Saturday, April 20, 2013

Tilapia, Spinach and Feta Cheese Bake

This recipe was SO delicious and quick to prepare that it's pulled me out of a 14-month retirement, people. If that's not reason enough to make it—it's also healthy!

It may not look like much, but this dish—made with tilapia (or any white fish), salsa/tomato sauce, garlic sauteed spinach and feta cheese—is really pretty amazing.

Sauteed spinach, as always, is lovely, and the feta gets warm and creamy and slightly browned. Mmm. I bet this would also be great with halved cherry tomatoes on top, or maybe some olives. Or spaghetti squash, or zucchini.

This recipe comes from The Hairpin. (Thanks, ladies!)

Tilapia, Spinach and Feta Cheese Bake 
Serves two.

 2 tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
A 6- to 10-ounce bag raw baby spinach (I used a 6-ounce bag and wished I'd had more)
1/2 cup salsa or tomato sauce (I used half of each, since I had some salsa to use up but not enough. Either would work fine.  I'd suggest for the salsa that you don't use a kind with beans and corn in it)
Two tilapia filets
1/4 to 1/2 cup feta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat oven to 425. Spray a casserole dish (I used an 8x8 pan and it just fit) with olive oil, canola oil or butter.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add garlic and sautee for about a minute.
3. Now you're going to sautee the spinach in the olive oil and garlic. Add enough spinach to cover the pan, and let it cook down until it starts becoming dark and wilted. When you have room in the pan, add more spinach and cook it down, repeating the process until all the spinach is dark and wilted. Season with a little pepper and a little salt (not too much salt, because the feta is very salty).
4. Mix the salsa in with the spinach, and put half the mixture on the bottom of the prepared casserole dish. Place the tilapia on top, and put the rest of the spinach mixture on top of the fish. Season with pepper.
5. Sprinkle feta cheese on top, to taste. I used almost a 1/2 cup, but I felt like I had just a smidge too much.
6. Place in the oven, uncovered, and bake for about 30 minutes. The fish is done when it's opaque and flakes easily with a fork.
7. Spoon pan juices over the fish and enjoy!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Red Velvet Bundt Cake (With Cream Cheese Frosting)

This is not a health food.

But, whether you're celebrating Valentine's Day or Galentine's Day, are we really counting calories? The answer is NO. So, treat yo self.

Red velvet cakes have always been a mystery to me. What makes red velvet so red? Why do people love it so much? What is "red velvet," anyway?

(And by the way, why the eff is it so hard to take nice photos of? "Don't worry, I'm just setting up a photography studio in the kitchen. NORMAL THINGS ARE HAPPENING, CARRY ON WITH YOUR REGULAR BUSINESS" I shouted to my family yesterday, while looping a pink sheet through our kitchen cabinets and attempting to hang a lamp on the refrigerator door. In case it needs to be said, this did not end well.)

I think the answer to the red velvet love lies in a little thing called bangin' cream cheese frosting.

Red velvet cake is the perfect complement to the cream cheesy, buttery, vanilla-y goodness that goes on top.

Don't get me wrong—this cake is most certainly yummy, especially with the slight tang it gets from the Greek yogurt—but the cream cheese frosting is really the star of the show here. Red velvet cake is like the cool best friend who is really nice, and stable, and pretty, but a little soft-spoken, so her more charismatic or craycray friend gets the spotlight.

Oh, red velvet cake, you beautiful spinster. I will find you love.

Cake (Adapted from Kiss My Bundt):
(Recipe makes one 12-cup bundt cake, or a dozen "baby bundts" with one cup capacity, two 9-inch round cakes, or 14 to 18 cupcakes.)

1 1/4 cups vegetable oil (if you don't have any oil on hand, you can sub 1 1/2 cups butter, but this will create a pretty dense, buttery cake).
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt*
2 eggs, room temperature
2 tablespoons red food coloring**
1 teaspoon white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon fine salt
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

 *Original recipe calls for one cup buttermilk in place of the 2 tbsp. milk and cup of Greek yogurt, but I thought it worked really well in this cake, for a nice sour cream flavor without the calories.
**Yeah, I know. It seriously needs that two tablespoons, though, for the red color to come though so vibrantly. Red food coloring is sold separately in most stores because red velvet cakes are so popular. Grab an entire bottle of it, because 2 tablespoons is almost a fluid ounce. If you have an issue with red food coloring, you can skip this and make it a "brown velvet" cake.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease bundt pan and dust with cocoa powder.

