Chilean Sea Bass in Papillote

Presents are the best. You could wrap a rock beautifully and I'd be happy to receive it. Wrap a meal, and I'm giddy with excitement. This wrapped fish was also part of my birthday meal -- it's a Chilean sea bass with lemon, thyme, capers and cherry tomatoes, tied up in parchment paper.

By placing the fish on top of lemon slices and adding a touch of olive oil, you set the stage for a deliciously simple sauce to form while the fish cooks. The result is a soft and flaky fillet, surrounded by flavorful ingredients that compliment the lightness of the fish. The presentation (present-ation) is unbeatable as well: each individual gets a piece to unwrap, and a sweet, lemony aroma escapes as the parchment is opened. We served this with homemade polenta, but it could go well with a side salad, any fresh vegetable, and even rice or pasta. For something with such panache, it's extremely easy to make. Check out the recipe from Epicurious here, or just read on.

Ingredients (serves 4):
3 tbs olive oil
4 (6 oz) fillets Chilean sea bass with skin (should be about 1-inch thick)
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
8 thin lemon slices
8 sprigs fresh thyme
2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
12 cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 1/2 tbs drained bottled capers

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 400. In a heavy skillet, heat oil, then sauté garlic until pale golden (about 30 seconds). Add tomatoes and a pinch of salt and sauté until tomatoes are softened, about 1 minute. Stir in capers, then remove from heat. Lay out 4 (12 to 15 inch) squares of parchment paper. Drizzle center of each parchment square with a little olive oil, then top with a fish fillet. Slide lemon slices under fish and top with thyme sprigs. Spoon tomato mixture over fish. Gather parchment up around fish to form a pouch, leaving no openings, and and crimp closed (or tie tightly with string and make a bow so that you can untie it easily). Put pouches in a large shallow baking pan and bake until fish is just cooked through, about 12 to 20 minutes (depending on thickness of fish). Transfer fillets with lemon slices to plates using a spatula and spoon tomatoes and juices over top. Serve immediately, discarding thyme before eating.

Chilled Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Croutons

Our birthdays should actually be called "get pampered by food days." We use them as an opportunity to go crazy at restaurants and in our own kitchens, not restricting ourselves by anything but the size of our stomaches (and sometimes not even that.) For my birthday yesterday, I put in a tall order: I wanted Alex to cook me dinner. Although my expectations were high, I was really blown away by some amazing dishes that I'd like to share. He photographed them as always, but insists that I write so that I can "talk about how delicious they were." They were very delicious.

Take, for example, this lovely chilled roasted red pepper soup with croutons. I'd been yapping about making this soup for ages since I love the Trader Joe's version, and Alex made a delicious recipe from Epicurious. It had a sweet, smoky flavor, and arrived topped with his signature crunchy, homemade croutons. The soup was simple, pretty, smooth and refreshing. Yesterday was abnormally chilly for late April, and I imagine it would be especially welcome on a warm summer day.

Ingredients (serves 4):
4 large red bell peppers
2 tbs olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cups chicken stock
1/8 tsp dried crushed red pepper

1 1/2 cups of 1/2-inch French bread cubes (stale bread works great!)
2 tbs olive oil
salt and pepper

To make the soup, roast peppers under the broiler until blackened on all sides. Wrap peppers in a paper bag and let stand 10 minutes. Peel and seed, then cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Heat 2 tbsp oil in large saucepan, add onion and sauté until brown on edges, about 6 minutes. Add peppers and 3 cups stock. Simmer until vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer peppers, onions and stock to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Mix in dried red pepper. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill until cold. (Can be made 1 day ahead.) For croutons, toss bread, olive oil, salt and pepper in a bowl until well coated. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 min until bread achieves the desired crunch. Spoon cooled soup into bowls. Top with bread and thin slices of basil if you desire.


Salad with Chicken, Goat Cheese and Walnuts

I promised more to come about the 25-person Seder that we hosted Sunday night, and we're happy to report that it was a success. Somehow, we fit everyone into Alex's apartment and managed to stuff them silly (at least I hope we did). But because we were rushing around like crazy people, we didn't get a chance to take many pictures of the food. This is probably not such a bad thing, since dishes like apple matzah kugel aren't the most beautiful and the world. I think the almond rocha was the biggest hit anyway, and the recipe for that is already posted.

