Thursday, March 29, 2012

korean mungbean jelly (muk)

Of all the restaurants in San Francisco, it's funny that the only one where we are considered regulars is a Korean restaurant. Maybe its the underground parking - a lifesaver in the rainy season when dining out with kids - or maybe its the deliciousness of the food, the sweetness of the staff and owner, the cleanliness and child-friendliness of the establishment. But honestly, I think its their muk. Muk is a savory jello-like dish commonly served in Korean restaurants among the little appetizers they pass out called panchan. Whenever my kids hear the words mungbean jelly, they cheer.

There's a korean grocery near the restaurant, and feeling inspired one day, I asked the owner if he stocked the ingredients necessary to make muk. He handed me a package of whitish powder, and painstakingly translated the korean instructions for me. My new favorite grocer!

Muk (Korean mungbean jelly)
For Jelly
1/4 cup mungbean starch powder (available at korean grocery stores)
1/2 tsp sea salt

For Sauce
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tsp minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
1/4 cup minced scallions
1 tsp roasted sesame seeds
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp red chili flakes (optional - don't add this for the kids' portion!)

In a heavy pot, place 1/4 cup mungbean starch powder and add 1 3/4 cups water. Using a wooden spoon, stir until well mixed. Bring to boil on medium heat, stirring every so often to keep from sticking to bottom of pan. Add salt after mixture reaches boil, turn heat on low, and cook for another 3-4 minutes, stirring. You'll know its ready when mixture looks bubbly and translucent. Pour into shallow glass containers and cool, chilling for at least 2 hours. When firm, cut into cubes and serve with sauce.

For sauce: mix all ingredients together, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Spoon over muk and serve chilled or at room temperature.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

slow cooker cooking: tuscan chicken & artichokes

Babble's "Slow Cooker Tuscan Chicken" recipe popped up in my inbox on Monday morning just as I was checking out at the grocery store, and as I only needed two more ingredients to make it, I decided to try it for a playdate dinner we were hosting this week. I grabbled a couple of organic chicken breasts and a can of fire-roasted chicken, and made my way home. While the kids ate breakfast this morning, I turned the slow cooker on low, added the chicken breasts, the tomatoes, and sprinkled on a teaspoon of dried Italian herbs. I popped a few artichoke hearts in a few hours before serving, and at served dinner at six o'clock.  The chicken was moist and tender, and my toddler loved it diced in small pieces. For adults, serve over pasta with some parmesan, fresh basil, and maldon sea salt.

Slow Cooker Tuscan Chicken
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 can fire-roasted tomatoes, with sauce
1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
salt to taste
parmesan cheese
fresh basil (optional)

Place chicken breasts into crock pot. Sprinkle with dried herbs and top with the whole can of tomatoes, including the sauce. Cook on "low" for 7-8 hours. Serve over pasta, with grated parmesan, basil, and sea salt to taste.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

the best granola you'll ever eat

Perhaps I'm still a novice, but it's rare that I make something at home and think that it's the best of its category. Usually, I settle for "this is pretty good, for homemade." This granola so exceeds expectations that I'm frankly astonished.

Adapted from a New York Times recipe for Eleven Madison Park granola, I substituted my favorite nuts for the coconut chips and sunflower seeds, and played around with the salt ratio to increase the savoriness. The chocolate chips are folded in after baking, and melt a bit to form little clusters of chocolatey goodness. The recipe is also seriously simple - 15 minutes of prep, 40 minutes in the oven. Honestly, I dare you to try this and then go back to storebought!

