Bananas Flambé

Alex cooked this for me during the first dinner that we ate together. Given my fear of fire (I didn't light a match until my senior year of high school), the flames impressed me. Though his presentation sold me the dish before I even tasted it, the deep caramel flavor had me utterly floored.

I'm not a huge banana person, but I continue to love this dish every time Alex makes it, especially when I get to scrape the pan for crispy caramel pieces. And though we're both hugely lactose-intolerant, adding a touch of ice cream turns this superb dessert into an irresistibly simple masterpiece.

3 bananas, sliced
2 tbsp butter (but we used smart balance)
3 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 oz. dark rum or brandy
vanilla ice cream (optional)

Heat the butter in a pan. Add sugar, allow it to melt. Add bananas and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Move the bananas entirely to one half of the pan, and move that side of the pan off of the heat (so that the heat is beneath the empty half). Add rum to the banana half of the pan, and quickly tilt the pan so that the rum flows to the hot and empty side of the pan. At this point, the rum should catch fire, so shake the pan to cook the bananas in the flames. The flames should die down after a few seconds. Remove bananas from heat, and serve over ice cream.

Thai Chicken Salad

We've been experimenting with Asian-flavored chicken salads for the past few weeks, and this is the first version to make the cut. Yes, it's difficult to believe, but sometimes we keep our meals off the internet. Though occasionally it's because we've already posted the recipe (roasted chicken) or there's no recipe to post (fudgesicles with peanut butter), generally it's because we've failed.

Our success with this chicken salad from our decision to compose the chicken salad separately from the greens, and to combine them immediately before serving. The leftover sauce from the chicken became the dressing for the entire dish, so the flavors meshed together perfectly. The inspiration from our recipe comes from one of the Culinary Institute of America's "one-dish meals," which we always accidentally call "one-dish wonders."

Ingredients (makes 4-6 entree-sized portions):
3 tbsp canola oil
2 tbsp dried red pepper flakes
2 1/2 lb. chicken breasts, minced
6 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar
4 plum tomatoes, chopped
3/4 cup scallion, thinly sliced
1 1/2 mint leaves, chopped
3 tbsp lemongrass, minced
1 cup lime juice
1 cup cashews or peanuts, chopped
1/2 head napa cabbage, chopped
1 radicchio, chopped
2 cups bean sprouts
1 cup cilantro

Heat the oil in a large pan. Add the red pepper flakes and cook for about 10 seconds, until aromatic. Add the chicken, fish sauce and brown sugar. Cook for 4-5 minutes until the chicken is no longer pink and cooked thoroughly. Remove from heat. Add scallion, mint leaves, lemongrass, tomatoes, cashews and lime juice. Mix until all of the ingredients are fully coated. Combine the cabbage, radicchio, bean sprouts and cilantro. Scoop the chicken salad over the greens, and use leftover liquid from the chicken as salad dressing.


Stuffed Sole

So far, the most wonderful thing about being second semester seniors is that friends keep receiving wonderful news! We posted a few months ago about a celebratory dinner for a friend's acceptance to medical school, and tonight we threw another something together to honor our friend, Lara, who received an interview for a prestigious teaching abroad program. Maybe I should rephrase: the most wonderful thing about this semester is the opportunity to celebrate non-stop.

We already had food planned when we heard the news, but we still had time to spruce up the presentation. We did sole with a mushroom and spinach stuffing, topped with pesto. With with a lemon slice and a drizzle of olive oil, they looked beautiful for a weeknight meal. It reminded me of spa food -- healthy, fresh, flavorful, and slightly fancy.

Ingredients (serves 4-5):
10 fillets of sole
8 0z. button mushrooms, thinly sliced and chopped
1 package frozen spinach, drained and chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 lemons
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp salt, or to taste
pepper to taste
1 cup seasoned bread crumbs (ours were low-carb)
1/2 cup pesto
parmesan cheese (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a large pan. Add onions, and cook until slightly browned (3-4 minutes). Add mushrooms and cook for an additional 3 minutes, then add the spinach and cook for two more. Add salt, pepper and juice of 1/2 lemon, stir and remove from heat. Add the bread crumbs and mix them into the filling. Scoop about 1/4 cup of filling onto a fillet of fish, placing it about 1/3 of the way across the fish. Wrap the short side over the stuffing, and then wrap the longer side over the fish and stuffing. Top with a dollop of pesto, a thin slice of lemon and optionally parmesan. Bake for about 25 minutes on 350, or until the fish flakes. Serve with lemon wedges.


