Slow Cooker Dulce De Leche

Note: This post is a contribution to the first ever Naptime Chef & Small Kitchen College Slow Cooker Challenge! You can enter to win a really awesome slow cooker on either site, so go check out all the recipes, get inspired and enter! There’s also a Twitter chat Wednesday, January 18th from 12pm – 1pm ET, #slowcooker, to help you get in the mood! 

I’m gluttonous. I love dulce de leche. So much so that sometimes when I buy alfajores from my local coffee shop, I twist them open like one would normally do with an Oreo and lick it right off the cookie.

But I’m also lazy, and kind of scared of making the stuff. Traditionalists make dulce de leche from scratch by simmering milk, sugar, baking soda and vanilla. Braver folk than I simmer cans of sweetened condensed milk in water on the stove-top. And then there’s what I do.

It’s not a secret method – it’s all over the internet – but I’m willing to bet you either haven’t heard of it, or kinda discounted it. Plopping cans of sweetened condensed milk in a water filled slow cooker for 8 hours achieves the same results as stove-top boiling, without that pesky fear of exploding cans!

So there you have it. You’re gonna put two cans of sweetened condensed milk in your slow cooker – one if you’re making some lame attempt at moderation – fully submerge them in cold water, covering them by at least an inch, cover and set your slow cooker to low. I like to set this up for over night cooking because a) it’s nice to wake up to dulce and b) it’s a great excuse to force myself out of a cozy bed.

You’ll want to let the cans cool a bit before opening them. I give them about an hour – you know, while I make coffee, shower and get ready for the day. Then I open those cans up and unabashedly dip my spoon in and have a scoop.

It’s this Latina’s version of peanut butter/nutella jar bliss.

Now that you have two cans of the stuff, whatever will you do with it?  Continue reading

New Year’s: Alejandra’s Complete Guide to Gettin’ All Liquored Up

New Year’s Eve. Synonymous with champagne, kisses and that scene from When Harry Met Sally.

For the cynics among us, New Year’s Eve is just another night — a night with unreasonably high expectations for merriment and finding someone at the bar to smooch with. Yet, for the hopeful, it’s about new beginnings, good times with friends and making memories. No matter which side of the coin you fall on, we can all agree on one thing: New Year’s Eve is all about the booze.

I mean, really people, those memories aren’t just going to make themselves, now are they!?

For starters, make sure you’re all set up and ready. The Bon Appetit Cocktail Party Manual has all the golden rules for throwing a boozey party — and more. Don’t forget food, Stephanie has you covered with tons of easy recipes to make, and, in some cases, make-ahead treats that you can serve. But now, on to the reason we’re all here.

Read the full run down of punch, cocktail, wine and champagne recommendations over at Borderstan. 

Local Options: Alejandra’s Gift Guide for the Food Lover in Your Life

Buying gifts for your favorite food-minded friend can be both overwhelming and vexing. Us food folks can be intimidating.

What with our pickiness over restaurants, selective snobbery when it comes to things like booze, beer and coffee and who the heck knows what new gadget we’re oogling over in our kitchen this week! Worry not, I’ve got you covered.

No gift certificates to random restaurants you’ve never set foot in! No bags of “locally sourced, organic, farm fresh, hand milled” flour someone on Twitter told you makes great bread. These are real deal gifts you can give food lovers (not just foodies…but people who, you know, like to eat) and feel good about! Purchase and wrap with pride this year, you are going to be everyone’s favorite gift giver!

For The Home Cook With A Cookbook Library The Size Of The Library Of Congress

This is easier than you think. This is a selection of my favorite (read: go-to) cookbooks from the Big Timers and the Big Timers Who Happen To Be Local. Each of these cookbooks can be purchased at Kramerbooks in Dupont Circle.

  • Serve Yourself by Joe Yonan, the food editor at The Washington Post is all about cooking for one. Nab it for your solo living pal who still loves to eat well!
  • The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters is a bullseye for that farmers market fanatic in your life. It’s all about real, good food done simply (and deliciously).
  • Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi is for both the always and sometimes vegetarian in your life… 120 vegetarian recipes, all crafted by someone who still likes meat means there’s creativity with an eye for substance.
  • The Glorious Pasta of Italy by Domenica Marchetti is for that carb-hound in  your life. That girlfriend who grabs for the bread basket, loves Pasta Mia and shuns jars of Ragu? This is for her. (Domenica also happens to be a DC local, so I extra love the idea of supporting local talent!)
  • Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan is for your foodie boss or friend who loves spots like Proof, Estadio and Rasika but loves to play around in the kitchen. They’re not afraid to give an “intermediate” recipe a whirl.

To read the rest of my gift guide, visit Borderstan. 