The Best Granola Ever
2 3/4 cups rolled oats
1 cup shelled pistachios
1/2 cup cashews
1 tablespoon salt (I used maldon sea salt)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup dried sour cherries
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, mix together oats, pistachios, cashews, and salt. In a small saucepan over low heat, stir together sugar, maple syrup, honey, and olive oil until sugar is just melted. Pour syrup mixture over dry ingredients and mix, making sure everything is coated well. Spread in a single layer on a lipped cookie sheet lined with parchment. Bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown, stirring every 10 minutes or so. Cool slightly, then mix in cherries in chocolate chips. Cool completely before storing. And make sure to try it immediately - it is amazingly crisp and great on vanilla yogurt or ice cream!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

momofuku's ginger-scallion noodles

Though I'm not a big fan of the Momofuku restaurants in New York (too rich, and therefore strangely bland and heavy), I've been looking for new noodle recipes for my noodle-loving kids. The ingredients reminded me of the yummy dipping sauce that accompanies salt-baked chicken in a Chinese restaurant, so I gave it a shot. I substituted sauteed fresh vegetables instead of the pan-fried tofu suggested in the recipe, and am glad I did as it gave the dish some textural interest. The verdict? It's a go! The kids finished every bite.

Momofuku's Ginger-Scallion Noodles
2 1/2 cups thinly minced scallions (about 2 bunches)
1/2 cup finely minced peeled ginger
1/2 cup grapeseed or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3/4 teaspoons sea salt
3/4 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1 pound udon noodles
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1" pieces
1 cup thinly sliced fresh shitake mushrooms
1 cup thinly sliced bamboo shoot 
1 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt to taste

In a large bowl, mix scallions, ginger, oil, soy sauce, sea salt, and vinegar. Cover and let sit for at least 15 minutes. Meanwhile, cook udon noodles according to package instructions. Drain and add to sauce mixture in bowl. 
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in skillet. Sautee mushrooms, asparagus, and bamboo shoot until tender. Salt to taste, but keep in mind the noodles will be salted as well.
Spoon 1/4 of the noodle mixture into a bowl and top with vegetables.  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Starbucks' Blueberry Scones

I had many odd cravings when I was pregnant - salami, stone fruits, oysters - but one of the most "normal" was the combination of Starbucks' vanilla decaf nonfat latte + blueberry scones. There was something about the sugary and soft consistency of the scone that I just craved, especially when paired with the extra sweet latte. I've bought them at Starbucks all over the country when I was traveling for work, so I know they are probably baked centrally and shipped frozen to the stores.

Yesterday, when faced with a box of absolutely-ripe-won't-last-one-more-day blueberries, I remembered my pregnancy cravings, googled "Starbucks blueberry scone" and was surprised to find pages and pages of recipes replicating the same scone! Perhaps there are lots of pregnant ladies out there craving these scones as well? This recipe worked amazingly well. My kitchen smelled like Starbucks for the afternoon, and I was brought back to those days of endless hunger and eager anticipation!

Starbucks' Blueberry Scones
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp sea salt
6 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 cup cold butter
1/2 cup cold cream (i substituted 2 tbsp nonfat greek yogurt and 1/4 cup lowfat milk)
1 pint blueberries 

for the topping:
1 egg, beaten
4 tbsp sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cut butter into 1/2" cubes, refrigerate until needed.
Stir flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Cut the butter into the mixture with a pastry blender until it resembles a coarse meal. (I used my fingers for this step).
In a small bowl, mix the egg, cream, and vanilla. Add to dry mixture and mix with fork until just combined. It is okay if it is doesn't hold together yet - do not overmix, this ensure the scone is tender and flaky. Stir in blueberries. 
Empty bowl onto lightly floured surface and pat into 2 flattened rounds (this is when you tuck all the crumbs and pieces together). Cut in quarters, then half each triangle for a total of eight triangles.
Brush egg wash on top of scones and sprinkle with a good amount of sugar on each scone.
Transfer onto parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 17 minutes, until golden brown. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

roasted root veggies, eight minute egg

Meatless Monday again. Where does the week(end) go? We ate out more than usual this weekend, starting with a family dinner at our favorite Korean restaurant on Friday night, followed by a fried-chicken  brunch on Saturday, dinner out, and then Sunday dinner out as well. When I began thinking about dinner this afternoon, I decided on something simple and relatively light to counteract all of that restaurant food. Nonetheless, it had been an unusually cold and windy San Francisco day, so I wanted to make something that still felt hearty and warm.

It had also been a busy Monday, with our usual start-of-the week errands, furniture delivery, and playdates, etc and so I was looking for something easy I could prep and just pop into the oven. This fit the bill!

