Two Strawberry Birthday Cakes

IMG_0934On Friday, I hosted dinner on my roof for my birthday. Everyone was teasing me because technically, my birthday was last weekend…And I had already celebrated twice over pizza and brunch. But in my opinion, you can never have too many parties. And birthdays are the perfect excuse to bring everyone you care about together and enjoy delicious food.

IMG_0937For the main course, I made baked shrimp scampi and a pasta salad with oriecchette, cherry tomatoes and homemade kale/basil pesto. I also made hummus from scratch for the first time–a somewhat labor intensive process if you don’t have a food processor. I used a blender (much to my roommate’s chagrin), but I managed to achieve a nice, creamy consistency after pulsing it for about 15 minutes (and using some choice words to let off some steam). My friend Carly–whose diet consists mainly of beans–said that she wanted to eat it like ice cream from a bowl.

But the real pinnacle of the meal was dessert. My favorite kind of birthday cake is strawberry, and I found a new recipe from The Pioneer Woman’s blog called “strawberry shortcake cake” that I decided to try. Making the cake was a process; I baked it in the oven for 50 minutes and let it cool, then I sliced it in half and added layers of crushed strawberries and homemade buttercream frosting. I left it in the refrigerator overnight, which helped all the flavors meld together. The juices from the strawberries moistened the cake, and the icing added an extra touch of sweetness.

IMG_0936My friend Melissa also surprised me with a giant homemade birthday cake. She wrote “Happy Birthday” on chocolate covered strawberries. She topped it all off with whipped cream, the perfect complement to chocolate covered berries and rich dark chocolate.

I was happy I could bring everyone together for good food and conversation, and I’ll never forget my two strawberry birthday cakes–or multiple birthday celebrations.

Strawberry Shortcake Cake (from The Pioneer Woman blog)

Ingredients:

Cake
1-1/2 cup Flour
3 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
9 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter, Softened
1-1/2 cup Sugar
3 whole Large Eggs
1/2 cup Sour Cream, Room Temperature
1 teaspoon Vanilla

Icing
1/2 pound Cream Cheese, Room Temperature
2 sticks Unsalted Butter
1-1/2 pound Powdered Sugar, Sifted
1 teaspoon Vanilla
1 pound Strawberries

Directions:

IMPORTANT: Be sure to use a cake pan that’s at least 2 inches deep! Before baking, the batter should not fill the pan more than halfway.

Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, and corn starch.
Cream 9 tablespoons butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well each time. Add sour cream and vanilla and mix until combined. Add sifted dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just barely combined.

Pour into greased and floured 8-inch cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes, or until no longer jiggly like my bottom. Remove from cake pan as soon as you pull it out of the oven, and place on a cooling rack and allow it to cool completely.

Stem strawberries and slice them in half from bottom to top. Place into a bowl and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons sugar. Stir together and let sit for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, mash the strawberries in two batches. Sprinkle each half with 1 tablespoons sugar and allow to sit for another 30 minutes.

Make icing: combine cream cheese, 2 sticks butter, sifted powdered sugar, vanilla, and dash of salt in a mixing bowl. Mix until very light and fluffy.

Slice cake in half through the middle. Spread strawberries evenly over each half (cut side up), pouring on all the juices. Place cake halves into the freezer for five minutes, just to make icing easier.

Remove from freezer. Use a little less than 1/3 of the icing to spread over the top of the strawberries on the bottom layer. Place the second layer on top. Add half of the remaining icing to the top spreading evenly, then spread the remaining 1/3 cup around the sides.

IMPORTANT: Cake is best when served slightly cool. The butter content in the icing will cause it to soften at room temperature. For best results, store in the fridge!

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Asparagus Frittata

DSCN3899‘Tis the season for asparagus. Lately whenever I go to the grocery store, I see piles of thin green strands piled precariously on top of one another, or stalks standing proudly at attention, waiting for someone to pick them up.

I usually pick up a bunch once a week–but I wasn’t always so fond of asparagus. I think the first time I tried it was at a wedding, when a few pieces showed up unceremoniously with the chicken. They were limp, slightly rubbery, and greasy–everything that good asparagus should not be. I cast them aside, and from them on, I only ate them if they were put in front of me.

