July 28, 2014

Roasted spiced chickpeas

Don't you find it amazing how much food we consume every day?  I'm reminded of that every time I see a depleted fridge and reload with bags and bags of groceries, only to do it again within a week.
So, we need fuel and we need snacks.  And healthy snacks are always welcome, right?  When it's hot out, it's nice to have something other than store-bought chips to munch on with your cold drink. Since I'm too lazy to make kale chips (delicious, for sure...but the thought of washing, chopping, drying, spreading, and roasting to make a batch that I'll likely devour in 3 minutes discourages me), I've been interested in roasting chickpeas.  It sounds far less labor-intensive!
Roasted chickpeas, spiced with curry powder, paprika, cayenne, salt & black pepper
There is a little draining, drying, and rubbing involved in prepping these chickpeas (or garbanzo beans), but it's hardly arduous.  Unfortunately, it does require cranking on the oven.  I don't know what the deal is but my old oven used to put out maybe a third of the heat its replacement currently does.  It gets hot in the kitchen and that's not all that welcomed during these summer days.  But even so, I find it really hard to avoid my oven for long.

So these chickpeas go in the oven to roast for about half an hour until they're dry and crisp.  Then, I immediately tossed them in a spice mixture of salt, sweet curry powder, paprika, black pepper, and cayenne.  The fun thing about making these is you can try any combination of spices you like.  Or it's a fun way to try out a new spice or two.
These were as easy to whip up as I envisioned.  I think it makes a filling and healthy snack that's a good alternative to nuts or pretzels.  They're best eaten, or freshest-tasting, the day they're made. The exterior is at its crispiest while the inside has a bit of that signature butteriness to them.  That said, any leftovers can be stowed away in an airtight container.  They won't be as crispy but we still enjoyed them the next day.  In addition to popping them straight into your mouth, consider tossing some into a salad or plopping some on top of soup.

July 23, 2014

Vietnamese corn, coconut, and tapioca dessert soup (Che Bap)

I'm circling back to corn.  As I mentioned, seeing and tasting the amazing fresh corn available right now had me thinking about different ways of cooking with it.  One of the things that popped into my head was the memory of a Vietnamese cooking show I'd seen where the host was scraping corn and using the corn milk to make some kind of sweet dessert soup (I don't remember what it was exactly).  That got me searching for Vietnamese dessert soups featuring corn and I ended up here with a delicious one, called "Che Bap" ("che" refers to a sweet dessert soup or pudding, and "bap" means corn).  
A chilled dessert soup, made with fresh corn kernels, light coconut milk, tapioca pearls, and topped with toasted sesame seeds
Dessert soups are very common and beloved in Asian culture - both hot and cold.  Once in a while, you might find an Asian dessert house that serves only that.  I love nearly all varieties of these soups and I can now add this one to the list!   

So this isn't the recipe I vaguely recall from the cooking program but I'm happy that it inspired this discovery.  This Vietnamese corn pudding, or dessert soup, features fresh corn kernels as well as coconut milk and small tapioca pearls.  When I hear there's coconut milk involved in a dessert soup, I'm fairly confident it's going to be good.  In fact, coconut milk and tapioca pearls make a great base for many kinds of dessert soups.
I used light coconut milk in this recipe.  It may sound silly but I'm quite proud of that because I did it despite seeing recipes that specifically said not to.  I'm a very reluctant rule-breaker, you see!  I used Trader Joe's light coconut milk, which I really like and have had a lot of success cooking with.  It's not as thick and rich as regular coconut milk but it's still so flavorful and fragrant.  And get this: you're consuming 70% less fat and 65% less calories by using the light version!  I didn't miss the extra fat at all, and you're not sacrificing flavor or texture.  In fact, you don't feel weighed down after eating this.
I had some tapioca starch on standby in case I needed to thicken the soup with a slurry.  I decided I didn't need it and I'm glad I held back.  The soup is relatively thin when it's hot off the stove but this kind of soup made with coconut milk and tapioca pearls thickens pretty significantly after it's been refrigerated.  While you can certainly enjoy this hot or warm (both good), I prefer it cold in this instance.  It is summer, after all.  

After it's chilled, the soup is thick but not so thick that you need to dilute it with water (what you'd likely need to do if you went with the full-fat coconut milk...so you see, the light version actually works better!).  I wasn't sure I'd like the toasted sesame seeds suggested as a topping for this che bap but I did.  It adds a nice nuttiness to the sweet soup.  And this is indeed a lovely dessert soup, mostly sweetened by the fresh corn kernels.  The natural sweetness from the fresh corn was seriously intense!

