Bear Makes Brunch: Spring Salmon and Potatoes

Hello again, Brunch with Bearees! Apologies for the unexpected hiatus; the spring semester always brings many midterms. However, with only a few weeks left before summer, I have had more time to devote to cooking again! Salmon is one of Bear’s favorite foods, and this easy is one I learned from my aunt. It takes very little time to prepare which is perfect when you’re crunched for studying time or when you can’t wait to run outside and frolic among all the daffodils and tulips that New York has to offer!

The ingredients are very simple, and, as always, available at Trader Joe’s: olive oil, red wine vinegar, and garlic. Use the olive oil and vinegar in a 5:2 ratio (five tablespoons oil to two tablespoons vinegar) and add the garlic to your liking. Crushed garlic is what I have in my refrigerator, but fresh minced garlic or garlic salt is definitely an option. Same with red wine vinegar; use the vinegar of your choice! Sometimes I like to add a little salad dressing (Italian or balsamic vinaigrette) or pepper too.

spring salmon (ingredients)

Use this mixture as a marinade for a salmon fillet; obviously, the bigger the filet, the more dressing you should make. You can just add it as a topping before baking or you can let it soak in overnight. Scoring the salmon and spreading the dressing around with a spoon will help infuse the filet with the flavor. I like to keep my salmon in a glass pan with a cover, because it can marinate, bake and keep all in the same pan.

spring salmon (salmon)

To make roasted potatoes, I like to use red skin potatoes because I don’t have to peel them. Trader Joe’s (and surely other grocery stores) will have them in mesh net bags. Just scrub and slice them into chunks, avoiding bruises and eyes (on both the potatoes and on yourself). Place foil on a pan and spray with cooking spray before adding the potatoes. Salt the potatoes, if you like, and drizzle the dressing/marinade over them.

spring salmon (potatoes) spring salmon (potatoes on pan)

With the oven set at 400°F, the salmon should cook within 15-20 minutes and the potatoes will take 20-30. However, all ovens are slightly different, so it’s good to take the pans out and poke with a fork to make sure things are not undercooked.

spring salmon (finished salmon) IMG_0517spring salmon (finished potatoes)

As you can see, I’ve rounded out the plate with broccoli, and other supplements such as salad or fruit add some nice color to the meal, and balance out all the food groups.

spring salmon (finished plate)

Bear and I anticipate making this more over the summer, which will be arriving quite soon. Only a few papers, a few exams, and a few weeks to go. Happy eating and happy spring!

Bear Makes Brunch: Pretty Pasta Dish

Hello again, Brunch with Bearees! I know, I know, I promised an update and then failed to deliver. However, now I am attempting to get out of the sophomore slump and I thought I should update again—with pictures! While we haven’t been brunching for a while, we did make a fancy but easy pasta dish a couple weeks ago. This pasta is something my aunt taught me how to make last summer, and while it’s a little time-consuming to cook, it’s really delicious and easy to customize.

Pasta is one of those dishes that heats up really well, so I tend to make a large amount and save some for the rest of the week. This particular pasta dish has garlic, mushrooms and parsley in it, and the sauce is olive-oil based. The fun begins when you choose your own pasta shape! My personal favorite for this particular recipe is rotini, or corkscrew pasta. Angel hair or penne also works well! As usual, I got all these ingredients at Trader Joe’s.

Before you start preparing everything else, make sure you get your water for the pasta boiling. Consult your pasta package about ratios, but filling up your pasta pot about halfway to two-thirds of the way is a good marker. I like to add a little salt to the water so that the pasta has more flavor. Keep an eye on the pot, as the cooking process requires a bit of multi-tasking and you don’t want the water to boil over.