All that changed the first time I had good asparagus. If you steam or cook it in the oven with a light drizzle of oil, it will still retain its signature bite. The stalks become pliable but not too wilted, and you get a nice crunch when you bite into it. The flavor is complex and difficult to describe. But to me, good asparagus tastes earthy and authentic–simply put, asparagus isn’t messing around.

This recipe for asparagus frittata comes together quickly and doesn’t call for too many extra ingredients. You saute shallots until they become translucent and slightly caramelized, add in the asparagus, and then pour in the eggs. Sprinkle with cheese, broil for a few minutes, and you’ll have a light but satisfying meal. Usually I get sick of leftovers after a couple days, but I could have eaten this dish all week.

DSCN3907Asparagus Frittata (from here)

Ingredients

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup minced shallots
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound asparagus, tough ends snapped off, spears cut diagonally into 1-inch lengths
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese

Directions:

Heat butter into a 10-inch oven-proof frying pan over medium-high heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until they soften and turn translucent, about 3 minutes. Add asparagus, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, covered, for 3 minutes.

Pour in eggs and cook until almost set, but still runny on top, about 2 minutes. While cooking, pre-heat oven broiler.

Sprinkle cheese over eggs and put in oven to broil until cheese is melted and browned, about 4-6 minutes. Remove from oven with oven mitts and slide frittata onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges.

Serves 4

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Roasted Corn Enchiladas

DSCN3893In honor of Memorial Day–but mostly because I was craving Mexican food–I made roasted corn enchiladas for dinner tonight.

I tried this recipe for the first time a year ago when I was still in grad school in Chicago. My friend Stephanie and I were working on an end-of-quarter project, and we made the enchiladas as a study break. I still remember us chopping the tomatoes to make the sauce, and roasting the corn kernels in my tiny Easy Bake-style oven. We carefully rolled the corn tortillas around the ricotta cheese filling, and almost devoured the entire pan of enchiladas once it came out of the oven.

DSCN3895My life has changed a lot since last year: I moved to a new city, started a different job, and acquired an oven that actually works. But it’s nice to know that in the midst of change, some things remain consistently good.When I took the enchiladas out of the oven tonight, it reminded me of how good they smelled the first time I made them. The spicy, roasted tomato sauce bubbled up in the pan, the cheese was soft and melted across the surface, and the corn tortillas were crispy and brown. The ricotta was light and fluffy, and the corn kernels were slightly caramelized and crunchy. All the flavors melded together exactly the way they should.

The only caveat to this recipe is that once you taste one enchilada, you will probably have to eat the rest in one sitting. Unless, that is, you possess some superhuman strength that I do not.

DSCN3898Roasted Corn Enchiladas (slightly adapted from Naturally Ella)

Ingredients

Filling:

2 large ears sweet corn
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup ricotta
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 cup cilantro

Sauce:

2 large slicing tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2-1 teaspoon chipotle powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 corn tortillas
1/2 cup queso fresco or goat cheese (I used goat cheese)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375˚.
  2. Carefully remove corn from cob by placing the cob perpendicular to the bottom of a large bowl. Cut downward on the cob. Toss kernels with ½ tablespoon olive oil and ⅛ teaspoon salt. Roast, stirring occasionally, until soft, 15-20 minutes.
  3. In a medium bowl, whip together ricotta, honey, lime juice, and cilantro. Once corn is done, stir into ricotta mixture.
  4. To make sauce, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pot over medium low heat. Add in minced garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes. Roughly dice tomatoes and add into pot along with chipotle powder and salt. Cook until tomatoes are starting to break down. Remove from heat and blend with an immersion blender or in a regular blender.
  5. Layer tortillas in between a damp paper towel and microwave for a couple minutes until soft, or place them in the oven for a couple minutes until pliable.
  6. To assemble enchiladas, use and 8×5 pan (or an 8×8 with extra space). Place ⅓ of the chipotle tomato sauce in the bottom of the pan. Next, scoop ⅓-1/2 cup corn filling in to the center of the tortillas, roll gently, and place seem side down in the pan. Repeat with remaining tortillas, carefully squeezing the last tortillas in. Pour remaining sauce on top and sprinkle the cheese over the top.
  7. Bake enchiladas until lightly browning and bubbly, 20-25 minutes.
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A Tale of Two Risottos

DSCN3871I’ve been on a bit of a risotto kick lately. It’s funny, because I usually associate the dish with cold winter months when I want to eat something warm and thick. But more and more recipes keep popping up on Pinterest and food blogs for a lighter, herb-filled version, and a few of them have recently caught my eye.

