Grilled Asparagus Early Summer Salad

It's summer! Not officially, we know, but secretly it is. Here's are some clues:

1. No school. 2. We saw fresh corn. 3. There's light at 8:30 p.m. and (as if we weren't already suspicious of the season's arrival) 4. The asparagus we cooked yesterday tasted like summer asparagus -- lightly charred and smoky, with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper bits clinging to them.

Luckily, we planned to incorporate the asparagus into a salad, because otherwise I fear we would have been overwhelmed by their pure summer-ness (summerosity? summersion?) It's only May, for goodness sake -- give a girl some time to adjust! So we placed our summer asparagus over greens with tomatoes, goat cheese and a lemon vinaigrette, and found them just right.

For our dressing, we were extremely excited to use special olive oil that a friend brought us from Spain. With our limited knowledge of Spanish, we've discerned that it's from Sierra de Cazorla, where one-third of the municipal land contains olive trees. It's amazing for vinaigrettes and drizzling, less so for cooking hot food. We can't wait to use it for the rest of summer, which we plan to embrace both emotionally and through food in the coming weeks.

Ingredients (serves 6):
1 bunch asparagus
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
6 oz. grape tomatoes
3 oz. goat cheese
6-8 oz. mixed greens

3/4 cup olive oil
juice of 2 lemons
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together balsamic vinegar, the 1/3 cup olive oil, and the kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Pour over asparagus in a baking dish, and let sit for about 15 minutes while you preheat the grill. (If you don't have a grill, you can preheat your oven to 375 and roast them for about 20-30 minutes). Grill asparagus for about 5 minutes, until lightly charred. Arrange mixed greens on a plate, and divide asparagus, tomatoes and goat cheese among plates. Whisk together dressing ingredients, pour dressing over the salad plates, and serve.


Open-faced Vegetable Sandwich with Walnut Balsamic Pesto

Here's something that you may not know about Alex: he's a sandwich snob. For him, there are sandwiches -- turkey wraps or quick meals that we throw together for lunch -- and then there are sandwiches. The latter requires careful planning and ingredient selection, and precise execution. If I had a nickel for every time I heard him say, "there's nothing worse than a bad sandwich, and nothing better than a great one," I'd have at least 50 cents by now.

This week we're cooking for a real vegetarian (not the cheese and sometimes fish-eating type that we've been spoiled by), so we decided to try to create the best vegetable sandwich we could possibly imagine. It needed to be filling enough to serve as a main course, yet also beautiful and tasty. We ended up assembling roasted vegetables over a walnut pesto on toasted bread, and topping it with cheese for the non-vegetarians. After a moment under the broiler, they looked so pretty and melty.

If you have a grill on hand, feel free to grill the vegetables. Otherwise, it can take a while to cycle all of the vegetables through the oven. Feel free to use store-bought pesto if you have it on hand, and to throw in any other vegetables that you love.

(serves 6)
1/3 cup balsamic vineagar
2/3 cup olive oil
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste
3 bell peppers, sliced
2 medium-sized eggplants, sliced
3 portabello mushrooms, sliced
2 onions, sliced
6 slices thick bread (we used multi-grain)
gruyere cheese (optional)

(walnut balsamic pesto)
1/4 cup walnuts
1 cup chopped basil leaves
1/2 cup olive oil (or less)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (or less)
salt and pepper

Salt the both sides of sliced eggplants well. Place them on a pan lined with paper towels, and cover with additional paper towels. Let sit for 20 minutes. Whisk together oil, vinegar and sugar, and add salt and pepper to taste. Preheat oven to 400. Rinse and dry eggplants, then toss all vegetables in vinaigrette. Place vegetables on a baking sheet, and roast in the oven for about 25-30 minutes. The mushrooms will likely cook in about 20 minutes, so feel free to remove them. To make the pesto, combine walnuts and basil leaves in a food processor with olive oil and vinegar. Process until smooth, salt and pepper to taste. Toast slices of bread if you like, then spread pesto over it. Top with roasted vegetables (there may be extras). If you like, sprinkle cheese on top, or assemble thin strips in a cross-hatch design. Broil for about 2 minutes, until cheese melts.


Apricot Brandy and Almond Baked French Toast

After a few days spent recovering from graduation festivities, we’re finally ready to post the final component of our goodbye brunch – a delicious and mildly alcoholic baked French toast that we’re proud to have come up with ourselves (mostly!). The inspiration comes from Smitten Kitchen’s boozy baked French toast, but since we already doused our sorbet in kahlua (Smitten Kitchen’s booze of choice), we decided to try ours with almonds and apricot brandy.

