Monday, November 24, 2008

Cranberry-Orange Loaf

If you haven't noticed, I go in kicks. First there were tomatoes, then mushrooms, squash and now cranberries. I get excited (obsessed) about an ingredient and I go crazy. (Plus, I need to finish off the leftovers). So here's another variation on orange (tangerine) and cranberries. It's rather unfortunate I chose to make this week cranberry-orange week as I have an e-freaking-normous canker sore in the back of my mouth (a result of biting my cheek not herpes simplex one, you high schoolers!). The sore is so swollen that every time I swallow I bite it, and I am in serious danger of overdosing and injesting enough oral benzocaine to warrant a call to poison control. Megan informed me last night that orange juice, tomatoes and the like (i.e. anything acidic) are bad. I'm just praying that it will heal enough for me to be able to sleep on the left side of my face and to enjoy tomorrow's feast.
On a tip from Sugar Punk (where I got this recipe) and Better Homes and Gardens, it's not necessary or adviseable to mix the batter to a smooth consistency. As you can see in the above photo, not quite all the flour has been mixed. It supposedly makes the bread lighter in the end. True, I did find this bread to be lighter than the tangerine-orange muffins, which I probably over-mixed. Plus, it's less work. We all win here.
Cranberry-Orange Loaf: 2 cups flour 3/4 cup granulated sugar 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 3/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 cup butter, softened peel from one orange (tangerine in this case) 3/4 cup orange juice (props to me for using juice from the tangerine) 1 egg 1 cup chopped cranberries Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Add butter and mix until crumbly. Add the peel, juice, egg and cranberries. Stir until moistened. Pour batter into an 8" by 4" pan. Bake for 75 minutes at 350 degrees.

Maria Cooks, Part 4

Editor's note (I've always wanted to do one of these): This is a slice from the life of Maria who is studying for a master's in criminal justice at Indiana University in Bloomington.

The butternut squash is next. I (Maria) was making dinner the night before I left for St. Louis. I hardly had any food left in my fridge, and what I did have was somewhat random. I had half a butternut squash left so I decided to follow the directions on the sticker. I cut the squash in half so that two spoon-type hollows form. I spooned out the seeds and other mush. Instead of baking in the oven I cheated and did the microwave. I put an inch of water into a glass baking dish and put the squash skin-side-up in. I microwaved for about 8 minutes. I then turned the squash over and spooned some butter and brown sugar into each hole. Microwaved for two more minutes. Delicious! I had just a tiny bit of lettuce and baby cucumber left, so I made a salad. The dressing was olive oil, red wine vinegar, honey and lemon juice.

I also had a small portion of basmati rice and tikka masala leftovers. I had sauteed chicken, asparagus, red peppers, orange peppers and broccoli, then added the sauce. It was restaurant-quality. The meal was all over the place but very tasty.

Editor's note (can't help it, the last one was so much fun): Here's a photo of Maria to appear online until Maria requests that I remove it (and replace it with a photo from New Year's last year, yeah, don't make me go there). Will she kill me for this? She posted this photo on facebook, so I assume it's OK for public viewing.

Maria Cooks, Part 3

Maria's photos couldn't have come at a better time, as I stubbornly refuse to buy more food before going out of town for the holidays (Mexico, Mo., here we come!). So tomorrow I'll be blogging about breakfast cereal, but today it's all about Maria.
Cinnamon Muffins:
2 medium eggs
3 cups of flour
1 cup of milk
1 cup of sugar
5 tablespoons of butter
5 tablespoons of shortening (or 5 additional T butter)
3 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg (I didn't have any)
Topping: I (Maria) combined some softened butter, sugar, cinnamon and flour in a bowl and crumbled it with my hands.

Cream together the butter, the shortening (butter) and the sugar. Beat in the eggs, salt, nutmeg and baking powder. Stir in the flour and milk alternately until mixture is just combined. Fill muffin cups almost to the top. Add crumb mixture until cups are filled. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.
More to come from Maria later this week.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cranberry-Tangerine Muffins

Finally I bake something and don't completely screw it up. And I only had to make one frantic phone call to my mother. This was my week to bring for my office's Friday morning Breakfast Club. I signed up to be in the "club" just so I'd have an excuse to bake something new and share it. Then how come for the last two or three rotations, I have bought muffins at the store to bring? Like all good things, it starts out with coffee cake and banana bread and ends up with Winchell's doughnuts. Getting into the season, I dedided on cranberry-orange muffins (inspiration thanks to Jess). Except that I didn't have any oranges, just tangerines. Details, details.

