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.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

ROASTED TOMATO, KALE, AND FARRO SALAD

















I’m fond of farro, but not unconditionally; its appeal depends a lot on the company it keeps. The first time I tried it, in a salad with butternut squash, I didn’t like it. The second, third, and fourth times, with beef, mushrooms, and tomatoes, respectively, I loved it. But the fifth time, recently, with peaches and arugula (so pretty!), was less successful. Lesson learned: For me, the keys to a good farro dish are bold flavors, especially umami and acid. So when I saw a recipe online for orzo with roasted tomatoes and kale, I thought, “I bet that would work well with farro!”—and I was right.

Roasted tomatoes have become staples in my kitchen. They were on my list of favorite recipes of 2012, got added to a pizza that made the list in 2013, and are a major component of the pizza that will probably end up one of my 2014 greatest hits. It was actually that 2013 roasted tomato, kale, and feta pizza that inspired me to add feta to this salad, and its strong briny creaminess is another important counterbalance to the earthy, chewy farro. I amped up the tartness with a basic balsamic vinaigrette (the orzo recipe only had oil, no vinegar), and long story short, I loved the end result. It’s enough to inspire me to turn on the oven even in the dog days of summer, but it will also make a perfect winter salad during the long stretches when kale dominates the produce displays (particularly since you don’t need perfect in-season tomatoes for roasting; the insipid grocery-store kind do just as well). Grains and greens, cheese and caramelized tomatoes—what more can you ask for?

1 pound cherry or grape tomatoes (about 3 cups), halved
½ cup olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon maple syrup (preferably Grade B)
¾ teaspoon salt, divided, plus extra to taste
1 cup uncooked farro
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 small garlic clove, minced
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 bunch Tuscan kale, stemmed and thinly sliced
About 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the cherry tomatoes on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. In a small bowl, whisk together ¼ cup olive oil, maple syrup, and ½ teaspoon 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.)
  2. While the tomatoes roast, in a medium saucepan combine the farro and enough cold water to cover it by about an inch. Soak for 20 minutes. Drain well and return the farro to the pan, again covering it with cold water. Add a few generous pinches of salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, until the farro is tender but still has some bite. Drain well and spread on a clean baking sheet to cool.
  3. While farro is cooking and cooling, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, ¼ teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, and ¼ cup olive oil in a small bowl until emulsified.
  4. Place the shredded kale in a large bowl and toss with about half the dressing. Mix well with your hands and let sit for at least 15 minutes until softened.
  5. When the farro and tomatoes have cooled to room temperature, add them to the kale along with the rest of the dressing. Crumble in feta to taste and toss well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serves: 4-5
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: Great.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

BLUEBERRY PEACH CRUMBLE

















It wouldn’t be summer without another new blueberry recipe in the wake of our annual blueberry-picking expedition. Thanks to the extra-warm weather this year, the blueberries were ahead of season and already getting sparse when we made the trip to Somis in late June, which helped keep our haul at a reasonable level (around 7 pounds). One batch of blueberry jam, one blueberry-corn salad and a lot of eating by the handful left us with only a modest amount that need to be creatively used up, so I found this recipe at Two Peas and Their Pod to help us out.

Fruit crisps and crumbles are always delicious and are hardly rocket science, but this one especially floats my boat with just the right amount of sweetness and seasoning (lemon, vanilla, cinnamon—and I always add a little cardamom too, Swede that I am). I love the addition of peaches to cut the intensity of the cooked blueberries.

The original recipe says to peel the peaches, but if you’re lazy like me and don’t mind a more rustic texture, you can skip it. In other lazy news, I just mix the filling right in the baking dish instead of dirtying another bowl. Vanilla ice cream would make a magnificent topping, but I had some leftover heavy cream in the fridge, and a little bit splashed over the warm fruit was pretty incredible too.

Filling:
2 cups blueberries
2½ cups sliced peaches (about 4 large peaches), peeled if desired
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
Topping:
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons cold butter, diced
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a 2-quart ceramic or glass baking dish, combine blueberries, sliced peaches, lemon juice, lemon zest, vanilla extract, granulated sugar, and flour. Gently toss until fruit is well coated. Let the fruit mixture sit while you prepare the topping.
  3. For the topping, in a large bowl, combine the flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt, and cinnamon. Stir together with a whisk. Mix in the butter with your fingers until the mixture comes together and you have big crumbles.
  4. Sprinkle the crumble mixture evenly over the fruit. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the top is browned and crisp and the juices are bubbly. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Serves: 6-8
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good. Refrigerate leftovers in airtight containers and either eat them cold or reheat them in the microwave.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

BAKED EGGS WITH SPINACH AND MUSHROOMS

















This feels a little anticlimactic after the big Potato Salad Revelation. I thought the recipe (from Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen) sounded a little boring, but useful: one of those easy, cozy egg dishes that can be whipped up with little energy and on short notice—the first day back from vacation, say, when the fridge is nearly bare and you just want to grab a few things at the store and throw something together. Spinach, mushrooms, and eggs…what’s not to like? Er, unless you don’t like one of those three things. But I like all of them and know they go well together, in a non-earthshattering kind of way.