You may be unfamiliar with apricot brandy, but we know it from such things as the apricot brandy sour, a drink that’s quite popular among friends. Apricot brandy is actually very tasty and light, perfect for fluffy, soft French toast. Since baked French toast soaks overnight and cooks in the oven in the morning, we just added a bit of the brandy to our soaking mixture and let the flavor seep through. We added layers of almond slivers between the layers of toast, and served it with (your choice of) powdered sugar or berry topping.

1 loaf Challah, brioche, or thick Italian bread, cut int0 1-inch slices,
3 cups whole milk
3 eggs
3 tbsp apricot brandy
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup almonds
powdered sugar (optional)

(for berry topping)
2 cups frozen berries of your choice (we chose mixed)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (or to taste)

Grease a 9×13-inch baking dish. Arrange one layer of bread tightly in the pan, sprinkle with half of the almonds. Arrange the second layer on top, and sprinkle with remaining almonds.
Whisk together milk, eggs, sugar, salt, brandy and vanilla, and pour over the bread. Wrap the baking dish tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, bake at 425 for 30 minutes, or until puffed and golden. To make berry topping, combine berries and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a soft boil, then simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes. You can mash the berries to your desired consistency. Serve toast with powdered sugar, berry topping, or both.


White Russian Sorbet

We graduate today. I should probably be packing my room right now, but I think I'm trying to evade the reality of leaving Penn by sitting on my couch, playing on my computer. It's my default mode. Of course, I'm excited! It's just that moving and saying goodbye can be so overwhelming! To relax, I've decided to blog the most smoothly calming dish that we made for our brunch (I promised there would be more to come): White Russian Sorbet.

Sorbet (!?) -- you might be thinking. How did they make sorbet without an ice cream machine? Well, we didn't! We got one! Well, Alex got one as a graduation present. And though we haven't fawned over it on the blog, it doesn't mean that we aren't extremely happy -- it's just been a bit busy around here. I'm slightly ashamed to confess that while this is the first ice-cream machine-made dish we are posting, it is not first dish we tried to make with it. On our first day with the machine, we attempted to make a lemon sorbet, but neglected to realize that you have to freeze the machine's container before making ice cream. We ended up with some very sweet and delicious slushies.

Once we figured out how to use it, however, we were pumped to try out this White Russian Sorbet recipe from Epicurious. The recipe called just enough alcohol to give the dessert a great kick, but not enough to be too noticeable. I feel like it may have just been beginner's luck, but it turned out incredibly well -- smooth, creamy, and calming like you'd eat some out of a martini glass on the beach. I'm not sure if you can really call it a sorbet since there's a bit of cream involved, but honestly, I'm not too concerned about technicalities when the taste is this good.

Happy graduation to all of our wonderful friends here! Please come eat our food in New York.

1 3/4 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
3 1/2 tsp instant coffe
1 tbsp dark corn syrup
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup vodka
1/4 cup Kahlúa

Stir water and sugar in medium sauce pan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring to boil. Remove from heat. Add coffee powder and stir to dissolve. Pour into medium bowl. Mix in corn syrup, then whipping cream, vodka and Kahlúa. Refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours. Transfer sorbet mixture to ice cream maker; process according to machine's instructions. Transfer sorbet to container; cover and freeze until firm, about 2 hours.


Sticky Buns

Yesterday, Penn sponsored an event for Senior Week called Walnut Walk, an eight-hour bar crawl across Philadelphia. There were 18 stops, and all offered drink specials for those of us graduating (and some offered drink specials for everyone, which made for severe crowding). There are about 2500 seniors in our class, so the event was inevitably a hot, hot mess.

But if there's anything that we've learned from our four years here, it's that days like yesterday go much more smoothly when everyone is stuffed with food before they begin. We'd been meaning to serve one final brunch after we had so much fun cooking for Homecoming, and yesterday gave us the perfect opportunity. It's amazing how much you can do without homework.

We knew that we had to do cinnamon buns, as we've been meaning to do them forever (along with bagels, which we have yet to accomplish). Both of us love the mall-bought variety, but there's an artificialness to them that we thought we could avoid. We chose a recipe from Epicurious for Ultimate Sticky Buns that reviewers raved were easy and out of this world -- our two criteria. We modified it slightly by increasing the filling, so I'll post what we did below. In the end, they turned out ridiculously delicious. The dough was so sweet and thick, and the filling was gooey and sticky and wonderful. It seeped throughout the buns so that every single bite was dreamy.

