Sunday, July 31, 2011

Book Review: Vicksburg: The Campaign that Opened the Mississippi by Michael Ballard

This book was another find at the Borders sellout sale. Not my usual history book, but I find military history fascinating and would love to learn more about it. I also took a Civil War class last year and that time period ranks a close second behind my specialty (Early American history). Since I was on vacation this week, I also figured I'd have lots of concentrated time on my flights and on the beach to focus on the complex details. I know it's not a typical beach read, but I rarely do things in a typical manner.

I really enjoyed reading this book and found it far easier to read than I expected. Even though it is heavy on military details such as troop movements, battle locations and formations, and numbers- those details are rarely overwhelming. There were only a few moments where I had to take a step back and refocus because I was getting bogged down in details and having trouble seeing the big picture. The author also does a fantastic job of exploring various aspects of life during the war.  He discusses the impact on the countryside, homes, civilians, guerrilla warfare, the impressions of every day soldiers and the personalities and relationships between commanders. Those details were really crucial to the development of the story. It helped the book read like a story, rather than a recitation of numerous battles.

There were some aspects of the book that I would have changed. There were far too few maps included. When the author was describing troops movements, the positioning of defensive works, cavalry, etc., I often struggled to understand or picture what he was describing. I ended up flipping back and forth between where I was reading and the closest map, which was neither practical nor efficient. I needed pictures, even small, basic images, to fully comprehend the movements and positions. Just as importantly, the maps that were included, were often confusing and not very helpful. I understand that the author didn't draw most of the maps, but if he was responsible for selecting the images, he did so poorly. Often times, a less sophisticated map with fewer streams, roads, etc. is actually far more helpful. I struggled to decipher what was a road, stream, line of troops or hill ridge when studying the map. Granted, I'm no professional when it comes to that kind of thing, but I'm a smart girl and usually can figure maps out. 

Despite these few shortcomings, the book is an extraordinary scholarly work. It clearly required tremendous research, dedication, time and devotion to complete. It does a wonderful job of demonstrating the long term importance of the Vicksburg campaign and the impact the Union victory had on the outcome of the Civil War.  I also felt that the author appropriately covered the battles and maneuvering leading up the the Vicksburg campaign and the fighting that continued after the Confederate surrender. The author made a very convincing argument for why Vicksburg and the Western Theater of war influenced the direction of the Civil and why it deserves more recognition and attention for its role. Perhaps most importantly, it piqued my interest in the subject and made me want to learn and read more about that time.

This book is definitely one I would recommend to others interested in the Civil War. If you had no interest, then maybe not so much.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Red Hot Developments and Re-Do's

I really crack myself up. I know it's not cool to laugh at your own jokes, but if you can't laugh at yourself, no one will. Don't get the joke? Give it a minute and keep reading.

My new kitchen will be primarily white. Lots and lots of white with possibly some black appliances. So I decided a few well placed pops of color were just what the kitchen doctor ordered. I have always been a fan of red, especially in kitchens, so I decided that when the time came to get some new kitchen gadgets, I would go red. The time came yesterday at Home Goods (my first trip by the way and I'm totally obsessed). Get the red hot joke now? What do you think of my new goodies? I love them and I hope you agree. I also got a new cutting board, an 8x8 baking pan, some glasses, wine glasses, etc. I'll be sure to share them later.

On another note, please excuse the reduced blogging this week. I've been having a nice time with my family in California and blogging has sort of been pushed to the back burner. But have no fear, I will be back with a vengeance next week.

I have done a little bit of cooking over the last week, but mostly I've just been working on perfecting past recipes. First up, the honey white bread. I decided that perhaps my mixer was to blame for the lack of rising last time and I would attempt to make the bread by hand. I figured that our grandmothers and great grandmothers and great great grandmothers made bread and they didn't have standing mixers, so why couldn't I do it too? (Do you hear the stubbornness creeping into my voice? It was definitely there and frankly sustained me later).

