Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Change of Scenery, A Change in Style

So I thought I'd post an update considering there haven't been many updates recently, since I'm finally settled in back at school. Unfortunately, school means very few resources in the cooking department. I don't want to lose track of the blog though! I need to keep this endeavor thriving. I've got a few ideas percolating and I hope to get some of them on here pretty soon.

I just wanted to let everyone who follows this know that it'll just be a little while before the next post will contain something moderately worth reading :)

Some ideas in the works include a weekly video segment, as well as attempting to examine the artistic side of food without as much direct hands-on experience. (Naturally, I'll be trying to do as much of that as possible, but I've got to make it work with what I've got.)

In great appreciation of my followers,


P.S. For those of you disappointed about not seeing something scrumptious here today, follow this link and check out the restaurant at The Inn at Little Washington. Some of the finest and most beautiful American dining in the country. Click here to check it out!

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Vegan Delight - Broiled Tofu and Spinach Pesto Pasta with Artichokes

So being up in New York city with Sam has brought about the opportunity for some experimental vegan dishes out of a couple of his really nice cookbooks. This particular recipe we borrowed from two of his books, one called "The Veganomicon" by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, and another called "Vegan with a Vengeance," again by Isa. These books have such a complete collection of vegan recipes, you wouldn't even believe it. From pumpkin waffles to thai green curry and more, this collection is comprehensive and wonderful, even for a habitual meat-eater myself. A lot can be taken from vegan cooking - new methods of preparing foods, new foods in general, and an overall sense of eating well and eating organic. And you can't argue with that.
Spinach pasta with a cilantro-basil pesto sauce with artichoke hearts and red onions topped with garlic-basil broiled tofu. THAT is a mouthful - an exquisite, melt-in-your-mouth flavor explosion of a mouthful. This recipe we modified a bit to make it easier on ourselves, and make it work with the fact that we only have one pot, but this was quite a simple meal and will serve around 4 people.

Here's what you'll need:

For the tofu:
-1 pound extra firm tofu (normally you would have to press it - a process I won't go into here since you don't need to do it! The way we'll be preparing it by broiling it allows you to overlook this lengthy process. So just squeeze out as much moisture as you can and you're set!)
-1/2 cup water or white cooking wine, or vegetable broth - whatever you have
-2 Tablespoons olive oil
-2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
-2 Tablespoons soy sauce (or tamari if you have it - my sources tell me it's nearly the same thing as soy sauce)
-2 Tablespoons lemon juice
-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
-a big chunk of torn up basil leaves

For the pasta:
-1/2-1 pound spinach spaghetti or linguine (depends on how many you want to feed, and spinach pasta is the green kind)
-2 Tablespoons olive oil
-1 medium red onion, chopped in half moons (definitely make sure you get red if you can!)
-4 cloves of chopped garlic
-2 Tablespoons of water (or 1 T water/1 T lemon juice)
-1/2 teaspoon of salt
-several pinches of ground pepper
-1 (15 oz.) can of artichoke hearts (canned in water or brine - NOT oil)
-1 recipe of basil-cilantro pesto (see below)

For the pesto:
-2 cups loosely packed fresh basil
-1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro
-1/4 cup freshly ground unsalted almond butter (having a wholefoods nearby makes this really easy to get, but if you can't, 1/3 cup of sliced unsalted almonds will work perfectly too!)
-2 cloves of garlic
-2 Tablespoons of lemon juice
-1/2 teaspoon of salt
-1/4 cup olive oil

Okay, I know that all seems like a lot, but most of the ingredients are staples you might have lying around your house. Should this be a bit too much, use it for a special occasion! When all served up, this dish is beautifully presentable and can definitely feed a group.

