Monday, April 21, 2014

COCONUT CARDAMOM TAPIOCA PUDDING

















Speed blogging! I’m busy busy busy and tired tired tired, but I feel bad for repeatedly neglecting you over the past month, so I’m just going to crank out some entries in a more slipshod manner than usual. Bear with me. First up: Another chapter in my long history of pudding mania. I saw this recipe at Smitten Kitchen and thought, “Hmm, do I like tapioca?” I vaguely recall my mom serving the instant stuff when I was a kid but don’t remember having any strong feelings toward it, although apparently tapioca is polarizing stuff, if the comments on the recipe are a fair representation. People seem to either love it or hate it, with texture being the main sticking point. I tend to like creamy-chewy concoctions, so I suspected I’d be in the tapioca-liking camp, and since coconut milk, vanilla, and cardamom turned my rice pudding indifference into passionate love, I figured they could do the same for my tapioca ignorance. I bought some Bob’s Red Mill small pearl tapioca (which reminds me alarmingly of Styrofoam fragments), fiddled with the recipe to mimic the rice pudding (not being a fan of either mangos or effort, I skipped the toppings from the Smitten Kitchen version), and got to work.

It turns out that while I can see why tapioca weirds people out, I do like it, especially when it’s dressed up in so many of my favorite flavors. It doesn’t hurt that it’s incredibly easy to make, either (although, as you can see, it did prove hard to photograph). Soak, mix, simmer, and you’re done! Its starchiness turns it into pudding without much effort on your part, and I find the texture fascinating. This is a comforting, nursery-style dessert that still feels relatively light and refreshing. Since I now have a giant bag of tapioca to use up, I’m extra glad the experiment worked out.

1/3 cup small pearl tapioca
2½ cups coconut milk (light or full-fat; a 13.5-ounce can contains 1¾ cups)
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon table salt or a heaped ¼ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or the seeds from 1 small vanilla bean
¼-½ teaspoon ground cardamom

1. In a medium saucepan, soak tapioca in coconut milk for 30 minutes.

2. Whisk in egg yolk, sugar, salt, and vanilla bean seeds, if using (if using extract, you’ll add it in a bit). Place saucepan over medium heat until mixture comes to a simmer, then reduce it to very low heat so it’s barely bubbling. Cook until it thickens, about 15 minutes, stirring frequently.

3. Remove from heat and add cardamom, plus vanilla extract, if using. (Pudding will seem thin, about the consistency of thick gravy, but it will set after chilling in the fridge.) Pour into pudding cups to chill for several hours or overnight.

Serves: 4-6
Time: 1 hour plus chilling time
Leftover potential: Good.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

PORK SCHNITZEL WITH BUTTERMILK RANCH SAUCE

















Schnitzel, schnitzel, schnitzel: Not only is it fun to say, but it’s also hard to go wrong with thin cutlets of breaded and fried meat. Pounding them flat with a mallet is both good stress relief and a way to ensure quick cooking and maximum crispy surface area. Although I’ve got several chicken recipes that use this technique, my growing fondness for pork made this recipe catch my eye in a recent issue of Cooking Light. There’s nothing especially revolutionary here, but pork chops are still an undiscovered country for me, and an easy weeknight dinner of them seemed like it wouldn’t go amiss, especially with the added enticement of buttermilk ranch sauce.

The verdict? Would make again, although the sauce needed a little enhancement. Cooking Light, of course, calls for fat-free sour cream, which I dutifully obeyed, but next time I’ll just spring for the real stuff. With only 1 tablespoon per serving, I don’t think it’ll ruin my health. If you want to go lighter, 2% or nonfat Greek yogurt might be a better choice. As written, the sauce didn’t taste as ranchlike as the recipe title in the magazine led me to suspect, so I took a cue from my ranch dressing recipe and added a bit of minced garlic and parsley, which perked it up. (I almost wonder if next time I should just make the ranch dressing instead?) Despite my fears of blandness, the sauce tasted great with the pork, and we both enjoyed this meal. I’m afraid I can’t remember what I served on the side (roasted broccoli or green beans, or maybe a kale salad), but any green vegetable will do.

