Tuesday, December 04, 2007

CRISPY ROASTED KALE


Roasted kale in foreground (man, I love the “macro” setting on my camera—you can see the individual grains of salt!), spicy roast chicken and tomatoes in background.

When we were studying abroad in England 10 years (ack!) ago, A and I discovered a new favorite appetizer at Chinese restaurants. Described simply as “crispy seaweed” on the menu, it was a huge pile of shredded green leaves, warm, salty, and, magically, crunchy (it was probably fried). The texture was brittle and paper-thin, melting in your mouth almost immediately. Like edamame, they were an incredibly addictive snack. I don’t know what possessed us to first order this dish—or maybe it arrived free on the table before our meal, like a bread basket?—but we were instantly hooked, ordering it every time we visited London’s Chinatown. It was on the menu of every restaurant we went to there, but we’ve never seen it again since returning to the U.S. We were starting to feel like maybe we just dreamed it, and then we had roasted kale.

Make this. It’s barely even a recipe at all. It doesn’t matter whether you like kale or not (we’re not sure whether we do yet). It’s one of the easiest, most amazing transformations you can achieve with just three ingredients and an oven. I found it floating around on the Internet when I was desperate for recipes to use up my CSA kale, and now I’m actually considering buying more kale at the farmers’ market just so we can have this again. After we cleaned our plates, A, who is eternally suspicious of leafy greens, even said wistfully, “I wish we had more kale.” Now that’s a testimonial.

Some recipes note that any firm, leafy green works fine in this recipe, so I might try substituting collards or Swiss chard if any of them cross my path.

1 bunch of kale
olive oil
coarse sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Wash the kale and trim it by stripping each half of the leaves away from the tough center stems.

3. Place leaves on a baking sheet and toss with olive oil to coat (I used about a tablespoon).

4. Spread leaves in a single layer and roast for 5 minutes. Turn the leaves over and roast another 5-10 minutes until kale begins to brown and is thin and brittle. Remove from oven and sprinkle generously with sea salt.

Serves 2

THE CSA EXPERIMENT: WEEK 5

The cast of characters:

more chubby carrots
fresh rosemary
1 kabocha squash
2 turnips
1 head lettuce
½ bunch tatsoi
½ bunch kale
½ bunch arugula
½ bunch broccoli rabe

First, an update from last time: after baking and eating the red kuri squash, I decided I wasn’t that into it. I mean, it tasted fine; it tasted pretty much like…squash. But with a firmer, flakier texture than I like. It was fun to try it, and maybe it would benefit from different preparation, but I’ll just go back to my new favorite, delicata, thankyouverymuch.

Oh wait, but first I have to try the kabocha that’s sitting in my kitchen. I made an executive decision to wait until next week to eat it (and also the turnips), because (a) we’ve been eating an awful lot of squash lately, and (b) we’re currently too busy drowning in all these greens we’ve been given. Five kinds of greens, as you may notice, all (except the lettuce) still rather unfamiliar to us and all threatening to go wilty at any moment. Planning the menu last Friday and trying to include all these greens was a major challenge. Still, I do think I’ve acquitted myself admirably, if I do say so. On Saturday night we tackled the broccoli rabe, something I’d heard much about but never eaten before. There wasn’t enough of it to make a really broccoli-rabe-featuring recipe, so instead I used it to top some sausage sandwiches. Improvising loosely from a recipe I found online, I split two Italian chicken sausage links in half and pan-fried them until browned. Meanwhile, I blanched the broccoli rabe for a few minutes, plunged it into ice water to stop the cooking, and then sautéed it with a little olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper. I split a loaf of ciabatta, brushed the cut halves with olive oil, baked them for a few minutes until crisp, topped them with thinly sliced fresh mozzarella and let it melt, then added the sausage and broccoli rabe and topped with the other half of the bread. The sandwiches were pretty tasty, and although I wasn’t always sure I could taste the broccoli rabe, occasionally a mustardy tang came through that complemented the sausage very well.

On Sunday night (and again with leftovers at lunchtime on Monday) we ate huge salads alongside our macaroni and cheese, dispatching all of the lettuce and most of the arugula. Last night, to accompany our chicken breasts (which were seasoned with some of the fresh rosemary), we attempted roasted kale, which was awesome (I’ll post the recipe with a photo later). Tomorrow, I’ll throw the tatsoi into some mini-meatball soup (into which the chubby carrots will also go). Thursday, we’ll try topping a pizza with the arugula pesto that’s still in my freezer. Besides the turnips and squash, that will just leave us with a little fresh arugula. If it survives until the weekend, I’d like to see how it tastes on BLTs. I guess this crazy winter greens overload isn’t so bad!

Friday, November 16, 2007

THE CSA EXPERIMENT: WEEK 4



clockwise from lower left:
6 adorably fat carrots
1 head lettuce
½ bunch arugula
1 red kuri squash
½ bunch red Russian kale
½ bunch tatsoi
1 bunch cilantro
15 red and yellow cherry tomatoes

(P got parsley in exchange for my cilantro, mixed salad greens for the lettuce, and a delicate squash for the kuri. Everything else we split evenly down the middle.)

I finally remembered to photograph my haul this week. And isn’t it pretty, all the oranges and greens? Oh, so many greens! I feel slightly oppressed by them, considering they all need to be used before we fly to Minnesota on Tuesday night. But I’ve got a plan. This weekend I’m going to try this recipe for arugula pesto and cleverly freeze it and use it later. I might also try processing the cilantro with a little bit of oil and freezing that, to drop into soups or something later. With the last box, the cilantro was the one thing that I didn’t end up using, and it had to be thrown away. I hate wasting food, but I admit I can be a little careless with my herbs. I usually buy a couple kinds per week and end up throwing at least part of each bunch away at the end of the week. With fresh, locally grown herbs available at the farmers’ market here all year round for just a dollar, it’s hard to remind myself to try preserving what I don’t use. But I’m reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and feeling inspired. The book is really good, by the way—like Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, it will forever change the way you eat and shop, but it’s a little less of a downer. Also, it’s totally persuading me to try making my own mozzarella sometime!

The carrots and tomatoes can just go directly into my mouth. I’m thinking I’ll throw the lettuce and tatsoi into a salad to accompany cheesy baked potatoes on Sunday night, cook up the kale with some garlicky white beans (a Jack Bishop recipe I’ve been meaning to try) on Monday night with baked squash on the side, and maybe use whatever remains of the lettuce to make BLTs on Tuesday night before we leave for the airport.

I’m really excited about the red kuri squash, another one I’d never heard of before (of course, what I know about winter squash besides butternut and acorn could fit on the head of a pin, considering I was an adamant squash-hater for at least 20 years of my life). The Internet tells me that this type of squash originally hails from Japan and is less sweet than other winter squashes, with “a dry and velvety flesh and a mild, salty flavor,” or “very smooth and creamy flesh with a savory chestnut-like flavor,” depending on who you talk to. I’ll let you know!

Monday, November 12, 2007

GREEN BEANS WITH GINGER BUTTER


I don’t have a photo, but I made this side dish for the second or third time last night (to accompany this red lentil soup* and some really nice dark, dense whole-wheat seeded bread from Whole Foods) and was reminded how awesome it is, and thus how much I need to tell you about it. I’m pretty sure the recipe is from Ye Old Standby, Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop. I love green beans and would never have thought to pair them with ginger. I think it’s the addition of lemon that makes them so addictive to me, though. Better still, it's so quick and easy you can whip it up while your chicken or fish or whatever main dish finishes cooking.

*The soup was really good, a nice change of pace for me (I've never had red lentils before), easy to make, wholesome, and just right on the spiciness scale. But I don't think I love it quite enough to add it to my repertoire, so I'll just let Sassy Radish tell you about it instead.

1 pound green beans, trimmed
1 1½-inch-long piece fresh ginger
1½ tablespoons butter
Finely grated zest from ¼ lemon
¼ teaspoon salt

1. Cook beans in 4 quarts boiling salted water, uncovered, until just tender, 5–8 minutes (depending on thickness). Drain in a colander and wash under cold running water to stop cooking. Drain beans again and pat dry.

2. Peel ginger and halve crosswise, then thinly slice lengthwise and cut into very thin matchsticks.

3. Heat butter in a nonstick skillet over medium heat until foam subsides, then cook ginger, stirring, until golden, about 3 minutes.

4. Add beans and cook, stirring, until just heated through, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add zest and salt, tossing to combine.

Serves 4

Thursday, November 08, 2007

HONEY-ROASTED SQUASH WEDGES


I had three-fourths of a butternut squash in the refrigerator, left over from last week’s pizza. I had a jar of delicious CSA honey. And I had this recipe. It hadn’t looked especially exciting to me when I first saw it, but I dutifully photocopied it from the library’s copy of Martha Stewart Living Annual Recipes 2002, figuring it might come in handy if the CSA stuck me with a bunch of weird winter squash. It’s practically a no-brainer to put butter, cinnamon, and salt and pepper on squash, but what a difference the honey made. The result was tender squash coated in a sticky, chewy, spiced glaze, so sweet it could have been dessert. As A exclaimed, “It’s like candy—with vitamins in it!” This was not only delicious, it was also beyond simple to make: just mix ingredients and bake. The baking time is just long enough for you to prepare something to go with the squash (I made zucchini fritters; with some pears on the side, it was an odd jumble of fallish food that somehow managed to work together). If you slice your squash thinner than the 2 inches recipe calls for, as I impatiently did, it’ll bake even quicker.