Don't touch that dial, more brunch recipes to come in the next few days!

1 cup warm water
4 tsp dry yeast
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup dry nonfat milk powder
1 1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 1/2 cups light brown sugar
1 1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup water
3 cups pecan halves

4 teaspoons sugar
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

To make dough, mix 1/4 cup warm water, yeast, and pinch of sugar in small bowl. Let rest until foamy, about 8 minutes. Beat remaining sugar, butter, milk powder, and salt in large bowl. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Mix in remaining 3/4 cup warm water and yeast mixture, then 3 cups flour (1 cup at a time.) Using rubber spatula, mix in 1 cup flour, scraping down sides of bowl frequently (dough will be soft and sticky). Sprinkle 1/4 cup flour onto work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if sticky, about 8 minutes. Butter another large bowl. Add dough; turn to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rise in warm area until doubled, about 2 1/2 hours.

To make glaze, grease one large pizza pan (or two 10-inch round cake pans) Beat brown sugar, 1 cup butter, honey, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water in medium bowl to blend. Spread half of glaze in bottom the pan. Sprinkle pecans over.

Punch down dough, and divide in half. Roll each dough piece out on floured work surface to 12x9-inch rectangle. Brush any excess flour off dough. Grease dough rectangles with remaining 1/4 cup butter. Mix sugar and cinnamon in small bowl. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar over rectangles. Starting at 1 long side, tightly roll up each rectangle into log. Cut each log into 12 rounds. Place rounds, cut side down, prepared pan, spacing evenly. Cover with plastic wrap. (Can be made 1 day ahead; refrigerate.) Let buns rise in warm area until almost doubled, about 1 hour (or 1 hour 25 minutes if refrigerated).

Preheat oven to 375°F. Bake buns until deep golden brown, about 30 minutes. Run small knife around pan sides to loosen sticky buns. Turn hot buns out onto platter. Cool about 30 minutes and serve.


Starry Almond Mini-Cakes

It occurred to me yesterday that I have to empty my kitchen before I move out in one week, so we decided to poke around for items to use up. Unfortunately, using up the items in my cabinet meant shopping for more items to cook them with, so I'm not sure if we really succeeded in our mission. The food that resulted from the mission, however, was a huge success. We decided to do a dessert so that we could use these amazing little star-shaped tins that my mom recently gave to us, and also because we invited friends to bring their leftovers for dinner and one can only eat so many frozen vegetable dishes in one meal. You can bake almost anything in the star tins -- brownies, cookies, muffins, cakes -- but we wanted something simple and delicate, something deserving of such a lovely shape.

We chose a recipe from Epicurious for mini almond cupcakes because, though it isn't apparent from this blog, almond is pretty much my favorite flavor ever. I've been a marzipan addict for years, and for a while I wouldn't drink a Starbucks drink without a shot of almond syrup. Anything with that sweet, exotic flavor completely floors me. This recipe looked simple and fit our "get these in and out of the oven in 30 minutes" time constraint.

So not only was this one of the easiest baking recipes we've tried, but it was without doubt one of my favorites. If you like almond, you'll love this, and maybe even if you don't. The cakes were spongy and moist, but still light and fluffy. The recipe calls for the perfect amount of almond, and there are still hints of vanilla. We served with them with powdered sugar, which worked out wonderfully. These would be perfect with tea, or even alongside heavier desserts. I don't say this about many baked goods, but I know we'll be making this exact recipe again. The cakes were really, truly so so so good.

The recipe on Epicurious makes only enough for 12 mini cupcakes. We tripled the recipe and it made enough for 9 individual cakes, probably about 12 regular-sized cupcakes.

1 stick plus 1 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
9 tbsp all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting molds
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
6 tbsp almond paste
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs
confectioners sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 400°F. Brush cupcake tin or cake tins with melted butter and lightly dust with flour, knocking out excess flour. In a small bowl, stir together flour and salt in a small bowl. Beat softened butter and granulated sugar in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Beat in almond paste and vanilla until combined, then beat in egg until combined. Add flour mixture gradually, mixing until just combined. Divide batter among tins or muffin cups, spreading evenly, then transfer to a baking sheet (not necessary if using muffin pan). Bake cakes until just firm and edges are golden, about 15 minutes. Cool, and dust tops with confectioners sugar just before serving.


