just grapefruit

Before anyone starts thinking that all we ever eat around here are cookies and cakes, I’ve decided to start some new types of post that I’m going to call “Just Fruits” and “Just Veggies” because, hey, don’t forget that yummies can actually be good for you, too.

Like grapefruit.

I love grapefruit.

Grapefruit is in season in the winter, but those picked too early on can be unpalatably sour. Try not to eat those. When selecting them at the supermarket, pick those that are heavy for their size. (This advice is also applicable to lots of other fruits. Especially melons. Mm… melons. I can’t wait for summer fruits!) Anyway, for more tips on picking good grapefruits, as well as on just what to do with them, check out these sites.

I might consider eventually picking up a set of grapefruit spoons one of these days. They have serrated edges that help cut through the segments — something that regular spoons can’t quite do without making grapefruit juice fly all over the place. It’s things like this that make me glad I wear glasses.

But don’t be afraid of exploding grapefruit juice. For the right grapefruit, it’s totally worth it.

chocolate chip muffins

When I first moved out of the dorms and into an apartment, I guess I didn’t realize all the things I could suddenly do once I finally had a kitchen. Naturally, I got right on top of making home-cooked dinners (goodbye forever, dorm food!) and some of my tried-and-true baking favorites. Yet somehow, I forgot all about muffins! They are so perfect to grab as before running out the door to catch the bus for campus. I’m a little ashamed to admit this, but I actually bought muffins at the grocery store for nearly a year! Quite a travesty, clearly. I had never really bothered to make my own until just a couple years ago, so I’m still trying to figure out what my go-to recipes will be.

These chocolate chip muffins will probably make my list. That little half-teaspoon of cinnamon really makes them something special.

That said, I’m not entirely sold on the quick-bread method of mixing described in this recipe. I’ve made these muffins both as written (I promise I do not overmix the batter!), and by doing a sort of creaming method, and I might be leaning ever-so-slightly toward the latter. With the former, the texture leaves a little something to be desired. But don’t get me wrong — the flavor is great!

Try them soon! You don’t even need a stand mixer. Just round up a couple of mixing bowls and a spatula — and be gentle mixing the wet and dry ingredients together. Plus, you probably have all the ingredients already, anyway!

chocolate chip muffins
- slightly adapted from Bake or Break (and, evidently the McCormick website, though I can’t for the life of me find this recipe on there anywhere)

1 1/2 c AP flour, + ~1 tsp for coating the chocolate chips
1/3 c sugar
1/3 c packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 c unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1/2 c milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 c mix of mini semi-sweet chocolate chips and milk chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375°. Lightly grease or line 12 muffins cups.

In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

Lightly coat the chocolate chips in ~1 tsp flour — this keeps them from sinking to the bottom, giving equal chocolaty goodness in every bite.

they should look something like this

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs. Stir in melted butter, milk, and vanilla. Add to flour mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened (this is important!). Stir in coated chocolate chips. Spoon batter into muffin cups, filling each about 2/3 full.

Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean. Start checking them around 15 minutes though — mine were done quite early.

Serve warm, or store in a air-tight container. Don’t forget to microwave the leftovers (if there are any) for just a few seconds before eating!

yum!

basic sugar cookies

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Er, clearly I need to be more on top of my timing. How do other food bloggers manage to get their holiday-themed posts done on, or even.. before the actual holiday? Oh well. I, for one, was in the process of decorating these guys on the 14th, to be served later that night at a dinner party. While I did manage to take photos of the cookies, somehow I’ve only now been able to write about them.

So. Sugar cookies. Almost any other time I see sugar cookies out at a dessert table, I just steer clear. Oh, sometimes they look good enough and I’m tempted to try one, but my suspicions are generally confirmed upon first bite: crumbly, dry, and altogether cardboard-like. Why should I waste calories on them? And so, first bite = last bite.

And honestly, if these cookies are overbaked, even just by a minute or two, they’re not very appealing, either. At least to me. But, my mom loves crunchy sugar cookies. Go figure. This time, I accidentally let one tray go too long for my tastes and she bagged them all up for herself!

When they’re not overbaked, they are soft and… wonderful. They’re not too sweet, especially without icing. If I must ice them, however, I usually mix up and drizzle on some of this icing. I think it takes a bit more milk to get the right consistency than the recipe calls for, however. Sometimes I leave out the corn syrup entirely and just use milk instead. Either way, it can take quite a few hours for the icing to dry completely, so do remember to take that into account.

basic sugar cookies
- from what I believe is a tiny cutout from a very old BH&G

1/2 c butter
1/2 c sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 large egg
2 c AP flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Cream together butter, sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy.

this butter and sugar is not yet creamed… keep going

congratulations — you may move on to the next step

Beat egg in well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Combine dry mixture into butter mixture at low speed until thoroughly blended and smooth

Refrigerate, wrapped in plastic, for at least 1 hour until firm.

