Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Preparing The Perfect Meal

As someone who, on occasion, has been known to eat food and/or dance, I was told early on that I would have a chance to participate to the Kitchen Dance Party blog. This was very exciting for me. Although my reputation as a writer often begins and ends with whatever is in my Netflix queue, I consider myself to be a well-rounded individual with much to say on many topics. My suggestions regarding meal preparation will hopefully encourage you to live a healthier, more fulfilling lifestyle.

I often find myself in a situation where I have very limited food choices in my apartment, so creating a balanced meal that is both nutritious AND delicious takes a bit of creativity. The recipe I will be sharing with you this afternoon does not require a lot of time or energy, but the results speak for themselves. I would recommend this to anyone who is trying to stick to a budget.

Fig Newtons

One package of Fig Newtons. For alternate serving sizes, you may also use the single-sleeve servings of Fig Newtons, found both at your local grocery store and at liquor stores, nation-wide.

- Preheat oven to 450 degrees
- Turn off oven
- Open package of Fig Newtons

The most essential part of your preparation should be in how you open the Fig Newtons. If you choose to purchase the plastic two-sleeve set, you must consider how many Fig Newtons you intend to ingest over the course of your meal. With the newer packaging, resealing the Fig Newtons by opening the plastic surface may be an option - however, this can make it more difficult to reach Fig Newtons and create frustration during your eating experience. If you have some experience in this, you may choose to open the side of the Fig Newton container and pull the sleeves out directly. This will provide you unfettered access to the entirety of the contents - however, it will also hinder your ability to reseal the Fig Newtons in their original container, which may cause your ingredients to become hard and inedible over a short period of time. Know your limits and plan accordingly.

While Fig Newtons may act as your main course, you may also choose to supplement your Fig Newtons with an appropriate side dish. While I prefer to follow my meal with a diet coke and a cigarette chaser, not all dinner guests may find this an appealing alternative to the more traditional after-dinner mint or coffee. Remember that all parts of your meal must work in tandem - people are not coming to you for a simple meal, but rather, a complete dining experience. While I can provide you with all the necessary tips to create your complete Fig Newton meal, I must admit to a lack of experience in regards to presentation. For more information regarding your dining experience, I will refer you to an important documentary on the full dinner experience.

Betty's confidence is shaken a bit when doubts of her correctness sneak in. Will you be a Betty?

Music Land: One of the most appealing aspects of serving Fig Newtons is that they can be accompanied by any style of music. However, to fully complete the dining experience, I would recommend timing your main course to coincide with the song Icarus Smicarus by Mclusky. Newtons are a dish best served angry.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cleanse Lust: Cocoa Brownies

Val and I are doing the Fresh Start Cleanse for the next 10 days. Which means no: gluten products, corn products, soy, dairy, meat, processed foods, sugar, booze or coffee. I'm surviving on kale, miso soup, rice cakes and quinoa. The food elimination doesn't really bother me, but cutting out caffeine is rough.

Consider yourselves warned.

Let's remember happier times, when brownies were allowed in my diet.
These were made for the Bahn Mi house warming party.  They're pretty amazing, as in I might have to stop looking for the perfect brownie recipe.

I'm often accused of being too much of a "melting pot" when it comes to baking, but when presented the opportunity to add extras, I'll take it (Case in point- my favorite cookies are called Compost Cookies and can include: nuts, raisins, pretzels, coffee grounds, chocolate, peanut butter, potato chips and anything else that is lying around). 

So for these brownies, I toasted the walnuts- 325 degrees for about 5 minutes. 
And added chopped bittersweet chocolate and coffee grounds. 

Cocoa Brownies with Browned Butter and Walnuts (adapted from Bon Appetit)


    Nonstick vegetable oil spray
    10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
    1 1/4 cups sugar
    3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder (spooned into cup to measure, then leveled)
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    2 large eggs, chilled
    1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all purpose flour
    1 cup toasted walnut pieces
    4 TBS coffee grounds
    4oz chopped bittersweet chocolate. 


    Position rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 325°F. Line 8x8x2-inch metal baking pan with foil, pressing foil firmly against pan sides and leaving 2-inch overhang. Coat foil with nonstick spray. Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Continue cooking until butter stops foaming and browned bits form at bottom of pan, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat; immediately add sugar, cocoa, 2 teaspoons water, vanilla, and 1/4 teaspoon (generous) salt. Stir to blend. Let cool 5 minutes (mixture will still be hot). Add eggs to hot mixture 1 at a time, beating vigorously to blend after each addition. When mixture looks thick and shiny, add flour and stir until blended. Beat vigorously 60 strokes. Stir in nuts, coffee and chocolate. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

    Bake brownies until toothpick inserted into center comes out almost clean (with a few moist crumbs attached), about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on rack. Using foil overhang, lift brownies from pan. Cut into 4 strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 4 brownies.

    I'm going to go chew on some kale and try and forget about these for the next 10 days. 