So I started the same way as last time with letting the yeast rise, but this time I had way more confidence because I bought a thermometer, so I knew my liquids were the right temperature. Then, instead of using the mixer to beat the ingredients, I used a whisk and mixed by hand. When the recipe said mix for 5 minutes, I whisked for five minutes (using a timer to be precise). When the recipe said knead for 10 minutes, I kneaded for ten minutes. It took a little while and I sort of had to improvise while adding the flour, but boy did it work. The dough looked gorgeous when I was done. Although, word of warning. Kneading and mixing by hand is a serious work out. My arms were numb by the time I was done and I was dripping sweat (a real sexy image I know). This picture shows you what the dough looks like after the first "rise". It was such a huge difference from last time, I can't even tell you. Probably twice the size.

This was the dough before the second rise my first time around.

This was the dough before the second rise my second time. I don't think it demonstrates the change very well, but it was tremendous. Also, I got a second loaf pan so I can make two loaves, because I'm a bread addict like that.

This is post second rise. They are so fluffy and squishy I just want to poke them! Anyone else feel that way? No, just me? Try the recipe and you'll see what I mean.

Final loaf first time around.

Final loaves second time. Huge, brown and gorgeous. And seriously freaking delicious. OMG. That's all I have to say about that. I may never make bread using anything but my hands ever again.

Ok, one more thing and then I'm done. I know, longest post ever. I made the red velvet cupcakes again. My aunt loves them and I wanted to make them for her. This time I got loads of red food coloring. No messing around here.

I took this picture the day after making them. They definitely darken as they cool, but once you bite into them it's pure red. Well, more like scarlet. But either way, the two tablespoons of red food coloring really did the trick.

Ok, I think that's it. Hope you all are having a wonderful week!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Green Bean Side Dish and Awesome Pie Trick

I'm leaving this week to visit family, so I gave bf the task of deciding what he wanted for dinner this weekend. Old-fashioned Chicken and Dumplings and Quiche were his choices. Quiche was on the menu last night and I almost always make a side vegetable for dinner. This green bean recipe is one that I've made before, but I always forget to document my progress because it's so easy and something I just made up. I also wanted to try and perfect the quiche. The previous two times I've made it the taste has been wonderful, but the crust always looks a little wonky. I saw a great picture online of beautiful crust and was determined to replicate it.

So crust first, because it came first. I started by slowly unrolling the dough (I buy it from the store, I know, for shame). Then, using a pizza cutter, I cut off about 3/4-1 inch of the outside of the dough. You want there to be enough dough to come up to the edges of the pie tin, but not over the edges. Place the circle in the tin like you usually would. Then, using the pizza cutter again, slice the remaining dough (which should be in a large circle) into 3 or four pieces. Next, slice each piece into three long strips. Pinch one side of the three pieces together and then bread normally. When the pieces run out, cut a smooth edge with the pizza cutter.

Repeat that step until you have 3 or four braids. Then using a little brush, dab water or eggs whites if you have some available (they are stickier) around the edge of the shell. Place the braids around the top and gently press into the shell. You don't want to squish the braids, just make sure the inside edge is stuck to the crust. Each braid should have a pretty, clean cut edge and a squished, not so pretty edge. Place the pretty edge of one braid of the squished edge of the next braid, using a little water or egg white to seal the two. Don't neglect your seals, because the braids do a little shrinking in the oven and as you can see in my next picture, my braids started to move apart.

So the braids cooked very nicely and were super tasty. They also looked way prettier than my old crusts. However, there were little gaps in between to sections of the crust, so next time I need to use egg whites to seal them in place. Still, a major improvement and a trick I will definitely use again!

Now, the green beans. First, I bring water to a boil for the beans. While the water is heating up, I toast some pine nuts in a small skillet. I usually don't measure, just pour in enough to cover the bottom of a super small skillet. Once the nuts are nice and toasted, I remove them to whatever bowl I plan to serve the green beans in. Next, I add some olive oil and some Parmesan cheese. I used the good olive oil for flavor last nice. I mix the ingredients together and add more olive oil if necessary.