The recipe also required chopping the cranberries. What are these people trying to do? Impale me? The cranberries were rolling all over the place. I found them on the floor, in the egg carten, in the drawer for utensils.

But look how pretty and festive they are: Here's a confession that will likely suprise no one: This is what my kitchen looks like after I try baking something. Megan had just washed a bunch of dishes and cleaned off the counter maybe 15 minutes before I came and destroyed it again. Also note the aluminum muffin trays in the background. Good for two reasons: 1.) they're cheap, 2.) they're all I could find at the grocery store. I hope they're not one-time-use, because I will be using them until they melt. Cranberry-Tangerine Muffins: 1 3/4 cup flour 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 beaten egg 3/4 cup milk 1/4 cup cooking oil grated peel from 1 orange (tangerine) 1 cup coarsely chopped cranberries Line tray with paper muffin cups. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium mixing bowl combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Make a well in the center of the mixture. In another mixing bowl, combine egg, milk, oil and peel (for more orangey flavor, replace milk with orange juice). Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture. Stir just until moistened. Add cranberries. Batter should be a bit lumpy. Spoon batter into cups, filling each 3/4 full. Bake for 20 minutes until golden. Makes 12 muffins.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Italian Chili

I'm not much of a planner when it comes to dinner. I have a hankering (good word, eh) for something and then I make it, with or without all the ingredients. Sometimes it works out spectacularly, sometimes not. I was without proper supplies twice last weekend, once when I attempted a baguette (baking is just not my thing right now) and once when I made this soup. With the baguette, we only had wheat flour, and the bread turned out really dense (I am telling you, it was the flour!). For the soup, I made an extra run to my new favorite grocer, Wohlner's, to get pancetta from their superb meat counter but didn't realize I only had one can of kidney beans and no parmasan cheese. Instead of improvising with cannellini beans (which I have done before), I ran to the (slightly ghetto) No Frills down the street. There is no substitute for parmasan cheese. This recipe is another reason I love love love Giada di Laurentiis. It is flipping amazing. Salty, savory. For the skeptics (dad), I call it Italian chili, because it is pretty hearty.

(I do hate this photo, please trust that it tastes much much better than it looks)

Pasta e fagioli alla Giada:

1 tablespoon olive oil 1/2 cup chopped onion 3 ounces pancetta (or bacon) 1 garlic clove, diced 5 4/3 cups chicken stock 2 15-ounce cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed 1 bay leaf 1 teaspoon dry thyme (or to taste) 1 teaspoon dry rosemary (or to taste) 3/4 cup elbow macaroni Heat olive oil in large skillet. Add the onion, pancetta and garlic and saute until the onion is tender (3 minutes). Add the broth, beans and herbs. Bring to a boil then simmer and cover until vegetables are tender (10 minutes). Puree 1 cup of the bean mixture in a food processor (this part is super important, I thought it was skippable, but it thickens the soup. Even my food processor can handle it). Return puree to mixture. Bring soup to a boil and add macaroni. With the lid on boil until macaroni is soft (8 minutes). Season with salt, pepper and parmasan cheese.

California Taco

Does this taco look like it's going to eat you? It might.
Friday night I went with my mom and some people she works with to California Taco. As the name might suggest, it is not a "Cali-Mex" place (i.e. California's version of Tex-Mex--lame attempt at a joke, I know), but the restaurant is located on 32nd and California--a part of California Street that seems particularly proud of being called California.
There are a good number of restaurants that could be called "Omaha institutions." This would be one of them. I'll confess, I'm not really that sure why. The food is good, not mind-blowing, but good. But it is cheap--real cheap (thus populated by many, many students). It's been around a while. And it's on 32nd and California. Which means, for those who aren't familiar with the neighborhood I live in, it's less than a mile (or two) from Mutual of Omaha, Kiewit, Berkshire Hathaway, two major hospitals and Creighton University. But it's hidden back in a neighborhood that is populated by students, hippis, families that haven't moved in 50 years, gay couples, probably a few drug dealers, and Democrats. Definitely one of those hidden treasures.
What is just about mind-blowing at Cali Taco are their homemade flour tortillas and chips. I love Tex-Mex places that make their own chips, probably because they're really salty, really crispy and really bad for you. And the guacamole has enough garlic to be impressive (not as good as my mom's though). Cali Taco is actually yet to be featured in an episode of Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (I'm guessing under the "Dives" heading).
The restaurant was pretty crowded early last Friday night, and I left wondering why I don't go down there more often. The cheap margaritas should be incentive enough.

