Thursday, September 27, 2007

Matcha Yogurt Cake

I've had a small can of matcha powder that Blue Lotus sent me ages ago when we decided to do a blog-by-mail sort of trade-off. I used a bit of it on tofu, but always wanted to bake with it and didn't have any good recipes. After seeing this yogurt-matcha cake, however, I knew I had a game plan.

I love yogurt cake regardless, and this marbled one seemed to be an elevated version. I used full-fat Greek yogurt for body and richness, and a good amount of the matcha powder to get a nice, strong tea flavor. In the end, I had some of the matcha batter left over so I made small madeline-like cakes with them.

The flavors combined very well, and it wasn't overly sweet which makes it perfect for breakfast with a nice cup of tea or coffee. I can't say my marbling technique produced the best results (the cake looks like a smiley face!) but it will be fun to practice and get better.

I'm looking forward to making more marbled cakes in the near future:).

Monday, September 24, 2007

Arrivederci Supper

In a strange stroke of coincidence, everyone in my family is leaving this week- everyone, that is, except for me! My sister left for Italy yesterday, J leaves for Texas today, and my parents are also traveling to Italy on Wednesday. Basically everyone decided to desert me at the same time! Of course I'll be fine, and my best friend M and I do have some fun plans up our sleeves during the coming two weeks, but it is odd to think that everyone is gone all at once. So, in a nod to the Italian vacations of my sister and parents, plus the fact that I know poor J won't get a decent meal over the next three weeks (he's working on a project that will involve long hours and little free time) I decided to whip up an Italian meal for J's last night at home.

I'd seen a dish on Everyday Italian awhile back that I had wanted to make, but kind of forgot about it. When I discovered a repeat of that episode on my Tivo, it reminded me how appealing the dish seemed and I decided to go ahead and try it. It's a dish called Lasagna Rolls, and I loved the idea of having a small roll or two of lasagna as opposed to a big slab of it. I knew I wanted to play with the recipe a bit to make it lighter- the days of J and I eating giant bowls of pasta and polishing off an entire baguette are long gone- so I printed the recipe and made some changes.

First of all, I left out the prosciutto and replaced it with sliced crimini mushrooms sautéed with garlic, thyme, olive oil and vermouth. I did keep the one box of squeezed-out, thawed spinach but only used 1/2 cup of ricotta, which I combined in the Cuisinart with one ounce of grated parmiggiano reggiano, one egg, salt and pepper. I then mixed the pureed mixture with the sautéed mushrooms. For the béchamel sauce, I used only 1 tablespoon of real butter, then 1 tablespoon of Smart Balance spread with the 4 teaspoons of flour called for in the original recipe. Instead of using whole milk, I used fat free half and half, plus the fresh nutmeg and salt/pepper. I know a lot of cooks insist you don't use fat free replacements in recipes, but the resulting béchamel was smooth, creamy and thick. I wanted to get whole wheat lasagna sheets but couldn't find them (anyone know of any??) after going to three stores, so I bought regular ones which I boiled for eight minutes- which is about two less than called for. You want the pasta to be a bit more al dente than al dente;) since it will finish baking in the oven. After spreading my spinach/mushroom mixture onto each lasagna noodle, I rolled them up, set each seam-side down in a baking dish filled with béchamel, topped each roll with a bit of homemade marinara and grated parmesan, then baked, covered, in the oven for 20 minutes. After another 15 minutes of baking, uncovered, the dish was done. I could hardly wait to sink my teeth into it!!

Hot, bubbling and golden brown........yum

I wanted it to rest for a bit so I roasted some asparagus and zucchini, warmed a mini baguette in the oven and whipped up a simple dressing of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, fresh garlic, honey and black pepper for a mixed green salad. We popped open a bottle of Grand Archer 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon and sat down for our meal.

How were the lasagna rolls? They were so good that I'm actually craving one right now as I write this at 9:00 AM in the morning! In all honesty- you do not miss any of the extra cheese or fat in the béchamel. Each roll was crisp on the cheese-coated tops, and the ricotta/spinach/mushroom filling was just creamy enough. The béchamel soaked into the bottom of each roll and the touch of marinara really tied the dish together. Any sauce left on the plate was quickly sopped up with our slices of warm bread. I rarely make baked pastas, but this will definitely be making an appearance on our dinner table often, especially during the cooler months. We really loved it, and I can think of lots of delicious variations (salmon and chive filling w/ béchamel, roasted eggplant instead of mushrooms, etc) that will work with the basic concept of the rolled lasagna.

