Sunday, September 28, 2008

Porch Sitting and Picnicking

I must say that I got lucky, living in a cozy house/apartment with such a fantastic front porch. Not only does it allow me to sit in the fresh air and read, but it's also perfectly inviting for friends. Why, just this past week the porch was host to several impromptu chats and discussions and one planned toast in celebration of the birthday of F. Scott Fitzgerald. It's a multi-purpose porch.

Caesar salad tastes quite wonderful despite being so simple to make.

Then, yesterday, my parents game down to visit. My dad grilled burgers on his portable grill on the porch while my mom and I set up all the picnic-y foods I'd made for our comfortable September afternoon lunch. You know, the kind of lunch that you eat before walking over to the football game where your nose gets just a bit sun-burnt?

The food was good, our team won, and my nose is already less red today than it was yesterday, so I'm going to call the entire experience a success. And, now, I'm going to forgo any more chit chat and just give you these tasty recipes. My porch is beckoning.

Pesto ingredients, pre-processing.

Caesar Salad

romaine lettuce, chopped
shredded Parmesan cheese
croutons, preferably garlic, preferably homemade
Caesar salad dressing (recipe below)

Toss all the ingredients in a bowl and serve.

Caesar Salad Dressing
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 small clove garlic
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce (pronounced WER-ster-sher, for those curious)
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil

Pulse ingredients in a food processor until combined and no large chunks of garlic remain. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve, shaking to recombine before tossing with the salad.

It may look dull in color, but trust me, it's not dull in flavor.

Pesto Pasta Salad

3 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 c lightly packed fresh basil
1/4 c fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
1/3 c grated Parmesan
1/2 c olive oil
8 oz cooked pasta, preferably fusilli

Pulse all but pasta in a food processor. Add to the pasta and toss. Refrigerate overnight. Bring to room temperature to serve, or don't. Whichever you choose.

GCB (Garlic Cheeseburger)
inspired by Marvin's in Greencastle, IN

hamburger patty
slice American cheese
GCB hamburger roll (recipe below)

Grill the hamburger patty to your desired done-ness, adding cheese for the last few minutes so it gets melty. Serve the cooked cheeseburger on the GCB bun, adding your preferred condiments as necessary.

My first experience working with dry active yeast was a tasty success.

GCB Hamburger Rolls
adapted from Coconut & Lime

2 3/4 c flour
1/2 c milk
1/2 c water
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 oz active dry yeast
1 egg yolk
1 tsp water
Italian herbs
garlic salt

Bring the milk, water, butter, sugar, and salt to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from heat and allow to cool to lukewarm, between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Whisk together the flour and yeast in a large bowl. Pour in the milk mixture and stir until the dough starts to come together. Knead the dough on a well-floured surface for about 10 minutes. Place the dough in a greased bowl, covering with a towel until the dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.
Punch down the dough and divide into 6 roll-shaped balls, making sure the tops are smooth. Place the rolls on a parchment papered-baking sheet, then cover with the towel until the rolls double in size, about 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Whisk together the egg yolk and water to make an egg wash, brushing in on the tops and sides of the rolls. Sprinkle each roll with some Italian herbs and garlic salt.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Allow the rolls to cool, then slice.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Baked Pasta for Fresh Tomato Season

After scoring some fantastic tomatoes at the Lafayette Farmers' Market last weekend, I knew it was time to try the recipe from one of my favorite blog posts of the summer. Molly over at Orangette used her tantalizingly minimalist photos to secure this recipe a spot on my to-cook list back in June--before I'd even officially typed up the list. So I was quite happy when the perfect storm descended last weekend.

Thankfully, the food processor makes short work of saucing those tomatoes.

And no, I'm not talking about the 10 inches of rapid rainfall in my home county that caused floods meriting canoeing down my street. I'm talking about the purchase of the aforementioned tomatoes, the aforeblogged cool-ish weather, and the happy coincidence of tomato sauce recipes appearing on the Bitten blog.

My very own simple yet sensational homemade tomato sauce.

I quite happily made a total mess out of my kitchen sink and counter, using far more kitchen equipment than I usually allow a meal to require; keep in mind I don't have a dish washer. I even got to break out the 2-quart Le Creuset bestowed upon me by my aunt, the perfect prep for breaking in the gorgeous birthday gift 5-quart later this autumn.

Simple and pretty; how much better can it get?

