Coming to Astoria: Samples from Astoria Coffee!

Coffee samples from Astoria Coffee

Samples from Astoria Coffee.

I love coffee. I’m even one of those “weird” people who doesn’t drink coffee for the caffeine. I drink decaf most of the time; I just love the flavor. So, when I heard that a coffee shop was opening right in the neighborhood (on 30th Street and 30th Ave, right near the Verizon store), I was super excited. Then super dismayed when I realized exactly how much money I will be spending there.

Still, Astoria Coffee is going to be an amazing addition to the neighborhood—gourmet coffee, loose leaf teas, beer and wine, baked goods, and even some other light munchies. I was lucky enough to get in contact with Dennis via Twitter and snag some samples of beans they were trying out.

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Reader Request: Turkey Shepherd’s Pie

Turkey Shepherd's Pie

Turkey Shepherd’s Pie

Yam

When cooking yams, simply microwave them, cut them in half, and then scoop out the filling with a spoon. It should slide right out!

Unfortunately, I missed last week’s cover cooking challenge due to stomach issues. Fortunately, I’m a big fan of comfort food and have a ton of easy, warm recipes to make when my tummy is in recovery mode. One of those recipes is Shepherd’s Pie. I love one pot meals, and this is one of my ultimate all-in-one dishes. Veggies, meat, and starch brought together by gooey gravy. What could be better? Shepherd’s Pie also happens to be a recipe that one of my readers asked that I tackle here, so it was a perfect meal to make on my way back to my regularly scheduled cooking and blogging.

turkey shepherd's pie

Mixing white and sweet potatoes gives the dish a very appealing, vibrant color.

Now, I make a more typical Shepherd’s Pie than this—ground beef, brown gravy, corn, and mashed potatoes—which I’ll admit is a bit easier. However, this version always sits better with me. It’s healthier (using lean ground turkey), it’s 100% homemade (as opposed to using packaged brown gravy mix for the other), and it tastes and looks more gourmet because of the mix of white and sweet potato. I still use frozen veggies because they give variety without a lot of cost and save time on prep (everything’s already bite sized, so no chopping required). Frozen veggies are great to use on a budget and in a tiny kitchen. The vegetables are often flash frozen right after they’re harvested, so sometimes they’re even fresher than what’s in the produce section, especially if the veggies in question are out of season.

mushroom gravy

Add the liquid slowly, and then simmer, stirring constantly, until the gravy is creamy and thick.

The hardest thing about this dish is the gravy, and it’s really not that hard. All it takes is time. First, you want to make sure that the mushrooms and shallots get nice and aromatic before you add the flour and broth. That’s where all the flavor is going to come from. Then, you want to really add the broth very slowly. It’s tempting to just dump it in all at once, but, trust me, you will end up with lumps and miss out on having a thick and creamy gravy. It’s worth the extra five to ten minutes to gradually incorporate the liquid.

Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same recipe. Yams work great in the microwave, so they’re almost no extra work, and they give the dish a delicious sweetness and a beautiful color. In fact, I find this dish so pretty that I’d serve it to company, even though it definitely cooks up like a homey, weeknight meal. Don’t let the gravy intimidate you—this is a perfect dish for a beginner cook to make to impress their loved ones.

I’ll be back soon (I hope!) with more cover cooking—as soon as my stomach is up to par!

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Super Easy Dinners: Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe

Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe

Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe

I’ve mentioned before that almost never cook anything that makes fewer than four servings. It doesn’t make sense in small kitchen. Ingredients are sold in larger portions than are needed for just one or two servings, so I’d be stuck trying to find a place to store all the leftover bits and pieces.

Baby arugula

No salad spinner? No problem! Just put the arugula on a clean towel and roll it up to wick out the moisture.

However, there are exceptions to this rule. One of my favorites is spaghetti cacio e pepe. “Cacio e pepe” literally means “cheese and pepper.” It’s a meal that’s made with four simple ingredients that I always have on hand—Parmesan cheese (traditionally, the meal is made with the slightly more expensive Pecorino Romano, but Parm works just as well, in my opinion), fresh ground black pepper, butter, and pasta (I prefer thin spaghetti with this sauce, but any shape will do). That’s it. I will often buy some lettuce for a salad just to give the meal some freshness. Arugula is an especially nice companion as the pepperiness of the leaves matches the pepperiness of the pasta.

toasting the pepper

Toasting the pepper in butter makes the aromas and flavors pop

What’s even better about this recipe is that though the sauce is fantastic on its own, there are a ton of variations you can make with the same simple base. Want a bit more protein? Add some sautéed chicken breast! Want to make even more decadent? Fry up some bacon and crumble it in! Want to make it a bit healthier? Throw in some veggies and make it a primavera! One night I made it with lima beans and mushrooms, and it was fabulous. The only limitation is your personal taste.