The original recipe calls for acorn squash, but I think any winter squash would work just fine. I peeled my partial butternut squash, cut it in half and seeded it, and sliced it into ½-inch-thick slices—which, predictably, became very soft and brown very fast in the oven. In the future, I think I’d split the difference and go with 1-inch-thick slices. I’ll also add a little cardamom to the honey-butter mixture next time, because I freakin’ love cardamom. Regardless, this is definitely going to be one of my go-to squash recipes from now on.

2 acorn squash, or equivalent amount of any other winter squash
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pinch ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the squash in half through the stem end and remove the seeds (you can peel the squash if desired; of the squashes I regularly use, I know that butternuts and delicata should be peeled, while acorns and sweet dumplings don't need to be). Cut each half into 1-to-2-inch-thick slices and place the slices in a large roasting pan (I used a baking sheet coated with tin foil, because burning sugar always makes a mess).

2. Mix together the melted butter, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Pour over the squash and toss well (or, since the honey mixture is pretty thick, painting it on with a pastry brush might work well, too). Roast the squash, tossing occasionally, until tender and golden brown (about 30 minutes).

Serves: 2–4
Time: 50 minutes

Monday, November 05, 2007

SMOKED SAUSAGE, KALE, AND POTATO SOUP



(Sorry about the blurry photo. It was dark, Amazing Race was on, and I just wanted to eat. Even as I snapped the shutter, I was already leaning away to grab a spoon and dig in.)

It’s funny how much more spontaneous and improvisational I am with the CSA food than with the food I actually choose myself. Because it’s bonus food, surprise food, I’m much more willing to play fast and loose with it. I wouldn’t normally have bookmarked this recipe in Bon Appetit, but with some kale burning a hole in my pocket it suddenly sounded like a good bet. (Admittedly, I figured that just in case it turned out I didn’t like the taste of the kale or totsoi, spicy smoked sausage makes everything taste better. Also, the caraway seeds intrigued me; I love them in rye bread. Mmm, suddenly I want a patty melt.) And I wouldn’t normally have made this many adjustments to a recipe I was trying for the very first time, but since I was only making the recipe out of expediency—just this one time, to use up the kale, not to add to my permanent repertoire—I was feeling reckless. In doubling the original recipe from two servings to four, I increased some quantities (sausage, chicken broth, potatoes, caraway) but not others (wine, kale). I threw in an onion and some garlic too, because it seemed like that would make it taste better. And of course, I was using a mix of Russian red kale and totsoi. Anything could happen! I made a couple of loaves of no-knead bread (photo added!) and some apple crisp to round out the meal, just in case.

Well, the joke’s on me, because I loved this soup. It was quick, it was easy, it tasted good. It was hearty, great for the first day off of Daylight Savings when it suddenly gets dark at 5 PM, great with the crusty bread to mop up the savory broth. Every choice I made was the right one. I’d even make it again, even if I didn’t have kale to use up. I think you could use just about any green—spinach, chard—but heck, I’d go ahead and willingly buy kale to make this again. The totsoi was good, too. I’m not sure I could tell the difference between them once they were cooked, but I nibbled on a few raw totsoi leaves and thought they’d make a nice salad.

It’s still true, though. Spicy smoked sausage makes everything taste better. I used a Cajun-style chicken andouille from Trader Joe’s. Also, I diced the potatoes instead of slicing them. I don’t know why. Who cares? I’m a cook gone wild!

8 ounces smoked fully cooked sausage (such as kielbasa or andouille), sliced into rounds
1 onion, minced
1–2 large garlic cloves, minced
5½ cups good-quality low-salt chicken broth, preferably homemade
1½ pounds small red-skinned potatoes, cut into small dice
1 cup dry white wine
5 cups thinly sliced trimmed kale leaves (or other greens)
½ teaspoon caraway seeds, lightly crushed
salt and pepper to taste

1. Saute sausage slices with onion and garlic in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat until onion is softened and sausage is beginning to brown. Add chicken broth, potatoes, and white wine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer until potatoes are almost tender, about 10 minutes.

2. Add kale and caraway seeds to soup and simmer, uncovered, until potatoes and kale are very tender, about 10 minutes longer. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serves: 4–5
Time: 40 minutes

Thursday, November 01, 2007

THE CSA EXPERIMENT: WEEK 3

Good news! The farm didn’t burn, though there was some crop damage (and significant damage to Southern California agriculture in general, particularly the poor avocado groves). I’m so grateful for that, and for the workers who donned masks and goggles in the soot-filled fields to harvest this week’s box, which arrived as scheduled yesterday. My share is:

2 sweet dumpling squash
1 head garlic
1 bag baby lettuce salad mix
1 bunch cilantro
4 adorably fat, squat carrots with tops
8 small tomatoes (mixed grape, cherry, and plum)
½ bunch red Russian kale
½ bunch tatsoi
8 ounces fresh raw honey!

We split mostly everything down the middle this week, except P got Romaine lettuce, arugula, and a pumpkin in exchange for my squash, garlic, salad mix, and cilantro. A lot of this stuff is starting to get familiar now, but as usual there are some standouts that promise to challenge my kitchen skills and my palate: the kale and the tatsoi. No idea what I’m going to do with those yet. Soup, maybe? I’m most excited about the squash, which I fell in love with last week, and of course the honey!

Update from Week 2: I ended up roasting the beets along with some sweet potatoes and the CSA red and purple potatoes, to accompany Roast Lemon Chicken With Honey Glaze. After I peeled them and roasted them they were just five tiny red mouthfuls. As I bit into the first one, I was reminded that I always think beets taste like dirt. Even though they’re sweet, they’re just overwhelmingly earthy. I ate them and didn’t mind them, but they didn’t compare favorably to the roasted potatoes—and especially the sweet potatoes, which I’m really starting to like. Dear CSA Santa: Could you manage to slip a few of those into a future delivery?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

PESTO PIZZA WITH BUTTERNUT SQUASH


Another delicious way for me to use Trader Joe’s pizza dough, courtesy of Cooking Light. Last night was the second time I tried this recipe; the first time, I foolishly disregarded the recipe directions and prebaked the pizza crust for a while before adding the toppings, as I habitually do when making tomato-sauce-covered pizza (I must have been tired, because if I’d been thinking straight I would have realized that this is much closer to asparagus flatbread than to ordinary pizza, with no sauce to keep it moist). Surprise, surprise, it ended up over-browned and a bit dry, still OK-tasting but overall uninspiring, and given such a flawed first attempt, I couldn’t decide whether the recipe was a keeper or not. Of course, when I made it again and actually followed the instructions, it turned out perfectly done, with just the right balance between crispy and chewy. Adding ingredients to the raw dough not only prevented overbaking, but also allowed the cheese and pesto to bake deliciously into the crust. I suppose you could experiment with other ingredients or seasonings (sage instead of dried oregano, maybe?), but I think the different flavors (sweet squash, acidic tomatoes, garlicky pesto, salty cheese) blend together admirably. So, to recap: tasty, moderately healthy, and pretty darn easy to make, especially if, like me, you use premade dough and happen to have some homemade pesto stored in your freezer (I can’t in good conscience recommend that you use store-bought pesto, but do what you must).

One change I did safely make to the recipe was to use chopped fresh tomato instead of canned. With meaty heirlooms still in season at the farmers’ market, I just couldn’t resist. I might consider slicing them instead of dicing them next time, just for a prettier effect and more uniform texture. I also think I’ll try brown sugar instead of white next time. It’s traditional to pair it with squash, and it creates such a better caramelized flavor.

Also, don’t skimp on the squash or cut it too thin. The first time, my slices were too thin (apparently, ¼ inch is bigger than I think) and quite a few burned to a crisp during the initial roasting, leaving me with not much to put on my pizza. This time, I cut about 12 slices from the stem end of the squash (the solid part, that is; I saved the part with the seeds for another use), experimenting with varying thicknesses, then cut each squash round in half to make half-circles. After roasting, I was able to pick and choose the best ones for my pizza, rejecting the few that were too thin and overbrowned or thick and underdone. I used as many as would fit comfortably on the rectangle of dough, which was nearly all of them, which is probably more than the recipe calls for, but hey, if you’re going to make a squash pizza, make a squash pizza! It’s good for you.

About ½ pound butternut squash, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon olive oil, plus a little extra
pizza dough for one pizza (1 lb)
½ cup shredded fontina or Gouda cheese
1 tomato, diced or sliced, or 1 (14.5-ounce) can finely chopped tomatoes, drained
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ cup pesto
½ cup grated fresh Romano or Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Combine squash slices with sugar and 1 teaspoon olive oil in a medium bowl and toss well. Spread squash on a baking sheet coated with a little olive oil (I also coat mine with tin foil, just to minimize mess and sticking). Bake for 20 minutes or until squash is tender.

