Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Boy, do I love fritters. Already A and I are at the point of eating zucchini fritters for dinner at least once per month, so often and with such gusto that we’re slightly abashed; as I’m making the week’s menu I’ll casually ask him, “Any requests?” and he’ll just as casually venture, “Zucchini fritters?” We treat them as a main dish now, with a little green salad or tomato salad on the side just to keep us civilized, which is important because otherwise we’d probably be eating them with our hands right out of the skillet, they’re that good. And I’m already counting the months until fresh-corn season so I can embrace Jack Bishop’s corn pancakes with the passion they deserve. And now here comes a new recipe to tempt me.

I found this recipe on my new favorite food blog, the Smitten Kitchen. Really, this is just the sort of thing I was looking for when I started my own blog—someone to hungrily, thoughtfully test new recipes for me and write about them in great detail, with helpful and delectable photographs. It’s a bit more upscale than my own style (more highbrow recipes, more challenging techniques, and did I mention the gorgeous photography?), so occasionally I have to look away or be blinded by envy. But in a nice way.

This recipe is originally from Donna Hay, who (I’m exposing my ignorance here) is apparently a sort of Australian Martha Stewart? She is apparently also a genius, because these are great fritters. Actually, they’re almost like big pancakes. I found them supremely comforting, which was important, because I made them last week when A had been endlessly sick with what turned out to be tonsillitis. I was, I think, fighting off the illness myself, and besides had grown a little oppressed with my caretaker role. I can’t think of anything more wholesome and healing-sounding than breakfasty foods for dinner, and sure enough, the fritters fit the bill perfectly. I think I could have chosen better ham (the low-sodium stuff I bought at Trader Joe’s was too much like lunchmeat, and oddly flavorless), but otherwise it was a resounding success. Which is good, because I had to buy self-rising flour especially for this recipe, and I now have a big bag to use up.

I have to admit, this recipe is even easier than my beloved zucchini fritters, since you don’t have to go through the hand-cramp-inducing rigmarole of squeezing the moisture out of the zucchini. Nothing else to note, except that one fritter makes a pretty big serving; after taking a look at the first one I made, I ended up scrapping the salad I was planning as a side dish and just had some immunity-boosting orange slices on the side.

*Exciting postscript, December 2008: No self-rising flour? No problem! Make your own by placing 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a 1-cup dry measuring cup, then filling the measuring cup the rest of the way with all-purpose flour. Simplicity itself!

1 cup self-rising flour
2 eggs
1½ tablespoons butter, melted
⅓ cup milk
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup ricotta cheese
¼ cup torn basil leaves
2⅔ ounces ham, diced
1 zucchini, grated
4 tablespoons olive oil

1. Place the flour, eggs, butter, milk, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Fold in the ricotta, basil, ham, and zucchini.

2. Place 2 tablespoons oil in a medium frying pan and heat over medium heat. Add half the fritter batter to the pan (about 1 heaping cup) and cook for 2–3 minutes or until bubbles appear on surface. Flip fritter and cook 2–3 minutes longer or until both sides are golden brown. Remove to a plate.

3. Add another 2 tablespoons oil to pan and make a second fritter with remaining batter. Cut each fritter into 4 wedges and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Serves: 2
Time: 20 minutes

Friday, February 02, 2007


(Chicken Breasts With Onions, Potatoes, and Bacon)

I love that the French have a cooking style called “bonne femme,” or “good woman.” From one exhaustive minute of Google research, I’ve gathered that “good woman” dishes are those prepared in a simple, hearty, peasant style. Because, you know, those good women don’t need to be doing too much thinking. And, if they're anything like me, they loves them some bacon.

This dish, from Bistro Chicken by Mary Ellen Evans, is indeed simple and hearty, as well as bacony. There are no seasonings except salt and pepper, unless you count the bacon fat that everything gets cooked in, but the basic ingredients—bacon, onions, potatoes—blend together perfectly and make what might be an otherwise dull chicken breast into a satisfying meal. I had cooked this a couple of times last year, but then somehow forgotten about it until this week. I’m glad I rediscovered it, and A is exceedingly grateful. Serve this with a big green salad, and you too can declare yourself a good woman.

The only downside? Thanks to incredibly poor signage and meager selection in the produce department at Vons, I ended up paying a whopping $5.99 for the pearl onions. Yes, they’re cute, and taste-wise totally worth it, but—boo!

2 tablespoons canola oil
½ cup diced thick-cut mild bacon (2 to 3 slices)
4 (6-to-8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
* If breasts are large, use 2 and cut each in half horizontally
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
¾ cup whole baby onions, fresh or frozen (thawed, if frozen)
2 cups diced red potatoes (about ¾-inch dice)

1. Cook potatoes in boiling water until tender; drain.

2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the diced bacon; sauté until crisp, 4–5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon; drain on paper towels.