Last month, I made vegan lemon asparagus risotto for dinner with asparagus I bought at the market. A week ago, I tried one of the best risottos of my life at Teddy & The Bully Bar, a restaurant near my work that has a Teddy Roosevelt theme (I’m still not sure exactly what that entails, but nevertheless, their food is delicious).

Last night, I decided to make asparagus pesto risotto for dinner. The recipe comes from a food blog I recently discovered called “The Kitchn,” which features cooking tips and quick recipes that are easy to prepare at home. I tweaked the recipe a little to fit my own tastes (I substituted more basil for parsley in the pesto, and went easy on the Parmesan cheese), but otherwise I stayed true to the original concept.

DSCN3867The part of the dish that I enjoyed the most was the texture. The original recipe called for pearl barley, but as I had an overflowing supply of pearl couscous, I thought I’d make the swap. I highly recommend using the pearl couscous; it’s soft and chewy, cooks quickly, and pairs well with the cheese and herb pesto. I didn’t feel like my arm was falling off as I stirred in vegetable broth and wine, and the dish still had a creamy consistency.

I’m not sure which recipe–vegan or not–would come out the winner in a risotto battle royale, but in the end, both were satisfying. And if you find yourself in D.C. near 19th and L, stop by Teddy & The Bully Bar for an equally good version. Just don’t be alarmed by the fake taxidermy on the walls.

Asparagus Risotto Verde (adapted from The Kitchn)

Ingredients:

1 bunch of asparagus

1/4 cup peas, fresh or frozen and thawed
1 1/2 cups basil leaves, tightly packed
Zest from 1 lemon
6 cups vegetable broth (preferably homemade), divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large leek, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups pearl couscous
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to season
Additional grated cheese for garnish (optional)

Directions:

Trim the bottom inch (or so) off the asparagus and discard. Slice off the tips of the spears and reserve. Cut the rest of the asparagus into big chunks.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the chopped asparagus stalks. Cook for about 4 minutes, then scoop them into a strainer. Run under cold water and transfer to a blender. Add the basil leaves, lemon zest and 1/4 cup of the broth. Blend until completely smooth. Set aside. Blanch the asparagus spears and peas (if using fresh peas) for no more than one minute. Transfer them to an ice water bath until the dish is finished.

In a large sauté pan or pot, warm the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sliced leeks and sauté for about 3 minutes. Add the garlic slices and continue cooking for an additional two minutes, or until soft. Add the pearl couscous, and toast for about 5 minutes.

Add the white wine to the pan, and mix with a spoon until most of the liquid has evaporated. Once the wine has evaporated, add two ladles of the broth and stir until most of the liquid has been absorbed. At this point, season the mixture with a hefty pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Keep adding the broth one ladle at a time, letting the couscous absorb each addition of broth, until the couscous is completely cooked (a touch al dente) and chewy. This should take about 25 minutes.

Once the couscous is cooked, remove from the heat and fold in the grated cheese. Stir in the asparagus-herb puree, asparagus spears, and peas. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and mix until well combined. Serve immediately with extra grated parmesan cheese on top.

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Vegan Lemon Asparagus Risotto

DSCN3854I don’t make risotto often, mostly because of the amount of work involved. Whenever I make it, I picture a plump, old-world Italian woman with her hair wound tightly into a bun, sweating over a large, steaming pot of rice, methodically churning away until the mixture resembles something close to risotto.

Usually I reserve this sort of labor for the colder months, when staying inside is obligatory and I don’t feel like running away from the stove. But recently I stumbled across this recipe for vegan asparagus lemon risotto, and I thought I would give it a try. Asparagus is the vegetable du jour, and I was intrigued by the vegan aspect of the dish. Usually, risotto contains butter and thick soup stock–so I wondered how this version would turn out.

DSCN3841Although I’m somewhat skeptical of vegan recipes in general, I would highly recommend this one. Sometimes, I feel like vegan dishes are trying to imitate the “real thing”–i.e., the buttery goodness of rich cakes and cookies, or the creamy texture of a thick pasta sauce. But this recipe doesn’t try to be something it’s not; it just leaves out the butter. And after an hour or so of arm-turning (you might want to wind your hair into a bun), you’ll have a delicious dinner, coveted by vegans and non-vegans alike.

