Monday, November 21, 2011

Honey Cornbread Muffins, and My Thanksgiving Meal

I am sure this post will find most of you in full-force preparation for the big Thanksgiving Day feast - maybe you are doing last minute shopping, fine-tuning your menu with new dishes, or arguing with Aunt Sarah about who's stuffing recipe is better.  Or maybe you aren't a planner, and are just counting down the days and dreaming of golden brown turkeys covered with rich gravy, gooey sweet potatoes with marshmallows, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream.  Either way, I feel pretty certain that you are awaiting the big day with major anticipation.   

Me?  I am doing none of the above, because I already had my big Thanksgiving meal this past weekend.  Since I wasn't able to head home to be with my family this year, I knew I had to gather together with my San Diego family to eat, drink, and be merry.  For me, Thanksgiving really isn't Thanksgiving unless I am seated at a table, surrounded by people I love, laughing and smiling while I eat warm, filling food.  

My friends were more than happy to accept my invitation for dinner, and for many of them, it would the the first of two Thanksgivings.  Knowing they would be able to have turkey again took some of the pressure off as far as cooking goes, but anyone who knows me, will tell you that I can't help but go all out.  So I brought a little fall spirit inside with festive table decorations, I made the most of the space in my tiny apartment, and I cooked up a storm.  I even got a special Turkey Day Feast meal for my favorite little puppy.  We crowded as many people as could possibly fit around my table, and we dug into the feast.

Here was my Thanksgiving Menu: 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Spicy Chorizo, Cippolini, and Tomato Soup

Oh man, it is getting chilly here in San Diego!  And of course, by chilly I mean highs in the mid sixties during the day, and lows of high forties at night.  I know, some of you have snow already, and I feel for you.  I really do.  But I swear my blood has thinned after living in Southern California for six years now.  After dealing with Midwest winters and living in the snow belt for most of my life, you would think I would be tougher.  And I can be pretty tough, but right now, I am just cold.  

So here is what I have been doing lately - eating a hot bowl of creamy oatmeal for breakfast, wrapping my hands around a steaming cup of coffee, wearing thicker socks and comfy sweaters, and cuddling up on the couch with my sweet little puppy.   Oh, and I have also been eating lots and lots of soups.  

Cippolini onions.

I have been filling up on pho and chicken noodle soup from some of my favorite restaurants, but when it comes to tomato-based soups I would just rather make it at home myself. (Call me picky, but I always find tomato soups from restaurants to be sort of bland, not nearly tomato-ey enough for my taste.)  I have had the idea in my head for awhile now that I wanted to make a batch of nice and spicy tomato soup, and I knew I wanted to heat it up with chorizo.  I had seen a recipe for including Spanish chorizo in a sort of thick stew-like soup, but I wanted to experiment with the Mexican chorizo since that is more readily available and less expensive around here.  Normally, Mexican chorizo is used in tacos and the like, but I thought it could definitely be used in soup too.  But I just couldn't decide what to pair with the chorizo... 

And then, as usually happens, I got inspired by a visit to the farmers market.  As I was browsing around last Saturday at the Little Italy Farmers Market, I happened upon these adorable golden cippolini onions from Schaner Farms.    

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Best Mini Pumpkin Muffins for Fall

Being from the Midwest, I think I have a soft spot for Fall in my heart.  

When the seasons change, the cool breeze whips through my hair with just enough of a chill to make me feel alive and breathe a little deeper, but not enough to force me to rush back to the warmth of the indoors.  I want to be cozy, but I also don't want to miss a minute of nature's last hurrah.  The scattering of gorgeous leaves on the ground is a treat for the eyes, and is almost always accompanied by the scratching and scurrying sounds of dried leaves blowing across the ground. The combination of rustic, muted colors together with crimson and yellow leaves is always spectacular, and the first arrival of bright orange pumpkins is a cause for celebration.        

So if you are like me, when Fall comes, you want to get outside and soak up the fleeting clean, cool air with hikes, late afternoon picnics, and hayrides.  But at the same time, the urge to warm up indoors beckons.  And naturally, the best way to warm up inside is to bake.  

