Archive | January, 2011

My Attempt at Thundercake

27 Jan

Yesterday evening the DC area got our first real snow storm of the year.  But it wasn’t your average storm, instead we had thundersnow and thundersleet.  The storm moved in quickly, the traffic was horrific, and many areas lost power.  I was one of the few lucky ones to make it through the storm without issue, so I decided to celebrate by making Thundercake.  Well, actually I started off cleaning, then was invited for a glass of wine with one of my apt. friends, then made dinner, and that all led to the thundercake experiment.  

Honestly, what else were we supposed to do while we were snowed in?  This is the story of a cake using some of my favorite flavors and the icing that almost wasn’t. 

Everything started out so simple.  I pulled out a box of leftover spice cake mix, canned pumpkin, nutella, and cream cheese from the fridge.  Most people have these ingredients lying around in a snow storm right?   

Back to the cake.  I followed the box instructions that said to combine the mix with 3 eggs and vegetable oil.  I then mixed it until the ingredients were incorporated and poured the batter into a greased baking dish.

I decided that this spice cake needed a little something extra, so I added 4 tsp of nutella to the batter and ran a knife through the nutella to make a pretty swirl design.

I popped the cake into a 350 degree preheated oven and baked for about 38 minutes.  Now it was time to find a frosting recipe.  I decided to turn to my trusty food network website and found a Rachael Ray recipe for pumpkin cream cheese frosting.  Perfect!  I looked at the recipe and realized I didn’t have everything I needed.  That should have stopped me in my tracks, it didn’t. 

Too late to turn back, I needed frosting stat.  So, I tried to find similar ingredients in my fridge/cupboards and make substitutions.  The recipe called for 8 oz of cream cheese and I only had 4 oz, so I substituted 4 oz of nonfat plain yogurt to get the tang.  Strike 1.

The recipe then said to add 1/2 of a can of pumpkin, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract.  I was able to do this correctly, but was lacking an orange to zest, so left this out.  Strike 2.

I was then supposed to beat all of these ingredients together and slowly add 3 and 1/2 cups of powdered sugar to the mix.  I was a 1/2 cup short, but actually this worked out fine because 3 cups was already tooth-achingly sweet.  No strikes there.

Try as I might I could not get my frosting to whip up.  I really needed more cream cheese or yogurt with a higher fat content to thicken it.  So after bringing in RB and G for a cake consult, I decided to add more yogurt and the remaining 1/2 can of pumpkin.  Strike 3. 

This produced what can only be described as sweet orange gloop.  I was about to throw in the frosting towl and settle for boring spice nutella cake on it’s own (I know I’m being overly dramatic but I REALLY wanted frosting).  When my two friends gallantly offered to hit the market in our basement in search of more cream cheese while I resumed pouting over my bowl.

A few quick minutes later I was back in business.  I whipped the new 8 oz container of cream cheese with 1/3 or 1/4 of the sweet orange gloop.  I honestly have no idea how much I poured in and was beyond precise measuments at this time.  To my surprise, this combo made an amazing thick and tangy cream cheese frosting.  Seriously, this stuff was crazy good.  As in we were all scraping the excess out of the mixing bowl after the cake had been iced. 

A true thundercake miracle!  The cake still looked a bit orange and gloopy, but it’s always a good sign when your friends say hurry up and take the picture I want a piece! 

My lessons learned were that it pays to have good friends during a snowstorm, it’s nice to have a market in the basement of your building that is open during said snow storm, and finally, you should always add more cream cheese.

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Sweet Potato Ricotta and Arugula Ravioli

23 Jan

There are days where I wake up ready for a challenge in the kitchen.  I want to experiment with something new and discover uncharted territory.  This is one of those days.  Brace yourself, because we are making homemade ravioli!  Oh, and not just any ravioli, veg-friendly Sweet Potato Ricotta and Arugula Ravioli.

Sweet Potato Ricotta and Arugula Ravioli (serves 1-2)

The filling:

  • Half a bin of arugula
  • 1/4 tsp of nutmeg
  • 1 tbs of olive oil
  • 1 tbs of garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium-sized sweet potato
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tbs butter
  • 3 tbs ricotta cheese

The dough (recipe and process from Eat Live Run):

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs

First things first, let’s get the sweet potato going.  That way we can cut down the time spent on this recipe, and get closer to the eating part.  After washing and drying your sweet potato, poke several rows of holes in the top with a fork.  Put the sweet potato directly on the oven rack and bake in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 1 hour.  While that’s cooking you can multi-task, and start on the ravioli dough. 

I always thought making my own pasta would be an impossible feat, and that the process would be overwhelmingly complicated.  I’m happy to say, this is not the case.  All you need is 3 ingredients to make a basic dough:  flour, eggs, and salt. 