Heat oven to 375F.

Work with only enough dough that will fit on your baking sheet; keep remainder refrigerated.

Evenly roll out dough between two sheets of wax paper — I like my sugar cookies on the thicker side, so mine are a little thicker than 1/4-inch. Cut out or shape as desired.

Gently place cookies on lightly greased cookie sheets, spacing about 1 inch apart. Bake 5 to 13 minutes, depending on the thickness of the dough and shape of cookie, until firm to touch and edges are lightly browned. These giant cookies took around 14 minutes.

be careful handling before they’ve baked, or the shapes can get warped.. unless you’re going for that sort of look

Cool on wire racks, and store in airtight containers. If the cookies are to be iced, allow them to cool completely first.

Makes 1 to 5 dozen, depending on size. And if your massive heart-shaped cookie cutter is as big as mine, one batch of this cookie dough will make a whopping … six cookies.

seriously, i made these cookies on valentine’s day!

rolled baking powder biscuits

After four months of making these biscuits for Food Science lab, this recipe should be firmly embedded in my brain somewhere. Week after week, we made two or three batches of these biscuits and tested and poked them all kinds of ways. We added cinnamon and dried cherries, or onion and chives, or bacon and cheddar. But even with all the variations, nothing dissuaded me from loving the simple deliciousness of the basic, no-frills, rolled baking powder biscuit. The key is to avoid overworking the dough. If it’s done right, you’ll end up with a golden biscuit with fluffy insides and a delicately crunchy exterior.

Plus, they split nicely… these are really great with a pat of butter and some honey drizzled on top. Oh! And a cup of hot tea. Definitely.

Basic Rolled Biscuits
- from my lab book… and nearly identical to the recipe from the Joy of Cooking

2 c all purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 to 3/4 tsp salt
5-6 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 c milk, plus a little more for brushing on top

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Drop in the butter, and cut in using two knives or a pastry blender. Do not let the butter melt or form a paste with the flour. Pour in the 3/4 c milk and mix just until the dry ingredients are moistened. With a lightly floured hand, gather the dough into a ball and knead it gently against the sides and bottom of the bowl a few times until it generally forms a single mass. You may need to sprinkle in a little more flour if the dough is too sticky.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Roll out the dough (or, if you do not have a rolling pin, just flatten the dough out with your hands) to approximately 1/2- to 3/4-inch thickness. Cut out 3-inch rounds (we like big fluffy biscuits around here, but you can make whatever size floats your boat) with a biscuit cutter. Push the cutter straight down and pull out without twisting. Reroll/reflatten the scraps to cut additional biscuits out of the remaining dough.

Then, brush the tops well with a little extra milk. Or, use your (clean) fingertips, like I did.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.

Notes:

  • I love that this recipe is easily halved. It makes around 4 large biscuits… the perfect brunch amount for two people on the weekends.
  • Do pay attention when measuring out baking powder. Too much can result in a bitter, soapy tastenot yummy.

oatmeal chocolate chip cookies

I originally obtained this recipe over ten years ago, from the mom of one my best friends growing up. (Hi, Mrs. M!) Once I detached myself from that ubiquitous recipe from the back of that yellow bag, these seriously became one of the favorite cookies of my childhood. These days, while my usual go-to chocolate chip cookie is Alton Brown’s The Chewy (more on these at a later date, I promise!), these oatmeal ones are a nice change of pace: denser, thicker, and (I think) a heartier flavor.

A while back, I did notice that this is suspiciously similar to the notorious “$250 Neiman-Marcus Recipe” that continually haunted my e-mail Junk Folder in the late ’90s. With a little research into the matter, it seems that this is just a (very) persistent urban legend that can be traced back 60 years! Evidently, Neiman-Marcus since developed its own recipe in response… which happens to be rather different from the rumor version. Interesting….

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 c butter
3/4 c sugar
1 1/4 c brown sugar
2 eggs (one at a time)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 c AP flour
2 1/2 c oatmeal flour*
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 c chocolate chips (I like a mix of milk chocolate and semi-sweet)

Preheat oven to 375F.

*Oatmeal flour: Just pulse old-fashioned oats in the food processor until it looks, well, like flour! A few larger bits of oats might remain, and that’s fine. Measure after processing, though, please. To make 2 1/2 cups of oatmeal flour, I think I dumped 3 1/2 to to 4 cups of oats into the food processor…

process until oats go from this ^ ……………………………………………… to this ^

Cream together butter and sugars. Add eggs (one at a time) and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine flours, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. In three or four portions, add the dry ingredients to the wet. Mix in chocolate chips. Please, try not to overmix.

