Wednesday, December 03, 2014

VANILLA ROASTED PEARS

















I first made this Smitten Kitchen recipe during a visit from my parents. I recall it being easy, elegant, and enjoyed by all. I failed to get a photo, bookmarked it for a repeat attempt…and then about four years went by, for no good reason. I don’t make dessert that often, I never buy that many pears, I’m out of vanilla beans—I don’t know what my excuses were, but they all seem flimsy in retrospect. Because finally, last month, when I happened to have a surplus of ripe, ungainly little Bartletts (farmers’ market seconds left over from a canning project), I revisited it and fell in love all over again. A one-dish dessert that transforms a handful of basic ingredients into meltingly tender, tart-sweet fruit bathed in a fragrant caramelized sauce—how could I have wasted so much of my life not eating roasted pears?

Friends, don’t be like me. These pears will make you feel like a culinary rock star without breaking a sweat, help you celebrate the pear harvest in style, wow your dinner party guests with a sophisticated and seemingly effortless finale, or let you whip up a fairly wholesome weeknight treat. I have no doubt that they would be delicious over ice cream, topped with cream or crème fraiche, served with a cheese plate or spooned over oatmeal, but I have yet to do more than eat them straight from the pan. It may be counterintuitive to post this recipe during the holiday season, the one time of year when I feel compelled to tackle ambitious baking projects, yet it’s an excellent reminder that the simplest things really are often the best.

¼ cup sugar
½ vanilla bean (or a whole one if you’re feeling decadent)
1½ pounds ripe or slightly underripe medium pears, peeled if desired (but not necessary), halved though the stem and cored
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 
  2. Place the sugar in a small bowl. With a thin, sharp knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise in half and scrape out the seeds. Stir the seeds into the sugar.
  3. Arrange the pears in a large baking dish, cut side up. Drizzle the lemon juice evenly over the fruit, then sprinkle with the sugar. Nestle the vanilla pod pieces among the fruit. Pour the water into the dish and dot each pear with some butter.
  4. Roast the pears for 30 minutes, brushing them occasionally with the pan juices. Turn the pears over and continue roasting, basting once or twice, until tender and caramelized, 25 to 30 minutes longer (a paring knife poked into the thickest part of one should meet with no resistance).
  5. Serve warm, topped with the caramelized drippings from the pan.
Serves: About 4
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; leftover pears can be eaten cold or reheated briefly in the microwave.

Friday, November 07, 2014

PUMPKIN SPICE GRANOLA

















This recipe is ideal for the time of year I always complain about, when the rest of the nation wraps up in wooly sweaters and sips hot cider while Southern California swelters into November. This year has been particularly brutal, leading me to spend long hours staring into my closet, wondering why I even bother owning long-sleeved clothing. Craving pumpkin-spice flavor while breaking a sweat at the thought of anything served above room temperature doesn’t leave much room for fall treats. One day, dreaming wistfully of steaming pumpkin baked oatmeal while it was plainly still granola weather, I thought, “Is there such a thing as pumpkin granola?”

I shouldn’t have even questioned it; I think the second rule of the Internet must be that there is a pumpkin variation of every possible foodstuff. (The first rule is something to do with cat videos.) I found a number of candidates but couldn’t settle on one; some looked too sweet, others didn’t contain much actual pumpkin. Then, the very day I was drawing up my grocery list, Budget Bytes published exactly what I was looking for. Well, almost exactly—I did swap in coconut oil for vegetable oil, maple syrup for honey, my own spice blend for pumpkin pie spice, and pecans for sunflower seeds. I left out the cranberries because I wasn’t in the mood for dried fruit, but might have added some pepitas if I had them, for a double hit of pumpkin power. However you choose to approach it, the result is an orange-hued, clustery granola with real pumpkin spice flavor that makes for a delicious autumnal breakfast treat. This was the first time I’d deviated from my go-to granola recipe in 10 years, but I’m glad I made room in my life for a seasonal alternative.

1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup coconut oil
2 tablespoons maple syrup (preferably Grade B)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon salt
6 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
½ cup chopped pecans (pepitas would also be good here)
½ cup dried cranberries, chopped (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
  2. In a medium saucepan, combine the pumpkin, brown sugar, oil, maple syrup, vanilla, spices, and salt. Stir and cook over medium-low heat for 3 to 5 minutes, or until mixture is heated through and the sugar has dissolved.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the dry oats, pecans, and pumpkin mixture. Stir very well (mixing with your hands works best) until the oats are evenly coated with pumpkin and there are no dry oats left in the bottom of the bowl.
  4. Spread the oat mixture over two baking sheets covered with parchment paper. Bake the oats in the preheated oven for 45 to 60 minutes, or until they are mostly dry, stirring every 15 minutes.
  5. Once the oats are finished cooking, sprinkle in the chopped cranberries if desired, stir, then let cool completely. Once cool, store in an airtight container for up to a week.
Serves: About 8
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