You can find the original recipe here.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Family Dinner, Thanks To Food Bloggers

These days, I have to admit that 99% of anything I read (that isn't work-related) focuses on food. Whether it's any one of the cooking magazines I have a subscription to (Food & Wine, Bon Appetite, Cooking Light, Gourmet), the Food Section in any given newspaper (conveniently available online), my numerous cookbooks which have long-ago filled to capacity the giant bookshelf that my dad made for me, or the seemingly endless supply of food blogs floating through cyberspace. I guess it's embarrassing to say that nary a novel has found its way into my hands in ages; after all, with the vast and never-ending world of unexplored (by me, anyway) food blogs out there, who has time to read anything else?!

My name is A, and I am a Food Blog Addict.

The one great benefit of reading so many food blogs is that my recipe collection has expanded to the point where I couldn't possibly live long enough to try all of them. That's a good thing, right? I mean, thanks to all of the wonderfully creative cooks out there (since you're reading this blog, I'll assume that you are one of them) my taste buds have been tickled by flavors and textures that may have never been brought to my attention had it not been for the detailed descriptions and wonderful photography of these budding (and often professional-level) chefs. Even if I can't read the language its written in, I get inspired just by looking at what cooks around the world have been creating in their kitchens thousands of miles away.

One such blog caught my attention early on due to its adorable title and tagline: Chubby Hubby: Musings on food, wine and marriage. It's now been updated to Chubby Hubby: Dining, Whining and Marriage but the wonderful insights on food, the gorgeous photography and witty writing have remained the same. Based out of Singapore, CH and his wife S travel often and always share new and unique experiences with the reader. They have such an eye for quality and beauty but always keep their tone down-to-earth and honest, so that anyone (whether you're a world traveler or not) can gain something from reading about their adventures. One particular recipe that caught my eye awhile back was Pork Riblets Braised in Vietnamese Caramel Sauce from Molly Stevens' book, All About Braising. The photo of the deep, brown riblets stuck in my memory and I vowed to make them one day.

I finally got my chance last weekend since my parents, sister and friend were coming to dinner. I don't recall EVER making ribs, but I do have some experience braising so I decided to give it a go. I bought some beautiful pork baby back ribs at How's market and opted to not chop them into smaller riblets. The recipe is very easy to follow and has such few ingredients that at one point I wondered how it was possible to get such beautiful ribs (as seen on CH's site) out of just shallots, sugar, fish sauce, water and black pepper?! After caramelizing the sugar (the key is to get it nice and brown) I added everything else in and let it braise for 90 minutes. I have to admit that the smell of the fish sauce (which I LOVE) was a bit overwhelming at first but mellowed out after cooking for awhile. I followed CH's recommendation to make it two days in advance, so after it cooled to room temperature, I stuck it in the fridge. The day of the dinner party, I simply scraped of the now-hardened fat off with a spoon, discarded it and reheated in the oven.

The ribs were tender, sweet, salty, savory and downright succulent. The cracked black pepper really stood up against the sweetness of the dish, and the braising liquid was the perfect thing to drizzle over the lightly fried brown rice (cold brown rice stir fried with a touch of oil, 1 chopped red onion, 2 eggs, scallions and cilantro) I made as well. I also made a big bowl of Asian coleslaw which was just sliced red cabbage, green cabbage, red bell peppers, carrots, red onions and green onions dressed with a mixture of rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, lots of fresh ginger, a touch of sugar, a bit of creamy peanut butter and a dash of soy sauce. Steamed sugar snap peas drizzled with sesame oil, sea salt and sesame seeds capped off the meal.