Soy Rice Pudding

It's supposed to be summer, but here in Philadelphia we've been stuck with rainy, 50-degree weather for the past few days. In some ways, it's made staying inside to study for finals much easier, but mostly it's just made me even hungrier for summer. It's no fun to drink smoothies and play with summer produce when you're bundled up in sweatpants. So yesterday we decided to embrace the chilliness with a warm and comforting dish for afternoon snack: rice pudding.

As I was "working" yesterday, I stumbled across a recipe for rice pudding with leftover rice that works with soy milk or regular milk. I happened to have some leftover rice in the fridge, and the rest of the ingredients in my cabinets. Even though I usually don't like mushy foods like Jello or pudding, this recipe looked so appealing that we literally started making it immediately.

Now I have one extremely debilitating problem in the kitchen: I am truly awful at judging volume, and I always use bowls that are too small for my ingredients. Because Alex wasn't supervising when I began cooking, I started to make the pudding in a pot that I now realize was way too small. It boiled over once, and I moved it to another burner. It boiled over again, and Alex intervened, making me transfer the rice to a larger pot. My entire stove flooded with soy milk.

Yet despite this minor incident (and Alex's doubts about my ability to pull it off), the rice pudding turned out wonderfully. It took very little time to make, and the soy milk didn't change the flavor at all. Very soothing to eat warm, and just as delicious cold later on.

2 cups leftover cooked white rice
3 cups soy milk (or skim, or whole)
1/2 cup sugar
small pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cinnamon sticks or 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (or both, or neither)
pinch nutmeg, optional

Combine cooked rice, milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and stir in vanilla and add cinnamon sticks if you are using them. Cook until almost all of the milk is absorbed (30-45 minutes). Stir in cinnamon and/or nutmeg, if using, and serve.


Mock Ceviche

We made this several months ago at my house, and went crazy over it. We were all like, "Ahhh! Where's the camera? We have to blog this! It's so good!" But we were at my house and Alex's camera was out of batteries and we could only get a few shots with my mom's camera before discovering that we had eaten it all.

We made it again last night for guests, and just as we were spooning it onto plates, we were all like "Ahhh! Waaaait! We have to blog it this time -- it's so good!" Sadly, once again, we only got a few quick shots before discovering, once again, that it was all gone. This time, however, we've decided to go ahead and post the recipe anyway.

The mock ceviche is from Mark Bittman's The Best Recipes in the World, but you can also find it here. It's a brilliant way to get the flavors we love from ceviche, without the risk of getting sick from grocery store-purchased fish. Prepare it in advance and let it sit as long as you like, but we'll bet you can hardly make it until serving time.

Salt and pepper
1/2 lb. shrimp, any size
1/2 lb. sea scallops
1/2 lb. cleaned squid, cut into rings (tentacles left whole)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small chili, like Thai or jalapeño, seeded, stemmed and minced
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 small clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp minced red or yellow bell peppers, optional
1/4 cup diced tomato flesh, optional
1/4 cup diced avocado, optional
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, barely chopped

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a dash of salt. Add shrimp, reduce heat to medium, and cook about 4 minutes, until pink and firm. Remove, run under cold water. Peel and set aside. Cook scallops and squid together in same water for 2 minutes, or until scallops are firm and not quite cooked through and squid is fairly tender. Remove and run under cold water, then combine with shrimp. Toss seafood with olive oil and, if you like, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve (up to 24 hours). Toss with remaining ingredients except cilantro, then taste, and adjust seasoning. Stir in most of cilantro, garnish with remainder.


Vanilla Vanilla Cupcakes

There are two stories relating to these cupcakes, and the first is the story of baking them. While shopping for ingredients, I discovered that the grocery store was out of disposable muffin pans. Not wanting to wander around West Philly searching for them, I decided to try out the muffin cups that supposedly allow you to bake muffins by filling the cups and placing them on a regular baking tray. Bad idea. The couldn't hold their shape, and expanded significantly in the oven, causing the cupcakes to become smushed into several giant, deformed cakes. I ended up making an entire second batch -- in the non-disposable cupcake pan that I had forgotten I owned. Thank goodness the recipe was super easy.

The second story (this one is actually not really story) relates to serving the cupcakes. We brought them to New Jersey to serve at a reception for my grandmother's art show at her public library. The event was hilarious, because how could a gathering of 65+ Jewish people from New Jersey not be?

