Monday, February 21, 2011

What to do with overripe bananas...

It's official! I'm moving my blog over to

I figured that was enough of a tongue-twister to remember without "" added in. So come visit me and see my latest post! You'll also be able to see all my older posts on the new website as well. Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Tale of Buttery Shortbread

I really don't know why I don't make shortbread more often. It's definitely one of my favorite cookies. It's so humble looking - no flashy chocolate chips or frosting - and yet, when you first bite into it, you can't help but smile. It's buttery and crisp giving way to meltingly soft. In other words - it's delicious.

While I'm always tempted to play around with spices, I managed to hold myself back with this batch. I wanted to just taste the complex buttery flavor and subtle sweetness that comes from a simple ingredient list. No frills.

Of course, I'm not sure I'll be able to refrain from baking these again adding in freshly ground cardamom, or perhaps orange zest and black pepper. However good these variations might be, I have a feeling the simplicity of the original recipe will be my favorite.

To start, you'll need 4 cups of all-purpose flour.

The secret ingredient: 1 cup of cornstarch. Speaking of cornstarch, why is it always so static-y?

The 3rd and final dry ingredient: 1 cup granulated sugar.

Now mix all those dry ingredients together in a large bowl. The key word is large. The bowl you see pictured worked just fine, but next time I might use an even larger bowl to make the mixing process easier. Cornstarch is so light and airy that it likes to jump out of the bowl. That's my excuse for being covered in flour after baking these and I'm sticking to it.

Now, you'll need a little butter. Er...that means 1 lb of butter (2 cups = 4 sticks). For this recipe you really need to use real butter. It's the main flavoring and there's a lot of it so margarine might make it taste...well a bit dull. If you're afraid of butter, this probably isn't the recipe for you. See: Cabbage Recipe.

I used salted butter which meant I didn't need to add any salt to the mix. If you use unsalted it is important that you add 1/4 teaspoon to the dry ingredients. Otherwise, your shortbread won't taste like much. It's amazing how salt really allows you to taste other flavors.

Cut the butter into smaller pieces to make the mixing process easier. Then, start mixing away with your hands. I started out with a pastry cutter and soon realized that hands are really the best tool. Have fun with it!

Keep mixing until you stop finding any unmixed pats of butter. How neurotic you want to be about this depends on how much you want your cookies to resemble something Martha Stewart would make. I went for rustic. You'll see what I mean in the last few pictures.

Now poor the crumbly dough into a cookie sheet (with high sides) lined with parchment paper. If you don't have any parchment paper, this should still work - it only serves to make cookie extraction easier.

Begin patting down the dough with your fingers. Once again, depending on your perfectionist tendencies, you can try and smooth out the top of the dough.

Now, the secret to making these truly delicious: Sprinkle the top with 2 tbsp sugar and a heaping 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt. Yum!

Bake the cookies at 325 F for 45 minutes or until they start to get a hint of golden brown around the edges.

Let the cookies rest for 5 minutes after taking them out of the oven, then slice. Slicing them while they're still warm is definitely the easiest way to go.

You'll notice that some of my cookies have little holes in them. This is because I'm not much of a perfectionist and I didn't spend forever mixing the dough together. The little pea sized dots of unmixed butter effectively melted away and left a little impression. I will say that the cookies were eaten by my fellow coworkers so quickly that nobody had the time to notice any minor imperfections.

Don't forget to enjoy one (or two...) for yourself.

Buttery Shortbread
(yields 40 small bar cookies)

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch
1 cup sugar
1 lb salted butter (if unsalted, add 1/4 tsp salt to dry ingredients)

2 tbsp sugar
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

Preheat oven to 325 F. Mix together flour, cornstarch, and sugar (1 cup) in a large bowl. Cut butter into small cubes and add to dry ingredients. Mix with hands until well mixed (with no apparent pieces of unmixed butter). Pour into baking sheet covered with parchment paper and pat down. Sprinkle with 2 tbsp sugar and coarse salt. Bake at 325 F for 45 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes then cut into squares.


Monday, January 31, 2011

Spiced Chai

As the gray days of winter meander along here in Seattle, I find myself preparing all manner of warm beverages to brighten my mood. Coffee, tea, and hot chocolate all fit the bill nicely - but there is something so soothing about the warming spices and gentle sweetness of chai that keeps me turning back to this recipe.

(Or maybe it's just the hefty dose of caffeine. I can't really be sure.)