BAKED BARBECUE CHICKEN

















I know it’s fall for the rest of you, but here in L.A. the hot, dry weather persists. I’m aching for a cool breeze right now, but at least it doesn’t feel strange to still be catching up on my summer recipes. This one hearkens all the way back to when I gambled on trying potato salad for the first time (and won in a big way). I wanted something appropriately picnic-like to accompany it, and also to round out a valid meal in case it turned out I hated potato salad. Sweet, smoky, spicy barbecue seemed like the perfect balance for all that creamy starchiness, but since the salad was fairly labor-intensive I wanted the second dish to be as easy as possible. Baking up some chicken in some sauce sounded about right.

I’ve made basic barbecue sauces before, for pizza and sandwiches, but since the sauce would be the main event here, I thought I should try something a little more complex. Unfortunately, the first recipe I chose was Not So Great. I had to make and apply a dry rub, sear the (bone in, skin-on) chicken on the stove, make and apply the sauce, then bake it in the oven, and both the rub and the sauce were loaded with sugar. It was perfectly edible, but a hassle. The next time around, I went straight to the boneless, skinless chicken thighs—way less fuss to make, and easier to eat too. For the sauce, I searched high and low to find something that looked like it wasn’t too sweet and had enough flavor complexity without calling for any extra steps (dicing an onion, etc.) or special ingredients I don’t normally keep on hand (like chipotle chiles). As is often the case, I found exactly what I wanted at Serious Eats, aptly labeled Basic Barbecue Sauce. Because one of the ingredients is “your favorite barbecue rub,” I had to find a separate seasoning recipe and do some clever math to get the quantities right, but it was all worth it.

Barbecue sauce is a controversial topic (for instance, many purists cringe to see a recipe calling for ketchup), but this one suits me to a T. It’s still got some sweetness, but also acid and plenty of spice—in fact, I dial down the Tabasco a bit now, because the full amount was making my lips burn. You could bathe just about anything in this and it would taste delicious. The amounts below are for a half-recipe, which is roughly the amount you need for the chicken recipe with a little to spare, but the sauce keeps a long time in the fridge, so consider going for the full batch and you can have this meal again soon. You’ll definitely want it.

1 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
½ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon chipotle chili powder
¼ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon mustard powder
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  1. Combine all of the ingredients except chicken in a nonreactive saucepan, and slowly bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low or low, and gently simmer until dark, thick, and richly flavored, 10 to 15 minutes. (Sauce can be made ahead of time; store in a sealed glass container in the refrigerator.)
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a large baking sheet with foil.
  3. Place the chicken in a large bowl and add about ½ cup of the barbecue sauce. Toss well until the chicken is completely coated. Arrange the chicken on the baking sheet.
  4. Bake chicken for 20-30 minutes, or until cooked through. Baste with additional barbecue sauce and place under the broiler for a few minutes, until the sauce just starts to bubble. Serve with more sauce if desired.
Serves: 4-5
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good, and any extra, unused sauce will keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to several months.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

BUTTERMILK CHICKEN SALAD WITH CUCUMBERS, RADISHES, AND DILL

















I found this chicken recipe while paging through The Lemonade Cookbook. For those of you outside L.A., Lemonade is a local cafeteria-style chain serving “seasonal Southern California comfort food” (Twin Citians, think along the lines of a hipster Café Latte). A location recently opened next door to my office, and it’s definitely handy on those rare days when I don’t have leftovers to bring for lunch.

Ironically, though, the first thing that sprang to mind when I looked at this recipe was a salad from a competing local chain, Tender Greens. For a while, the Southern Fried Chicken Salad (“freckled romaine, butter lettuce, cucumber, radish dill dressing”) was my choice for emergency dinners or picnics on the go—until I started to feel like maybe I could do it just as well myself. So, from someone who doesn’t even eat out very often, here is a salad inspired by two different restaurants.

This is really just a spring/summery version of my old standby, Crispy Chicken and Apple Salad, so I went ahead and used the same creamy vinaigrette, my all-time fave dressing. I added homemade croutons for a little more heft and crunch, but feel free to leave them out. (The first time I made this I could only find a seeded baguette, and now I’m in love with making croutons that way—the toasted sesame seeds add a wonderful crunch and flavor.) I’m really happy with the resulting salad; the flavors meld together beautifully (cucumbers, radishes, and dill were made for each other), it’s refreshing yet satisfying, and I honestly like it even more than the restaurant version.