So here's how you'll prepare it:

**We'll learn a new term here today - "mise en place.
[miz ã plas]" It's a French culinary term meaning literally "putting in place." This means get all your ingredients out (chopped if need be) and put in place so they're ready for everything! Doing this can help make sure everything's done on time and at the SAME time, which is ideal.**

1. Start with the sauce for the tofu. This is the easiest to prepare first. Throw the chopped garlic in a bowl with the basil chunks. Add the lemon juice, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and water. Stir it all up.

2. Turn your oven's broiler to HI. Slice your tofu into centimeter thick slices, cut each one in half, and cut each half into diagonal triangles.
Dip each triangle in the mixture you just made and place each triangle on a lightly greased baking sheet. With the broiler pre-heated, put the tofu under the broiler for 8-10 MINUTES. Set a timer or something, you don't want to burn it. Depending on when you start it, it will come out throughout the rest of the preparation. After it broils ten minutes, pull it out, drizzle some more sauce over it all, and broil again for 3 minutes. After 3 minutes, drizzle with the remaining sauce, broil for 3 more, and pull it out and let it set while the rest of the meal finishes up.

2. While the tofu starts to broil, get a pot of salted water on the stove, and turn it on HI. You can do the pesto while you wait for it to boil.
3. For the pesto, put the cilantro, basil, almond butter or almonds, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and olive oil (all the ingredients) in a food processor or blender and blend until it's nice and creamy. As opposed to a typical pesto which would contain pine nuts, almonds are cheaper and will help give it a nice, creamy texture. Make sure there are as few chunks as possible, and scrape down the sides of the blender/processor as necessary. Smell/taste this. Always taste. It should taste great. Set it aside.

4. The water should be boiling by now! Put the pasta in and cook it according the directions on the box - probably around 10 minutes over medium heat. You can do the next part while the pasta cooks.
5. Put the olive oil and red onions (chopped in half moons) in a large skillet and saute until soft, 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for a minute or so more.
6. The pasta should be done by now, but don't drain it. Use a slotted pasta spoon to transfer the pasta bit by bit to the skillet with the onions and garlic. Bring the heat to LO. Add some pesto each time you add some pasta. Stir to heat and coat evenly. (At the end, should it be too thick you can use some of the water on the pasta to help coat it.) Saute in the pan until all the pesto and pasta are in, and then add the artichoke hearts and stir to coat, and heat on LO for about 3 minutes.

7. Transfer the pesto pasta to serving bowls and top with 5-6 pieces of the broiled tofu. Serve this to everyone you love and they will love you even more.

This was such a superb dish. The garlic and basil broiled on top of the tofu perfectly complements the flavors of garlic and basil in the pesto, and little bursts of lemon juice bring out the flavor of the artichoke hearts and the red onions add a subtle caramelized flavor to the pasta. The tofu was firm, but soft to bite and broiling allowed the sauce to seep in perfectly. Definitely take a shot at this one - you will not be disappointed.

Signing off, (on a southbound bus home with no leftovers!)


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Half pie, half cake -- ALL PEARS - Pear Tart

So as it turns out, when you buy fruit in bulk, you have a very tiny window of ripeness when you have to eat it. And these huge Bosc pears were no exception. So at their peak ripeness, I thought I'd turn four of them into a fine little pear tart. This pear tart was fast and easy - different than what you'd normally expect as a tart. This is more of a cake. Well, it's more pear slices, smothered in cake batter...that bakes up into a beautiful dessert. Sound good? With only five basic ingredients and a 'throw it all in the bowl and go' philosophy, it can only sound better.

-2 eggs
-1/4 cup milk
-1 cup granulated sugar
-1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
-pinch of salt
-2 pounds of fresh Bosc or Anjou pears (4-6 pears depending on the size)

-butter for dotting the tart
-2 cinnamon sticks (or just some ground cinnamon)
-1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
-1/2 teaspoon allspice
*You could add clove or cinnamon as you see fit as well.