¼ cup sour cream
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons low-fat buttermilk
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 small garlic clove, minced (optional)
¼ cup milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
¾ cup dry breadcrumbs (I used panko)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ teaspoon garlic powder
4 4-ounce boneless center-cut loin pork chops, trimmed and
pounded to 1/8-inch thickness
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. In a small bowl, combine sour cream, dill, buttermilk, 1/8 teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and minced garlic if desired; set aside.

2. Whisk together milk and egg in a shallow dish. In a second shallow dish, combine breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic powder, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Dip pork in milk mixture; sprinkle with salt. Dredge pork in breadcrumb mixture.

3. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan; swirl to coat. Place two pork chops in pan. Cook 3 minutes on each side or until done. Repeat procedure with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and remaining two pork chops. Serve with sauce.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: OK; breadcrumb coating will get soggy, but the flavor is still good.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

WINTER PANZANELLA

















Will I ever tire of kale salads? Probably not, especially if they contain apples and cheese and roasted squash. I love the fresh, grassy flavor of raw kale, and I love how sturdy and convenient the leftovers are. This recipe might seem similar to others I’ve made in the past, but it might even better, because it’s rounded out with croutons that give it enough heft to be a main course. Throw in an assertive maple-mustard-balsamic vinaigrette and the satisfyingly meaty flavor of smoked cheese, and who could resist?

I’m not sure where I stumbled across a link to this post at Five and Spice, but I was immediately taken with the idea of a wintery spin on the classic panzanella. The original recipe included roasted beets, but beets are one of the few vegetables I just can’t find a love for no matter how hard I try (they taste like dirt to me), so I skipped those and increased the squash quantity instead (I hate using only part of a squash anyway). I also increased the kale amount (to use a full bunch and because I adore it), decreased the bread (so all the croutons fit in my 12-inch skillet in an even layer) and replaced the smoked mozzarella with smoked Gouda (because I love Gouda but don’t remember to buy it often enough). All good moves, but I’m particularly proud of my two final touches: throwing the red onion in the oven with the squash instead of leaving it raw (because roasted onion is crazy delicious and raw can be overpowering), and adding dried thyme to the croutons (which I know from experience makes them extra irresistible).

The end result is an incredibly pleasing jumble of textures (crisp, crunchy, tender, creamy, chewy) and flavors (sweet, tart, smoky, salty, savory) that makes a great lunch or light dinner. It’s so good, I’m almost sad that winter is over and soon butternut squash will be out of season…. That is, until I remember that soon I’ll be able to eat my delicious summer kale salad.

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 3-4 cups)
1 medium red onion, cut into thin wedges (eighths or sixteenths)
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
6-8 ounces ciabatta or other good, crusty bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon maple syrup (preferably Grade B)
1 teaspoon grainy Dijon mustard
1 small garlic clove, crushed and minced (about ¼ teaspoon)
1 bunch Tuscan kale, stemmed and thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
1 large, tart, crisp apple (I recommend Granny Smith), cored and cubed
About 4-6 ounces smoked Gouda, cut into ½-inch cubes (about ½-¾ cup)
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment, place the cubed squash and onion wedges on it, and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus salt and pepper to taste. Spread the vegetables out in a single layer, put the baking sheet in the oven, and roast until tender and browned, about 20-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bread cubes and toss well. Season with salt and pepper and the dried thyme. Toast, tossing frequently, until croutons are crisp and golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, mustard, garlic, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Gradually whisk in ¼ cup oil, mixing until emulsified.
  4. Place the sliced kale in a large bowl and pour about half the dressing over it. Toss well to coat, massaging the dressing into the kale with your hands. Let the kale sit in the dressing for at least 15 minutes.
  5. Once the butternut squash and onions have cooled to about room temperature, add them to the bowl with the kale. Add a little more dressing and toss again. Add the cheese and apple cubes, finish with dressing to taste (you may not quite use it all), and toss thoroughly until well combined.
  6. About 15 minutes before serving, add the bread cubes and toss well. (But if you are saving some salad for later, store the bread cubes for those servings separately and don’t add them to the salad until shortly before you plan to eat it.)
Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Great (store bread cubes separately from rest of salad).

