Monday, February 20, 2006

Carrot Cake Cupcakes

My mother makes a killer carrot cake. The recipe is simple and comes out great as a loaf, a two layer round, or in my case, cupcakes.

Claire's Carrot Cake

2 cups grated carrot (about 4 carrots)
2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
1 cup oil
3 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp cinnamon
1 small can crushed pineapple drained. (Apparently a small can is about 4oz or half a cup, however I bought the smallest can available at the corner store, which was 16oz and used about a fourth of it).

Mix everything together and put it the pan of your choice that you've properly greased and/or lined. Oven at 375. The cupcakes took about 35 minutes, and I know from experience that a loaf pan full takes just over an hour. So watch it.

Aren't they beautiful? The pineapple isn't a major flavor component, most probably wouldn't be able to pick it out as an ingredient, but it provides such moisture, which a thick cake like this often lacks.

The frosting is basic cream cheese frosting.

one 8oz package of softened cream cheese.
one stick of butter softened
one cup of confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
and my secret ingredient
1/2 tsp cinnamon

I creamed the butter and cream cheese together first to introduce enough air and make sure there were no lumps of cheese or butter.

Once the butter and cream cheese were smooth I added the remaining ingredients and continued to blend until soft and smooth.

I had two friends with birthday's this past weekend, and each enjoyed a small batch of these cupcakes. The hint of cinnamon in the frosting echoes the cinnamon in the cake and the pineapple keeps things nice and moist. Yeah, I said moist.

Las Cazuelas

I was cordially invited to celebrate Wendy's birthday at Las Cazuelas on Girard and 4th.

This was my first trip to Las Cazuela, but I knew I was in for a good meal because most of my friends are at least a little snobby about their food, especially in eating out, and it was a BYO. See the birthday girl enjoy the wine.

I had the puntas abinal. The menu described it as beef tips on black beans, corn tortilla and pico de gallo. That is exactly what I got, with a small addition of avocado. The dish was great, the meat was tender not chewy, and it had a little heat to it, but not too much. I wish they would have given me an extra tortilla as the one on the bottom got soggy and sort of unappetizing toward the end of the plate. We also had the corn sopes for an appetizer, I forgot to take a picture, but they were fantastic. A crispy and chewy corn pancake with black beans, salsa verde and queso fresco. I could have eaten six.

Amy was also in attendance and admitted to me that she secretly reads my blog. I wondered why the secrecy, and then insisted she make a guest appearance on Foodaphilia. Here she is with her dish. I don't remember the name, but it was medallions of beef in three different pepper sauces. Looked good. Wendy had the same, and they both enjoyed it. When asked about the taste of her dish, Amy said, "It tasted green". Word is still out on what that means, but I like to think it meant her dish was a perfect blending of fresh ingredients. Hi Amy.

More wine. More wine. More wine. I made carrot cake cupcakes because Wendy said she liked carrot cake. A later post will document the cake. I had two leftover on my trolley ride home because no one wanted to carry them on their bar crawl, and some guy asked me for one. I gave him both. He ate them right there and handed me back the little paper baking cups.
Las Cazuelas in Philadelphia

New Pasta Shape

Pasta was on sale last time I was at Superfresh so I bought Fiori, which I used in last week's soup, and Campanelle. I was drawn to Campanelle because I couldn't decide what the shape was supposed to look like, a funnel? an ear canal? an ear? Who knows? Actually, the people at Barilla, they know.

Andy and I surveyed the fridge. We found zucchini, baby portabella mushrooms, large portabella mushrooms, spinach, some mozzarella and a little pecorino.

So we cooked the Campanelle. Sauteed the veggies with some garlic and a little butter and olive oil. A ladle or two full of the pasta water along with cheese made a nice little sauce.

A quick salad and we had a fast and totally delicious dinner. I really love the Campanelle pasta. The sauce was light, but collected nicely in the funnel like shape of the pasta. According to Barilla, "Pasta comes in many appealing shapes and sizes, and one of the most delightful is Campanelle. This delicate but sturdy shape, which means “Bellflowers” in Italian has fluted, petal-like edges and a hollow center for capturing sauce. Campanelle adds a touch of elegance and charm to your table, while delivering the authentic Italian taste you expect from Barilla."

