Wednesday, July 16, 2014

CHICKEN AND VEGETABLE KEBABS WITH CHIMICHURRI SAUCE

















I love accidental discoveries. Last summer I decided to make this baked halibut with chimichurri recipe from The Kitchn, and while the fish itself didn’t rock my world, the sauce was fantastic—no surprise, since I usually adore a good green sauce, from Mexican salsa verde to Peruvian aji verde to Indian green chutney. I had a bunch of chimichurri left over and went Googling for ways to use it up, and so stumbled across this kabob recipe from Pamela Salzman, which turned out to be just the thing. I’ve never made the chimichurri fish again, but I’ve made these kabobs three or four times since. (I kept neglecting to get photos, which is why I’ve waited so long to tell you about them. This photo isn’t the best but I hate to get between you and these kebabs any longer.)

Chimichurri is traditionally served with steak, but to me it’s just the thing for pepping up simple grilled chicken and vegetables. The stealth stars here are the mushrooms, which taste great grilled and really shine with the herbs and garlic. Each time I make this, I find myself using a few more mushrooms and a little less zucchini. This is a pretty flexible recipe, so do whatever moves you. Just don’t skimp on the tart, spicy, bright green sauce.

Chimichurri:
3 cloves garlic
1 small shallot
¾ cup parsley leaves
½ cup cilantro leaves
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon coarse salt
Kebabs:
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 small zucchini (I like to use one green and one yellow), cut into ¾-inch rounds
2 small bell peppers (I like to use one red and one yellow), cut into 1-inch pieces
8 ounces medium-large cremini mushrooms, stems removed
Olive oil and salt to taste
  1. To make the chimichurri, combine all the ingredients in a small food processor and blend until smooth.
  2. Place the cubed chicken in a non-reactive container, add a few tablespoons of chimichurri sauce, and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate chicken for up to 24 hours, or marinate at room temperature for 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate reserved sauce.
  3. When ready to eat, heat up the grill. Toss the vegetables lightly with olive oil or a little chimichurri. Thread the chicken and vegetables onto skewers and season kabobs lightly with salt. Grill on both sides until chicken is cooked through, about 5-6 minutes per side. Serve drizzled with reserved sauce.
Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes, plus 1 to 24 hours marinating time
Leftover potential: Good (remove from skewers and store in an airtight container).

Monday, July 07, 2014

CHEESY MASHED WHITE BEANS WITH KALE AND EGG

















There are certain recipes I wait to make until A is out of town, and this is one of them. Although he will eat both beans and kale in certain contexts, neither is on his list of favorite foods, and I can’t imagine him sitting down to a meal that consists of little else. Scaled down by half, this is perfect bachelor fare—cozy but more elegant than popcorn, a little indulgent but more nourishing than nachos, appropriate for any season, and easy enough to make that I have time afterward to catch up on all my favorite TV shows (Doctor Who! Orange Is the New Black! True Detective!), with leftovers stowed away for supper the next night.

I’d happily eat a big bowl of the garlicky, creamy, cheddar-spiked white bean mash alone, but topping it with lemony sautéed greens and a couple of runny eggs instantly equals complete meal. (I poach my eggs, rather than frying them as the original recipe at Serious Eats instructed…just personal preference. I’ve also used chives in place of the scallions on occasion, depending on what needs to be used up in the fridge.) I do miss A a lot when he’s gone, but dinners like this are the silver lining—or is that the cheesy lining?—to being home alone.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium garlic cloves, finely minced (about 2 teaspoons)
2 (15-ounce) cans white beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup heavy cream
3 ounces grated sharp white cheddar cheese
2 ounces grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 cups finely shredded kale (I often use more)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
4-8 eggs
¼ cup finely sliced scallion whites and light greens
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add garlic and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add beans, cream, and ½ cup water. Bring to a simmer, then mash beans lightly with a potato masher. If needed, add more water until a loose, porridge-like consistency is reached. Stir in cheddar and Parmesan cheese and half the scallions, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add kale, season with salt and pepper, and cook, tossing and stirring frequently, until wilted and starting to crisp, about 4 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and transfer to a bowl.
  3. Fry or poach eggs.
  4. To serve, divide beans evenly among four bowls, then top each serving with sautéed kale and one or two eggs. Sprinkle with remaining scallions, grate some Parmesan over the top, and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: OK, although the greens may discolor somewhat from the lemon juice; store beans and kale separately and don’t cook the eggs until ready to eat.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

SALMON SALAD

















I never thought I’d be interested in something called “salmon salad.” Let’s face it, it sounds weird—even though it’s basically just a modified Nicoise with salmon instead of tuna. But cold cooked fish is not my thing, and recently I’ve decided to face the fact that salmon isn’t my thing either, no matter how it’s cooked (raw is a different story; I could eat salmon sushi all day long). Yet the photo in Dinner: A Love Story still drew me in, with its rainbow of purple potatoes, green beans and cucumbers and herbs, yellow corn, red tomatoes, and the lovely pink salmon. Those are all my favorite summer vegetables, and I love lemony-mustardy vinaigrettes like this one—would all that be enough to make chilled salmon palatable?