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees with a rack in the upper third of the oven.
2. Beat the eggs and milk in a large bowl, and then add the sugar, and salt. Then add the flour and stir until the mixture resembles a cake batter.
3. Peel and core the pears and slice into thin slices.
4. Add the slices to the batter and toss until evenly coated. There should be nearly an equal ratio of pears to batter, if only a little more batter.
5. Pour this mixture into a greased and dusted 9 inch cake tin or glass dish.
6. Arrange a couple of cinnamon sticks and sprinkle some cinnamon on top and stick a few pats of butter on there too.
7. Throw in the oven on the rack in the upper third at 375 degrees for about 50 minutes, or until the top is nice and golden brown.
8. After removing it from the oven, let it sit for 15 minutes. This will give time for all the juices to collect and gift it a chance to set.
9. Peel of those cinnamon sticks before serving and you're ready to go! This dish is best served either warm or room temperature.

This dessert is so delicious and so simple to make, especially after cinnamon rolls and boston cream pie - two daunting endeavors. With this recipe, everything gets thrown in a pan and baked with no fancy processes or skills to learn. So, not quite a challenge, but a simple way to use up that ripe fruit without letting it go to waste.
As for taste, it's sweet and tart, but not too much of either. It's almost like pie and almost like cake, but not too much of either. Imagine if pie filling were made with cake. And pears. And it was all warm and seasoned with cinnamon inside a light golden brown crust. That's this. And this is great.
Signing off sweetly,


Boston Cream Pie with Mascarpone Custard - and that's saying a lot

Now THAT is a fine dessert. Sam, Amanda and I all got together and decided that a Boston Cream Pie would be the best dessert we could possibly make for the night. And Amanda's mom had a secret recipe for a custard made with mascarpone cheese and vanilla beans which provided the perfect touch to this fantastic dessert. Boston Cream Pie isn't quite a pie, it's a cake rather. Two layers of soft sponge cake with a custard layer in between, topped with a shiny chocolate ganache. Sound like a challenge? It certainly was, and we took it on with full force. Even with our amateur skills, we pulled off a fine dessert and you can do the same. Shall we get onto the recipe? This one primarily came from here:

with the exception of Amanda's mother's custard recipe which we used in place of the custard provided. And below you'll find everything you need to replicate this fine dessert at home. (Should you want to forego the expense of mascarpone and stick with the recipe for the custard, you would be absolutely fine - but let me tell you, this custard is the most delicious custard I have EVER tasted. No lies. You'll find our modified recipe below:


-1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (cake flour would make it fluffier if you have it, but it's a minor detail)
-2/3 cup sugar
-1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-1/2 cup milk
-1/4 cup vegetable oil
-2 eggs (separated - you'll need both yolks and both whites separately)
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (this helps the egg whites get all fluffy when you beat them)

-2 cups milk (avoid skim milk if you can, whole milk would be ideal)
-1 cup sugar
-1 vanilla bean and seeds, split and scraped (this adds a BEAUTIFUL touch, but a teaspoon of vanilla extract would suffice should these be unavailable)
-a pinch of salt
-4 eggs
-1/3 cup all-purpose flour
-8 oz mascarpone cheese (most mascarpone cheese comes in an 8 oz container)
-2 tablespoons butter (unsalted and chilled, ideally)
-2 tablespoons vanilla extract

-8 oz semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
-1 cup heavy cream

