Fresh Corn Salsa

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I know that I always talk about how picky of an eater I used to be, almost to the point where I’ve become redundant. But the more I cook and the more I expand my tasting horizons, the more I realize how much I’ve missed out on over the years by being finicky. For example: this salsa would’ve been Nopes-ville for me a few years ago, thanks to its inclusion of raw red onions, green peppers and (the dreaded, soapy-tasting) cilantro. And now, I can’t get enough of it. After begging for the recipe, I’ve made it three times within the past month alone!

The reason I love this recipe so much is because it represents how far I’ve come; now when people ask me if I’m picky about food, I can proudly say “no”! Well… I still can’t stomach raw celery, blue or goat cheese… but I’m working on it.

Actually… I’m pretty sure I’m always going to hate celery, so we can just leave that off the list… please.

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Whoops, I digress–let’s get back to the salsa! It’s best with fresh or frozen corn, but if you’re in a pinch you can definitely used canned corn… don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. I’ve used both canned and cooked lentils with similar results, so long as you drain both very well. And if you’re a fan of heat, feel free to mince half a jalapeno pepper (de-seeded of course) and toss it into the mix. I prefer to leave it out in case people are not heat-inclined.

Lastly: I know that the pictures feature yellow bell pepper, but that was during one of my trial runs for this recipe. I definitely recommend green bell pepper instead. :)

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White Chocolate Chip Fudge Cookies

White Chocolate Chip Fudge Cookies

I didn’t choose the baking life… the baking life chose me.

Seriously–for someone who doesn’t really enjoy baked goods that much, I sure make a hell of a lot of them. And now that I bake as an almost-full time job, I am a bona fide slave to the oven. You’d think that I’d keep a large radius of distance between me and my new master on my days off, right? Alas, my friend: that is incorrect!

But I don’t mind jumping into my own kitchen after leaving the kitchen at work to prepare more food, which I suppose speaks to my passion for food and cooking. It’s still just as fun to me as it was before I started working at this bakery; perhaps even more so since I have complete control over what I make in my own house. When I’m at work, I’m following someone else’s recipes and directions–which, while educational, certainly doesn’t offer the same kind of creative stimulus that making recipes at home creates.

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So how is baking for a living going for me? Friends ask me whether I still enjoy baking, and the answer is yes. Whether I’m at work or I’m at home, in the end, I’m still making food for others’ enjoyment–and that’s why I find it so gratifying.

Speaking of others’ enjoyment, that is definitely the purpose of these cookies. I can eat maybe one or two of these before I’m chocolate-ed out; based on the reception these had at a recent game night with friends, I am in the minority. I’m normally not a fan of white chocolate, but I really enjoy it in small bursts with this very chocolate cookie. And the best part about this recipe? It makes cookies with crispy edges and a chewy center. Definitely best on the day they’re baked, but you’ll still find them delicious for up to a week.

White Chocolate Chip Fudge Cookies

Recipe adapted from Remodelaholic.

Malaysian Street Wings

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Isn’t it funny how we seem to be much more productive when we have less time to do everything? Now that I’m on a regular work schedule again, I find myself making to-do lists left and right. I’ve also opted to do less time-consuming recipes than usual–less preparation, fewer dishes, easier techniques… and I’ll admit that I’m definitely prone to eating a frozen pizza when I’m really lazy. (Totino’s forever! …I hate it, but I love it.)

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Wings fall into this category, simply because they require little in the way of preparation in order for them to be–simply put–damn delicious. They’re pretty cost-effective for how tasty they turn out to be if you cook at home, too! I recently picked up ~3 lbs. of wings at the local Asian supermarket for $5.00 and used the entire bag to make this recipe. One dirty skillet (yes, only one pot to cook!) and an hour later, James and I had enough wings to feed us for the next two meals.

