I heard from many people who made this recipe.

Thank you to Lis and Ivonne for not only hosting the first month of the Daring Cooks, but also for creating a super-awesome group for people that are more comfortable with the stove-top portion of the oven. I can't wait to see what's going to get cooked up for next month...

Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi
From The Zuni Café Cookbook.

Yield: Makes 40 to 48 gnocchi (serves 4 to 6)

Prep time: Step 1 will take 24 hours. Steps 2 through 4 will take approximately 1 hour.


- If you can find it, use fresh ricotta. As Judy Rodgers advises in her recipe, there is no substitute for fresh ricotta. It may be a bit more expensive, but it's worth it.
- Do not skip the draining step. Even if the fresh ricotta doesn't look very wet, it is. Draining the ricotta will help your gnocchi tremendously.
- When shaping your gnocchi, resist the urge to over handle them. It's okay if they look a bit wrinkled or if they're not perfectly smooth.
- If you're not freezing the gnocchi for later, cook them as soon as you can. If you let them sit around too long they may become a bit sticky.

For the gnocchi:

1 pound (454 grams/16 ounces) fresh ricotta (2 cups)
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) unsalted butter
2 or 3 fresh sage leaves, or a few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg, or a few pinches of chopped lemon zest (all optional)
½ ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about ¼ cup very lightly packed)
about ¼ teaspoon salt (a little more if using kosher salt)
all-purpose flour for forming the gnocchi

Step 1 (the day before you make the gnocchi): Preparing the ricotta.

If the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. In her cookbook, Judy Rodgers recommends checking the ricotta’s wetness. To test the ricotta, take a teaspoon or so and place it on a paper towel. If you notice a very large ring of dampness forming around the ricotta after a minute or so, then the ricotta is too wet. To remove some of the moisture, line a sieve with cheesecloth or paper towels and place the ricotta in the sieve. Cover it and let it drain for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can wrap the ricotta carefully in cheesecloth (2 layers) and suspend it in your refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours with a bowl underneath to catch the water that’s released. Either way, it’s recommended that you do this step the day before you plan on making the gnocchi.

Step 2 (the day you plan on eating the gnocchi): Making the gnocchi dough.

To make great gnocchi, the ricotta has to be fairly smooth. Place the drained ricotta in a large bowl and mash it as best as you can with a rubber spatula or a large spoon (it’s best to use a utensil with some flexibility here). As you mash the ricotta, if you noticed that you can still see curds, then press the ricotta through a strainer to smooth it out as much as possible.

Add the lightly beaten eggs to the mashed ricotta.

Melt the tablespoon of butter. As it melts, add in the sage if you’re using it. If not, just melt the butter and add it to the ricotta mixture.

Add in any flavouring that you’re using (i.e., nutmeg, lemon zest, etc.). If you’re not using any particular flavouring, that’s fine.

Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the salt.

Beat all the ingredients together very well. You should end up with a soft and fluffy batter with no streaks (everything should be mixed in very well).

Step 3 Forming the gnocchi.

Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. When it boils, salt the water generously and keep it at a simmer. You will use this water to test the first gnocchi that you make to ensure that it holds together and that your gnocchi batter isn’t too damp.

In a large, shallow baking dish or on a sheet pan, make a bed of all-purpose flour that’s ½ an inch deep.

With a spatula, scrape the ricotta mixture away from the sides of the bowl and form a large mass in the centre of your bowl.

Using a tablespoon, scoop up about 2 to 3 teaspoons of batter and then holding the spoon at an angle, use your finger tip to gently push the ball of dough from the spoon into the bed of flour.

At this point you can either shake the dish or pan gently to ensure that the flour covers the gnocchi or use your fingers to very gently dust the gnocchi with flour. Gently pick up the gnocchi and cradle it in your hand rolling it to form it in an oval as best as you can, at no point should you squeeze it. What you’re looking for is an oval lump of sorts that’s dusted in flour and plump.

Gently place your gnocchi in the simmering water. It will sink and then bob to the top. From the time that it bobs to the surface, you want to cook the gnocchi until it’s just firm. This could take 3 to 5 minutes.