Thursday, March 06, 2014

ROASTED TOMATO PIZZA MARGHERITA


















I have all these exotic pizza recipes in my repertoire, from asparagus to zucchini (with hummus and strawberry in between), without a basic Margherita. We make tomato-sauce pizza at least once a month, but we always load it up with our favorite toppings: mushroom and sausage for me, pepperoni and jalapeno for A. Yet cheese pizza was my favorite as a picky child, and as an adult I’ve come to appreciate its sophisticated cousin, Margherita, as the archetypal authentic Neopolitan standard at fancy artisan pizzerias, where its simplicity lets high-quality crust, sauce, and cheese shine through. Making it at home, though, seemed like it might be too…plain, at least until I spotted a delectable-looking “Pizza Margherita, Fancified” at Annie’s Eats. With a double hit of tomatoes—in a sauce spiked with cream as well as in my favorite secret-weapon roasted form—it seemed anything but dull.

And indeed (although it is not a true Margherita), this pizza was a minor revelation for me, mostly because it threw into question why I’ve been bothering to make pizza sauce out of canned tomato sauce all these years. My old sauce recipe is pretty great, doctored up with herbs, balsamic vinegar, even soy sauce—yet this simple concoction of butter, pureed canned tomatoes, tomato paste, a tiny bit of onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes gives it a serious run for its money. The tomato flavor is so much fresher and brighter this way that I feel myself slowly gravitating toward making it my go-to sauce.

The original quantities were a bit odd, calling for less than a full can of tomatoes, but I’ve found that if I use a whole can and increase the other ingredients accordingly, I can make enough for three pizzas in one fell swoop, allowing me to stockpile reserves in the freezer for later use. (If you only feel like making enough for one go-round, for some reason, use the original version at Annie’s Eats.) The cream in the sauce is delicious but not necessary—I might add a bit if I happened to have it sitting around, but it’s almost too decadent for frequent eating, and the sauce is plenty great without it. For the roasted tomatoes, I swapped in my usual recipe. Not much else to it but crust and cheese and basil, but the results are incredibly tasty and far from plain. Even A, who tends to feel that any vegetarian pizza I make would be better with meat (usually bacon) added, really enjoys this (although I’ve also found that sprinkling on some pepperoni and sautéed sliced mushrooms doesn’t hurt when I feel like branching out from the Margherita concept). Only time will tell if this really becomes my regular tomato-sauce pizza recipe, but regardless it’s a delicious diversion.

Tomato sauce (makes enough for three pizzas; freeze the rest for later use):
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes in tomato puree (I use Trader Joe’s San Marzano)
2 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons minced onion
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
¼-½ cup heavy cream (optional)
Pizza:
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon Grade B maple syrup
½ teaspoon coarse salt
1 pound pizza dough
4 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
1-2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
¼-½ cup fresh basil, coarsely chopped
  1. To make the sauce, puree the tomatoes and their liquid in a blender or food processor (or using an immersion blender) until smooth. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook about 1 minute, until it begins to soften. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic and red pepper flakes and mix just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato puree, lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer about 5-8 minutes, until the sauce is slightly thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cream, if using. Divide the sauce into three equal portions and freeze two of them for in airtight containers for later use.
  2. To make the pizza, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice the tomatoes in half and place them on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, maple syrup, and salt. Pour the mixture over the tomatoes and gently toss until well coated. Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer, cut side up, and roast, without stirring, until the tomatoes shrink a bit and caramelize around the edges, 45 to 60 minutes. (You can do this up to a week ahead of time if you like—just let the tomatoes cool, scrape them into a glass or plastic container along with any liquid that was left on the baking sheet, seal tightly, and store in the refrigerator.).
  3. Increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees and roll out the pizza dough on a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal. Spread with an even layer of the tomato sauce. Sprinkle the mozzarella in an even layer over the sauce, and sprinkle the Parmesan over that. Dot the roasted tomatoes evenly over the cheese.
  4. Transfer the pizza to the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and bubbling and the crust is lightly browned, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the chopped basil over the top of the pizza. Let cool slightly before slicing and serving.
Serves: 4
Time: 2 hours (some work can be done ahead)
Leftover potential: Good; reheat on a dry skillet on the stovetop.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