Except I was pleasantly surprised by how much flavor is packed into this dish and how much we enjoyed it. Not to mention it’s relaxingly flexible—I used more spinach and mushrooms because those were the package sizes I’d bought and I wanted to use them up, and it was just fine—and can be scaled up to serve six or more, making it just as nice for brunchtime entertaining as for a lazy weekday dinner. The only flaw is that my eggs have turned out too hard both times so far, but that’s easily fixed with a bit more attentiveness; I’ll try them after 5 minutes next time instead of the original 7 to 10. And even oversolid, they still tasted great, so no big deal. Apparently it even makes good leftovers, although I’ve yet to try that. All in all, this recipe is a good reminder that sometimes basic food can be best.

10-12 ounces baby spinach leaves
¼ cup finely chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
5-8 ounces cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/3 cup heavy cream
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Bring ½ inch water to a boil in a 10- to 12-inch ovenproof heavy skillet (not cast-iron), then add half of spinach and cook, turning with tongs, until wilted, about 30 seconds. Add remaining spinach and wilt in same manner, then cook, covered, over medium-high heat until spinach is tender, about 2 minutes. Drain in a colander and cool under cold running water. Gently squeeze handfuls of spinach to remove as much liquid as possible, then coarsely chop.
  3. Wipe skillet dry, then melt butter over medium-low heat and cook onion and garlic, stirring, until softened, 2 to 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and increase heat to medium, then cook, stirring, until mushrooms are softened and have exuded liquid, about 3 minutes. Stir in cream, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and chopped spinach and bring to a simmer.
  4. Remove skillet from heat and make 4 large indentations in spinach mixture. Break an egg into each indentation and bake, uncovered, until egg whites are set but yolks are still runny, 5 to 10 minutes. (Check them after 5 minutes.) Lightly season eggs with salt and pepper, then sprinkle with cheese.
Serves: 2 (can be doubled or tripled as needed)
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Untried by me, but word on the street says it’s decent.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

POTATO SALAD

















I’ve mentioned at least four times on this site that I hate potato salad, usually in the context of…trying another potato salad recipe. Two of those haven’t really stayed in my life, while two more have become old favorites, but none were traditional American mayo-based potato salad, which I still thought repulsed me until I saw this recipe at Two Peas and Their Pod (shared, ironically, by another former potato-salad hater). And it looked delicious! Who even am I anymore?

Ever since I started making my own mayonnaise, my feelings about it have slowly shifted from revulsion through tolerance to outright enjoyment (of the homemade stuff only; for any mayonnaise encountered outside my own kitchen I’m still stuck somewhere between revulsion and tolerance). Now that it’s summer, I find myself with a bowl of mayo in the fridge almost constantly so that I can enjoy my favorite seasonal meal, BLTs and corn on the cob, as often as possible. But since my nice preservative-free mayo won’t last forever, I’m always looking for ways to use up the dregs of a batch. So I looked at this potato salad recipe and realized it would accomplish that, while also containing a bunch of other ingredients I now enjoy: eggs (cold eggs also used to repel me), mustard (hated it as a child), pickles, dill…. Yeah, this was really happening. I was craving potato salad.

I thought it seemed odd that the recipe called for russet potatoes, since the standard wisdom seems to be that red ones are best for salads. I did a bit of Googling, however, and found an article at Serious Eats demonstrating that the granular, open texture of russets absorbs seasoning far better. Sold! I should have read the rest more closely, though, and followed its potato-cooking method, because the directions from the Two Peas recipe (cut potatoes in half, boil them, then cut into chunks) didn’t really work out—I thought it seemed suspect but gamely followed instructions, and as I feared the pieces varied widely in texture, with some still a bit crunchy while others were crumbly. The second time around (spoiler: I liked this enough to make it again), I followed the Serious Eats findings for optimal potato texture (cut into chunks before boiling, add salt and vinegar to the water, and sprinkle a bit more vinegar over the warm potatoes so they absorb the flavor) and everything turned out perfectly. The only other tweak I made was to add a bit of dill pickle juice to the salad for more acidic brightness.

Folks, I know I’m no potato salad expert, but I’m pretty sure this is the best one around. Cutting the mayo with Greek yogurt lightens it up a bit, I love the crunch of the celery and pickles, and the salty-creamy-tart elements are perfectly balanced. This is a bit of a dangerous discovery, because I think I could eat this stuff all the time. I would be questioning my whole identity at this point, except I don’t think we can count me as an unabashed potato salad lover quite yet. I tried someone else’s at a barbecue recently and felt indifferent. And who knows? Maybe diehard potato salad fans will try this and be unimpressed (although I really don’t think so). All I know is that it’s the right one for me.

2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½- to ¾-inch cubes
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus extra to taste
2 tablespoons vinegar (white, wine wine, or rice wine work well)
½ cup plain Greek yogurt
1/3 cup mayonnaise (for best results, use homemade)
1 tablespoon yellow ballpark mustard
1 tablespoon whole-grain Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ teaspoon paprika
½ cup chopped green onions
½ cup finely chopped celery
1/3 cup finely chopped dill pickles, plus pickling liquid to taste (optional)
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill

1. Add 2 quarts water to a large saucepan. Add potatoes, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, and 1 tablespoon vinegar. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Drain potatoes and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Spread them into an even layer, then sprinkle with 1 tablespoon vinegar. Allow to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes, then place the potatoes in a large bowl.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, mustards, and paprika. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Pour the dressing over the potatoes and gently stir with a spatula until the potatoes are well coated. Add the onions, celery, pickles, pickle juice to taste if desired (start with about a tablespoon), eggs, and dill. Gently stir again. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serves: 5-6
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Great.

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).