July 18, 2014

Almond scones...and almond peach shortcakes

It is pretty well established that I love things made with almond paste - cookiescakescupcakesbreadscroissants, you name it!  And now, I get to add scones to the list.
Almond scones made with almond paste
It wasn't until last November that I made scones for the first time.  I converted/educated myself and my family by trying that recipe and we've been enjoying those orange-chocolate-vanilla bean scones fairly regularly ever since.  My husband and I never thought we'd be oohing and ahhing over scones but we've been doing just that when we eat those.  So needless to say, I pay far more attention to scone recipes now and when I spotted one for almond scones on Food52 - ones that use almond paste - I've been itching to try it!
I love the deep, aromatic, sweet flavor that comes from almond paste.  The best part might be the chewiness it lends to things, scones included, as I've now discovered.  

These scones have grated almond paste distributed within them.  Grating almond paste on a box grater is a technique I learned recently while making the tri-color cookie cake.  It seems to be a great way to disperse the almond paste evenly into the batter. 
Freeze canned almond paste for 15 minutes and grate it easily using the large opening
Thanks to that almond paste, the scones bake up with a signature almond flavor, with a center that's a little bit chewy.  That chewiness is my favorite part and the thing that keeps me going back for more!  I do love all things almonds and I'd gladly eat these almond scones any day.

Peach shortcakes with almond scones

I thought I'd make these scones go double-duty and I used them to assemble some shortcakes.  Just like I used some of those lighter buttermilk biscuits to make strawberry shortcakes a while back, I decided to take these almond scones to make simple peach shortcakes (let's take advantage of some good peaches while they are readily available)! 
It's as easy as slicing open an almond scone and filling it with some slices of slightly-sweetened ripe peaches (I tossed them in a little sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice).  You could even add a small splash of liqueur (like amaretto) if you like.  Spoon the juices right over and let it seep into the scone...the scones were made to absorb that extra moisture.
A little whipped cream and your almond scone for breakfast (or afternoon tea) subs in for dessert. How fun is that!

July 15, 2014

All that corn...

I've got fresh corn on the brain lately.  All year round, I keep frozen corn (and peas) in my freezer and I love heating some up to eat with my lunch.  But this time of year, it's all about the fresh stuff. Since I live in New Jersey, you know there's plenty of "Jersey fresh corn" to be had and no excuse not to take advantage of it.
Of course, I love the simplicity of just eating corn-on-the-cob and I may throw together a succotash if I have some other fixings around.  But walking around the farmer's market and seeing the mounds of fresh corn all around had me wanting to find some different ways of cooking with it.

So I spotted a little recipe for fresh corn cakes in the latest issue of Cooking Light magazine (real time cooking again!) and that's what I decided to make with some of the corn I picked up at Sunday's farmer's market.  I used the yellow-and-white variety...I know that white kernels are supposed to be sweeter but I love the cheerfulness of the bright yellow ones and bi-color corn seems to be the best of both worlds to me.  
Silver dollar corn cakes: made with cornmeal, buttermilk, and plenty of fresh sweet corn
These little silver dollar corn cakes are easily made with cornmeal, some flour, a little baking powder, buttermilk, and the star of the show: fresh corn kernels.  Some scallions add a little color and savoriness and I tossed in a little paprika and white pepper to balance out some of the sweetness.  And speaking of sweetness - I could hardly believe there was just a teaspoon of sugar in my batch of about a dozen-and-a-half corn cakes!  It was so sweet, thanks to that delicious fresh, sweet corn.

This reminds me that fresh corn - at their peak like this - is good even eaten raw, maybe tossed in a salad.  I served my silver dollar fresh corn cakes for Sunday night dinner with some pork tenderloin and roasted fingerling potatoes.  
Dinner last Sunday night

July 11, 2014

Chocolate pavlovas with ice cream

It's that time of year again when I'm preoccupied with thoughts of ice cream, and different ways of eating and presenting it.  Ice cream and frozen treats are one of the best things about summer!
Remember how I've been boasting about being more productive and timely lately in cooking/baking recipes that catch my eye thanks to a little organization and menu-planning that I started doing this year?  Well, for all that, there are plenty of old recipes ripped out from magazines or bookmarked from websites that still await.  You could say these chocolate pavlovas were five years in the making.  The recipe that inspired this comes from an old Jan. 2009 issue of Martha Stewart Living that I kept.  I don't know if I used to be more sentimental or if past content was better than it is now but I have a handful of old magazines I can't seem to part with...and that's unlike me since I love throwing things out!
The gorgeous chocolate pavlova in the Jan. 2009 issue of Martha Stewart Living that inspired my far-less-gorgeous mini ones for ice cream
Once in a blue moon, I take out one of those old magazines and remember why I kept them.  With ice cream on my mind, I decided to make a few small pavlovas inspired by the one in the magazine and use them as a base for some ice cream instead of the chocolate and whipped cream featured in the original.