While you’ve got that going, you can assemble the garlic, parsley and mushrooms. If you want to use fresh garlic, crush and mince eight cloves—or more, if you, like me, love garlic! If you are lazy and want to use pre-crushed garlic, consult the jar for the proportions of spoon-cloves. Also rinse and mince eight sprigs of parsley. If you like, you can also use a teaspoon of lemon zest. I personally am not a big fan of lemon in pasta, but we like to encourage creativity!

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Somewhere between mincing all the ingredients and putting them on a pan, the water that you previously set to boil will be boiling. Add your pasta, and be certain to stir a few times so that the noodles do not stick together. Set a timer so that the pasta will not overcook; the pasta should actually be a little firm—al dente—because it will be cooked more when added to the sauce. Consult the pasta package for the suggested cooking times.

While the pasta is cooking, heat a frying pan and add three tablespoons of olive oil. Tilt the pan so that the oil distributes evenly. When the oil is hot, carefully add the garlic and the parsley to infuse the oil with flavor. At this point, I like to add a handful of white mushrooms. With the Trader Joe’s pre-sliced mushrooms, about half the package is a good amount. Sauté the mushrooms until they begin to lose their pink color and start turning a little golden. You may need to add more olive oil to fully coat the mushrooms.

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By the time the mushrooms are beginning to brown, the pasta should be ready or nearly ready. Let the mushrooms stay on low heat and check the pasta. You may choose to taste-test a few pieces for consistency and texture. Reserve a cup of the starchy pasta water before removing the noodles from heat. This pasta water will be used later to create the sauce.

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When the pasta is finished cooking, drain the pot into a colander and rinse the noodles with cold water. Rinsing the noodles stops the noodles from sticking together.

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Add the pasta to the frying pan and stir to distribute the olive oil and mushrooms. Add the pasta water that you reserved previously and stir to combine. You can put a lid on the pan if you want the pasta to simmer a little. Keep stirring until all of the pasta is coated with the olive oil sauce.

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At this point, you may choose to add baby spinach, Italian sausage, or other finishing touches. As you can see, I have chosen to add grilled chicken to my pasta.

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This pasta is one of my favorite dishes to cook, and lends itself well to a variety of occasions. I often associate pasta with red sauces—which I love, but it’s nice to have a change every now and then. This a pasta that reheats well, either on the stove or in the microwave, which makes it the perfect dish to make on a Sunday night and eat for the rest of the week. It works a a snack, a side dish, a bed for salmon or chicken. The colors lend itself to entertaining and it can be a great starter dish for a pasta bar. Basically, this pasta is pretty perfect!

Bear Makes Brunch: Brownies

I recognize that brownies are not traditional brunch fare, but finals week calls for some serious study breaks in the form of baking! (Maybe we should call them study bakes?) This particular batch was courtesy of the wonderful Trader Joe’s and was incredibly easy to make! All you need is this box of Trader Joe’s Brownie Truffle Baking mix, a stick of your preferred non-dairy butter substitute, and a couple eggs!

brownies (ingredients)

Begin by melting the “butter” in a saucepan. This process goes fastest when you cut the stick into smaller chunks, and make sure you keep it on a low heat so that it doesn’t burn. As the box says, it should look “creamy.”

brownies (melting butter)

Add in the two eggs and then the brownie mix, a little at a time. Make sure to get it all off the sides of the mixing bowl! It should have a fairly even consistency to it by the time it’s all mixed. Grease a 8×8 pan (I used a glass one, not pictured here) and spread out the batter evenly.

brownies (batter)

Bake for about half an hour and voila! Ready to eat! This particular batch went really quickly, so if you’re baking for hungry roommates or friends, I would suggest making two.

brownies (final)

Bear Makes Brunch: French Toast and Finals

Do you ever feel like eating dessert for breakfast should be totally okay? But then you feel really guilty when you eat cake for breakfast? French toast solves that problem, because it tastes like dessert but it pretends to be breakfast. That’s right, all those people that judge you for eating bread made out of milk, eggs and sugar—so, like cake—for breakfast will no longer give you weird looks if you just eat bread dipped in milk, eggs and sugar. Or for you, rice milk, eggs and sugar. You can have your cake and eat it too!