3. Remove squash from oven and set aside. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees.

4. Roll out pizza dough to desired size and shape. Sprinkle fontina or Gouda over dough, leaving a ½-inch border. Top with squash slices, tomatoes, and oregano. Drop pesto by level teaspoons onto pizza, then sprinkle with Romano or Parmesan. Bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes or until browned.

Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour

Friday, October 26, 2007

THE CSA EXPERIMENT: WEEK 2

Yes, I realize it’s nearly Week 3, but things have been crazy in SoCal lately, what with half of it being on fire and all. In fact, our poor CSA farm is in the fire danger zone and has been evacuated, although as far as we know it hasn’t been burned, thankfully. No word on when CSA box deliveries will resume, but as far as I’m concerned, they can keep my money and use it to rebuild/replant whatever they need to. Tierra Miguel, we’re thinking of you and hoping you're safe!

Box 2 was a bit more relaxing to deal with than Box 1, since less of the food was immediately perishable. My share of the box contained:

4 carrots with tops
celery
5 small red potatoes and 2 medium purple potatoes
cilantro
5 small beets
2 winter squash (which, after some Googling, I identified as delicata and sweet dumpling, respectively)
mixed cherry and grape and other small tomatoes
garlic
salad mix

There was also an onion, cabbage, arugula, basil, and two white potatoes, but I foisted those on P in exchange for having the squash, beets, celery, and cilantro all to myself.

The results so far: The carrots, celery, and tomatoes have all been eaten as tasty snacks. The cilantro, garlic, and some potatoes got used in the course of normal cooking. The salad mix was delightful—I’m not a pro at identifying greens, but they resembled baby lettuce: some green, some purple, and some a very cool-looking green-and-purple striped variety I’ve never seen before. We ate as much as we could, but it was a big bag and some of it went bad and had to be thrown out. I roasted the little winter squashes last night with a little butter and brown sugar, and boy were they delicious. I’d never had either variety before (sweet dumpling seems basically the same as delicata, but it’s round instead of oblong). They were pretty, delicately ridged, mostly cream-colored but with green stripes between the ridges. The flesh was firm and yellow, and had almost a nutty taste, less sweet than I expected. My only complaint was that they were so small—I devoured an entire one as a side dish and wished for more. I’ll definitely be buying them at the farmers’ market in the future, or arm-wrestling P for them if they arrive in our CSA box again.

The beets, which I admit I’m suspicious of, remain to be tackled. I’ll tell you all about the adventure as soon as it happens.

ALMOND-CRUSTED SALMON


(shown with Herbed Basmati Rice and Roasted Asparagus)

Thanks to Cooking Light, here’s another recipe to help use up my big bag of almond meal. Even though it wasn’t crazy-unique stop-the-presses good, it was easy and tasty enough to warrant recommendation to you. I’m not a completely enthusiastic fish eater, so I usually like my salmon more aggressively seasoned—with pesto, for example—but the simple flavors in this recipe were pleasant. (I’m not sure it lived up to the tempting promise of “toasted flavor reminiscent of browned butter” in the recipe description, however…toasted almonds, maybe.) The texture of the coating was the most appealing element to me, uniformly crisp and a great contrast with the tender fish within.

In my usual anxiety about trying new recipes (after all, what if it’s bland and we hate it and we starve to death?), I went hog-wild and served the salmon with a whopping two side dishes—another new Cooking Light recipe, Herbed Basmati Rice, plus the old standby of roasted asparagus. (I know, I know, asparagus is most definitely not in season. I’ll admit I bought it from the stoners at the farmers’ market who grow it year-round in a greenhouse, no doubt as camouflage for their massive marijuana-plant operation. But it’s good quality, and locally produced, so that counts for something, right?) Gone are the days when I plopped a one-dish meal onto the table every night—does that mean I’m finally becoming an adult? It means I’m a genius, anyway, because the three dishes in this scarily grown-up meal complemented one another perfectly, so that even though the salmon and the rice weren’t taste revelations, they added up to a dinner that was, as A put it, “more than the sum of its parts.” And quite healthy, to boot. I win again!

Postscript, December 2009: Yet I've never made this recipe again. I guess it's the dreaded "Not Favorites" label for you, Almond-Crusted Salmon!

¼ cup almond meal
¼ cup panko
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets, about 1 inch thick, with skin on
2 teaspoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
olive oil or cooking spray
4 lemon wedges, for garnish


1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

2. Combine almond meal, panko, coriander, and cumin in a shallow dish and set aside.

3. Brush tops and side of fish with lemon juice and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Working with one fillet at a time, dredge top and sides with almond mixture and place skin side down on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray (I used a baking sheet covered in tin foil and lightly coated with olive oil. When all four fillets are coated, sprinkle any remaining crumb mixture evenly over fish, pressing gently to adhere.

4. Bake for 15 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Serve with lemon wedges.

Serves: 4
Time: 20 minutes

HERBED BASMATI RICE


(shown with Almond-Crusted Salmon and Roasted Asparagus)

I’m not a huge rice fan, and consequently, I’m not very good at making it. If you want underdone rice that sticks to the bottom of the pot, I’m your woman. But I do enjoy the nutty taste and less starchy texture of basmati rice, and this recipe intrigued me with its flavorful additions (garlic, chicken broth, pine nuts, green onions, herbs, and cheese) and different cooking method (the rice is sauteed in a skillet instead of being boiled in a saucepan, which helps it cook faster and seems as though it would solve my sticking-to-the-pan problem. So I made it as an accompaniment to Almond-Crusted Salmon, and it turned out to be the best rice I’ve ever made (though considering how rarely I make rice, this isn’t so much of an achievement). I still had some of the underdone/pan-sticking problem (the liquid always seems to disappear to early—what’s my problem? Does the lid not fit tightly enough, or am I stirring the rice prematurely?), but it was fluffy and tasted good. White rice usually seems boring to me except as a backdrop for Thai or Chinese or Indian food, but the extra ingredients here added plenty of interest. It was easy to make, and most importantly, it went perfectly with the salmon. I might not be rushing out to make this over and over again, but I would wholeheartedly serve this particular combination again.

Postscript, December 2009: ...But I haven't. Just don't like rice enough, it turns out. This may be my favorite rice recipe, but since it's not in my regular rotation, it's consigned to "Not Favorites."

¼ cup pine nuts
1 teaspoon olive oil, or to taste
1 cup uncooked basmati rice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup water
1 cup chicken broth
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup green onions
3 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Toast pine nuts in a medium skillet over medium heat. Remove pine nuts and set aside.

2. In the same skillet, heat olive oil (I might have used more like 2 teaspoons) over medium-high heat. Add rice and garlic to the pan and sauté 2 minutes or until rice is lightly toasted. Add water, broth, and salt to pan, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.

3. Remove from heat; let stand 5 minutes. Stir in onions, pine nuts, Parmesan, basil, thyme, and pepper.

Serves: 6
Time: 30 minutes

Thursday, October 11, 2007

COLESLAW FOR COLESLAW HATERS

I was a bit resentful that my very first CSA delivery contained cabbage, but mollified by the fact that the CSA newsletter contained this palatable-sounding recipe for it. I made it on Sunday night, along with meatloaf and slow-cooked carrots, and it was…not bad. I’m not saying I’m going to actually intentionally buy cabbages to make this again in the future, but if cabbages appear on my doorstep or I have to cook a summery picnic meal for a group of coleslaw fans, this is certainly the recipe I would turn to. It didn’t taste like cabbage, and it wasn’t drowning in mayonnaise (ew, mayonnaise); in fact, it seemed more like a fresh shredded cabbage-and-veggie salad with a lightly creamy sweet-and-sour dressing, a far cry from that drippy white stuff I think of as coleslaw. But while I might have eaten my Sunday-night serving with grudging admiration, and A claimed to heartily enjoy it as well, the leftovers still sit uneaten in our fridge. We coleslaw-hating leopards can’t change our spots overnight, you know.

1 small head green cabbage, shredded (about 6 cups)
1 large carrot, grated (about 1 cup)
½ cup green onions, chopped (green parts only)
¼ cup minced fresh chives
¼ cup buttermilk
2–3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1½ tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon (or to taste) dry mustard powder
1–2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Toss the cabbage, carrots, green onions, and chives in a large bowl.

2. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together all remaining ingredients. Pour this dressing over the cabbage mixture and stir well.

3. Allow salad to rest for at least 2 hours to allow the flavors to blend.

Serves: 6–8
Time: 15 minutes (plus 2 hours for flavors to blend)

Friday, October 05, 2007

THE CSA EXPERIMENT: WEEK 1

Months after being inspired by Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, my friend P and I have finally gone ahead and joined a local community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. We’re both regular farmers’-market-goers, but this takes eating organically and locally to a whole new level: we are now essentially shareholders in the Tierra Miguel Farm near San Diego, receiving our dividends in the form of regular deliveries of seasonal organic produce assortments. We’re starting cautiously, sharing a box every other week until the end of the year, but if we like it, we can sign up for a longer period or more frequent (weekly) deliveries. As awesome as I think CSAs are, I definitely have some reservations about giving up this much control over my shopping, menu planning, and cooking. For a die-hard planner like me, this is difficult. I’m at the mercy of whatever the box happens to contain—and while one of the perks of living in California is that our CSA continues all year round, as winter approaches our boxes are bound to contain some of the less glamorous, harder-to-love members of the veggie world. The coolest yet most terrifying aspect of the whole enterprise is that I’ll be confronted with a series of foods I haven’t cooked with before, and perhaps haven’t historically liked very much (beets, kale, cabbage, I’m looking at you). Of course, if I remember to write about them, these new challenges could be interesting fodder for this site and quite entertaining for those of you following along at home. Watch a recovering picky eater sample new foods! Watch new recipes tested or even improvised! Watch me learn important lessons about the joy of spontaneity! It’ll be like a cross between Iron Chef and an ABC Afterschool Special!

