Weekend Recipes

These are the dishes we made over the weekend, but I’m sure they’ll taste just as good any day of the week. :)

2013-04-06-pumpkin-mushroom-soup

First up, Saturday night, was this very simple pumpkin soup recipe, adapted from Epicurious. We used fresh pumpkin instead of canned, fresh ginger instead of powdered, and a small, almost whole piece of star anise. The rye bread, pictured, was also freshly homemade.

  • 2 15-ounce cans pure pumpkin (we used a small pumpkin, about 3 pounds)
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder*
  • 4 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, sliced

Since we used fresh pumpkin, there were these added steps:

Cut skin off outside of pumpkin and discard. Cut pumpkin into approx. 1-1/2 inch chunks, making sure to cut away any of the stringy bits and seeds. Place pumpkin in boiling water and boil, covered, for about 3 minutes, until pumpkin is just about cooked through. You don’t want the pumpkin too soft since it will cook a little more in with the rest of the ingredients in the soup. Puree the cooked pumpkin chunks with just enough water to make it easier for the pumpkin to move around the food processor or blender. Puree until it looks like baby food—small pieces are okay.

Bring first 4 ingredients to simmer in large saucepan over medium-high heat, whisking often. Whisk in syrup, 2 tablespoons butter, and five-spice powder. Simmer soup 10 minutes, whisking often. Season with salt and pepper. (Soup can be made 1 day ahead. Chill until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Bring to simmer before serving.) Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Divide soup among 6 bowls. Sprinkle soup with mushrooms, dividing equally; serve.

* A blend of ground anise, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, and ginger available in the spice section of most supermarkets. We used fresh ginger instead of ground; since we were making our own spice blend. We chopped the ginger finely and then sauteed it with the mushrooms and put into the soup at the end.

2013-04-07-pita

Next, I made some pita, recipe slightly adapted from smitten kitchen. I made only 1/2 the recipe and used active dry yeast that I dissolved in the water for about five minutes before adding to the dough instead of the instant yeast.We like to eat pita, warm, with (homemade) hummus and possibly some restaurant-made felafel.

2013-04-07-asparagus

Dinner, Sunday night, polenta and mackerel and asparagus. We simply steamed the asparagus. Broiled the mackerel with this marinade and sauteed onions and mushrooms and added them to the polenta. We are still working on just exactly how to cook polenta correctly so that it comes out the the right consistency, so I’ll get back to you on that. Anyone have any polenta-cooking tips?
What did you cook/eat over the weekend? I’d love to hear about it in the comments, or you can share with me on my Facebook page!

What I’m Liking Wednesday {Recipe}

Balance. It can be a hard thing to do. It takes practice and concentration. When you are trying to balance everything in your life, you need to figure out what is most important to you and put everything into perspective. It might even mean changing some things around to make it all work. I am still concentrating on making it work for me.

I try to just go with the flow and make the system work, but sometimes I need to take a step back and realize that something needs to change to make the balancing work. I have a tendency to need to plan ahead and follow the rules and not break away from that system. Other times, I feel like I need to balance planning and going with the flow so that it works.

Most people say that they are afraid of baking because they cannot just add “a pinch of this or that” and cannot stray from the recipe. While this is somewhat true, this is part of why I like baking. Yes, you need to follow the ratio of flour, sugar, and butter to make a cookie dough work. (See my 1-2-3 Cookie Dough) However, there are some variations you can have with a recipe while baking. For example, I recently made these Slice & Bake Oatmeal cookies, but I altered the recipe to what I had on hand. I used cocoa powder instead of the whole wheat flour and I added ground ginger. I did not use any raisins because I don’t like them, but also because I didn’t think that these cookies needed them with all of the other flavors going on. This is a perfect example of balancing flavors to make it work. I would not have thought that this was going to work as well as it did had I not practiced and made other types of cookies previously.

These cookies were tempting to make as is, because I like the idea of having cookie cough on hand so that I can make only one or two at a time. I think the chocolate makes them even more tempting. I mean, who can resist chocolate? :) I believe these cookies, as modified, have the perfect balance of flavors, but also the right balance of textures. They are soft in the middle and have a chewy edge, sort of like a brownie. The oats give the cookies the typical oatmeal cookie chewiness also. The recipe does still need to be tweaked some, it was a little sticky, and probably does not need as much oatmeal as the recipe calls for. I need to work on balancing the ingredients to make them just that much more perfect. Like I said, balancing can be hard and take a lot of work, but it can be done. When balance is achieved, life (and recipes) is good! :)

Tell me, what do you do to keep things in your life balanced?

 

Original recipe found on Shutterbean. Modified/added ingredients/instructions in Italics.

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups old-fashioned oats

Whisk  flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. (I sifted all ingredients into the bowl.) Using an electric mixer, beat butter and both sugars on high speed until light and creamy, 2-3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend and scraping down bowl between additions. Beat in vanilla.

Reduce speed to low. Gradually add dry ingredients; mix just to combine. Fold in oats.

