Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sushi -- Unagi Rolls and California Rolls

Hello, all. I'd like to introduce everyone to my third guest blogger -- my good friend Christina Feng. We were near inseparable in our first two years of college, but the only time I ever saw her in the kitchen was the time we made fortune cookies for our friend Jimmy's birthday. Turns out she was hiding secret cooking powers from me! But now the cat is out of the bag, and she's here today to share a recipe with us. I'm ghost-writing the blog entry, but all pictures are courtesy of Christina. Thanks, Stina!

So Christina's boyfriend's parents are in town this weekend, and like the good girlfriend-in-law that she is, she decided to treat them to a delicious home-cooked meal. Miso soup to start, unagi and california rolls as the main course, and mochi ice cream for dessert. Yum!

I've never made sushi before, but Christina tells me it's easy so long as you have one of those bamboo mat thingies for rolling. I remain skeptical, but I suppose it's one of those practice-makes-perfect situations. Meanwhile, doesn't that eel look scrumptious? California rolls will always have a special place in my heart -- for the longest time it was the only kind of sushi I could convince Dan to eat -- but I love unagi the most. If you ever go to a sushi restaurant with me, be sure to call dibs on the eel as soon as it gets to the table, 'cuz I'm definitely going to eat it all.

Jason sure is a lucky guy! And after a meal like this, how can his parents not love Christina too? Will you make this for me sometime, Stina???

And now a word from Christina herself on the actual recipe:

OK soooo in terms of a recipe, I don't really have one particular one that I went with because I did this once before and I kinda just made it up as I went along and/or took bits and pieces from random recipes I found online.

- Frozen unagi kabayaki (from Asian store)
- Imitation crab sticks
- 1 avocado cut into thin strips
- 1 cucumber cut into thin strips
- Sushi rice (4-5 cups makes about 5 to 6 rolls)
- Sushi vinegar
- Sushi seasoning
- Roasted seaweed

(Need bamboo sushi roller)

(1) Cook unagi per package instructions (the one I got I just heated in boiling water for 10 minutes), then cut it into strips. Set aside.
(2) Cover bamboo roller with saran wrap and place one sheet of roasted seaweed over it.
(3) Prepare sushi rice, mix with small bit of sushi vinegar in a bowl before placing on seaweed.
(4) Spread rice over roasted seaweed in a thin, even layer, and press it into the seaweed to maximize stickiness.
(5) Sprinkle sushi seasoning over rice. (Some people who like wasabi can then mix wasabi into the rice, but I didn't cuz I hate wasabi)
(6) Place strips of either imitation crab or unagi across seaweed, depending on which roll you're making.
(7) Place sticks of cucumber and/or avocado across seaweed.
(8) Use bamboo roller to tightly roll the sushi.
(9) Cut roll into 1/2" pieces (Since sushi is sticky, use a really sharp knife. Neat trick here is to use water to wet knife then cut if the knife gets too sticky)
(10) Serve! (with soy sauce of course...)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles

So I'm going to a wine and cheese party tomorrow night, and I've been put in charge of making something chocolate-y to go with the dessert wines. Something chocolate-y? So many things come to mind, but I've been dying to make these chocolate chip cookie dough truffles since I saw them posted on my friend Lucy's blog last summer. 

No matter how you look at it, these truffles fit the dessert specifications of the wine and cheese party perfectly. They're chocolate-y on the inside and out, they're just the right size for individual consumption, and they're going to be delicious with port. Plus, they are egg-less, so they can be eaten freely without the usual fear of salmonella poisoning associated with raw cookie dough.

I wonder if a lack of skill in cake-frosting translates at all in the truffle-coating department? Because I definitely stink at both. I had an embarassingly hard time getting these suckers fully coated in chocolate. It was pretty much impossible to drop the balls of dough inside the bowl of melted chocolate and pull out a fully covered, un-smudged truffle. My fingers kept getting dirty, and anywhere they came into contact with a truffle, the chocolate would be completely smudged. I finally had to spear each dough ball with a skewer, dip it 90% of the way into the melted chocolate, swirl once, slide the whole thing off the stick, then smear another glob of chocolate onto the remaining 10% of the ball for full coverage. Phew. Pain in my ass, for sure.

But, I'm pretty sure all my blood/sweat/tears were worth it. The truffles turned out pretty great! Not very attractive, but definitely delicious. Sinfully delicious, even. Super rich and chocolate-y, but not so over-the-top-sweet that you can't eat more than a couple in one sitting. I think they're going to be a hit at the party.

For the recipe, check out Lucy's blog.

For other amazing dessert ideas, check out Sweets for Saturday.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Smothered Pork Chops

Today was supposed to be a lazy day. I was going to meet a friend at a restaurant near work and let the pros take care of my dinner while Dan fended for himself at home. But then a thunder/snow storm set in and my dinner plans were cancelled as both my friend and I scurried out of our offices a couple hours early to avoid getting marooned at work when the city inevitably shut down. DC is incapable of dealing with snow and/or inclement weather in general.