Egg Drop Soup with Egg Noodles

As far as college campuses go, Penn's offers some great eating-out options. Pod, a Stephen Starr restaurant, is just 2 blocks away from Alex's apartment, and favorite local-food haven White Dog Cafe is just a block beyond that. Plus, we have three Starbucks and an impressive range of Vietnamese, Japanese, Indian, Thai, Middle-Eastern and other ethnic restaurants. Somehow, though, we're seriously missing decent Chinese food. That's not to say that there aren't Chinese restaurants, but rather that the dishes served at many of them are more greasy than flavorful, and known to induce nausea and self-loathing after consumption. So when we wanted the comfort of Chinese take-out without the aftermath of ordering locally, we decided to try making a classic egg-drop soup ourselves.

We were surprised to learn that the dish is very simple -- both in flavor and production. We based our recipe on one from Cooks Illustrated that called for cilantro, which we thought added a nice complexity to an otherwise basic broth-based soup. We ended up adjusting the seasonings even more to give the soup more flavor. And because we planned it as our main course, we added yolk-less (why not?) egg noodles, which went nicely.

3 quarts low-sodium chicken broth
2-inch piece of ginger, unpeeled and sliced thinly, lightly smashed
3 medium scallions, halved lengthwise and lightly smashed

3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp cornstarch
2 tbsp water
2 medium scallions, finely chopped
3 tbsp cilantro, minced
6 large eggs, beaten
1 package egg noodles

Make the broth by placing all of the ingredients in a large saucepan and simmering them for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the egg noodles according to package instructions (should take about 10 minutes) and place them aside. Discard the solid ingredients in the broth (you can do this by pouring the soup through a strainer). Return the soup to its pot, and bring it to a simmer. Add soy sauce to taste. Combine cornstarch in water in a small bowl and stir until smooth, then whisk this mixture into the soup until it thickens slightly, about one minute. Add scallions and cilantro. Whisk the eggs into the broth by stirring the broth gently in a circular motion and adding the eggs in a continuous stream. Then, let the soup stand until the eggs set, about one minute. Once they have set, break up egg ribbons with a fork. Divide egg noodles among bowls and pour soup over them. Serve immediately.


Double Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Muffins

Once we stop cooking for a bit, it takes a little something to get back into it. A little something moist and chocolately, irresistibly peanut buttery. A little something muffin. Or, in this case, a lot of something muffin.

We turned the baking shelf upside down for this recipe. About 95 percent of unexpired ingredients made the cut, along with a few stale ones. It was inspired in the way I always dreamed that baking would be -- intuitively throwing ingredients together and then immediately doubting myself and checking the oven every three seconds. We tried to include healthier versions of ingredients whenever possible because it's a fact that using reduced fat peanut butter and skim milk justifies 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips.

These lovelies present a strong chocolate flavor that isn't overwhelmingly sweet, and with the help of some friends, we blew through a solid portion of the batch in the 10 minutes following removal from the oven.

2 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup skim milk
6 tbsp smart balance or butter, melted
1/2 cup reduced fat peanut butter
3/4 cups white chocolate chips
3/4 cups chocolate chips
extra flour

Preheat oven to 400, line muffin pan with muffin tins. In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda. In a separate bowl, mix together eggs, milk, butter and peanut butter. Add wet ingredients into dry ingredients, stir until just combined. Coat the chocolate chips in the extra flour to prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the muffins. Mix the chocolate chips into the batter. Spoon batter into the tins, filling them about 4/5 of the way, and bake muffins for about 20 minutes. Cool and serve.


Basic Stir-Fry

It's been too long! The semester started, and there are other excuses, but we're returning for good and that's what counts.

We'd guess that stir-fry is among the most popular dishes that college students attempt to cook, along with omlettes and grilled cheese. And though it's pretty easy to put a decent stir-fry together, putting together a PERFECT one is a trickier task. We've sampled many attempts by friends, some that manage to include both raw and overcooked vegetables simultaneously. Soy sauce alone does not constitute proper seasoning. We didn't want to mess around with experimentation; we wanted a basic stir-fry with perfect flavoring and consistency. For technique, we consulted Epicurious, and we improvised only minimally by adding more of our favorite flavorings: Chinese five spice and ginger.