Lately, my urge to bake has been insatiable - I have definitely baked more in the last three weeks than I have in the last three months combined, and I think that is directly related to the arrival of Fall and the warm comforting flavors it brings with it.  But let me tell you who has totally out-baked me: my sister.  I told you before that she has fallen in love with baking, and that affair just continues to blossom as she has been baking up fantastic sweet treats almost every other day.  And now it is sort of ironic because the tables have turned - she is recommending baking recipes to me instead of the other way around!  

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sugar and Spice Apple Chips

In celebration of fall, I am so excited to tell you about these easy and crispy Sugar and Spice Apple Chips.  But it gets even better, since I am sharing the recipe as a guest post over on Meandering Eats today!  I am sure you remember Marie of Meandering Eats - she is my dear friend who shared a post here on The Cilantropist not long ago, and my partner in crime for getting the best eats and food experiences here in San Diego.  

Today I am sharing a recipe on her site so that you can make your own apple chips with the abundance of apples this fall.  Apple chips are a fantastic and healthy snack for both adults and little ones - I am sure kids will be amazed to see how some extra heat, a dash of sugar and spice, and a little time can turn this... 

Into this...! 

You can flavor these chips with anything you like, but I chose sugar, cinnamon, and chinese five spice.  Perfect warm flavors for a cozy snack on a cool fall day. Oh, and be sure to share - you can bag these up and give them away to friends and family as homemade gifts!  

Stop by Meandering Eats to get this easy recipe, and enjoy your week!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Plum Crumble Bars

Growing up, my grandma and grandpa lived about five blocks away from our house, and they had the best backyard.  They had a big above-ground pool with a great deck, a little sandbox with an awning, a lovely fenced in garden, and both flowering and fruit trees.  The yard wasn't big, but it was wonderful.     

Italian plums.

One of the trees they had the most beautiful pink flowers in the spring, another tree had a trunk and branches that were perfect for climbing, but one of my favorite trees was the plum tree.  It had delicate, thin branches with lush leaves, and the drops of ripening fruit were so temping.  By the time they were ready to pick, the deep purple maroon color belied the green flesh underneath at just a few spots, and the blue waxy sheen was enticing.  When they were barely ripe and tender we could pick them and eat them, but they were more tart than sweet - after a little longer, they were 'over-ripe' but definitely at their sweetest.  My grandma used to slice them up and bake them on a yeast dough as a treat for us, and it was something I looked forward to every year.       

Pale flesh of sliced red plums. 

I have tried to replicate her recipe a few times, with varied success, so in the fall I usually just send up baking plums into simple crumbles or cakes, or I use them for cooking in savory dishes.  Although Italian plums are definitely my favorite (I think it is a combination of taste and size mixed in with a little nostagia), I really love all plums including red and black ones.    

Red plums, sliced for baking into bars. 

This fall, I was tempted to do something else with with my plums - make crumble bars.  I was inspired by a peach shortbread recipe that I tried from Smitten Kitchen last summer, and though I did like it, the bars didn't have nearly enough fruit for my taste.  Not to mention, her recipe called for browning the butter, and although we can all hail queen Browned Butter, it didn't really do it for me in this recipe and just seemed like a fussy extra step.  Then this year I saw a recipe for peach crumb bars with hazelnut streusel by my friend Dara from Cookin Canuck. The amount of fruit in her bars was definitely up to my standards, but she peeled the peaches before baking (and has a great tutorial on how to do it) and I really didn't want to do that much work this time.  Plus, I love the way the skin of the fruit stains the crumble bars a deep pink color so I wanted to leave them on.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Pork Chops Agrodolce

Living in Southern California where the sun is good for growing and the farms are plentiful, I am blessed to be able to get all manner of fresh fruits and vegetables at stellar prices.  Now meat, on the other hand, is another story.  Getting quality meats (ideally hormone-free, and free-range) that are locally sourced costs me an arm and a leg, and sometimes even more than that (tack on a few extra fingers to cover tax, and you get my drift).  It is interesting, because people here are very conscious of eating well-sourced meat, but the supply of local beef/chicken/pork is low compared to other areas of the country.  This supply/demand issue makes prices higher, and in some cases, the cost can be a little prohibitive.  I find myself choosing quality over quantity, ie. eating better quality meat, but just less of it.   

Fresh thyme.

I found myself pondering this issue of the price of pork when I recently decided to make this recipe for Pork Chops Agrodolce a second and third time.  

