A Little About Me

New York, New York
As a newly married woman, it has become my mission in life to learn how to cook. Gone are the days of picking up sushi and ordering curries. In order to jump-start my education, I enrolled in the Institute of Culinary Education's Fine Cooking I course where I learned the basics, from roasting to boiling to mousse-making (ok, maybe not that basic)! I've attempted to replicate some recipes - somewhat successfully- and create a few of my own. This blog is for friends and foodies and is intended to document my cooking adventures (and occasional fiascoes). Enjoy the pictures and bon appetite!

Friday, January 11, 2013

A New Entry for the New Year: Mushroom Barley Soup

Honestly, I gave up on Cooking with Kessner for a while. Life has been soooo busy with two toddlers running around, I usually collapse into bed at the end of the day, tired, covered in (non-toxic) paint and looking forward to doing absolutely nothing for the first time since waking up.  

Though I haven't done much cooking, the start of a new year has inspired me get back into the kitchen, make delicious meals for not only my husband, but twin daughters, who love to eat just about anything I put in front of them. (Seriously, I never thought babies would like salmon patties and buckwheat soba noodles!)

Thought it's been a while, I've decided to resurrect this blog, especially after several friends and family members have asked me for recipes lately. I made a super delicious mushroom barley soup this week, which, in all honestly was so thick it was more like a delicious healthy risotto than a watery soup. I didn't take a lot of pics for this one, but I promised a friend I'd get the recipe up tonight so she could make it tomorrow, so here goes:

1 quart mushroom broth
1 quart vegetable broth
1 cup water
1 10oz container prepackaged barley
1/2 cup marsala wine
1 small yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms
1/2 pound white button mushrooms
1/2 pound oyster mushrooms
1 cup swiss chard (or kale) shredded
salt and pepper to taste
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil

Start by tossing the garlic, butter and olive oil into a large pot and turning the heat to medium. When sizzling, add the onions and sautee for five minutes, stirring frequently. Next, toss in all the mushrooms and keep stirring them for another 5-7 minutes, then add the marsala wine to deglaze, making sure to scrape up all the brown bits from the bottom of the pot.

Add the package of barley as well as the chopped greens and mix everything together to make sure the barley is coated by all the liquid goodness. Next, add the quart of mushroom broth and the cup of water. Bring to a boil.

 Lower the heat and let it simmer on low, stirring every now and then, until all the liquid has been absorbed by the barley. When it has been, go adding the vegetable broth until the barley has changed from hard to somewhat mushy.  You might not need the entire quart of vegetable broth, but it's good to have just in case. Finally, season with salt and pepper to your liking!

I served the soup with some toasted garlic bread rounds (slice a baguette, spread on some butter, sprinkle with salt and diced garlic then toast for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees) .

Hope you enjoy this and all the recipes to come! Happy New Year everyone :)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Coconut Braised Sea Bass

One item I love but have never mastered has been fish. Every time I try to make it, it's disastrous... our entire apartment ends up smelling fishy and it usually tastes pretty bland!  I was excited to find a recipe for coconut braised fish which combines some of my favorite asian ingredients - coconut, soy sauce and lime - to make a really tasty dish. The sauce was killer and I love that the bass could be substituted for scallops, shrimp and other kinds of fish! The best part is that this dish takes absolutely no time to prepare but tastes like it took hours to make! I totally recommend trying this recipe if you're looking to impress a fish lover!

2 tbsp chopped mint 

2 tbsp chopped cilantro 
1 cup bean sprouts 
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt 
1 tbsp sugar 
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes 
1 stalk fresh lemongrass 
2 tsp vegetable oil 
4 (4-oz) sea bass fillets, boned and skinned 
1 tbsp peeled and finely chopped ginger 
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic 
1/2 can (13- to 14-ounce) can unsweetened light coconut milk 
1/2 can (13- to 14-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk 
1 tbsp soy sauce 
2 tbsp Asian fish sauce 
1 small red bell pepper, thinly sliced 
1 large carrot, julienned 
4 green onions, cut into 3-inch pieces 
2 tbsp lime

For this recipe, it makes sense to prepare/chop all your ingredientsfirst since the cooking doesn't take long. To make the topping, toss together the bean sprouts, mint and cilantro. Set aside. Also prepare the lemongrass by smashing the stalk with the side of a knife to remove the tough outer layer and release the fragrant oils. Then dice finely and set aside. 

