January 29th, 2013 :: :: permalink
Every winter in Chicago I find a new favorite food that gets me through my vitamin D withdrawal. Last year it was XOCO , Rick Bayless’s take on upscale Mexican street food. This year, it’s all about Asian food. Dustin and I have been to Slurping Turtle, a local trendy Japanese noodle shop, at least five times in the last month. That’s a lot for us since I usually cook at home. The first time we went, it was still very new and only a few people had heard of it. Now, my favorite noodle dish comes with a 45 minute wait. It only made sense for me to make my own noodles for my impatient days.
The most important part of this dish, the part which also has the most ingredients, is the sauce. Your sauce has to be flavorful otherwise you’ll be eating a bowl of dry noodles and veggies (lame). Once you gather all the ingredients, it’s easy to make.
INGREDIENTS: 1) 2 tablespoons rice vinegar 2) 2 tablespoons miso paste 3) 1 teaspoon honey 4) 1 teaspoon grated ginger 5) 1 cup water 6) 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced 7)1 tablespoon olive oil 8) 1 teaspoon salt 9) 1 tablespoon lime juice 10) 1 Thai Pepper, finely chopped (very hot, optional)
INSTRUCTIONS: Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and let it sit at room temperature until the rest of your food is ready.
I’ve had a tough time cooking with tofu in the past. It would break into egg-like pieces that would stick to the pan. Now that I have a cast iron skillet and use firm tofu, the chunks keep their shape and brown perfectly. My veggies are mixed and matched and based on what I have available in my fridge. I do recommend using a green veggie, such as Brussels sprouts or bok choy, for a nice crunchy texture. These are my personal favorites.
INGREDIENTS: 1) a handful of mushrooms 2) 1/3 cup edamame 3) 2 cups Brussels sprouts 4) 1 block firm tofu 5) 1/2 of a red bell pepper
INSTRUCTIONS: 1) Heat olive oil in a pan and brown Brussels sprouts 2) Remove the Brussels sprouts once they are slightly crispy 3) Cube the tofu and brown it in the same pan 4) Add edamame 5) Add thinly-cut red peppers 6) Add mushrooms and remove everything once browned.
I used regular soba noodles, but added shredded zucchini and beets to my final dish to make it a little healthier. In the summertime, I could easily just eat this dish with veggie noodles, but I like my carbs in the winter. The beets are also a bright and beautiful visual touch.
INGREDIENTS: 1)1 beet 2) Soba noodles 3) 1 zucchini
INSTRUCTIONS: 1)Boil noodles according to instructions and drain 2) Shred zucchini and beet with a spiral cutter
OPTIONAL TOPPINGS: 1) Scallions 2) Red pepper 3) Sesame seeds 4) Olive oil
Once everything was prepared, I started assembling: soba noodles first, followed by the zucchini and beet noodles, then veggies, my desired amount of sauce drizzled on top, and my optional toppings.
This dish is full of flavor and beautiful textures. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
January 16th, 2013 :: :: permalink
This year I wanted to make Christmas gifts that were out of the ordinary. I overheard one of my friends at work saying he was going to make a terrarium for his mom. I didn’t even really know what a terrarium was, but decided to do a little research online. There were so many cool designs and each one was unique in its own way, so I quickly jumped on the bandwagon. Of course this was only a week and a half before Christmas and I had never made a terrarium before, but a little urgency never hurt anyone. Dustin and I have a different ideas of how well I work under pressure.
To begin, I ordered and scavenged for supplies. Some things, such as the little figurines of people in various poses, were specialized and had to be purchased online. While I waited for everything to be shipped, I painted a brightly colored instruction card, which came out doubly bright due to the psychedelic cold medication I was on at the time.
Most of these terrarium supplies can be found at Joann’s Fabric, Hobby Lobby or Michaels. I used moss, charcoal (to help prevent mold), rocks, potting soil, jars (some terrariums use lids and some don’t) and little HO scale figurines. Since I was crunched for time and it was freezing in Chicago, I didn’t feel like venturing out for moss, so I ordered it from Etsy.