We're not really keeping kosher for Passover (Alex says we racked up enough Jew points with the Seder that we're excused) but many friends are, so last night's meal was designed sans-bread. Though we usually feel guilty about serving dinner salads to guests, we found one last night that was filling and beautiful enough that we were excited to share it. It has both cheese and chicken, so we figured there were enough calories for the dish to stand alone. The dish is straightforward with its dairy/fruit/nut combo, but the lemony dressing really stood out and pulled everything together. We found the recipe here on Simply Recipes, and made some minor adjustments (more of the good stuff, cooked the shallots for dressing). Enjoy this for lunch or dinner, and don't be shy about serving it to friends.

Ingredients (serves 4):
2 large shallots, peeled, diced
3 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breast
olive oil
2 green apples, thinly sliced
mixed greens (however much you want to serve 4)
1 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
1/3 cup goat cheese - broken up into little pieces
Lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Place chicken in a baking pan, pour about 2 tbsp olive oil for it, and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, until juicy but cooked through. You can also just fry the chicken up in a pan. Once cooked, let cool, then slice thinly. To make dressing, combine olive oil and lemon juice (2 parts oil to 1 part lemon juice) with shallots (we cooked them for a few minutes in a touch of olive oil first) and salt and pepper to taste. Divide lettuce among plates, and top with walnuts, cheese, apples and chicken. Dress and serve.


Passover Almond Rocha

I love to make recipes that I know I'll continue to make for years and years. I keep imagining that when I'm 50, I'll look back and remember how I used to make Passover Almond Rocha in my tiny college kitchen. I'll wonder how I ever used plain chocolate chips or fit three cookie sheets into such a small freezer when now I (future Me) have the finest chocolates delivered to my house weekly and utilize two walk-in freezers. If only.

I can't imagine Passover without this Almond Rocha. I look forward to it every year, and forbid myself from making it any other time. This ensures 1) that I have an entire year to work off the weight gained from consuming too much of this incredible treat and 2) that I never ever tire of it. Alex and my roommate have also become full-blown addicts, and I love to watch the face of anyone who tastes it for the first time. There are a lot of chocolate-covered matzah recipes in this world, but this Passover Almond Rocha is by far better than anything like it.

My mom originally received this recipe from a friend, but I have no clue where it came from before that. It's perfect the way it is, and easy enough to make last-minute. We'll be featuring this dessert at our 26-person (and counting) Seder on Sunday night -- more details on that to come later this week!

3 pieces matzah
2 sticks butter
1 cup brown sugar
3 1/4 cups chocolate chips
1/2 cup thinly sliced almonds

Line a cookie sheet with tin foil, dull side facing up. Cover with matzah without overlapping pieces. Preheat oven to 350. Heat butter and sugar in a saucepan. When it starts to boil, stir constantly for 5 minutes then remove from heat. Pour sauce over matzah, and place in oven for 5 minutes, until bubbling all over. Sprinkle chocolate chips over matzah and once they have begun to melt, spread until chocolate smoothly covers the matzah. Sprinkle with almonds, and freeze for one hour. Break into pieces, and refrigerate until serving.


Zucchini Muffins with Chocolate Chips

On our second day of Spring Fling, we needed to make something delicious for a friend's brunch. We wanted to bake so that we could bring goodies that were still warm from the oven, but didn't have a lot of time in the morning. And since a lot of our friends have tasted many of our brunch recipes, we were reluctant to fall back on old staples. After piddling around recipe sites for a while, I decided to search the Smitten Kitchen archives, where I found a recipe for zucchini bread -- something that I've always loved, but never made myself. Because her recipes have never failed us (or likely, anyone) we decided to go for it. We opted for muffins instead of loaves to make serving easier.

Surprisingly, we were able to throw these muffins together in about 5o minutes total. Our food processor allowed us to grate the zucchini in no time, and the batter was extremely simple to mix after that. As soon as we sampled the raw mixture, we knew that these would be as delicious as we had hoped. It had such a perfect sweet and spicy combination that honestly think I could have eaten the entire batter bowl plain. Once baked, the texture was great and I think that everyone loved the way that they tasted. We added the optional chocolate chips and used apple pie spice because we were out of nutmeg, but I really wouldn't change anything from the original recipe, which I'm posting below.