You see, the first time I made this recipe was when I was visiting my parents in Ohio.  One morning I got an email from Williams and Sonoma, and I saw this recipe when I clicked through to their site.  I was totally intrigued since I had never heard of this Italian sweet and sour dish before, and the recipe seemed so incredibly simple.  I knew I was heading out to the Westside Market the next day, so I picked up some great thick-cut pork chops to make this for my parents.     

3/4-inch thick, bone-in pork chops.

Now I don't know why I haven't talked it up more, but the Westside Market in Cleveland is fantastic.  Even with all the farmer's markets around San Diego, I would die for a place like Westside Market here.  In my eyes, one of the things that really sets the Westside Market apart is their selection of meats.  There are tons of local farms - both small and large - outside of Cleveland, so there is a much larger supply of very high quality local meats.  Plus, the Amish country is not far away and their meats (and cheeses) are always top notch as well.  At the Westside Market, you can find any cut of meat you want, a plethora of sausages and bratwurst, and just about the best bacon ever.  But, the real kicker are the prices.  

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Carrot Cake Cupcakes, with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

I am always a little perplexed when someone says to me, "Oh carrot cake is my favorite!"  I mean, obviously I think carrot cake is awesome... but your favorite? Really?  (Are you sure you aren't fibbing?)  I always want to ask them why, not necessarily because I question their taste, but more out of sheer curiosity.  What is it that holds carrot cake at the forefront of your taste as your favorite?   

I think I feel this way because for me, carrot cake is sort of akin to that old worn out sweatshirt at the bottom of your drawer - you know, the one that you know you love, but that you forget you have.  Then the minute you put it on you immediately chide yourself for not wearing it all the time because it is so comfortable and so warm and just all-around perfect.  Carrot cake is like that old sweatshirt - a love, many times forgotten, but never a quite placed on the 'favorite' shelf.      

But last week my sister (who has recently discovered her love for baking, Yay!) said to me, "Hey I am going to make carrot cake cupcakes!"  And just like that - carrot cake rushed off the dusty shelf in the back of my mind.  I couldn't stop thinking about making these cupcakes.  I was dreaming of fall spices - cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger - and I knew this would be the perfect recipe to make me feel like the season was here.  (Of course, it didn't hurt that my sister told me her co-workers loved them, and highly recommended I make them.)   

Since my sister had already made these cupcakes using a Smitten Kitchen recipe, I asked her if she had included any changes to the ingredients or baking time.  I was super excited to hear that she had read through some of the comments on the original post (as well as some reviews from a similar recipe on Epicurious), and decided to substitute applesauce for most of the oil in the cake batter. Swapping apple sauce for oil is a trick I have long wanted to try, but never really had the occasion.  

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Slow Roasted Cranberry Coconut Granola

I think some things are just better when you slow them down.  

Thinking of food, imagine savoring slow braised short ribs, or smelling the aromas from a pot of spicy chili that has been simmering away on the stove all day... But the beauty of taking things a little slower is not just restricted to the kitchen - I love spending a long afternoon just walking around in the park, or lingering over my morning latte on the weekends.  With those sorts of things, it is easy for me to be lazy and enjoy them, but other times I have to remind myself to take it slow. For instance, when I am reading a good book, I just race through it as though I have no discipline to tell myself to put it down and do other things, like you know, eat and sleep.  Many times, it is easy to just run through life at a breakneck pace, but then you end up missing out on so many little things.  

So when I saw a recipe for slow-roasted granola on Healthy Green Kitchen, I loved it not only for the practical reasons for slow roasting (keeping the dried fruit soft), but also because it was the perfect recipe to make over a long relaxing weekend. Having just come back from camping in Sequoia, I was really excited about making something healthy that also keeps well and is perfect for snacking.  

The original recipe that I saw on Winnie's site was a slow roasted granola sweetened with honey, and with bits of dried persimmon and crunchy pistachios. Now while I adore both persimmons and pistachios, I know someone (ie. the best sister ever) that really loves cranberry and coconut, so I decided to switch up the flavors to make something for her.   