Saturday, February 18, 2006


What better to do when expecting a foot of snow than to load up on groceries and cook and eat through the weekend? Absolutely nothing said Alison and I. We planned, shopped for and cooked a wonderful Mediterranean feast last night!

Here I combined yogurt, cucumber that had been grated and squeezed of all it's excess water, dill, mint, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper, stirred it all together and had one of the best tasting dips/condiments I've ever sank pita bread into. It was Tzatziki!

I've always wanted to make hummus, but was afraid of the ingredients (tahini)and the equipment (food processor) needed to get the job done. I tackled my fear yesterday and came out a better person (full of hummus!) on the other side.

Tahini is sesame seed paste. It smells good, but looks like thin separated peanut butter. The instructions stated to add half a cup of water and stir. I stirred and stirred and stirred, nothing seemed to come together. Eventually after letting it sit, then stirring some more, it looked less separated and more like peanut butter, but less appetizing.

Regardless, when added to the chickpeas and garlic in the food processor, then slowly alternating between streaming olive oil and lemon juice in machine, our hummus came together nicely. We added just some parsley to the first, but also scallions and dill to the second. It was hummus!

Blizzard '06

The Blizzard, aka The Greek Feast, started off with Steph helping out in the kitchen. Here she is, with shawl, chopping some fresh mint and dill. We added these to cottage cheese and feta cheese, some olive oil, salt, pepper, and two beaten eggs to form the filling for our Cheese Fillo Triangles.

Fillo is a wonderful product that produces light crispy layers of pastry. It's cheap, but difficult to work with and labor intensive. Each piece of dough had to be brushed with butter, but not too little otherwise it would dry out, and not too much, otherwise the dough fell apart. After a few touch and go moments, Alison, Steph and I worked out an assembly line system. Here Alison can be seen gently brushing the fillo with butter. By the way, this is not a low calorie food. We used two sticks, that's one cup, of butter for this appetizer!

We cut each buttered sheet into three long strips with a pizza cutter. The next step was to get a proper sized spoonful of the cheese mixture in the bottom corner of a strip and continuously fold up the dough into a triangle shape. Alison described this process as, "like making paper footballs in class", and she was exactly right.

Another brush with butter, and the triangles were ready to go into a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes.

The final product was beautiful and delicious. I'd say that these little triangles, unlike the arroz con pollo from a few weeks prior was worth every painstaking second of the process of making it. They were crispy and buttery on the outside, salty and herby on the inside, and dipped in tzatziki...just soooo good. At one point, stuffed full of them, and still not having touched the main course, I ate one more, just because.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Johari Window

April is cool. She has cool links on her blog. Which I steal, and never thank her for.

Here is the latest. Go to my Johari Window and take a moment to reflect on e.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

For the love of Shushi

Valentine's Day is a day devoted to making money on chocolates, flowers that will die and cheesey cards. Which isn't to say that I don't want chocolates, flowers and cards, because I'm American through and through, I love to conspicuously consume. But often the day is sad, feeling like you're the only one in the whole wide world who doesn't have someone special to love and be loved by. I wasn't in this situation, the roommates and I had a sushi-fest!

We had a mish mash of rolls, crab meat, avacado, spicy tuna, salmon. Yum yum.

We also made a cold soba noodle salad. Soba noodles are spaghetti-like, but they're made from buckwheat instead of white/semolina flour. Alison shredded a carrot and we added baby corn, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, celery and broiled/barbecued tofu to the cooked, drained and cooled noodles. Then Steph and I whipped up a little sauce that was part soy, ginger, peanut, honey and fish sauce and tossed it with the soba and veggies. This was by far one of the best things we've made up off the tops of our heads.

Okay, so we had something similar at Kisso down on Race St, but really, it was our own creation.

I took the semi-homemade route with dessert. I made a homemade strawberry sauce, which is just strawberries (I used the frozen bagged variety, but I let them thaw on the counter) and a little vanilla and honey whirred together in a blender. I bought a chocolate chip pound cake from whole foods, cut nice slices, added some ice cream, the strawberry sauce, some whipped cream and a little drizzle of chocolate sauce on top.

