Tag Archives: food

Zucchini, Sun-dried tomatoes, and [fill in the blank]

Dinner tonight was a baked (yellow) sweet potato, sauteed zucchini and reheated dumplings from a take-out order.

The dumplings were originally fried and reheated well after 10 or so minutes in a 400 degree oven.

The sweet potatoes could have been cooked about 10 minutes longer, but they were done-ish after 50 in a 400 degree oven. Delicious with just a little butter and salt. Oddly, I don’t like the orange-fleshed variety of sweet potatoes most commonly found in the US. I far prefer the yellow-fleshed sweet potatoes found in Asian super markets. I far prefer the flavor of the yellow (sometimes called white, I think, though I have no idea why) over the orange.

The zucchini was good, but missing something. That’s where you come in. I cooked the zucchini with sun-dried tomatoes (dried them myself, re-hydrate them before using – they have fantastic flavor) that I chopped small and briefly sauteed before adding the zucchini.* Olive oil plus sun-dried tomatoes plus zucchini tasted good, but it lacked something. At the end I added just a splash of sparkling apple cider (just because, not for any particular reason). Overall it was too sweet without balance – as I said, something was missing.

Any thoughts on what might go with zucchini and sun-dried tomatoes? Maybe a splash of a vinegar (perhaps an apple cider vinegar)? I think the zucchini needed a savory note, but I can’t think of what to add.

*As a side note, to saute zucchini without getting mush, try salting it with a large granule salt and letting it drain for about 30 minuts. I like chunky Korean sea salt for this purpose, but kosher salt would work, too. This  makes it easier to remove the excess salt when the salting process is done. Salting removes much of the excess water that zucchini has and provides a far better texture after cooking. 

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Quick and Delicious Sun-dried Tomato and Chicken Quesadilla

The only time I ever wish I had a photographer following me around is when I want to post about food and realize I have no photos!

I moved out to live on my own last weekend. My new apartment has all new appliances and granite countertops with plenty of kitchen space (I fell in love in about half of a second upon entering the apartment the first time). The only way it could get better is if I had a gas range instead of electric. Now that I have my own kitchen with my own stuff supplied by me, and I can cook for just one person without feeling at all guilty about not feeding the other people around me I have begun to actually cook dinner each night.

This last week I was lazy for two nights of the week and ate things that required heating up. The other three nights, though, I made delicious food. Last night I made kimchi chigae and sushi rice, both of which were delicious. On Thursday I made an old favorite – fettucine alfredo with sun-dried tomatoes.

On Wednesday I made a quesadilla. I’m usually a cheese-only quesadilla kind of person. It’s like a grilled cheese sandwich – I don’t want anything added. In the last few years, though, I’ve branched out and become much more foodventurous! When I decided to make a quesadilla I thought, “What can I do to make this a little more interesting, flavorful and healthy?”

This past summer my mom accidentally grew a lot of tomatoes. We ended up using a dehydrator to make “sun” dried tomatoes. While I dislike raw tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes are a new favorite ingredient of mine. Not only can you find entire recipes built up around their flavor, you can add them to many different dishes to liven things up. When I moved out I brought a bag of those tomatoes with me, and this was the first ingredient I thought to include.

What goes better with cheese and sun-dried tomatoes than chicken? The fantastic thing about the quesadilla I made is how little work was actually involved, and how you can keep two of the main ingredients in the pantry – chicken and tomato.

You may be asking yourself, “What is she talking about? Chicken in the pantry?”

That’s right, I used canned chicken. While it may not be as appetizing mentally as freshly cooked chicken, it has some advantages. First, you can keep a can of chicken like you keep a can of tuna – stacked for a month or more in your pantry. Second, it’s already cooked. No time consuming cooking required, which makes this dish great for a quick-to-table meal. Third, it shreds better than freshly cooked chicken.

Tortillas are an ingredient you either need to have on hand, get from the grocery store or learn to make. If you feel like making your own tortillas, you probably already have the ingredients on hand (flour, salt, water, oil) so go crazy. Otherwise tortillas are pretty easy to find in the grocery store. I happen to like Azteca – they are drier, thinner, and less gluey than most other brands.

Cheese! Cheese is an important ingredient – I’d go so far as to say the most important. Quesadilla, after all, is a hybridization of the words “tortilla” and “queso” (Spanish word for cheese). You can use any cheese you think is appropriate to make a quesadilla. I happen to like using a marbled cheese like Colby jack, but a cheddar would also work. Mozarella is a bit too mild for my tastes in a quesadilla. Adding cream cheese can make the quesadilla a bit richer, but cream cheese shouldn’t be used alone. You could even get fancy and use a specialty cheese, just be sure to use something that melts well and can hold the other ingredients together.

