Monday, March 28, 2011

Spiced Tofu Katsu

This past weekend my friend Missy flew down from San Francisco to visit me.  Missy and I have been friends since the very first minute of the very first day of high school, and though our friendship has ebbed and flowed over the years, it always remains a constant undercurrent in my life.  If I am feeling down or just need a good laugh, her smile is infectious and she has vast stores of hilarious comments at the ready.  (She knows I love to hear, "Petrie do not feel sad.  Many things do not fly...Rocks, trees, sticks, Spike...")  We also share all our happy moments with each other and she is my most loyal friend, and such a huge part of my past and my present.  No matter what we are doing, there will always be laughter and fun...and often cheese (of course with wine).  Time with her always recharges my happy batteries.

When she was here this past weekend, we had a long laundry list of things we wanted to do, and naturally, we only got around to about a fourth of them.  Eh, it happens.  Of course, food and eating featured predominantly on the list, but we also managed to sneak in a trip to beautiful Torrey Pines Beach.  Before I tell you about the awesome Spiced Tofu Katsu that we made, I thought I would share a few photos.           

Late afternoon Torrey Pines sun.

Footsteps in the sand.

Basking in the glow of the sun, and watching the pelicans overhead.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter... Best-Ever Brownies?

If it is possible to hate a particular dessert, I could easily say that I loathe dry brownies.  They lure you in with the promise of chewy chocolate and a tight, dense crumb, only to leave you disappointed with a brown mass that seems to immediately fall to pieces when you bite into it.  Come on brownie, lets get a little resilience here.  Now I realize that some of you might condemn me for detesting any dessert with almighty chocolate as the main ingredient, but at the risk of prompting shouts of sacrilege, I will say it again: To me, a dry brownie is not even worth one single bite. 

Because I hold this opinion, brownies in general don't rank high on my list of favorite chocolate desserts, or high on my list of desserts in general; however, when I opened my mailbox a few months ago to find the February issue of Bon Appetit, I was immediately awestruck by the gorgeous dark chocolate brownies gracing the cover.  The visual alone set off immediate chocolate cravings, but then Bon Appetit piqued my interest even more with the huge text proclamining "BEST-EVER BROWNIES."

Wow Bon Appetit, that is a pretty bold statement to make.  

Both the delectable photo and the 'best-ever' proclamation broke down my initial brownie barriers, so it was only natural that I check out the recipe - and that was where Bon Appetit upped the ante even more.  You see, they had an entire feature section devoted to chocolate desserts penned by none other than the lovely Alice Medrich.  For those of you not familiar, Alice is an author, baker, and chocolatier that has been affectionately called 'The First Lady of Chocolate.'  Is it not appropriate then, that a recipe by her should be deemed 'Best-Ever Brownies?'  As if I wasn't convinced enough already, I scanned over the recipe and realized that these brownies were a one-pot recipe.  Done.  I was sold. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Citrus Palmiers for Frosting for the Cause

Hi friends!  I am really excited to share with you that I am guest posting today over at Frosting for the Cause

For those of you not familiar with the project, Frosting for the Cause is organized by Paula of Vanilla Bean Baker, and she has brought together a group of 365 bloggers and bakers to share their recipes and their stories of how cancer has touched their lives.  As part of the project, we also pledge to donate $25 to 
the American Cancer Society to help find cures for cancers affecting women world-wide.  After the year is finished, this project will have raised an astonishing $9,125 dollars to support cancer research from the bloggers alone!!!  In addition, we will also donate our baked goods to our local women's hospice or hospital, to bring smiles to the faces of those suffering from this horrible disease.

Head on over to the Frosting for the Cause site to read about how cancer has touched my life, and about how one very brave woman inspired my decision to purse a career in medical research.  At one point or another, cancer will touch everyone's life; I hope that my story, and those shared by hundreds of other women, will raise your awareness and make you take a moment to think about donating even a small amount to help find a cure.  You can donate directly to the Canadian Cancer Society or the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and keep in mind that every little bit counts.  

The recipe I chose to share for my guest post is a classic French palmier, brightened up with happy notes of citrus.  This recipe is extremely easy to make, and it produces beautiful heart shaped cookies that are sure to bring a smile to the face of anyone who eats one.  I am sharing the recipe here, but please don't forget to read the whole post (and see more photos!) over on the Frosting for the Cause site.  

Thanks for your support!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Classic Mussels with Shallots and Thyme

Welcome to the 100th post here on The Cilantropist!  