Combine the sugar, salt and red pepper flakes and sprinkle each fillet with the mixture. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and sear the bass for two minutes on each side.  Move the fish to one side of the pan and add the ginger and garlic, letting them cook for a minute. 

Next, add the coconut milk, soy sauce, fish sauce and lemongrass followed by the vegetables.  Cook for five minutes at a fast simmer then add the lime juice.

Garnish with the bean sprout mixture and a lime wedge  and it's ready to be served! 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Super Simple Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

I was recently watching the Food Network and saw Nadia G preparing all the components for her fancy steak dinner.  The component that really caught my eye were the colorful roasted cherry tomatoes sitting alongside the meat. They were so simple but looked so pretty, I just had to buy some tomatoes that afternoon. What made this recipe so special was the addition of brown sugar and oregano. You can use this recipe whether you're looking for something to serve alongside a steak, toss into a salad or just eat plain... I ended up doing all! 

2 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
4 cloves garlic, smashed
large pinch of oregano
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp brown sugar

This recipe is so simple, just toss all the ingredients together and bake at 425 degrees for 40 minutes! Yum!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Veal, Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto

A couple of weekends ago, my new best friend (and fellow twin parent!) Dennis, and his wonderful husband Wes, invited us and the kiddies to spend a weekend in their beautiful Connecticut home. While the days were filled with pushing babies in swings, diaper changing, toys and round the clock feeding, the nights were spent enjoying delicious wine, food and conversation. Lucky for everyone in attendance, Dennis is a trained chef and his veal, mushroom and asparagus risotto did not disappoint! While the rest of the men sat and chatted, we whipped together what was really the best risotto I have ever eaten. All in all, a wonderful and delicious weekend spent with great new friends!

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
6 oz lean veal scallops, cut into thin strips
4 oz shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
10 asparagus tips
1/3 cup minced onion
3 tbsp fontina cheese, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup light cream
pinch of cinnamon
salt and pepper
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp unsalted butter

In a large pot, heat 2 tbsp butter over medium heat. Add the veal, mushrooms and asparagus and sautee for  5-8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add salt and pepper to taste before setting aside.


In a second pot, bring the broth to a steady simmer. In your third and final pot, heat 2 tbsp of butter and the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and sautee for 2 minutes until softened. Add the rice into the pot with onions and, using a wooden spoon, stir for one minute until all the grains are well coated. Add the wine and stir until it is completely absorbed.

Begin adding the simmering broth to the pot of rice, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently. Wait until each addition is absorbed before adding the next. Reserve 1/4 cup to use at the end.

After about 18 minutes when the rice is tender but still firm, add the reserved broth and veal, mushroom and asparagus mixture as well as the fontina, cream, cinnamon and parmesan. Stir vigorously to combine and serve immediately!

Here's a picture of what our final feast looked like. It was so amazing, I ended up eating two servings (even after proclaiming I don't eat carbs!)

Here's a pic of Dennis hard at work, slicing and dicing!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Ropa Vieja, Thanks Ela!

After seeing a picture of the Ropa Vieja Ela Crespin, an old family friend from Puerto Rico, had posted on her Facebook page, it made me desperately crave the dish I had so loved growing up. Ropa Vieja, Spanish for "old clothes," is a popular dish in the Caribbean consisting of braised and shredded flank steak in a tomato sauce base. I never in a million years thought I could make something so complicated, but luckily for me, Ela gave me a great recipe and some positive encouragement! It took three long hours, a lot of patience and a watchful eye, but I have to say the end result was pretty amazing!