The recipe I've outlined here is more of a guideline. I like my chai moderately spiced and sweetened, and definitely creamy. I use a handful of different spices - perhaps to justify my compulsive spice shopping habit - but you can certainly leave out any that you don't like or don't have. Up the quantities of spices if you like a really spicy chai. Me? - I prefer to let the flavor of the tea leaves shine through with the spices adding a gentle background note.

I'll get to the recipe in a second, but first a little background on my chai escapades. My first introduction to chai was at my aunt and uncle's house as a young girl. They were world travelers with many treks to remote regions of India and Nepal under their belt and the food they served was equally exotic. I remember being served a peppery chai that was bewildering but wonderful. I was hooked.

Fast forward a few years to when I visiting my older sister in college. She had two roommates, one from Pakistan and one from India, who made simply spiced chai on a near daily basis. This was where I first learned to make a more traditional chai (compared to the tasty but utterly different chai lattes that are available at coffee shops around here). As my sister can attest, there is nothing like a cup of chai to get you through a study session.

Lastly, in college I became mildly obsessed with replicating the chai from a nearby Indian restaurant (formerly Cedar's - now Taste Of India). Their chai is heaven, pure heaven. I have yet to be completely successful in my replication efforts (maybe I'll have to get a job there to learn their secret?) but this version I'm posting comes pretty darn close. At the very least, it filled all my cravings for chai on this cold, blustery day.

Onto the recipe...

First you'll need some ginger and some whole peppercorns.

I used about 3/4 inch of ginger, sliced up and 10 peppercorns. If you don't have whole peppercorns, I recommend leaving them out as ground pepper would be difficult to strain out. And nobody wants gritty chai.

By the way, an easy way to peel ginger is to use the side of a spoon. As you pull the spoon along, it will release the skin - voila! - peeled ginger.

This is a lot easier to do if you're not trying to use your uncoordinated left hand and take a picture at the same time.

You'll also need some whole cloves, anise seeds, cardamom pods, and a cinnamon stick.

I used:
1 cinnamon stick
5 cloves
1/8 tsp anise seeds
10 cardamom pods

Place 2 cups of in water in pot and add all the spices (including the ginger). Bring to a boil over the stove and gently simmer for 10 minutes.

Now for this recipe, I used 6 teabags of black tea (orange pekoe, darjeeling or any unflavored black tea). Note, that it only serves 1-2 people. So if you're downing the whole batch yourself or are caffeine sensitive you might want to use fewer tea bags.

Or you could use all or half decaf teabags.

Now that the spices have simmered for 10 minutes, turn off the stove and add the teabags. Let steep for 5 minutes.

Now add 1 cup milk plus a splash of cream.

Or instead of the splash of cream you could use half n' half or just additional milk. Your choice.

I like cream.

Take a moment and enjoy the beautiful swirling colors.

Is there anything more therapeutic than this?

Now add 2 tbsp of sugar to the whole mix.

Turn the stove back on (medium/medium-high) and bring the whole mixture to a boil and let simmer for just a moment before removing from the heat.

Be sure to watch the mixture because milk has a tendency to bubble over.

The mixture should look something like this, with the faintest hint of frothy milk. Don't worry if a "skin" forms on the top of the mixture (we're boiling milk after all). You can simply spoon it away, or just filter it out in the next step.

Finally, strain the tea to remove the spices. It may be easiest to remove the tea bags first.

I strained it into a teapot for kicks, but you could strain it directly into your mug.

The last step is to enjoy a cup! Preferably curled up on the sofa with a blanket and a good book or shared over a heartfelt chat with a friend.

Spiced Chai
1-2 servings*

3/4 inch ginger, peeled and sliced
~10 peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
1/8 tsp anise seeds
5 cloves
10 cardamom pods
2 cups water
6 black teabags (orange pekoe, darjeeling, etc.)
1 cup milk
1/8 cup cream, half n'half, or additional milk
2 tbsp sugar

Place 2 cups of water in a medium sized pot. Add spices (ginger through cardamom). Bring to a boil on the stove and simmer 10 minutes. Turn off heat. Add tea bags and let steep 5 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients (milk, cream, and sugar) and turn the stove back on. Bring to a boil. Allow to simmer for a moment (~20 seconds) and then take off heat. Strain and enjoy.

*This recipe is easily doubled

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mouthwatering Pulled Pork

Wait, you mean you got tired of staring at my bacon post? I thought everyone could stare at bacon for months on end and not get bored. Hmmm...

Alas, for those of you who have been ever so patiently waiting (or not so patiently - Hi Mom!) for this post, I suppose I can't hold out any longer. Enjoy!

I have dreams about this pulled pork. It's that good.