The recipe for the cupcakes is from the Magnolia Bakery, so we knew that they would taste great. Despite this, they surpassed our expectations by miles, tasting seriously out of this world. These cupcakes are fluffy like clouds, and moist like the softest cake. They taste like warm vanilla sugar, but not overwhelmingly. They hold together well, but melt gently on the tongue. With the icing, there's no question that these cupcakes have been precisely designed to taste like the most perfect little vanilla cakes in the world.

1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract


1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
6 to 8 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line muffin tins with cupcake papers. In a small bowl, combine the flours, and set aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Incorporate the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla. Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about three-quarters. Bake for 20–25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean. Cool completely before icing.

To make icing, place butter, 4 cups of sugar, milk and vanilla in a bowl. Beat until smooth and creamy, about 3-5 minutes. Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition (about 2 minutes), until the icing is thick enough to spread. You may not need to add all of the sugar. If desired, add a few drops of food coloring and mix thoroughly. Icing can be store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days.


Avocado and Blood Orange Salad

Sometimes, we feel silly posting recipes like this one. I never know how to write instructions for a salad: Put ingredients on plate? Pour dressing over lettuce? It seems self-explanatory. But as I was looking at the picture of this salad deciding whether we should post it, I thought about how rarely we remember to make such simple and beautiful dishes. Salads like this one are so easy to make, but too often we think of them as too fancy for a weeknight, or too much effort for something not very substantial (case in point: Alex made this as part of my birthday meal). Usually, we make salad as a main dish, or not at all, opting instead to quickly steam a side vegetable or to throw one in with whatever else we are making. After this salad, though, I'd like to change that.

When we make salad as a main course, we feel pressure to weight it down with nuts, cheese and other proteins to make sure it is filling enough. While I love dinner salads, I think there is still something to be said for just lettuce, avocado and blood oranges. Add a simple citrus dressing, and just enjoy the combination of those three ingredients. I found myself surprised at the combination of textures, something I hardly notice when other ingredients bog the salad down. If you haven't done a salad like this in a while, consider it, and I bet you'll be surprised too.

Ingredients (makes 2 small salads):
2 cups mixed greens
1 avocado, sliced
1 blood orange, sectioned


1/2 c olive oil
1/3 c lemon juice
1 tbs sugar
1 small shallot, diced
salt and pepper to taste

Mix dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until combined. Assemble lettuce, avocado and blood oranges on a plate and dress.


Chocolate Angel Food Cake

Because we've been busy wrapping up the semester (only 2 weeks of finals remain!), many of the recipes (like this and this) that we've posted in the last month come from weekly dinners that we've been having with two friends -- an event that ensures that we get up from our work and put something together in the kitchen. Last night, they kindly returned the favor by cooking dinner for us. But being the control freaks that we are, we couldn't let them cook everything, so we brought a chocolate angel food cake for dessert.

The cake marked our second use of our beautiful new angel food cake pan, and our first attempt making something other than the standard cake. For some reason, I thought that adding chocolate would significantly change the taste of the cake, but it actually turned out tasting just like the angel food cake that I know and love -- with just the right amount of chocolate flavor. Adding cocoa didn't make the cake any less fluffy or moist, as I had feared. It tasted sweet enough, but since it's so low in fat, I totally didn't feel guilty eating it. We sliced ourselves huge pieces, and topped it with whipped cream and sugary fruit.

The recipe we used is from The Joy of Baking. There are probably easier recipes out there, but this one looked thorough and fail-proof. It turned out to be less difficult than we expected, and we definitely recommend it.

16 large egg whites
4 tbsp dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/4 cup boiling water
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup cake flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 350. Bring egg whites to room temperature (you can let them sit, covered, in a bowl for about 30 minutes). In a small bowl, combine cocoa powder and boiling water. Stir in vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, whisk together cake flour, and 3/4 cup granulated sugar and salt. In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites until foamy, then add cream of tartar. Continue beating until soft peaks form, then add remaining one cup of sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form. Remove one cup of egg white mixture, and whisk it into the cocoa powder mixture to lighten it. Using a rubber spatula, gradually fold flour mixture into remaining egg whites, then fold in cocoa mixture. Don't over mix. Pour batter into 10-inch angel food cake pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes until inserted knife comes out clean, and cake springs back to the touch. Once baked, invert pan and let it cool for an hour and a half. Run knife around the rim of the pan, and around the bottom of the pan to remove the cake. Serve with fruit, whipped cream, and other toppings.