Over the last year this blog has grown and developed, and I am relishing in every moment of it.  I can barely believe that I have shared 100 posts with you!  I am committed to bringing you fresh, seasonal, and delicious food (plus cakes and cookies, we can't forget those!) and I do my best to only share things that I think are excellent.  Compared to when I first started, The Cilantropist is so much more like what I dreamed it would be, and it is still evolving.  Keep your eyes peeled for a few changes and additions in the weeks and months to come, but be assured that you will still always be able to find great food over at this corner of the web.  

I also want to give a big shout out to YOU!  Each and every one of my readers, please know that I love love love having you here and it means the world to me knowing that you appreciate food, family, and friends.  I also adore your comments and emails - they make me smile and laugh, and they brighten my day each time I read one.  (And I read all of them!)   I truly appreciate that you share my blog and recipes with family and friends, since feeling connected to people is really at the heart of my cooking.  I hope you will continue to follow along with me as I create another 100 recipes and share stories from my adventures in the kitchen.  

I can also say that over the last year my passion for food and cooking has increased exponentially, and everything about it brings me so much happiness. I am more conscious of what I eat now, and more committed than ever to eating sustainably and locally, and working more towards living a hand-crafted life.  This doesn't mean eating only organic or natural foods - that is just not realistic for me right now - but it does mean shopping at the farmers market as often as possible and making dishes from quality well-sourced ingredients.  Very simply, I think it is a healthier way to live and eat.   

So I thought, for this 100th post, that I should share one of my favorite dishes with you since I can source all the raw ingredients from my farmers market.      

Are you able to find fresh bay leaves?  I think they are just beautiful. 

This classic dish of Mussels with Shallots and Thyme has its roots in traditional French cooking since it uses a broth made with cream, wine, shallots and herbs, to steam open fresh mussels.  I made this dish for the first time almost four years ago, when my boyfriend and I discovered we could get fresh Carlsbad mussels at the farmers market near my apartment.  Nowadays, I can get everything else I need to make it from the farmers market as well, including fragrant thyme and beautiful green bay leaves.   

Monday, March 14, 2011

Swedish Cinnamon Butterhorns (Kanelbullar)

Doesn't this look like the perfect weekend breakfast?  Warm cinnamon and sugar rolls, straight out of the oven, a little bit of sweet fruit, and a warm cup of coffee... All enjoyed while relaxing in your pajamas with the morning paper or your favorite magazine.  Yes, that is my idea of a perfect weekend breakfast.  Of course, I would like these butterhorns any day for breakfast, but I find the weekends allow for the time needed to savor a simple European sweet bread such as this. 

Swedish Cinnamon Butterhorns, or Kanelbullar, are the Scandinavian equivalent of the American cinnamon roll.  Translated, Kanelbullar literally means cinnamon (kanel) bun (bullar or bulle), and it is an appropriate name since these are delicately spiced with cinnamon and less sweet than their American cousins.  These breads can be shaped in a spiral like a traditional cinnamon roll, or in a crescent like the ones I have here.  While almost all American cinnamon rolls are topped with a sticky sweet glaze, Kanelbullar can stand on its own or it can be dressed up with a little powdered sugar or a traditional glaze.

I first made these rolls almost four years ago now, when I decided that I would impress my Norwegian boyfriend with my baking prowess.  (Not that I had a lot of baking prowess four years ago, I think I was blinded by love.)  He was returning home from a summer trip to Norway, and I wanted to surprise him with something I knew he would appreciate so I headed to the library and checked out The Great Scandinavian Baking Book.  I figured if an authentic recipe was to be had, I would find it there.  

Of course, when I paged through the cookbook, the problem ended up being that I found too many great recipes and had trouble choosing!  I finally landed on these Kanelbullar which seemed easy to make and didn't have any bells or whistles to trip me up.  I got it right on the first try, and when my boyfriend arrived from the airport he promptly ate four of them.  I suppose that means they got the seal of approval.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Smoked Gouda, Apple, and Bacon Melt

Since this is a week of my favorite things, it could not be complete with out something made with cheese - smoked gouda to be exact.  You see, I love cheese.  Some of my favorite cheeses are creamy blue cambozola, hard and earthy moliterno, and brown Norwegian gjetost.  All of these cheeses are relatively common, but I also love to go to cheese shops and try out something new.  But the cheese I really can't resist?  Smoked gouda.  I can't get enough of the soft texture and the slight smoky flavor.  I often cut it into cubes and take it to work for lunch or for a snack on the weekend, and I have also made an amazing mac and cheese with it (maybe I will post that here soon!).  