The plan is that P will pick up our CSA delivery every other Wednesday, divvy up the goods, and bring my share to work on Thursday. This first week, I received a bit more than half of the box’s contents, since P and her husband are about to leave town for a weeklong vacation. I was excited when P presented me with the bag of veggies, but as I surveyed it all, I realized that I’m going to have to make some adjustments to my normal cooking schedule. Usually, by Thursday I’m winding down my week of cooking. I don’t go grocery shopping until Saturday morning, and I don’t cook for real again until Sunday night—the weekend is when we go out to eat, or coast along on leftovers, or assemble simple meals like sandwiches. Originally, I’d thought it would be helpful to get the CSA box on Thursday, because then I can know what’s in it before I plan next week’s menu (this usually happens on Friday). The problem with this is that produce is perishable, particularly in the non-peak season when half of it is greens. I hadn’t counted on the fact that I might have to deal with some of the box’s contents immediately before they spoiled—that they wouldn’t wait around to patiently submit to the structure of my menu. I see a lot of experimental weekend cooking in my future.

My share of this week’s box contained:
6 stalks pink chard
1 head cabbage
1 small head Romaine lettuce
1 bunch arugula
various small (Roma, pear, cherry) red tomatoes
oregano
small-leaf basil
5 carrots
3 potatoes
2 light-green summer squash
1 yellow onion
1 head garlic

Here’s how I strategized: The chard looked a bit weary from its travels, and I was interested to try it (I’m not sure I’ve ever deliberately tasted it before), so I shelved my original dinner plans and, after reading what all the cooking blogs had to say about chard, I improvised an onion and chard frittata—sauteed the onion in some olive oil until limp and browned, added the sliced chard leaves and cooked until wilted, then added this mixture to a large bowl containing 5 beaten eggs, ½ cup grated Parmesan, and salt and pepper. Heated a little more olive oil in the frying pan, poured in the frittata mixture, and cooked over low heat until set and browned on the bottom, flipped it over, and browned the other side. It was pretty tasty—a bit thinner than I’d expected, like a big fritter. The chard tasted fine to me; we’re not in love yet, but I’d accept another date. (Next time maybe I’ll save the stems—I’m intrigued by the uses for them that Jack Bishop lists in Vegetables Every Day. Apparently you can bake them into tasty gratins with cream, cheese, and breadcrumbs. But then, what wouldn’t make a tasty gratin with cream, cheese, and breadcrumbs? If I had to eat a shoe, I might cook it that way.)

I made a salad from the arugula, following a recipe from Vegetables Every Day (which I can see is going to be my bible in this enterprise, since it includes recipes for every vegetable you can think of, organized alphabetically by vegetable). I tore up the leaves, added some tomato wedges (I could have used the little CSA tomatoes, but I already had an extra heirloom aging on the counter), sprinkled with salt and pepper, and drizzled with olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar. It was good, but very assertive. I think I prefer arugula in a supporting role, rather than as the main ingredient.

So that dispatches the onion, chard, and arugula. I’ve just been munching on the tomatoes as snacks, and the garlic, potatoes, carrots, and squash should keep well into next week. I’m crossing my fingers that the lettuce and basil do, too. I might try freezing the oregano. That just leaves the cabbage. I really hate cabbage—or, in the interest of being fair, I should say that I’ve disliked it in all forms in which I’ve tried it so far. But the CSA newsletter has a not-bad-looking recipe for coleslaw made without mayonnaise (I really hate mayonnaise), and A likes coleslaw, and I will try at least one bite. So I’m making that on Sunday. Wish me luck! I promise to tell you all about it.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

SAN ANDREAS COOKIES



Besides being aptly and adorably named for our favorite local fault line, these crackly-topped cookies fulfilled two important requirements for me: (1) They resembled the addictive chocolate crinkle cookies my roommate S used to make when we lived together, which I’ve been remembering fondly and itching to re-create. (2) They used almond meal, and I’ve got a big bag of the stuff in my cupboard, left over from an uninspiring curry recipe I once tried. Also, of course, they contained chocolate, which never hurts.

The recipe is from L.A.’s Grand Casino Bakery, via the Los Angeles Times, via The Wednesday Chef. It’s pretty easy to make—it requires some advance planning because you have to do it in two parts, with the dough chilling overnight in between, but on the plus side, that means the work is divided over two days and easier to fit into your schedule (and thus easier to handle if, like me, you’re so impatient that halfway through any task you’re already itching for it to be over). I used Ghirardelli dark chocolate, which is available from Trader Joe’s in big, ridiculously cheap chunks and is great for baking. All the recipe steps went smoothly, and the result was awesome. These cookies are plump (I don’t like huge cookies, so I didn’t quite use two tablespoons of dough for each cookie—maybe one and a half—and so got a few more than 2 dozen) and intensely chocolately; the dough seems very fudgy, but thanks to the whopping 2 tablespoons of baking powder, they bake up light. The interior texture is almost cake-like, tender but ever-so-slightly nubbly from the almond meal, surrounded by a thin, pleasingly crisp sugar shell. I can’t get enough of that texture, and I also love the fact that they’re not too sweet. I can maybe taste the barest hint of almond, but mostly it’s just a good straightforward chocolate fix.

I have read that almond meal can be used to replace part of the normal flour in most cookie recipes, which would be interesting, but now that I’ve tasted San Andreas cookies, I may just be tempted to devote the rest of my almond-meal supply to making of the same!

2 ounces (½ stick) butter
12 ounces dark chocolate
3 eggs
7 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus ¼ cup for coating
¾ cup flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 cup almond meal
6 tablespoons milk
¼ cup powdered sugar

1. Melt the butter and dark chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Set aside to cool slightly.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs and 7 tablespoons sugar at moderately high speed until the mixture reaches the ribbon stage and is pale and thick, about 3 minutes. Mix in the melted chocolate and butter.

3. Sift together the flour and baking powder in a large bowl, then stir in the almond meal. Alternating with the milk, add these dry ingredients to the batter. Spoon the mixture into a container, cover tightly, and chill overnight.

4. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Place the ¼ cup granulated sugar and the powdered sugar in two separate shallow bowls. Scoop out 2 tablespoons of dough per cookie and form into a ball. Roll each ball of dough in granulated sugar, then in the powdered sugar.

5. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets and bake 20–24 minutes, until the dough is no longer gooey in the center when tested with a toothpick. Cool on wire racks.

Yield: about 2 dozen
Time: A couple of hours, with at least 8 hours chilling time in between

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

BLACK-BOTTOM CUPCAKES


I am just bursting with self-congratulation. I used to think I just couldn’t make great cake, but this recipe has proven me wrong. When I saw it at the Smitten Kitchen, it sounded so simple and so good that I had to try making it for my friends’ shared birthday celebration a couple of weeks ago. Since I was planning to bake them on a Wednesday night and tote them around with me the whole next day before meeting the birthday girls for dinner, the fact that I didn’t have to make frosting and then worry about said frosting getting smeared all over the place during the transport process was majorly appealing.

The cake recipe sounded a little odd—brown sugar? vinegar? The vinegar had only given me mild pause initially, but when I was driving home from work on my planned cupcake-baking evening, I happened to hear this story on NPR, in which the interviewer simply could not get over the fact that the “wacky cake” recipe called for vinegar. “Vinegar?” she kept repeating. “Really? Vinegar?!” I started to get nervous. Now, with the levelheaded benefit of hindsight, I realize the interviewer just didn’t know what she was talking about. Both the wacky cake and the black-bottom cake recipes don’t call for milk, butter, or eggs, which means they’re probably rooted in either the Great Depression or World War II. Any elementary-school science student knows that baking soda + vinegar = fizz, so I’m guessing the vinegar helps to leaven the cake in the absence of eggs. Ah, chemistry!