Okay, sounds like a lot of ingredients - and it is. And it sounds like a lot of detailed work - and it is. This is about to be a long post, but if you take everything step by step, proceed with care, and BE PATIENT, everything will come together perfectly. I'll even number the steps for you to make it a bit easier.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. (Easy enough)
2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl and make a well in the center after combining. Add the milk, oil, egg yolks, and vanilla to the well:
3. Using an electric mixer, beat on a low/medium setting until combined, and continue beating for three minutes.
4. In another (large!) mixing bowl beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. This will be a few minutes but you'll know when you get there. Amanda demonstrates:
5. Now you're going to pour the egg yolk mixture into the egg white mixture, and fold them together, which will incorporate them without deflating the egg whites you just whipped to perfection. If they deflate too much, your cake will be less fluffy, so using a spatula, just fold the mixtures on top of each other until they look well-incorporated. Gently pour your mixture into a greased 9 inch cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until the center of the cake springs back after lightly pressing. When it's done, remove and invert the cake onto a wire rack and let it cool completely.
6. We'll start the custard now, while the cake bakes. Place milk and sugar in a large saucepan and prepare the vanilla bean by slicing it down the center and scraping the seeds out. Place the empty bean and all the seeds in the milk and sugar mixture and heat over medium heat until the sugar dissolves.
7. In a separate bowl, whisk the 4 eggs until blended and gradually add the flour, whisking until most of the lumps are gone. The next step is a bit tricky.
8. You're going to temper the eggs with the hot milk mixture. Because adding hot liquid to eggs could essentially COOK them, we want to avoid this, so that our cake is not filled with scrambled eggs. Take 1 cup of the hot milk mixture (which you will want to strain, as to remove the large vanilla husk and seeds) and slowly add that 1 cup of hot milk mixture to the eggs, constantly whisking so that they heat slowly and evenly. Strain the rest of the milk mixture into the egg mixture and then add the whole thing back to the saucepan - it needs to be heated again.
9. Constantly whisk this mixture (which is slowly becoming your custard) until it begins to boil. It will slowly start to thicken as it boils, and let it boil for one minute to remove the starchy flavor from the flour.
10. While this boils (remember to whisk it constantly!) Put your mascarpone cheese and the butter in a bowl and mash them to combine. After your mixture has boiled, pour it over the mascarpone and butter, add the vanilla, and stir until it's entirely incorporated. Then, cover with plastic wrap, making sure to press the plastic wrap against the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. This would be gross otherwise. Refrigerate this until it is chilled. DO NOT ATTEMPT USING THE CUSTARD BEFORE IT IS CHILLED. This requires patience, and is crucial to a successful pie.
11. You can proceed to this step once your custard is chilled and your cake is cool. Cut the cake in half horizontally, creating two separate layers of cake. Spread your chilled custard on to the bottom half and place the other half on top, making sure that the flattest part is facing upward. Let that sit while you make the ganache.
12. For the ganache, first begin by finely chopping ALL of the chocolate - it needs to be able to melt quickly. Then heat the cup of heavy cream over medium heat until it begins to boil. In a small bowl, pour the boiling cream over your chocolate and whisk until the chocolate is melted and you have a beautiful, shiny chocolate sauce. That's your ganache! It's so easy!
13. Transfer your cake to a serving plate and pour the ganache over your cake and custard layers, making sure it spreads evenly and doesn't end up thicker in certain places. Let it cover the top and sides of your cake, and store in the refrigerator.

CONGRATULATIONS! YOUR BOSTON CREAM PIE IS DONE! My advice: let it chill in the refrigerator for an hour. This dessert is best served cold, and with that rich vanilla custard, fluffy sponge cake, and semisweet chocolate ganache, you will be SO greatly rewarded for your patience. I'll include a picture of our finished product, although we ended up making a mess all over our serving tray with our ganache. It goes to show that you don't have to use it ALL :)
This turned out so well, and any pratfalls we encountered I've made sure to explain in detail so you guys won't encounter the same ones and YOUR boston cream pie can turn out even better! Definitely do give this a try, even without the vanilla beans and mascarpone this dessert can be perfectly gourmet.

Special thanks to Sam Draxler and Amanda Kohr for their fine culinary help, without which, this chef would have been stumbling over himself trying to get this all sorted out!

Signing off for now (only a third of this fine cake remains!),


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Thursday's Reviews - a new weekly tradition?

I thought that once a week, I could post a little review of a restaurant/shop/interesting place I've been and spread the word on a few of these lesser-known gems. I also thought Thursdays would be a nice day for this, but that is all subject to change.