DARK CHOCOLATE, PISTACHIO, AND SMOKED SEA SALT COOKIES




Why don’t we put pistachios in cookies more often? Walnuts, pecans, and almonds steal the spotlight, and macadamia nuts have their white-chocolate niche, but pistachios are super delicious yet seem to get little love. They finally get to be superstars in this recipe, transforming otherwise ordinary (though always tasty) chocolate chip cookies into something truly special. You might be distracted by the exoticness of the smoked salt, as indeed I was when I first bookmarked this recipe from Joy the Baker, but it plays a supporting role here, and indeed if you were to use regular coarse sea salt instead, I wouldn’t scold you. I recalled seeing smoked salt in grinders at Trader Joe’s for a few bucks, but of course when I went to actually buy it I found it had been discontinued, as are so many TJ’s products just at the moment you really need them. Thinking that these would just be plain old chocolate chip cookies without the smoked salt, I went to Whole Foods and spent a rather ridiculous sum of money for a container I will now spend the rest of my life trying to use up. Don’t be like me! The smoked salt is great if you can get it, but the pistachios were the real revelation here. We both loved these cookies, to the point that A repeatedly exclaimed how good they were every time we ate one. Definitely a keeper—and not just because I now have a surplus of smoked salt on my hands.

½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ cups dark chocolate chips or chunks (I’ll admit I just used semisweet and it was still great)
1 cup shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped
Smoked sea salt for topping

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

2. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat butter and sugars together until pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the egg and beat in for about 1 minute. Add vanilla extract and beat to incorporate.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the mixture all at once to the butter mixture. Beat on low speed until just incorporated. Finally, mix in the chocolate chips and nuts.

4. Dollop or scoop cookie dough by the 2 tablespoonful onto prepared baking tins. Leave about 2 inches of room between each cookie. Sprinkle generously with smoked sea salt.

5. Bake cookies for 18 minutes, or until just golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the pan for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yields: 2 dozen
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: Great, either in a sealed container at room temperature or frozen.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

CARNITAS


















Hey, I made carnitas! And it was super easy! And one of the best meals I cooked in 2013! I can’t stop using exclamation points!
Buying a pork shoulder and slowly braising it is one of those food-bloggy things I never seemed to get around to doing. I grew up thinking I didn’t like pork (oh, the dry pork chops of my childhood), so long after I knew how to do all kinds of things with chicken, I had never even tried cooking a tenderloin. But my enjoyment of pork is steadily growing, and carnitas are a particular favorite, so when I saw this recipe at Dinner With Julie my heart skipped a beat. It sounded doable—put meat and liquid in a pot and throw it in the oven for a few hours. The hardest part would be obtaining a pork shoulder, and that didn’t turn out to be difficult at all (the meat counter at Whole Foods has pretty much everything).

Cooking pork in milk might sound weird, but I’ve seen similar recipes before (Jamie Oliver’s chicken in milk is getting rave reviews, for instance) and knew that it adds sweetness and aids caramelization. I was all set to go until I read the comments on the post and someone mentioned the carnitas recipe at Smitten Kitchen, which turns out to be from the Homesick Texan, an authority if ever there was one. Those two sources have never steered me wrong, so I considered switching recipes, but Julie’s sounded easier and I liked that I could do it in the oven instead of on the stovetop. I did worry it would be bland, so I swiped the garlic, cumin, and generous salt quantity from the SK/HT version, and boy was that an excellent decision; the garlic smelled particularly amazing during the nearly 4 hours this was simmering in my oven on a Sunday afternoon.

Needless to say, the result was incredible: a little sweet, a little tangy, mostly porky; crisp-browned in a few places and meltingly tender (and yes, just the right amount of fatty) everywhere else. As I texted A the next day while eating leftovers, “Hot damn these carnitas are delicious.” I really couldn’t believe I had made them, even though it was so ridiculously easy. The flavor was delicate but didn’t need much accompaniment—just a few tortillas and guacamole did the job for me, although of course you can add any taco-type toppings you see fit. It makes a ton of food but you’ll have no trouble finding uses for the leftovers—in salads, on pizza, tossed in BBQ sauce for a pulled-pork sandwich, and if all else fails, just freeze it. We devoured almost all of ours in taco form, but I threw the last scraps into a Southwest Scramble and it was excellent.