Sun-dried tomatoes that are not in oil need to be rehydrated in a bowl of hot water before using. There are lots of ways to do this. I simply put the amount of tomatoes I want to use in a bowl or glass, fill it with very hot water and wait until the tomatoes soften up. The more you do this, the better feel you’ll have for it. You can always search on the internet for ways to do this to get a better idea of what method you want to use and how long you need to soak them.

After rehydrating the tomatoes, they need to be chopped up into small pieces. Make the pieces small enough that they will not overwhelm any single bite of quesadilla. Sun-dried tomatoes have a strong flavor – as delicious as it is, you probably want it to be a part of the overall flavor rather than dominating the entire profile.

The canned chicken needs simply to be opened, drained and shredded. Use your fingers to shred the chunks of chicken.

Shred a much cheese as you think is appropriate. I like the medium amount of cheese on my quesadilla, but because I did all of this by feel it’s hard to give a definite amount. Regardless, you’ll need to shred enough cheese to mix it in with the other ingredients and cover one tortilla (or one half tortilla if you are making a quesadilla out of just one tortilla instead of two).

Mix the cheese, sun-dried tomato pieces and chicken together. Place a tortilla in a pan over medium heat and sprinkle/spread the cheese mixture over it. If you’ve decided to make a one-tortilla quesadilla, this is where you would spread the mixture over half the tortilla, then fold the other half over. A two-tortilla quesadilla requires spreading over the entire tortilla and placing a second tortilla on top. Flip the quesadilla when the cheese starts to melt and the tortilla begins to turn light brown. Remove from heat and serve when the cheese is completely melted and both sides of the quesadilla are golden brown. Cut the quesdilla in wedges with a pizza cutter and serve!

This goes well with a little sour cream or salsa (and possibly guacamole).

Ingredients:

  • sun-dried tomatoes (dry or in oil)
  • canned chicken
  • cheese, like Colby jack
  • tortillas
  1. Begin re-hydrating sun-dried tomatoes using very hot water
  2. Shred desired amount of cheese (judge this based on number of quesadillas being made and the size of the tortillas)
  3. Open and drain chicken, shred into a bowl by pulling apart with your fingers
  4. Check sun-dried tomatoes for tenderness – if they are soft and pliable they are probably ready. Move on to step 5
  5. Put a pan on the stove to pre-heat it over medium heat (especially important with electric range)
  6. Drain the tomatoes and chop into very small pieces
  7. Add the shredded cheese and tomatoes to the bowl with the chicken. Mix together thoroughly
  8. Place a tortilla in pan and spread mixture over the surface, then cover with a second tortilla*
  9. When cheese begins to melt and the bottom of the quesadilla has begun to turn golden brown, flip over.
  10. Remove from heat when cheese is completely melted, both sides are golden brown, and all ingredients are heated through.
  11. Serve cut into wedges with sour cream, salsa or guacamole.

*As previously mentioned you can also spread over half the tortilla and simply fold the tortilla over

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The Dump Truck

My nephew turned 2 this week. His birthday party was on Saturday and he spent about five minutes staring at his cake saying, “Dump truck.” He’s adorable, but that aside I want to share the photos of the cake with you.

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Unfortunately, as I do not have a personal photographer that follows me around, I have no cake-in-progress photos. Believe it or not my hands were almost constantly covered in one camera-unfriendly substance or another while I was making the cakes.

I’ll give you a brief run down of what I did. For starters, I made a base by covering a plastic tote container’s lid with brown paper similar to what paper bags are made of. I wanted the base to be sturdy – fondant is very heavy!

The truck is made of yellow cake that I baked in two loaf pans. Unfortunately, the cake didn’t rise properly. I had hoped to have a more complicated truck cab, but I had to make do with a very dense cake. One loaf I intentionally made thin – about an inch or so thick – to serve as the bed on which the box rested. The other loaf was used for the cab. I cut it in half and frosted the two halves together. These were all covered in marshmallow fondant (which I highly recommend – in the past I’d used a fondant recipe with gelatin and corn syrup that was difficult to get at the right consistency).

The cab is resting on part of a cake mix box covered in foil. I made my first two cakes from recipes, but was frustrated and worried about how much cake I ended up with. I bought a mix to be sure I had something decent to serve. Hilariously my scratch chocolate cake turned out the best.

The “dirt” mounds are incredibly easy. I baked the cake in a Pampered Chef bowl that my Aunt gave me last Christmas. It’s called the classic batter bowl, but resembles a large liquid measuring cup. I then covered the mounds in chocolate frosting and rolled/dipped them in chocolate cookie crumbs. Frosting just the round side of the cake, holding it on either unfrosted end and rolling it in the cookie crumbs worked quite well. I also made a mini cake in a ramekin, which I covered in graham cracker crumbs – “sand.”