If your gnocchi begins to fall apart, this means that the ricotta cheese was probably still too wet. You can remedy this by beating a teaspoon of egg white into your gnocchi batter. If your gnocchi batter was fluffy but the sample comes out heavy, add a teaspoon of beaten egg to the batter and beat that in. Test a second gnocchi to ensure success.

Form the rest of your gnocchi. You can put 4 to 6 gnocchi in the bed of flour at a time. But don’t overcrowd your bed of flour or you may damage your gnocchi as you coat them.

Have a sheet pan ready to rest the formed gnocchi on. Line the sheet pan with wax or parchment paper and dust it with flour.

You can cook the gnocchi right away, however, Judy Rodgers recommends storing them in the refrigerator for an hour prior to cooking to allow them to firm up.

Step 4 Cooking the gnocchi.

Have a large skillet ready to go. Place the butter and water for the sauce in the skillet and set aside.

In the largest pan or pot that you have (make sure it’s wide), bring at least 2 quarts of water to a boil (you can use as much as 3 quarts of water if your pot permits). You need a wide pot or pan so that your gnocchi won’t bump into each other and damage each other.

Once the water is boiling, salt it generously.

Drop the gnocchi into the water one by one. Once they float to the top, cook them for 3 to 5 minutes (as in the case with the test gnocchi).

When the gnocchi float to the top, you can start your sauce while you wait for them to finish cooking.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


I cannot even begin to put into words how incredibly relieved I am to be finished with this semester.

This was one of the most academically challenging last few months of my life. When I started college the first time at 15 it was easier than the five courses I've been taking since February.

But I took my last final this morning...and I am free!

I'm taking summer semester off because I'm going to be spending a large chunk of June in Florida. My sister is having her first child and I am so excited to meet him that I could just scream.

Additionally we'll be moving. In July. We just don't know where to.

Tell me that's not stressful, eh?

In any event, I'll have plenty of time over the next few weeks to whip up some tasty treats to share with the 7 people who read this thing.

I'm going to attempt to make recipes that are as low-calorie as possible. While suffering through the hardest load of classes EVAR - I've also managed to lose 15 lbs. I'd like to lose 5 more before I make it to Florida in a couple weeks and then after that I'm hoping and wishing to lose another 10-15 lbs. I figure that I weighed 120 lbs. for a large portion of my adolescence and dammit I'm going to get there again.

Even if I go insane in the process.

Hopefully that won't happen. But I bet if it did my husband and I would still get along great. And by that I mean he's a crazy person (love you, honey!).

I lost the power cord to my camera's battery charger for about a week, so I wasn't able to take pictures of as many things as I'd like. I finally found it though and managed to grab a few shots of a childhood favorite of many...circus animal crackers!

And oh boy is it ever.

I remember my friends having these in their school lunches and being totally envious of them. My mother never bought these kinds of things for us when we were kids - she believed in us eating things that were actually good for us....lame-o. Every chance I got I'd try and trade at the lunch table for a couple of these babies.

After trying them again, courtesy of Foodbuzz, I'm quite sad to admit that my childhood tastebuds were horribly mistaken - they taste nothing of the delicious, sprinkle-covered awesomeness that I remember. More like someone dipped cardboard in sugar.


At least they're still cute though.

I've also developed a distinct love for swiss chard in the last couple weeks. I'd never tried it before, although I've eaten just about every other green under the sun, and after my first exploration into the world of chard-y-goodness I am hooked!

It's particularly delicious sauteed up with mushrooms, shrimp, tomatoes, and cheese ravioli (tortellini in this shot - I ended up making it again a few days later but was out of ravioli).

I found that it is also delicious in baked penne. Though considering that the ingredients are largely the same it shouldn't have been too surprising. I'll blame it on the fact that my cognitive abilities have sunk to that of a goldfish after exercising my big juicy brain so thoroughly for the last few months.

And so concludes my update on the last few crazy, crazy weeks. I hope to be making a particularly tasty treat in the next few days for a particularly daring group - if you catch my drift.

Hasta luego, mi amigos.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

See you soon...

funny pictures of cats with captions

It's that finals time again folks...

I'll have my nose stuck in books for the next week brushing up on systems development, Kantian ethics, Piaget's development stages, and the AP style of documentation.

See you on the other side!