Braised Chicken with Shallots

Can we take care of a bit of business before we dive into this dish here? The Washington Post is once again holding the DCTweeps contest. They’ve spruced up the rules, added new categories and thrown in wildcard voting – but they still have a “Favorite Foodie” category, and I’m still nominated! Would you guys take a moment and go vote for me? It’s nearly the last category (so annoying, I know) but along the way you can vote for great folks like Borderstan (Fave Local Blogger), Andy Carvin (Fave Social Media Geek) and Allison Sosna (Fave Activist). I’ll be forever thankful – I’ll even make a weird or difficult recipe for you and do the dirty research to see if it’s worth it! (Maybe. If you want me to make something ridiculous from the Alinea cookbook well, no. I won’t do that.)

Okay, now back to our regularly scheduled recipe.

Remember when I butchered that chicken back in March? Well, I walked away from the class with two whole chickens, broken down, bits and all. It was still chilly and I’d just bought my dutch oven and was itching to use it. In case you didn’t know: chicken + dutch oven = braising. At least in my house it does.

A quick Google search brought me to this Martha Stewart recipe, which I have to say is a nice jumping off point for braising chicken. It has all the important elements – white wine, mustard and a good sear on the meat before you get started. Here’s the good news: the chicken comes out so tender, nearly fall off the bone tender. And the shallots, translucent with each layer delicately separated, take on a whole new texture and flavor, almost candied!  Continue reading

Lemon Ricotta Cookies

One of the things I wax poetic about most is that someday I want to have a house (preferably in a place like this) where I have a huge farm table (preferably one like this) and an open door where friends and family are welcome to come over any time to eat, have a glass of wine and talk or hang out. I love the idea of having a full house and, even more, I love the idea of feeding people really good food.

I’m an overachiever only child type though, so I often let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Why am I waiting for this magical house in the middle of nowhere and a farm table that will likely cost me a lot of money? I have an apartment. And a perfectly nice coffee table.

So a couple of Sundays ago I decided to make that goat cheese cheesecake, send a mass email out and invite people over. For about four solid hours I had people coming in and out of my place, eating cheesecake, drinking wine and having a generally great time. Old friends met new friends, I caught up with everyone and folks seemed to enjoy. (Added bonus: it forced me to clean my place and make sure my laundry was up and out of the way.)

Last weekend was the third or fourth installment of my Sunday Open House and I made a crap ton of cookies. Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies, Cranberry Cake and these lemon ricotta cookies. All three were a huge hit, but people swoon annually over these Giada cookies. Yeah. I said it. Giada. Judge me if you will, but not only are these cookies easy but they’re tasty!

I didn’t modify anything in the recipe, it’s perfectly fine as is. But if you wanted to get fancy you could substitute the lemon for any citrus fruit – orange, lime or even grapefruit if you really wanted to. Not really grapefruit, I think that sounds pretty awful actually.

Do you guys entertain much? How about you city dwellers…are you entertaining in a studio apartment with total disregard for spatial limitations? Any tips or tricks for me? I’m hoping to keep this up into the new year. It just feels so good to have people I love around…stuffing themselves silly with my food no less!

Recipe for the lemon ricotta cookies after the jump!

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Cherry Tomato, Avocado and Red Onion Salad in a Citrus Vinaigrette

“What you really need is another tomato on top. Yeah! Right there! In the middle!”

You know, as a food blogger, bringing new people into your life is always an interesting experience. Some people hate all the photography before you can enjoy a meal. Some people seem to enjoy (too much) any  freebies you may receive. Some hate the multiple stops at the farmers’ markets AND grocery stores every weekend.

And then there are people who actually want to be involved in the photography (hence the tomato comment). And they get excited about apples at the markets. And they run off to buy bison steaks while you fawn over fennel. And they think it’s funny to take pictures of you, taking pictures of food (how, Inception).

I think most food bloggers prefer the latter. At least, I do. My aforementioned friend did just that the other night while I was photographing the Grilled Chicken Sandwich with Pepper Jack and Chipotle Lime Mayo. Those pictures, me hunched over a patio chair, in pajamas, nasty curly hair frizzed out in all directions – and with a plumbers crack apparently – will not appear on this blog. Or anywhere else for that matter!

And when it came time to snap another photo of the cherry tomato and avocado salad he happily chimed in with tomato placement suggestions. You sir, are a trooper.

Anyway, when I agreed to post a lunch suggestion for  the Small Kitchen College Brown Bag Challenge I was pretty adamant that my lunch would have a side. And what’s better than cherry tomatoes and avocados in the summer time?  Um. Nothing!

I love the salad even more because it was so easy to throw together and got better with some time in the fridge…perfect for a work-day lunch.

So here goes:

Cherry Tomato, Avocado and Red Onion Salad in a Citrus Vinaigrette

  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1/2 small red onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Combine cherry tomatoes, avocado, red onion and cilantro in a bowl.