The cupcakes were extremely easy to make. I used Scharffen Berger for both the chopped chocolate and the cocoa (I can’t believe that since embarking on this recent baking spree, I’ve become the sort of person who keeps both Dutch-process [Droste] and non-Dutch-process [Scharffen Berger] cocoa around the house, in deference to the varying preferences of different recipe writers). I used my KitchenAid to beat the cream-cheese filling and then, because Deb had complained that her cupcakes didn’t look as perfect as the originals, and because it was a hot day in Pasadena, I chilled the bowl of filling in the refrigerator while I made the cake batter, in the hopes that the filling would stay neatly in the centers of the cupcakes. I was a bit tense when filling the muffin cups—the cake batter seemed to fill them up almost completely, so I went easy on the filling to avoid overflowing them (also, I was worried the cupcakes would end up too cheesy-tasting, but after trying them I decided the filling was so good, I shouldn’t have held back). I ended up with leftover batter and filling, and my cupcakes still puffed up way above the top of the muffin cups during baking. Maybe I should have made a thirteenth cupcake? The overflowing didn’t do much harm, aside from making the cupcake tops a little hard to peel away from the pans, and making my cupcakes generally resemble toadstools. Chilling the filling did make it easier to work with, but it didn’t make my cupcakes look any better. They were definitely homestyle, maybe a little homely, but I didn’t mind—in fact, it was cool the way each of them turned out uniquely, with different patterns of black and white swirls on top. I do wish my chocolate chunks hadn't all sunk to the bottom, though; maybe I needed to chop them finer?

Anyway, the taste was the important thing: Absolutely delectable, I'm pleased to report. I tried one fresh out of the oven, just to make sure I hadn’t mismeasured, overmixed, overcooked, or otherwise ruined them, and it tasted good, but I was amazed at how much more flavorful they tasted when I ate one straight out of the refrigerator the next day. It was actually better chilled. No one who tried them could specifically taste the vinegar until they were told it was there, but everyone agreed they liked the little tang it added to the cake—it kept it from being too sweet and balanced out the unctuousness of the cream-cheese filling. Best of all, the cupcakes were utterly moist and tender, something I’ve never achieved in a cake before. Even three days later, they tasted fresh. This is definitely my go-to cupcake recipe from now on.



8 ounces cream cheese, regular or reduced-fat, at room temperature
⅓ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
5 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup water
⅓ cup canola oil
1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. To make the filling, beat together the cream cheese, granulated sugar, and egg until smooth. Stir in the chopped chocolate pieces. Set aside. (If you like, chill the filling in the refrigerator while you make the cupcakes—this will make it easier to work with and will help you create a more uniform cream-cheese center.)

2. Adjust the rack to the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Butter a 12-cup muffin tin, or line the tin with paper muffin cups.

3. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, brown sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together the water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla.

4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the wet ingredients until the batter is just smooth. (Do not overmix, or you will end up with less-than-tender cupcakes.)

5. Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Spoon a few tablespoons of the filling into the center of each cupcake, dividing the filling evenly. This will fill the cups almost completely, which is fine.

6. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the tops are slightly golden brown and the cupcakes feel springy when gently pressed.

Yield: 1 dozen
Time: 45 minutes

Friday, August 24, 2007

ZUCCHINI MUFFINS


Now is the time of year when people begin to feel oppressed by zucchini. (According to Garrison Keillor, the people of Lake Wobegon lock their car doors in August so their neighbors don’t sneak zucchini into them; there’s a great passage in Lake Wobegon Days about being overwhelmed by vegetable bounty, but unfortunately the only line I remember is “At night they checked the bed for kohlrabi.”) (Also, check out Crazy Aunt Purl's hilarious photo essay about her own zucchini infestation.) I don’t have a vegetable garden, nor do I know anyone who does, so I’m not feeling the pain. I tried this recipe not out of desperation, but just because I love both zucchini and muffins. Somehow it had never occurred to me that zucchini bread—something, like all sweet quick breads, I can pretty much take or leave—could be turned into muffins, which are so much more tempting—easier to keep fresh, more portable, handily personal-sized, and eminently cuter than the loaf form. So when I saw this recipe at the Smitten Kitchen, I sat up and said, “Boy howdy!”

I hippied up the recipe a bit by substituting unsweetened applesauce for half of the oil, because I always have applesauce on hand for making granola, and just the thought of an entire cup of oil (the original amount the recipe called for) made me feel a bit queasy; also, apples and zucchini seem like a nice pairing. I didn’t use nuts, but you can. Aside from the fact that one panful managed to get a little too dark on the bottom, the muffins were plenty moist and tender, well spiced and vanillaish, and—though I’m no zucchini-bread connoisseur, mind you—darn tasty. Overall, they were a snap to make, maintained at least the illusion of healthiness (they have vegetables in them, after all), and were easy to stash in the freezer and take to work as a mid-morning snack. If this is how it’s going to be, I, for one, welcome our zucchini overlords.



3 eggs
½ cup olive or vegetable oil
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
1¾ cups sugar
2 cups grated zucchini (about 2 medium zucchini)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners, or grease them well.

3. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk. Mix in oil, applesauce, and sugar, then zucchini and vanilla.

4. In another large bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and nuts (if using).

5. Stir the flour mixture into the egg mixture. Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake for 20–25 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Yield: 2 dozen
Time: 40 minutes

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

SPICY ROAST CHICKEN AND TOMATOES


It may require half an hour of hot oven usage, but this is nonetheless a great summer meal—insanely easy to assemble, and you can leave the kitchen to go lay under the air-conditioner while your food cooks. And the taste: chicken with sweet, rich, roasty tomatoes, plus garlic and red pepper flakes, two of my very favorite flavors? Why didn’t I think of this? I made a half-recipe, using cherry tomatoes on the vine fresh from the farmers' market, and wished I'd made the full four servings so I could enjoy the leftovers the next day. The only thing I want to tinker with is the herb. The original recipe, from Barbara Fairchild in the LA Times, called for fresh marjoram, not my favorite. The Wednesday Chef, from whence I found the recipe, used dried rosemary instead, and so did I, but it didn’t do much for me; I found myself wanting a greener, more assertive herb to match the sweetness of the tomatoes and the spiciness of the red pepper. Fresh rosemary, maybe? Thyme? Or maybe I should try the marjoram after all? I’ll keep you posted, but in the meantime, whatever herb you use: make this, stat.

(Update, September 2009: Fresh rosemary is perfect.)

24 ounces whole cherry tomatoes (about 4 cups), stemmed
¼ cup olive oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
1¼ teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram or rosemary
4 bone-in chicken breasts (10 to 12 ounces each)
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2. Toss the tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and marjoram or rosemary in a large bowl to combine.

3. Place the chicken on a rimmed baking sheet. Pour the tomato mixture over the chicken, arranging the tomatoes in a single layer on the baking sheet around the chicken. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast until the chicken is cooked through and the tomatoes are blistered, about 35 minutes.

4. Serve the chicken with tomatoes and cooking juices spooned over it.

Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes

Thursday, August 09, 2007

FULL-STOMACHED, EMPTY-HANDED

No recipes for you! Oh, the shame. Here I’ve been merrily cooking up a storm and utterly failing to document it. If it’s any consolation, I’ve barely even tried anything new over the last month. When hot weather strikes, all my culinary adventurousness goes right out the window and all I want is easy, familiar, reliable fare. Nothing that requires me to use the oven for longer than 20 minutes or stand over a glowing stove, or break into a hot sweat of panic about whether the recipe will lead me astray. If I could make pizza and BLTs and corn on the cob and hummus every week, I would—oh wait, I practically do.

I have been craving vegetables like you wouldn’t believe, and every week when I go to the farmers’ market I come back loaded down with more and more produce. I’ve had to start bringing a second canvas bag to tote all my purchases, and last week I even had to make an extra emergency stop at my car so I could drop off the heavy corn, potatoes, onions, zucchini, and peppers I was carrying and then go back to the market and get all the other things I needed. I just can’t help myself; it’s that magical time of the summer when everything seems to be in season at once—the summery things like strawberries and watermelon and tomatoes and peaches, but also the fallish things like bell peppers and squash. In particular, I’m utterly addicted to heirloom tomatoes. They come in such an array of pretty colors and charmingly deformed shapes, and with their meatiness and flavor they put all the “normal” tomatoes to shame. For some reason, our farmers’ market is deficient what I think of as good regular tomatoes, those big meaty red beefsteaks I grew up on in Minnesota; even during the height of tomato season, the non-heirloom tomatoes persist in resembling grocery-store tomatoes: suspiciously small and round and regular, hard, practically hollow once seeded, and anemically average in flavor. Is this a California thing? Like the fact that everyone sells the bland white corn on the cob instead of the candy-sweet yellow (there’s only one stand in the entire farmers’ market that has the tasty yellow-and-white “peaches and cream” corn that’s everywhere in Minnesota)?. I don’t get it.

It’s not really a recipe, but I did invent a delicious new creation inspired by the divine heirlooms and Trader Joe’s endlessly useful premade pizza dough. I whipped up some pesto in the blender, spread it over the rolled-out dough, covered it in sliced yellow and red tomatoes, baked it until the crust was browned and crisp and the tomatoes were roasty, and then topped it with slices of fresh mozzarella and baked it until the cheese melted. Heaven! But did I remember to photograph it? No, I did not. I’m still struggling to get pictures of my food before it’s scarfed up or turned into unphotogenic leftovers. I have, however, at least managed to add photos to two of my archived recipes:

Potato Casserole With Tomatoes and Mozzarella
Baked Penne and Tomatoes (which is even awesomer with mixed heirloom tomatoes, I’m happy to report)

The other thing I’m obsessed with is, inexplicably, baking cookies. It may be 95 degrees in Pasadena, yet I’m craving sweet melty baked goods fresh from the oven, fiendishly plotting which recipe to try next. In the past few months since acquiring my KitchenAid mixer (and better baking sheets and now silicon baking mats), I’ve baked a whopping 7 kinds of cookies. I’m too lazy to post all the recipes, but here are some capsule reviews.

