Friday, September 30, 2011

Tilapia with Tomato-Herb Pan Sauce

Thanks to my nutrition class, I was forced to acknowledge some wince-inducing nutrient imbalances, so I've been trying lately to really vary my diet and experiment with more in the kitchen.  So, onto my grocery list went fish and cherry tomatoes.

Now, the cherry tomatoes bit may seem odd to you, but here's the thing: I don't particularly love tomatoes.  Tomato sauce, yes - give me a great basil marinara and I will grin from ear to ear.  But tomatoes?
Raw ones kinda give me the skeeves.
And get cherry tomatoes out of my sight.  Pretty much completely.  They're so much worse than regular tomatoes, especially raw.  Gag me.

But for the sake of my nutrition, cherry tomatoes were purchased.  And cooked.
And consumed with delight.

I had seen Chicken with Tomato-Herb Pan Sauce all over the place - like here and here and here - and I was really intrigued despite my loathing for all things tomato.  But I looked at how they were cooked and thought, blackened and juicy with herbs and wine is good... so I faced my skeevy feelings and made the dish, just substituting tilapia filets for the chicken.

Lord Almighty, was that a fantastic idea.

The tilapia was light and flaky, complimented beautifully by the richness of the tomato pan sauce.  And herb butter may be the best culinary invention ever.  Besides frosting.
Even better, this meal came together in pretty much record time.  For something that looks, smells, and tastes this fancy, it was nothing short of magical!  And now I fully understand the blogosphere's obsession with this dish, since I'm obsessed with it too.  I'll have to try it with the original chicken sometime :)

Tilapia with Tomato-Herb Pan Sauce
Source: slightly adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2011 via Cook Like a Champion

2 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp dried oregano (or 1 1/2 tsp fresh)
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tilapia filets 
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp olive oil
2 cups (11-12 oz) cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup vegetable broth
splash of dry wine (white is preferable but I used red and it turned out just fine)

In a small bowl, mix together the butter, garlic, oregano, and paprika.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.
Preheat the oven to its lowest possible temperature and measure out flour onto a plate or a sheet of wax paper.  Season the fish filets liberally with salt and pepper on both sides, then dredge lightly in flour, shaking off the excess.
Melt one tablespoon of the seasoned butter with the olive oil in a skillet over high heat.  Reduce the heat to medium-high when the butter stops foaming.  Place the fish filets in the skillet and cook for about 4 minutes on each side, until the fish is browned on the outside and white and flaky on the inside.  Transfer the fish to a clean oven-safe pan or plate and place in the oven while you make the pan sauce.
Increase the heat under the skillet to high and add the tomatoes to the pan, stirring occasionally until they begin to char and burst.  Add the remaining tablespoon of herb butter to the pan.  Crush the tomatoes slightly with your wooden spoon to help them release their juices, scraping the bottom of the pan to release the flavorful brown bits on the bottom.  Stir in the broth and wine and allow to cook down for a couple minutes.  Remove the fish from the oven, adding any juices that accumulated on the dish to the skillet.  Plate the tilapia filets and top with the tomato sauce - the combination is particularly tasty with rice and a green vegetable.  Enjoy!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Skillet Cornbread

Cornbread is one of those things that people totally disagree on.

People up north think that cornbread ought to be sweet and fluffy, almost like unfrosted yellow cake that happens to, well, taste like corn.

That's called Yankee Cornbread.

Southern-style cornbread is denser and crumblier, living more up to the title of cornbread.  It's also much more savory and goes beautifully with beans, soups, stews, and chili.

And here's the part where I show my bias:
Southern cornbread is real cornbread.

Not to say that Yankee cornbread isn't delicious.  Because it is.  It's wonderful.
But it's not what I grew up on.  And therefore it must always include Yankee in its title.

My mom always sweetens her cornbread lightly with honey, bakes it up in a cast-iron skillet, and serves it with savory and spicy meals.  Skillet cornbread for me is a little taste of home, which is exactly what I wanted when I made this.

Now, this isn't the recipe I grew up with, but I altered the recipe I had to more resemble my childhood treat - I swapped out the white sugar for honey and baked it in a skillet, then served it with the super-easy-yet-super-tasty Black Bean and Salsa Soup.  It just...made me happy :)

As real cornbread always does.