I then cook the green beans for about 5 minutes in boiling water, or until tender. Generally, I plan for a good handful per person, plus a small handful extra. Not very precise, but I find that way of measuring is more successful than weight. When the green beans are done, drain them and pat dry. Then combine them with the sauce and mix together. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the top and plate.

As a final touch, grate a little lemon zest over the green beans (or leave off if you are like bf and don't like lemon). Enjoy!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Spring Onion and Asparagus Risotto

I saw this recipe the other day while perusing I love risotto. I love how creamy it tastes (without any cream). I love how when filled with vegetables, it is a hearty and nutritious meal. And frankly, I love that I'm good at making it. Plus bf loves it, so we eat it a lot. After I made this particular dish, it was amazingly delicious by the way, I realized it was very similar to many of the other risottos I've made this spring. I guess when things are good, you shouldn't mess with them! Anyway, bf liked this recipe better than the Summer Lemon-Vegetable Risotto. I loved both.

Spring Onion and Asparagus Risotto
adapted from here

2 cups Arborio rice
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup dry white wine
1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed, sliced one inch thick at an angle
3 medium spring onions (also known as scallions or green onions), cleaned and sliced
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
zest of one lemon
salt + black pepper to taste

I started by chopping the green onions and trimming and chopping the asparagus. I heated up one tablespoon of butter in my super huge skillet and when it was hot, I added the onions. I cooked the onions, stirring frequently, until they were tender, about 4 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, I heated up the other tablespoon of butter in my medium skillet. When hot, I added the asparagus and cooked for about five minutes, or until the asparagus was tender. I then removed the skillet from the heat and set aside.

When the green onions were ready, I add two cups of arborio rice and cooked for about a minute. Then I added the white wine and cooked for a few minutes or until almost all of the liquid was absorbed. Note: in these early stages and at the very end, you should be stirring the risotto pretty much constantly to prevent burning. In the middle stages, when you are adding lots of broth, stir pretty frequently, but you don't need to do it constantly.

Once the wine was almost completely absorbed, I added about 1/2-3/4 of broth (which I had been warming in a pot on the side). This shows how the rice looks when I first started adding broth. As a comparison, the next picture will show how big the rice gets once all the broth is absorbed.

Keep adding 1/2 cups of broth, stirring until they are absorbed, and then adding more broth until the rice is nice and creamy and it's tender to the bite. When the last half cup is being absorbed, add the asparagus, so it can reheat.

Once all the broth is absorbed, add the cheese, the lemon juice, the parsley and salt and pepper. Stir until incorporated.

Serve big bowlfuls with the lemon zest on top for decoration! Yum!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Chickpea Croquettes

A family friend recently told me about this amazing site: The concept is simple. You enter ingredients you have lying around the house. Then you can add ingredients you don't like or prefer to stay away from. Click "enter" and up pops a load of recipes, complete with grocery lists, amazing pictures and descriptions. The last two nights, I have found my dinners on here. The best part is I feel like I am actually using everything in my fridge. An added bonus is that most of the recipes come from random food blogs, so not only am I finding good food, but I'm finding great new places to peruse online. Three cheers for more excuses to waste time on the computer!!!

Anyway, this recipe is amazing. Super easy and healthy and so full of taste you can hardly stand it. It is also friendly to our vegetarian buddies and family members. It's definitely something that will be crossing my table (on the way to my belly) again.

Chickpea Croquettes
recipe from here

1 c whole wheat flour
3/4 c hot water
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 t ground cumin
1 1/2 t salt
15-oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained well
4 scallions, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 habanero or jalapeno, minced (optional, no thanks for me)
3 garlic cloves , minced
2 T chopped cilantro leaves
3 T olive oil

I started by mixing together the flour, water, cumin and salt. (I was also supposed to add the lemon juice at this point. I did a few minutes after taking the picture once I realized my mistake.)

I then did all of my chopping: garlic, scallions, bell peppers, and cilantro. I also rinsed the chickpeas and patted them dry and then dumped everything into the bowl. I stirred for a few minutes or until everything was combined together. The dough-like substance is very wet. Don't worry, that's ok. Also, one other note. I had a mix of red, orange and yellow bell pepper slices left over from my curry dish, so I just used those rather than only red bell peppers.

