From Scratch, With Love

Archive for the ‘Andrea Original’ Category

Loving the Gas Stove

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Last weekend I had such a meal planned.  My newlywed friend and her newlywed husband were coming over for dinner.  I don’t know a lot of people in New Jersey, given that I live in a town full of families but not many adults under 30, so this is not a regular occurrence.  I was going to make shish kabobs, vegetarian curry, homemade naan, and pumpkin bread for dessert.  I was pumped.  I started cooking at 10 am.  I made six pounds of curry and stuck it in the fridge, planning to have the leftovers for lunch all week.  I started the lamb marinating in lemon juice, lots of garlic, shallots, and herbs.  It was cold in my apartment, so I prepared the naan early to give it a nice, long, slow rise.

Then it started snowing.

WTF?  It was October 29th.  Sure, there had been rumors of snow, but I didn’t take it seriously.  I was pissed.  My dinner plans cancelled.  I told John we were having the dinner party anyway, just the two of us.

Around 4pm the power went out.  You may have heard.  Thank god my stove is gas and not electric.

It’s okay.  We had a blast.

John made us some drinks.  Yes, that is a headlamp.

I made us some lamb and pumpkin tortellini.

I cooked some naan on the stove.  I know, not quite a clay oven but hey, the result was excellent.

It was like camping, really.  We even had a guitarist.

So when you’re looking at apartments or houses, make sure you remember that freak snowstorms can happen, a gas stove is a necessity, and maybe look into a fireplace too while you’re at it.

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Written by poperatzii

November 5, 2011 at 10:29 am

Posted in Andrea Original, Bread

Something for the Kids

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If I had children, I’d send them to school with this every friggin day.

Beats a squished bpj, don’t you think?

I don’t have kids.  I have John.  Guess what he’s been eating all week lately.  He loves it.

Baked Ziti is a new discovery of mine.  I guess because it’s less work than lasagna and it’s fun, I’ve been making it on Sundays for the sole purpose of sending it with John for lunch during the week.  See my thoughts on leftovers, if you’re confused.  It’s involved enough that I enjoy making it, but not so involved that I can’t do it every week.  AND there are so many ways to change it to suit your needs.  Hell, you can even buy sauce instead of making it.  You can use meat instead of mushrooms.  You have friggin quadruple the cheese if you want.  Deliciousness.

Baked Ziti (Inspired in part by Cooks Illustrated)

Preheat oven to 375.  Lightly grease a 13″ x 9″ lasagna-type pan.  Fill a large stockpot with enough water for a pound of pasta and put it on the stovetop to boil.

Sauce:

Roughly slice 2 onions and 4 carrots and peal 4 cloves of garlic.  Heat a little olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat and put the onions, carrots, and garlic in the pan. Cook until soft.

Meanwhile, put in a blender: 1 green pepper, 1 medium hot pepper (like a jalapeno or serrano pepper), 4 stalks of celery, including leaves, and 1 28 oz can of tomatoes.  Add a teaspoon each of dried oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme.  Add a few grinds of black pepper.  Add the now-softened onions, carrots, and garlic.  Blend.

Thinly slice as many small mushrooms as you’d like.  Brown them in batches over medium heat with a little olive oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven.  Alternatively, brown some ground beef if you’d like and drain the fat.  Add the blended sauce and bring to a simmer.  Once it’s simmering, add a bay leaf, about 1/4 cup of red wine, and salt, to taste.  Bring back to a simmer and reduce the heat and cover (but make sure it’s still simmering).  Simmer for anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, depending on your patience.  Taste and salt as needed.

[This makes about 8 cups of sauce, which is also great served over pasta.  If you don’t have the time of patience, get a couple of jars of premade sauce and don’t tell anyone!]

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together 1 cup of cottage cheese, 1-2 oz of mozzarella cheese (or more, if you wish.  I added some parmesan too.), and one egg.

Once the sauce is almost done and the pasta water is boiling, add a box of any shape pasta you’d like (doesn’t need to be ziti, just make it a shape.  Maybe not so much with the bowties.).  Cook until al dente and drain.  In the still-hot pot, add 2 cups of the lovely, aromatic sauce you have simmering, and the cheese mixture.  Stir and add the pasta to the mixture.  If you’d like, add some spinach as well (I did!) and stir well.

Add a couple of cups of sauce to the prepared pan, followed by the pasta mixture. Cover with the remaining sauce and grate some more mozzarella cheese on top.  Smile to yourself and bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the cheese has browned and the sauce is bubbling.