But, for once the Metro didn't screw me, and I managed to get home by 4:30. Dan, however, remained stuck in traffic until midnight, his 30 minute commute having turned into an eight and a half hour nightmare of bumper to bumper traffic caused by countless cars abandoned in the middle of the highway and iced-over roads. Virginians apparently also suck at dealing with snow.

So, when dinner time rolled around I was home alone with the cat, hungry and bored. What could I make that would keep me occupied for a period of time yet not be a pain in the ass to cook, and taste delicious? Gotta go with my standby: pork chops! But with mushroom cream sauce this time.

I've never made this particular dish before, but I've made pork chops so many different ways that it wasn't too difficult to come up with something workable. There was no time to brine the chops, so I made do with direct seasoning instead. Then, the chops were pan seared on each side before getting tucked into the oven for about 15 minutes. The cream sauce was similarly simple: mushrooms sauteed with garlic, combined with heavy cream in the pan, and thickened with a little Parmesan.

Maybe it was the hunger, but...improvisation tastes good! The chops were juicy and flavorful, and the cream sauce was so delicious I actually licked the saucepan clean to get every last savory drop. Served with Caprese salad and a baked potato, these smothered chops were an amazingly satisfying meal.

Smothered Pork Chops

- 2 pork chops, tenderized
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup chopped mushrooms
- Salt and pepper for seasoning

(1) Preheat oven to 425.
(2) Sprinkle both sides of the chops with salt and pepper, to taste.
(3) In a saucepan on medium heat, cook garlic in oil until fragrant.
(4) Add chops to the pan, cooking each side for about 1-2 minutes, until lightly brown.
(5) Remove chops to a lightly greased baking dish, and stick in the oven.
(6) Bake for 15 minutes.
(7) While waiting for the chops to finish up in the oven, start cooking mushrooms in the original saucepan. Add more oil, if necessary. (I just go with Pam)
(8) When mushrooms are brown and tender, add cream and Parmesan, whisking until the sauce thickens to the consistency you want. Season with salt to taste, then set aside.
(9) Pull chops out of the oven and onto heated plates. Smother with mushroom cream sauce. Sprinkle with chives or parsley.
(10) Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Salsa Chicken

I woke up this morning and my brain immediately turned to dinner. For reasons I can't fathom, I really wanted to make a dish that involved baked chicken and salsa. Have I ever eaten this dish before? No. Have I ever seen it made? Nope. I guess I was just feeling kind of zesty.

A quick search on Google revealed that salsa + chicken is actually a real thing. Not to be confused with fiesta chicken, of course, which is far more complicated and involves more ingredients. Salsa chicken is literally just chicken smothered in salsa. Canned salsa. Oh yea, there's some fancy cooking going on in my kitchen.

When I told Dan what we were having for dinner he was very skeptical. " just poured some salsa over the chicken and baked it?" "Well, yea. But the chicken breasts are seasoned!" Truth be told, I was pretty skeptical too. I don't even like salsa all that much! But, we were both very pleasantly surprised. The baked chicken breasts were unbelievably tender and juicy, and time in the oven took away some of the salsa's artificial zing and replaced it with a wonderfully smooth, tangy flavor that perfectly complemented the chicken. Delicious! I just wish I had some rice or corn to go with it.

Recipe courtesy of
** I don't like taco seasoning, so I actually went with salt/pepper/garlic to flavor the chicken breasts. Personally, I think taco seasoning would have made the whole dish too zesty.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Pan Seared Tilapia with Avgolemono Sauce

I've been in kind of a cooking rut lately. I haven't been reading as many cooking blogs, and no recipes have been particularly eye-catching or inspiring. So, we've been eating a lot of delivery -- Chinese food, Domino's...the usual junky suspects. And lets not forget the long weekend in Colorado, where we gorged ourselves on birthday cake, lasagna, and tacos after braving the slopes. Yum.

But, my rapidly tightening waistband has awakened me to the sad fact that I need start eating less greasy crap and start cooking healthy and delicious meals at home. And maybe exercise occasionally. Maybe. But definitely the healthy cooking thing.

What could be healthier than fish? Nothing! And I just happened to have a freezer full of vacuum-sealed tilapia fillets begging to be eaten. But, I haven't dealt with tilapia very often, and didn't really know what to do with it. So, I turned to Kevin over at Closet Cooking for inspiration, and he didn't let me down.

Pan Seared Tilapia with Avgolemono Sauce. What is avgolemono, you ask? I've never heard of it, but Wikipedia tells me that it's a Greek soup made with egg and lemon mixed with broth. It's also creamy and delicious, airy, with a delicate lemony-eggy flavor. I would have never thought to eat it on fish, but the two just make sense on the plate and in the mouth. That Kevin is a genius!