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These wings are so, so good–savory, sweet, sticky, spicy… all things amazing. They re-heat in the oven well, too! The ginger, star anise and cinnamon (yes, cinnamon!) go a long way toward making these wings pack a spiced punch that is delightfully exotic. Honestly, the original recipe (featured on Andrew Zimmern’s blog) is practically perfect the way it is written. The only changes I’ve made were to enhance the ginger and star anise in the flavor profile, as well as ramp up the spiciness and the intensity of the savory glaze. Seriously, talk about umami–this recipe has that essence in spades.

I know that my pictures feature a skillet, but I would recommend using a pot instead–you don’t have to worry about stirring carefully, and the high sides of the pot will catch the oil when you’re initially pan-frying the chicken wings. And I found it helpful to have the wings closer to room temperature before cooking, as it reduced the cook time and the oil splatters. I ate the wings with some cucumbers and rice, but feel free to eat them as a stand-alone!

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Recipe adapted from andrewzimmern.com.

Blackberry-Glazed Lime Cookies

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My Facebook news feed has become a scrapbook of engagement, wedding and baby pictures. (Whether the individual accounts fall into that chronological order is a topic for another medium.) The pictures of babies have been especially numerous–here’s Baby B making a funny face! And Baby G is laughing at a sound mama made! While others may tire and eventually grow irate of these particular updates, I enjoy them immensely. I’ve never been shy about my preference for children: I’ve volunteered with adopted children at summer camps in the past, I’ve been a babysitter for as long as I can remember, I always make a beeline for the babies at potlucks and gatherings… and so on. I’m completely sure that my energy for kids will wane somewhat when I have my own child to watch around the clock, but for now, I’m happy to help!

 

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James’ fellow resident and his wife (also known as our neighbors and game night partners-in-crime) recently had their first baby, and getting to meet her only a few days after her birth was amazing. I’ve never seen a friend’s baby so soon after delivery–she is so tiny and delicate! And her eyes are the same clear color as her mom’s; I know that babies have pretty poor eyesight at birth, but when she lifted her eyes to mine I really felt like she was looking right at me! I was so grateful for the chance to see her and meet her.

I had toyed with the idea of baking something for them right around her due date, but since the baby’s gender was unknown, I decided to hold off on planning anything. After my impromptu visit, I figured I would jump right in and bake something pink to celebrate! (Which is not to say that pink is for girls only, of course.) But the idea of pink cookies wasn’t terribly appetizing to me. So I thought: why not turn to natural colors? And that’s how I ended up with a dark-pink blackberry glaze.

 

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As for the cookie itself… have you ever wondered why limes don’t get the same kind of love that lemons do? Admittedly, it’s not one of those pressing questions in today’s world. But other than key lime pie, we don’t see a lot of lime-centric desserts out there in the wide world of recipes–which is a shame, seeing that the lime has a sweeter, less mouth-puckering flavor than its citrusy cousin. I know that my recipe is like a tiny drop in a bucket, but hopefully it will encourage you to see limes in more ways than one.

And to my two friends–congratulations on your precious little one! I can’t wait to see the pictures of her in the knitted caterpillar suit. ;)

 

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Chocolate Whiskey Layer Cake with Irish Creme Frosting