Divide dough between 2 large sheets of parchment paper. Using paper as an aid, roll up each piece of dough into a 1 1/2-inch diameter log. Wrap in plastic; freeze for at least 4 hours and up to 3 weeks.

Preheat oven to 350°. Unwrap dough and cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds (return unused dough to freezer); place 2-inch apart on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

Bake cookies until edges are golden brown, 15-18 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool. I baked mine for about 11 minutes, on a lightly greased baking sheet.

Easy Dinners {Recipe}

I have always been a fan of easy dinners, especially since I am sometimes eating dinner alone. It is always more exciting and better making/sharing dinner with someone else! For me, easy dinners are defined as having few and/or on hand ingredients, and take little time to make.

Here are some examples of easy dinners I’ve made that don’t necessarily require a recipe:

  • roasted vegetables & a grain: it is easy to just get out a large (casserole-sized) baking dish, toss veggies in oil, salt and pepper, and then throw the whole thing in a preheated (400-425ish) oven for just a few (15-20) minutes. I like serving the veggies over pasta, and to make it healthier, and for more protein, you could serve it over brown rice or quinoa. Play around with the veggie combos: squash, peppers, carrots, onion, garlic, broccoli, etc. Make it with a different grain: pasta, rice, quinoa, farro, etc.

roasted_squash

  • salads: basic components of a salad are just as simple as the above-mentioned roasted veggies & a grain. just swap out roasted veggies for fresh, replace the grain with a lettuce (although some grains, such as qunioa make for a good texture addition). Again, play around with the basics to make this meal exciting every time! Want more protein? Add tuna, chopped or shredded chicken or beef. A simple splash of oil & vinegar make for a fresh salad dressing.
  • Related recipe I’ve made (and liked): Tacos with Roasted Vegetables and Red Cabbage Slaw

Other recipes I’ve made recently that are easy and result in some awesome leftovers:

pasta

Basically, I am a fan of “set it and forget it” recipes that make a lot of portions so as to not have to worry about lunch the next day! ;)

What are your favorite easy dinners? Share with me in the comments!

What I’m Liking Wednesday

As I’ve mentioned before, I like listening to The Moth podcast. At the end of every podcast they say, “we hope you have a story-worthy week”. Lately, I’ve really been paying attention to what I spend my time doing and the interactions I’ve had and really try to have a “story-worthy” week. This past week was filled with a lot:

  • Saturday, we got together to buy beer for the tasting party, made sure we had all of the ingredients ready for making pretzels, and then Saturday night we went to the RAWdance Concept series, where we saw a handful of talented dancers share their latest ideas. We then went to Public Works, where we met up with some more artists, this time of the painting/photography/etc. type, enjoyed some drinks and even witnessed a friend’s artwork get sold!
  • Sunday, as I mentioned, we had the beer tasting, and made some pretzels. It was a huge success! Everyone enjoyed the day of beer (or fresh basil lemonade) drinking, pretzel (and felafel, humus, cheese, and pita) eating and basically a large gathering of friends.
  • Monday was a bit of a recovery day. We slept in and then I rode my bike home (through Golden Gate park) and then enjoyed the warm (almost 70!) day in the park near my house. Then, I was, surprisingly, called by a long-time friend that I haven’t connected with (but will hopefully be better connected with in the near future) in a long time! It was the highlight of my day!
  • Tuesday was also a relaxing and warm day. I spent some time catching up on podcasts and reading since the Internet in our house has been down (I am currently typing this in the library).

I have also been enjoying something new: I have been meditating on a semi-regular basis since the beginning of this month. Since it is new to me, I have not been meditating for more than 15 minutes so far, but I hope to maintain my “schedule” of increasing my sitting time (by increasing the time 1 minute per day, but repeating the time if I miss a day or two) to 20 minutes by the end of the month. Any tips & tricks are definitely welcome, please share in the comments!

Tomorrow is Pi Day (3.14 aka March 14) so we are planning on making a mushroom-onion tart. This will be the first savory tart I’ve made since the chicken pot pie I made almost a year ago. Do you have anything planned for Pi Day? What about St. Patrick’s Day? Any green in your future? Let me know what you have planned and/or what made your week “story-worthy”!

Beer and Pretzels {Recipe}

What else is the weekend for if not hanging out with friends and drinking a couple of beers? And, what goes better with beer than pretzels?
This is exactly what happened yesterday. It was a planned, semi-thought out gathering of friends.  We had gone to the beer/wine/liquor store near us to pick up some drinks for a different occasion a few weeks ago, and knew that we needed to go back and try some others that were recommended to us. There were so many different types of beer that we wanted to try, we decided to make an event out of it. Since we knew that we wanted to have a beer tasting,  making pretzels to go with it was a no-brainer.
So let’s get started!
Gather all of your ingredients. Cook’s tip: mix the yeast and water together first to be sure that the yeast you are working with is still active. We had some old yeast that was not foaming up in the proper amount of time (it should only take about 5 minutes) so we bought some new yeast. This was truly a test of “best of” dates on packaging since the old yeast we had said that it was good ’til August of this year.