3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tsp Chinese five spice
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed chili powder
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon flour

1 12-ounce package extra-firm tofu (drained, cut into 3/4-inch cubes, patted dry)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps quartered
8 ounces sugar snap peas, edges cut off
1/2 onion, sliced
2 tbsp minced peeled fresh ginger

Wisk together the ingredients for the marinade, add tofu. Let sit to marinade for up to 30 minutes. Put 1 tbsp vegetable oil in large pan over medium-high heat. Add tofu and sauté until golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer tofu to plate. Add remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to the pan, add onions and cook until they begin to soften, about 1 minute. Add mushrooms and stir-fry until tender, about 3 minutes. If you like, you can add a bit more soy sauce and sesame oil. Add sugar snap peas and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add ginger; stir-fry 30 seconds. Return tofu to pan and drizzle reserved marinade mixture over. Stir-fry until marinade thickens slightly, about 30 seconds. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl. Sprinkle with green onions and serve.


Dessert Kebabs

For the 2nd Philadelphia food bloggers meet-up, we made dessert kebabs. We didn't intend for them to look as gaudy as they did (for evidence of absurdity, visit this picture of one on Foodaphilia -- Mark is a super model). In fact, we envisioned them much smaller, and, um, subtler. In fact, though we'd definitely remake dessert kebabs in some form again, I doubt that we'd use this version unless the event called for extravagance.

It's kind of silly to post a recipe for dessert kebabs, since you could really add anything you like. We chose chocolate-dipped rice crispy treats (from the crispy-treat recipe on the side of the box), chocolate-covered strawberries (self-explanatory), brownie cakes baked into mini-muffin tins and star fruit. For the brownie cakes, we used a recipe from Cooks Illustrated that I will not post, since I do not recommend it. In fact, they were supposed to just be brownies, but we had to call them brownie cakes when they turned out less fudgy than expected.

Our only main instruction is to skewer the chocolate-dipped items immediately after dipping to prevent cracking. Also, star fruit are delicious, and you can swipe your extra pieces through chocolate as well for some pre-kebab snack.



From my father, I inherited a love for leftovers. When I'm home, I still watch with amazement as he piles everything left on the table after dinner into a tupperware container to bring for lunch the next day. Paella is kind of like that -- except fresh. According to Wikipedia and legend, paella originated when Moorish Kings ordered that servants combine leftovers from royal banquets to send home with guests. It's a believable tale. When researching paella recipes, we discovered that they exist with pretty much any ingredient imaginable. We picked a classic-seeming version, borrowed a beautiful paella pan from a kindly neighbor, and embarked on a crazily intense cooking experience.

Paella isn't difficult to make, but it moves quickly and there are a lot of steps. If we hadn't prepared all of the ingredients in advance, and if we didn't have two sets of hands plus extra helpers, the dish would definitely have not been as successful as it was. It was, however, an enormous success. I attribute the deliciousness to a unique and smoky spice combination, marked especially by the inclusion of a Spanish paprika. The dish was flavorful and beautiful, and though the pan was filled to the brim, it was gone the next day (a significant portion of it in my dad's tupperware.)

Though this was our first attempt at paella, I doubt that we will ever stray from the recipe that we used, even though we made a few minor substitutions. It's from a cookbook entitled Paella!, which we borrowed from the same kindly neighbor who lent us the pan. What's posted below is our version.

Highlight: The squid came with its head on, and Alex dissected it. We saw the ink pouch. If you get the queasies, buy your calamari pre-cleaned.

6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp parsley, minced
1/4 tsp crumbled thread saffron
kosher salt
1 small chicken, cut into its parts (legs, wings, breasts, etc.)
1 squid, cleaned, cut into 1/2-inch rings
1 lb. shimp, shelled
6 chicken sausages, cut into 1/4-inch slices
6 cups chicken broth
5 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 roma tomatos, chopped
2 tsp paprika (preferably Spanish smoked)
3 cups Arborio short-grain rice
2 dozen small mussles, cleaned
1 cup frozen peas
lemon wedges (for garnish)