chocolate_whiskey_cake_1 I know what you’re thinking, especially if you follow this blog with any kind of regularity: Kris, where hast thou gone? My only (poor, to be frank) excuses involve a new job, a constant stream of visitors, so on and so forth… so I won’t bore you with any of them. You, my friend, are not here for idle chit-chat. You are here for cake! Or perhaps recipes, and possibly cake? Let’s backtrack a little, shall we? A certain friend of mine from San Francisco that shall remain nameless–you know who you are!–is quite crazy about cake, despite her normal lack of love for desserts. To make a long story short, I promised her that if ever she came down to LA to visit me… there would be cake with her name on it. So where’s her name? It’s a little more subtle than that. She can drink me under the table in mere minutes; mere mortals dream of having her tolerance for whiskey. Therefore, I figured the best way to personalize this cake for her was to make said cake as alcoholic as tastefully possible. Ta-dah! chocolate_whiskey_cake_2 Two shots of Crown Royal and one shot of Bailey’s swim in a delicious chocolate/cream cheese dream of cake. Yes, you can definitely taste the alcohol in each bite. Is it jarring? Well… not if you like whiskey as much as we do :) The best part about this cake is its not-quite-sweetness. It’s chocolate-y without being cloyingly sweet–thanks to the inclusion of freshly-brewed coffee and use of cocoa powder as opposed to chocolate chips or bars. I loved the inclusion of black pepper and cloves–it complimented the honeyed tang of the whiskey that you faintly detect in the cake. And the cream cheese paired with Bailey’s Irish Cream is a match made in heaven; the soft sourness of the cream cheese goes very well with the milky-sweet Bailey’s. chocolate_whiskey_cake_3 Don’t worry about how liquid the cake batter is when you pour it into the cake pan–it will solidify into a moist, rich cake during the bake time. I would highly recommend you take the baking time in the recipe as more of a suggestion than the rule as well; everyone’s oven is different and cake can be so finicky! Start out with 35 minutes, then start using a toothpick through the center to test for doneness. The tops of the cakes may crack, but that’s okay–that’s what frosting is for! Just make sure that you allow the pans to mostly cool before removing the layers; since the cake is very moist, it’s also delicate and will break off if too much force is applied. The original recipe is for a 9-inch springform pan, but I dressed it up as a layer cake to pair it with the cream cheese frosting. I used 2 6-inch round layers to create a 4-layer cake, and ended up with a bit more batter to spare. Since there is a decent amount of batter leftover, you could always fill a coffee mug halfway with it and microwave it for a minute and a half for instant chocolate cake… which is a terrible, terrible idea, and I definitely did NOT do that. (I totally did, and it was awesome.) She loved the cake, and has since emailed me to tell me how much she misses it since she couldn’t smuggle it on the plane at the end of the weekend. If you’re willing to put some time into creating it, I just know you’ll have the same reactions! Good luck! chocolate_whiskey_cake_4 Original recipe from The New York Times.

Blueberry Cornmeal Cake

blueberry_cornmeal_cakeTrying to bake or cook in someone else’s kitchen is always a tough order. I wanted to make something fresh for my friend’s Memorial Day BBQ, but was baffled as to what I could bake without sacrificing quality or consistency. Fortunately, I remembered that I had this recipe up my sleeve and came prepared… or so I thought. blueberry_cornmeal_cake_2 When I came in with my skillet and voiced my intentions to bake a cake in said skillet, everyone joked about how they wanted to have the cake to themselves (or at least a good half of it). The host talked up my baking skills–to my embarrassment–and pretty soon, a genuine excitement around how the cake would turn out was buzzing in the air. Imagine my dismay, then, in the midst of this anticipation… to realize that I had left out a large portion of the sugar when mixing the batter! I can’t even tell you how or why–just that I can be a bit addle-brained once in a while. The exact moment of realization was horrible: as the batter refused to spread evenly onto the skillet, I realized that something was missing and gasped aloud. In a tizzy, I threw in the sugar and stirred vigorously, hoping that it wasn’t too late to salvage the cake. blueberry_cornmeal_cake_3 And guys… it was fine. The cake was demolished in record time. The only sign that I had deviated slightly from the recipe was the cake’s tendency to stick to the skillet a little more than usual… but the flavor itself was still spot-on. Thank goodness! The moral of this story is: don’t be like me. Well, probably more along these lines: this recipe is so easy and forgiving that you can mess up, sloppily fix it and still end up with a damn good cake for a summer BBQ. Hooray! blueberry_cornmeal_cake_5 I found the original recipe far too sweet for my tastes and dialed back the sugar to allow the fresh blueberries to sweeten the cake on their own. The turbinado sugar is mostly for show, but adds a nice, subtle crunch of flavor to each bite. And the best part about this recipe is how versatile it is–raspberries, blackberries, strawberries… even a mix of berries will taste wonderful on this cake! I’ve made it several times with a varying mix of the above and it’s turned out quite well. If you don’t have a cast-iron skillet, you can still use a glass or aluminum pan–I’ve provided alternate instructions below. I definitely recommend using the skillet if at all possible; just make sure that the skillet is seasoned before you attempt to bake in it, or you’ll have quite a time trying to scrape all of the cake from the pan. blueberry_cornmeal_cake_4 Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Living.