On a clean countertop, pour 1/2 cup of flour.  Add a sprinkle of salt over the flour and mix in with your hands.  Cup the flour with your hands and make a circle.  Then push out from the middle to make a well. 

Crack 2 eggs in the center of your well and slowly start pulling the flour into the egg with your fingers a little at a time.  The egg mixture will be very sticky at first.  You will end up with dough after just a few minutes of mixing the ingredients.  My dough was still a little sticky and I just added a sprinkle more flour to get it to the right consistency.  You should then form a dough ball and cover your masterpiece with a wet paper towel for 45 minutes. 

 

The dough process took me about fifteen minutes.  This means that your baked sweet potato and ravioli dough should both be ready in about 45 more minutes.  You have two options for the next 45 minutes.  Option 1:  clean up your counter, your hands, and get started on the rest of the filling.  Option 2:  watch an episode of Top Chef on your dvr to feel inspired, and do the cleanup afterwards.  I went with option 1, because I have a small apartment kitchen and needed the clean space for later.  Told you I love to multitask! 

 

 

Now for the other half of the filling.  In a medium-sized pan, heat 1 tbs of olive oil on medium heat.  Then add  1 tbs of chopped garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Add your arugula, 1/4 tsp of nutmeg, 1/2 tsp of salt, and 1/2 tsp of pepper to the garlic.  Stir this all together to wilt your greens.  You will notice they cook up rather quickly and reduce in size. 

Take your wilted arugula off the heat and put on a back burner.  You’ll come back to it in a minute.  Scoop out the inside of your baked sweet potato and transfer it to a large cereal bowl or small mixing bowl.  Mix the sweet potato with a sprinkle of nutmeg, the other 1/2 tsp of salt, 1/2 tsp of pepper, and 1 tbs of butter. 

Now add the garlic arugula mixture to the sweet potato, and also 3 tbs of ricotta cheese.  Mix well and taste to make sure your filling doesn’t need additional seasoning.  Set filling aside and let’s get back to our ravioli dough. 

Sprinkle a little flour on your counter and on a rolling pin.  You don’t want your dough to stick!  You can also use a wine bottle if you don’t have a rolling pin available.  Roll out your dough, starting in the center and working your way out.  This will take a few minutes (and some patience), as you want your dough to be very thin.  Now use a pizza cutter or a knife to cut rows into the dough.  The rows should be about the same length and width.  They will be the top and bottom of your ravioli.  Think about the size of your ravioli, and spoon a tsp of filling out across the dough. I had 4 blobs of filling for each strip of dough.  You want to leave plenty of room between the filling.

Take the top piece of dough and put it over the dough with filling.  Gently press down and pinch the dough around the filling to make a little pouch.  You want to make sure it’s sealed properly so the filling doesn’t leak out later.  I used a fork and pressed around the edges to get a good seal and pretty rustic design. 

Repeat this process until you have finished assembling your ravioli.  I used my scraps of dough to make one extra piece of ravioli. 

Bring a small pot of water to a boil and put in a few pieces of ravioli to cook.  Make sure not to overcrowd the pot.  The ravioli should take about 6-7 minutes to cook, and will look pale in color.  Take one out and test with your fork to make sure it’s cooked and the pasta dough is light.  I used a drizzle of olive oil, black pepper and red pepper flakes to finish my ravioli.  You could also use marinara sauce.

Here are a few short cuts for this recipe:

1.  I baked my sweet potato, but you could also microwave it for 6 minutes on high if you are pressed for time.  Remember to poke holes in the sweet potato with a fork (or it will explode), and expect a little whistling. 

2.  You can make the filling the night before and keep it in the fridge covered with cling wrap. 

3.  Please please please make sure to roll out a thin dough.  I was impatient (surprised?), and left mine a little too thick.  This meant each piece had to cook for longer and my ravioli were a bit dense. 

My experiment was so delicious!  I learned from my dough mistakes, and can’t wait to try it again.  Oh, and don’t feel bad about eating any leftover filling straight from the bowl.  It was just as good this way, and I might offer it up as a side for my veg sister at Thanksgiving next year!

Top 5’s

13 Jan

Top 5 Foods (and my favorite local places to find them)

Anyone who has ever met me knows my all time favorite food is mac & cheeseHands down, no contest.  In fact, I feel compelled to order it every time I see it on a menu.  The best mac and cheese is at Equinox.  The dish is creamy, cheesy goodness with crunchy crust.  Best of all, it includes truffle oil.  Period.  Chef Gray is the master.

I’m from Maryland, the home of Old Bay and the crab cake, so it’s no surprise that this item is on my must-have list.  Restaurants all over Maryland, Virginia and the District claim to have the best crab cakes.  The truth is the best crab cakes outside of my Mom’s kitchen can be found at OceanaireTheir crab cakes are huge mounds of jumbo lump crab meat and are simply served with a delicious mustard sauce and a wedge of lemon.  Nothing else is needed.