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sausage and Goat Cheese Pizza, with Balsamic Onions and Fresh Figs

Right now, I am back visiting my family in Ohio.  As I am writing this, it's nighttime so it is quiet, but I can still hear crickets chirping outside and other night critters making their evening noises.  Back where I live in San Diego, there isn't enough grass or trees or forests to even house these insects, so I miss out on their soothing chorus.  Here, the cool air is floating in through the window, and there are no fast cars or loud freeways or other disturbances.  The calm is wonderful.

When the sun comes up tomorrow morning, the light will touch each blade of green grass, each leaf on every tree, and the noise from the nighttime crickets might be replaced with morning bird songs or buzzing cicadas.  But fall is here and rain is always a possibility (unlike San Diego, there is actually weather here in Ohio), so the cool breeze might linger, and if I am lucky, we might even get a thunderstorm.  If we do, I am sure my mom and I will sit on the porch and listen to the rain pouring down while the wet air mists around us.  These are some of the best feelings of home. 

Sliced black mission figs.

I am sure it comes as no surprise when I say that one of my favorite things to do when I am at home is to cook for my family.  My dad is a budding chef himself, so he always likes to get in on the action, and we usually have grand plans.  This time, I went to the Westside Market with some friends, and picked up all the fixings for a fantastic fall-inspired pizza.  I found black mission figs, earthy sage leaves, local meats, and I got a great deal on a log of fresh chevre. 

Cut the goat cheese into medallions easily using a thin piece of thread or wire.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Holding on to Summer: Easy Pickled Radishes and Pickled Green Beans

I refuse to believe that summer just passed me by this year.  In the blink of an eye, I missed those bright sunny days, sandy trips to the beach, and backyard barbecues.  I could tell you that I don't know how it happened, but really it was just my all-consuming dissertation; I dug in to get the job done, and when you are glued to your computer and working night and day, you barely notice the happenings in the outside world.   

Looking back, it seems a small sacrifice to completely give up one summer of my life in order to close the door on my PhD.  But that is my rational mind speaking - my heart is trying to do the impossible by tugging me back to mid-summer.  It aches for long days without a care, backyard grilling with friends, and plump heirloom tomatoes.  These days, my poor little heart seems surprised to notice that the air is cooler and the days are shorter.  The summer vegetables are beginning to be in scarce supply at the farmers markets as everyone snatches up the last summer corn or brightly colored zucchini.  And since my heart is stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the arrival of fall, I think I can indulge it for just a few more weeks and try to hang on to the last remnants of summer as best as I can. 

So I have been eating ungodly amounts of sweet tomatoes; I grilled corn when I went camping with my sister; and I baked sugary treats with the remaining summer berries.  None of those meals or desserts ended up here on The Cilantropist, because I needed some time to myself to get back in touch with my kitchen, and just cook.  It is so therapeutic and relaxing for me.  But then I decided it was time to grab some of these bright summer veggies and pickle them, and I knew I had to share these with you.    

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Individual No-bake Chocolate Cakes for a Celebration

Hi guys!!!  Wow, did I miss you, did you miss me too?  

It was a long time away and a lot of hard work, but now I am back, and better than ever, because now I am a PhD!  After 6 years, 225 pages of a dissertation, and too many days to count when I thought I had lost my mind, I am FINALLY finished.  There are not words to describe how relieved and happy I feel, but just check out this big smile on my face!

It felt great to show my family and friends my more professional side, and to demonstrate to the scientific community what I have accomplished.  I could literally feel my heart swelling with pride as it dawned on me just how big of an achievement this is.  I actually think I surprised myself with how much I know, and how far I have come.  It's funny, when you work on something for so long, and hold onto it so tight, sometimes you miss the big picture.  And the big picture here is that not only am I amazed to have been blessed with the talents and determination to earn a PhD, but I am also immensely lucky to have have family, friends, and co-workers that have supported me, encouraged me, and always believed in me.  They are my heart, and without them, none of this would have been possible. 

The entire day of my defense was more than I could have hoped for - my boss said my talk was excellent (which is high praise), and I felt like it was hands down the best presentation I have ever given.  My family and almost all my friends were there, and after everything was done, we popped open bottles of champagne to celebrate.        

Can you tell how excited I was to be done?  

My lab did a fantastic job of organizing food and drinks for everyone to enjoy, and my good friend Marie came with a special surprise - a lab-themed cake from Jenny Wenny Cakes!

Yes, I am a complete nerd because I totally loved this.