After gathering ingredients it is time to mix the dough.  Once the ingredients are mixed and all incorporated together, the dough will look shaggy and will be a little sticky. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. The way that we made sure that we were not adding too much more flour than what the recipe called for, we mixed the dough using the minimum amount of flour, 3-3/4 cups, and saved the last 1/4 cup for kneading into the dough as needed. We used that last 1/4 cup flour to dust the counter and on top of the dough instead of mixing it all in from the very beginning.
The dough will become less sticky and more smooth as you knead it on the counter. Once it is completely smooth, about 8-10 minutes of kneading, return it to the bowl and let rest, covered with plastic wrap,  in a warm spot for 45 minutes. The kitchen we were in was cold, so we had preheated the oven while gathering and mixing the ingredients and then turned it off and put the bowl in the off oven.  After this resting time, the dough should have bulked to twice the size and should be soft to the touch. The dough is now ready for shaping.

To shape the pretzels, divide dough into 8 equal pieces. One at a time, roll dough piece into a rope about 22-24 inches long. Make a U-shape with the dough by bringing the two ends up but not touching each other. Cross the ends of the rope near the top (about an inch away from the top). Twist the ends once and then pull down, connecting the ends of the rope to the bottom of the U-shape. This can also be done by twisting the dough in mid-air, but that is definitely the more tricky way. You might also want to make pretzel bites, which is really easy; all you have to do is cut rope of dough into 8 equal parts. We did this since we were sharing with a large group of people and each recipe only makes 8 large pretzels.

P1000435 (Sorry for the blurry picture, I was unable to edit these.)

I watched this video to help me figure out how to do this: http://www.saveur.com/article/Video/Video-How-To-Twist-Pretzels

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Once the pretzels are shaped, place them on an oiled baking sheet and let rest for another 20 minutes. While the pretzels are resting, preheat your oven to 425 degrees and start heating the water and baking soda. Bring the water and baking soda up to a boil. Once pretzels have rested and water is boiling, boil the pretzels, about 3 at a time, until set, about 3 minutes. You might want to turn the pretzels half way through; we used chopsticks to do this. If you don’t have chopsticks, tongs work just as well. This is what gives the pretzels their typical crust and chewy inside, just like a bagel. Place boiled pretzels on sheet pan lined with oiled parchment paper. This is important: pretzels WILL stick to baking sheet if not placed on parchment. (Trust me, as we learned this the hard way) Brush boiled pretzels with egg wash (or leave off for vegan pretzels) and add salt (or other toppings) as desired. Other topping ideas would include (but  is not limited to): sesame seeds, shredded cheese, or poppy seeds.

Place baking sheet with topped pretzels in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool and enjoy! I’m sure you already know this, but pretzels are good with mustard, or hummus, or plain and just a little warm. And, of course, I recommend beer as a wonderful thing to drink with them!

Sorry for my lack of pictures with this recipe; I am out of practice of taking pictures of the major steps of recipe, because, as you may have noticed, I  have not posted a recipe on here in a LONG time.

Recipe adapted slightly from Joy the Baker:

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon sugar
1 (1/4-oz) package active dry yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)

1-1/2 cups lukewarm water
3 3/4 to 4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons pretzel salt or other toppings

1 heaping Tablespoon baking soda (add it to the boiling water just before throwing in the pretzel dough!)

Stir together sugar, yeast, and 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water (105 to 110°F) in a glass measuring cup, then let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If mixture doesn’t foam, discard and start over with new yeast.)

Whisk together 3 1/2 cups flour and 1 tablespoon table salt in a large bowl. Add yeast mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until it forms a dough. Dust work surface with 1 tablespoon flour, then turn out dough and knead, gradually dusting with just enough additional flour to make a smooth sticky dough, about 8 minutes. (Dough needs to be somewhat sticky to facilitate rolling and forming into pretzels).

Return dough to bowl and cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap, then let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes. Turn out dough onto a clean work surface and cut into 8 equal pieces. Using your palms, roll 1 piece back and forth on a clean dry work surface into a rope about 24 inches long. If dough sticks to your hands, lightly dust them with flour. Twist dough into a pretzel shape. (Dough will retract as you form the pretzel.)

Transfer pretzel with your hands to an oiled baking sheet and form 7 more pretzels in same manner with remaining dough, spacing them 1 1/2 inches apart.

Let pretzels stand, uncovered, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, put oven rack in upper third of oven and preheat oven to 425°F. Bring a wide 6-quart pot of water to a boil.  Once boiling, add heaping tablespoon of baking soda.

Using both hands, carefully add 3 pretzels, 1 at a time, to boiling water and cook, turning over once with tongs, until pretzels are puffed and shape is set, about 3 minutes. Transfer parboiled pretzels to a rack to cool. Repeat with remaining 5 pretzels in 2 batches.

Line baking sheet with parchment paper and oil paper, then arrange pretzels on sheet. Brush pretzels lightly with some of egg and sprinkle with pretzel salt. Bake until golden brown and lightly crusted, about 35 minutes. Cool 15 minutes, then serve warm.

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