We sat on the couch and ate out sinful dessert and watched the Olympics. And I loved every minute of it. I gave Stephanie the nickname "T-Rex" ( I thought of you Natty!) because when Stephanie is explaining a story or something, she'll often do these expressive arm/hand gestures that make her look like a little T-Rex. So from now on, everyone can feel free to call Stephanie "T-Rex" instead of Stephanie. She loves it, honest.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Steelers and Trepenation

Everyone who knows or has met Alison quickly learns that she loves the Steelers. So you can only imagine how bonkers she was the weeks preceding the SuperBowl 40.

Alison's sister, Annie, came out from Ohio to watch the game with Alison. She stopped in Pittsburgh to see the Watts family, and picked up these chips! Steelers chips! I'm trying to recall seeing red and white corn chips in Nebraska in the fall, but I don't remember, or never paid enough attention to remember.

Things were so exciting that even I got wrapped up and infected with Steeler fever. Yes, I have a football jersey on. Yes, it's Jerome Bettis'. Yes, Alison and Annie cried when he retired.

These girls are so Steelers crazy, Alison even owns Steelers Monopoly, and they played a game on Saturday during their private pep rally. Annie kicked Alison's ass. The best part of this picture is that if you look closely in the background, you can see the Steelers pillow that graces our living room and the box of Steelers tissues that another grad student gave Alison.

On a totally different note, this picture is ridiculous. This is my good friend J-Rye from Ripon. Well, he's actually from Algoma, which is on the thumb of Wisconsin, but he's currently displaced and living in Pittsburgh. The drill is actually no where near my head, but the picture is deceptive. It reminds me of when I learned about trepenation in high school.

Friday, February 10, 2006

I woke up this morning after like 9 hours of sleep, completely and totally exhausted. I drank some coffee and went to the store. We're supposed to get a decent amount of snow here this weekend, so I needed some stuff. While at SuperFresh, I got very dizzy in the frozen food aisle (seriously, I saw white spots!) and decided that I was getting a head cold, so I'd better make some soup.

I make one soup, but it looks a little different every time I make it. Sometimes chicken, sometimes turkey, sometimes no meat, usually edamame and corn, always corn and carrots, this time rosemary, garlic, celery, and spinach too.

Sometimes I make a sort of lumpy thick biscuit dough and drop it in the hot soup for 20 minutes, and these wondefully light, but sort of gooey on the outside, dumplings are created. This is also nice because bits of the dough float off and breakdown, thickening the soup to make it more stew-like, but not quite.

I'm not sure if I'll do the dumpling thing tonight, I think I will add egg noodle or rice, or maybe this new fun pasta I got at the store called "Fiori". I think the shape would look nice in the soup.

Here is the leftovers. I was too eager to eat the soup and didn't take a fresh pic, many a roomate has warmed up with the soup. And while it didn't stave off my approaching cold, it was still damn good. I served it the other night for dinner with a panzanella, and it was awesome.


Thursday, February 02, 2006

Alton Brown is a demi god of cooking. I love his show on the food network, and his philosophy of cooking, it's not about making complicated food, it's about making simple food the best way possible. This is why Andy decided to use AB's recipe for Arroz Con Pollo.

First we had to cook the chicken. I went to store and it was the first time I'd ever purchased chicken with bones in it. Andy insisted, and said it would impart more flavor, and AB agreed, so I consented. I bought chicken breasts (with ribs!) and chicken thighs (with various bones! ewww). So we cooked them so they were brown on the outside and but still undercooked in the middle, and then took them out of the pan.

Then we cooked onions, green pepper, garlic and saffron together until they made the whole bottom floor of the house smell good.

Andy loves his apron. And stirring veggies.

After a few tablespoons of tomato paste joined the party we put the chicken back in, added two cups of aborio rice and the chicken

Then we added two cups of water and a dark beer and let the whole thing simmer. It was hard to resist the temptation to stir, but we wanted to avoid having gummy rice, so we sat on our hands.

Here is the dish halfway through cooking. We had to stir occasionally to prevent the rice on the bottom of the pan from sticking and burning.

In the last few minutes, we added some peas and a red pepper that we roasted and peeled.

Kim and I made a nice spinach salad with some cucumber, tomato, cranberries, pumpkin and pignola seeds.

The final presentation on my plate. Ultimately, we decided that the recipe was disappointing, mainly because the final product was rather bland. Maybe it was preconceived notions of the dish being spicy, when in fact there are no spices, aside from saffron and pepper in the dish. The blandness of the dish coupled with the amount of time this took to prepare makes me think we won't make it again.