I'm generally quite happy to try new recipes that require a big chunk of my time for two reasons: one, I find time spent on a dish is usually proportional to its overall taste and flavor; and two, I'm a college student and have plenty (and I mean plenty) to read in the downtime that is stirring, simmering, and baking. But if you're not usually a cooking-all-afternoon person, at least consider giving this dish a try. The gorgeous smell wafting through your house alone will make it worth the effort. And that's before you even take a bite.

This photo makes me wish I still had leftovers.

Baked Pasta with Homemade Fresh Tomato Sauce and Mozzarella
inspired by Orangette and Kerri Conan

2.5 lbs fresh tomatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 lb small pasta, such as shells
1/4 lb Parmesan, freshly grated
8 oz. mozzarella, sliced
fresh basil

For the sauce: Core the fresh tomatoes and pulse until relatively smooth in a food processor. In a 2-quart saucepan (or preheated round oven), heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and saute until it becomes aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes to the pot and dust with salt. Cook the tomatoes on relatively high heat; the sauce should bubble, as you're carmelizing the tomatoes as opposed to stewing them. Cook until the sauce is reduced by at least half, about 30 minutes, or to your desired thickness.

For the pasta bake: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water according to package instructions. Drain the pasta, tossing it with half the tomato sauce and grated Parmesan. In an 8''-by-8'' casserole, layer half the pasta mixture, half the remaining sauce, half the Parmesan, half the mozzarella, and half the basil. Repeat using the remaining ingredients. Cook for 15 minutes or until bubbling, then broil the top for an additional 2 or 3 minutes if your casserole dish is broiler safe. Briefly let cool, then dig in.

Note: Amazingly enough, this really does seem to get better as leftovers the next day. It's the one time I'm glad my dad isn't here to take over leftover disposal duty.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Welcome to Soup Season

While it's true that the weather generally stays warmer here in Greencastle than in my hometown, we've been having a pleasant bit of a cool streak. This past week the temperature has been almost entirely in the lower 70s, which, while not the perfection that was 55-degree Scotland, has been pretty comfortable. Reading on the porch is all the more tolerable in the 70s than in the high 80s, as it was when I first got here. And it's a whole lot easier to rationalize starting to work through my list of five soups to try this semester when the evenings are particularly cool.

Nothing warms an evening like hot, broth-y soup!

I broke out that list this week, cracking open The Deen Bros. Y'All Come Eat again this semester. And since I'm only cooking for myself, which means I can be particularly picky about my choices of ingredients, my soup was a bit of an improvisation anyways. I know it's not exactly the most photogenic soup, especially with my changeable photography skills, but it was tasty. I wouldn't automatically accompany it with grilled cheese sandwich dunkers as suggested in the cookbook; tomato soup is still by far the best for that. But it did its job to warm me up after I sat out on the porch reading just a bit too long.

Vegetable Beef Soup
inspired by The Deen Bros. Y'All Come Eat

1 tbsp olive oil
1 lb ground chuck
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 14.5-ounce can petite diced tomatoes
1 beef bouillon cube
1 1/2 tsp Italian herbs
1 tsp garlic salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1 bay leaf
1 16-ounce package frozen mixed vegetables
1/2 c uncooked small pasta

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Brown the meat, breaking it up as it cooks for even cooking. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the browned meat to a paper towel-lined plate. Add the celery and onions to the pot, cooking them in the residual fat until they are softened.
Add 2 quarts water, the tomatoes, the bouillon cube, herbs, garlic salt, pepper, and bay leaf to the pot. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
Return the meat to the pot and add in the frozen veggies and uncooked pasta. Simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and serve.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Chicken for Company

When my once and future roommate, who is studying in Washington, D.C. this semester, said she'd be at school to visit on Labor Day, she was expecting to get fast food or stop by the cafeteria. Being the friend that I am, I just couldn't let her do that. Instead, my current roommate and I threw an informal little dinner party. Great conversation, and I finally got to use all my place mats and set the table with all of my new dishes. It was such a pretty little set-up in our cozy little kitchen.

The finished product

Oh, and the food tasted wonderfully, too. In case you're into the actual food component of a dinner party.

Look at the marvelous pinwheeling!