Vegan Lemon Asparagus Risotto (from here)

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch of asparagus spears (15 to 20), trimmed and chopped into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 5 cups low-sodium vegetable stock (you may not use it all, but have it handy anyway)
  • Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

Directions

  1. Bring a medium saucepan of water to boil. Add the asparagus spears and blanch for about two minutes, or until they’re tender but still have some crunch. Remove them from the pan and run under cold water to stop them from cooking further. Set aside.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the shallots and onions and cook for four minutes, or until the onions are getting soft. Add the garlic and cook for another three minutes.
  3. Add the rice and heat it in the saucepan, stirring constantly, for about two minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low. Add the white wine, lemon juice, and lemon zest, and cook, stirring gently and vigilantly, till the white wine has been absorbed.
  4. Add a cup of stock to the pan and cook, stirring as needed, till the stock has been absorbed. Continue adding stock in 1/2- to 3/4-cup amounts, stirring each time until the stock is absorbed. You may not need all five cups of broth to make the rice creamy and soft, but you can expect to use most of it. When the rice is tender but still has some chew, stir in the nutritional yeast and thyme, along with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Stir the blanched asparagus into the rice and heat through. Serve.

 

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Broccoli Skillet Flan and Cilantro Chile Frittata

IMG_0583When you love food as much as I do, it helps to have friends who feel the same way. If I rave about a recipe I just tried, or describe a dinner I just ate in detail, I don’t feel like my words fall upon deaf ears. Instead, my feast becomes their feast, and my culinary adventures become their own.

My friend Stephanie and I met in graduate school, and we immediately bonded over our love of cooking. Our first winter in Chicago, she introduced me to one of the best egg dishes I’ve ever tried: Broccoli Skillet Flan. The recipe is from the now, sadly defunct Gourmet magazine, and we adapted it to fit our tastes: Originally, the flan calls for a hash brown crust on the bottom, but I’m not a huge fan of hash browns, and neither of us felt like grating potatoes. So we skipped that step, and stuck to the flan.

I had never heard of a savory flan before–usually, I would eat a sweet, caramelized version for dessert when I was living abroad. The recipe exceeded by expectations: It was light and fluffy, but hearty and filling at the same time. We subbed Gruyere cheese in for the cheddar, and the salty, slightly tangy taste complemented the eggs and broccoli. Also, we used thawed frozen broccoli in our original attempt, but I have since used fresh chopped broccoli. Either way, the dish will still taste delicious–so feel free to use whichever fits your energy level.

Last weekend, Stephanie sent me another egg recipe that immediately caught my eye: “Tasty Frittata.” The picture alone was enough to entice me to make it, but it also came highly recommended with a “#delicious.”

DSCN3836Ironically, the part of the recipe that I questioned the most was the element that brought everything else together: the cilantro chile sauce. When I read the ingredients list, it sounded more like something you would make to drizzle on top of tacos or enchiladas, but I took a chance and decided to give it a try.

I was not disappointed. The cilantro sauce gave the dish a nice kick, and moved the frittata from above average to truly delicious. The caramelized, sweet red onions balanced out the saltiness in the eggs, the yellow squash and potatoes added a crunchy texture. I also liked the goat cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds as a garnish. The dish would probably taste just as good without them, but the cheese balances out the spicy sauce, and the pumpkin seeds add a nice, smoky flavor.

The best part about both of these dishes? They come together quickly in one skillet. So you can do other things…like explore D.C. in the springtime.

IMG_0611Cilantro Chile Frittata (slightly adapted from 101 Cookbooks)

Ingredients

Cilantro Chile Sauce

2 large cloves garlic
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 small bunch cilantro
1 green (serrano) chile, seeds removed
2 pinches ground cumin
a couple big pinches of salt

Frittata
6 large organic eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small red onion, chopped
3 small potatoes, very very thinly sliced
1/2 cup yellow squash,1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup goat cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
couple pinches of salt

Directions

Preheat your oven to 450F degrees. Make the cilantro chile sauce by pureeing the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, cilantro, chile, cumin, and salt until very smooth. Taste and add more salt if needed. Set aside.

In a medium bowl whisk the eggs with a small pinch of salt. Set aside. In a (small) 8 1/2-inch ovenproof nonstick skillet over medium-high heat add the olive oil, onion, and another pinch of salt. Saute, stirring constantly, until the onion starts to brown, 5 – 7 minutes. Add the potatoes and squash, cover, and cook for another 3 minutes or so. Slide everything out of the skillet onto a plate and set aside.