Next, I heated up about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and then made 4 patties using my hands and dropped them in the hot oil. I was very inconsistent with my patty sizes (boo me), but basically you want to make a cup with your hand and for the dough to not quite fill up the palm of your hand. Very scientific I know.

I experimented with the best way to cook these guys (because you have to do two batches, or 8 patties), but I found the best way to be as follows. Drop your sticky patties into the oil and let them cook for about a minute until the bottom forms a solid surface. Then flip them over and using a large spatula, flatten the patties until they are about a 1/2 inch thick. Let the second side cook for another minute, then flip again. Let the first side cook for about 3-4 more minutes, then flip and let the second side cook for 3-4 more minutes until both sides are nice and crispy. I know it seems like a big hassle to do so many flips, but it's impossible to shape the patties in your palm because they are so sticky. This way, the patties seemed to cook evenly and were the right thickness.

Once the patties were done (about ten minutes per batch), I placed them on a paper towel-covered plate to absorb the excess of the oil.

I then served the croquettes with sour cream and corn on the side. Bf also had some salsa and red pepper flakes on his patties and said the combo was delicious. Next time, I'd probably choose a greener, leafier vegetable, but the meal was delicious either way.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Book Review: Parlor Politics by Catherine Allgor

I absolutely loved this book. I thought it was incredibly well written and a totally new look at history and a time period that is pretty well documented. It's not easy to bring a new perspective to the table, but this book does an amazing job.

The author focus on a thirty year period, 1800-1830, that gave birth to the Washington, D.C. we are familiar with today. In particular, the women behind the scenes that structured the social scene in D.C. and served as partners to their husbands and agents for their families in the common goal of obtaining jobs, social standing and networks of kin and friends. The book is structured into five parts. First, President Thomas Jefferson's administration and his attempts to keep women at the margins of the city and politics. Second, Dolley Madison's impact on D.C. and the White House. Third, women in Washington in general. Fourth, Louisa Catherine Adams campaign to win the Presidency for her husband. Five, how one woman brought down the Jackson Cabinet, and almost the republic.

What was so amazing to me about this book is that it takes place in an era I am really familiar with. I wrote my thesis on John Quincy Adams during his tenure of Secretary of State, which is the exact same time period as section four in this book. Yet, somehow, I overlooked the tremendous contributions of Louisa Catherine (I am really embarrassed to admit that). To be fair, I wasn't writing about the 1824 election, which was her primary focus, but she was a huge social player in D.C. and should not have been missed. In fact, that's really the point of the book. To demonstrate the massive role women played in the first 30 years of the capital, but how they brokered deals, managed people and pulled strings from inside their protected parlors. It was critical that they be able to deny any interest in affecting politics such that they were complying with social expectations about the behavior of women, and that they instead were only trying to help their family or close friends.

I particularly liked that the author didn't try and make the story fit into today's feminism. The women, the main characters in the book, were not trying to change how men thought about women. They weren't trying to change how society viewed them. Rather, they recognized the important role they played as wives, mothers, sisters, etc. in developing the social scene to enhance and support the political work of the capital. This job was something they were proud of and it was important and deserves recognition. But, I think it deserves recognition for what it was and we shouldn't try and change or alter their work to fit today's goals.

A few other, less substantial thoughts about the book. The author used the word pose too much. It's not like it was every other sentence, so I can see how the author or an editor would miss it. However, whenever describing someone's actions, particularly if they were trying to appear different than they actually were, she used the word pose. Not a big deal really, but it just sort of irked me. Also, I found certain points to be a little repetitive. It seemed as though the author really wanted to stress the importance of some fact, but I felt like she should have cut the paragraph a sentence or two shorter. Again, a small and nit-picky thing.