P.S. We've been making muffins and cupcakes like crazy lately, but they'll be more variety soon!
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil (or olive, but we used vegetable)
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 cups grated zucchini
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional, we didn't do this)
1 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350, and line 24 muffin cups with paper liners. In a large bowl, whisk eggs together, then add oil and sugar, then zucchini and vanilla. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add chocolate chips or nuts to dry mixture. Pour dry mixture into wet mixture, and stir until just combined. Spoon batter into muffin cups, and bake for about 20-25 minutes, until inserted knife comes out clean. Cool and serve.


Cinnamon Chips and Fruit Salsa

For a party to kick-off our final Spring Fling weekend at Penn, we baked homemade cinnamon chips and created an accompanying fruit salsa. Given the reviews for the recipe, we expected it to be good, but I don't think anyone anticipated how unbelievably delicious this snack would be -- it is absolutely our new all-time favorite party food. My love for this dish reminds me of Green Eggs and Ham: It would eat it in a car, I would eat it at a bar. I would eat it by the pool, I would eat it after school. I would eat it on my way, I would eat it every day.

I've always loved cinnamon pita chips, and I became completely hooked on these with my first bite. I couldn't stop eating them, and I wasn't the only one. They had a perfect crunch, and tasted amazing with and without the fruit salsa. I loved them as a late-night snack, but I don't think there's a time of day when these wouldn't be appropriate. I can't say enough wonderful things about these, so just make them and you'll see what we mean.

We found the recipe here on All Recipes, and we substituted the variety of apple, as well as blackberries for raspberries due to high costs. We used strawberry preserves, which turned out great. I'm posting our slightly modified version below. They are so good.

2 kiwis, peeled and diced
2 Fuji apples, peeled, cored and diced
8 oz. blackberries
1 lb. strawberries
2 tbsp white sugar
1 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp strawberry preserves (or other fruit flavor)

10 (10 inch) flour tortillas
butter flavored cooking spray
2 cups cinnamon sugar

In a large bowl, mix kiwis, apples, blackberries, strawberries, sugars and preserves. Cover refrigerate at least 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat one side of each tortilla with cooking spray. Cut into wedges and arrange on a large baking sheet. Coat wedges with desired amount of cinnamon sugar. Spray again with cooking spray. Bake 8 to 10 minutes. Repeat with any remaining tortilla wedges. Allow to cool approximately 15 minutes. Serve with chilled fruit mixture.


Chocolate Cupcakes with Mint Ganache and Icing

This post is bittersweet -- and not because of the ridiculous quantities of chocolate in the recipe. For our wonderful friend Lara's birthday, we baked her mint chocolate cupcakes and a gorgeous dulce de leche ice cream cake. The cake had layers of dulce de leche ice cream and raspberry sorbet, with an almond graham cracker crust and sugary strawberries on top. We bought our first spring-form pan for the occasion, and produced a perfectly striped and delicious creation. Here's the bitter part: We have no pictures. I'm devastated, but Alex says it's sometimes good to not blog what we make to ensure that the process remains organic and not internet-driven. I think the fact that I'm this saddened means that he is correct.

The sweet news is that we made some knock-out mint chocolate cupcakes that we did remember to photograph. The recipe is inspired completely by Cupcake Bakeshop by Chockylit, and we took the mint ganache and mint icing directly from her blog. The cupcakes included in this recipe looked a tad too rich for our tastes, however, and we instead went with a basic chocolate cupcake recipe from Baking Bites.

Though these cupcakes were relatively time-consuming (we made the icing first, then the cupcakes themselves, then the ganache), they were well worth it. I personally thought they tasted incredible, and I think that others agreed. My favorite component was the subtle peppermint buttercream icing, though the package itself is unbeatable. These are definitely rich, so be prepared to split them.

Because there are so many components, I'm going to post the recipes and ingredients in sections. Happy Birthday, Lara! We love you.

Chocolate Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter, very soft
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup warm milk

Preheat oven to 350. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners. In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla. Alternate adding flour and milk. Pour batter into tins, and bake for 15-17 minutes until knife comes out clean. Cool.

Chocolate-Mint Ganache
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup and 1 teaspoon chopped mint leaves (or more for garnish)
1 tbsp butter

Chop chocolate and place in heat proof bowl. Heat cream and 1/4 cup mint until bubbles form around the edge of the pan, pour cream through strainer, over the chocolate. Let sit for a minute, then stir until combined. Add butter and tbsp mint and combine. Cool then refrigerate to thicken for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Mint Buttercream Frosting
1 cup butter
4-5 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/8 teaspoon peppermint extract

Beat butter until creamy, scrape bowl. Add 4 cups of sifted powdered sugar, milk, and peppermint extract, then beat until combined. Add more sugar if necessary.