It's more of a cross between carnitas and pulled pork really - savory morsels of tender, carmelized pork that release a salty, savory burst of flavor that's pretty hard to beat. Even a sprinkling of this carmelized pork added to a taco or strewn across a plate of nachos takes the dish to a whole new level of savory and satisfying. Of course a heaping pile wouldn't hurt either.

It's one of those recipes that's far too simple, affordable, and forgiving to be this good. The one trade-off is time as this dish requires several hours in the oven to become meltingly soft. And while you don't have to actively do much while the dish is in the oven, it may prevent you from doing much else as you swoon over the mouthwatering fragrance coming from the kitchen. It smells heavenly. Mmmmm....

Of course to make up for the cooking time, I always make a large batch. It's great covered in barbecue sauce and ever so delicious piled onto any type of Mexican food (enchiladas, nachos, tacos, get the idea). freezes beautifully to later defrost for a quick weekday taco night - if you can refrain from eating it all within a few days, that is.

All this talk is making me wish I hadn't already finished the batch I photographed. Truly a tragedy. So onto the recipe while I mourn the current lack of pulled pork in my fridge...

Seeing as this is a pulled pork recipe, you'll need some pork. Pork shoulder (or pork butt) to be specific. I usually use a 3-5 lb roast (estimate 1/2 pound per serving).

Oh, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees!

Slice the pork into large (~ 3 inch) pieces. Salt generously (I use about 1/2 tbsp coarse salt + for a 4 pound roast). I like the meat to be salty so that even a little adds a big flavor punch. If you're using normal table salt, use a little bit less.

If you're going to be covering it in barbecue sauce or the like, you can be less generous with the salt. Or if you're using taco seasoning that's really salty you can use less salt on the meat itself.

I like salt.

Now that we're done with our salt discussion for the day, heat up a few tablespoons of oil in a cast iron skillet. Once it's very hot, add the pork to the pan (but don't crowd them, otherwise they'll boil instead of brown). You can always do this in two batches if need be.

Turn occasionally to let them brown on all sides.

Yum! Now they're seared and delicious.

If you did this in two batches, add back all the pieces to the pan.

Now add water to the pan so that the pork is 1/2 submerged in water. Add the water slowly and be careful because this pan is pretty hot.

If it makes you more comfortable, you can let the pan cool a little bit before you add the water. Whatever floats your boat.

Now it's time to add the spices! There are two routes you can go (taco seasoning or not) and I can personally attest that both are delicious.

Taco Seasoning Route: Add 3 tbsp taco seasoning, 2 bay leaves, 1 cinnamon stick (or 1/2 tsp cinnamon), and 3 cloves garlic thinly sliced.

Spice Route: Add 2 bay leaves, 3 cloves garlic thinly sliced, 1/2 tsp cumin, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp oregano, 1 cinnamon stick (or 1/2 tsp ground).

For this batch I went the taco seasoning route. Mmmm!

Now, take this beautiful mixture and carefully place it in the oven (the pan is filled with water in case you forgot!) at 350 degrees. It will cook until the water is evaporated (about 2.5-3 hours). Flip the pieces over a couple of times during that process (maybe once an hour?).

Your kitchen should be smelling delicious at this point.

Now once the water is almost gone (there can still be a little water left) take two forks and coarsely shred the pork.

Don't forget to steal a little taste. If it's not salty enough you can add more salt. Sometimes I'll even add more taco seasoning at this point if I feel like it needs it.

This is the point at which it's pulled pork in the true sense - delicious covered in barbecue sauce.

However, if you want to go just a little further and turn it into a carnitas style pulled pork (with chewy, crispy, caramelized ends) add 1 tbsp sugar and return to the oven.

First, pretend you can actually see what's going on in the picture above (daylight was waning and my photography skills just aren't really equipped to deal with that).

What you should be seeing is delicious carmelized morsels of shredded pork. It usually takes about 30 minutes to achieve this (stirring once every 10 minutes). More time = more carmelized (less = get it).

This caramelized pork is delicious served in a simple burrito, made into enchiladas, sprinkled over nachos (heavenly!), or added to the world's best quesadilla.

Mouthwatering Pulled Pork
serves 4-8 (depending on size of pork roast and appetites)

3-5 lb pork shoulder (or pork butt)
1/2 tbsp coarse salt (a little less for normal salt)
2 tbsp oil
3 tbsp taco seasoning*
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick (or scant 1/2 tsp ground)
Optional: 1 tbsp sugar

Slice the pork into 3 inch pieces and rub with the salt. Preheat oven to 350 F.

Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet over medium (or medium high) heat until quite hot. Add the pork pieces (this may require two batches to prevent overcrowding) and let brown on all sides - turning only occasionally.