Because I wrote my thesis on John Quincy Adams, or perhaps I focused on JQA because I find him so interesting, I was drawn to the section on Louisa Catherine. It is my firm belief that JQA is under recognized in history, and his wife, as most wives were, is as well. After reading this book, I could really see myself writing about her or their partnership in the future. It even got me thinking about changing my dissertation topic. No decisions on that yet, still just pondering, but the fact that this book even got me thinking about such a big change, says a lot about my high opinion of it.

Anyway, while reading the Louisa Catherine section, I noticed that they lived in a house on F street, which they renovated to include more space for social functions.  Being the history nerd that I am and a resident of Washington, D.C., I know where most historical homes are, or at least can picture the location in my mind. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out where their house was. After way too much time googling, I was sort of able to deduce a few things. Evidently, their home was first used by Madison, when he was Secretary of State. Also, several years later it was across the street from the Ebbitt House, the precursor to the Old Ebbitt Grill. The Ebbitt house was believed to be closer to Chinatown than it is now. Finally, in some random blog, I was able to find an address: 1333-1335 F Street NW. You wouldn't believe how hard it was to find that information and I have found no way to verify it. All I know is, currently 1333-1335 F street is large, modern office buildings. It breaks my heart to think that so much history was made in a house that no longer exists. I wish more care had been taken to preserve these special places. There isn't even a plaque. If anyone can or is able to verify my findings, I would be so grateful. Also, don't be surprised if you read in a newspaper one day in the future that I've started a campaign to get the city to put a plaque there :). Just saying, wouldn't be totally out of character.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Move: It Begins

I sort of picture that title being read out loud, followed by a big "duh duh duh". Really loud, like they do in the movies when something big or scary is about to happen? Please tell me you know what I'm talking about.

Anyways, I have started. Actually, that's sort of a lie. Like almost all things I do, I've been planning for a while now how best to get my ungodly about of clothes, books and other things across country. I'm very lucky that I am able to leave most of the furniture here with bf and I'm going to get some hand-me-downs and new things when I get to California. So, compared to other moves, it's not really that bad. But, seriously, my clothes. I need to stop for a while. And in an effort to make things more manageable, I've taken huge amounts of stuff to Goodwill in the last few months, although trying to convince my bf that I've made a dent is a failing effort so far. Then, in April, when my parents visited, I sent two huge duffel bags of winter clothes, boots, coats, etc. home with them. Lucky for me they get to bring two suitcases for free whenever they fly. I also sent 3 astronomically heavy boxes of books home. Sorry Dad for having to carry those.

That brings me to step 2, 3 and 4. Step 2: Pack two humungo bags to check when I go to California next week for my little sister's big 2-1. Pack one small carry on bag with clothes I actually plan to wear. Check.

Step 3: Back boxes of stuff I don't need right now to ship out to California. What's in all of these boxes you ask? Some glassware, housewares, leftover books, desk stuff, empty jewelry box. See the picture on the left? I wish those were the only boxes. Luckily there were only a few more. Check.

Now, being that he is a cat, and cats love boxes, and he is king of the world, of course, Winston helps himself to the boxes. He is on them, in them, and when they are still flat leaning against the wall, he is behind them. The ones under the bed have even formed a fort in which he is building a little nest with stolen goods. At least one of us is entertained.

Step 4: The beast of a chair. This is the only piece of furniture I'm taking to CA. It's actually not huge and isn't super heavy as furniture goes, only about 35 pounds, but it has taken on so much more weight in my mind. Apparently most people don't try and ship a single piece of furniture across the country? There isn't really an easy way to do it, let me tell you. I think, after tons of deliberation, research and pulling at my hair, I've decided to Fed-Ex it. I'll let you know once I figure out how to actually get it to Fed-Ex as it doesn't fit in my car.

So, there is my moving update. Nothing too exciting I must admit, but I thought I would keep you all updated on the progress and let you know how it was going. I can't wait to show you all my new place, but that will have to wait until September...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Gnocchi: Part Two

After I made the gnocchi last time with a tried and true sauce, I decided that this time I wanted to try something new. Bf and I brainstormed and I searched around for recipes and we landed on a simple cream sauce. This recipe is a simple, basic cream sauce that can be dressed up for whatever occasion you want. Bf added some pepper to his, I also think it would be great with some lemon, or paprika or even some garlic for a sauce over steak. I made asparagus on the side but ended up adding it to the bowl with the gnocchi and the cream sauce and the combination was incredible.