In a separate bowl combine remaining ingredients. Whisk aggressively with a fork for 30 seconds. Taste your concoction…add salt or pepper as needed.

Pour vinaigrette over the salad and toss very lightly with two spoons. Place in a to-go bowl and you’re ready to take it for lunch!

Brown Bag Challenge: Grilled Chicken Sandwich With Pepper Jack and Chipotle Lime Mayo

I met Cara and Phoebe of Big Girls Small Kitchen fame over brunch with Mrs. Wheelbarrow about a month ago now, and their energy was infectious. Meeting the people behind the blogs you love can be awkward, do I gush and say how much I love the blog? Will they be in real life how they write on their blog? All I can say is, these are the kind of gals you want as your friends – savvy, smart and hilarious.

So, when they asked me to participate in the Small Kitchen College Brown Bag Challenge I was very excited! There are all kinds of fun giveaways from BuiltNY (the folks who make all those fun lunch bags and wine carriers) and chats all week. But, first the food!

The challenge is all about making it fun and easy to take your lunch to work. I like my lunch to be the most filling meal of my day. I’m not too hungry in the morning so I eat light and am usually starving by lunch which also needs to fuel my evening work out. My go-to healthy lunch is a salad, but I decided to branch out and try a sandwich for today instead.

A grilled chicken sandwich seemed like a pretty boring move, but I zhuzhed it up with a “fancy” deli roll from the grocery store (shmeared with butter and grilled, too, of course), melted pepper jack cheese and some smokey spicy chipotle lime mayo.

My dining companion who taste tested the sandwich wanted a bag of Lays potato chips to go with it, but I opted for a cherry tomato, avocado and red onion salad dressed in a citrus vinaigrette. That recipe will come tomorrow though!

Something to consider: make sure you get a particularly plump chicken breast if you like your lunches large and in charge – or double up and do two chicken breasts. We definitely wanted more chicken on our sandwiches (whimpy breasts) to balance out all that bread from the fancy rolls.

I’m happy to say that while I thought this was a great sandwich, my taste tester, a boy, also thought it would make a filling meal. Who says you can’t eat well for lunch?!

Enjoy!

More Details on the Small Kitchen College Brown Bag Challenge:

Wednesday, July 13th from 12pm – 1pm, BGSK be hosting a live twitter chat with The Daily Meal, using hash tag #brownbag.

So, you can also  win BuiltNY prizes on Facebook and Twitter, @BGSKCollege,  by posting a photo of your brown bag lunch. Items up for grabs include: Gourmet Getaway Lunch Totes, Water Bottle Tote, Six Pack Tote, Market Tote, Spicy Relish Lunch Tote, and Wine Bottle Tote.

Grilled Chicken Sandwich With Chipotle Lime Mayo

  • 1 thick chicken breast (or 2 small breasts)
  • 1tsp olive oil
  • 1-2 slices of pepper jack cheese
  • 3 thin slices off a small red onion
  • 3 pieces of crisp lettuce
  • 1 kaiser roll
  • Butter
  • 1/4c mayo
  • 1tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1tsp adobo sauce (from the chipotles in adobo sauce you’ll find in the Hispanic foods aisle at the grocery store)
  • Salt/Pepper

I did this meal entirely on a gas grill, which certainly made things easy, but you can achieve the same results with a pan and your broiler.

Before you head to the grill:

  • Halve your deli roll and shmear each side with a healthy portion of butter.
  • Slice your onion, tear off some lettuce and grab your cheese.
  • Combine mayo, lime juice, adobo sauce and salt/pepper in a bowl. Mix thoroughly & taste. Add more adobo, salt or pepper to taste.
  • Rub down your chicken breast with the olive oil, salt and pepper.

Get the grill nice and hot, say, 400F.  Place chicken on the grill and close the top. After 7-10 minutes, turn the breast. While you have the grill still open, throw the bun, butter side down, on the upper portion of the grill so it’s not directly on the flame.

Check on your chicken after another 7-10 minutes…lookin’ all pretty with those grill marks?! Time to take your bun off the grill. now, using your tongs and a sharp knife, cut the breast in half lengthwise. This is your chance to make sure it’s cooked all the way through…no pink! Place your pepper jack cheese on top of each half of the chicken and close the grill again. Mmmm…melty, spicy cheese!

Since you’re taking this for lunch you’re going to want things in separate baggies or containers. One for each:

  • chipotle lime mayo
  • grilled chicken with melted cheese, lettuce and onion
  • bun

When you get to work all you have to do is shmear on the mayo and assemble your sandwich. Maybe heat up the chicken in your office microwave if you’re feeling fancy. 

Tune back in tomorrow for the side salad recipe to complete your lunch!

Now if you’re looking at that can of chipotles in adobo sauce and wondering what to do with the rest of it…just make albondigas for dinner! They are great re-heated…for lunch even! :)

Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake

Stick a fork in me Jerry. I’m done.