Golden Yellow Skillet Cornbread
Source: adapted from the recipe on the Indian Head Cornmeal package 

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup white whole wheat flour
3 tbsp honey
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup milk
2 egg whites, beaten

Preheat the oven to 425˚F.  Grease a 10-10.5 inch cast iron skillet and set aside.
Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Mix oil, honey, egg whites, and milk together and add to the dry ingredients, mixing just until the batter is uniform.
Pour into the prepared skillet and smooth out the top.  Bake for 20-25 minutes - the cornbread should be lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center will come out clean.
Serve with beans, soup, stew, or chili, or even just with butter and honey.  Enjoy!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Black Bean and Salsa Soup

This, my friends, is my go-to I-have-zero-time-to-cook-this-week recipe.

Bonus?  It's totally healthy.

Extra huge bonus?  It's really tasty.

Thanks to my first week of rehearsals every night, I needed a quick and easy meal that would take a short time to put together, would fill me up enough to make it through long rehearsals, and would last as leftovers for a few days.  When I first found this soup over on Annie's Eats I immediately added it to my menu plan for that week.

When it only took 15 minutes to get it on the table, it became a standby.

This was the perfect dinner for my crazy week - healthy, hearty, spicy, and comforting.  Served with steamed cauliflower and Southern-style skillet cornbread (recipe coming soon!), it made for a delicious well-rounded meal.

Black Bean and Salsa Soup
Source: Annie's Eats

2 15-oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1.5 cups vegetable broth
1 cup salsa
1 tsp cumin
Mexican cheese (for topping)

Place the beans, broth, salsa, and cumin in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse until the mixture is fairly smooth - I like my soup to have quite a bit of texture, so I don't process it very long, but do it according to your tastes.  Transfer the soup to a saucepan and heat over medium heat until it is hot through.  Serve immediately in bowls topped with Mexican cheese - whole grain tortillas or cornbread are also fantastic additions.  Enjoy the meal - and how quickly you made it!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Congo Bars

Another instance where baking for friends paid off.

Remember those three shows I'm involved in this semester?  Well, one of them is a choreography showcase, which we had auditions for this week.  All of the choreographers had to stay after auditions to cast our pieces and create a rehearsal schedule.

Translation: we were going to be there for a while and we needed food.

Our director provided a delicious and healthy dinner, but I received a request (read: demand) for dessert.  I didn't have time to make cupcakes, which I'm now famous for in our dance department - seriously, who said dancers don't eat?? - but when I saw these Congo Bars in an email update from Michelle of Brown Eyed Baker I knew I had a solution.

The bars were incredibly easy to assemble - melted butter is combined with brown sugar, then eggs and vanilla are added, followed by the addition of the dry ingredients and the chunky bits - and came together in a cinch the night before auditions.  My roommates and I did a taste test (for quality control purposes, of course!) and when I served them the following night, there were yummy groans throughout the room.

These may be the most addictive treats...ever.  They're rich, moist, and chock full of chewy toasted coconut, crunchy pecans, and melty semisweet and white chocolate chips, with a shiny crackly top like the fudgiest of brownies.  Every bite reveals a new flavor combination...which means you want to keep taking bites.  Forever.
One of my roommates asked me to hide the leftovers to ensure that Jon got to taste one.  All of us became instantly hooked.

Congo Bars have now officially been dubbed Crack Blondies in our apartment.

And I highly encourage that you get your butt to your kitchen and mix up a batch of said Crack Blondies.  You will be happy you did...just be prepared to want half the pan.
See the one I'm holding?
It was totally warmed up and smothered in cookie dough ice cream and chocolate syrup a couple hours later. 
You know you want to...
Congo Bars (a.k.a. Crack Blondies)
Source: Brown Eyed Baker, originally adapted from Baking Illustrated
Yield: however many bars you want to cut from a 9x13" pan

1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1½ cups light brown sugar
2 eggs
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ cups shredded coconut, toasted (I used sweetened, but the original recipe calls for unsweetened)
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup white chocolate chips 