3. Season chicken with salt and pepper and add to skillet along with the onions. Sauté until golden brown on both sides, 2–3 minutes per side. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook, turning once, until chicken is no longer pink in thickest part when cut with a knife, 4–5 minutes per side. Remove chicken to a warm platter; top with onions and cover with foil to keep warm.

4. Increase heat to medium-high. When the pan is hot, add the cooked potatoes and fry 4–6 minutes or until browned; season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the bacon. Scatter the potato mixture over the chicken and serve immediately.

Serves 4


May 2008 update: Pretty, huh? If you're wondering what the orange chunks are, that's because the farmers' market didn't have red bell pepper, so I used orange instead. Also, on a whim I sprinkled cilantro over the top of the soup this time and it was awesome, so I've added it as an optional ingredient below.

I’ve had this recipe for at least 5 years, but I don’t cook it too often. When I do make it, I enjoy it, but then I forget it, catch sight of it in my recipe book and wonder, “Really? Did I really like that enough to keep it?”, and decide to test it again. No more of such shenanigans! After cooking it yet again on Sunday night, I am definitively telling you: this is a good recipe.

It’s quite different from most of the things I make; I tend not to be into “exotic” international cooking, only because I figure I can’t possibly (at least, not without a great deal of specialty grocery shopping and effort) cook anything at home that will be as authentic and complex and awesome as the Pad Thai I can get just down the street from my apartment, for instance. I’d rather leave it to the pros. But although this soup has a lot of ingredients, they’re all basic. They marry together well and create a complex, multi-layered taste, but without any difficulty whatsoever on the chef’s part. Cut things up, add them to the pan in stages, cook them, and voila! A curried, coconutty, cheerfully yellow, hearty, vegetable-laden soup.

This recipe is so flawless, I didn’t even have to make a single change. No ingredient substitutions, no quantity adjustments, no comical errors! I wish I could remember where I found it.

2 tablespoons canola oil
2 medium onions, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons minced gingerroot
2 cups (6 ounces) thinly sliced mushrooms
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
juice of 1 lemon
1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt
2 large boiling (waxy) potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
1½ cups green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths
¼ cup finely diced red bell pepper
½ cup fine egg noodles or 1-inch pieces broken spaghetti
minced cilantro for garnish (if desired)

1. Warm oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add onions, garlic, and ginger and sauté, stirring often, 10 minutes or until onions are soft and golden.

2. Add mushrooms and sauté 5 minutes. Sprinkle on coriander, cumin, turmeric, and cayenne and cook 2 minutes, stirring often.

3. Pour in the stock, coconut milk, and salt, and bring to a boil. Add potatoes and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Mix in the green beans, red pepper, and noodles, and cook at a lively simmer for 10 minutes or until vegetables and noodles are tender. Stir in lemon juice.

Serves: 4–6
Time: 1 hour


I had 4 ounces of leftover cream cheese sitting in my refrigerator (after making Tortellini With Mushroom-Cheese Sauce a couple of weeks ago), and I needed something to go with the curried coconut vegetable soup I was planning to make for dinner, so on Sunday afternoon I figured I’d whip up a half-recipe of these muffins.

I got the recipe from P (along with a delicious sample of the finished product) a few months ago; she got it, I think, from The first time I made it, the muffins tasted OK, but were flat and ugly and misshapen. This time, they were high and fluffy and golden and perfect. I don’t know what made the difference, but they turned out well enough now for me to recommend the recipe. Nothing fancy here, flavor-wise, just banana, pecans, and cinnamon (the quantity of cinnamon perpetually surprises me—a tablespoon seems like an awful lot—but it tastes good). The only novelty is that the cinnamon, nuts, and brown sugar are placed in a thin layer in the middle of the banana muffin, which is kind of visually cool, reminiscent of geologic formations. But the point is: yum.

Postscript, December 2009: I never made these again. I rarely make banana muffins anyway, and for those rare times when I do, I think I like these better.

½ cup unsalted butter
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1¼ cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 cup mashed bananas (about 2)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
1½ teaspoons baking soda
¾ cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter 2 muffin tins.

2. In a small bowl, mix together chopped pecans, brown sugar, and cinnamon.

3. Cream butter and cream cheese together. Gradually add white sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy. Add one egg at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in mashed bananas and vanilla. Add flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Mix until batter is just moist.

4. Fill muffin cups just one-third full. Sprinkle pecan mixture over batter and top with remaining batter.

5. Bake until tops of muffins are just golden and an inserted knife comes out clean, about 10–15 minutes.

Yield: 2 dozen
Time: 30 minutes