Short answer: Yes, for me. A was not a fan of this one, but I kind of love it. It turns out that tearing it into little bits and mixing it with lots of other things mitigates most of the textural issues I have with cooked salmon. This salad is a great way to get me to eat fish AND make it portable—the leftovers keep well for several days and can be consumed at work without inflicting any of the dreaded fish-reheating smell (the scourge of so many office kitchens) on your colleagues. I still prefer white fish overall, but this beautifully refreshing summer salad is my new favorite way to work the occasional smattering of salmon into my diet.

My only notable changes to the original recipe were to add dill, which is just so perfect with salmon (and green beans, and potatoes, and cucumber…), and to omit the sugar from the vinaigrette. I made it as written the first time, but I should have remembered that I never add sugar to my dressings—not surprisingly, it tasted too sweet to me. I prefer things acidic, and the starchy potatoes and dense salmon can definitely stand up to tart flavors. I’ve marked the sugar as optional here; I’d recommend tasting the dressing without it first, and then adding it in ½ teaspoon increments to take the sour edge off if needed.

¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
About 1 teaspoon fresh lemon or lime juice, to taste
½ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound salmon fillet
1 large handful (about 1 cup) small red, purple or yellow potatoes, halved or quartered depending on size
2 ears corn
1 large handful (about 1 cup) thin green beans, trimmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 medium Persian cucumber, seeded and chopped
4 scallions (white and light green parts), chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (parsley would also be good here if you don’t have cilantro)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. To make the vinaigrette, in a small bowl whisk together the vinegar, mustard, sugar (if desired), lemon/lime juice, oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
  3. To make the salmon, sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper. Roast in a foil-lined baking dish for 15 minutes. Set aside and let cool.
  4. Meanwhile, bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook until a knife slices through them with no resistance, about 10-12 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the potatoes to a colander and let cool.
  5. Add the corn to the same pot of water. Boil for 4 minutes. Remove to a cutting board and allow to cool.
  6. Add beans to the same pot of water and cook for 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and let cool in a colander.
  7. Place the tomatoes, cucumber, scallions, cilantro, and dill in a large bowl. When potatoes and green beans are room temperature, add them to the mixture. Cut the kernels off the corn cobs and add those to the bowl. Gently flake the salmon apart into bite-sized chunks and add it to the salad. Pour on the vinaigrette and toss gently.
Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

Friday, July 04, 2014

LEMON COOKIES WITH TOASTED COCONUT FROSTING

















If I had to name my mom’s favorite foods, at least as far as I know, lemon and coconut would top the list—so when I saw this recipe at Two Peas and Their Pod, I knew it would be the perfect treat to bake for her birthday. Frosted cookies don’t mail well, but I was fortunate enough to be able to celebrate with Mom in person, as her birthday happened to be the first day of my parents’ annual California visit. I’m glad I had this idea, not only because everyone (and especially my mother) really enjoyed the cookies, but also because I probably wouldn’t have gotten around to making them if I hadn’t had such a festive semi-selfless excuse; frosted cookies are just so much more of a hassle than regular ones. Missing out on these tender, sunny sugar cookies with fluffy coconut-flavored frosting and crispy toasted coconut would have been a shame. After all, lemon and coconut are fave flavors of mine too…it must be genetic.

I used regular milk in the frosting because I didn’t want to open a whole can of coconut milk just for a spoonful of it, but if you happened to have some just sitting around, it would amp up the flavor even more—a triple coconut dose. The frosting turned out on the soft side, which, combined with the flakes of coconut on top, makes eating these a rather messy endeavor (they’re a little more tractable when frozen), but I didn’t want to add any more sugar to stiffen it because it was already quite sweet. It might have been cloying on its own, but the cookies themselves aren’t overly sugary, so together they balance out.

Cookies:
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons lemon zest
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Frosting:
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 tablespoon coconut milk (or regular milk)
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
  2. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Whisk and set aside.
  3. In another small bowl, add granulated sugar and lemon zest. Rub the sugar and lemon zest together with your fingers until fragrant.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl with a hand-held mixer), beat butter and sugar/lemon mixture together until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, vanilla, and fresh lemon juice. Mix until smooth.
  5. Slowly beat in flour mixture on low speed until blended.
  6. Drop dough by tablespoons onto prepared baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Gently flatten dough with the palm of your hand.
  7. Bake for 12-14 minutes or until cookies are just set and slightly golden brown. Cool cookies on baking sheet for 2 minutes and transfer to cooking racks. Cool completely.
  8. While the cookies are cooling, make the frosting. In a stand mixer (or using a hand-held mixer), mix together butter and sugar. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes. Add coconut extract and coconut milk (or regular milk). Beat on medium speed for 1 minute or until frosting is smooth and creamy. You may need to add a little more sugar or coconut milk, depending on your desired consistency.
  9. Once the cookies are out of the oven, turn the heat down to 325 and spread the coconut in a thin layer on a baking sheet. Put it in the oven just until light brown and fragrant, 5-10 minutes, stirring halfway through.
  10. Frost the cooled cookies and sprinkle toasted coconut on top.