Written by poperatzii

May 8, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Leftovers

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Meals that make good leftovers are a windfall in my house.  John loves hot lunches and I shudder at the idea of spending money on food while at work.  Leftovers are the ultimate solution.

Along comes shrimp and vegetable pilaf.  Pilaf, the way my dad makes it, is so delicious.  It’s a combination of onions, butter, rosemary, and rice that creates an aroma that seeps into your clothes.  My mouth waters just thinking about it.  Of course, I can’t live off pilaf.  At least, not in that form.  So one day, I looked at the ingredients I had on hand and decided to make pilaf into a complete (healthy) meal… and to make enough for leftovers.

The great thing about this dish is that most of the ingredients are either shelf stable or freezer-friendly.  It’s the kind of meal that you can put together quickly and just leave in the oven and watch West Wing while you wait.  For those of you who are into “easy,” look no further.  Also, it’s healthy.  Lots of vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low fat.  Can you ask for more?

Note that you can make this dish with white rice instead of brown rice, but the cooking time will have to be reduced.  You might want to cook the shrimp separately and add it at the end.

Shrimp and Vegetable Pilaf (Serves 4-6)

Preheat the oven to 375.

Thinly slice 2 onions.  Over medium heat, melt about a tablespoon of butter and saute the onions in a dutch oven or a large saute pan until soft.  You want to use a pan that can hold about 2 quarts and is oven safe.  If you don’t have one, have a casserole dish ready.

Once the onions are soft, add about a teaspoon each of rosemary and thyme.  Use more if you have fresh herbs available.  Add a few grinds of black pepper.  Add 2 cups of brown rice, substituting some wild rice for the brown rice if you have it on hand.  Stir the rice into the onions and after about a minute, add a quart of chicken stock.  Stop stirring.  Bring to a simmer and lightly salt.  Cover with an oven-safe lid or aluminum foil and put in the oven.  Set a timer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel about a pound of shrimp.  I like to use frozen shrimp because I can always have it on hand and I don’t have truly fresh shrimp available.  I usually defrost it by putting it in a colander and running it under cold water for about 5 minutes.

Cut up a crown of broccoli or asparagus or whatever vegetable you like best and set aside.

After the rice has been in the oven for 30 minutes, remove the lid and scatter the vegetables on top.  Most of the liquid should have already been absorbed.  Put in the oven for 5 more minutes, then scatter the shrimp on top.  Salt and pepper it and put it back in the oven for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, the shrimp should be pink and the dish should be aromatic.  Let it cool for about 5 minutes, then use a big ole spoon to mix it all together.  Eat.

Written by poperatzii

April 9, 2011 at 9:41 am

Cranberry Season

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Cranberry season comes and goes very quickly.  It’s sort of just the month of November.  At least, that’s how it seems to me.  I guess this is why there isn’t a lot you normally do with cranberries.

I went to the store.  They had fresh cranberries.  I couldn’t pass them up.  I picked up an orange too (almost orange season!!!!!).  I went home and made cranberry orange muffins.  Then I made cranberry orange bran muffins.  I froze them.  I’m excited about this development.

As always, use a light hand with muffins.  Mix the ingredients until just moistened.  Remember: Muffins are NOT just bald cupcakes.  That’s why they don’t have oodles of butter and sugar.  They are, however, delicious fresh from the oven, perhaps split down the middle and served with a little butter, melting slowly into the nooks and crannies that are a result of a light hand used in mixing them.

I’m making myself hungry.  I’m going to go defrost a muffin.  One moment.

Cranberry Orange Muffins (Makes 12 muffins)

Preheat the oven to 400.  Line a muffin tin with muffin liners, or lightly grease each tin.

In a large bowl, sift

2 cups flour

2/3 cups sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

Toss 1 cup fresh cranberries in the flour mixture.  Set aside.  In a small bowl, pour

1 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 egg yolks (put the egg whites in a medium bowl)

Stir thoroughly with a whisk or a fork.  Set aside.  Beat the 2 reserved egg whites until soft peaks form.

Pour the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just moistened.  Fold in 1/4 cup vegetable oil or melted butter.  Fold in the beaten egg whites.  Spoon into prepared pan, filling each muffin cup to the top.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the muffins start to brown on top.  Serve immediately or cool completely and freeze.  Defrost in a 400 degree oven for 5 minutes or for 30 seconds in the microwave.