Spaghetti a la Mom

I usually miss college. Don't most people look back on that time as "the best in their lives." One thing that made it "the best" is that you were surrounded by thousands of other people your age doing pretty much the same thing all the time.
My sister Al is in her fourth year of a five-year architecture program at K-State in Manhattan (Kansas). Ever since she moved out of the dorms and into an apartment/house, she and her roommates (here pictured: Steph, Carrie, Sam and Allison) have set up a routine where one person cooks for all of them every day of the week. I never thought this would last through the first few weeks of school, but the girls are keeping it up. It's a pretty sweet deal, I'd say. You only have to cook one time and you get to eat and hang out every time.

Al's roommate Sam brought each of the girls aprons from her grandma. Love it.

Last week Al made what she aptly called Spaghetti a la Mom, which is the classic red, meat sauce that we grew up with. Since I've already written about it here, I'll give an even better recipe for Garlic Bread a la Mom.

Garlic Bread: 1/4 cup butter 1 teaspoon garlic salt 2 tablespoons parmasan cheese sprinkle of paprika sprinkle of parsley loaf of French bread sliced lengthwise

In a bowl mash up the butter, garlic salt, cheese, paprika and parsley. All the spices should be added to taste, so these measurements are educated guesses and should be used as a guide. Spread butter mixture on bread. Toast bread in oven at 400 degrees for 8 minutes or until the edges are slightly browned and cheese is melted.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

So-so Shortbread.

I have nothing to write about this shortbread. Megan loves it (she's also a really nice person). She thinks it tastes like gooey butter cake. I dunno. I kept sampling pieces of it, not sure if I liked it or not. And thus the platter of shortbread is rapidly disappearing. I say you can't really go wrong with loads of butter and a bit of sugar. Below is the recipe, but do yourself a favor and google "shortbread." Here I'll ever make it easier for you with a handy link (in case you're not sure how to find Google). Lainey's So-so Shortbread: 3 cups flour 1 cup butter 1/2 cup sugar Mix all the ingredients. Legit sources will tell you to mix the flour and sugar together and then add the butter, but I had a mishap. Roll it (or in my case, squish it) out on a baking sheet 1/2 inch thick. Cook for 25-30 minutes in the oven at 325 degrees.

Squash and Mushroom Salad

The last couple months living in Thailand I spent Sunday afternoons wandering somewhat aimlessly around the streets of Bangkok. There were a lot of lonely moments mixed in with awe at the busy-ness of life going on around me. I would go to these 5-story, giganto malls and pretend that I could afford to shop at Gucci and Prada. Kinokuniya bookstores were the jackpot though. I can recall one day finding this Jamie Oliver cookbook at one bookstore and started drooling over the photos of food not involving rice that graced nearly every page (I do adore Thai food, but I couldn't get used to rice three times a day). I bought the book anyway, knowing I barely had enough room in my suitcase for something I could easily get in the U.S. Coming back from Thailand sort of turned a new leaf in my life in the kitchen (and out of it). I had spent months without even a kitchen sink or a hot plate in my apartment, and now I had my mom's newly remodeled kitchen and three family members not-very-excited about trying out my culinary inventions (excluding my mom, sorry dad, truth hurts). But since then, my Jamie Oliver cookbook has been collecting dust. Admittedly his recipes are slightly ridiculous--I remember making a page-long list of ingredients I had never heard of to look up later on Wikipedia. But last night I cracked it open and made "dumbed down" variation on his Roasted Squash, Proscuitto and Pecorino Salad, using the rest of the squash that was going to go in the quiche ...

Warm Squash and Mushroom Salad: (for one, so adjust as necessary)

1 cup butternut squash (or in my case, buttercup squash) 1/2 cup coarsely chopped mushrooms 1 tablespoon buttersalt, pepper and coriander to taste mixed salad greens parmasan cheese vinaigrette-based dressing Add butter and butternut squash to pan on medium-high heat. Add salt, pepper and coriander while you are sauteing. Saute until the squash becomes lightly browned on the edges (5-8 minutes). Add mushrooms and saute until the vegetables are browned and cooked through (2-3 minutes). Remove from heat and add to greens. Sprinkle with parmasan, pecorino and/or romano cheese. If you don't already have a vinaigrette dressing, you can easily make one mixing olive oil and balsamic or red wine vinagre on a three-to-two ratio--so 3 tablespoons olive oil, two tablespoons vinagre, etc.--and add salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Easy" Tart Crust