Use a large disher/ice cream scoop to form cookies onto a baking sheet. Of course, you can make these simple drop cookies with a couple of spoons, but the disher makes everything so nice and even, which means that all the cookies will be perfectly done at the same time! No scrawny burnt ones! (Is anyone else excited about this?)

For large cookies like these, bake for around 14-15 minutes, or just until light golden brown. Remove from oven, and let rest on pan for 2-3 minutes to firm up a little; transfer to cooling rack. Devour warm, or store in an airtight container/zip-top bag until dessert/breakfast/snacktime/anytime.

mmm… look at that chocolatey, oatmealy goodness

la paz salsa

Let me first say that when it comes to hot, fiery, capsaicin-spiked foods… I am a wimp. I can’t even take the “spicy” options at fast food joints. Hot pepper flakes on spaghetti or hot sauce on taquitos makes me tear up and sniffle like crazy. I’m forced to always reach for the “Mild” versions of things. This makes for several two-pot dinners (tacos, chili, stir fry) in our household, as Eric likes adding hot sauce and chili powder to almost everything. (Sniff.)

Fortunately, this salsa can be made as hot (or not) as you like it. For people like me that are interested in the science behind food, here are some fun facts about the “heat” in all kinds of chile peppers. Did you know that the “heat” isn’t so much in the seeds as it is in the white pith and ribs? Take out all that stuff to reduce the heat factor. I did. And, I only used jalapeños for myself. Okay, okay… mine was way more tomato than pepper. But what good would homemade salsa be if I couldn’t eat it?

isn’t food pretty?

You may also notice that I have included a photo of habañeros — these will amp up the heat factor like nobody’s business. I used one in Eric’s jar of salsa, though it actually turned out too hot, even for him. Anyway, look at that gorgeous red! But — if you mess with these bad boys, be very, very careful. Wash your hands with copious amounts of water directly after handling habañeros (or, really, any hot pepper). Eric’s mom even got burns under her rings just from prolonged contact with the capsaicin.

You have been warned.

red means stop! can you handle these?? … i cannot.

This salsa recipe, like many great recipes, has a story. Listen up! (It’s relatively short, I promise.) Eric’s mom grew up in Laguna Beach, CA  when it was a quiet surfer town and artist hub — not the glitzy, snobby MTV-show Laguna that people may think of these days. One of her favorite memories (or I think it is, based on how often/much she talks about it) was La Paz. It was a well-loved Mexican restaurant, often frequented by kids (like Eric’s mom) coming straight up from the beach with wet and sandy toes. To keep their floor clean, La Paz opened up the back door for easy beach access. This was the home of the La Paz “Back Door Special”  — a plate of rice, beans, and cheese studded with tortilla chips. When your order came out, you could scoop some of this salsa on, too.

Doesn’t that sound good? Sadly, La Paz closed years ago and another restaurant now stands in its place, but Eric’s mom just can’t eat there — out of loyalty to La Paz. I have to say, if a restaurant can garner that kind of devotion, it’s really too bad it closed before I could try it. But at least we have the salsa recipe, c/o the Laguna News-Post. Eric’s mom claims you could do a blind taste-test with her old Laguna friends and they would all instantly say “La Paz.”

So, I give you…

Theresa Frias’ La Paz Salsa

~1 lb. little yellow and jalapeño chiles, fresh, with stems removed (or whatever peppers you can handle)
2 cloves fresh garlic
handful chopped white onions
2 large pinches of oregano
#2 can of tomatoes (this website tells me this means 2 1/2 c or 20 oz.)
1 c tarragon vinegar
3-4 Tbsp of salt

Put vinegar, garlic, onions, oregano and salt in a blender and run until ground up and mushy. Then fill blender with jalapeño chiles. Blend on and off to chop them up. Run until blended and put in gallon-size jar. Fill blender with yellow chiles (or habañeros). Add small amount of water and blend. Add to gallon jar. Fill blender with tomatoes. Blend tomatoes slowly (start and turn off several times). Add tomatoes to jar and stir (or shake) together.

Kept in the fridge, this stuff should probably stay good for up to two weeks.

Do note that this makes quite a lot of salsa — feel free to halve the recipe.

pasta salad

After years of following food blogs, I have learned at least this: some people hate cilantro. AKA coriander. AKA Chinese parsley. I love the stuff, but evidently there are those who can’t stand it — not even a decorative sprig atop their plate.

So, if you are one of those people who think that cilantro AKA coriander AKA Chinese parsley tastes like soap/dirt/other-nonfood-item, then please, for goodness’ sake, do not try this recipe. Oh. And also, do not try this recipe if you do not like vinegar.