Cranberry Orange Bran Muffins (Makes 12 muffins)

Preheat the oven to 400.  Line a muffin tin with muffin liners, or lightly grease each tin.

In a large bowl, sift

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Toss 1 cup fresh cranberries, 1/3 cup dried cranberries, and 1/4 cup flax seeds, wheat bran, or wheat germ in the flour mixture.  Set aside.  In a small bowl, pour

1/2 cup buttermilk

3/4 cup applesauce

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 egg yolks (put the egg whites in a medium bowl)

Stir thoroughly with a whisk or a fork.  Set aside.  Beat the 2 reserved egg whites until soft peaks form.

Pour the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just moistened.  Fold in 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or melted butter.  Fold in the beaten egg whites.  Spoon into prepared pan, filling each muffin cup to the top.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the muffins start to brown on top.  Serve immediately or cool completely and freeze.  Defrost in a 400 degree oven for 5 minutes or for 30 seconds in the microwave.

Written by poperatzii

November 14, 2010 at 9:29 am

Pizza: Some Updates

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I’ve been making pizza for a few years now, basically since I acquired a kitchen of my own, senior year of college.  I started out using the method my dad used all throughout my childhood, and it has evolved since then.  Lately, largely due to reading articles on the Cook’s Illustrated website (you have to subscribe to be able to read them fully, but it’s well worth it), I’ve deviated from my original method.  A couple things remain, however.  1) Always make the dough by hand.  This rule is part snobbishness and part wanting to get a feel for when the dough is the right consistency. 2) Use some whole wheat flour.  Well, are you surprised? I love me some whole wheat.  3) Use lots of garlic.

Here are the tips I want to pass on.

1) Unlike commercial pizzas, which are baked in 800 degree ovens, homemade pizza dough does not benefit from high-gluten bread flour or long kneading times.  As a result, I’ve switched to using part pastry flour or cake flour, and kneading it just until it forms a smooth ball.

2) In order to make a thick sauce that is not overly watery, you can blend canned tomatoes in a blender and let it drain in a fine mesh sieve for about a half hour until a lot of the water is released.  I like to mix in some canned tomato sauce and minced garlic as well.  A little salt and sugar and herbs improves the sauce.

3) Use a pizza stone.  No need for a pizza peel – build the pizza on parchment paper on a rimless baking sheet and use the baking sheet to slide the pizza onto the hot stone in the oven.

4) Bake the pizza for about 5 minutes at 500 degrees with just crust, sauce, and toppings, then add the cheese and bake for another 5 minutes.  This method keeps the cheese from burning.

5) Fresh mozzarella is awesome.  As is adding a parmesan-like cheese to the pizza.

6) Slice toppings very thin so that they cook evenly.  Green peppers, especially.

Those are my current tips for homemade pizza.  I’m sure I’ll discover more soon enough.

Written by poperatzii

October 27, 2010 at 8:49 pm

How do you like dem Apple Muffins?

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I’ve been a little lazy about updating.  Here’s my excuse: the sun has been going down so early it’s been really hard to take good pictures of my delicious dinners.  I’ll try harder, I promise.

This morning I ran a lot.  Then I biked home and had a really delicious omelet with onions and spinach (I recommend it) and a lot of other food.  Then I wanted to feel productive so I made a batch of granola bars (I’m trying to make them taste like honey roasted peanuts, which are my current snack food obsession) and some apple bran muffins with the apples I picked last weekend.  I’ve made them before.  The recipe is loosely based on the Joy of Cooking base recipe that I’ve been using for years, but honestly I kind of just did it by feel.  I’m happy to share it.  I like to make these muffins and let them cool completely, then freeze them.  I put them in my lunch bag every morning, then microwave them for 20 seconds when it’s time for a mid morning snack.  Voila – warm and fresh-tasting muffin.

Here are some tricks I used for this muffin.  As always for muffins, I stirred the batter until just moistened.  Despite the muffins you get in stores, they are not just bald cupcakes – the crumb is not as fine and the batter should not be smooth.  Mix muffins by hand, not using a mixer.  Also, as usual, I separated the egg whites from the yolks and beat the egg whites until soft peaks formed.  This helps make the muffins moist and fluffy.  I also used whole wheat pastry flour, instead of regular whole wheat flour so that they wouldn’t be too dense.  Lastly, since the apples provide both sweetness and moisture, I only used 1/2 cup of brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of oil.  Also, I used buttermilk instead of regular milk (again, for moistness).