Set an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350˚F.  Coat a 9x13 pan with cooking spray and line with parchment paper, leaving overhang on each side as "handles" for later.  Set aside. 
Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.  Set aside. 
Mix together the melted butter and brown sugar in a large bowl until well combined.  Add the eggs and vanilla and stir until totally incorporated.  Sprinkle the dry ingredients on top of the butter mixture and stir to combine, being careful not to overmix - a couple of lumps will be fine.  Fold in the coconut, pecans, semisweet and white chocolate chips with a rubber spatula.  At this stage, try to resist eating what you see and smell inside your mixing bowl.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread with the spatula until even.  Bake for 22-25 minutes, or until the top of the bars are shiny and cracked and feels firm to the touch.  Allow to cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack.  Lift from the pan using your parchment paper handles and cut into desired size bars.  Serve and enjoy!
Then try not to eat a second one.
Go ahead.  I dare you.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Banana Walnut Muffins

I love bananas.  My snack pretty much every day is a banana with a tablespoon of peanut butter.  When I feel the urge to bake, I usually have ripe bananas on the counter.  Banana breads, cakes, muffins, cookies, or, well, basically anything banana - you name it, I probably love it.  And want to make it.  May have already made it, in fact.

There's only one problem: Jon is allergic to bananas.
I can't eat them anywhere near him or he'll get nauseous.  And the super-ripe ones I use for baking make him feel even worse.

Long story short, these muffins were not for him.  This is my go-to muffin recipe and I made them when I wasn't going to see him for a few days.  And I was blissfully happy whenever I was eating one of these moist, sweet, sporadically crunchy, moderately healthy treats.  Particularly if it was topped with mascarpone cheese and a little bit of honey...heaven.  If you're not a walnut fan, substitute anything you want - pecans, blueberries, peanut butter or chocolate chips, shredded coconut...or add in any of the above to make these muffins even more stellar than they already are!

Banana Walnut Muffins
Source: barely adapted from For the Love of Cooking
Yield: 12 muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 egg whites
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt (I used nonfat)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large, very ripe bananas
1/2 cup of walnuts, crushed a bit

Preheat the oven to 350˚F and make sure a rack is centered.  Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray and set aside. 
In a medium bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and sugars and whisk them together.  In a large bowl, mash the bananas until they are smooth, then add the egg whites, vegetable  oil, yogurt, and vanilla extract and whisk until smooth.  Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients without overmixing - the batter should still have a few lumps in it.  Fold in the walnuts with a rubber spatula.
Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups and bake for 20-22 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.  Transfer pan to a cooling rack until cool enough to handle.  Serve muffins slightly warm with toppings of choice - though they don't need toppings to be delicious!  Enjoy!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Pappa al Pomodoro

There are certain foods that I get major, major cravings for.

Bacon cheeseburgers
Chocolate cake
Ice cream
White Chocolate Wonderful and banana sandwiches
Chicken or duck fried rice (cravings especially frequent in Buffalo, where there is no really good Chinese food)
Shrimp Pad Thai
Fettucine Alfredo
Anything with pesto

The last one is capitalized because I could eat thick, chunky, hearty soup for lunch and dinner pretty much every day of the week.
Virtually every time I went to Panera over the summer, I got their Garden Vegetable soup.  Most of those times, it was over 90 degrees outside and humid to boot.
Did I care?
Nope.  I wanted soup.

One of the first things I wanted to make when I got back to Buffalo was soup.  Maybe it's because I associate Buffalo with bone-chilling winters that only steaming hot bowls of goodness can cure, or maybe it's because I took a look at the cans of crushed tomatoes I had just bought and immediately thought of grilled cheese and tomato soup.

Add grilled cheese to my list of major cravings.

I found the base recipe for this tomato-and-bread soup on Annie's Eats - big shock, since it's one of my all-time favorite blogs - and decided to change up the veggies a bit to use what I had on hand.  It appealed to me both because it could be a total pantry meal and because it's not a pureed soup - the more chunks the better, in my book.
The result?  A thick, hearty, chunky tomato soup that put a gigantic smile on every person's lips through which it passed.  Served with a salad, it became a complete meal - and one of my new favorites!

Another plus: this makes a HUGE batch of soup - enough for me to live on for a week with extras for my roommate and fiancĂ©.  When company season kicks up, I need to live off of leftovers for days at a time.  Large quantity of tasty leftovers = major win.

Long story short: this recipe comes highly recommended from me.  If you're as big of a soup person as I am, make this and you'll be doing your happy dance in no time.

[By the way, if you need a Dutch oven in which to make this tasty soup - which I highly recommend using - mosey on over to She's Becoming Doughmesstic's Le Creuset giveaway!  She's a great blogger and you might get awesome cookware out of it!]