Combine the oil, milk, yogurt, eggs, food coloring, vinegar and vanilla, and if using an electric mixer, beat on medium speed for one minute.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cocoa powder, then add dry ingredients to the wet, mixing well.  Pour the batter into the bundt pan.

Bake until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean and the cake doesn't jiggle when shaken, about 45 to 55 minutes. (Mine was still pretty wet at 45; I baked for 55 minutes.)

Allow cake to cool at least 15 minutes before attempting to remove it from the mold. I stuck mine outside for a good hour in the cold, before gently tracing a knife around the edges and inverting it onto a serving tray. Cool completely before frosting.

(Makes enough to  frost a 12-cup bundt cake.)

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 ounces unsalted butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar (measured then sifted)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream the cream cheese and butter until soft and completely smooth, at least two minutes with an electric mixer on medium speed. With mixer set on low or by hand, slowly add the powdered sugar, making sure to scrape down any frosting stuck to the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla extract and mix on medium speed until the frosting is smooth and fluffy.

Happy Valentines Day!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Dal Nirvana

I've been on an Indian food kick recently.

Since I'm super broke right now, the great thing about my recent obsession is that a lot of delicious Indian dishes are cheap to make. Like, really cheap to make. And some, like Dal Nirvana, are ridiculously cheap to make. This recipe cost me $2.28 for six servings, or 38 cents per serving. Add in a cup of rice per person, and that brings the total up to 58 cents per person. This awesomeness is totally making its way into my lunch rotation.

"Dal" is an Indian word for lentils, and this recipe hails from an Indian restaurant, called Nirvana, in California. The basic ingredients are lentils, tomatoes, spices and a little cream, which is simmered until it creates a tender, creamy dish that is perfect for serving with naan or rice. I have no idea if this is anywhere near an "authentic" Indian recipe, but it's pretty yum, and simple to make.

What's even more great is that each serving of this recipe (not including rice) packs a little less than 170 calories, 8 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber.

So, let's review.

Cheap.  Easy.  Healthy.  Yum.

Dal Nirvana (via Budget Bytes)
Serves four to six

1 c. dry green lentils
1 15 oz. can crushed or diced tomatoes (I'd recommend crushed, but either works great)
2 cloves garlic (I used 3 tsp. minced garlic, from a jar)
1 inch fresh ginger, grated (I cheated, and used 1/4 tsp. ginger spice. Use more to taste.)
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (I would suggest starting with half a tsp. and adding more to taste during the simmering process. It's pretty spicy!)
3 tbsp. butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
2 tbsp. cream

Add lentils to large pot and cover with a few inches of water. Bring to a boil and let cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain the lentils.

While the lentils are boiling, mince the garlic and peel and grate the ginger.

Return the drained lentils to the pot (medium heat), and mash some of them against the side of the pot so they open. Add the butter, ginger, garlic, cayenne, and a healthy dose of salt and pepper.

Add the can of tomatoes and one cup of water. Stir it all together, bring it to a simmer then reduce the heat to low. Put a lid on the pot and let it simmer for about 40 minutes. When it's finished, the mixture will be soft and thick. If it's not, continue to simmer (I took the lid off), and add more water if the mixture dries out. The end product should be thick, not watery.

Stir in the cream, check for seasoning, and if desired, garnish with fresh, chopped cilantro. Serve over rice or with naan bread for dipping.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Raspberry Shortbread Bar Cookies

Oh, hello.

It's been a while. Again.

I was talking to a friend tonight, whom I recently asked to guest blog here (post coming soon!). As I was eating her out of house and home, she said she was pretty sure she'd be a terrible blogger.

"My problem would be posting consistently. And I think that's an important part of blogging," she said, steeping some tea. "Actually, I think that's like the main part of blogging."