You know that night, oh, two weeks ago when I botched the chocolate chip cookies almost beyond saving? Well it seems my culinary fiascos for that night weren't over. Making a quiche from scratch had been on my mind ever since reading this post. So after Eric and Mark went home, I pulled up Martha Stewart's "easy" tart crust on my computer and set to work.
Is "easy" some sort of marketing tool that Martha and her staff of editors and formally trained chefs use to lure in unsuspecting victims who start a recipe and then realize that in no way will it turn out successfully thus forcing them to glean every closer to Martha's "simple" instructions for entertaining? Or is it just me? Sure the recipe seems easy at a glance: there are four ingredients that surly everybody has on hand (water, butter, flour and salt). Below is an example of where things went wrong for me:

This is the food processor given to me by my sisters two years ago. Clearly, we have a problem. Study this photo below:

I knew as I was dumping in my 3 cups of flour and 1 cup of ice cold butter that the .00001-horsepowered propeller in this kitchen appliance was not going to cut it (pun intended). Left at a standstill (literally), I did what every self-respecting home cook would do: I hid the flour-butter combo in the back of the fridge promising to follow through later that week.

But as my food supply dwindled for the week, the bowl of flour and butter became more prominent. Every time I opened the fridge it called to me; I responded by slamming the door in its face ... up until two nights ago when the tart recipe and I faced off. The game so far is Tart-1, Lainey-0. Even my culinary improvising couldn't save me, but it is not over yet.

I think the problem arose when my food processor overheated and melted what was supposed to by very cold butter, resulting in a mixture not at all resembling dough (as evidenced in the first photo). Instead, I will buy a tart crust from the store (which is probably a good idea since I don't own a pastry pan or a food processor of the proper size to deal with this sort of thing), and I will make something entirely new from the creamy, buttery floury substance now occupying a conspicuous space in an already crowded refrigerator. I'm thinking shortbread.

Eggs Over Easy

My all-time comfort food is the egg. And since I usually only have myself to cook for, I can eat them whenever I want. When I was younger, I only liked scrambled and variations of (i.e. scrambled eggs with cheese, scrambled eggs with ham, scrambled eggs with ham and cheese and omelets). Thankfully, I went to Spain with an open mind. My Spanish mother made Myra and me eggs fried completely submerged in olive oil cooked over easy. Now I can't get enough of them (note: I cook eggs in water, not olive oil. Let's be honest, I got pretty chubby in Spain. I'd like to be able to walk up stairs without getting winded, OK). But here is why j' adore le egg (les oeufs):
See that creamy, yellow goodness running all over the toast? I like to dunk my toast in the buttery yolk and wipe my plate clean.
Granted, eggs are relatively easy to make. My 15-year-old sister (Happy Birthday Em) has been making them for years. So last night, I thought I'd change things up and make a poached egg. Poached eggs are cooked by submerging the egg in near-boiling water. If done perfectly, the egg comes out of the water looking round and white (kind of like what the egg would look like if it was back in its shell). As you can see above, mine did not look like that. However, after google-imaging "perfect poached eggs," I didn't really do so bad. I followed this recipe to the T. My only panic moment happened when the water fogged up all of a sudden and I couldn't see the egg. I was blindly fishing around for it hoping not to break the yolk.
It all turned out, but I think I'll continue to poach my eggs the way Meghan taught me: only half submerged in boiling water, with the lid on so that the steam also cooks the egg. At least that way I can see what's going on.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

We're All a Little Obsessive.

I asked Jenny to make me a totally rad banner for my blog. You may have noticed the fruits of her labors above. I am super excited about it. Thanks Jenny. Jenny promises to start a blog soon (so I can link to her). In the meantime, she suggested we start a blog similar to this one. (Though I'm a little insecure about having my photography right next to Jenny's. Can't blame the camera for that much.) Well, she sent the banner to me, and then I began obsessing over the colors (background, foreground, borders) and font (colors, size). I'm also learning some HTML coding at work, so all of a sudden any color can be on my blog, not just those on blogspot's palette. Neons, pastels, gems, earthtones, any hue in any shade. It brings me back to my favorite part of high school art class: mixing colors--all you need is red, yellow, blue, white and black, and you can make any color. Well this is just like that, except less messy. Any (well not any) combination of letters and numbers produces a different color. So I have become a perfectionist (like Jenny). "No that tan is too pink, that one is too yellow, that grey is too blue, that one isn't light enough." I get it Jenny, I get it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Noni's Tortellini Soup.