Pappa al Pomodoro (Tomato and Bread Soup)
Source: adapted from Annie's Eats, originally from Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics by Ina Garten

1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 large zucchini, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tsp dried basil
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups cubed stale country bread, crusts removed
2-28oz cans crushed Italian tomatoes
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I used vegetable)
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 tbsp Kosher salt
1-1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
2 large handfuls fresh baby spinach leaves
Croutons, for serving
Shredded Parmesan cheese, for serving

Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat.  Add the onions, zucchini, dried basil, and garlic.  Cook for 10 minutes, until tender.  Add the bread cubes and cook for 5 more minutes. Add the tomatoes to the pot along with the chicken or vegetable stock, red wine, salt and pepper.  Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and allow to simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes.  Beat the soup with a wire whisk to break up the bread pieces.  Stir in the spinach leaves and allow to wilt.  Serve topped with croutons (I made my own out of the leftover bread) and shredded Parmesan cheese.  Enjoy!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes

If you begin to notice that a week or more has passed between posts, that's because my senior year of college has begun...and has brought with it both awesome opportunities and a crazy schedule.  This semester, I'm involved in three shows.  Three.  I'm never seeing daylight again.  But I am excited :)  So apologies in advance for sporadic and intermittent posting - I promise I still love you and want to give you tasty things to make!

And on that note:
I really do love baking for friends.

In exchange for paying my share of a small cab fare on a night out, one of my girlfriends asked me to bake cupcakes to bring to the party she and her roommates were hosting the next weekend.  So, when the next Friday rolled around, I gathered up the ingredients to make an incredible-looking cake recipe from Foodie with Family into cupcakes.

The original layer cake was a towering four-layer cinnamon-vanilla butter cake slathered with a silky-smooth brown sugar-cinnamon buttercream frosting.  The thick batter bakes up into a not-too-sweet, moist, tender cupcake with just the right amount of spice from the cinnamon. 
I figured it would be a good amount of batter for a party-sized batch of cupcakes, and was I ever right - this recipe made 32 cupcakes!  My carrier only holds 24, so I had some "quality control" cupcake samples left at home ;)

And the buttercream...ohhhh the buttercream.  I halved the recipe, as is reflected below.  And 32 cupcakes later, I still had over a cup of frosting left.  This frosting is intense, y'all - spicy, sweet, smooth, and rich as could be.  I can't wait to figure out what to do with the leftovers!

And why do I love baking for friends so much?
Because of the look on their faces after they take their first bite.
The reactions were priceless - I wish I'd had my camera! - but the general consensus was that these cupcakes were to die for.  Everyone who tasted one melted as soon as the first taste hit their tongue.  One of my friends consumed four of them at one shot!  (Granted he was...welll...intoxicated...but hey, they were good!)

I highly suggest you give these a try the next time you're getting together with a bunch of friends!  Everyone will be happy you did :)

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes
Source: lightly adapted from Foodie with Family
Yield: approximately 32 cupcakes


For the cupcakes:
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 sticks butter, softened to room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups milk, warmed to room temperature (I used vanilla almond milk)

For the buttercream
2-1/4 sticks butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4-5 cups confectioner's (powdered) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup heavy cream, plus more if needed

To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 325˚F.  Line two cupcake pans with paper liners and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.  Set aside.
In the bowl of a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition to combine.
Mix together the vanilla extract and milk.  Beat 1/3 of the flour mixture into the batter in the mixer bowl, then 1/3 of the milk mixture.  Continue alternating until all of both mixtures have been added and fully incorporated into a smooth batter.
Spoon 1/4 cup of batter into each cupcake liner.  There will be leftover batter - save it to bake into more cupcakes after the first batch have come out of the oven, or place into a third lined pan if you have one.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through the baking time.  Cool in the pans on cooling racks for 5 minutes before removing from the pans.  Cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon with a mixer until pale and fluffy.  Add three cups of the confectioners sugar and beat, starting at low speed and increasing to high, until it is fully incorporated.  Scrape down the bowl, add the cream, and beat to incorporate.  Add the remaining cup of powdered sugar and beat low-to-high speed until fully combined.  If the frosting's too thick for your liking, add more cream 1 tablespoon at a time until it's right.  If it is too thin, add more powdered sugar.

Frost the cooled cupcakes as desired, with either an offset spatula or a piping bag and tip.  Serve and enjoy!