As finals approach and temperatures drop, French toast warms my heart in a way that problem sets can’t. My favorite meal to cook is breakfast, and my favorite breakfast is French toast (see Blossom). NOTE: My recipe for French toast is one of those “measure by feeling” recipes, so if you’re into exact measurements and strict ratios, then this blog post may drive you crazy. If you don’t like strict recipes, feel free to play around with this one!

I try to make French toast more French by using French bread, but you can use whatever bread you want (except moldy bread). Sometimes I have bread that’s a few days old and I don’t want to use it for sandwiches anymore. That kind of bread makes great French toast! According to Wikipedia, French toast is sometimes known as “lost bread” because you can recover stale or about-to-be-stale bread by softening it in the batter. I like that idea, but you can use fresh bread if you prefer. Just make sure that your slices will fit comfortably into your pan!

plain french toast (bread)

The next step is to make the dipping batter. French toast is mostly just fried bread, but dipped in a gooey egg-based coating. Because there are no real measurements in this recipe, I have to judge the number of eggs by the amount of bread that I have. For the amount of bread I had (see above), I used five eggs and whipped them up with some rice milk. The brand that I have is Trader Joe’s rice milk, but any kind will work just as well. In fact, soy milk, almond milk, or any other kind of milk works, and if you have fewer eggs, the milk can increase the volume of your batter to cover all of your bread slices. I like to add a couple spoonfuls of sugar to my batter, which makes it a little thicker and sweeter. (The sugar is not pictured below.) I prefer plain white granulated sugar, but brown sugar and confectioner’s sugar also work. My rule of thumb is one small teaspoon or lump of sugar for every couple of servings, but you can play around with your ingredients. I have seen other people add cinnamon before, which is something that I’ve never tried, but wholeheartedly encourage exploring.

plain french toast (batter ingredients)

After you’ve mixed up the batter, dip a few slices in and let them soak on both sides while you heat your pan. If you are using particularly firm (or stale) bread, you may want to soak it for longer. If you’re wondering what kind of dish to mix your batter in, something relatively shallow is better than a large mixing bowl, so the bread doesn’t sink. However, it should be deep enough to comfortably soak a piece of bread in, so use your best judgement. Here I used a plain cereal bowl, because my bread slices were pretty small.

plain french toast (batter)

Cooking spray or a little cooking oil is all you need for French toast, but make sure that it is hot so that the egg will cook properly. Once the pan is hot, arrange the slices on the pan however you wish to do so. The arrangement of the toast is a matter of efficiency; the more toast you can put on one pan, the faster it will all cook. You should hear a nice sizzle sound when you place the bread down, which means that the oil is hot. I use chopsticks to cook a lot of my food, as you can see here, but a fork for the dipping and a spatula for flipping seems to be the norm. Just make sure you separate utensils that have touched raw egg!

plain french toast (cooking)

Each side is cooked when it’s golden brown (or just brown, if you like your toast to be burnt). Thinner slices cook better than thick slices. You will have to lift up corners and flip multiple times to get a feel for the timing, as every stove is different. I like to keep a plate right next to the stove so I can pile up the finished pieces. Because this is a poorly measured recipe, sometimes I have some egg batter leftover. Because of this, sometimes I double-dip some slices, mostly just to use up the batter, but also to make a fluffier piece of toast!

plain french toast (final)

I love to eat my French toast with maple syrup, powdered sugar or both! Some people like to eat it on its own, and some people like to add berries or other fresh fruit on top. Bear likes his with honey, of course. No matter how you choose to eat it, French toast is the perfect breakfast! It’s pretty easy to make, and once you get the hang of it, you will be able to impress other people with this seemingly fancy dish. Sharing French toast is the best way to convince people that, yes, you can eat dessert for breakfast!