Take off the heat and add water to halfway submerge the pork pieces. Do this slowly and carefully (the pan is hot).

Add the taco seasoning, cinnamon, bay leaves, and garlic.

Place in the oven for 2.5-3 hours (turning the pieces once per hour - if you remember) until the water is mostly evaporated. Use forks to shred the pork.

If desired, add 1 tbsp sugar and return to the oven for another 30 minutes, stirring once every 10 minutes, until the pork has reached the desired state of caramelization.


*alternatively use 1/2 tsp cumin, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp chili powder, and 1 tsp oregano

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Broccoli (and BACON) Salad

I added in the bacon emphasis for those of you that crave something meatier than just plain vegetable salads. Of course, lets be honest, I really just added it in because who doesn't love bacon?

Don't get me wrong, I love plain cooked veggies. Like, really, really love them.

Have I mentioned before that my mom and I would fight over the cold leftover steamed Brussels sprouts in the fridge? And plain steamed broccoli comes in a close second in my book.


It's just that not everyone (ahem *my significant other*) shares my affinity for plain steamed veggies. And really, who can blame him when you realize all the exciting flavor combinations and preparations you can use veggies in. Plus this broccoli (and BACON) salad is just plain more substantial than steamed broccoli...and did I mention, delicious?

The brightly tinted green broccoli mingles with bits of meaty bacon and little raisin jewels hinting at the marriage of wonderful flavors to come. Sweet, salty, tangy and yet undeniably refreshing.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we did! Now onto the recipe...

As with any good recipe, start by frying up some chopped bacon over medium heat.

I used 3 thick slices, but I certainly won't tell anyone if you use more.

Allow it to cook until just shy of crispy. We're going for a meaty texture here, not bacon bits. Though if you like your bacon crispy, that's fine too.

Set aside to cool.

Sorry. It's just that bacon is so deliciously photogenic.

Chop up some scallions (aka green onions). I used 1/4 cup.

You're going to need an equal amount of raisins. I prefer golden raisins. They're just so much prettier.

Of course you could use regular raisins or dried cranberries instead. Mmm...dried cranberries.

Finally, grate 1/3 cup of cheese. Or so, doesn't need to be exact. I used (white) cheddar.

If you're going for a dairy free version, you could replace the cheese with sliced almonds and/or sunflower seeds.

For the dressing, whisk together 1/2 cup mayo, 1/8 cup white vinegar, 1/8 cup sugar, and a pinch of salt. Add freshly ground pepper to taste.

Don't mind the fact that I originally made twice that amount of dressing. I then realized that I was supposed to be going for broccoli salad, not broccoli - mayonnaise soup. My mistake.

By the way, 1/8 cup is equal to two tablespoons.

Now for the broccoli.

Use 6-8 cups of florets, or about 1 large or two smallish heads of broccoli, or just over a pound if you like using weight measurements. Did I give you enough options?

You can leave the broccoli raw, but if you're like me you like the taste, and lets be honest - the digestibility - of blanched broccoli better.

Blanching is pretty easy. It involves two steps: cooking and cooling. Plan ahead by setting out a big bowl filled with some water and a lot of ice.

Now just bring a pot of water to boiling, drop in the broccoli florets and let them cook for 1 minute. Then, quickly drain the broccoli and submerge it in the ice bowl.

Not too hard, eh?

Once the broccoli has cooled, drain and pat dry. A paper towel works well.

Too much water will make our dressing soupy. Once again, not really what we're going for.

Add all the other topping ingredients to the bowl.

Marvel at the deliciousness before you.

Pour on the dressing and mix.

Now, I recommend letting this sit for at least an hour or two in the fridge to let the dressing marry with the vegetables and thicken up a little as well. I took the picture immediately, but if you let it refrigerate, the dressing will definitely coat the florets with even more deliciousness.

Then again it's difficult to wait before digging in. I won't judge.

Broccoli (and BACON) Salad

6-8 cups broccoli florets
3 slices bacon, chopped and cooked
1/4 cup scallions (green onions), chopped
1/4 cup raisins
1/3 cup grated cheese (such as cheddar)

1/2 cup mayo
1/8 cup white vinegar
1/8 cup sugar
pinch salt
freshly ground pepper

Blanch the broccoli if desired. Drain and pat dry. Mix with other dry ingredients (bacon through cheese). For dressing, whisk together mayo, vinegar, sugar, and salt. Add pepper to taste. Pour over dry ingredients, refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

This salad is also great as a make-ahead dish.


What's your favorite broccoli preparation?