Roasted Root Veggies, Eight-Minute Egg
4 cups winter vegetables, trimmed and cut into 1" pieces (I used radishes, mushrooms, whole garlic cloves and scallions)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
2 Eggs

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Toss vegetables with olive oil and sea salt, and spread onto baking sheet. Make sure the veggies are in 1 layer (they won't brown if they are crowded on the pan). Divide into 2 pans if necessary. Roast for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. Divide into 4 bowls.
Meanwhile, place eggs a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Cover with lid. Heat until water boils, then immediately turn off heat and let eggs sit for eight minutes for a medium-boiled egg. Remove eggs after eight minutes and submerge in ice water until ready to use.
Peel and halve eggs, topping each bowl of roasted vegetables with half an egg. Sprinkle with Maldon sea salt. Serve with crusty bread.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

slow cooker stroganoff

Along with trying out 3 new recipes a week, one of my corollary resolutions is to use my slow cooker more. The trouble is I tend to enjoy really fresh, crisp veggies and just seared meats, which is the antithesis of slow cooker food. Currently the main use of the slow cooker is to make overnight oatmeal from steel-cut oats, which couldn't be easier and is absolutely fantastic.

I saw found this slow cooker beef stroganoff online and it looked so simple that I decided it couldn't hurt to try. Prep time is literally 10 minutes, and it filled the house with an amazing aroma the whole entire day. I felt like one of those people who simmer sauces all day long!

The verdict? Still a bit "stewy" for me, though my son actually ate ate a whole chunk of beef with his dinner. (I also forgot the sour cream, so perhaps it might've been better with)? My favorite part of the meal was the kale and cucumber salad, dressed with my go-to lemon shallot vinaigrette.

Slow Cooker Stroganoff (adapted from The Stir)
2 pounds of London broil cubed
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 beef bouillon cubes or equivalent granules
1 cup water
1 cup sour cream (light works fine.)

Mix all but sour cream and put in slow cooker (you do not need to even brown the meat first).
Cover and cook on low for 7-9 hours.
About 10 minutes before serving, stir in sour cream. 
Serve over hot noodles or rice.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

whole wheat penne with roasted tomatoes, garlic, and basil

I've been toying with the idea of instituting meatless Mondays for a while now - it's not hard to do, especially as neither the husband and nor the kids particularly enjoy meat. Also, I almost always have basil, tomatoes, and garlic on hand, so I thought it was a good idea to learn some more permutations of pasta with these ingredients.

I adapted this recipe from Lidia's Italy website and thought it sounded earthy and but light, perfect for a cold Spring evening. Roasting the tomatoes brings out an additional, caramelized sweetness, and using whole wheat pasta adds additional fiber and protein (so I don't feel guilty about yet another pasta dinner!)

Penne with Roasted Tomatoes
2 pints cherry tomatoes, washed and sliced in half
1 head garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese 
1 cup whole wheat penne
1 bunch basil, washed and dried
Sea salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss cherry tomatoes and garlic in olive oil. Add a pinch of salt, and roast in oven for 20-25 minutes, until caramelized. Meanwhile, heat a pot of water, and cook pasta according to box instructions. When pasta is done, drain but leave about 3-5 tablespoons of cooking liquid. Add roasted tomato mixture, making sure to pour in all of the olive oil. Top with parmesan cheese and roughly torn basil strips. Salt to taste. Voila! Easy meatless monday pasta. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

chocolate dipped blackberries

Sunday started rainy and cold, and as a result everyone in the house got the blahs. No one wanted to do anything, and yet no one wanted to do nothing either. Having just whipped up a batch of emergency chocolate cake, I came up with the answer - more chocolate.

After a lackluster lunch, I quickly melted some chocolate chips and asked the kids to help me make some chocolate-dipped berries. This turned too-sour blackberries into cute berry pops, and brightened up everyone's (well, at least my) mood. Warning - these "berry lollipops" go down quick!

