Saturday, May 31, 2014

Brie Pizza with Caramelized Onions, Apples, and Bacon

My brother is great at finding online deals. Whenever he finds a cool kitchen gadget on sale, he always alerts me. This time it was a 10.25 inch cast iron skillet for $12! I was really excited for this because I love love love using cast iron skillets for cooking steak, but I wanted to try other things out as well. I was super excited to use my cast iron for baking! My first experiment: cast iron pizza crust. 

For me, pizza has to have a perfectly crisp crust. However, you'll find you get a lot of trouble getting the bottom of a pizza crispy when you've put a pound of toppings on top......which I'm pretty guilty of doing. My go-to move to combat this was adding cornmeal, olive oil, and cooking in a high heat oven. Even then, sometimes spots may still be soggy. Cooking pizza in a cast iron is awesome for toppings addict like me. Because the cast iron is able to reach such high heat, as well as retain heat and diffuse evenly, it cooks the pizza crust perfectly. 

This pizza is a perfect test for the cast iron skillet. This pizza is sort of a play on those baked brie recipes. The buttery, creamy brie cheese goes great with the sweet apples, and the salty crisp bacon really complements the other sweet ingredients. But even with all the ingredients on here, from the bacon, brie, apples, caramelized onions, the crust remained perfectly crisp and chewy.  

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Baked Fried Chicken with Chia Seed Crust

I've been making a bigger effort to get healthy lately! It started with my all my friends going to the gym and me feeling bad for just standing around the kitchen making brownies all the time. I've been easing into with the Couch-to-5K Running plan and the 5K Runner app on my phone. I really recommend it for anyone who is starting to work out, scared of the gym, or hates the idea of running. I used to absolutely hate running. I would just overexert myself instead of starting off slow, and then get discouraged. Running a 10 minute mile without walking for your first day isn't a realistic goal. What I really needed was a structured workout that told me exactly what to do, and what's okay to do. It's okay to walk and take a break, you don't have to overdo it and try to sprint and meet your goal. The running plan and app are perfect for people like me who want a great, structured workout without having to plan anything out. It tells you exactly how long you've been working out, and what you're going to do in that time. Just plug in some head phones, put on the app, and hop on a treadmill. I honestly feel so much better from working out--my mood, my sleep cycles, and my body feel so much better already!

So in conjunction with working out, I'm making an effort to eat better! You've all probably have heard of the superfood chia seeds (yes, the same seeds that come with the Chia pets). Some of their benefits are fiber, omega fatty acids, calcium, antioxidants, protein and more. If you're skeptical about them, I encourage you to give them a shot. Most people seem to use them as toppers for yogurt and smoothies. I've done this a lot but you don't really seem to taste them at all, since they're taste isn't strong at all. But I wanted to use them in a more savory way. Because they have such a great crunch, I've used them like you would a sesame seed. In the oven, they get a nice toasty flavor. I've marinated chicken drumsticks (great because you can get them in bulk and on sale a lot) in yogurt to keep them is perfectly tender, and then crusting them in seasoned breadcrumbs and plenty of chia seeds. With the tender chicken and crisp crust from the bread crumbs and chia seeds, this is my favorite baked "fried" chicken!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Milk Chocolate S'more Tarts

Two things that bring the biggest joy to me are cooking and baking. I get asked a lot, "Are you a cook or a baker?", and I would absolutely have to say that my first love will always be baking. I remember exactly when I really started getting into baking. The summer of my senior year in high school, my brother took a job in Afghanistan and was really missing the comforts of home, especially sweet treats. I'd go and send him care packages filled with cookies. I experimented with all sorts of cookies: various chocolate chip recipes, gingersnaps, Italian wedding cookies. I'm sure once they arrived to him all the way from Georgia, they were questionable in taste and were becoming increasingly stale by the minute, but he never said anything about that. He always thanked me and told me they smelled delicious, the kind of smell that still brought him home. I think that's why I have such a love of baking. Baking isn't just for yourself, it's about sharing with the people you care about. No matter how stale and crumbly the cookie may be, it's just nice to show that you're thinking of someone and taking the time to make something sweet for them. 

Now my brother is back in the United States again, and I was able to see him for his birthday. I really wanted to make something special for him, so I went with my go to favorite recipe: mini pies. (You may be seeing a theme on my blog with my love of mini pies, seen here and here already). These were a definite hit. Nothing is more comforting than a gooey s'more, but I wanted to make them a little more upscale, while still having those same great flavors. These s'more tarts have all of that: a rich milk chocolate ganache, blistered sweet marshmallows, and a crumbly crust. I added a touch of sea salt to the marshmallows after they've been toasted, to just brings out all the sweetness and flavors. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Crab Deviled Eggs

Eggs have always been one of my favorite food and definitely a staple in my fridge. I go through them like crazy for all sorts of things: baking, snacks, or a quick meal. I've been known to get a huge carton of 60 eggs from the Asian supermarket and be able to go through them in less than a month. I'm pretty egg obsessed, but even I get tired of the same egg recipes day in and out. But the great thing about eggs in addition to being cheap, nutritious, and tasty is that they're extremely versatile. Different takes on classic egg recipes keeps me from getting too tired of them. One of my favorites currently is my variation on deviled eggs. 