Yeah... my bad.  In the past year and a half, I had like, one four-month long stretch of consistent blogging. Oopsies.

Well, friends, let's consider it a New Years Resolution. I'll be posting at least twice a month in 2012. That may not seem like such a lofty goal, but I'd rather meet it than fail miserably!

Anyway, what brought me back to the blogging world is the fact that I made these delicious bar cookies for a friend's belated Christmas present. While devouring one (or ten), I realized that despite my love affair with raspberry shortbread, I'd never actually blogged the recipe. And that, dear readers, is simply unacceptable.

This crispy, chewy, buttery shortbread is paired with raspberry jam to create the perfect winter bar cookie. The secret lies in grating your dough so the shortbread is light, fluffy and crispy rather than dense: a process that does take a bit more time than pressing the dough into the pan, but one that is completely worth it. This cookie is a hit with everyone I know who's tried it. I mean, really—how wrong can you go with a recipe that calls for four sticks of butter?

If you absolutely don't have the time to grate your dough (though I totally recommend it!), the bars are still good if the shortbread is just pressed into the pan.

Austrian Raspberry Shortbread (via Smitten Kitchen)
4 sticks butter, softened
4 egg yolks
2 cups granulated sugar
4 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup raspberry jam, at room temperature
1/4 cup powdered sugar

Cream the butter (in a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or by hand) until fluffy. Add the egg yolks and vanilla and mix well. Mix the granulated sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt together. Add dry ingredients to the butter and egg yolk mixture and mix just until incorporated and the dough starts to come together.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and form into two balls, then wrap each ball in plastic wrap.  Freeze dough for one to two hours or overnight. (Note: If you are grating by hand, I find it is much easier to work with dough that has only been chilled for 1-2 hours. If grating with a food processor, a longer freeze is better.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove one ball of dough from the freezer and coarsely grate it by hand, or with the grating disk in a food processor, into the bottom of a greased 9×13-inch baking pan or a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Without pressing the dough down, distribute the dough shards evenly in the pan.

With a piping bag with a wide tip or a zip-lock bag with the corner cut off, squeeze the jam over the surface as evenly as possible, to within 1/2 inch of the edge all the way around. Remove the remaining dough from the freezer and coarsely grate it over the entire surface.

Bake until lightly golden brown and the center no longer wiggles, 50 to 60 minutes. As soon as the shortbread comes out of the oven, dust with confectioners' sugar. Cool on a wire rack, then cut into bars. Bars will come out more smoothly if shortbread is chilled in refrigerator or freezer.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mocha Rum Cake

Alcohol. Coffee. Chocolate. Deadly combination, or awesome combination?

If you've ever had a Guinness chocolate cupcake or a Mudslide, you are clearly aware that the answer to this question is ... well, both. But mostly awesome.

The occasion for this cake was my friend's completion of her first year of law school. I am pretty sure this crazy girl finished at the top of most of her Ivy League classes, despite dealing with a variety of trials during the semester that would have completely destroyed me, such as the various incarnations of sickness her husband came down with over the course of the semester. She wrote a 30-page paper in one night, while recovering from the flu and caring for a husband on bedrest. Clearly, this girl deserved something chocolatey and alcoholic.

Enter the mocha rum cake.

I was a little skeptical at first: I've eaten some baaaad bundt cakes. And isn't a cup of rum kind of... excessive? ...Is this cake going to get me drunk!?

The cake is definitely boozey, but it's also really, really moist, and the coffee brings out the richness of the chocolate flavor. I served this with a simple vanilla glaze, but you could make a rum glaze or experiment with frostings: this might be great with a chocolate buttercream or cream cheese frosting. The possibilities are endless, people.