Recently, my local Henry's Farmers Market was selling smoked gouda that was sliced for sandwiches.  Whoa!  I was all over that, and I might have bought quite a bit... Which is fine, because that meant I could make all sorts of things with my favorite cheese.       

For a weekend lunch, I decided I felt like having grilled cheese.  I picked up some fresh sourdough bread, opened my fridge to get out the sliced gouda... and also saw that I had beautiful green apples in the fridge.  The wheels started turning in my head, and I thought the apples would be a tart and crunchy counterpoint to the creamy gouda.  

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Old-Fashioned Birthday Cake

It's my birthday... 
let's celebrate!!!  

In case it is not painfully obvious already, I LOVE celebrating special occasions. And why not?  Shouldn't we take time to have a little fun now and then?  And when it comes to our birthdays, we should absolutely celebrate and value our lives. I can definitely say I have enjoyed my life to the fullest this last year, and I intend to do the same in the year to come.  Oh sure, the year wasn't perfect, but neither am I.  All I can ask for is to live a happy life, to do what I love, and to be surrounded by people that I cherish.  

Oh, and to eat.  

So in the interest of letting my perfectionist self have a little rest, put my feet up, and enjoy a slice of cake today, I am just going to be short and sweet here:  I made an old-fashioned birthday cake and I loved it.  

This is the type of cake that my mother might have made for me as a child, and I would have ended up with robin's egg blue icing all around my mouth as I ate it.  Even though I am an adult now, this type of cake still has an undeniable appeal to me, and I predictably still ended up getting icing everywhere.  (And I am not ashamed to admit it.)  This cake is perfect in its simplicity, with basic white cake layers with pure vanilla flavor, and vanilla buttercream and icing that you can tint any color your heart desires.  There are aren't really any major bells and whistles, with the exception of edible gold stars that I couldn't resist putting on the cake to add a little sparkle.

Maybe I made this cake because it is a throw-back to younger years, or because I just wanted something that felt like home.  Who knows, but what I can say is that this cake was just plain fun, I felt all giddy just looking at it, and the taste was exactly what I wanted.  So if that doesn't describe a perfect birthday cake, then I don't know what does.  

Thanks for celebrating with me, and I hope when your birthday comes around that your cake makes you feel giddy too.  Enjoy the photos!              

Vanilla buttercream frosting, that I tinted robin's egg blue.   Love this color.
And yes... It is the color of Tiffanys. 

Adding buttercream frosting between the layers of white cake.

Smoothing out the sides for a crumb coat.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Berry Frozen Yogurt with Lemon Sugar and Lavender Cream, and Chobani Greek Yogurt Giveaway

If you were to ask me - what food turns a bad day into a good day? - I would immediately respond with two answers: either Starbucks or frozen yogurt.  It seems my days are turned around by extremes of either hot or cold.  Now, I fully realize that neither a latte nor a frozen treat is really considered a 'food,' but that doesn't stop me from soothing myself with either after a particularly long and trying day.  Actually, there is not much that will deter me from getting a latte or a frozen yogurt any day.  In case you haven't realized it, I like to treat myself to my favorite things as often as I possibly can.  Does this make me spoiled?

Spoiled or not, I love frozen yogurt, but actually I just love yogurt... period.  Especially Greek yogurt, I literally cannot get enough; in fact, my co-workers used to make fun of me because they seemed to think all I ate was yogurt!  (No, this was not some sort of strange diet, I just love taking yogurt to work for lunch.)  Well, the joke is on them, because Greek yogurt is healthy and tastes incredible so they are really the ones missing out.  I love to eat plain yogurt topped with sliced almonds and fruit, drizzled with a little honey, or I swirl in a little jam or lemon curd to jazz it up. 

I think I got addicted to frozen yogurt (and Starbucks for that matter...) after moving out to California and trying frozen yogurt from Golden Spoon, and then I fed my habit by visiting every other fro-yo spot within a 10-mile radius of my apartment.  Most places had every flavor imaginable, from coconut to rootbeer to taro, but my go-to choices were always the fresh fruit flavors.  I tend to love more tropical fruits like mangoes or papayas, but a good strawberry, blackberry, or raspberry is simply incomparable. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Spicy Ginger Citrus Cocktail, with Kale Chips

When I was in San Francisco last fall for Foodbuzz Festival, I went with some of my best buds to Cantina for pre-party drinks.  The evening was predictably chilly, but a little cold weather will never stop lovely ladies from wearing their best party dresses.  So naturally, when we were huddled over the drink menu perusing the options, I was craving something with a little warmth.  I didn't want an actual hot beverage, but something with a little spice... some kick that would warm me from the inside-out.  As luck would have it, my eyes landed on the Laughing Buddha: hangar one buddha’s hand vodka, lime, crushed ginger & serrano chiles, ginger brew.