I’ve made this recipe for one, two, or four, but you could make it for a crowd if you were so inclined. It’s so decadent and creamy that I guarantee you no one will have any idea how quick and easy it was to make.

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The Cover Cooking Challenge, Week 2: Bon Appétit’s Short Rib Pot Pie

Steak Pot Pie with Herbed Biscuit Crust

Steak Pot Pie with Herbed Biscuit Crust

Walking by the newsstand yesterday morning, I couldn’t help but stop and stare at the gorgeous pot pie on the cover of Bon Appétit. From the flaky, salted crust to the glistening pearl onions, it looked simply delectable. The problem? The overall cooking time for the recipe is at least 3 hours, and I’m lucky if I have an hour and a half to get dinner on the table.

Steak and onions simmering

Cooking the steak with the lid off allows the liquid to evaporate and the sauce to thicken.

Still, the flavors in the recipe seemed like they could be replicated in a quicker, cheaper, and lower-fat way. The most obvious thing that needed to change was the meat. While I love short ribs, they take a very long time to cook. A chuck roast has the same sort of meaty flavor, and, while it still needs to braise, it reaches a nice consistency after about an hour—it will definitely still be chewy but not tough. Chuck is also a lower fat cut than short ribs, especially if you trim the meat of any visible lines of gristle.

mushrooms

Even just four or five shiitakes are enough to impart flavor on a dish.

On the down side, chuck also is less flavorful than short ribs, so I had to make a few substitutions. First, I added mushrooms. Mushrooms can be very expensive—the trick is to use them wisely. Even a few special mushrooms mixed into a dish can add a ton of flavor. For this, I bought one portobello, five shiitakes, and eight ounces of button (white) mushrooms. The button mushrooms gave the dish substance, umami (a sort of rich, savory flavor), and protein, allowing me to cut down on the meat (and thus the fat) in the dish, while the other mushrooms provided interesting aromas. Second, I opted for a Oregon Pinot noir instead of a drier red. The spicy notes in the Pinot amped up the flavor, and I didn’t miss the richness a Cab Sav might have added.

steak pot pie, before baking

Simply drop the dough in even clumps on the filling. The dough will puff and spread as it bakes.

The last thing I switched was the crust. I love a buttery, flaky pastry as much as the next girl, but pastry dough needs time to chill—about two hours. A drop biscuit, however, can be ready in moments. I used Cooking Light’s Fluffy Buttermilk Drop Biscuits, halving the recipe and adding thyme and rosemary to echo the flavors in the filling. Much lower fat, but not at all less decadent feeling.

IMG_0321[1]

Buen provecho!

The best part? We still had a half a bottle of Pinot noir to drink with our dinner!

 

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Spotlight on Smitten Kitchen

Most people who know me know that I am obsessed with Deb Perelman’s blog Smitten Kitchen. Deb is perhaps one of the greatest examples of an amateur chef who gained world renown through blogging creative and easy-to-follow recipes. Though she doesn’t have a background in cooking, her epicurean appeal has spread to millions of readers online and her cookbook now a New York Times bestseller. Deb’s cooking philosophy is very similar to mine and is, in many ways, my inspiration. While she focuses more heavily on baking than I do, she proves that you can make amazing, gourmet meals in a small amount of space.

If you check out Deb’s blog, it will probably be pretty clear that I’ve taken some cues from her when it comes to my blog. But, in case you’re wondering what I think specifically makes her a great model for tiny kitchen cooking, here are a few tips I’ve picked up from Deb:

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The Cover Cooking Challenge, Week 1: Food & Wine’s Cider-Brined Pork Tenderloins

Slow cooker apple cider pork loin

Slow Cooker Apple Cider Pork Loin

Brining a particularly hard technique to do in a tiny kitchen. When meat brines, it sits for a period of time (often at least 24 hours) in a cool space (so a fridge) before it is cooked. This creates a few problems for me: 1) fridge space and 2) planning ahead. I usually barely have time to get dinner on the table on a weeknight, much less prep one dinner and then make a second.