Once the cupcakes have cooled, use a knife to cut a cone shape out of the top of each. Fill each muffins with about a tsp of ganache, then cut of the tip of the cone and place it back on the cupcake. Ice and serve, garnished with a small mint leaf.


Big Apple Muffins

...Because we are moving to New York!

It's strange for me to sometimes write about personal things on a recipe blog. Many people who read this know us, and are therefore aware of our life updates. But we've also made so many friends in the blogopshere with whom we want to share our news. So if you know us, just scroll to the recipe.

Back to the excitement: After graduating in May, we are moving to NYC, where Alex will attend medical school at Mount Sinai, and I will attend law school at Columbia. We're super happy, as both of our first-choice schools are just a few blocks (and two parks) away from each other. The best part is that Two Fat Als will live on -- though we'll have to change the tag line from "cooking in college" to "cooking in graduate school" or "cooking under stress" or something. Suggestions are welcome.

To celebrate, we've baked ourselves some big apple muffins, loosely based on this recipe. We even invested in an extra-large muffin pan for the occasion. These big apple muffins are kind of like the apple cinnamon swirl muffins that we made earlier, but they're bigger and better and have walnuts and a strudel topping. Deliciously moist with a good crunchy topping, these muffins are surely a sign of good things to come.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/4 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups shredded apple
1/2 cup chopped apples
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cups walnuts

(strudel topping)
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 375. Line muffin pan with muffin cups. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a medium-sized bowl. In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and then vanilla. Stir in apples and walnuts. Slowly stir in flour mixture until just combined. To make strudel topping, use your fingers to mix the ingredients until it feels coarse. Spoon batter into muffin cups, and sprinkle strudel on top. Cook for about 18 minutes for regular-sized muffins, or about 20-25 minutes for larger muffins.

Bi bim bap

When my IBM crashed about two months ago, I knew that I wanted a Mac. All the cool people at my school have one, and I actually have better Mac than PC skills since we used them at the newspaper. Anyway, since purchasing my beautifully sleek black MacBook, I've found that the post-it note widget is my favorite feature. This may be surprising, given features like spaces and spotlight, but it's true. My pink post-it note lists ideas for recipes that I want to try, and bi bim bop has been on the list for a while. We finally decided to attempt it for two friends, and I wouldn't be surprised if this is something we pull out again and again.

I don't know how many times I will write this before people yell at me to shut up about it, but dishes with components really are the greatest. For our bi bim bap, we added cucumbers, carrots, radicchio, sprouts, spinach, mushrooms and chicken. That's in addition to the delicious bi bim bap sauce. We're not experts in bi bim bap, so I don't feel comfortable speaking to the authenticity, but I can definitely say that this tasted delicious.

Another thing: If anyone watched Arrested Development when it was on, doesn't the name bi bim bap kind of remind you of the name Bob Loblaw? I love to say it: bimbimbap.

Ingredients (serves 4-6)
2 cups jasmine rice
3 carrots, julienned
2 cucumbers, thinly sliced
1 bag spinach
1 head radicchio
2 cups bean sprouts (we had to use alfalfa, since the store didn't have bean sprouts)
2 cups shitake mushroms
4 eggs
about 3 tbsp sesame oil

4 chicken cutlets, cut into very thin slices
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
1/4 cup chopped scallion

3 tbsp red curry paste or kochujang curry bean paste
2 tbsp water
3 tbsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sesame seeds, toasted

Make the marinade for the chicken by combining soy sauce, sugar, sesame seeds and scallions. Add chicken and marinate in refrigerator for at least two hours. Boil 3 1/2 cups of water. Add rice and cook covered until water is absorbed, about 20 minutes. In a large pan, saute spinach in about 1 tbsp sesame oil, then set aside. Add additional tbsp oil, and cook carrots until they begin to soften. Add shitake mushrooms and cook until soft. Remove vegetables and set aside. Heat a tiny bit more oil, then add the chicken and cook through, about 10 minutes. Make sauce by combining ingredients in a small saucepan and stirring until it reaches a boil. Just before serving, fry the eggs sunny-side up, and you can leave the egg a bit runny if you like. Serve all ingredients over rice, and drizzle with sauce.