From Carole Walter’s Great Cookies:
Chock Full o’ Crispies (coconut, oatmeal, nuts, Rice Krispies, all of which I love; I’d definitely make them again, especially when I need a break from chocolate)
Chocolate Coconut Devils (my current gold standard for best cookie ever)
Chocolate Sugar Snaps (bakery-quality great, not something I’ll need to make again and again, but perfect when you want straight-up chocolate)

From Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours:
Chocolate Malted Whopper Drops (unique, and certainly tasty, but too sweet for everyday eating and not as malty as I’d hoped)
Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters (a good taste combo, but not a recipe I’ll repeat when there are so many others to try)

From Abigail Johnson Dodge’s The Weekend Baker:
Soft Chocolate-Almond Oatmeal Cookies (unique, soft and almost cake-like, with a gentler chocolate presence and nice almond flavor; they were certainly worth trying, but I quickly tired of eating them and still have a dozen or so sitting abandoned in my freezer)

From Nestle Toll House:
Chocolate-Chip Cookies (by request, for Carpool J’s birthday; they didn’t turn out exactly the way I like them, but they did remind me that plain old chocolate-chip may still be one of the best cookies ever)

Luckily, I’ve found that I like giving cookies away to friends nearly as much as I like baking them and eating them myself, so A and I haven’t been consuming all of this output singlehandedly. In fact, I think I’ve been downright restrained. I won’t lie—I love having a supply of cookies around the house (I’ll either eat them straight out of the freezer after dinner or slip one in my lunchbag to gradually defrost as a workday pick-me-up). But my appetite is more for the experimentation than for the sheer quantity of cookies. I want to try making as many different recipes as possible, just for the fun of making them and tasting the various combinations of flavors. (You may have noticed there are a few keywords that will lure me in to a cookies recipe every time, including almond, coconut, and oatmeal. Maybe I’m searching for that perfect recipe that will combine all my favorite flavors into one perfect whole.) Anyway, I’ve got a big stack of delicious-sounding cookie recipes still to try, so stay tuned….

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

LAST NIGHT’S DINNER IN PHOTOS

And so, finally, begins my new experiment of trying to add illustrations to my recipe postings. I think it’s clear from these pictures that (a) I have no future as a food stylist, and (b) the lighting in my kitchen is weird. Over time, you will also notice that (c) I do not own chic dishes. But (d), you’ll be treated to many a view of my adored retro-green tile countertops (sure, cleaning the grout is a pain, but I love being able to set hot pans directly on the counter) and old reliable silver Thermador stovetop.

Last night I tried making Flatbread With Asparagus and Spring Onions using Trader Joe’s premade pizza dough instead of the pain-in-the-neck from-scratch flatbread from Cooking Light. It worked like a charm, and it tasted even better than it looks:



I served the flatbread with Grilled Chicken Breasts With Basil and Tomato. I’d always found that recipe just a wee bit boring, but it complemented the flatbread perfectly. With a bowl of peaches and nectarines on the side, it made a very pretty (and tasty, and healthy) meal:



In other news, go and see Ratatouille immediately. I loved it (as did everyone else I know who’s seen it), and it’s a shame it’s not doing as well at the box office as other Pixar movies have. It’s well written, beautifully animated, has cute furry animals, and is a must-see for anyone who loves food. From the scars on the chefs’ hands to the Microplanes to the triumphant moment when (spoiler alert!) the evil critic’s heart melts as he takes a bite of a dish that transports him right back to his childhood, this is a celebration of cooking and eating. And afterward, check out The Smitten Kitchen’s gorgeous re-creation of the movie’s pivotal dish!

SHRIMP BOIL!


I don’t particularly like shrimp. I used to refuse it completely, abhorring the seafood flavor and chewy texture, though now I’ve evolved to a more enlightened I-can-take-it-or-leave-it mentality. But last August I discovered I really like a good shrimp boil. I was staying in a cabin in southern Minnesota with my extended family, and my aunt cooked up a whole mess of corn on the cob, potatoes, sausage, and shrimp in a spicy, beer-laced broth. Washed down with a cold bottle of beer, it was the perfect summer meal, and the most memorable of our vacation (although my happy memory is tempered by the fact that later that evening my mother had to be rushed to the emergency room for a mysterious [but probably non-shrimp-related] malady).

A few months ago, Cooking Light magazine conveniently printed a recipe for Frogmore Stew that almost exactly matched the ingredients I remembered from that happy summer shrimp boil. When my friend P recently decided to host a shrimp boil party at her house (and show Southern-themed movies like King Creole and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), I passed on the recipe to her and assisted her in cooking it for the guests. As we appreciatively devoured our steaming plates of food, I was happy to note that the flavors matched my nostalgic memory nearly exactly. Better still, I’d seen how ridiculously easy it was to make. When A, who’d been out of town, expressed regret about missing the shrimp boil, it occurred to me that this was not some fussy special-occasion recipe, but a simple cooking method that (with the quantities reduced) would make a perfect summer dinner at home.

So on Sunday, I welcomed A back from Indiana with our very own personal shrimp boil. I split the recipe in half, which technically should have made 4 servings, but since I didn’t serve anything else for the meal except watermelon, we managed to eat a bit more than half of it during the first sitting. There was just enough left over for A’s lunch the next day. I accidentally ended up buying my Trader Joe’s frozen shrimp peeled, which probably made it turn out a little tougher than it should have, but it was still tasty. I used three ears of corn instead of two, because I love corn. I was worried the food was going to turn out horribly spicy, because while the crushed red pepper flakes were boiling, they emitted a peppery steam so powerful it made my eyes water and my throat burn, setting me coughing each time I leaned over the pot to add another ingredient. Don’t fret if this happens to you, though—the final product was only mildly spiced, and jn fact, I found myself thinking as I ate that it maybe could have been a little spicier. We used chili powder at P’s because she didn’t have any red pepper flakes (how does one live without red pepper flakes?), so maybe I’ll try adding a little of that next time. Overall, though, this is a trouble-free, casual, decadent-feeling but light meal that I plan on making often throughout the summer. Give it a try, y’all!

3 quarts water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
8 garlic cloves, peeled and mashed
4 bay leaves
2 (12-ounce) bottles beer
1 medium onion, cut into 8 wedges
2 pounds small red potatoes, quartered (if they’re really tiny, you can leave them whole)
1 pound smoked sausage (I use chicken andouille), cut into ½-inch-thick slices
4 ears shucked corn, halved crosswise
2 pounds large shrimp, unpeeled (thawed under cold running water if frozen)

1. Bring the first 10 ingredients to a boil in an 8-quart stockpot.

2. Add potatoes and sausage and cook for 12 minutes.

3. Add corn and cook for 4 minutes.

4. Add shrimp and cook for 2 minutes or until shrimp are done.

5. Drain, and discard bay leaves.

Serves: 8
Time: 30 minutes

TOMATO-PARSLEY LINGUINE WITH CRUNCHY POTATO CROUTONS


Pasta with potatoes always sounds like starchy overload, but it sure can be delicious. In this dish, the raw tomatoes and parsley do a great job of brightening the flavor and keeping the food from feeling heavy. The browned potato chunks provide a unique savory, salty, crispy contrast. Although it takes a little time to boil the potatoes, cool them, cube them, and get them suitably oven-fried (especially if, like me, you have a non-functioning broiler—cooking them on the bottom rack at 500 degrees took a little longer, but still did the trick), this is still a really easy recipe to put together, since nothing else (except the pasta) needs to be cooked. The result is a surprisingly summery meal.

2 medium baking potatoes (about 1¼ pounds)
salt to taste
5 tablespoons olive oil
freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup tightly packed minced fresh Italian parsley leaves
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
3 medium ripe tomatoes (about 1¼ pounds)
1 pound linguine

1. Bring several quarts of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Scrub potatoes under cold, running water but do not peel them. Add the potatoes and salt to the boiling water. Cook until a metal skewer slides easily into the center of the potatoes, 15–20 minutes. The potatoes should be soft but not mushy. Drain the potatoes and let cool.

2. While potatoes are boiling, combine the parsley, garlic, 3 tablespoons oil, and salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl. Core and cut tomatoes in half; working over the sink, squeeze out as many seeds as possible. Cut the tomatoes into ½-inch cubes, toss with the parsley mixture, and set aside.

3. While potatoes are cooling, preheat the broiler and bring 4 quarts salted water to a boil for cooking the pasta.

4. Cut the potatoes into ¼-inch cubes and toss in a medium bowl with 2 tablespoons oil, plus salt and pepper to taste. Lightly grease a baking sheet with olive oil and spread the potatoes on it in a single layer. Broil, turning several times, until potatoes are golden brown and crisp, 5–7 minutes.

5. While potatoes are broiling, cook the pasta. Reserve ¼ cup of the starchy pasta water, then drain the rest. Toss linguine with the tomato and parsley mixture and most of the potato croutons, adding reserved pasta water as needed to keep things moist. Serve garnished with the remaining croutons.