For dessert........another big "thank you" goes out to the food blogging world for introducing my eyes to the wonder that is David Lebovitz' contribution to the web, The noted cookbook author, chocolate maestro, teacher and all-around dessert extraordinaire is a favorite of the food blogging community, and his latest book, The Perfect Scoop, has been praised by cooks everywhere. One particular ice cream recipe that has garnered manic, Beatle mania-like buzz is his Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream, another dish that I'd filed in my "MUST MAKE/EAT!" file after I'd read about it. I did make it, and well.........I'm going to say with utter confidence that it was, quite simply, the best ice cream I've ever made in addition to the best ice cream I've ever tasted. WOW. AMAZING. LIFE-ALTERING. I knew even before I froze the base that it would be divine.....I sipped so many teaspoons of it that it almost didn't make it to my ice cream maker (yo- quality control, ok??). It's too bad my one photograph of the delectable dessert is so horrible that it's almost an insult to the wonder that is this ice cream. The best thing about this recipe? You probably have everything you need to make this in your kitchen right now. So don't delay, and don't be timid- it is easy to make, and just remember that the darker your caramel, the deeper the flavor.

This soooooooo doesn't do it justice....*sigh*

Have a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Goodbye Summer........

Wow- here we are, midway through September and I already find myself closing the bedroom window before I go to bed. For most of you, that probably sounds the normal thing to do this time of year, but for us Los Angeleninos, it feels a bit premature. It isn't unusual to have a scorching September, but it seems as if Fall has come a bit early (well, I guess actually on time) this year. Although I was stomping my feet about summer ending so soon (after all, my friend M and I haven't filled our quota for beach trips this season) I have to admit that the cool air feels nice. It also beckons me to fire up the oven and really start cooking again.

"X" marks the spot

What better way to say farewell to summer than to take the last of its best fruits and make it into something you can enjoy all year? My parents brought over an enormous bag of tomatoes from their garden, and I spent Sunday morning making a large batch of Mario Batali's Basic Tomato Sauce (my favorite!). I'd never made it with fresh tomatoes but it turned out great, and I'll have homemade tomato sauce on hand for the next few months.

Peeled and ready for the pot

First, I cut an "x" at the bottom of each tomato. After blanching them in hot water for a couple of minutes, I dunked them in ice water and slipped the skins off. I opted to keep the seeds in and pretty much followed the recipe after that. I did add a few tablespoons of sugar to offset the acid in the tomatoes, and pretty soon the house filled with the wonderful scent of garlic, thyme and red sauce.

Bubbling caldron of Batali sauce

I don't have much experience canning (just once) and I didn't have any jars, so I just filled up some of the Gladware that I had and stuck two in the freezer and one in my fridge, to be consumed with a big batch of whole wheat spaghetti and olive oil soaked tuna later on this week.

I see lasagna, ravioli, eggplant parmesan and pizza in your future.........

Although I was wrapping up the last of summer to be saved in my freezer, the process of slowly simmering something on the stove and actually spending a couple of hours in the kitchen made me look forward to all of the cooking adventures that await me in the Fall.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Sunday Supper With Friends

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. Work is nutty and I keep forgetting to take photos, so I have lots to write but nothing to show for it! I should be back in the kitchen soon now that the weather is finally cooling off. I'm really looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and cooking!

Speaking of cooking........wonder what chefs eat on their day off? We got together with a few friends at our house last weekend, and Matt announced that he would bring the food- he only asked that I provide the dessert. Even though I tried to talk him out of having to go get everything, he insisted, so we just sat back and waited to see what he'd bring.

Purchased tart shells from Nicole's

I sort of cheated on the dessert- I purchased ready-made tart shells at Nicole's, but I did make the vanilla-bean pastry cream by hand. Trust me- I'm usually the one who HAS to make each and every single thing by hand and I almost always end up with sore feet, frantically trying to finish it all before guests arrive. Lately, I've been trying to accept the notion that you don't need to make everything so complicated, and summer (well, I guess it's the end of summer now!) is the perfect time to really get into that idea. The raspberries and blackberries at the Farmer's Market smelled so good, I couldn't resist buying them, and I know that Nicole makes perfectly buttery, sweet tart shells so I thought, why not? I simply brushed the inside of the tart shells with melted dark chocolate (to keep the tart shell from getting soggy), piped in some of the pastry cream, topped with berries and finished it off with a grating of chocolate. They were cute and delicious at the same time.

Back to the main course. Matt showed up carrying many large foil containers and we carefully laid it all on the table, buffet style. He brought roasted Peruvian chicken from Pollo Ala Brasa, along with an ass-kickin' but very flavorful green sauce, plus an array of condiments and salads from Carousel in Glendale.