Now if you are like me and have no qualms about cilantro or vinegar, please DO try this recipe. It is most definitely a yummy. At least it is for me. And maybe for you, too!

There is a teeny tiny story behind this recipe: Apparently, my mom was a very hungry lady during her pregnancy (as are most, I hear) and one day while she was pregnant with me, she threw together this pasta salad. She loved it and ate it all the time … 22 years later, and I still crave it every few months. I would probably have a hankering for it more often, too, if one batch didn’t result in a giant bowl that lasts for nearly a week. Ready-made lunch!

The recipe can be tweaked all kinds of ways to suit your own tastes — these are just approximations of what I happened to toss into the bowl this time.

My Mom’s Pasta Salad

2/3 of a 1-lb. box of macaroni (bowtie works well, too)
1 chicken breast, skinless
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 green bell pepper
2 big handfuls of cilantro (again, if you don’t like cilantro, be very afraid)
1/4 onion

shredded Parmesan cheese

For the vinaigrette (make at least 1 cup total)
equal parts vegetable oil (or your favorite salad oil) and white vinegar (I used ~ 1/2 cup each)
1 T tarragon (I used dry and crushed it up)
1 heaping T sugar
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Boil the macaroni in salted water until al dente. When it’s done, drain and rinse with cold water — this will keep the pasta from sticking together.
2. While the macaroni is going, boil the chicken breast in water with some salt and pepper. If you don’t flavor the water a little, the chicken breast will have zero flavor. I am a huge fan of my instant-read thermometer, which keeps me safe from food-borne illness. Chicken should read ~165F. Do it or be sorry.
3. Dice your bell peppers to a small-to-medium dice. While you’re at it, finely dice the onion. For me, this means smaller than however the peppers turned out.
4. Rough chop the cilantro.
5. Once the chicken breast has cooled, dice it into fairly small, bite-sized cubes. Remember, chicken is not the main attraction in this salad.
6. To make the vinaigrette: combine oil, vinegar, tarragon, sugar, salt, and pepper. Stir it up! This part is to your own tastes, but then again, it’s difficult to gauge what a vinaigrette will taste like on the salad by how it tastes on a spoon. You could try swishing a piece of pasta in there as a sample, if you like.
7. In a large, large bowl, combine the pasta, chicken, bell peppers, onion, cilantro, and about a cup of vinaigrette. Toss it all together and taste. If you think it needs more sugar or vinegar, mix it up with the extra vinaigrette first, and then add to the bowl.
8. Depending on your love of parmesan, toss in a handful (or more) to the salad. Mix everything together well.
9. Eat! Or, cover it up tightly and leave it in the fridge overnight. It tastes even better the next day (or later) as the flavors all come together.

Recipe notes:

  • If you are an efficient kitchen-maven, then you will have time to chop up all your veggies whilst other things boil! I am not an efficient kitchen-maven. I waited for all the boiling to be done, then started chopping.
  • I’m over-analytical, so I can tell you that my bell peppers were approximately 7.5 mm square. Or just over 1/4 inch square. Scientific precision makes me feel secure — but do whatever makes you happiest. For the sake of my dignity, I will not mention what a 5 mm square onion dice is equal to in inches.
  • The salad shouldn’t be swimming in dressing, but the pasta will soak up some overnight. That said, I would err on too much dressing instead of too little.

buttery pound cake

For such a die-hard chocolate fan, it’s a little strange to me that my first post (… ever!) is for a recipe that is so not chocolate. It is, however, a perfect example of eggs, sugar, flour, and butter coming together for a pretty fantastic dessert. Oh. And about that butter — be ready for some really thick, thick richness. Cut small slices. This is a pound cake after all.

It comes from Food Network’s very own butter queen, Paula Deen.

Ever-so-slightly adapted from
Paula Deen’s – Mama’s Pound Cake

3 sticks (3/4 pound) unsalted butter*, plus more for pan
3 cups sugar
5 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Smear softened butter all over your baking pan (I used my trusty Bundt), then coat with flour. Your pan is prepped!

In a mixer, cream the butter. Add sugar, a little at a time. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir dry ingredients together in a bowl and add to mixer alternately with milk, starting with the flour and ending with the flour. Mix in vanilla. Pour into a greased and floured Bundt (or tube) pan and bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  My inferno (i.e. apartment oven) only needed approximately 1 hour to have its way with this cake. You may need to check on your own cake accordingly. Begin checking on it around 45 minutes into the baking process. If the top is looking a little too brown for you, lay some foil across the top of the pan — this will keep it from getting too toasty.

*Ms. Deen calls for 2 sticks of butter and 1 stick of shortening … but all butter (ohhh baby) worked just fine.

a little chocolate couldn’t hurt, right?