Serves: 6
Time: 1 hour

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

RISOTTO WITH VEGETABLES


I haven’t been doing much cooking lately, because A’s out of town for the Fourth of July. I’d envisioned spending my free time during this solitary week in the kitchen, whipping up elaborate delicacies too ambitious or impractical or non-A-friendly to make on an ordinary day. But then temperatures soared into the 90s, and our kitchen faucet clogged again (postscript: it’s fixed now, maybe for good—KNOCK ON WOOD), and suddenly the last thing I wanted to do was spend time in the kitchen. Last night I sweated through the making of a batch of Pasta Ascuitta that I figure will pretty much last me all week, supplemented with some easy sandwiches, salads, and snacks. And pizza, of course. ’Tis the glory of the bachelor life.

Lucky for you, I still have a backlog of recipes to post, so here’s a risotto recipe I’ve had for ages. I think it might be from, of all places, the pedestrian red-and-white-checkered Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. Whatevs, it’s full of cheese and vegetables and totally tasty. Even A, the purported risotto-hater, agrees.

2 cups sliced mushrooms
½ cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup Arborio rice
3–4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
¾ cup bite-sized asparagus or broccoli pieces
¾ cup seeded and diced tomato
¼ cup shredded carrot
1 cup shredded Fontina or Muenster cheese (4 ounces)
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons minced fresh basil or parsley

1. In a saucepan, bring broth to boiling; reduce heat and simmer.

2. While broth is heating, heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté mushrooms, onion, and garlic until onion is tender. Add uncooked rice and cook, stirring, over medium heat about 5 minutes or until rice is golden.

3. Slowly add 1 cup of broth to the rice mixture, stirring constantly. Continue to cook and stir over medium heat until liquid is absorbed. Add another ½ cup broth and the asparagus or broccoli, stirring constantly. Continue to cook and stir until liquid is absorbed. Add another 1 cup broth, ½ cup at a time, stirring constantly until liquid is absorbed. (This should take about 15 minutes.)

4. Stir in the remaining ½ cup broth, the tomato, and the carrot. Cook and stir until rice is slightly creamy and just tender (add more broth or water and let it be absorbed, if necessary). Stir in cheese and basil or parsley.

Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes

Friday, June 29, 2007

FLATBREAD WITH ASPARAGUS AND SPRING ONIONS


Asparagus week continues! I tore this recipe out of a recent issue of Cooking Light, tried it for the first time a few weeks ago, and really liked it. The toppings are a slam dunk: they reminded me of that awesome, bygone Sidney’s asparagus-and-Brie pizza I mentioned a few days ago, even though it uses Fontina instead (hmm, I wonder if I could substitute Brie?). Plus, it was a noble use of those handsome spring onions I’m always seeing at the farmers’ market. I suspect, however, that the flatbread itself might not quite be worth the trouble it took to make. The recipe does warn that the dough will be sticky, but my dough was very sticky. Probably because I hadn’t been able to find bread flour at my grocery store, so I’d just used all-purpose instead. I realize that if I don’t use the specified ingredients it’s my fault when the result isn’t exactly right, but any recipe that wants me to clutter up my cupboard with some kind of specialty flour gets a demerit in my book anyway.

Since the recipe makes 2 flatbreads that each (ostensibly) serve 6, I’d decided to just make one flatbread. I halved the topping quantities, but the flatbread recipe seemed harder to halve, so I just made the full recipe and then split the dough into two pieces after it had risen, thinking I’d use one half and freeze the other to use another time. But the dough was so hard to roll out—not only was it sticky, but it also tore easily—and I added so much flour in trying to shape it that I ruined the first flatbread and had to throw it away. Good thing I had another piece of dough handy.

For all that work and mess, the flatbread turned out just about average. The texture was nice—tender with a crispy bottom—but with Trader Joe’s selling balls of really great premade pizza dough for just 99 cents, I’m tempted to just scrap the flatbread-from-scratch part of the recipe and turn these tasty toppings into a more convenient meal I can make more often—and on average weeknights, at that. I’ll let you know how it goes, but for now, here’s the recipe as originally written:

Flatbread:
Dash of sugar
1 package dry yeast (about 2¼ teaspoons)
¾ cup plus 3 tablespoons warm water (100 to 110 degrees), divided
2 cups plus 3 tablespoons bread flour, divided (about 10 2/3 ounces)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt

Toppings:
2½ teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
4 cups thinly sliced spring onions (about 2½ pounds)
¼ teaspoon salt
3 cups (1-inch pieces) asparagus (about 1 pound)
¾ cup (3 ounces) shredded Fontina cheese

1. To make flatbread, dissolve sugar and yeast in ¼ cup water in a large bowl, and let stand 5 minutes. Add ¼ cup flour (to measure flour, lightly spoon into dry measuring cup and level with a knife) to yeast mixture, stirring with a whisk. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let stand 30 minutes (mixture will be bubbly).

2. Uncover yeast mixture and add ½ cup plus 3 tablespoons water. Add 1¾ cups flour, 1 tablespoon oil, and ½ teaspoon salt, stirring until a soft dough forms. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. While kneading, add enough of the remaining 3 tablespoons of flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough should still feel sticky).

3. Place dough in a large bowl lightly coated with olive oil, turning to coat all sides of dough. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85 degrees), free from drafts, 1 hour or until doubled in size. (To check whether dough has risen enough, gently press two fingers into it. The indentation should remain.)

4. Punch dough down and divide in half. Working with one portion at a time (cover remaining dough to prevent drying), roll each portion into a 12-inch circle on a floured surface. Place 1 dough circle on a pizza peel sprinkled with 1 tablespoon cornmeal. (Note: I don’t have a pizza peel or a pizza stone, so I just put my rolled-out dough—which was more rectangular than round—on the cookie sheet I usually use for pizza.)

5. Place a pizza stone (if you have one) on the bottom rack of the oven. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

6. To prepare toppings, combine 2½ teaspoons oil and garlic in a small bowl and let stand 30 minutes. (You’ll want to do this somewhere in the middle of Step 3, while your dough is rising.)

7. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add spring onions and ¼ teaspoon salt; cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and cook for 3 more minutes or until golden, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

8. Cook asparagus in boiling water 2 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain; rinse under cold water.

9. Brush dough circle with half of the garlic-oil mixture, then arrange half of the onions and half the asparagus over the dough, leaving a ½-inch border. Top with half of the shredded cheese. Slide dough onto preheated pizza stone (or if you’re just using a baking sheet, put the baking sheet on the bottom rack in the oven) and bake for 9 minutes or until lightly browned. Repeat procedure with remaining dough circle, cornmeal, garlic mixture, onions, asparagus, and cheese.

Serves: 8–12
Time: 2½ hours

Postscript: I tried it with the premade crust and it was great. Updated recipe is as follows:

3 teaspoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups thinly sliced spring onions or large scallions (about 1¼ pounds)
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ cups (1-inch pieces) asparagus (about ½ pound)
½ cup (1½ ounces) Fontina cheese, shredded
freshly ground black pepper to taste
pizza dough for 1 pizza (1 lb)
1 tablespoon cornmeal

1. Combine 2 teaspoons olive oil with garlic in a small bowl and let stand 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add spring onions and ¼ teaspoon salt; cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and cook for 3 more minutes or until golden, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and set aside.

3. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

4. Trim tough ends from asparagus and cut spears into 1-inch pieces. Cook asparagus in boiling water for 2 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain and rinse under cold water; set aside.

5. Roll pizza dough into a circle or rectangle on a floured surface. Place dough on a baking pan sprinkled with cornmeal. Brush dough with garlic-oil mixture. Arrange onions on top, and then asparagus. Sprinkle with black pepper to taste and top with cheese. Bake on bottom rack of oven for about 9 minutes or until lightly browned.

Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour

Thursday, June 28, 2007

FRESH ASPARAGUS SOUP


Another random recipe from my archives, in keeping with yesterday's asparagus theme. (This is yet another of the pureed soups on which I’ve tested my fabulous new immersion blender over the past month.) It’s a good spring soup—fresh, lively, and a pretty shade of green. The yogurt adds an interesting tangy kick to the common asparagus-lemon-Parmesan combination. I like to serve garlic bread on the side for dipping, which helps temper the soup's tendency toward tartness.

1 pound trimmed and chopped fresh asparagus
¾ cup chopped onion
1¾ cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup milk
½ cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Place asparagus and onion in a saucepan with ½ cup broth. Bring the broth to a boil, reduce heat, and let simmer until the vegetables are tender (don’t overcook the asparagus, though).

2. Place the vegetable mixture in a blender and puree until smooth.

3. Melt butter in the pan that was used for simmering the vegetables. Stir while sprinkling in flour, salt, and pepper. Do not let flour brown. Allow the mixture to cook only 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1¼ cups broth and increase the heat. Continue stirring until the mixture comes to a boil.