I didn't want/need a giant pavlova so I divided the recipe in half and "stretched" it into three 4-inch chocolate pavlovas, just what I needed for an afternoon summer treat for the three of us.  I was thinking of them as little serving plates or saucers for the ice cream.
I stretched a bit too much (or maybe I should say "too thin")...I tend to forget that lofty mounds of meringue spread and thin out after baking.  So my pavlovas were flatter than I envisioned.  I probably baked them a bit longer than I should have, too.  The very centers were still nice and chewy - with chocolate flavor that's distinctive yet light - but the edges were drier and harder than I was aiming for.  This is what I get for messing with recipes sometimes, but no regrets.  

A few minutes into eating this, we were breaking the pavlovas up with our hands and making a mess of it.  It was a tasty mess though so no one complained.  If you're a fan of contrasting textures like I am, you might enjoy your ice cream this way too.   
On the general subject of pavlovas and meringuesFrancois Payard makes a roule cake with these meringue curls on top that are soft as pillows!  My pavlova and meringue-making (and even eating) experience is very limited but I'd sure love to know how to make those...they literally melt in your mouth.  Every time I see, make, or eat any kind of meringue, I talk about those and I just may be holding all others against that standard.

July 8, 2014

Miso garlic noodles with mushrooms

Can you hear that?  No?  That's okay because I don't hear anything either!  My recently whiny, noisy computer has been replaced with a new - blissfully quiet - one.  We finally made the switch to mac after talking about it for years...I'm loving it so far though it takes a little getting used to.
Spaghetti with mushrooms in a miso-garlic sauce (with olive oil instead of butter)
The computer upgrade is just one of several projects happening on the home front right now. It's all good though and I'm happy to be busy in a good way.  Despite how much we may be running around, going out, or attending to things at home, quick-and-easy meals are never far from my mind.

I've been wanting to try cooking with miso for a long time now.  A few weeks ago, I spotted a small container of yellow miso at Trader Joe's; it was inexpensive and had a long expiration date so I decided to pick one up thinking that seeing it in the fridge will get me motivated.  It worked and I started by making a very simple miso garlic pasta with mushrooms.  I made it for a quick lunch after picking up some gray oyster mushrooms at the farmer's market in the morning.  Any mushroom, or a medley of them, would work well.  While most miso pasta/noodle recipes I've seen use butter, I generally prefer to cook with olive oil so I tried it that way and it turned out great!

July 2, 2014

Lighter coconut chicken curry

I love a good curry - the spice, the burst of flavors, and the sauce that goes so well with a bowl of rice.  It is pure comfort food for me and I like to eat it all year round.
Spicy with a bit of sweetness from light coconut milk, sweet potatoes, and peas
In the past, we'd head to a restaurant for our curry fix, but now, I mainly make it at home.  You don't need me to tout the benefits of cooking and eating at home.  This recipe is an example of that.  It's lighter than your typical takeout curry and still packed with flavor.  This particular curry is spicy but also a little sweet thanks to not only coconut milk but the sweet potatoes in it.  I am a certified sweet potato fanatic so I love using them in just about anything.  I'd never had curry with sweet potatoes before this and I've discovered that I really enjoy it so I have yet another way to eat sweet potatoes now!

For me, eating a bowl of curry always feels a little decadent but I can readily enjoy this lighter version.  The use of light coconut milk in this recipe cuts down on the fat significantly.  I absolutely adore coconut milk and I really like using the lighter variety.  While it may not be as rich and thick, it still provides plenty of that amazingly aromatic coconut flavor so it's a compromise I'm more than willing to make.  And letting the light coconut milk cook and reduce makes for a thicker sauce and intensifies the flavors in the finished curry.
Of course, this is easy to make!  Ninety percent of the time, I'm all about quick-and-easy cooking! So while it's summer and hot out, this doesn't require a lot of time standing over the stove.  You can make this in under half an hour and serve it right up with some rice for a satisfying dinner.  As with all curries, the other benefit is how great it is as a make-ahead.  The flavors get a chance to meld and intensify and leftovers are all the better.


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