2-3 pounds boneless pork shoulder (butt) or boneless country pork ribs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large orange, washed and quartered
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra to taste
1 cup milk (original recipe says whole, but I used 2% and it was fine)
Black pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

2. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet on the stovetop over medium-high heat. Cut the meat into a few chunks and brown each piece on all sides, then transfer them to a Dutch oven or other heavy lidded baking dish. Squeeze the orange wedges over the meat and toss in the rinds alongside; add the garlic, cumin, and salt. Pour in the milk, then add enough water to almost cover the meat. Sprinkle with pepper, cover with a tight-fitting lid and bake for 3 hours, until the meat is very tender.

3. Break or pull the meat apart into smaller pieces, remove and discard the orange rind, and turn the oven up to 375 degrees. Roast the meat uncovered for 20-30 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the meat is crisp and brown on the edges. (If there still seems like there’s a lot of fat/liquid in the pot, you can just drain it off and discard it before eating.)

4. Serve the pork on warm corn or flour tortillas with the toppings of your choice, such as salsa, guacamole or diced avocado, finely chopped onion or scallions, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime.

Serves: At least 8
Time: 4 hours
Leftover potential: Awesome; versatile and freezes well.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

ITALIAN SAUSAGE AND PEPPER PIZZA


















I’m extra pleased with this one because I invented it myself. I know, putting toppings on a pizza isn’t exactly rocket science, but I’m a habitual recipe follower (hence the title of this blog), and while I think I have pretty good instincts for adapting existing recipes, I rarely come up with anything brand-new. Although putting sausage, peppers, and onions together is hardly original, when I got hungry for a pizza based on this classic combo (34 pizza recipes on file and I still don’t have one that features bell peppers!), Google came up surprisingly short. There were plenty of tomato-sauce pizzas with sausage and peppers, but that seemed too easy; I wanted the main ingredients to shine. I love ricotta in place of regular pizza sauce and thought its mild creaminess would be extra great here.

When a recipe calls for sausage, I usually default to chicken sausage, just to keep things a little lighter. Trader Joe’s has a perfectly serviceable Italian chicken sausage, but since I really wanted to hew closely to the idea of a traditional sausage-and-pepper sandwich, I decided to splurge and use pork sausage. It was a wise decision. It’s notably greasier, but in a way that’s perfect for pizza, which needs a little gooeyness. You can get away with using a fairly small amount because its flavor thoroughly permeates the other ingredients. I wanted big rounds rather than crumbles, so I browned the sausages whole to make them firm enough to slice, then cut them up and sautéed the pieces with the colorful peppers and plenty of aromatic onion and garlic. As for the cheese, there are probably a lot that would be great here, but I went with the standard Parmesan and mozzarella. A garnish of fresh basil adds color, freshness and Italian flair.

This turned out exactly as I’d envisioned it, which is not always the case when I improvise. I’ll definitely make it again and won’t change a thing.

½ pound hot Italian sausage (pork recommended)
Olive oil
1 small to medium red pepper, sliced
1 small to medium yellow pepper, sliced
1 small onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound pizza dough
About ½ cup ricotta cheese
Shredded Parmesan and mozzarella cheese to taste
Chopped fresh basil to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and brown the sausages. Remove from the pan, let rest for a few minutes, and slice. (It’s OK if the sausage isn’t cooked all the way through yet.)

3. Return the pan to the heat and add about a tablespoon of olive oil. When it’s warm, add the onions and sauté for a few minutes. Add the peppers, sausage, and garlic and cook until sausage is fully cooked and vegetables are tender.

4. Roll out the pizza dough and place it on an oiled baking sheet. Spread the ricotta over it in an even layer. Scatter the sausage-pepper mixture over that and top with Parmesan and mozzarella.

5. Bake pizza for 8-10 minutes or until cheese is melted and crust is browned.

6. Garnish with fresh basil.

Serves: 4
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: Good. Reheat on the stove in a dry skillet over medium heat for best results.