March 27, 2015

Five on Friday (03.27.15)

1) Sick
Ugh, for the umpteeth time this winter, I am under the weather.  I can't quite tell if it's a cold or if my allergies are out of control (quite possibly the latter, thank you spring), but either way, I've been feeling fairly miserable.  Any time I am not completely upright, I'm filled with so much mucus that I can't breathe... so I've basically spent the past 3 nights up all night on the couch.  Last light I even bailed on my quasi-reclining position on the couch around 3am and went upstairs to hang out with our new foster cat (see more below).  I sat on a dog bed, petting the dog with my left hand and the cat with my right hand, unsuccessfully trying to fall asleep sitting cross-legged leaning against the wall, until my husband came in around 7am.  Needless to say, I think I'm going to cancel our dinner plans tonight because I think I'd much rather spend the evening zoned out on the couch than trying to eat food I won't really taste anyway.

2) Russet/Farm & Fisherman/Serpico
Another busy week for us restaurant-wise -- four dinners out (one was medicore at Entree, so I'm not including it - but the company was great!  So nice to catch up with you, Brian and Athas - let's get together again before you move!)

First up, Russet.  My parents came out to visit two weekends ago, and at the last minute I changed our reservations to Russet (#39 on the Philly Top 50 list).  I've been here once before with a friend, so it wasn't new to me, but my husband had yet to stop in, and I thought my parents might enjoy it more than the restaurant where I originally made reservations.  It's a small, cozy BYOB, which (like everywhere else these days) focus on farm-to-table cooking with a regularly changing menu.  The four of us shared an order of the gnocchi and the mushroom ravioli to start - both of which were excellent.  It seems appropriate given the name, and I'd definitely recommend anyone get the gnocchi if you drop in.  I will say that while we all enjoyed the food, the service was not quite up to par with the other restaurants we've been dining at lately.  Personally, I'd always rather have excellent food and just okay service than the other time around, but a quick perusal of Yelp reviews shows that many other people disagree, so... if you feel that way, Russet may not be fore you.

Last weekend, we had an early dinner at Farm & Fisherman (#26 on the Philly Top 50 list) before heading to the symphony.  It snowed all day and it was a treacherous 1.5 mile walk to the restaurant -- I'm not sure I've ever been so glad to arrive somewhere in one piece after all that slipping and sliding!  Also a BYO, the restaurant was awarded the best Farm-to-Table Restaurant award in 2012... do you notice a trend here in all these restaurants?  We really, really enjoyed everything we had here -- we started with the only thing that remains constant on the menu all the time -- the "bloody beat steak", which is essentially a giant roasted beet prepared like a steak.  It was fantastic -- that earthy, rustic beet taste, served warm, caramelized on the outside, over house made yogurt -- even my husband really liked it, and he's not normally a big beet person.  We split the risotto next (with arborio rice grown locally in New Jersey - who knew they grew such things nearby?), and then had the striped bass (me) and lamb (him) for dinner.  The restaurant is located just a few blocks from the Kimmel Center and so many other theaters in the area, so it's perfect for a pre-show dinner -- highly recommended!

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Finally, we headed to Serpico (#9 on the Philly Top 50 list) last Saturday.  Serpico is billed as contemporary American fare, but it has a lot of Korean influences.  In summary, we LOVED it, and you should absolutely go if you're in the area.  We started with the corn ravioli, which were the perfect combination of slightly sweet from the corn, but a little spicy, and an order of the Korean fried chicken wings for my husband.  I'm not really a meat eater -- I was a total pescatarian for 15 years and will now try bites of meat here and there, but I generally don't care for it.  At my husband's urging, I tried a bite of the wings, and it's the only chicken I've had that didn't immediately make me cringe (I normally cannot stand poultry).  Despite the chili paste, the sauce was sweet and flavorful, and the wings were perfectly crispy.  My first (and likely only) chicken wing tasting was a success!  For dinner, my husband ordered the duck breast, smoked in a traditional Korean manner, and I had a kimchi and tomato stew - perfect for clearing out the sinuses for the start of my allergy issues!  We were so full, I wound up taking half the stew home afterward, and my Korean labmate was fascinated and wanted a full recount of our dinner, and promptly made reservations himself to go check it out. 

