Sunday, December 29, 2013

Back to Basics: French Toast

For years, I served as my dad's sous chef. He taught me almost everything I know about cooking, and he inspired my love of food.  Nowadays, there are few things my dad will willingly admit I cook better than he does.

However, this French Toast recipe is an exception. My dad and my siblings request this recipe every time I come home.  The vanilla and sugar in the recipe lends a slight sweetness to the French Toast, but it is not overwhelming or cloying.  

Buy yourself some challah, invite your friends or family over for brunch, and impress them with this recipe that is ready in under 15 minutes!

Challah French Toast
Adapted from The Best Recipe Cookbook
Makes 4-5 slices

1 large egg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for frying
3/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dash of ground cinnamon
4-5 slices of day old challah, 3/4 inch thick

Heat 10- to 12-inch skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, beat egg lightly in shallow pan or pie plate.  Whisk in butter, then milk and vanilla, and finally sugar, flour, salt, and cinnamon.  Whisk until smooth.

Soak bread in the egg mixture (but try not to oversaturate!) for about 40 seconds on each side.  Swirl 1 tablespoon butter into the hot pan.

Pick up bread from the egg mixture, and allow extra mixture to drip off.  

Place the prepared bread in the skilled, and cook until golden brown (about 1 minute and 45 seconds on the first side, and about 1 minute on the other side).  Serve immediately!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Home for the Holidays

I flew home to San Diego late last night, and I am so excited for a week full of the four F's: friends, family, football (GO CARDINAL!), and of course, food.

My sister has recently become obsessed with eggs.  I am actually quite happy with this, because she spent years refusing to eat any sort of eggs.  Today, she had a hankering for deviled eggs, so she and I whipped up a quick batch of them.  These are a perfect appetizer or snack--so easy to make, especially if you have hard-boiled eggs lying around in your refrigerator.  The recipe below is for traditional deviled eggs, but feel free to add in whatever herbs you like!  The possibilities are endless--curry, anchovies, capers, tarragon, etc.  

I have also included a recipe for hard-boiled eggs.  Hard-boiled eggs should never ever have gray yolks.  

Deviled Eggs

From Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything"
Serves 6

6 hard-boiled eggs
Salt to taste
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Paprika, as a garnish

  1. Cool, then peel the eggs.  Cut them in half the long way.  Carefully place the yolks in a medium sized bowl. 
  2. Mash the yolks with the salt, mayonnaise, mustard, and cayenne.  Taste, and adjust the seasoning to your preference.  Spoon the filling back into the whites. 
  3. Garnish with paprika and serve, or cover and chill, well wrapped, for up to a day before serving.

Hard-Boiled Eggs

Makes 6 eggs

Six eggs
Place six eggs in a medium saucepan, and fill up the pan until the water rises one inch above the eggs. 

Bring the eggs to a boil over high heat.  Remove pan from heat, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes.  

Meanwhile, fill a medium bowl with one quart of water, and one tray of ice cubes. 

Transfer the eggs to the ice water with a slotted spoon.  Let the eggs sit in the ice water for five minutes.
Peel the eggs and used as desired.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Grilled Sandwiches

Like a lot of people, I have a 40+ hour a week job, which means I often come home late or do not have the time to make an elaborate dinner every night.  Not being one to sacrifice taste for convenience, I really dislike frozen meals or ready-made soups that often leave me feeling a little bit disheartened after eating them.  My latest go-to quick meal has been a grilled sandwich and side salad.

Below is my one of my favorite grilled sandwich combinations--turkey, Gruyere cheese, apple slices, sautéed onions, and Dijon mustard.  Feel free to use whatever cheese and toppings you like though! Another favorite is pesto + Parmesan + turkey.

Grilled Turkey Sandwich
Makes 1 sandwich

2 tablespoons of butter
1/2 onion, chopped
2 slices of bread of choice (I like whole wheat, but choose whatever you like)
Dijon mustard
2 slices of deli turkey
Thinly cut slices of Gruyere cheese
1 Fuji, Honeycrisp, or Gala apple, cut into slices no more than 1/2 inch thick (As you can tell from the pictures, I cut my apple slices a little too thick!)
Sometimes, you got to be a little bit creative. 
  1. Heat a medium-sized fry pan over medium heat on the stove.  Add 1 tablespoon of butter.  When butter melts, add in chopped onions.
  2. Stir onions every once in a while until they turn brown (about 10-15 minutes). Remove onions from the pan.
  3. Swipe one side of each slice of bread with mustard.  Then build your sandwich,  adding the turkey, caramelized onions, apples, and then cheese to your sandwich.  
  4. Place fry pan on the stove, and begin heating the pan on medium heat.
  5. Coat one of the outer sides of bread with butter.  Place the sandwich buttered-side down on the pan.
  6. Now, you need to apply pressure to the sandwich in order to get a golden brown and crispy exterior.  I often place a plate on top of my sandwich to add pressure, as seen in the picture.
  7. When the bottom of the sandwich is brown and crispy (about 5 minutes), add butter to the top piece of bread, then flip the sandwich.
  8. Continue cooking until the other side of the sandwich is golden and crispy (about 5 minutes).

    Friday, December 20, 2013

    Back to Basics: Marinara Sauce

    Happy Friday!  Hope you all are having a fabulous start to the holiday weekend!  I had a crazy week at work with two client meetings, but I managed to get out of the office a little bit early today.  I got so many errands done between 3pm and 5pm--mailing holiday gifts, getting renters' insurance, shopping for more holiday gifts, and then working out.  I felt accomplished--especially after a week of staying late at the office.