Breakfast Quinoa

 

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The first few times I made quinoa at home, I was thoroughly unimpressed.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it–I just didn’t understand what the hubbub was about. I knew that quinoa had a higher protein and vitamin content, thus making it an effective substitute for “empty” carbs such as white rice. But I couldn’t get over the slightly-bitter taste at the end, nor the slightly-slimy consistency. The little strings, or the germs, that extended from each individual grain were also not appetizing. At the time, I decided that the nutritional value of quinoa did not trump the less appealing parts of eating it.

Everything changed when I read this article on CNN’s Eatocracy site, written by America’s Test Kitchen. Apparently, I (and many other cooks) have been instructed to cook quinoa incorrectly! Armed with this knowledge in hand, I decided to give quinoa another shot; the result was absolutely delicious. Now I go through bags of quinoa quite easily, and most of them are used for this particular recipe.

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When cooked correctly, quinoa is chewy, toasty, and nutty–flavors which I found very complimentary to milk and a touch of sugar. Although the use of milk instead of water makes this recipe more finicky, I believe the result is well-worth the effort. The mouthfeel of chewing on toasted quinoa instead of mushy oatmeal is fantastic–I haven’t gone back to making oatmeal in months. And as I mentioned above, quinoa is a great nutritional alternative to oatmeal or to cereal, both of which are largely empty in protein.

I will admit–there is a bit more effort involved since you’ll need to stir the quinoa consistently throughout its cooking time, but I believe it’s worth it for the flavor it will create. Make sure the heat only goes to medium at the highest and that the milk never goes above a light simmer; these precautions will go a long way in making the consistency, as well as the flavor, just perfect.

I’ve used strawberries for this particular photoshoot because they were what I had on-hand, but any ripe berry will do! I think you’ll be surprised by how much you like quinoa for breakfast, and I hope you’ll give it a try.

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Sriracha Garlic Wings

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People are crazy about wings. Really crazy. At times, I felt left out somehow, as if I were missing out on something that I should implicitly understand. What was it about wings that caused people to go into fits of ecstasy? I mean, I loved buffalo sauce as much as the next guy, but what was all the fuss about?

It was only after I started making them myself that I understood: wings are the shortcut to the tastiest part of the bird. There are no choices to be made–shall I eat the thigh, or the breast? Dark meat or white meat? Skin or skinless? No, wings make those questions irrelevant; all choices lead to glorious, juicy dark meat with sinfully delicious skin. Whether fried or barbequed, roasted or baked, wings are very hard to screw up and almost always succulent.

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I’m usually in the habit of double-frying my wings–the not-so-secret secret to the crispiness of Korean or Japanese wings. But since I’ve been trying to encourage healthier eating habits for the two of us recently, I’ve found that baking wings–with the right marinade, of course–can still produce something that satisfies without being terribly unhealthy.

I love this recipe because it requires no dishes–just measuring cups, spoons, and a resealable bag! Easy clean-up and a great way to plan meals a day in advance. I do advocate marinating the meat overnight–or throwing the wings into the marinade in the morning and baking them for dinner. If you can’t plan ahead, make sure to allocate at least three hours for the chicken to marinate and be generous with the amount of marinade you baste onto the wings right before baking. I know that ½ cup of sriracha sounds like a fire waiting to happen, but you’ll find that the honey mellows the fire considerably–leaving a nice, soft heat that compliments the garlic well.

I should warn you, however–the smell these wings produce while baking is utterly intoxicating. The bake time will seem agonizing toward the end! Enjoy!