Classic deviled eggs are traditionally made with little more than eggs and mayonnaise. The great thing about it is that while simple, deviled eggs are awesome, but you can do a million versions of the dish. I wanted to elevate them a little more, especially with the holiday season and all the parties going on. These filling is sort of a take on a lobster roll, but in deviled egg form. Sweet fresh crab meat, creamy yolks, and the fresh bite from the scallions makes it a great bite.

The biggest task off making deviled eggs, especially if you're making a lot of them is peeling all of them. When you just want to make something like an egg salad, for some reason, the shell always comes out perfectly. But when you really need them to be nice and pretty, the shells stick like crazy and the eggs become impossible to peel. My trick for getting perfectly peeled boiled eggs is just adding some baking soda to the water. The baking soda passes through the egg shell and magically helps prevent the egg white from sticking to the shell, without affecting the taste. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Classic Stuffing

Even though my family celebrated Thanksgiving, we didn't stick to traditional holiday flavors. My mom is an excellent cook and while I do love the flavors that I grew up with, Thanksgiving food was not always my favorite. Instead of mashed potatoes, she serves sticky, glutinous black rice, and instead of filling the turkey stuffing, she'd stuff it with, well frankly, weird stuff. Always a mysterious mix of goji berries, dried shitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts. It was....definitely exotic tasting, but I always secretly wished that we could just have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Why couldn't we just have stuffing?

What is stuffing? I'd always ask my friends. I knew everyone universally loved stuffing, but I never knew what it was. I've seen the boxes of stuffing mix. I tried it once, and I thought, there's no way that this is what everyone is raving about. A tasteless mix of stale bread cubes? If I was going to try stuffing, I had to try it the right way, from scratch.

If you've never had or made stuffing from scratch, you'd be surprised at how simple it is to make, and how much better it tastes than the boxed stuff. Just some things to remember about stuffing: you want the bread cubes to dry out completely, because that allows them to suck up as much flavor and moisture as possible, so you don't end up with just a mix of stale, dry, bread cubes. At the same time, don't add too much chicken stock, or you'll have the bread dissolve and disintegrate on you. I like to use homemade chicken stock for stuffing, but if you don't have any, the store bought stuff will be fine as long as you add a healthy dose of fresh herbs to really inject that holiday flavor.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sweet Potato Casserole

My friends and I decided to celebrate Thanksgiving together a few weeks before Thanksgiving day, when we would have to travel to go home and spend it with family. There's nothing I like more than cooking for people and sharing food.For a long time, I've been excitedly planning the meal, what kind of pies should I make?, how many sides should I do? Fast forward to 3 days before the big event when I learned that my frozen turkey would take 4 or 5 days to thawCrap. I started to freak out. I would have to cook a half frozen, 20 pound turkey by myself, along with a half dozen sides and sweets! (Obviously, I had earlier politely but firmly refused everyone's offer to help out). 

My head filled with all sorts of crazy disaster scenarios, the worst involving me giving everyone salmonella, the mildest in which I had to sadly tell my friends that Thanksgiving was canceled. But obviously, I wasn't going to let any of that happen. I was determined to ensure no cooking meltdowns, no last minute running to the store, no panicking that there wouldn't be enough to go around. After carefully consulting many guides, I put the turkey to defrost in cold water, and then I began to start on some fool proof recipes that have never failed me. If this is your first Thanksgiving cooking by yourself and you're worried about doing a large amount of cooking, my advice is to make casseroles. It'll be your busy day's best friend. They're often fool proof, can be prepped quickly and ahead of time, and it even tastes just as good, if not better, than the day you made it because it has time for the flavors to develop. 

This is a super simple, easy, go-to recipe for the holidays. It's warm, gooey, sweet, and super comforting with the cinnamon and ginger and toasted marshmallows. I made it a few days in advance and stored it in the fridge, and before serving I finished it with marshmallows in the oven. A perfect side to a low-stress Thanksgiving meal. If you do all your sides and desserts ahead of time, all you have to do that Thursday is pop the turkey in the oven and warm everything else just before serving. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Chipotle Barbecue Sauce + Barbecue Wings

Most of the time, I'm just cooking for me and my boyfriend. We both love food, and even though we have different tastes in food, it's always fun for me to try making new things that I usually wouldn't. One of his favorite foods are buffalo wings, and he always asks me to try and come up with my own recipe. While usually I'd happily do this, the problem is that I really don't like buffalo sauce. Too vinegar-y for me. I've made them a few times, but the proof is pretty obvious in the taste-- I just don't like buffalo sauce. When I'm not into a recipe, or I'm not confident in what I'm making, it shows up in the results. So unfortunately for my boyfriend, no homemade buffalo wings because I hate them. But luckily--I love barbecue sauce, and would happily make barbecue wings any day of the week.

Barbecue sauce is pretty easy to make, and once you have homemade sauce, you can't go back to the bottled stuff. You can tailor it to your tastes, and I think that it just has so much more flavor. I always make plenty of this barbecue sauce because it keeps very well in the fridge and it goes great on everything: chicken, pulled pork, ribs. This recipe is tangy and sweet, with plenty of smokey flavor from the chipotle powder. Chipotle powder is made from smoke-dried jalapeƱos, which give a great spice and smokiness to food. Since it is fairly spicy, you may want to decrease the amount of powder in this recipe to a teaspoon or two if you're not a heat seeker. 

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