A word on the chicken, however: The marinade is a winner for sure, adding tenderness, tang, and a hint of spice to boring old chicken breasts, but I’m not sure I’m sold on the cooking method. I’ve made this twice so far, and both times found it hard to get the exterior fully crisp and brown without drying out the chicken or having all the breadcrumbs stick to the pan and fall off. Maybe you’ll have more luck, but I’m starting to suspect that keeping the marinade but switching to the flour-egg-panko coating and pan-frying method from the Crispy Chicken and Apple Salad recipe would be the best way to go here, even though it adds even more steps to an already long recipe. I’ll give it a try next time and let you know.

For the chicken:
2 cups buttermilk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon hot sauce, such as Tabasco
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for seasoning
1 onion, coarsely chopped
5 garlic cloves, smashed
4 (6-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1-2 cups panko breadcrumbs
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
For the salad:
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons plain yogurt
1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
4-5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3-4 cups cubed (about ¾-inch pieces) French bread (I like to use a seeded baguette)
About 8 cups butter lettuce or arugula leaves (or a mixture)
6-8 large radishes, sliced
2 medium Persian cucumbers, sliced
1-2 tablespoons chopped dill
  1. To prepare the marinade, in a large mixing bowl whisk the buttermilk, mustard, hot sauce, paprika, salt, onion and garlic together to combine. Put the chicken in a plastic storage bag, add the buttermilk mixture and smoosh the chicken around to thoroughly coat in the marinade. Press out the air, seal the bag and marinate the chicken in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours, and preferably 48.
  2. When ready to cook the chicken, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the chicken from the marinade, wiping off any excess buttermilk, and discard. Season both sides of the chicken breasts lightly with salt and pepper. Spread the breadcrumbs out on a plate or place them in a shallow bowl. Press the chicken breasts into the breadcrumbs to completely coat all sides, shaking off the excess.
  3. Put a cast-iron or ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Coat the pan with 2 tablespoons of oil. Once the oil is shimmering, lay the chicken in the pan and sear for 3 minutes on each side. Transfer the skillet (and chicken) to the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the crust is golden. Remove chicken from the pan, place on a cooling rack, and let rest until about room temperature.
  4. While the chicken cooks, heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the cubed bread, toss well, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Toast, stirring occasionally, until crispy and browned on all sides. Let cool to room temperature.
  5. Whisk together vinegar, yogurt, mustard, and ½ teaspoon salt in a small bowl; season with pepper to taste. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking until emulsified.
  6. Divide the lettuce/arugula, sliced radishes and cucumbers, and dill evenly between four bowls. Slice the chicken and place one breast atop each serving. Divide the croutons among the bowls, drizzle each salad with ¼ of the dressing, and toss well.
Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour, plus 1-2 days marinating
Leftover potential: Good; store components (chicken, lettuce, croutons, radishes/cucumbers/dill) separately and assemble just before serving.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER PUDDING

















When I first discovered how simple and gratifying it is to make homemade pudding, I went bonkers for it. Over the next three years, I gradually worked my way through every type I could think of and loved them all, but I regret to say that chocolate peanut butter didn’t cross my mind until I saw this recipe in an issue of Cooking Light. I further regret to say that it took me about a year and half to get around to making it, which is ridiculous because I love this flavor combination, and sad because I could have spent those 18 months eating a ton of extremely delicious pudding.

If you’re a fan of the choco-PB combo, this will satisfy your cravings with ease, and if you’re new to making pudding, it’s a great place to start. With no egg to temper, this is a quick boil-and-stir affair, and thanks to the natural thickness of the peanut butter and solid chocolate, it stiffens up very dramatically (almost to a mousse-like consistency) without much cooking at all. Just to keep things from becoming too simple, I added a pinch of salt and a splash of vanilla, both good enhancements. I also used semisweet chocolate chips instead of the original recipe’s chopped milk chocolate, because it’s what I had on hand, and I think it was the better option—a deeper, richer taste with less sweetness. Cooking Light has you top it with sliced bananas (bleah) and chopped peanuts, but I don’t like chunks interrupting my creamy pudding texture, or any extra elements interfering all the with chocolatey, peanut buttery goodness.

1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons Dutch process cocoa
1½ cups milk
½ cup light cream or half-and-half
2 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
¼ cup all-natural creamy peanut butter
1 pinch salt
½ teaspoon vanilla
  1. Combine sugar, cornstarch, and cocoa in a medium saucepan; stir with a whisk. Whisk in milk and cream. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook 1 minute or until thick and bubbly.
  2. Remove from heat. Add chocolate, peanut butter, salt, and vanilla, stirring until smooth.
  3. Divide among bowls and chill until set.
Serves: 4-6
Time: 20 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

GREEN QUINOA SALAD

















My ardor for quinoa has dimmed somewhat (blame overexposure, the fact that A has discovered/decided he doesn’t like it, and the newfound allure of farro), but I felt it spark anew when I saw this salad at The Kitchn. The original recipe calls it a Green Goddess dressing, but since it omits the traditional anchovies (fine by me) and replaces mayonnaise with creamy avocado, I’m just calling it “green.” Zesty with herbs, red pepper, vinegar, and lemon, it reminds me of chimichurri instead, even more so because I didn’t have the full quantity of basil and had to swap in some cilantro—a substitution that ended up being so tasty I made it official below.