Spice crusted pork

Instead of brining, try crusting the meat in ground versions of the spices and then searing them on.

Thus, for my first cover cooking challenge, I decided to adapt a recipe from the April issue of Food & Wine: an apple-cider brined pork tenderloin with aromatic spices such as coriander and cinnamon used in the curing liquid. For my purposes, the potent, warming flavors are easily converted into a more apartment friendly format, reducing cost, cooking time, and space used.

To save money, I swapped out pork tenderloins for a pork loin. Tenderloins have more flavor than a pork loin and their texture is a bit more, well, tender. But a regular pork loin, especially if cooked low and slow in liquid, can be a great, less expensive substitute.  Braising or, in this case, slow cooking adds flavor and makes the meat fall apart tender.

Apples and parsnips

Parsnips add a bit more flavor than carrots when slow cooking.

Next, I decided to use a slow cooker instead of cooking each part of the meal separately. In my opinion, a slow cooker is an essential tiny kitchen tool. It transforms cheap cuts of meat into something tender and delicious, allows you to go out all day while dinner cooks, and generally makes a one-pot meal, so clean up is a breeze. For this recipe, I was able to throw all the flavors into the cooker at once, and just let it go while I went to the bar to watch some NCAA basketball. The only prep needed, besides cutting vegetables, was searing the pork. Always brown your meat before adding it to the slow cooker. It adds a ton of flavor and only creates one extra dish—it’s worth it. I also made a few slight ingredient substitutions to compensate for the extended cooking time. I used parsnips instead of carrots. I find their slightly spicy flavor adds more to the dish than the basic, sweet carrots. I also used cortland apples instead of honeycrisps. I mainly go by what’s freshest in my store, but I also looked for something that was good for baking. The harder apples hold up better when baked or cooked slowly, something that’s a plus in this meal.

Browned pork loin

Browning meat before adding it to the slow cooker for extra flavor and appealing color.

Two general tips on adapting recipes for slow cookers: you need to reduce your liquids and up your spices. Nothing in a slow cooker evaporates, so less liquid is needed from the start. A general rule is to half the liquid of the original recipe. For the spices, add an extra pinch of everything except elements that add heat. Cooking so low and so slowly can diminish flavors, so you want to increase them at the outset. Hot spices, though (cayenne pepper, chili peppers, red pepper flakes) can actually get hotter with cooking, so be careful on your proportions for those.

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as coming home to the smell of a slow cooked meal pervading your home. Enjoy!

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Irish Feast Leftovers: Salmon Colcannon Cakes

Salmon Colcannon Cakes

Salmon Colcannon Cakes with Mustard and Dill

I love fish, but I don’t cook it often. For one thing, it’s expensive. For another, it doesn’t save or reheat well. One of the keys to tiny kitchen cooking is efficiency. Cooking larger quantities allows for fewer grocery trips, less waste, and less space taken by storing excess ingredients. If something doesn’t make a leftover, I rarely cook it.

Salmon and colcannon

Just form into patties with your hands. They stick on their own—no binder necessary.

Salmon, however, is an exception to the “fish doesn’t reheat well” rule. While it’s still best to use the leftover fish in a timely fashion (don’t wait more than two days), it can easily be adapted into a second meal: mashed potato cakes with salmon. Yes, they are as simple as they sound. And they are even more delicious than they sound.

There are two tricks to making great salmon cakes. The first is to be aggressive with seasoning. Add more dill and mustard than you think is necessary. The extra flavorings make the salmon pop and the potato stand back, so you don’t end up with just potato flavor (not that that’s bad—fried mashed potato patties make an excellent side dish, and a great use for Thanksgiving leftovers).

Flipping the cakes

Two spatulas make flipping easier and keep the cakes from falling apart.

The second trick is to coat the cakes with breadcrumbs before cooking. The breadcrumbs serve three purposes. They make a crisp crust on the outside of the cake, they help keep the cakes from sticking to the pan, and they keep the cakes formed. I don’t use any egg to bind my cakes, as egg makes them less fluffy, so the breadcrumbs go a long way to maintaining form.

Just cook the patties until they’re crunchy on the outside—nothing is raw, so there’s no worry about reaching a certain temp or doneness. I find cast iron works best for making sure the cake doesn’t get too dark on the outside before it’s warm in the center, but I’ve made them in every pan I have with excellent results.

If you try these, I bet you’ll find yourself always buying extra salmon and making extra potatoes so you can have leftovers the next day.

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