Cream Sauce
from here

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup heated milk
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • salt
  • white pepper, or black since I don't have white
  • freshly ground nutmeg (optional)
  • Few tablespoons dry white wine, a few teaspoons mixed fresh herbs, Parmesan cheese, etc.
First, I melted the butter and then added the flour. I stirred the flour until it was fully incorporated and let it cook for about a minute to remove the raw flour taste. In another sauce pan, I heated up the milk until steaming, but not simmering.

Once the milk was hot, I slowly added it to the butter mix, stirring continuously.

Meanwhile, I brought the gnocchi water to a boil and added the little dumplings. Generally they take about 3 minutes, but you can tell they are done when they begin to float to the surface. To make sure the little guys can float, stir the water and the pasta when you first add them to the water to prevent any sticking.

At this time, I also brought the asparagus water to a boil and cooked the asparagus for about 5 minutes. If you like your asparagus nice and crisp, I would suggest 3 minutes, but bf likes his a little softer, so we do 5.

During this whole times, I have been stirring the sauce  frequently while it thickens. Once it's been simmering for about 5 minutes and nice and thick, you can add the cream and the white wine. I added about a tablespoon. Next time I would add more because I thought the sauce needed a little more kick.

Then, I added the salt, pepper and fresh nutmeg using my brand new microplane! I must say, I am a little too excited about this gadget. Fresh herbs are always better, so once I get the hang of using it, nutmeg will be showing up in everything (or cinnamon, lemon zest, the possibilities with this guy are endless!).

Finally, I added a handful of Parmesan cheese, stirred to melt and incorporate the cheese and the sauce was done. It was so easy, it literally took about 10 minutes and it made a ton! We had liberal helpings on our gnocchi as you can see below and still have a bowl leftover in the fridge.

Isn't it pretty! There isn't anything as simply elegant as cream sauce. I can't wait to try out some variations on this recipe for other things!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Book Review: The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

I really wanted this book to be good. I loved the idea of the story: a few women, connected through the importance and fragile nature of the news during WWII. One a reporter in Europe, one a postmaster in a small town, and one a wife, waiting for her husband to come home from London. I was disappointed.

The characters were great. Unique, quirky and they fit well together. However, their motivations weren't as developed as I would have liked. Sometimes it felt like they were moved to act for the sake of the story line rather than their own personal reasons.

My biggest complaint was with the writing. I really hate to outright criticize a writer, because I know how hard writing can be, but I really didn't enjoy Blake's writing for two reasons. First, there were moments where I felt like the story suffered so that the story could be told in an artsy way. The reader was forced to jump from scene to scene and it really wasn't always clear what had happened, who was where or what time/date it was. It felt like Blake was trying to avoid a day to day routine, which I appreciated, but at times more detail was necessary to fill out the picture. I would even go so far as to say that it felt like the author had a series of scenes in mind for the book, but forgot or failed to tie them together in any meaningful way. At least that's how it felt to me as a reader.

Second, at times the writing got way too into detail. And not in a describe every leaf, stone or branch type of way. It felt like the author was trying too hard to be poetic in her descriptions. I know it's important to make your writing interesting and come alive, but this book took things too far. In fact, I think the writing got in the way of the story at times. Blake got so caught up in explaining how one character felt in the presence of another that I forgot why they were even in the same room.

Oh and I nearly forgot, I didn't like the ending. It was abrupt and stilted and didn't really fit. I think the author was trying to tie together the first few pages and the last few, but failed. The reference to the first few pages was not nearly clear enough and I only was able to guess that this was what was intended. 