Yes, that was the drink I wanted.

It was cool and spicy all at the same time, but best part was that there was a distinct spice from the ginger and ginger brew that was totally different than the heat from the serrano chile.  The chile was like an aftershock of warmth that surprised you with each sip.  It was amazing, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since.       

After the new year, I decided I needed to stop thinking about this cocktail and try to recreate it at home.  Being a cocktail beginner, I wasn't totally sure about two of the ingredients - the buddha's hand vodka, and the ginger brew - so I did a little researching on the internet.  Turns out the buddha's hand vodka is made with none other Buddha's Hand citrus (surprise, surprise), which has an appearance that is both intriguing and terrifying, but a taste that is extremely fragrant.  Next, I found that the ginger brew is an all-natural soda made with roots and spices.  Fantastic!  The ginger brew that seemed to be the most popular was REED's, and I thrilled to discover that I could pick some up at my local Henry's.    

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mediterranean Pasta with Hummus and Charred Tomatoes

I make cookies and cakes for my co-worker's birthdays.  I fry chicken and make coleslaw because it is Labor Day.  I stop at Golden Spoon on my way home from work because I accomplished a goal.  I create beautiful trifles for bridal showers, and pressed sandwiches for picnics with friends.  I make myself a white chocolate latte (with foam of course) every Sunday, just because it is the weekend and I deserve it.  I am the type of person who loves to celebrate both the little and big things in life, and I always want to celebrate them with food.  

So you can imagine, that when there is an real occasion to celebrate, that I love to go all out.  And...since it is my birthday this week, I don't see any reason why I shouldn't celebrate EVERYDAY!  Don't you agree???  (If you don't agree, just please politely leave this page and refrain from raining on my parade.  It's my birthday and I will eat if I want to.)  

I will be celebrating here on The Cilantropist ALL WEEK with a new post each day from today through next Sunday.  I will share a breakfast dish, a quick and easy lunch, main dishes, sweets and treats, and even a cocktail!  And of course, we can't forget the birthday cake... And the best part is that all these dishes feature my favorite foods, because if you can't have your favorite foods for your birthday, when can you have them?  Aside from the actual food, I will be guest posting on the Chobani site, I will have a CSN giveaway, and share my 100th post.  This will week will be jam packed, so I hope you are excited!!!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Grapefruit Margaritas

Today is a day for celebration!  Why you ask?  Well, this margarita is the very first cocktail ever to grace the pages of The Cilantropist.  Although I have undoubtedly imbibed many a cocktail since starting this blog, I have yet to share any recipes with you.  You politely reminded me of this fact earlier this year, and so I thought I would celebrate the 1-week countdown to my birthday by sharing a buzz-inducing beverage.  (Did you catch what I just said there?  Yes!  My birthday is just seven short days from today!)   

I will fully admit that the reason I haven't shared any cocktail recipes is that my bartending skills are zilch.  At home I occasionally drink wine in the evenings, but there are some days when a strong drink is imperative.  (You know, when you have one of those days.  Don't pretend you don't know what I am talking about.)  When that happens, I usually just pour some juice in a glass, add some vodka, and call it a day.  Embarrassing, but true.  Other times if I am feeling more ambitious or inspired, I throw something together, shake it up, and pour it over ice in a pretty glass.  I flit around and pretend it is a trendy cocktail, when it really is just the blunderings of a home cook who knows nothing about mixing drinks.   

So when my friend Mary was visiting a few weekends ago, I decided I wanted to make an actual drink from an actual recipe.  I figured I should start with baby steps and I turned to the most steadfast and softcore chef possible: Ina Garten.  Oh how I love Ina, but no one would ever call her wild and crazy, so I reasoned that her cocktail recipes would be simple and straightforward.  Taking it even a step further, I sourced my recipe from her most recent cookbook, How Easy is That?  Fabulous Recipes and Easy Tips.  She had a recipe for a Pink Grapefruit Margarita and I was sold by the little twist on this traditional drink.  

Alright Ina, how easy is it?  Lets make a cocktail!