Just a “common sense” note that I learned the hard way: softly place the rocks in your jar. I shattered my first jar when I poured the rocks in. Luckily enough, I had an extra mason jar sitting in the cupboard.
There are quite a few HO figurines to choose from to bring some human life to a terrarium. The figurines are usually used by model railroad hobbyists. Another note: Baby Jesus and nativity scene figurines are hot commodities in December.
Here is the order in which I filled my terrariums. Most of our family lives outside of Chicago, so I used metal pieces from Michael’s (found them in the jewelry section) to keep everything secure. I also carefully filled the jars with damp paper towels once I was finished, to keep the moss alive and in-place while it was being shipped. They all made it to their recipients in one piece.
The jar above was for my sister. She loves books and reads more in a week than I do in a year (sad!). I liked that the figurine is upside down, since my sister is juggling a new job and a big move to Chicago. Seemed appropriate.
This terrarium with a dancing couple was for Dustin. It feels like we had a whirlwind of a year with an engagement in March and a wedding in August, so I wanted to create a relaxing environment deep within the greenery (cheesy, I know).
I thought about painting the lady to give her a little tan like me, but time did not allow and I had to smile at myself for thinking it was perhaps a bit racially insensitive.
I found decorating to be my favorite part of building my terrariums. It felt like I was creating a little home for each of the figurines and I wanted my gift recipients to feel happy when they looked through the glass to these peaceful little worlds.
You do have to water them periodically, but otherwise they are, in fact, fuss free.
January 9th, 2013 :: :: permalink
Every Sunday, Dustin will make a breakfast creation. He takes this role very seriously. Even though New Years Day was technically on a Tuesday this year, it felt like a Sunday to us so he wanted to cook again. This breakfast was especially important because it was our first meal of the new year. Dustin measured each ingredient to a tee.
The first time he made a dutch baby for me (odd statement, I know), I thought it looked very peculiar. It was monstrously huge and a bit eggy, not the usual sweet American breakfast I knew. This recipe has a little more sweetness to it, which I like.
The ingredient list is very simple: Flour, salt, vanilla bean (or liquid vanilla), sugar, eggs, butter and milk. Dustin halved the recipe above for our small serving for two people.
The cast iron has to be preheated for at least 15 minutes, preferably 30 or so. Deviating from the directions slightly, Dustin dropped room temperature butter into the pan while the batter was mixing in the food processor, a few minutes before pouring the batter into the pan. The butter will definitely burn if you add it to the pan too soon. Just be sure it’s not still cold when you do so, or you’ll cool the pan unnecessarily.
Carefully pour the batter into your preheated cast iron and quickly transfer it to the oven. Better yet, try to pour the batter with the pan still in the oven so the pan doesn’t cool as much. I threw in a few raspberries at the last minute, mostly as an experiment to see what would happen. The pastry quickly starts to grow, so the pan you choose should leave a little room for this. When Dustin poured the batter, it was a bit more than 1/4 inch deep across the bottom of the pan.
He opted to top our dutch baby with a easy to make raspberry sauce. He heated apple cider, cornstarch, sugar, raspberries and cold water together in a pan. You can also use orange juice in place of apple cider. We just had some cider left over from the Christmas holiday. Here’s a link to the full recipe.
After 4-5 minutes of simmering, the raspberries quickly break down. After letting the sauce cool, Dustin transferred it to the food processor, where he pureed it for about 20 seconds and then strained the puree to remove the seeds.
Raspberry sauce, homemade whipping cream, and a squirt of lemon (which is the traditional topping for dutch babies). A sprinkle of powdered sugar was a beautiful final touch.
We stayed happy and warm indoors on New Years morning and drank Earl Grey with our sweet pastry. It was a good start to the year.
Our dutch baby was based on a recipe from Alton Brown.
January 8th, 2013 :: :: permalink
Citrusy sweet lemons have always been Dustin’s favorite weakness. So much, that I had to hide my lemon juice for cooking, otherwise it would be empty in a few days. On his birthday I wanted to pamper him, so I appropriately chose lemon cake with lemon buttercream frosting as his birthday treat. I topped it with a slice of lemon and mint leaves.
Happy Birthday Dustin!