Ingredients For braising beef:
  • 3 lbs flank steak
  • 2 quarts water
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp whole black peppercorns
2 green bell peppers, cut into strips
1 red onion, cut into strips
4 tbsp olive oil
2 cups braising liquid
a 14- to 16-ounce can whole tomatoes with juice, chopped
3 tbsp tomato paste
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp dried oregano
2 red bell peppers, cut into strips
1 cup peas
1/2 cup pimiento-stuffed Spanish olive, halved

Start by adding all the braising ingredients into a kettle and simmer, uncovered, for about an hour and a half. Keep your eye on it to make sure the braising liquid doesn't boil down too much, since you'll need it later on! 

Remove from the heat and let it cool for about 30 minutes.

Remove the meat from the kettle and, using a fork, shred it. Having simmered for so long, the steak will be very tender and easy to shred!

Strain the braising liquid and ingredients through a colander, pushing on the vegetables to extract all the delicious liquids. Return the collected liquid to the kettle and boil until it has reduced to about 3 cups.
 Remove the liquid and set aside.

In the kettle, cook the green and red peppers and onions until softened. Add the shredded meat back into the pot followed by the braising liquid, tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, garlic, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper. Simmer for twenty minutes. Lastly, stir in the peas, olives and, if needed, extra braising liquid and simmer for another five minutes.

Finally, the ropa vieja will be ready to devour! It can be served with some yellow saffron rice, or, something lighter like a nice chopped salad! This recipe makes about eight servings, so if you're going to be a smaller party (like we were, trying halving it all!). Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My First Bird!

I always watch cooking shows like the Barefoot Contessa and marvel at how Ina is able to make entire roasted chickens that look so delicious, effortlessly! I never in a million years thought I'd have the skills, or patience, to make a meal like that. Guess what. I was wrong! Recently, I decided to cook my first real Shabbat dinner... and what says "traditional Shabbat food" more than a golden roasted chicken? After a conversation with my butcher and the purchase of a four pound bird, I was ready to get cooking! Turns out it wasn't as difficult and even tastier than I had imagined!

4 lb chicken
1/2 bottle red cooking wine
3 tbsp butter
salt and pepper
bunch of thyme (or rosemary)
bunch of tarragon
6 garlic cloves
3 carrots, cut into chunks
1/2 white onion, cut into chunks
fingerling potatoes

Start by cutting the carrots, onions and potatoes into chunks and spreading them around a large baking dish. While you do this, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Place the chicken in the middle of the baking dish. Take the butter and rub it all over the chicken. Then take salt and pepper and sprinkle all over, to season. Stick 3/4 of the herbs inside the chicken cavity and place the remaining herbs on top. (This will give the chicken a lot of flavor!) Also pop a couple of the garlic cloves inside the cavity and place the rest among the vegetables. Lastly, pour half the bottle of red cooking wine in the pan and, though I didn't do this,add about a cup of chicken broth as well.

Lower the oven to 325 degrees and cook the chicken for about two hours (I was told about 1/2 hour cooking time per pound of chicken). I basted the chicken about every 30 minutes which means I took it out of the oven and with a spoon, collected the surrounding liquids and poured them over the chicken to retain its moisture. When the chicken looks golden brown, remove it from the oven and let it sit for ten minutes before digging in!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Most Decadent Chocolate Cake

I'm a little late in posting this, but for Valentine's Day, I made my husband the most amazingly decadent, rich, flourless chocolate cake. I don't consider myself a baker, but this has to be the best thing I ever baked! It wasn't too difficult to make and was a really impressive desert to serve and I couldn't help but pick at this cake until it was gone!

8 oz bittersweet chocolate
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
6 large eggs
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
optional: powered sugar, strawberries

Start by preheating the oven to 375 degrees and buttering an 8 inch round baking pan. Chop the chocolate into small pieces and put it into a bowl with the butter.

Place the glass bowl over a pot of boiling water and begin to stir until the chocolate and butter have melted and mixed together.