Ultimately, this book was a quick read and I did enjoy it, but not nearly enough to recommend to others. Although an interesting and novel idea, the story didn't feel well thought out and didn't flow in a pleasant way for the reader.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Curried Chicken Sauté

Another blog lesson: I should never say I'm going to cook something tomorrow because the minute I put that promise out into the universe, the universe makes it its mission to thwart me either through moldy chicken or massive pho hankerings. What can I say, I try and keep it spontaneous :). So here is the dish I promised a few days back...

I have a new favorite app. It's the Cooking Light app. It has the ingredients, instructions and pictures- plus dishes I haven't seen before and suggestions for pairings. It also makes grocery shopping on the fly (which I rarely do) a breeze because your ingredient list is in the palm of your hand (literally). I found this recipe via my new app and tried it out last night and it was delicious! Bf was especially happy with it as he is a curry monster. Depending on your taste, you can always add more curry to make it stronger, or a dash of cayenne or chili powder to make it spicy. I, of course, did no such thing.

Curried Chicken Sauté 
from Cooking Light App

1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder, divided
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts
mixed bell peppers, thinly sliced- I used almost 3 full peppers
1 cup light coconut milk
1 lime
1 cup of quinoa (and 3 cups of water)

note: I used about 1.5 pounds of chicken, so I used about 2 teaspoons curry powder, 1.5 cups coconut milk, etc.

I started by slicing the chicken breasts into strips. The recipe called for the breasts to cook whole, but frankly, I find that the outsides get burnt and dry and the insides don't cook well and the whole process takes a while. So I decided to go with strips since the chicken gets cut up later anyway. I then put the strips into a big baggy and added the 1.5 teaspoons of curry powder, and 3/4 of a teaspoon of salt and pepper. Then, I shook the bag until all of the pieces were covered and let the chicken cook for a few minutes while I was cutting up the peppers. At this point I also started cooking some quinoa.

Once the peppers were thinly sliced, I added some cooking spray to the pan and turned the heat on and added the chicken to the hot pan. I cooked the chicken for a few minutes on each side, flipping the pieces every so often. When the chicken was nicely browned and cooked through, I remove it to a plate.

Then, I added the bell peppers and the remaining curry powder to the hot pan and cooked for about a minute.

Next, I added the coconut milk and scraped the bottom of the pan to make sure all of the flavor was absorbed in the sauce. I simmered the peppers for about 4 minutes, or until the sauce thickened slightly.

After about 4-5 minutes, I added the chicken and simmered for about another minute until all of the chicken was warmed through.

Finally, I spooned some quinoa into a bowl, added the chicken and bell pepper mix, and poured several spoonfuls of sauce of the whole thing. This dish would also be great with tofu if you are a vegetarian and is really easy to make, definitely a keeper!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Not-So-Red, Red Velvet Cupcakes

So the moral of this story is that 2 tablespoons is a LOT of food coloring. I only had about a teaspoon of red food coloring and I thought it would be plenty to turn the batter red. False. The cupcakes are amazing, don't get me wrong, they just look like chocolate, not red velvet.

That being said, the frosting is incredible and the texture of the cupcakes is divine. I will definitely be keeping this recipe around and making these again.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
makes 30 cupcakes
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cooa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons red food coloring
2 teaspoons vanilla exract

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
16 ounces powdered sugar

I started by whisking together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. I then set this bowl aside.

Next, I mixed together the butter and the sugar. Then, I added one egg at a time and mixed after each addition.

I then added the sour cream and milk and mixed again until smooth.

Next, I added the food coloring and the vanilla extract. This step was when I began to suspect that red food coloring needed to be added in large doses.

I then added the flour mixture in small batches and mixed slowly until the mixture was just barely combined.

Once the batter was ready, I filled the cupcake liners about 2/3 full. The batter is pretty thick so cupcakes don't look great at this point, but they rise beautifully.

I cooked the cupcakes for about 18 minutes at 350 degrees, or until you can insert a toothpick and remove it cleanly. Once the cupcakes were finished, I  removed them from the pan and let them cool completely.

When the cupcakes were cool, I mixed together the cream cheese, sour cream, butter and vanilla.

I then added sugar and mixed slowly until smooth.

Finally, I frosted the cupcakes and enjoyed. They are amazing!