    I wanted a cozy night in after finishing all my errands, especially because I have holiday parties and other events throughout the weekend.  Pasta, particularly pasta with marinara sauce, is an ultimate comfort food for me.

    Every person should know how to make a marinara sauce.  It is so easy to do, yet it throughly impresses people when you can whip ups some homemade marinara instead of relying on Prego, Trader Joe's or some other store bought brand. This recipe is my favorite because: it is ready in under 45 minutes, requires opening up a bottle of red wine (which means you just must have a glass or two with dinner), is vegetarian, and freezes nicely.

    I added roasted garlic chicken sausage from Trader Joe's to the sauce when I added in the canned tomatoes, parsley, salt, and black pepper.  It's a great way to add some protein in!

    Marinara Sauce
    from Ina Garten (makes 6 servings)

    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1 cup chopped yellow onion
    1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
    1/2 cup good red wine, like Chianti
    1 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
    1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
    1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
    1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

    1. Heat the olive oil in a large (at least 12-inch) skillet.  Add the onion and sautė over medium heat until translucent (basically, move the onions around in the pan every once in a while).  This should take 5-10 minutes.
    2. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.
    3. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. 
    4. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, salt, and pepper.  Cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 15 minutes.

    Friday, December 13, 2013

    The Good Wife & La Bonne Femme

    I rarely watch TV.  I watch Modern Family and Downton Abbey, but that's it.  And then my sister mentioned over Thanksgiving break that I should check out The Good Wife.  

    I have now watched fourteen episodes in one week, and I love it.  The plot is loosely based off of the Eliot Spitzer scandal a few years back, but focuses on a cheating politician's life after the scandal.  If you haven't watched it yet, I highly suggest doing so. 

    I also highly suggest you make the chicken recipe below.  I found this recipe for chicken with white wine sauce from a cookbook my dad recently bought me called The Bonne Femme Cookbook.  The cookbook focuses on simple, elegant French fare that many women in France excel at.  Bonne femme  literally means the good wife, but the French use it to describe a manner of cooking that is very popular with French women today--seasonal, fresh, straightforward, and elegant.  The recipe below is easy enough to make for a weeknight dinner, but fancy enough to serve your parents, a date, or anyone else you are trying to impress.

    Any Day Chicken Sauté
    From The Bonne Femme Cookbook

    4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
    3 tablespoons unsalted butter
    2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley, chives, or chevril (I actually used thyme here instead, and it was delicious as well!)
    1 large shallot, finely chopped
    3/4 cup low sodium chicken broth
    3/4 cup dry white wine
    1 tablespoon heavy cream (totally optional--I didn't use it!)

    1. Place the chicken breasts, one at a time, between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound to 1/4 inch thickness.  
    2. In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken and cook, turning once, until no longer pink inside, 6 to 8 minutes.  Transfer the chicken to a platter, sprinkle with herbs, and cover with foil to keep warm.
    3. Add the shallot to the pan and sauté briefly, until translucent.  Add the chicken broth and white wine to the pan.  Stir with a whisk to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Bring to a boil and boil until the liquid is reduced to about 1/2 cup.  Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon at a time.  If you like, add the cream.  Cook the sauce to the desire consistency, and season with salt and pepper.  Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve! 

    Monday, December 9, 2013

    Almond Toffee

    I decided that this year, I was going to send cute holiday cards to my friends.  It made sense at the time-I wanted to make sure my friends and family had my new address here in Washington, DC.  And of course, because I am some sort of overachieving masochist, I decided it would be cute to include little bags of homemade toffee.

    Waiting patiently for the toffee to cool down

    I have made close to five batches of toffee, and I still have 20 people on my holiday mailing list.  I really should have just sent cards, without the toffee.  My annoyance has nothing to do with the toffee recipe, rather just the sheer number of people I thought I could manage to send cards and candy to.  

    This recipe is simple, delicious, and leaves my house smelling like melted butter and sugar.  I love adding this toffee to my ice cream, cookies, and other treats.  

    My only advice: don't make enough for 30 people.  Just send cards--and save the toffee for yourself!
    And a beautiful close up...

    Almond Toffee from Bi-Rite Creamery
    Makes about 4 cups chopped toffee

    Nonstick cooking spray
    1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter
    3/4 cup sugar
    1/4 cup tapioca or corn syrup
    3 tablespoons water
    1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    1 cup toasted slivered almonds

    1. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, and spray with the nonstick cooking spray.
    2. Combine butter, sugar, tapioca syrup, water, and salt in a medium saucepan and attach a candy thermometer.  Put the pan over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon.  When the mixture reaches 300 degrees Fahrenheit, remove from heat.  The toffee should be dark amber in color.
    3. Stir in the toasted almonds. 
    4. Pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet, and use a heatproof spatula to spread it out to 1/4 inch thickness.  Be very careful--the toffee is hot!
    5. Let the toffee cool for about an hour. If the toffee looks too greasy after cooling, blot the toffee with a paper towel.  Break or chop the toffee into chunks.
    The toffee can be stored in an airtight container for a couple weeks.  

    Toasted Almonds
    To toast almonds, spear out the nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until golden and aromatic.  Whole nuts can take up to 15 minutes, while chopped nuts often take 5-10 minutes.  When the nuts are done, immediately pour them into a Pyrex bowl, and let them cool until you are ready to use them.  

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