Yields: About 2 dozen
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Great; store in an airtight container for several days at room temperature or indefinitely in the freezer.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

CHICKEN FAJITAS

















It’s been over a year since I resumed a five-days-a-week-in-the-office job after several blissful years of working partly from home, but I’m still struggling to strike the right balance in my weeknight cooking plans. On the one hand I have my hankering to experiment with new techniques and ingredients, make everything from scratch, and add content to my blog, and on the other I have my yearning for easy, quick, reliable recipes that allow me to have a little bit of evening free time left over when they’re done. For the most part, simplicity is winning. Baking, long braises, and instructions longer than 10 steps are out, old standbys are in, and at least one night a week I feel like just throwing something on a tortilla and calling it good.

Fajitas aren’t something I’ve routinely craved before now—they’re fun to order in a restaurant now and then, with the loudly sizzling pan and the extra joy of assembling them as you please—but quickly stir-fried and served with whatever fixings you have on hand, they make an excellent speedy dinner that doesn’t require too much thought. I tried a recipe sometime last year but it was lackluster, so I promptly forgot about the idea until this version appeared at Smitten Kitchen. It’s a little more effort because it involves a marinade—which you really should start the night before, if you think of it—but it delivers a lot more flavor and keeps the chicken deliciously tender. Prep all the toppings in advance of even turning on the stove, because the cooking itself is so fast you’ll be eating before you know it. I know the recipe doesn’t look like much, but it magically transforms into a perfect post-work meal.

1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons lime juice
1½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus extra to taste
1½ teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
1 garlic clove, minced
Small flour or corn tortillas
Olive oil
2 large bell peppers, cut into thin strips
1 large yellow or sweet onion, halved and sliced thinly
Toppings as desired (e.g., salsa, pico de gallo, sliced avocado, guacamole, shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped cilantro, pickled onions or jalapenos, lime wedges)
  1. To prepare the chicken, slice into thin strips (¼ to ½ inch wide). Place in a bowl or freezer bag. Add lime juice, 1½ teaspoon salt, oregano, cumin, chili powder, paprika and garlic and mix together. Let marinate for 30 minutes or up to 2 days in the fridge.
  2. 20 to 25 minutes before you’re ready to eat, heat the oven to 250 and wrap tortillas in foil. Set on oven rack to warm. Set out fixings of your choice.
  3. Heat a large skillet over high heat. When very hot, drizzle in some olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. When this is nearly smoking hot, add the peppers in a single layer. Wait. Try to get them a little charred underneath before you move them around. Once they’ve begun to brown, add the onions, plus some salt to taste. Wait again for some color to develop before you move them. When peppers are nicely charred in spots and onions have softened and sweetened, scrape mixture onto a plate or bowl to clear the skillet.
  4. Heat skillet again on a very high heat with a thin slick of olive oil. Spread chicken strips in as much of a single layer as you can. Wait until they brown underneath to move them. Saute strips, regularly pausing so that they can get some color, until cooked through, about 4 to 5 minutes. Return peppers and onions to skillet. Heat again until everything is sizzling.
  5. Spoon chicken mixture onto warm tortillas and add toppings of your choice.
Serves: 4-6
Time: 45 minutes, plus 30 minutes to 2 days of marinating
Leftover potential: Great; store chicken-pepper mixture, tortillas, and toppings separately.

Friday, June 13, 2014

SHREDDED BEEF TACOS

















After the smashing success of carnitas, I looked around eagerly for something else I could braise and stuff in a taco, and beef was the next logical choice. I remembered seeing (and bookmarking and unbookmarking a few times over the years) this recipe at The Way the Cookie Crumbles, and followed it back to its source at Use Real Butter. It’s only marginally more difficult than the carnitas: marinate the meat with vinegar, lime, garlic and spices; add liquid; bake the heck out of it until it falls apart in shreds; pile on tortillas and gorge.

The only challenge was finding “eye of chuck,” the cut particularly specified in the original recipe. This is where having access to an actual butcher would come in handy, especially if you are incapable of learning cuts of meat (as I seem to be, no matter how many times I look at those cow diagrams). I did the best I could and went to Whole Foods, where of course there was nothing actually labeled “eye of chuck,” but the very helpful man behind the counter immediately consulted his supervisor, who told us that it was a certain portion of the chuck roast closest to the rib, and instructed his employee exactly where to cut it off for me. Customer service at its finest!