Mozzarella and Pesto Stuffed Chicken

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
3/4 cup pesto
4 balls fresh mozzarella, sliced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a meat pounder or rolling pin, pound the chicken breasts to a thickness of about 1/4''. Place the pounded chicken breasts on a greased or parchment papered baking sheet. Spread 2 tbsp pesto onto each chicken breast, then top with the sliced mozzarella. Roll the "stuffed" chicken breasts and secure with toothpicks. Spread the remaining pesto on top of the rolled chicken breasts, 1 tbsp on each. Bake uncovered for 45-50 minutes, or until the juices run clear.
Note: Technically this is a recipe for rolled chicken, as you roll the pounded chicken breasts as opposed to actually stuffing un-pounded chicken breasts. But rolled chicken makes me think of chicken rolled into a wrap, and chicken wraps make me think of cold chicken which makes me think of lunch, not a dainty little Labor Day dinner. So you can see why I'm sticking with "stuffed."

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Possibly the Very Best Thing I've Ever Made

What I made myself for dinner tonight was so good that I simply could not contain myself; I had to blog it tonight instead of waiting until tomorrow. Which actually works out well for you, because I still have another recipe for tomorrow. But right now the focus is all on the gnocchi.

Making the gnocchi dough calls for a potato volcano of sorts.

I've been a fan of the video podcast Crash Test Kitchen for quite some time now, but only recently did I go back and watch the episodes filmed before I subscribed on iTunes. Lo and behold, after watching quite a bit of idiosyncratic cooking, this masterpiece came to my attention. And since I got a bunch of fresh basil and some potatoes at the farmers' market this morning, I figured there was no better day to begin my foray into making pasta.

Just look at how cute they are!

That's right, for this recipe, you make your own pasta. It's actually surprisingly simple, albeit sticky, if you're making gnocchi. There's no rolling the dough impossibly thin to form noodles; instead you roll the dough into little logs, not dissimilar from a child with Play-Doh, then cut them. Really, it's a cinch. And the pesto was pretty much a snap, too, especially when I decided it would be silly to dirty the cheese grater on top of everything else and I just threw the Parmesan in the food processor with the basil, nuts, and garlic.

Heaven on a plate

Biting into my dinner was like eating a little bit of heaven; the gnocchi were like little pillows of air, and the pesto was light enough to match while still supplying terrific flavor. Upon further reflection, although only because I don't want to have started off my pasta-making endeavors with a difficult-to-repeat perfect 10, I came up with two ways this dish could possibly have been better. One, if I used my potato ricer, which is at home, instead of just a fork to mash the potatoes; this would have gotten rid of the very occasional lump in the pasta. And two, if my grocery store hadn't been out of pine nuts. But I must say, everything tasted better than fine with only a fork and some walnuts.

When all the gnocchi rise to the top, they're done cooking.

Potato Gnocchi with Pesto
adapted from Crash Test Kitchen

for the gnocchi:
4 large baking potatoes
1 egg
1/4 + 3/4 cups flour, plus some to coat the pasta

Bake the potatoes in a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for one hour or until done. Scoop out the potatoes from their skins and mash together, making sure not to leave any lumps. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Sprinkle 1/4 cup flour on your flat working surface and place the mashed potatoes on top. Mold the potatoes in a volcano shape and crack the egg in the middle crater. Using your hands, work the egg evenly into the potatoes. Sprinkle 3/4 cups flour over the potato mixture and work it into the dough the same way. When the dough has the same consistency throughout, you're done. If it seems too sticky, add a bit more flour.
Cut the dough into 8 portions and, one at a time, roll each portion with your hands to create a log about the width of your finger and about a foot long. Cut each log into about 3/4-inch bits, then lightly coat them in flour to prevent sticking before placing them on a plate. Once you've cut all your gnocchi, place the plate in a refrigerator for 90 to 120 minutes.
Bring a pot of salted water to a full boil. Carefully dump the gnocchi into the water to cook; they will sink to the bottom of the pot. When all the gnocchi have risen to the surface, use a slotted spoon to remove the gnocchi from the water onto the serving plate. Don't worry about getting some pasta water on the plate; it will help to loosen the pesto.
Top with pesto and serve.
Note: You can make any sauce you want to go with these gnocchi.

A food processor makes fresh pesto easy.

for the pesto:
1 cup fresh basil
1/3 cup pine nuts (you can substitute walnuts if necessary)
1 clove garlic, peeled
pinch salt
pinch pepper
1 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup olive oil

Place the basil, pine nuts, garlic clove, salt, and pepper in a food processor. Secure the lid and turn the food processor on until the mixture is uniformly sized. Add the grated Parmesan to the mixture, and pour the olive oil through the open slot in the top of the food processor. Pulse until everything is just combined. Serve on top of your pasta.
Note: You can skip grating the Parmesan and allow the food processor to chop it along with the basil and pine nut mixture.