Chocolate-dipped Blackberries
Blackberries, or any other berry, washed and dried
Chocolate chips (I used a mix of Ghiradelli 60% Cocoa and bittersweet)
Maldon sea salt (optional)

Dump chocolate chips in a microwave bowl and microwave on high in 30 second increments, stirring after each time, until melted and smooth. Meanwhile, stick toothpicks into the stem part of berries (if using blackberries). Dip berries in chocolate, then lay on a piece of waxed paper to dry. Top with sea salt if you like salted chocolate. I did this when I made homemade Reeses' peanutbutter cups, but found the combo of salt, chocolate, and berries to be a bit odd, so didn't salt all of them. Let harden, and enjoy!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

emergency chocolate cake

Some days call for chocolate cake. Not a scoop of peanutbutter, not a handful of m&m's, but a big fluffy chocolatey slice of chocolate cake. Chocolatey enough to erase the blue mood and make you believe that tomorrow will be another, better, day.

Yesterday was one of those days. That is why I baked emergency chocolate cake today. And even though I was all set to make homemade granola or perhaps chocolate caramel crackers (recipes checked, ingredients bought), at the last minute I changed my mind and looked for a chocolate cake recipe that I could make using what I had on hand - sour cream, Callebaut dutch processed cocoa powder, butter, eggs.

Taking about an hour from start to finish, this recipe yields a fluffy, coca-y chocolate cake with a tender crumb. An extra dousing of sugar icing adds sweetness to a not-too-sweet cake. I tend to prefer fudgier cakes, but this did the trick!

Everyday Chocolate Cake
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup alkalized (Dutch process) cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
Lowfat milk

Preheat the oven to 350ºF and butter two 8½ x 4½-inch loaf pans (or 1 9-inch bundt pan).
Combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda in a mixing bowl and stir well. Set aside.
Beat the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer set at medium speed. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, continuing to beat the batter smooth after each addition.
Scrape the bowl, lower the mixer speed then add the sour cream and the dry ingredients in intervals until fully incorporated.
Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pans and bake the cakes for 30-35 minutes, or until they are well risen and a toothpick, when inserted, comes out clean.
Cool the pans on a rack for 5 minutes then turn the cakes out of the pan.
Whisk milk into powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it becomes thick and viscous. Pour onto cooled cake. Top with sprinkles for extra cheering power!

quick pickled radishes

Last night's menu was mexican-themed, with beef barbacoa tacos, spanish rice, and roasted green beans and mushrooms (the last part is obviously not mexican, but a ploy to get some veggies into my husband and the kids.) Because I bought the pre-made barbacoa from the market, I wanted to add some homemade touches and quickly whipped up some pico de gallo and guac from what we had on hand. I've always loved the pickled carrots and onions that you can find at the taco bars in restaurants like La Salsa and Green Burrito, and decided to try my hand at it. Boiling the vinegar mixture results in pickles in mere hours. Give it a try!

Quick Pickled Radishes
Bunch of radishes, washed and quartered or eighthed, depending on size
1/8 red onion, sliced
Handful of peppercorns
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp salt
Optional: fennel seeds, jalapenos, garlic cloves

Put vinegars and water in a small saucepan on the stove, and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and stir in sugar and salt until they are dissolved. Add peppercorns fennel seeds, jalapenos, etc.

Meanwhile, put radishes, onion, and garlic cloves in a jar. Pour hot vinegar mixture into the jar, sealing it with lid. Let cool and refrigerate. The pickles can be eaten in 2-3 hours, but can last a week in the fridge.

Monday, March 5, 2012

playdate tea sandwiches

One of my greatest victories this past year as a mom has been to get my kids to eat sandwiches. Yes, sandwiches. We're not all the way there yet - the kids pretty much only accept PB&J, nutella, and butter, though they've graduated from shapes and will happily eat whole wheat bread, sometimes even with crust.

The best moment came a couple of weeks ago when I made a cucumber sandwich and told my daughter that it was fancy. "Fancy?" she asked, unimpressed. But when I told her that the cucumber sandwich was Belle's favored snack during princess tea time, she took a bite and declared herself a convert. Awesome, especially since it doesn't take much to spread cream cheese on sliced bread, layer cucumbers, and top with buttered bread.