By the way, apple pie was my inspiration for this muffin.  Also, I LOVE apple season.

Apple Bran Muffins (Makes 12 muffins)

Preheat oven to 400.  Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners, or grease each cup.

In a small bowl, peel and grate 3 medium apples. Stir in 1/2 cup buttermilk, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 egg yolks (put the whites in a medium bowl), 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.  Set aside.

Roughly chop about 1 oz of dried fruit (I used apricots).  Toast 1 oz nuts (I used walnuts).

In a large bowl, sift 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour, 2 tablespoons wheat bran (optional), 2 tablespoons wheat germ (optional), 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon  cinnamon.

Beat the reserved egg whites until soft peaks form.

Add the apple mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just blended.  Gently fold in the egg whites.  Gently fold in the dried fruit and nuts.  Spoon into prepared muffin tin, filling each cup all the way, and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the tops of the muffins start to brown.

Storage: if you wish to keep these muffins as snacks, let cool completely, then freeze in a ziplock bag.  Defrost for 5 minutes in a 400 degree oven or 20 seconds in the microwave, or let it defrost at room temperature for a couple hours.

This is my cat being cute:

Written by poperatzii

October 16, 2010 at 2:12 pm

The Winning Pumpkin Cookie

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Here it is, the moment you’ve all been waiting for.  After a week and 6 or 7 batches of pumpkin cookies or varying quality, I’ve finally found a method that makes me happy.  The result is a wonderfully soft, pumpkin-y cookie that isn’t too sweet and is perfectly spiced.  Additionally, the dough lends itself both to the sugar-crusted drop cookie method AND to the rolled out and cut with a cookie cutter method.  Reminiscent of a ginger cookie, don’t feel guilty about eating 1 or 2 (or 7) of these because they are also very low in fat and sugar, thanks to the naturally moist nature of pumpkin.

By cooking the pumpkin in the butter, you benefit both from the caramelization of the butter and the intensification of the pumpkin flavor due to evaporation of water.  I also recommend sauteing some fresh ginger to bring out the ginger flavor, but adding 1/2 teaspoon dried ginger in with the dry ingredients works in a pinch.  I found that adding a little more salt to the recipe counteracts the bitter flavor or the pumpkin, and that using whiskey instead of vanilla complements the pumpkin and spice nicely.  Finally, I opted to use only white sugar because brown sugar overpowered the pumpkin too much.  I added a little maple syrup as well.  I hope you like them as much as I do!

Andrea’s Pumpkin Spice Cookies (Makes about 60 cookies)

In a small saucepan, melt 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of butter over high heat.  Add 1 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger (see note above) and saute for about a minute, until fragrant.  Add 1 cup of canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix) and 2 tablespoons of whiskey (I used Jack Daniels).  Cook the pumpkin until the butter is absorbed and the puree is less watery.  In the end, you should have about 1 cup of pumpkin mixture.  Set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, sift or whisk together:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

In a large bowl, stir 3/4 cup of white sugar into the pumpkin mixture.  Add 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup.  Add 1 egg and stir until just combined.  Gradually stir in the flour mixture, in about three additions, stirring until just combined each time.  Wrap the dough with a sheet of plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Place a sheet of parchment paper on two baking sheets.

You can make these cookies two ways.

Sugar-coated drop cookies

Pour 1/4 cup of sugar into a small bowl.

A drop a teaspoon’s worth of dough into the bowl of sugar, coating completely.  Using your hands, roll the dough into a ball and place on the baking sheet, then press the ball with your finger to flatten it slightly.  Repeat for the rest of the dough, leaving about an inch between balls of dough.  They will spread, but not too much, so you can fit a lot of cookies on one sheet.  I fit 30 cookies on mine.  Bake for 12-14 minutes, turning the cookie sheet halfway through baking time.  Let cool.  These cookies are actually best the day after they are baked.

Rolled cookies

These cookies are great for parties, or for decorating.

Sprinkle some flour on your work surface.  Take the cookie dough out of the fridge and lightly dust with flour.  Using a rolling pin, roll the dough until it is evenly about 1/8 inch thick, being careful not to let it stick to the work surface.  Using your favorite cookie cutters, cut cookies and place them on baking sheet, leaving about 1/2 inch between cookies (they will not spread too much).  Bake for about 10 minutes, less if you like them doughy.  Let cool completely before decorating, if desired.

Written by poperatzii

September 18, 2010 at 12:34 pm