4. Stir the vegetable puree and milk into the saucepan. Whisk in yogurt, followed by lemon juice. Stir until heated through, then ladle into bowls. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and black pepper.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

ASPARAGUS AND BRIE FRITTATA


Another of those poor, orphaned I’ve-had-this-forever-and-don’t-know-where-it-came-from-or-why-I’ve-never-posted-it recipes. I’m always attracted to egg recipes (frittatas, stratas, quiches) because they seem so cozy and yet somehow elegant, but most of the time they end up disappointing me with blandness. I don’t think I like eggs quite as much as I’d like to. Still, this recipe gives me hope. It is indeed both cozy and elegant; it’s insanely easy to make; you can eat it for brunch or dinner. Best of all, it contains one of my favorite flavor combinations, asparagus and Brie (I’m still lamenting the demise of the Sidney’s restaurant chain in the Twin Cities, solely because it means I’ll never again get to taste its gorgeous asparagus and Brie pizza).

I like this for dinner, with a green salad and maybe some toast.


2 cups cut asparagus
4 green onions, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
6 eggs
½ teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
⅓ cup milk
½ cup Brie, cut into small pieces

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a medium skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat and sauté asparagus and onions until tender, about 4 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, whisk eggs, salt, pepper, and milk together in a large bowl. Pour into a buttered 9-inch-square baking dish and top with asparagus mixture. Bake 5–10 minutes, until somewhat set.

4. Remove from oven and top with Brie. Put back in oven to bake 5–10 minutes more, until eggs are set and cheese is melted and slightly toasted on the edges.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

CORN CHOWDER WITH BACON, LEEKS, AND POTATOES


I realize that I promised to post this recipe “tomorrow” about two weeks ago, but I plead extenuating circumstances. We’ve been continually battling a domino-like series of plumbing problems that’s left us, variously, without hot water, a working kitchen faucet, or a properly draining kitchen sink. I’ve had to call upon my resourceful Midwestern pioneer roots to find viable ways to keep cooking and cleaning in spite of our apartment’s vagaries: boiling hot water on the stove for dishes! Carrying water from the bathtub faucet to cook pasta! Rinsing carrots in the bathroom sink! It’s been all kinds of fun. Occasionally, I’ve had to admit defeat and just order a pizza, or go out to a restaurant to escape the chaotic kitchen. Under these conditions, thinking about cooking just frustrated me. Things finally seem to be on the mend, however (KNOCK ON WOOD), so I can face posting recipes again.

Also on the mend: the tip of my left pinky finger, which I nearly hacked off in an alarming knife mishap while slicing onions for this green chicken korma recipe last week. (Jury’s still out on the recipe. It was OK, but not as flavorful as I expected; I was hoping it would taste just like that green chutney our local Indian restaurant serves with the papadum. It wasn’t too hard to make, but I’m still not sure I’ll want to go through the trouble of doing it again, especially since I now associate it with traumatic flesh wounds.) It was definitely the most severe injury I’ve ever sustained while cooking, and I’m still keeping it under bandages to avoid grossing people out, but it’s healing well and probably won’t even leave a scar. It did impede my typing for a while, though.

So, now that the excuses are done, here’s a tasty summer soup recipe adapted from Jack Bishop’s Vegetables Every Day. If you want a vegetarian version, consult Bishop’s book, but we love this bacon-y variation. I love how simple the recipe is—only 8 ingredients!—and yet how deeply flavorful, thanks to the ingenious concept of boiling the corn cobs for extra-rich corn flavor. Because the recipe calls for whole ears of corn, it’s best to make it at the height of corn season; I’d been eagerly awaiting the appearance of corn at our farmers’ market specifically so I could make this soup. Well, and also corn fritters. And spicy corn on the cob, of course. And there’s this fresh summer succotash recipe I’ve been meaning to try….

Er, anyway, enjoy the chowder while I daydream about corn.

5 medium ears corn
4–6 strips bacon, diced
2 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced thin
2 cups milk
¾ pound red potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

1. Remove the husks and silk from the corn. Stand each ear on its end and slice downward with a chef’s knife to remove all the kernels. (Reserve the cobs.) You should have about 3½ cups of kernels.

2. Place the corn cobs and water to cover (about 4 cups) in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, partially cover, and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Pick out and discard the cobs. Strain and reserve 3 cups corn broth; discard remainder.

3. Sauté bacon in a large saucepan until fat has rendered, about 3 minutes. Add the leeks and continue to sauté over medium heat until bacon is crisp and leeks have softened, about 5 minutes. Add the corn broth, milk, potatoes, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer gently until potatoes are almost tender, about 15 minutes. Add corn kernels and continue to simmer gently until corn and potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes.

4. Puree 2 cups of the soup in a blender (I, of course, use my new best friend, the Cuisinart SmartStick). Return puree to pot and reheat gently. Stir in parsley and adjust seasonings.

Serves: 4–6
Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Thursday, June 14, 2007

FAVORITE THINGS (NOT MENTIONED: CRISP APPLE STRUDEL OR SCHNIZTEL WITH NOODLES, ALTHOUGH THOSE ARE NICE TOO)

Why haven’t I posted for a month and a half?

(A) Now that I’ve reached the ripe age of 30, I’m devoting my time exclusively to important, meaningful, responsible, sober, and grown-up pursuits, such as teaching underprivileged children to read, writing the Great American Novel, training for marathons, and getting ahead in corporate America.

(B) After being distracted by a string of Very Exciting Birthdays in April, I spent much of May traveling and eating in restaurants, often very indulgently (cf. Carbone’s pizza in St. Paul and a whole slew of fried goods in Memphis), so that whenever I was home I obsessively struck to the familiar, safe, tried-and-true, and austerely healthy dishes in my repertoire instead of experimenting with new, exciting, blogworthy recipes.

(C) I’m a lazy loser who can’t get her act together.

Whatever the reason, I’m just bursting with exciting food-related news. First and foremost, three notable birthday gifts:

1. From a group of thoughtful and generous friends, a long-coveted KitchenAid stand mixer! I promptly followed this up with the purchase of some new baking sheets that don’t let everything burn, plus Great Cookies by Carole Walter, which is full of the most delicious and foolproof cookie recipes I’ve ever tried. In the past month, the KitchenAid and I have whipped up (and shared with the aforementioned gift-giving friends) Chock Full o’ Crunchies (cookies with coconut, pecans, and Rice Krispies), Chocolate Sugar Snaps, and my absolute favorite, Chocolate Coconut Devils (chocolate + coconut + almond flavoring = heaven to me). I want to try just about every recipe in this book. I haven’t experimented with making bread using the mixer’s dough hook yet, but I’m already contemplating asking for the pasta-making attachment for Christmas. Homemade ravioli—how awesome would that be?

2. From A’s mom, the miraculously handy Cuisinart SmartStick immersion blender. I love pureed soups, but it’s such a drag to go through the messy rigmarole of pouring hot soup into my cranky old blender and then back into the pot, and then washing the blender and its many tiny parts. Enter the SmartStick. I stick the end into the pot of soup, I press a button, and its sharp little blade whips chunks of vegetables into velvety-smooth liquid right before my eyes. Easy to use, easy to wash, easy to store…SmartStick, where have you been all my life?

3. From my parents, a sweet, sleek little digital camera of my very own; no longer do I have to share A’s elderly, rather temperamental one. Now that it’s so much easier for me to take and upload photos, I’m dying to try adding photos to the site. (When contemplating a new recipe for the first time, I think we all appreciate knowing what the food will look like when it’s finished.) Of course, when I’m hungry and tired after a bout of cooking, I’m focused on eating the food, not whipping out my camera to take pictures of it. So first I have to remember to take pictures of the recipes, then I have to overcome my laziness enough to actually post them. This may or may not ever happen. But the potential is there!

Other food things I’ve been enjoying lately:

1. Presented with a bounty of lemons from a coworker’s backyard tree, P and I canned strawberry-lemon marmalade and then made lemon curd, which is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted. It’s currently sitting in my freezer while I try to figure out a more noble use for it than just devouring it with a spoon. I’m thinking pie or cake—anyone have a good recipe that uses lemon curd?

2. Summer has arrived at the farmers’ market, throwing me into a frenzy of delight every Saturday morning. In the past few weeks I’ve had my first corn on the cob, cherries, watermelon, apricots, peaches, and nectarines of the year. I come home so laden with fruits and vegetables I can barely walk, thinking, “This is what I love about living in California.” Also, I’m obsessed with BLTs, my ideal summer meal. Is once a week too often to make them, do you think?

3. A few weeks ago I visited Memphis for the first time, and it turns out I love Southern food! (I wasn’t entirely certain, having never had what I considered to be the real thing.) People really know how to cook down there, and how to eat. Even though I rather sickeningly overdosed on deep-fried foods and was craving sushi and salads by the end of the four-day weekend, the biscuits alone were worth the trip. I’ve never in my life had biscuits so soft and fluffy…how do they do that? Also notable: fried green tomatoes, sweet potato pie, pecan pie, fried catfish, hushpuppies, and mint juleps. And anywhere where macaroni and cheese is categorized as a vegetable is definitely my kind of place.

I’ve updated the list of recommended food books to include Great Cookies, as well as Nigel Slater’s entrancing The Kitchen Diaries, which is the kind of simple, thoughtful writing about daily cooking and eating that I only wish I could give you. Stay tuned tomorrow for a recipe that happens to involve three of the favorite things listed here: bacon, fresh corn on the cob, and the SmartStick!