Preheat the oven to 400. With a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic, parsley, saffron and 1/8 tsp salt together into a paste. Heat the olive oil in a paella pan (17-18 inches at it's widest point). Saute the chicken until browned but not fully cooked (2-3 minutes per side), remove and set aside. Briefly sear the shrimp for about a minute, and set aside as well. Add the squid, saute for a minute, and remove. Add the onion and bell pepper, cook until softened. Stir in the tomato, cook 1-2 minutes, then stir in paprika and rice. Pour the broth into the pan and bring to a boil. Add the saffron paste and continue to boil for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the peas, sausage and squid, and continue to boil for an additional three minutes, until the rice is no longer soupy, but enough liquid remains to cook it. Arrange the chicken, shrimp and mussels over the rice and transfer it to the oven. Cook, uncovered for about 12-15 minutes, or until the rice is almost al dente and the liquid is almost entirely evaporated. Also, the chicken should be cooked. Remove to a warm spot and cover with foil, let sit for 5-10 minutes until the rice is cooked to taste. Garnish with lemon and serve.

(garlic, parsley, saffron and salt paste in the mortar and pestle)


Carrot Cake Muffins with Cream Cheese Frosting

Oops -- Two days ago, we completed our 100th post and we didn't even notice or bake ourselves something to celebrate! We originally planned to do a cake for the occasion, and though we forgot, we did coincidentally make some amazing carrot cake muffins, complete with a delectable cream cheese frosting.

As we've become something of muffin experts over the past few months (at the very least, we're obsessed and deluded amateurs), we can officially write that these are the best muffins in existence. Perhaps this is because we followed our recipe perfectly, but we'd like to think that our ever-improving baking skills had something to do with it, too. The frosting, after all, was our own. Adding apple to the batter along with coconut and carrots ensures an unbelievably moist and soft texture. They are perfect without frosting, but if added, they become sublime.

The recipe is from the Joy of Baking, and since it's so good that even people who are too lazy to click a link deserve to try it, I'm re-writing the instructions below. Happy 101st post anniversary to us! Please, celebrate with a muffin.

1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, toasted and coarsely shopped
2 cups raw carrot, grated
1 large apple, peeled and grated
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup coconut
3 eggs
3/4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup crushed walnuts (for topping)


Preheat oven to 350. Line 18 muffin cups with paper liners. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Stir in nuts and coconuts, and set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, oil and vanilla. Fold wet ingredients, apples and carrots into the flour mixture. Stir until just moistened. Spoon batter into muffin cups and bake 20-25 minutes, until inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool. Meanwhile, make the frosting by combining the butter, sugar, cream cheese and vanilla in a bowl, and mixing them together (preferably with a mixer) until smooth. Once the cupcakes are cool, frost and sprinkle the crushed walnuts on top. Serve, or if not serving immediately, refrigerate.


Citrus Avocado and Orange Salad

Since we've only existed since July, this is our official opportunity for blogolutions (and really, self-evaulation in any form). We hope that posting these does not mean that someone will actually hold us to them. In fact, if anyone tries, we'll just take down this post and deny that it ever existed. Yes, we'd go there.

1. Invent more recipes
2. Use recipes from the approx 20 cookbooks we received from the holidays
3. Pay attention to details that make the food prettier (aka, food style)
4. Learn how to use heat correctly
5. Make our own stocks

Tonight's citrus salad meets two of our goals, 1 & 3. Woot! My mom showed us a nifty way to halve the oranges, and there is great color contrast between the avocados and oranges. The dressing is unbelievable with the flavors in the salad -- simple, tangy, enhancing. Definitely make this for guests, or if you'd like to impress. This salad is seriously good-looking, and just as lovely to taste.

Ingredients (makes 6):
3 large navel oranges
2 avocados, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup cashews
1 bunch scallions, finely chopped

(dressing -- these are estimates, so adjust to taste)
1 tsp sesame oil
1/4 olive oil
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
4 tbsp juice of orange
salt and pepper, to taste

Slice the orange by placing it on the table with the navel facing forward. Insert a knife into the center of the orange on the diagonal, and proceed to make similar inserts in a zig-zag formation around the fruit. Separate the halves. Running a thumb between the orange sections and the peel, carefully peel the fruit out of its peel. Divide the sections, and cut them in half again. Place in a bowl. Add the avocados and scallions, and add dressing (make by whisking all ingredients together until it tastes good) until the salad is very lightly covered. Add the cashews, and spoon the salad back into the empty orange halves. Serve.

Chicken Satay with Peanut Dipping Sauce

Sometimes, when I have the most exciting things to write, like now, writer's block strikes. Not to mention, I have the critical eyes of two of my best friends (since elementary school, for life) peering over my shoulder. They joined us for dinner in lovely, 70-degree Bethesda, MD. I digress. Excitement: We are back from our blogging hiatus! Also, blogolutions to announce. And finally, food.