    Music Land- I saw this band at the Alaskan last summer and promptly bought their album. It's a good transition/accompaniment to Folk Fest. "Swerve On" is a gem.

      Banh Mi Party!

      I just moved into a new place with my best buddy (and new roomie!) Val. It’s big, it’s centrally located. It’s pretty much just begging for a party.

      We couldn’t help but oblige. Everyone needs a housewarming party.

      We decided to make a build-your-own Banh mi bar. Banh mi is a delicious Vietnamese sandwich. We made them with both spicy grilled pork tenderloin and delicious, crunchy pork belly.

      The recipe is super easy. You just have to plan ahead so you can marinate the meat, make the daikon pickles, etc.

      Banh Mi (Vietnamese Sandwiches)


      1 ½ lbs pork tenderloin
      2 scallions, minced
      1 Tbs sugar
      2 Tbs fish sauce
      1 ½ Tbs lime juice
      1 Tbs Garlic chili sauce (Sambal
      2 cloves garlic, minced

      The day before you are planning on actually eating your sandwiches, mix up the scallions, sugar, fish sauce, lime juice, sambal and garlic in a small bowl. Pour the mixture over your pork tenderloin in a large ziplock bag. (The last time I made this, I put in just a dash of sesame oil. It was good, but it didn’t make a super huge difference. So have no fear, sesame-allergy-sufferers.) Smush everything around in the bag a bit and put it in the refrigerator overnight. (I’m one of those people that has to check on everything eight bajillion times while I’m cooking, so I mix the bag around every few hours. This is not necessary if you are sane.)

      Pork tenderloin on the grill, gettin' tasty.

      On the day of, fire up your grill, make sure you grease your grate (if your grill is not already non-stick) and cook the pork directly over the coals/heat source for about 3-4 minutes on each of the four sides. (This cook time greatly depends on the size of your tenderloin. If you think it’s a pretty big chunk, grill it a little longer!) Cook until the internal temperature reads 145° to 150°. Put on a plate and cover with tin foil to rest until you’re ready to assemble your sandwiches.  Right before serving, slice the meat into however thick slices you want. (I usually aim for about ¼” – ½” slices.)

      Pork Belly:

      Crunchy, fatty goodness.
      Spice Rub: (amounts can vary, use as much or as little to your taste.)
      Chinese five-spice
      Kosher salt
      Cracked black pepper
      Cayenne (sparingly)

      Score the skin of the pork belly on quarter inch intervals. Rub spice mixture onto the meat on both sides. Place into a glass dish and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.

      Rinse the belly before cooking. Preheat the oven to 450°. Place meat on a foil covered baking sheet, skin side up, and cook for half an hour. Turn down heat to 350° and cook for about two more hours. Let rest until ready to serve. Cut across the top into 1/2" pieces.

      (These radish and carrot pickles give the sandwich it’s distinctive Vietnamese taste. I think they smell awful, but taste amazing, adding an important sourness to the sando.)
      1 large carrot, peeled
      1 lb daikon radish, peeled (A hint about daikon, try to get a radish that is smaller in diameter. I think the ones that are like 1 ½” thick are the tastiest.)
      1 tsp salt
      2 tsp + ½ cup sugar
      1 ¼ cup rice (or white) vinegar
      1 cup lukewarm water
      A medium sized glass container with a lid (I use either a quart mason jar or a small glass Tupperware container.)

      Pickles, gettin' pickley.

      Slice the carrot and radish into matchsticks and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle the salt and two teaspoons sugar over the veggies and mix with hands until they are soft. (A good way to tell if they’re soft enough is if you can bend a stick in half without it breaking. It usually takes about 3 minutes.) Drain the excess liquid and put the veggies into your container.

      In another bowl, combine the ½ cup sugar, vinegar and water and mix until the sugar dissolves. Pour this mixture over the veggies until they are just covered. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

      To assemble the sandwiches:
      1 baguette
      sliced cucumber
      sliced jalapeƱos
      fresh cilantro

      Ed (left) was our "Prettiest banh mi" contest winner. Look at the skillful way he applies the mayo to the baguette.

      Slice and toast the baguette. Spread with mayo. (For an extra kick, mix a tiiny bit of the sambal in with the mayo.) Layer on the sliced pork, pork belly, pickles, sliced cucumber, sliced jalapeƱos and fresh cilantro and enjoy!

      If you’re not a fan of any of these ingredients, I recommend you quit being a chicken and at least try them all together. It’s one of those foods that needs all the flavors together to be fabulous.

      Tuesday, April 19, 2011

      Kitchen DJ

      It’s Mags.

      I like to tell people I’m a terrible cook, but that’s not always the case.

      Sometimes I get lucky.

      Hopefully I can share some of these happy accidents with you.

      Friday, April 15, 2011

      In Search of the Perfect Scone. A series.

      I have to confess.

      I am a scone snob.

      I have a very specific and particular idea of what scones should be and am very very depressed when I get one that isn't. Now, don't get me wrong, even if said scone doesn't fulfill my idea of what it could have been, that doesn't mean that I'll turn my nose up at it. I'll just think about the unfilled potential of the scone while consuming it.