I don’t talk about my chaotic schedule here on the blog much. Mostly because I keep resolving in my head to work on balancing not work and life, but my hobby and life. Life and life. You know, the difference between quiet time at home on the couch with a vat of moo shu vegetables and Country Strong and being out and about in the DC dining scene eating great food and talking to fun people…decidedly not on my couch.

From June 1st to today I have attended roughly 30 food-related events or dined out for food-related writing projects. And that’s not counting the two farmers’ markets a week I hit up. I’m exhausted. And full.

A few weekends ago I bought way, way too much rhubarb at the Dupont Farmers Market. I guess maybe the abundance of it in my fridge was my way of forcing myself into making time for a baking project. I used to bake every weekend. Like three times a weekend!

It’s hard to bake when you are in constant motion. Positive, forward motion, but motion none the less.

So there I was, just me, a lot of eggs and a shit ton of rhubarb. I am familiar with upside down fruit cakes, and I positively adore them. Instead of just using my old tried and true cake recipe I went with Martha Stewart’s concoction. It’s really not that far off from mine (which is to say, Real Simple’s)…but mine is better. Continue reading

Brioche Spinach Gruyere Strata

I love eggs. Oeufs. If beans are the magical fruit, eggs are the magical dairy. They go with every meal, in any form or method of cooking. They can be savory, they can be sweet. They can add creaminess, body or density to a dish.  They are probably the most versatile and fulfilling ingredient or food I have in my refrigerator. And I have eggs in my fridge all the time – it’s one thing I am never out of.

When I’ve had a long day, or a long week, and it’s time to feed myself I often turn to eggs for dinner and make some form of a savory egg dish. Breakfast for dinner! It’s my favorite kind of dinner actually.

So when, awhile ago now, I had a quickly going stale half-loaf of brioche from the Penn Quarter Farmers’ Market I had to act fast.  Eggs + bread = strata and/or bread pudding in my mind. A quick search on Epicurious brought up a very easy spinach and Gruyère strata recipe that seemed pretty good.

A coffee shop in DC, Tryst for you local folks, serves a frittata where the eggs are almost custard-like. It is divine, and I’ve always wondered how they got that consistency. Well, now I know. A lot of milk. Because when I finally tasted my strata, the eggs were so soft, smooth and had a delicate custard-like texture about them. For what you think would be a very dense, heavy dish actually ended up being incredibly light and filling in a pleasant way.

My only complaint about the dish isn’t even a complaint – I live alone and this made servings for 5 or 6 people! I was eating strata for days, which in the end isn’t that bad I suppose. If you have an army to feed, or are responsible for an egg dish at your next brunch potluck, this strata is perfect!

So, what’s your favorite thing to do with eggs?

Recipe after the jump, enjoy!

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Lemon Yogurt Cake with Ginger Thyme Syrup

For Easter I was invited to my friend Cecelia’s friend Lois’ house. I’ve spent holidays with Lois and her motley crew before, so I knew exactly what I was walking into.

Lois the type of lady (hi, Lois! I know you’re reading this!) that I want to be when I grow up. She knows how to cook a damn good meal, she can entertain a group of 20 and when she finally settles into a chair near you she’s lovely to talk to – smart and graceful and full of wisdom.

I had asked my friend Cecelia if I should bring anything to Easter, knowing that if I did I’d want to impress. It was just a matter of what to make. I wanted something simple (for the sake of my sanity and busy schedule) and worthy of an Easter dinner (meaning, probably not simple). I went straight to my file of bookmarked recipes in my Google Reader looking all the way back to late 2009. March 2010 delivered just the recipe I’d been looking for: a simple lemon yogurt cake, kicked up with a ginger thyme syrup.

Now. Never mind that I burnt the syrup the first time I tried making it and had to soak and boil my poor pot three times before all that hardened sugar came out. That was just me not paying attention in the kitchen (hm…what is that smokey smell coming from behind me?).

The cake itself was easy peasy and despite the nearly hour-long baking time, came together quite quickly. The syrup, the second time around of course, was equally easy but required a lot of standing, stirring and close care and watching.

Let’s talk about that syrup. It does absorb into the cake, like the recipe says, quite nicely. But I don’t know if I’m totally sold on it for my second go at this recipe. I am huge fan of a nice lemon glaze which I think would go quite nicely drizzled over this cake. Being that it already is a moist cake with a strong crumb (meaning, it makes a large crumb that doesn’t fall apart in your fingers), I don’t think you really need a syrup to make it more moist. On the other hand I don’t think a cake can ever been too lemon-y. So next time I may go for a lemon or ginger glaze. And some chopped thyme leaves sprinkled haphazardly all over the cake.

No matter what you do with this cake, it’s perfect for dinner parties, BBQs or midnight munching with a girlfriend.

Enjoy!

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