 

Cupcakes were HUGE in the DC area in 2009 and 2010.  It seemed like every metro stop opened a new cupcakery, and the Washington Post even had its own cupcake wars to pick the best.  I did my part and tried out as many places as possible.  Anything for research right?  My favorites are still from Georgetown Cupcake and Sweetbites.  I love all of the seasonal flavors and light frosting from Georgetown Cupcake.  Sweetbites stole my heart with their pina colada cupcake and their cupcake shortcake.  Oh and did I mention that they run the whole operation out of a truck, which is often located around Farragut Square?!

I love breakfast foods and could eat them all day, which leads me to the next item on my list, cinnamon rolls.  I have yet to find a good place to get these besides Cinnabon, and have been forced to make my own imperfect version (see upcoming post).  Please write me in the comments if you have suggestions of where to find them.  Pillsbury’s version just doesn’t cut it.

 The last but certainly not least item on my list is the Avgolemono Soup from Greek Deli.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of the soup, but trust me you need to try this. Don’t be intimidated by the long line or Kostas barking at everyone in the long line.  The soup is worth it.  It’s the best lemony, chicken and orzo soup ever.  If I’m sick, I want this soup.  If it’s cold, I want this  soup.  If it’s Wednesday, I want this soup.  I even order this soup during hot and humid DC summers, which pretty much says it all.

What’s in your top 5 list and where can I find it? 

Cold Weather Comfort Food

9 Jan

Yesterday I woke up to a gray sky, a dusting of snow, and howling wind.  I am not a cold weather person, and immediately thought it would take another force of nature to even get me outside.  It turns out that all I really needed was to peek in my bare fridge to get motivated and brave the cold to head to the store.    Today was a perfect day for comfort food.  Enter easy chicken and dumplings!

This recipe is easy and can be personalized to include all of things you like in a chicken soup/stew.  It’s also perfect for a lazy day because it doesn’t require a lot of babysitting the pot, and because I used a few shortcuts in the kitchen (rotisserie chicken, store-bought stock, Bisquick mix).

Easy Chicken and Dumplings (serves 3-4)

The soup ingredients:

  • 1 tbs of olive oil
  • 2 tbs of butter
  • half of a bag of baby carrots, chopped (about 8 oz.)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • half a rotisserie chicken, shredded
  • 1 tsp of dried sage
  • 1 box frozen peas
  • salt and pepper to taste

The dumpling ingredients:

  • 2 cups of Bisquick mix
  • 2/3 cup of skim milk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp dried sage

In a large pot, melt the tbs of olive oil and 2 tbs of butter over medium high heat.  Add chopped carrots, onions, and 2 bay leaves to the pot.  Cook veggies and  bay leaves for approx. 5 minutes or until they become tender.

Then add 6 cups of  chicken stock and tbs of dried sage.  Now it’s time to start checking the taste of  your broth.  Feel free to adjust the seasoning with a little pinch (or several pinches) of salt and pepper to your taste. 

Increase the heat to high to bring the soup to a boil.  While you wait, shred half a rotisserie chicken into bite-sized pieces and add to pot.  Remember, your chicken is already cooked, so you don’t want to overdo it!  Boil for 2 minutes while you make the dumplings.In a medium mixing bowl add 2 cups of Bisquick mix with 2/3 cup skim milk.  Add tsp of salt, tsp of pepper, and tsp of dried sage and mix with a wooden spoon until it forms a sticky dough.  This should only take a minute.

Reduce heat to medium low and drop spoonfuls of  dumpling dough into the pot.  Cook uncovered for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, break up the dumplings in the pot and flip them over.  Don’t worry if they fall apart, that just means you’ll have mini dumplings and some in every bite.  Once you’ve flipped the dumplings, cover the pot and cook for 10 more minutes.  As soon as you hear the timer, get yourself a ladle and a glass of milk to drink. 

YUM!  This soup is cozy and a welcome accompaniment to any movie or tv marathon.  It looks just perfect and it is, well…except for the part about adding the peas!  I completely forgot about them. 😉  If you want to add them to your soup, put them in the pot at the same time as the shredded chicken and sage.  I think they add a little bit of sweetness and some more color.

If not, I promise this soup can stand on its own without them!  My stomach is already growling in anticipation of the leftovers.

My Philosophy

2 Jan

My name is Megan, and I’m a perfectionist.  Ok, I admit it…glad we got that out-of-the-way!  I obsess over details, and could spend the rest of my life editing the same document (or posting). 

Here’s the thing, I don’t believe in perfection in the kitchen.  Some of the best meals I’ve ever cooked have been by accident or a bit off.  Dishes don’t need to look like the cover of Gourmet magazine to be delicious.  I firmly believe cooking should be fun first, and should never be stressful!  

Join me on my blog as I create and test yummy recipes.  I’ll show you my version of success, and also provide some local restaurant recommendations along the way.