Mocha Rum Cake
From Joy the Baker, who adapted from Gourmet, January 1994

Cocoa powder for dusting
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup dark rum (I used dark Jamaican rum, but a lighter rum like Bacardi or Captain Morgan would do if you don't want to run out for a new bottle)
1 1/3 cups strong brewed coffee
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, beaten lightly
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
confectioners’ sugar for dusting (optional)
lightly sweetened whipped cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 300°F. Butter a 4 1/2-inch-deep (12-cup) bundt pan and dust with cocoa powder, knocking out excess.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. In a large metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, melt chocolate and butter, stirring until smooth. Remove chocolate from heat and stir in rum, coffee, and granulated sugar. With an electric mixer beat in flour, 1/2 cup at a time, scraping down side, and beat in eggs and vanilla until batter is combined well (the batter will seem very loose, but that's how it's supposed to be). Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake cake in middle of oven until a tester comes out clean, about 1 hour and 50 minutes. Let cake cool completely in pan on a rack and turn it out onto rack. Cake may be made 3 days in advance and kept wrapped well and chilled.

Dust cake with confectioners’ sugar and serve with whipped cream.

The cake is delicious on its own, great with whipped cream, or topped with a simple glaze. I made mine with 2 cups powdered sugar, a few teaspoons of vanilla, and then enough water to thin it to a thick-but-still-runny consistency. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Friends, I have much to share with you. I did get the job I mentioned in my last post-- which partially explains the lack of posts. I've been cooking and baking, but have neglected to blog them. Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting up a few back-logged recipes.

But not quite yet. I have much to get through for my three (three!) jobs in the next few days. But soon and very soon: Pesto Chango, new and improved, with a real live DSLR! (One of the many positive changes in my life lately.)


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Vietnamese Pork Noodle Soup

I'm prepping for an interview right now. And by right now, of course, I mean, I'm avoiding prepping for it by blogging. Certainly you understand.

I haven't been actively seeking out jobs for a few months, because I've been making enough money as a freelancer to cover my ever-looming loan payments, food, and the occasional night out. But this potential job kind of fell into my lap, and it's kind of perfect for me, so here's hoping I don't completely bomb tomorrow morning.

I'm always at a loss when interviewers ask for my biggest weakness. Um, hello? Who is going to answer that honestly? I've heard it's a question skilled interviewers don't really ask because everyone knows you're not going to get a real answer.

However, while we're on the subject, potential employers, I'm not always the best at managing time. I do create lists of priorities, yadda yadda, but sometimes I pack my schedule too tightly, and I'm inevitably left racing around to get everything done.

Take for example, yesterday. I meant to cook this soup for a few friends before one rushed off to teach class, but ended up making my already short timetable half an hour shorter. You know it's a bad day when you're already running late, and in the grocery store thinking, "It would be comically terrible if all the pork tenderloin just happened to be missing from the shelf"—and then what happens is exactly that.

However, thanks to the help of two diligent amigos who I was supposed to be cooking for rather than with, this soup came together in less than half an hour, including prep time. The meat cooks quickly, and the ginger, scallions and lime create a wonderfully flavorful broth that's full of nothing but yummy, healthy things.

Thank you, Nigella Lawson. You truly are a domestic goddess.

Vietnamese Pork Noodle Soup
From Nigella Lawson
Serves 2-4

10 ounces pork tenderloin, cut into thin discs and then fine strips
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons fish sauce
8 ounces ramen noodles (or other noodles)
1 tablespoon garlic flavored oil (I just used regular oil and would have sauteed a clove of garlic with my ginger and scallions if I'd had any on hand)
6 thin or 3 fat scallions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
1 quart chicken broth
3 cups (10 oz.) bean sprouts
2 small baby bok choy, torn into pieces
2 teaspoons chopped red or green chiles (optional, I think)

Marinate the (already cut) pork tenderloin in a bowl or bag with the lime juice, soy sauce, paprika and fish sauce. Let stand for up to 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the noodles according to package instructions, drain and rinse in cold water. In another pot, heat the chicken broth to almost boiling.

In a deep, heavy frying pan or a wok (or, I just used a pot), add the oil and fry the scallions and ginger for about a minute, then add the pork and its liquid to the wok. Stir and cook for about two minutes or until pork is mostly cooked. Then add hot chicken broth and bring to a boil.

Check that the pork is cooked through, then add the bean sprouts and baby bok choy. At this point, the soup is ready to serve, but I think the flavors would pop more if given a little more quality time together, maybe 15 minutes or so on a very low heat setting.

To serve, arrange noodles in serving bowls, ladle pork and vegetables on top, and then add the broth. Garnish with chopped chiles.