We relaxed, drank wine, ate lots of food, and generally were happy.  Of course, the best part for me (aside from the huge weight lifted off my shoulders) was to be able to celebrate the day with my Mom, Dad, and my sister.

After everything was done, my family and I spent the rest of the weekend lounging at the pool, going to the beach, and eating amazing food.  Because what is a celebration weekend without a little sunshine and good eats? 

At the end of the weekend, my sister and packed up the car and headed up to Sequoia National Park for a few days of camping.  After writing 225 pages for my dissertation, all I could think about was unplugging and getting away from the computer, and some time in the fresh air of the mountains was just what I needed.  The weather was perfect, we saw tons of wildlife, and definitely had an adventure driving into Mineral King.  (Has anyone else been there?  Soooo beautiful, but seriously - that road?!  Holy shit.)  I have tons of photos and can't wait to tell you more about our vacation, but that is for another post and another day.

For now, I can't leave you with out a recipe, and I felt like I needed to celebrate my PhD here on The Cilantropist with a little dessert.  

So of course, I turned to chocolate.  Pure and unadulterated, these Individual No-bake Chocolate Cakes are the epitome of effortless indulgence.  Basically just a combination of chocolate and heavy cream, you can make these in under 10 minutes and they are sinfully good.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Grilled Mushroom Sliders with Spicy Cilantro Almond Pesto

Isn't your mouth just watering looking at this slider??  I never fail to be amazed by the inspired recipes Dara of Cookin Canuck dreams up, and this is definitely a fantastic one.  This guest post from Cookin Canuck is for Grilled Mushroom Sliders, topped with Zucchini, Tomato, and a Spicy Cilantro Almond Pesto.  I am especially excited by the spicy cilantro pesto (for obvious reasons) but I also can't stop thinking about the grilled mushroom!  Oh yeah, you know what I am talking about - a thick, juicy, seasoned and grilled mushroom is a little bite of tender heaven.  I think these sliders would be the perfect vegetarian option for your Labor Day parties... but I bet meat-eaters wouldn't be able to resist them either.  And since they are miniature, you can feel free to eat more than one (or two).  

I hope you enjoy this guest post, and if you love 'mini' foods as much as we do, be sure to stop by Cookin Canuck and check out her other small dishes like Mini Grilled Pizzas with Shrimp and Red Pepper Pesto, Mini Frittatas with Parmesan and Bacon, and Mini Pepper Biscuits.  Or, just stop by to get a little dose of sunshine from her happy personality.  Thanks Dara! 
To start, I am sending a sincere “thank you” to Amanda for asking me to share this post with you.  I can never resist stopping by her blog to see what recipes she cooked up and to gawk at her gorgeous photos.  And, by the way, she is just as sweet and bright in person as she appears on her blog.  If you didn’t catch the informative and downright jaw-dropping post she wrote and photographed for my blog - Orange Cantaloupe Sorbet –  be sure to check it out.  As Amanda is toiling over her computer, hammering out her Ph.D. dissertation (yes, I’m officially in awe), I am happy to give her a little blogging relief.  So, let’s move on to these tasty mushroom sliders, paired with a spicy cilantro pesto.

I don’t know what it is about things in miniature, but they have the effect of turning me into a weepy-eyed, cootchie-cooing fool.  Kittens, puppies, babies – you name it, I’m a sucker for it.  One would hope that these behaviors would be relegated strictly to the “baby animal/people” category but, sadly, they also cross over to food.  Cocktail parties and tapas restaurants are my preferred playgrounds as I prefer small tastes of multiple flavors rather than one large dish.  Sliders, typically about half the size of a regular burger, fit my idea of  “miniature” perfectly.

One of our favorite sliders recipes is Smoky Beef Sliders with Grilled Pineapple and Chipotle Mayonnaise.  When you’re in the mood for beef, this one is bound to satisfy your craving.  However, if you prefer something a little lighter or on the vegetarian side of the scale, turn to grilled mushrooms.  Portobello mushrooms are typically the mushroom of choice for grilling.  However, they are a little too big for sliders, unless you buy the baby bellas, which would work well for this recipe.  While at the market, I stumbled upon some very large crimini mushrooms, which were just the right size to fit inside some whole wheat dinner rolls.  If you are unable to find large crimini mushrooms, fill each slider with two small ones instead.