This recipe is a Leonatti family legend. Leonatti/Bernardi* women have been making it for at least four generations: Noni, Grams, my mom and my aunts and now me. And I'm sure Bernardis are still making this in Torino. My mom would make it when I was little and tell stories about going to visit Grandma Noni in Carlonville, Ill., when she was little. I imagine my mom sitting on a stool watching Noni roll the dough through a pasta machine, place a dollop of ricotta/chicken goodness on the paper-thin dough and pinch it into perfectly shaped pocket. I took a few shortcuts on this one, namely frozen tortellini. There is no way I'm going to attempt homemade pasta again until I get a pasta machine for Christmas (*hint*). Frozen pasta aside, this is my favorite soup of all time. Colors of the Italian flag (or Irish flag, whatever)

There is no written down recipe, or at least I don't own it (I'm being dramatic, I'm sure there is somewhere). This all meant that I called my mom no less than three times last night to make sure I was doing it right. Turns out my mom is actually making this soup for dinner tonight. Scary.

"Can I put garlic in it?" "What herbs do you use?" "How long do I need to simmer the vegetables?" She answered all these with patience, even though I called her four times while she was on the phone with my sister and likely fielding questions from my other sister. I tell you, parenting never stops.

Megs and I ate the soup at 9 p.m. (European style) after we got back to the gym. Below is Megan's addition to the meal: the greenest, healthiest salad ever. It had cilantro and dill in it! I know, you're drooling, it's OK.

Note: If you don't already know, I am an inprecise cook. I just made a pile of carrots, a pile of celery and a pile of onion and called it good. So add as much or as little of each as you want. Noni's Tortellini Soup: 6 cups chicken stock 1-3 celery stalks, chopped (with leaves, unless your celery leaves are brownish-pink like mine were, then you should throw them away) 1 cup carrots, chopped 1/2 cup onion, chopped 1 garlic clove, chopped (optional) 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 tablespoon corn starch mixed with a bit of cold water (for thickening, also optional) 8 ounces frozen (or fresh) tortellini 1 tablespoon dry tarragon (optional) Saute vegetables in olive oil until onion and garlic are translucent (apparently my mom doesn't perform this step, I just didn't want to wait 30 minutes for the vegetables to get soft, so I helped them along). Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Simmer stock and vegetables for 30 minutes. Add frozen tortellini to stock, boil for 7-9 minutes. Add corn starch and tarragon. Stir and serve sprinkled with parmasan cheese. *If you're confused about the surnames, Leonatti is my mom's maiden name and Bernardi is her grandmother's maiden name. We've got this patriarchal tradition of losing the mother's name, so who knows where this recipe started.

November 5, 2008


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Life's Not Always About Food.

The other day Craig asked me if I would ever write about something not related to food on my blog. Well here it is: Like every other blogger in the blogosphere, I will put my 2 (10) cents in for voting. Mostly I'm just excited to exercise my democratic rights (also I haven't had time to go grocery shopping so there is no food to blog about anyway, and an as yet unsuccessful attempt at making a quiche).
I showed up at the polls at 8 a.m. this morning, and there was already a line. I am excited about the fact so many people are voting this year. I've heard projections that 70 percent of the eligible population will be casting their ballots--versus the usual 30 percent. Incredible. Now, I don't want to sway anyone to vote for a particular candidate for president (ahem, Barack Obama) or any of Nebraska's particularly attractive Democratic candidates for the House and the Senate (seriously, have you all seen Scott Kleeb and Jim Esch? Reason enough to vote right there. These guys are adorable--my dad is rolling out of his desk chair as we speak). Needless to say, I am looking forward to the end of this whole campaign thing, equally excited for new leadership and hopeful that our country can really turn a corner (and stop bullying people--just my opinion). And third, I'm having a spectacular day because when I got my oil changed at Jiffy Lube, they also vacuumed out my car--for free.
All the workers at the auto shop were encouraging every customer to vote, which for whatever reason, I found surprising and kind of moving. Our country is generally so complacent about these things, it's nice to see everybody getting involved. There was a father and son waiting in the lobby with me. The boy was about seven years old, and I gathered that he was getting out of school to go vote with his dad. He watched Barack vote on the Today Show and asked his dad if he thought Barack would vote for himself (drawing a chuckle or two from eavesdroppers such as myself). It's great to see parents teaching their kids the value of voting.
Warm fuzzy feelings all over today. And sincerely hoping to see Nebraska's second congressional district go blue. (Picture me grinning from ear to ear).