If you find quinoa bland, this vibrant dressing is just the fix. All the other quinoa salads I’ve tried have light vinaigrettes, so a heavy dousing of thick, assertive sauce seemed strange at first, but it tastes so right. The dressing is totally the star here, but the other elements work surprisingly well together too; I’ve paired radishes and arugula before, but wouldn’t necessarily have thought to add edamame and walnuts to the mix. The colors are pretty, the flavors are fresh, and the mix of crunchy and creamy textures is addictive. I thought this might be the dish to redeem quinoa for A, but alas, he still didn’t dig it. Oh, well—that means more for me of what might be my new favorite salad. With three sources of protein (quinoa, edamame, and nuts), it makes a satisfying lunch all week long.

Dressing:
2 scallions, minced (white and light green parts only)
1 large ripe avocado, peeled and diced
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons water
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup fresh basil, chopped
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt to taste
Salad:
1 cup dry quinoa
3 cups arugula
1 cup shelled cooked edamame
½ cup chopped walnuts, toasted
4 large radishes, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Prepare the dressing by combining all of the ingredients in a food processor and blending until smooth. Add a little more water or oil to thin if necessary. Set aside.
  2. Rinse the quinoa in a strainer under cool running water, then combine it in a saucepan with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook until quinoa has absorbed the liquid and can easily be fluffed with a fork, about 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool slightly.
  3. While the quinoa is still a little warm, toss it with about half of the salad dressing, then add the arugula so the leaves wilt down a bit. Stir in the edamame, walnuts, and radishes, then slowly drizzle in the dressing.
Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

Monday, September 01, 2014

JAM ALMOND CRUMB BARS

















I’m canning less than I used to (I blame this year’s interminable heat, coupled with an increasingly demanding job that leaves me less energy for big kitchen projects), but I still have a perpetual spare-jam supply. Beyond my big holiday distribution, I always hoard a few jars just in case I need them for eating or gifts throughout the year, plus there always seems to be one in every batch that doesn’t seal properly and has to get added to the crowd in the back of the fridge, where it languishes long enough for me to forget when it was made.

When blueberry-picking time rolled around this year and I prepared to make a fresh batch of blueberry-lime jam, I discovered to my chagrin not only a big jar still left over from last year in my stash under the bed, but also two open, partially used jars of indeterminate age floating around in the refrigerator. I have coworkers who will happily polish off any extra jam I happen to have, but I felt odd trying to give away such old stuff, even though I knew it was perfectly safe to eat (with so much sugar and acid, jam rarely goes bad, and if it does it tells you so by getting moldy—but it should still be eaten within a year, and the texture does alter a bit with age).

I needed a recipe that would use up a lot of jam and mitigate any potential staleness, and I quickly found just the thing at Two Peas and Their Pod: easy bars that sandwich the fruit between a simple crust and a crumb topping. I had made similar jam bars once before, but they were loaded with butter and sugar, and even though I wrote about them so enthusiastically here, I never made them again. This new recipe has less sugar and half the fat, uses coconut oil instead of butter, and replaces white flour with whole wheat. It’s still not health food, but it’s less overwhelmingly rich and actually tastes better too; the nuttiness of the wheat and almonds and the slight coconut flavor add a nice counterpoint to the sweet preserves. These bars make an addictive dessert—I brought them to a picnic and they were a big hit—but it wouldn’t be totally crazy to eat them for breakfast or a snack, either. In short, I’m in love, and very sorry to have gotten my jam situation so well under control that I don’t have any left over to make more jam bars. Yes, I could just buy jam at the store, but that seems like cheating… So as soon as the weather cools off (please let it cool off!), I’ve got to get canning, stat. In the meantime, if you’ve got homemade jam from me (or another source) sitting around gathering dust, this is a great way to use it up.

1½ cups white whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon (I also added a pinch of cardamom)
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup coconut oil, at room temperature
½ cup packed light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup sliced almonds
¾ cup fruit jam
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray or coconut oil. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream coconut oil and sugars on high speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla extract. Mix well. With the mixer on low, slowly add in the flour mixture. Mix until combined (the dough will be crumbly). Stir in the sliced almonds.
  4. Gently press half the dough into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Evenly spread jam over dough. Sprinkle remaining dough over the top, making sure you cover the entire thing. Press gently to form the top layer.
  5. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Cool completely and cut into squares.
Yields: 12-16 bars
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; freezes well.