Today's post will be about a little teashop/restaurant called Teaism. You can visit its website here:

The website will tell you that Teaism is a critically acclaimed restaurant and teahouse seeking to be an alternative to the "obfuscation, over-formalization, and xenophobia of traditional Asian and English tea houses" while responding to "the corruption of tea, the style above substance and the use of tea bags in American offerings." Now all that seems rather high and mighty but Teaism is quite the opposite. With three locations throughout Washington, DC, the restaurant/teahouse/shop maintains its quaint roots from two women at Dupont Circle. The original location on Dupont Circle is the one I've attended, and the storefront is elegant and simple and inviting.

As a restaurant Teaism has a great selection of Asian-inspired dishes and breakfast foods that will pair perfectly with your tea selection. Some close upstairs seating provides the perfect atmosphere for that delicious meal as well. When Sam and I last went, we treated ourselves to Lentil Soup, Tofu Noodle Salad, and Thai Chicken Curry. For being such a small location, there was tremendous flavor packed into these dishes. And for a great price too! Where one would normally spend $14-15 on a dish like the curry I had, Teaism offered it for merely $9.95.

offers a wide selection of international teas, including what has definitely become my favorite beverage and a staple in my own kitchen: Teaism chai. You can order it inside in a mug to sit or to go, and it's simply exquisite. Or, you can buy your own package of their chai spices and make it at home - with their suggested serving recipe, which is key.

It comes in that beautiful little pouch - mine was a gift from a special someone and has a few little notes taped to it. But for the everyday chai drinker, this would be just as special without. But they certainly don't hurt. The recipe if you're interested:

For 2 Servings:

Boil 2 3/4 cups water, add 3 teaspoons of Teaism organic black chai tea with spices and boil for 5 minutes. Lower the heat and add 3/4 cup milk or soymilk and return to a low boil. Strain through a fine strainer and sweeten to your liking. Serve!

It should be noted that if you let your chai boil for too long, the flavor can become bitter, and if you do not steep it for long enough the flavor will not be that strong, bold flavor that makes chai so delicious.

I hope this review was helpful! And convinced you to check this place out at one of its three locations in the district. Stop by and sit back with a mug of your favorite tea (and check out that dessert menu too!)

Signing off,

A change of heart, but still plenty to say - AND CINNAMON ROLL RECIPE!

For those of you (Devin) who happen to follow this blog, it's taken a turn - for the better, I believe. What was an aimless collection of writings and ramblings about how much I love words has become a purposeful means for tackling all of the cooking/baking projects I plan to embark on before I apply to culinary school. I'm studying linguistics at the College of William & Mary at the moment and plan on graduating in a year and a half's time - and at that point, hopefully I'll have the resources to carry out my actual dreams.

In the meantime, I made cinnamon rolls:

This was my first real venture into the art of bread-baking. I've never really worked with yeast on my own before, but I can confidently say these turned out DAMN good. I had a couple different recipes I was working from, doing a combination of what was easiest and what was cheapest. That seems to be the plan. And luckily, cinnamon rolls have a few corners that can be cut. My primary recipe came from here

But I found that although the recipe itself was nice, the instructions were minimal. Which means I was cluelessly searching for another recipe with some more solid details on what to do with all this flour. And this recipe called for bread flour - something the others did not. I learned from a reliable baking source (see Sam Draxler) that bread flour simply has more proteins in it for doing all that glutinous stuff flour does when it gets wet. I did splurge on bread flour for this one, but I don't think it'll be necessary for next time. And let me tell YOU, with these cinnamon rolls there will be a next time. Let me publish my simplified recipe here so any interested can save themselves the trouble and settle on this primo cinnamon roll

Here's what you'll need:

5 cups flour (all purpose, bread flour, what you have will work)
3 ounces or 1 package dry instant active yeast
1 cup milk
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, beaten

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3-4 tablespoons cinnamon
1/2 cup (softened) butter
3/4 cup chopped nuts (if you would like - I didn't want them)