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3) March Madness
So, uh, anyone actually doing well this year?  I... am not.  I'm participating in bracket challenges for both my lab and the #DarwinsBalls charity tournament among the science crowd on Twitter, and... yeah.  Not going to win anything this year.  My dog also fills out her very own bracket every year (indicating which team she would like with a tap of her paw or nose), but she's not doing too well, either.  Interestingly, she chose the same team to win this year as she did last year -- it appears our dog is a big Arizona fan.

4) Foster Cat
As mentioned above, we have a new four-legged visitor in our house.  I'm not sure if I've mentioned it on my food blog before, but I usually foster a few litters of kittens every spring/summer.  For various reasons, I'm not able to do so this year, but we did take in a slightly older cat for a few weeks.  He's been pretty stressed in the shelter so I'm hoping a little time in a home will help him chill out.  Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to be as much of a dog lover as the shelter promised, so he doesn't get free run of the house yet since he keeps trying to sneak attack our dog.  Hopefully they'll work out their differences soon.  If you happen to know anyone in the Philadelphia area looking to adopt a cat, please refer them my way!  "Jinxy" is somewhere in the 2-4 year old range, a male found as a stray in West Philly, and extremely playful.

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5) Weekend
We have a pretty busy day tomorrow, mostly full of errands.  We're heading out to Lancaster to visit a friend we haven't seen since college, and since we'll be doing the trek way out to suburban-ville, we have a list of all sorts of places we want to stop (Target, craft store, Benjamin Moore for paint samples, Wegmans, etc).   A friend of my husband's from medical school is in town, so hopefully we'll get to spend some time with him, and otherwise, it will be a weekend of pre-Passover spring cleaning.  I thought we would dodge the Seder boat this year since my husband is on call all day both Saturday and Sunday next weekend, but when I threw out this tidbit when my parents asked what our plans were, they immediately responded with "No problem! We'll come to you!"  -- and thus, I am now hosting Seder next weekend.  I think most of the menu is pretty well planned, although I'm always looking for new and exciting desserts -- any suggestions?

Have a great weekend, friends!

March 26, 2015

Lemon Chickpea Shallot Casserole

In case you missed it, Bunsen Burner Bakery now has a home on Facebook.  You can find the page here – a great way to receive notifications of future recipes if you don’t subscribe via e-mail or an RSS feed!

Everyone who cooks or bakes has something they just can’t seem to master in the kitchen.  I know so many wonderful chefs who don’t like to bake, or hate making bite-sized appetizers, or have never had a loaf of bread properly rise.  Inversely, it seems even more common to love to bake, but have no interest or talent when it comes to cooking savory components for dinner.  I enjoy both baking and cooking, but my own personal kitchen nemesis has always been the seemingly simple casserole.

lemon chickpea shallot casserole

Yes, that’s right, the casserole – the one-dish meal popular with 1950s housewives everywhere.  Believe me, I’ve tried my fair share of casseroles in the kitchen, but I’ve never found one that I’ve actually liked.  I’m unsure if this is because I’m doing something wrong, or if my husband and I just aren’t “casserole people”.  It doesn’t matter how many people swear that their husband thinks this particular casserole was the best thing they ever ate… mine always just says “meh” in response to my attempts.  And yet despite all the failures, I keep trying – because I love the idea of the casserole.  A one dish meal that can be prepared ahead of time and popped in the oven as soon as you get home from work?  It sounds amazing, especially for those nights that I don’t leave the lab until 8pm and don’t have the time or energy to start cooking a complex dinner at 9:00 at night.

lemon chickpea shallot casserole

All this considered, you can imagine my shock when even my chickpea-disliking husband willingly ate this casserole, and even dared to say that it was good.  For him, it falls firmly in the “side, not main dish” category, but it’s easy enough to grill a chicken breast while this is in the oven and call it dinner.  For me, it’s a perfect dinner or lunch on its own, or something I’d even serve to casual company, accompanied with a nice, crisp salad and something delicious for dessert.  It’s a modern take on those heavy cream-of-something laden casseroles from the 70s – fresh and bright, with lemons and shallots, warm and creamy inside with a nice crispy parmesan crust.  Make it the day before and pop it in the oven after work, make it the day of, or make it well ahead of time and freeze it; you really can’t go wrong.  And if I can manage to make this casserole, I assure you that you can, too.