The reason I'm loving this whole sandwich development is how much easier it has made lunchtime playdates. I basically plop down a loaf of bread, various jams, nut butters, and butter, string cheese, veggie sticks, and fruit, and let the kids go at it. Super easy and every kid gets to customize their own meal.

For today's playdate, I went fancy and pre-made a plateful of sandwiches, including PB&J, the aforementioned cucumber sandwiches, and, for the adults, deviled egg salad. I've always been a fan of deviled eggs, and when brainstorming what to serve for lunch today, thought I'd create an egg salad version to escape the boredom of eating kid sandwiches for lunch. It turned out great - creamy and eggy, with a nice kick from capers and horesradish. Playdate success!

Egg Salad Tea Sandwiches
Sliced whole wheat bread
4 hard-boiled eggs, cooled 
1 tbsp capers
1 radish, diced fine
1/2 scallion, diced fine
1 tbsp mayo
1 tsp horeradish
1 tsp whole grain mustard

Roughly chop eggs and place in mixing bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients, and roughly mash with a fork, making sure to leave some texture in the eggs. Spread on a slice of whole wheat bread, top with another, cut off crusts, and into triangles. Makes 4-6 sandwiches, depending on how much filling you like in your sandwiches. Bonus points for getting the kids to partake!

Friday, March 2, 2012

snow pea tips

One of my favorite "off-the-menu" dishes to order at a Chinese restaurant is snow pea tips, the tendrils of the pea vine. Tender and delicate, they taste like the embodiment of Spring. Although not many Chinese restaurants list it on the menu, they almost always have it if you ask. My theory is that they keep it in the kitchen for the staff meal or for discerning customers like myself! Perhaps because spring pea tips aren't on the menu, they tend to be on the expensive side  for a vegetable side dish at a Chinese restaurant.

I stopped by the Chinese grocery to grab some staples the other day and saw a big bag of pea tips on sale. A little googling gave me some ideas, and presto! The dish was on the table in 10 minutes. Another reason to love Chinese food.

Note - the best tip for this dish is to undercook it. You want to retain the vegetable's delicacy, and it'll keep cooking after you plate, so taste, and when it tastes just a bit raw, turn off the flames and scoop onto a plate.

Stir-fried Spring Pea Tips
2 bunches spring pea tips, cleaned and trimmed
6 cloves garlic, smashed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
splash of shao-hsing wine (can substitute white wine or sherry)
salt and pepper to taste

Heat sautee pan on medium-high heat. When pan is hot, pour in vegetable oil and wait about 30 seconds. Add garlic and sautee on medium heat until garlic is golden-brown. Add spring tea tips, and 1/2 cup of water, and turn heat on high. Sautee until vegetables begin to wilt, then add a splash of shao-hsing wine (optional, but I find it adds some complexity to the flavor). Taste and plate when pea tips taste just on the verge of losing their rawness. Serve immediately.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

lemon cashew couscous salad

While I rarely cooked in college, there were some snowy or rainy weekends when my roommates and I would decide to cook. And by "cook" I mean we would search for completely impractical recipes and put together meals that were random and irrational. One memorable Saturday night we had zucchini fritters, honey corn bread, and dim sum style Chinese turnip cakes.

Lucily, I did make it out of college with some new recipes. This recipe is a take on a recipe that, in typical teenage girl style, we obsessed over for weeks. Originally it called for regular couscous, but I've substituted TJ's israeli couscous with quinoa and beans in the interest of adding some color, texture, and protein. The addition of cashews turns a salad into an entree, while generous pourings of olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice balance the richness.

Lemon Cashew Couscous Salad
3 cups couscous, cooked and cooled (you can substitute whichever grain you prefer)
1/2 red pepper, finely diced
1/2 yellow pepper, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
3 scallions, finely diced
1/4 red onion, finely diced
1 handful cilantro (to taste), finely chopped

2 lemons, juiced and finely zested
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix everything together in a big bowl and rest for about 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature.