Salmon Baked in Foil and Sauteed Spinach

One of the things I was excited about during my three month stay in the UK was shopping in the supermarkets. I looked forward to the array of produce and ingredients I did not have access to in Manila, at least not at reasonable prices.

As excited as I was to shop and cook, though, I had to be more thoughtful about what I chose to make at home. In the Philippines, I had at least five other people to feed, so baking pans full of baked pasta or chicken thighs were not an issue. But the same approach would not work for me in England. It’s not possible to cook just half a lasagne without having to either buy a brand new baking dish, risk a half-open box of pasta going bad, or eat the same thing for a week straight. Hence, I had to look for recipes that were adaptable and practical to cook for just me and my roommate.

I zeroed in on salmon recipes, as fillets of Scottish salmon were available in convenient pairs at Waitrose and Tesco. Maybe because I’ve seen them cooked that way in some cooking show, I Googled “salmon baked in foil” and the first search result was this recipe by Giada de Laurentiis.

The flavors were right up my alley so I decided to give it a go. I’ve never cooked salmon before this, so I was a little nervous, but I figured things couldn’t go that bad with tomatoes, lemon, thyme and oregano.

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I was right. The result was tender, moist, flaky salmon infused with all the flavor from the herbs and lemon. Despite zero marinating time and a short bake in the oven, the fish is quite flavorful. Another plus is that it takes only about 45 minutes to make this dish from start to finish.

To accompany this dish I chose  Garlic Sauteed Spinach from Ina Garten because the the Food Network site said it only took 10 minutes to make. It’s as straightforward as it sounds, it’s spinach sauteed with a lot of garlic, but with the special Ina Garten touch: butter. As much as I adore butter, I wasn’t too sure about how well it would go with spinach, of all things. But I never should have doubted Ina. I now make amends for my lack of faith by adding more butter than the recipe calls for.

 

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I make the spinach about fifteen minutes into the cooking of the salmon, so that they are both done at the same time. If the salmon is done before you’re finished making the spinach, don’t sweat it, just take the pan with the foil parcels out of the oven, the fish will stay warm as long as you don’t open the packages. I’d rather have the fish waiting for the spinach than the other way around, because the veg is best when served immediately.

But both are so easy to make, though, you’ll probably work out the timing to have them done at the same time by your second or third go at them. The other wonderful thing about these dishes is that making them for two or six doesn’t really result in that much more work and time, you’ll just have to slice a bit more tomato and garlic.

These two recipes make for a very quick, easy, and, lovely meal (I would’ve said “healthy” too, but I think the amount of butter I top my spinach with prevents me from saying that). I was surprised at how something that took so little time and effort could yield such elegant results.

Now if only finding fresh, affordable salmon in Manila was just as easy and quick.

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November: Outrageous Brownies

It’s December 30th and here I am, still scrambling to finish my cooking challenge. With Ina Garten’s Outrageous Brownies, I am left one recipe short with one day left in the year. Let’s see what I can scramble to make tomorrow, but for now, let’s get to the brownies.

The original recipe in Ina’s Barefoot Contessa cookbook is huge, requiring 4 sticks of butter, a little over 2 pounds of chocolate and a 12×18 inch baking pan that I don’t think would even fit in my oven. Not to mention the recipe calls for unsweetened chocolate, which is hard to find in Manila.

Ina Garten’s new cookbook, Foolproof, has a variation of this recipe which conveniently only uses half of the batter, saving me the trouble of doing the computation myself. I’ve also been able to find locally made unsweetened chocolate (Goya, who knew?), so I finally had everything I needed to make these babies and see if they really are as “outrageous” as Ina claims them to be.

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Taste-wise, these do not taste like the brownies we’re used to. Probably because of the coffee powder used, the chocolate taste of these brownies is deeper and richer, even if there are only 3 oz of unsweetened chocolate to 8 of semi-sweet. I love that they taste of darker chocolate, but this might not be recipe to use if you want a sweeter, milk-chocolate-y taste.

Texture-wise… Well. I may have messed things up in that department a little. Weirdly enough, while the brownie wasn’t dry or sandy at all, it was still very crumbly. Is that possible, for something to still be moist but be crumbly? I guess it is, since that’s how these turned out. I don’t know what it was. I took them out of the oven even if the toothpick wasn’t coming out completely clean yet, even if they already baked longer than the 35 minutes recommended by Ina. Maybe it was because I used a glass pan instead of a metal one? Whatever it was, I ended up with this after slicing up the brownies:

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Brownie… clumps? I wouldn’t call them crumbs, because they were bigger than that. As you can see, there was a lot of them. And as you can also see, I couldn’t bear to throw them out. I hate things (especially good butter and chocolate) going to waste, and I figured this was a problem (if you could call it that) a little ice cream couldn’t fix.

So despite the initial annoyance at the texture of the brownies did not come out perfect, I guess ending up with yummy ice cream topping is not something I should be complaining about. Two desserts from one recipe is not such a bad outcome for an afternoon.

September: Raisin Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

Panic time. Two months to go in the year, and before the recipe below, I had four recipes that I needed to cook. Thank goodness for the four day weekend (Yaaaaay!) and I got a chance to catch up on my challenge, even if it was just by one recipe. And my September recipe was Ina Garten’s Raisin Pecan Oatmeal cookies.

In the intro to this recipe on Back To Basics, Ina called herself an oatmeal cookie connoisseur, and that this recipe was the best one she could find after searching for decades. With such high praise from Ina herself, and my own love for oatmeal cookies, I just had to try the recipe.

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As usual, Ina came through for me. These cookies were yummy. Crisp on the outside, chewy and moist in the inside, with a slight hint of cinnamon. Admittedly, I might have slightly overcooked some of them, because they weren’t browning as much as the ones in the photo in the cookbook. So for some of them, I went over the recommended 15 minute maximum cooking time. Thankfully I didn’t burn any of them, but I think some could have been a touch more moist if I took them out earlier. Other than that, I daresay these are as or nearly as good as my favorites from Sonja’s Cupcakes.

Tip: I had a hard time finding pecans in supermarkets, and when I did find them at Rustan’s, they were ridiculously expensive at almost Php 600 for two cups. You can get them at about half the price from Chocolate Lover in Quezon City. Yep, as in the building that looks like a castle. They’re a great source not just for cheap nuts, but everything you’d possibly need for baking.

July: Barbecued Chicken

What’s this? TWO recipes in one month? I took advantage of the four-day weekend to get some cooking in. Since I’m leaving for two weeks, I figured I better get in as much cooking as I can or I’ll probably find myself 3 or even 4 recipes behind.

And my recipe for July could be considered an Ina Garten classic: Barbecued Chicken. I remember seeing the Barefoot Contessa episode where she made this, explaining that it was a combination of two recipes: one that was too tomato-ey and one that was too Chinese-y. The result is that it has a lot of ingredients (13!) ranging from Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, Hoisin sauce and cumin. I was curious how that would all come together, as I love those flavors individually, and have been intrigued ever since. So when I saw the recipe in her Barefoot Contessa cookbook, I knew I had to make it.

The resulting marinade is wonderfully sweet, tangy, sour and spicy. I recommend tasting and making changes to the original recipe only after the 30-minute simmering time, since the sauce needs that time to meld all those flavors together. There are 13 ingredients after all.

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It is perfect with chicken, although I think it would be great with ribs, too, and maybe porkchops. We had this for dinner, but it was absolutely made for an outdoor summer meal, like a backyard barbecue or a beach-side picnic at the Hamptons a la Ina (natch!).

I can’t wait to make this again, as I’m already dreaming of sides that would go well with this: potato salad, grilled corn, maybe some nachos with a spicy salsa… and a nice strip of beach would go nicely with it, too.

May: Baked Chocolate Pudding

I haven’t baked in FOUR weeks. I’ve baked at least once a week since I got my mixer back in January, but a combination of fiscal year end at work, Euro 2012 and sickness has prevented me cooking anything in general.

I was finally able to eke out some time to make something this weekend and I decided to make something for my cooking challenge, since I didn’t want to end up two months behind. Choosing Ina Garten’s Baked Chocolate Pudding was a no-brainer because, well, look at the photo of it in her cookbook:

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This was the first thing I wanted to make upon going through Back to Basics when I first got it, and, for the life of me, I cannot understand why I waited this long to bake it.

I realized the folly of my delay even more when I finally got to taste it. It’s gooey, rich and wonderfully chocolatey. It’s great a little warm, at room temperature and even straight from the fridge. It is to die for with vanilla ice cream (I used Merry Moo’s here). My mom likes it with Merry Moo’s Sea Salt Caramel, but I find that the vanilla and chocolate combination can’t be beat (besides, I prefer Sea Salt Caramel on its own).
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And the pudding is so easy to make. You don’t even have to wait for butter to get to room temperature since you use it melted anyway. The trickiest part is actually getting it in and out of the oven since you have to bake it in a warm water bath. But if you’re less of a klutz than I am and can move a pan brimming with water without splashing the kitchen floor with it, then the whole process will be a breeze for you.

Even if you are a klutz, though, I still say that you should make this. I daresay all the chocolatey, gooey deliciousness is worth risking the 1st degree burns.