      What I really love about scones is having them with coffee. Being able to dip a hunk into some brew to soften it up is probably the best thing ever. And yes, I understand that this means that scones are just another vessel for me to consume caffeine, but what a good vessel they are.

      I found the perfect scone for this once, here in Juneau. They were at the now defunct Valentines Cafe.
      They were so big and solid that they could have had their own GDP. You would get one at lunch and it would also be your afternoon snack and breakfast the next morning, if you were really hungry. And the best part was that they were so crusty and solid that they would not crumble when dipped in the cup of joe. There was no fishing out scone crumbs with a spoon. They were perfect...I miss them.

      So I am setting out on a mission to find the perfect scone in Juneau.
      Let it be understood that this is completely by my and only my standards. I'm not here to knock anyone down.

      This will be a two part mission.
      Part One is to find the perfect scone that someone else makes. There is something so je ne sais quoi  about sitting in a coffee shop with a scone and coffee, writing poetry/plays/whatever floats your boat (Every time I'm in this environment, I try to do something artsy, but usually end up balancing my check book. I'm a notorious procrastinator when it comes to actually writing something).
      The only requirements for said scone huts is scones and coffee.

      The places in Juneau that follow this include (if you know of any others, please let me know):
      The Waffle Company,
      Heritage Coffee Co (they serve scones made by Abby's Kitchen)
      Breeze Inn
      Silverbow Bakery
      The Rookery
      Paradise Cafe
      Pie in the Sky
      Rainbow Foods- this is the only "grocery store" I'm going to for this project.

      Part Two is to try and recreate the Valentines recipe in my kitchen (or find a better one). I've been trying this for a's been an un-sucessful shit show so far. But, I hear rumor that the Valentines recipe is still floating around, so those posts may turn into the lengths that I will go to get it.

      Music wise- In the bluegrass/Alaska Folk Fest Trenches right now. It's a good place to be.
      Check it out:

      Wednesday, April 13, 2011

      Banana Cupcakes

      I just finished stage managing/assistant directing The Importance of Being Earnest at Perseverance Theatre, a kick ass experience and show.
      While in rehearsals, you automatically have a hungry hoard of actors whom will eat anything, as long as it's free, and this cast was no different. Granted, I fed them some weird things (red pepper muffins, bacon scones etc...) but they devoured it all.

      In this vein, for Dan's (playing Jack) birthday, I wanted to try something a little different than your typical funfetti (don't get me wrong, I love funfetti) fanfare. I saw this recipe for banana cupcakes with peanut butter frosting in an old Bon Appetit and completely wrote it off, but for such an occasion as this, decided that it was perfect.

      I couldn't help myself and added shaved chocolate to the cupcakes, but didn't add nuts because I didn't want them to become too heavy/muffin like. They weren't at all, they were very light and I had to stop myself from putting my face in the frosting.
      And the do ahead suggestion is bogus, I made the cupcakes 3 days before and stored them outside (still doubles as a fridge in the Alaskan spring) and frosted them the night before the big day.

      Banana Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting (Adapted from Bon Appetit)

      • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
      • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
      • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
      • 1/4 teaspoon salt
      • 2 very ripe large bananas, peeled
      • 1/2 cup sour cream
      • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
      • 3/4 cup sugar
      • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
      • 1 large egg
      • 1 large egg yolk

      • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
      • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
      • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
      • 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (do not use old-fashioned or freshly ground)
      • Chopped lightly salted roasted peanuts (optional)

      For cupcakes: 
      Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Line 12 standard (1/3-cup) muffin cups with paper liners. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Mash bananas with fork in another medium bowl until smooth. Mix sour cream and vanilla into bananas.
      Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add egg and egg yolk and beat until well blended. Add flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with banana-sour cream mixture in 2 additions, beginning and ending with flour mixture and beating just until blended after each addition. Divide batter among prepared muffin cups (generous 1/4 cup for each).
      Bake cupcakes until tester inserted into center of each comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer cupcakes to rack and let cool completely.

      For frosting: 
      Sift powdered sugar into large bowl. Add cream cheese, butter, and peanut butter. Using electric mixer, beat mixture until smooth. Spread frosting over top of cupcakes, dividing equally. Sprinkle lightly with chopped peanuts, if desired. DO AHEAD: 
      Can be made 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

      It's been a pretty melancholy week, so for this baking adventure I was digging some of Andrew Bird's latest, Noble Beast.

      It's low key, unassuming, lyrically outstanding and though it stands on it's own, watching this dude play (almost) everything by himself is crazy. Plus he can whistle like a mother. 

      And we're live....

      I'm Hannah.
      I like to cook.
      I like to listen to music.
      And often I partake in these two activities together, hence the blog.

      Keep an eye out for guest bloggers. I'm a busy girl and many of my friends like to cook and/or listen to music and are willing to contribute.