2 oz. cream cheese - room temp
1/4 cup butter - also room temp (makes it so much easier to stir)
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Here's what you'll do:

Start with 1 1/2 cups of the flour, and add the packet of yeast. Stir them all together until they're evenly combined. Then you're gonna put the milk, water, vanilla, and stick of butter in a microwave safe dish and heat it for about 2 minutes or until it's very warm. You don't want it boiling, but you want it hot. It may help to squish the butter into pieces first if it's not softened. This is what I did. The mess is half the fun. So add that heated liquid mixture to your bowl and beat it. I used an handheld electric beater but whipping it fast with a whisk would suffice. Then add the eggs and sugar and continue beating. Now you're going to add the rest of the flour a cup or so at a time. It'll get nice and doughy in no time. Keep stirring until you manage to get it all into one nice ball. At that point you're going to cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit for ten minutes. Find something to do in the meantime. I cleaned up the first part of my mess. There's plenty more to come.

After ten minutes, you're going to pull that ball of dough out and knead it until its proteins succumb to your insatiable power and it starts to be come elastic. (Give that about ten minutes as well.) It will also help to spray some cooking oil or something similar onto your work surface so that your dough doesn't end up laminating your countertop. Once you've beat the shit out of it, you can attempt to roll it out into a rectangle. Make it long and wide, the exact measurements don't particularly matter but mine was about 20" by 12". Next time I'll have pictures, but for this recipe you'll just have to make do.


You can prepare this while you wait for the dough to sit if you'd like. It's fast and easy. Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl and in a separate bowl break up the butter into little bits. Or if it's not softened, you can just melt it. Whatever works. Use a pastry brush or something similar and spread that butter all over the flat rectangle of dough. Then take the cinnamon/brown sugar mixture and smother it. If you think you're putting too much on, you probably are. Depending on the size of your rectangle, you probably won't need to use it all. Finally, start lengthwise and roll that little bugger up, being careful not to roll it too tightly or when they start to bake and rise the centers will pop up and go wild. Unless you're into that kind of thing. Then be my guest. Pinch the top flap of the dough to the rest of the roll so it stays fastened. This can be frustrating but give it a shot, it'll pay off. Now you're going to score them. Take a serrated knife and mark a little cut right in the middle of the roll. Then divide each half into two, and each quarter into three - making a total of 12 rolls. You can really do this anyway you'd like, but this turned out really well for me. Apply pressure to the knife and cut right through at each slit, being careful not to squash the filling all out on the sides. If it happens, it happens. But the more of that gooey yums that stays inside, the better. Arrange these in a greased 13x9x2 baking sheet (the kind you'd use for a cake) and make sure they aren't quite touching each other or the sides. Cover and let them sit somewhere warm for 1 HOUR. CAUTION: WAITING THIS LONG WILL BE THE HARDEST PART. They need time to rise and get fluffy.

After an hour, pop those in your 350 degree pre-heated oven for 20-25 minutes or until the tops are golden to your liking. When there's about five minutes to go you can make THIS:


Combine the butter and cream cheese, melt it a bit if you have to. It needs to be all squished together. Then add the cup of powdered sugar and vanilla and stir it all up until it looks like frosting. Now as soon as those puppies come out of the oven smother that frosting all over every single one of them. Cinnamon rolls do not tolerate inhibitions, especially in the frosting sector. Every one will be goopy and drizzly and perfectly scrumptious. And make sure you eat one right when they come out. This will be the best one, no matter what anyone else says. And if you can savor it alone, or with a special someone, then do that. It will be entirely worth the privacy.

*Also, you can totally make these up to the point where you're about the bake them and FREEZE them or refrigerate them for up to a month. Just cover the tray with plastic wrap and chill. Try and bring them to room temp before you bake them though, so they can bake evenly.

Well guys, there you go. My first attempt at a blogging recipe. I hope this works out for all of you. And I hope you try it. You should.

Signing out (with a belly full of cinnamon rolls),