Turn down the heat a bit. Using the same skillet, add the eggs and cook over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes or until the eggs are just set and there isn’t a lot of liquid running around the pan. To facilitate this, run a spatula underneath the sides of the frittata and tilt the pan so the uncooked eggs run to the underside and cook. Drizzle the eggs with a few tablespoons of the cilantro chile sauce, now sprinkle the potato onion mixture over the top.

Place the skillet in the oven and bake for about 9 minutes, or until well set and puffy. Add a crumble of goat cheese and the pumpkin seeds across the top of the frittata in the final 2 minutes of baking. Remove from oven (be careful the handle is hot!), cut into wedges and serve.

Serves 2 to 4.

Broccoli Skillet Flan (adapted from Gourmet)

Ingredients

6 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Rounded 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup grated Gruyere
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, chopped
1 (10-oz) box frozen chopped broccoli, thawed (or 10 oz of fresh chopped broccoli)

Directions

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F.

Whisk together eggs, milk, pepper, nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon salt until combined, then whisk in Gruyere and 3 tablespoons Parmesan.

Heat oil in a well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté shallot, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and spread broccoli over shallot, then pour in egg mixture. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan. Bake until set 2 inches from edge but still slightly wobbly in center, 12 to 15 minutes.

Turn on broiler. Broil 4 to 5 inches from heat until top is set, puffed, and golden brown.

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Double Chocolate Banana Bread

DSCN3816There are few things I love more than chocolate and bananas. On their own, both elements are satisfying–but together, they take dessert to a new level. Whether they’re blended into a milkshake, scattered on top of an ice cream sundae, or combined in a pie or cake, the two flavors complement each other perfectly.

When I found this recipe for double chocolate banana bread, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before. It combines two of my favorite ingredients, and puts a new spin on a classic dessert: Usually when I make banana bread, I don’t include additional ingredients, or I add a few chocolate chips for a hint of sweetness.

For this bread, I added half a bag of chocolate chips, plus half a cup of unsweetened cocoa powder. The result is nothing short of delicious: I felt like taking the bowl filled with batter and eating it alone in one sitting. But not all ideas are feasible, and, I reasoned, I should share the end product. So with a bit of willpower, I poured the batter into a pan and put it in the oven to bake.

DSCN3810One of the best parts of baking is how your house/apartment/living space smells while you’re waiting for the finished product. Most of my childhood food memories involve me sitting in my bedroom reading, with smells from the oven wafting upstairs, pulling me away from the next paragraph or chapter.

While a bit tortuous, waiting also has its perks: The end product is usually as delicious as it smells. This bread was unreal: It tasted like a cross between a brownie, a moist piece of banana bread, and a muffin. It was light and fluffy, but also sinfully rich. I’m not sure how it accomplished all those things, but I’m glad it did. The chocolate will melt in your mouth, the gooey chocolate chips add an extra touch of sweetness, and the subtle banana flavor complements the intensity of the chocolate.

I would only be exaggerating a little if I called this the piece de resistance of bread. If you want to satisfy your chocolate and banana craving all in one go, I would highly suggest giving it a try.

Double Chocolate Banana Bread (slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Ingredients:

3 medium-to-large very ripe bananas
1/2 cup (115 grams) butter, melted
3/4 cup (145 grams) brown sugar (I used light; either light or dark work)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup (about 6 ounces or 170 grams) semisweet chocolate chunks or chips

Heat your oven to 350°F. Butter a 9×5-inch loaf pan, or spray it with a nonstick baking spray.

Mash bananas in the bottom of a large bowl. (You’ll have a little over 1 cup mashed banana total.) Whisk in melted butter, then brown sugar, egg, and vanilla. Place baking soda, salt, flour and cocoa powder in a sifter or fine-mesh strainer and sift over wet ingredients. Stir dry and wet ingredients with a spoon or stand mixer until just combined. Stir in chocolate chunks or chips.

Pour into prepared pan and bake 55 to 65 minutes, until a tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out batter-free. (A melted chocolate chip smear is expected, however.) Cool in pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge and invert it out onto a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The banana bread will keep for up to 4 days at room temperature. I keep mine wrapped in foil.

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