April: Honey Vanilla Pound Cake

It’s May already, I know. But I did not cook anything for my cooking challenge in April as I was too wrapped up in baking two birthday cakes and three batches of birthday cupcakes. Ah, but enough of my excuses, here’s my April recipe, cooked in May (and yes, I know I’m still behind with my May recipe): Ina Garten’s Honey Vanilla Pound Cake.

I’ve loved pound cake since I was a kid, when one of my aunt’s friends had a cafe and pound cake was one of their specialties. I even like the frozen Sara Lee ones (bad, I know). I like how it’s so dense and simple and wholesome. But it’s been a while since I’ve had a good slice of pound cake, so when I saw this recipe in Ina’s Back to Basics cookbook, I knew I wanted to make it.

Ina’s version of the recipe had, as the name suggests, vanilla and honey and also some lemon zest. I was actually a little worried that it would be more lemony than it should be because it really smelled like lemon while it was baking. Not that that would be a bad thing, not just what I would’ve expected from something called “Honey Vanilla Pound Cake”.

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Again, I never should’ve second guessed Ina. While it smelled very lemony while in the oven, there was only a very subtle hint of the flavor in the finished product. The pound cake was as I remembered pound cake to be: dense, tender, buttery. I ate mine with a drizzle of local honey and it was delish.

Delicious, easy to make with easy-to-find ingredients, I think this is great to make for the weekend, and then to take slices of as snacks for work or for the kiddies. It’s pretty easy to jazz up, too, not just with honey but with raspberry or strawberry jam, a chocolate sauce or a vanilla one or even Nutella. OMG, I actually just thought of that right now (as I was typing “vanilla”), and that sounds delicious.

And I don’t know about you, but I think the fact that it’ll go well with Nutella is reason enough to make it.

It’s a chocolate cake battle!!

Chocolate cake.

It’s a no-brainer. Any avid baker should have his or her go-to chocolate cake recipe because… well, what would be the point of being able to bake if you can’t make chocolate cake?

And so, in my search for the best one, I turn to two people who have never failed me: Ina Garten and David Lebovitz.

First up is David’s Devil’s Food Cake, which I made for my brother’s birthday. A clarification is required, though. The photo below is of David’s cake, as I didn’t get the chance to take a picture of the cake I made. First I didn’t have good light (I usually bake at night), then I forgot to take a picture during the day, and by the time I remembered to take one, the cake was half gone and the cake platter was a mess. Hence, I’m borrowing David’s picture.

It looks like fudgy chocolate-y perfection, no? And while my cake looks nowhere as good as David’s (he is a pastry chef after all and I am… me), I daresay it’s as fudgy and chocolate-y asI expected it to be. The cake itself was moist and dark while the icing was thick, rich and fudgy. It’s a straightforward, no fuss chocolate cake, the type you want to eat with a tall glass of milk and whose icing you want to lick off the plate fork. In short, it’s perfect.

And I honestly didn’t think Ina’s famous Beatty’s Chocolate Cake could top David’s because I really didn’t know how else the Devil’s Food Cake could be improved on… “Well, how about with coffee?”, says Ina (of course she didn’t really say that). Ina’s recipe has a coffee in both the cake batter and in the frosting. When Ina made this on her show, she said (she actually did say it, this time) that the coffee makes the chocolate taste more… chocolate-y. And I suppose there’s something in that, because David’s recipe for chocolate cupcakes had coffee in the batter as well.

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I remembered to take a photo this time, albeit a hurried one with my iPhone

The thing is, you don’t even taste the coffee in the cake itself (or in David’s cupcakes), it still stays a decidedly chocolate cake, not a mocha one, even with the coffee in the batter. It’s a little more pronounced in the frosting. The coffee flavor is definitely noticeable, but not so much that you’d say that the icing was a coffee icing. Chocolate was still the dominant flavor in it.

The cake was a little moister than David’s, although I suspect that that may have to do with the fact that I stored the Devil’s Food in the fridge with only a foil tent over it, whereas Ina’s cake was fully covered in my brand new cake stand.

And so who wins this chocolate cake battle?

I asked my sister which cake she liked better and her answer went a little something like this: “The one with coffee… oh wait. Yeah. That one… Ah, no. The first one (David’s)…. ummm… (thinks about it some more)… yes. I think.” My mother was a bit undecided as well, before settling on Beatty’s.

For me, though, the winner is…

Not David. Not Ina, either.

We all win.

Because what we have here are two excellent, delicious, wonderful chocolate cake recipes. I’ve spent a lot of time and ate a lot of cake (ha!), contemplating which one I preferred and I still couldn’t come up with a winner. And really, why do I need to choose? On one hand, I have a classically perfect cake and on the other, an equally wonderful cake with a slight coffee kick. And, in my book, it would be wrong to pick one over the other.

David wins, Ina wins. My chocolate cake-loving family wins. Like I said, everybody wins.