For the recipe, check out Kevin's blog.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Strawberry Shortcake

Mmmm, strawberry shortcake. I've been dying to make this since I saw the recipe posted on The Art of Being Perfect. Of course, things being what they are in my kitchen, I had issues with one of the key ingredients -- the strawberries. I'm pretty sure strawberries aren't in season anymore, and there was no way the sad, wrinkled specimens on display in my local grocery store were going into my shortcake. Fortunately, I had a big bag of frozen strawberries in the freezer. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten that that particular bag of frozen strawberries had thawed then re-frozen into one big red mess a few months ago.

So, instead of adorning my cake with fat, juicy strawberries, I found myself hacking at the big red ice block for pieces of fruit to cook down into preserves. Strawberry shortcake is still strawberry shortcake if the strawberries are syrupy, right?

(The cream is melting because I spooned the strawberries on while hot.)

Technically correct or not, this was the most delicious dessert I've eaten in a long time. The cake was light and fluffy, with a pleasant vanilla flavor accentuated by the sweet, fresh whipped cream. And the strawberry preserves? Perfect! The cooking really brought out the natural flavor of the fruit, and produced an intensely strawberry-flavored syrup that saturated the light cake with deliciousness. YUM. Definitely a must-try.

Recipe can be found here, courtesy of The Art of Being Perfect.
** Just a quick note about the recipe -- I couldn't find self-rising flour at the store, so I had to look up a substitute. 1 cup of self-rising flour = 1 cup all purpose + 1-1/4 tsp baking powder + 1/8 tsp salt.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Growing up, I was never a fan of mac n' cheese. My only experiences with it were (1) at school, the goopy orange stuff congealing (uneaten) on my lunch tray, (2) on TV, in commercials with that orange dinosaur swimming in rivers of cheese sauce, and (3) at Dan's fraternity, watching his brothers suck down endless bowls of the stuff after a night of drinking. Gross. 

It wasn't until this past year that I discovered the joys of grown-up, home-made, baked mac n' cheese. I think it was the combination of endless Food Network shows extolling the virtues of the stuff, and delicious sounding gourmet mac n' cheese offerings (mmm, lobster mac...) on numerous restaurant menus that finally crumbled my resistance. Thank god. I'm discovering more and more that there is really no place for random food grudges in good eating/cooking.

I've made this baked mac n' cheese dish a few times now -- when I make glazed pork chops, actually -- and it is amazing! The noodles are soft and chewy, drenched in delicious cheese sauce, and the crunchy, buttery bread crumbs on top are a delightful textural surprise. This is a million times better than Kraft mac n' cheese, I promise.

Recipe can be found here, courtesy of Alton Brown.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Glazed Pork Chops

My first kitchen adventures of the new year ended in complete disaster. Dan and I had just gotten back from a day of skiing, and I really wanted warm bread rolls and a steaming bowl of beef bourguignon for dinner. But, I was too tired and hungry to make a Julia Child-esque meal, so I decided to cut some corners and use one of the "fast and easy" bourguignon recipes I found online. Worst idea ever! It is impossible to make good beef bourguignon in less than an hour. Cannot be done. Should not be done. Trust me.

Naturally, I felt the need to make something delicious to erase the stink of failure hanging in the kitchen, ASAP. These pork chops were just the thing to do it. 

Everyone has a standby in the kitchen, the one thing they make well every single time. These glazed pork chops are mine. They are the only meal that I regularly cook for me and Dan, and my favorite go-to for when I want to impress dinner guests. I'm not sure how these chops have managed to escape my blog for this long, but I think it has something to do with the fact that they're so delicious that they're half-eaten before I even think to reach for my camera. I made these recently for my friends Rick and Jamie, but forgot to take pictures. Luckily, my friend Grace is visiting this week, so...yeah. Pork chops again.

I regret nothing. There's a reason I make this meal so much, and the reason is that these chops are delicious. Juicy, with a delicious, pleasantly sweet glaze that caramelizes on the grill. So good, especially if eaten with mashed potatoes and baked mac n' cheese (which will get a post soon).

Glazed Pork Chops

- 4 pork chops, brined (some people like to brine over night...for those of us who are less organized in the kitchen, 1.5 hours before dinner is good too.)
- 2/3 cups brown sugar
- 2 tbsp salt
- 1 tsp cloves
- 1 tsp ground pepper
- 1 tbsp minced garlic (or, garlic powder if you're out of the real stuff)

(1) Turn oven to "low broil."
(2) In a medium bowl, combine brown sugar, salt, cloves, garlic and pepper. Mix well.
(3) Pat pork chops dry, then rub thoroughly on all sides with dry mixture. Place in baking dish, and let rest for a few minutes.
(4) If using an indoor grill, turn it on to high. Cook chops on each side for about 2 minutes, until just slightly brown, and glaze has caramelized.
(5) Remove chops from grill and put back in the baking dish. Stick it in the oven to broil for about 10 minutes.
(6) Serve drizzled with own juices.