lemon chickpea shallot casserole

Lemon Chickpea Shallot Casserole
Adapted from Not Your Mother’s Casseroles*

Ingredients:

  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 3/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 3 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • 4 shallots, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lemon, juiced and zested
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2/3 cup panko or dried bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped herbs (I like a combination of parsley and oregano)
  • olive oil, for drizzling

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F and lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking dish.
  2. Beat the eggs in a large bowl.  Add in the cottage cheese, yogurt, and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese.  Stir in the chickpeas, rice, shallots, garlic, and lemon zest and juice.  Season with salt and pepper and stir in the herbs.
  3. Spread the mixture into the baking dish and top with the remaining Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs.  Drizzle with olive oil and bake for 45 minutes, until golden and bubbling.  Allow the casserole to stand for 10 minutes before serving.

*Amazon Affiliate Link

March 24, 2015

Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Scones

My weekday morning routine is pretty standard and boring: wake up, walk dog, go to the gym, head to work.  In between the gym and work, I stop by Au Bon Pain and get a medium oatmeal for breakfast.  Sure, I could bring in my own oatmeal, but stopping at ABP means I also get a complementary giant cup of ice, which I can use to keep my water ice-cold for at least half the day (I hate drinking room temperature water, but we have no potable ice available in the labs).  Of course, the oatmeal at ABP is right next to the bakery display cases, which means every morning I do a little mental debate between oatmeal and oh, say, a bagel with cream cheese, a croissant, AND a scone (because why just have one?).  Fortunately, I always make the better decision, but after eyeing the scones up for the past 8 months, I really wanted to bake some of my own.

chocolate chip cinnamon scones

Unfortunately, I didn’t want to be left with an entire batch of scones to eat by myself (because I know I would, and that totally defeats the purpose of dragging myself to the gym, which I really really hate).   But then my friend and fellow neighborhood resident @Dr24hours went to Spain for 10 days (so jealous) and asked if I’d bring in his mail and check on his house in his absence.  The weekend before his return, we had a particularly snowy day (enough snow that his flight was cancelled and he enjoyed an extra day in Madrid!) and I spent the afternoon baking a batch of scones to leave in his kitchen to welcome him home.  Yeah, I’m a pretty awesome neighbor – what can I say?

chocolate chip cinnamon scones

Most scone recipes out there call for forming a flat-ish disc of dough and slicing into 8 wedges, like a pie.  You can certainly do this, but I prefer to very gently roll my dough out and cut with a biscuit cutter, or use an ice cream scoop.  Why?  Well, it’s easier to portion out the dough – instead of 8 giant scone wedges, I was able to get 20 round scones.  This makes it easy to share while still having a taste (or two) yourself.  I’d feel awkward dropping off six wedges that fit perfectly into a circle with two pieces missing, but never think twice about leaving someone a dozen circular scones!  These scones are still light, despite rolling them out, but have just the right amount of crunch on the outside.  Definitely don’t overbake them – my dog distracted me for one of the batches and they came out a little too crispy for my liking.  We kept a few at home and found that they were still soft three to four days later, so go ahead and bake a batch at night and enjoy them for breakfast the next morning!

Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Scones
Adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup miniature chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
  2. Whisk together the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl.  Use a box grater or microplane to grate the frozen butter into the bowl and toss to combine.  Using your fingers or a pastry cutter, work the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse sand.
  3. Whisk together the cream, egg, and vanilla in a small bowl.  Add the liquid ingredients to the flour mixture and stir together with a rubber spatula just until everything appears moistened – do not overmix.  Gently fold in the chocolate chips.
  4. Work the dough into a ball with floured hands and place between two pieces of wax paper.  Very, very gently, roll the dough out with a rolling pin, to a thickness of about an inch and cut with a 2 to 2.5-inch biscuit cutter.  Alternatively, scoop the dough with an ice cream scoop.  Place the cut or scooped dough onto the baking sheet.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly golden but cooked through (don’t overbake!).  Remove from the oven and cool on the sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool thoroughly.  Leftover scones will keep for 3 to 4 days at room temperature, or frozen for several months.