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Sichuan-Style Peanuts

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We were hanging out at a friend’s house playing board games when hunger struck–painful and relentless, as always. Since it was already nearing the wee hours of the morning, she jumped up to take a peek at her pantry and found a bag of Sichuan peanuts from the local Asian market.

I was wary at first–I’m a fan of heat, but the word “Sichuan” (or Szechuan) has always been a red flag. I can handle spicy, but can I handle Sichuan spicy? As soon as I took my first bite, however, all of my fears dissipated and were replaced by my need to eat the entire bag. My tongue and then my entire mouth went numb, and I was still as happy as a clam. I devoured the peanuts dutifully, as if they were an additional objective to winning the game.

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Sichuan flavors are bright, unapologetic and brash–the dishes are almost always spicy, but it would be insulting to say that Sichuan cuisine is a one-trick pony that only relies on heat to convey its flavor. The red oil that is so easily recognized in many Sichuan dishes is a rich mixture of cardamom, star anise, five spice and Sichuan peppercorn–as well as the tried-and-true aromatics of garlic and ginger. The Sichuan peppercorn is the reason that your mouth numbs and tingles after a few bites–hence its literally translated name “prickly ash”.

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James and I found the bag of Sichuan peanuts at the store shortly afterward, but I wanted to try making it on my own–and I think I’ve found a worthy home-made alternative to the store brand, minus the inevitable MSG and additives that are usually included in most snack foods. I’ve even added orange peel, which brightens the flavor of the peanuts and adds a sharp, almost floral contrast to the spiciness of the peppercorns.

I’ve made this dish twice now, and I need to emphasize the importance of using kosher salt or a finely-ground salt; otherwise the peanuts are spicy but bland. If you want a little bit of heat but not a lot, reduce the number of dried chilies and peppercorns. Lastly, I should note that you’re not going to easily find Sichuan peppercorns at your local grocery store; you’ll probably need to head over to a specialty spice store, Whole Foods, or a local Asian market. (I recommend the latter; the prices will be much more reasonable.) This is a great snack for guests–and a better alternative to potato chips if you’re a snacker. I personally enjoy them while playing games myself… and even more so when I win them!

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Magic Mushrooms (Salmon-Wrapped Avocado)

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I recently put chalkboard paper on some of my kitchen cabinets to make the kitchen look a little less plain and a little more interesting. A grocery list here, some inspiring quotes regarding food, cooking and the pursuit of happiness there… and at the bottom, a funny little list titled ‘What Would James Eat?’. James is always asking me to make something or other–and while I am always up for the challenge, I tend to lose track of his numerous requests. So I decided to honor his insatiable appetite (and my burgeoning attempts at interesting dishes) by giving him some space in my kitchen for a list.

(What’s on the list, you ask? Homemade pho and Taiwanese beef noodle soup, among other things. But those are other recipes for other entries!)

Magic mushrooms have been on the list since before the list existed, however, and I’m glad I was finally able to deliver with a version all my own.

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Magic mushrooms are our favorite appetizer from Hapa Sushi, which is a fusion/nouveau-type sushi restaurant in the Metro Denver area. Whenever we visit Denver, we go to Hapa and order this appetizer without fail. However, it’s been well over half a year since the last time we’ve managed to patronize this sushi joint–so I only had my memories as reference. If you’re a Denver native or you’ve eaten at Hapa before, you’ll have to tell me whether I’ve managed to create a worthy copycat recipe, okay?

I would advise you to make sure you have a nice, sharp knife before attempting to make these; a dull knife won’t be able to create the thin slice necessary for the rolling of the salmon around the avocado. Additionally, this recipe requires vigilance: you can’t really walk away from any of it while it’s cooking. There’s not really much I can offer in the way of a shortcut other than buying the sweet soy sauce (or unagi sauce) at the store instead of making it yourself–but the consistency will be thinner.

Even if these mushrooms taste nothing like the ones at Hapa, I still think they’re pretty damn tasty. You’ll be dismayed at how quickly they disappear relative to the amount of work it takes to make them–but hey, you’ll get credit for being an awesome cook, so all’s well that ends well!

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