We all made big plates for ourselves, sat on the patio and noshed on the succulent chicken, hummus, babaganoush, cabbage and dill salad, tabbouleh and a fantastic sauce made from ground walnuts and pomegranate juice- wow. Such an explosion of flavors. The extra-thick yogurt with jalapenos that also came with the food was such a great compliment to the spiciness of the green sauce. Sopped up with big, warm rounds of pita bread, it was the perfect Sunday evening supper.

Good food, great friends, lots of wine and a patio- the perfect way to start any week!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Restaurant Review: Hatfield's

I'd long heard wonderful things about Hatfield's, a small, cozy yet elegant restaurant on Beverly Blvd and had waited for a special occasion to finally try it. When my promotion at work came through, J and I jumped at the chance to go ahead and have dinner at the much-lauded restaurant and made reservations for last Friday night.

We arrived just in time for our 6:30 PM reservation (I couldn't get any later) and walked into the charming space. When our hostess seemed like she was going to sit us on the patio (in the 99 degree heat?!) I quickly asked for a table inside and she obliged, no problem. Phew. I hadn't planned on sweating through the meal that I'd looked so forward to trying, not to mention the traffic on Beverly isn't exactly subtle. Sitting on the front porch would have been a deal breaker for sure. Anyway, we were seated at a nice two-top, given menus and left to figure out what to order.

J quickly decided on the three-course "Daily Market Menu" which, at $42, is a real bargain. I figured out my appetizer and entree, then we ordered a bottle of French rosé and sat back, eager to start our very first Hatfield's experience. Instead of the usual bread basket, Hatfield's serves big, round gougeres- basically a savory cream puff shell with no filling but topped with cheese. Wowza. These were totally addictive and quite frankly, dangerous!!! Soft, tender and bright with cheese, the gougeres were just perfect with the rosé. Next came our amuse bouche- a small shot glass of sweet pea and tarragon and a tiny deviled quail egg with smoked trout. Both were absolutely excellent and a great pairing- I would actually love to order both as an appetizer if they were on the menu.

J's first course was a fresh, clean salad of summer corn, tomatoes, beautiful baby purple fingerling potatoes, avocado and frisee all mound on creamy dressing (pictured at the top of this post). Simple yet delicious, the quality of the produce really was the star of the dish. Everything tasted wonderfully fresh and sweet. My warm crab and buckwheat crepe, marinated breakfast radish, pickled beets, fines herbs was also delicious- tiny cubes of sweet beets sat next to a crepe blanketed over a mound of crab meat seasoned with a bit of lemon and folded in a light creamy dressing.

For our main courses we both had fish- J's black cod with warm summer beans, vegetables and crunchy breadcrumbs was tasty, but we both felt the fish wasn't sturdy enough to stand up to the other ingredients on the plate. Maybe a firmer fish would have worked better? (coz um, we know better than seasoned chefs, right?! not.....but that's just how we felt!). It tasted good, regardless, and the beans were a real treat. My olive oil poached halibut, herbed asparagus, hedgehog mushrooms with pickled ramp vinaigrette was pretty perfect- the firm fish was cooked perfectly and all of the flavors melded together so well.

Black cod

Olive oil poached halibut

We decided to share J's dessert of a ricotta cheesecake with strawberries........oooooo, I was in heaven. It was so light, airy, refreshing and the strawberries were so lovely with the creaminess of the reminded me so much of the "rare cheesecakes" that are popular in Japan. No thuddingly dense New York cheesecake here. I would order this in large batches if it was available. The perfect summer dessert. Yes, I'm officially gushing.

Cheesecake w/ strawberries

Along with our bill we got two, homemade chocolate bars which were similar to Kit Kats but the base was a crunchy and dense hazelnut crust. Another "wow" item. Even with the two sweet things at the end, we walked out of Hatfield's feeling great. It's nice to eat a three-course meal and not feel like you need to be carried out by a forklift, you know?! So many places can be heavy-handed with the oils and fats (which isn't always a bad thing, of course!) but Hatfield's really uses a lighter touch. The service was also friendly yet subtle.

Gourmet Kit Kat

We'll definitely be back!

7458 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, California

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

HAPPY BIRTHDAY J!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(c) 2007

Just want to give a very happy birthday shout out to my dear J. Thanks for all of your love and support- and always letting me take photos of food before you eat it!!

More food blogging to come.............