So as mentioned, we feasted tonight in Bethesda. Alex is here visiting, and we've ousted my parents from the kitchen for two nights in a row (thanks, and also sorry for yesterday's falafel mishap). Tonight, we cooked up some delicious Asian dishes, complemented beautifully by some homemade sushi brought by my friend, Whitney. She's convinced us to attempt it solo when we return to school, so stay tuned. For our contributions, we made chicken satay with a peanut sauce and a superb orange and avocado salad, inspired by an amazing ceviche dish at Genji in Philly. Because we are just so thrilled about our return to the blogosphere, we're posting it all tonight. The blogolutions are coming in a post or two.

Firstly, the satay. We were a bit surprised at how well this came out (maybe because after the great falafel disaster of yesterday, we thought our skills had disappeared). The chicken was tender and well-flavored, and the sauce was so great that we kept sneaking it on to everything. Whit and Emma agree that it was peanuty, but not too peanuty, just the right amount, "like Goldilocks." We compiled our recipes from across the internet and the brain of Alex's father; we're pretty into them.

Ingredients (chicken/marinade):
6 chicken breasts
1/4 cup minced lemongrass
1 small onion, quartered
1 thumb-sized piece ginger
1/2 tsp dried tumeric
2 tbsp ground corriander
2 tsp cumin
3 tbsp soy sauce
5 tbs brown sugar
1 tbs lime juice
skewers (about 30)

Ingredients (dipping sauce):
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup coconut milk
6 tbsp lime juice
3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp water
1 tbsp red curry paste
1 tbsp grated ginger
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

To make the marinade for the chicken, combine all of the ingredients (minus the chicken and skewers), and process them in a food processor until combined. Cut the chicken breasts into thin strips. Pour the marinade over the chicken, and let it rest for 1 hour to 10 hours. Meanwhile, soak the skewers in water. When you are ready, preheat the grill. Skewer the chicken onto to the sticks, and grill for 5-6 minutes on each side over medium heat, until cooked. To make the dipping sauce, mix together the peanut butter and coconut milk. Then add the other ingredients, and stir until combined. Serve the chicken with the dipping sauce.


Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

We couldn't not start off the year with a post -- though admittedly Alex is in Belize and this is something that we made several weeks ago and procrastinated writing about. Part of me would like to wax poetic about all of the wonderful things that we anticipate about 2008 -- graduation, getting our act together to start cooking things like paella and cake with fresh strawberry frosting, Batman: The Dark Knight -- but one of my resolutions was to stop making decisions too far in advance, so perhaps I should just say that we're extremely excited to keep blogging this year (starting again in a week or so!). Please keep reading! Happy New Year!

Though we made it before Christmas, roasted vegetable lasagna is actually a perfect dish to celebrate the new year. It's an old classic with a slightly innovative twist, healthy, satisfying, pretty. You can pretty much roast any vegetable that you like, and we chose our favorites. Also, you should feel free to experiment with other fillings as well, though pesto ricotta certainly works extremely well.

2 zucchini, sliced thinly (1 yellow, 1 green)
1 tomato, sliced thinly
2 portabello mushrooms, sliced thinly
2 peppers, sliced
1 onion, sliced thinly
1 eggplant, sliced thinly
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
1 jar tomato sauce
1/3 cup pesto
2 1/2 cups mozzarella, shredded
2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 cup parmesan, grated
1 box whole wheat lasagna pasta

Preheat the oven to 350. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Toss the vegetables in the oil and vinegar, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and spread them onto the baking sheets. Roast for about 30 minutes, until they are carmelized. Meanwhile, cook the pasta until it is just barely done. Also, mix the pesto and ricotta together in a bowl. In another bowl, combine the mozarella and parmesean. When the vegetables are done, prepare to assemble the lasagna by turning the oven to 325 and finding a large 9x15 inch baking sheet. Layer the lasagna by adding sauce to the bottom, then 3 noodles. Next add 1/3 of the pesto ricotta cheese, 1/3 of the vegetables, then 1/4 of the parmesean/mozarella mixture. Repeat twice, then the remaining parmesean/mozarella, and any leftover vegetables or sauce to the top of the lasagna. Bake for 40 minutes uncovered, and let sit for about 10 minutes before serving.