Remove from the heat and mix in the sugar followed by the eggs and cocoa powder.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes. You can dust the cake with some powdered sugar and top with strawberries like I did! This cake is super rich, so a small piece will be more than enough!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hoisin Chicken Lettuce Wraps

When we go out for Chinese, I love ordering lettuce wraps because they are low carb and very satisfying. I love that they are crunchy and think it's fun assembling your own meal (even though it's also a little messy!) I made these hoisin flavored lettuce wraps for dinner one night and not only were they so easy to make, they were also a big hit with the hubby!

3 chicken breasts
3 scallions
1/2 red pepper, diced
1/2 white onion, diced
1 can water chestnuts, diced
1/4 cup slivered almonds
2 large shiitake mushrooms, diced
2 garlic cloves, diced
1 tbsp fresh ginger, diced
4 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp worcestershire sauce sauce
3 tbsp canola oil

Start by dicing all the vegetables and chicken. This is probably the most time consuming element of the dish.

Heat the canola oil on medium high heat in a wok then toss in the garlic and ginger and let cook for 45 seconds. Add all the veggies and cook until the onions and peppers have wilted a bit. Then add in the chicken and stir until it has cooked throughout. Add the soy, hoisin and worcestershire sauces and rice vinegar and mix.

To serve, wash and pat dry some large lettuce leaves. Smear some hoisin sauce on them and place a big heaping of the chicken and vegetable mixture on top. The diners can wrap their own lettuce and make a bit of a mess in the process :)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Balsamic Glazed Scallops over Spaghetti Squash

Over dinner recently, my good friend Lisa was telling me about the amazing spaghetti squash pasta she made for her (very lucky) husband. She inspired me to try an ingredient I had not only barely ever eaten, let alone made at home! For some reason, scallops just seemed like the perfect protein to pair with the squash and I was excited to be cooking two new items for the first time. Lisa, you'd be proud, the dish came out de-li-cious!

Ingredients (makes 1 serving)
1 spaghetti squash
3 scallops
6 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 garlic cloves, diced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter

Start by preheating your oven to 375 degrees. With a fork, prick your spaghetti squash all over and then place in the oven for about an hour and a half until the skin is really soft. Some recipes will tell you to slice the squash open before you place it in the oven, but I found that IMPOSSIBLE to do, so just throw it whole.

Remove the squash and let it sit for ten minutes before cutting in half.

Scoop out the seeds and middle then spoon out the stringy spaghetti portion and set aside.

Rinse the scallops then toss with garlic and balsamic vinegar.

Heat up the olive oil and butter in a frying pan then sear the scallops for 3 minutes on each side.

When the scallops are cooked, set aside and toss in the rest of the balsamic vinegar and garlic, letting it simmer until the alcohol has dissolved and the sauce thickens.

Prepare something green to serve alongside the scallops and squash, because every meal should have something green in it! For this dish, I prepared some sauteed mixed kale with garlic.

Place the scallops over the spaghetti squash and drizzle with lots of the balsamic glaze. This dish will impress anyone, especially you, with how little effort and time went in to making it!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Blueberry Muffins

I've been baking. A lot. I have to say, cooking is a lot easier than baking because there's room for modification and experimentation. When it comes to baking, there's a recipe and you follow it. However, if you have the right recipes, baked goods can be pretty delicious. I had a bag of frozen blueberries on hand the other day and thought whole wheat blueberry muffins sounded interesting and difficult to screw up. I was right. With the addition of some lemon zest and sour cream, these muffins were tangy and delicious!

5 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Start by preheating your oven to 375 degrees and using butter to grease your muffin tins.

Beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat well, followed by the sour cream and lemon zest. Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt separately then add into the mixture, little by little, combining with the mixer until well-incorporated. Gently fold in the blueberries.

Scoop the mixture into the muffin tin, filling about 3/4 of the way up. Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until the muffins have browned on top.

Let them cool and enjoy with a cup of coffee for breakfast!