Headlights, taillights and the lights on top of the cab are M&Ms. The wheels are chocolate covered donuts with M&Ms for hub caps. The smoke stacks are white chocolate covered pretzel rods. The side mirrors are white chocolate-covered graham cracker pieces with aluminum foil as the “mirror” part. The “grass patches” are green frosting with green M&Ms and flower cut-outs of fondant (again thanks to my Aunt for the fondant cutters!). To make the tire tread I brushed Crisco onto the paper and then brushed cocoa powder over it.

Finally, the box of the dump truck: Using graham crackers and icing I made a box – bottom and four sides. To do this, I had to cut two of the graham crackers down because they were too long. The bottom had three crackers two side by side with one underneath covering the overlap. Once this was set up, I mixed up rice crispy treats and pushed it into the box. I formed the mound of “dirt” in the box and covered the rice crispy treat in cookie crumbs. The following day I covered the sides of the box in a reddish pink colored fondant and painted over that with a red edible paint made of water, corn starch, and red food coloring.

My sister asked for a dump truck cake for my nephew, so I hit up the internet for ideas. These were helpful:

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Fresh Strawberry Tart With Pastry Cream

I went to my sister’s house to grill and have a picnic this weekend, and I decided to make a dessert using the delicious strawberries in my fridge (actually I bought more strawberries because I love eating fruit). The New Best Recipe has a recipe for a fresh fruit tart with a variation specifically for strawberries, and that’s what I decided to make.

The tart has three parts – the crust, the pastry cream, and the fruit. Turns out it’s a lot more work than I expected!

The crust is made of sweet pastry dough, a more cookie-like counterpart to its cousin, American pie dough. According to The New Best Recipe, this dough is “tender and crisp,” not flaky like pie dough. The book also describes cookies as descendants of sweet pastry dough, claiming cookies were the result of the French deciding this dough was good enough to eat on its own.

I find pie dough to be about 10 times easier to work with than this sweet pastry dough. It may be delicious, but it warms up quickly and gets very sticky and hard to work with. Worst of all, every time I make it I can’t stop eating the dough raw!

The ingredients consist of an egg yolk, a small amount of cream, vanilla extract, flour, confectioners’ sugar, salt and a stick of butter. The yolk, cream and vanilla are whisked together while the flour, sugar and salt are supposed to be placed in a food processor – something I lack. My version involved mixing the two separately by hand. The cold butter is cut into the flour mixture, and then the egg yolk mixture is added and combined until the dough just comes together. Hard to do by hand, but not impossible.

The dough is then refrigerated for an hour, formed into a tart pan (I have a Nordic Ware tart and quiche pan with removable bottom that I bought at Target), frozen for 30 minutes, then baked. The crust is baked covered with aluminum foil using pie weights for 30 minutes, then the weights and foil are removed and the crust is baked until golden brown.

I don’t actually have pie weights, but beans work!

I won’t go into how pastry cream is made – it’s a pretty standard thing even if recipes vary. This recipe called for half-and-half rather than milk or cream. I used the quick-cooling method because I didn’t have a lot of time to wait. By spreading the pastry cream on a cookie sheet or other large pan (I used a 13x9in baking dish) between two layers of plastic wrap, you allow more heat to escape at once.

It might not look delicious here, but it is. The plastic prevents a skin from forming.

After cooling the crust and cream, the cream is spread over the tart crust. Strawberries are then placed in the pan, starting with the tallest strawberry in the center with the remaining berries placed in rings spreading outward.

First I cut the stem ends off the berries.

The recipe directs us to order the berries by size. They looked so good I couldn’t stop taking photos! This is before I lined up my strawberry army.

Once ordered by height the berries were ready to go into the tart.

Once great thing about this tart is that you don’t feel like you’re ruining the freshness of fruit by cooking it down – it doesn’t get cooked!

The final step is glazing the fruit. The New Best Recipe suggested using red currant jelly with strawberries, but they were out at the grocery store. I picked up apple jelly as a substitute.

Glazing involved heating the jelly to the boiling point and stirring enough to get the lumps out. The heated jelly is then brushed, flicked, and dabbed onto the fruit until everything looks shiny and delectable.

Doesn’t look particularly good, but it certainly makes the dessert look polished.

I cut way too many strawberries for my tart pan. I guess I’ll have to eat them later. Now the berries are ready for glazing.

The final product looked great, but be sure to serve it soon after you finish! The water in the strawberries will thin out the pastry cream making it hard to serve.

YUM

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