March 19, 2015

Garlic Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits

I love baking yeast breads, but there's no denying that it's a time commitment.  Even if the hands-on time isn't much, waiting for the yeast to rise means that a freshly-baked loaf of bread really isn't a weeknight option. Biscuits make a great quick alternative, and drop biscuits make it an even easier option since there's no rolling and cutting the dough. I like to make mine extra garlicky and add in some shredded cheddar (because cheese makes everything better) and serve them alongside soups, stews, or chili as an alternative to traditional crusty breads or cornbread. I think that this particular batch was paired alongside a very hands-off batch of red beans and rice from the crockpot (recipe forthcoming), making the entire dinner a perfect "stuck at work late" weeknight option.

garlic cheddar buttermilk biscuits

These have obviously been my go-to drop biscuit recipe for quite a while, since I found the picture below in my “foods to blog” folder with a “created” date back in 2011!  (Sidenote: I love looking through my very old pictures of foods I never got around to blogging on my prior not-food-related blog… it’s always such a flashback to old apartments, memories of fun nights with friends, and dishes long forgotten.)  I only make these biscuits two or three times a year, since we don’t eat much bread at home, but they’re always a hit, and oh-so-simple to make.  They also reheat beautifully – just pop them back into a 325F oven for a few minutes the next day, and they’re just as good as the first day!

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Garlic Cheddar Buttermilk Drop Biscuits
Yield: 12 biscuits

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, frozen or very cold
  • 1 cup cheddar, grated
  • 1 cup buttermilk

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, and garlic powder.
  3. Grate (or cut into small cubes) the butter into the flour mixture and blend with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse sand.  There will still be pea-sized lumps of butter in the mixture.  Stir in the shredded cheddar.
  4. Make a well in the center of the bowl and pour in the buttermilk.  Mix gently with a spoon until the dry ingredients are just moistened and the dough comes together into a lumpy ball.
  5. Scoop the biscuits onto the parchment lined sheet, roughly 1/3 cup per biscuit.  Bake for 15 minutes, until the top just starts to turn a light golden brown.

March 17, 2015

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Dip

Let’s backtrack several weeks to the Super Bowl.  I mentioned back in this post what I made for our Super Bowl party.  Desserts were challenging – I didn’t want to make anything like cake or pie, which requires cutting and serving, but I made most of my go-to bite-size desserts at one of the two parties we hosted in the previous two months (our annual Chrismukkah party and our New Years Eve party).  Add in the fact that I was busy most of the weekend, meaning there wasn’t much time for baking ahead of time, and my oven was doing double-duty on the day of the party with all the savory components.  Enter the need for a simple no-bake, no-utensils, one-handed dessert… like this chocolate chip cookie dough dip.

chocolate chip cookie dough dip

Who doesn’t love chocolate chip cookie dough?  99 times out of 100, I find the unbaked batter for any cake, cookie, tart, muffin, etc., tastier than the actual baked product.  But raw dough generally has eggs, and while I may be willing to take that risk for a bite or two, I’m certainly not going to serve something with raw eggs to any guests.  Why not just take my normal chocolate chip cookie recipe and leave out the eggs?  Well, it’s dense… really dense.  And while that might work just fine if everyone was going to dig in with a spoon, I wanted something lighter and fluffier, so people could scoop up the dip with the dipping vehicle of their choice (brownies, graham crackers, nilla wafers, pretzels, etc.).  Folding in some freshly-whipped cream did exactly this, making a scoopable dip with all safe-to-eat-raw components.  The dip was a big hit, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say the thought crossed my mind of making a scaled down version of this dip since then, for my own personal snacking pleasure.  I’ll definitely be making this again for parties – it’s so quick and easy, and I generally have all the ingredients on hand for a very last minute dessert!

chocolate chip cookie dough dip

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Dip
Adapted from: Erica’s Sweet Tooth

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup heavy cream, whipped
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • dipping sides: brownie bites, graham crackers, nilla wafers, pretzel bites, apple slices, bananas on toothpicks, etc.

Directions:

  1. Using an electric mixer, beat together the melted butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and vanilla until smooth.  With the mixer running on low, add in the flour and salt until just incorporated.
  2. Add half of the whipped cream and beat until smooth.  Fold in the other half of the whipped cream with a rubber spatula, until just mixed.  This will take a little time, but don’t rush it – folding slowly is the key to keeping the dip light and soft.
  3. Add in the chocolate chips and fold until incorporated.
  4. Serve with sides and refrigerate any leftovers.
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