Unsurprisingly, these tacos were as succulent and flavorful as I’d imagined, another “I can’t believe I just made that” hit. The beef would be just as good in a burrito, quesadilla, tostada, nachos or any other tortilla-related format. Now I just need to figure out a good braised-chicken taco and I’ll be set.

1½ pounds eye of chuck (chuck eye steak or chuck eye roast)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons white or cider vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
1½ teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup beef stock
Corn or flour tortillas
Toppings of your choice, such as salsa, guacamole, lettuce, cheese, etc.

1. Trim the fat off the beef and cut the meat into 1-inch-thick slices. In a zip-top bag, combine the oil, vinegar, lime juice, cumin, chili powder, salt, and garlic. Place the meat slices in the bag, seal, mix it around and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

2. Bring the meat to room temperature and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place all contents from the bag in a baking dish (a Dutch oven works well) with the beef stock. Cover the dish and bake for 1½ to 2½ hours. Let the meat rest for 10 minutes, then shred it with two forks.

3. Serve beef on tortillas with toppings of your choice.

Serves: 4-6
Time: 2-3 hours, plus marinating time
Leftover potential: Good.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

SOFT FROSTED SUGAR COOKIES

















As I’ve mentioned before, I have nostalgic feelings about sugar cookies. Most of my childhood memories involve the flat, crisp-chewy style with thin, glaze-like icing. I could never resist these in a bakery window, especially when they came in unusual shapes with elaborate decoration, like the faces of Sesame Street characters (bonus points for garish blue or green that stained my tongue); my particular favorite was the “cookie on a stick” I would always choose as my treat for behaving myself when my mom dragged out shopping at the mall. But later in life, mostly thanks to office holiday celebrations, I fell hard for the polar-opposite sugar cookie model, the fluffy, impossibly soft, buttercream-frosted ones found in grocery store bakery sections. Why do I find them so irresistible? It’s that pillowy cakelike texture, even when it verges on being too floury (and no doubt artificial-preservative-laden). I always felt a little gross after finishing one, but the first bite was sheer heaven.

So when a recipe popped up at Annie’s Eats that promised to replicate the super-soft sugar-cookie experience, I had to give it a try. These cookies really do feed that craving, satisfyingly thick and tender but without the dense, doughy, chalky quality the storebought ones can have. And the flavor is infinitely better, buttery and intensely vanilla-spiked.

My one stumble has been with the frosting, which has turned out smooth and glaze-like instead of thick and creamy both times I’ve made these. The first time (pink, for Valentine’s Day 2013; yes, I’ve been holding out on you that long) the finished cookies were so homely (er, “rustic”) that I didn’t even want to photograph them, but as soon as I realized how addictively delicious they are, I knew I’d have to try again so I could post them. I figured I had put too much milk in the frosting and tried to dial it back on the second attempt, but got the same result (this time in robin’s-egg blue, in honor of spring). The frosting is delicious and I have no desire to change it, but you’ll see that mine didn’t resemble Annie’s original picture or the store version.

It’s strange to say because I always consider myself a chocolate-chip fan, but these might be some of my favorite cookies ever. It’s kind of a problem how good they are. If you’re a soft sugar-cookie fan, try this recipe.

















Cookies:
4½ cups all-purpose flour
4½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoons salt
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups sugar
3 large eggs
5 teaspoons vanilla extract

Frosting:
5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/3 cup (5 1/3 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
7-8 tablespoons milk
Food coloring (optional)
Sprinkles (optional)
  1. To make the cookies, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, and whisk together to blend. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat together on medium-high speed until soft and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Blend in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add in the dry ingredients, mixing just until incorporated and evenly mixed. Cover and chill the dough for 1 hour.
  2. When you are ready to bake the cookies, scoop a scant quarter-cup of dough and roll into a ball. Flatten the ball slightly and place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, spacing the cookies at least 2-3 inches apart. Bake about 10-12 minutes or just until set. (Do not overbake! The edges should be no more than very lightly browned, if at all.) Let cool on the baking sheet for several minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  3. To frost the cookies, place the confectioners’ sugar in a medium bowl. Add the melted butter, vanilla, and milk to the bowl and whisk until smooth. Whisk in additional milk as necessary, 1 teaspoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency. Tint with food coloring if desired. Use an offset spatula or spoon to frost the cooled cookies. (If the frosting begins to thicken as you decorate, just continue to whisk in small amounts of milk to keep it workable.) Top with sprinkles if desired.
Yields: About 2 dozen large cookies
Time: 2 hours
Leftover potential: Great. I store mine in an airtight container in the freezer and they keep for weeks.