Thursday, December 04, 2008

SPINACH-GARLIC PIZZA


It would never have occurred to me to put Boursin on a pizza, but I’m so glad I found this recipe from Eggs on Sunday. Spinach and garlic are a natural combination, and the garlic-herb cheese amps it up times ten, not to mention having a really appealing creamy-browned texture when cooked. Originally titled “Green Garlic Monster,” this is certainly not for the garlic-averse, but it isn’t so intent on being super-garlicky that all other flavors are obliterated. The parsley (another great pairing with earthy spinach) and the red onion brighten things up nicely. My only quibble is that the recipe only called for “two large handfuls” of spinach; I used a 6-ounce bag, which was more than that, and this particular spinach-lover still wanted more. Maybe I made a bigger pizza than the recipe intended, but there was a lot of crust showing through. I’m going to try 10 ounces next time and see what happens. Regardless, this is an excellent addition to my burgeoning pizza recipe collection.

Pizza dough for 1 pizza (1 lb)
½ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
6–10 ounces baby spinach
2 large garlic cloves, minced
½ small red onion, very thinly sliced
Half a round (2½ ounces) Boursin garlic-herb cheese (or other soft garlic-herb cheese)

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2. Roll out your pizza dough and place on an oiled or cornmeal-dusted baking sheet.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add the spinach and garlic and sauté until spinach is just wilted and bright green, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

4. In a small bowl, mix the parsley with the Parmesan and the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil.

5. Spread the parsley mixture over the pizza crust. Lay the red onion slices on top, then add the sautéed spinach. Crumble the Boursin over the top of the pizza.

6. Bake for about 8 minutes, until cheese is melted and crust is nicely browned.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good

Monday, December 01, 2008

SAUTEED SHREDDED ZUCCHINI WITH SHALLOTS AND LEMON

Look, yet another way to combine vegetables with shallots and lemon! I will never tire of those flavors. This is a nice, simple-but-interesting side dish that reminds me, with its crisp greenness, of deconstructed zucchini fritters. It reminds A, for some strange reason, of Rice-a-Roni. But don’t let that put you off; he clarifies, “I always liked Rice-a-Roni!” I’ve never tasted Rice-a-Roni myself, but surely it doesn’t have a shallot-and-lemon flavoring? Still, I suppose the shape and texture of the shredded zucchini is vaguely rice-like, and maybe the nutty brownness it achieves when briefly sautéed over high heat is somehow reminiscent of rice too? Or we could all just ignore A on this one.

Anyway, aside from the minor travail of shredded and squeezing the zucchini, this is an easy and fast-cooking recipe to throw together, and it will pair well with most flavors. We ate it with the splendid roast chicken with pears, shallots, and leeks, and the fact that I even remember we had a side dish at all in the face of such blinding magnificence should tell you that this one is surely worthwhile. The original recipe says it serves four, but the two of us ate it all in one sitting.

5 medium zucchini, ends trimmed
1½ teaspoons salt
2 shallots, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1–2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Shred zucchini (on large holes of a box grater or with shredding disk of a food processor). Place zucchini in a colander in the sink and toss zucchini with 1½ teaspoon salt. Let drain for at least 10 minutes. Wrap zucchini in a kitchen towel (in batches if necessary) and wring out extra moisture.

2. Place zucchini in a medium bowl and break up any large clumps. Add shallots and 2 teaspoons oil and toss to combine thoroughly.

3. Heat remaining 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add zucchini mixture and spread evenly. Cook without stirring until bottom layer browns, about 2 minutes. Stir well, breaking up any clumps, then cook until new bottom layer browns, about 2 minutes more.

4. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Serves: 2-4
Time: 20 minutes
Leftover potential: Unknown

Friday, November 21, 2008

ROAST CHICKEN WITH PEARS, SHALLOTS, AND LEEKS


This. Is. Amazing. If you only make one chicken recipe from this blog, make this one. Now! Hurry! You can thank me later.

I was a little suspicious about the pears. I’m not a proponent of putting fruit in savory dishes. (Big chunks of fruit, anyway; lemon and lime juice and zest obviously get a pass.) Sure, I’ve made exceptions—Brie and apple soup and butternut squash with sausage and apples—but in general if I see any hint of cranberries, figs, plums, raisins (god forbid) or any other such malarkey in a non-dessert recipe, I turn the page. I’m just close-minded that way. But the photo at Sassy Radish was so succulent-looking, I would have made any recipe that followed it, even if it were titled “Raisiny Chicken in Raisin Sauce.” Luckily, the title name-checked shallots and leeks instead, which I love. But then there was that pear, plus all that orange juice…would this chicken just be a mass of fruity sweetness?

Not at all. The chicken doesn’t even taste overwhelmingly orangey, but the juice gives the skin an impressive caramelized, burnished finish. Those sweet pear and orange flavors are facing off against savory shallots, leeks, garlic, olive oil, salt, and chicken fat, and they all melt together into a luxurious, addictively delicious compote blanketing tender, juicy, falling-off-the-bone chicken. (Do not even consider substituting chicken breasts or anything boneless and skinless here—the dark meat is integral to the moist, complex richness.) This is guaranteed to knock the socks off anyone you serve it to. They’ll be convinced that after years of expensive culinary-school training, you spent hours laboring in the kitchen over a hot stove crafting this gourmet masterpiece for their enjoyment. The kicker is that not only is this dish unique and mad tasty, it’s one of the easiest main dishes I’ve ever made. Throw everything in the pan and bake it—not even for that long, because you’re using small pieces of chicken instead of those dense, honkin’ breasts—and magically it transforms into molten awesomeness. Oh, and? And! If you’re still hesitant about using dark meat, let me just inform you that a package of 6 drumsticks at Trader Joe’s cost me under $3. TOTAL.

Delicious, creative, sophisticated, easy, pretty quick, and cheap? Folks, we may just have found the holy grail.

6 chicken drumsticks and/or thighs (bone-in, skin-on)
1 pear, thinly sliced
2 shallots, finely chopped
1–2 leeks, thinly sliced (white part only)
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice (about 2 oranges)
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Wash and pat dry the chicken parts and place in a 9-by-11-inch glass baking dish. Surround the chicken with the pear, shallots, leeks, and garlic. Pour orange juice and olive oil over everything and season with salt and pepper.

3. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the drumsticks over and return to the oven for another 20–25 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Serves: 3
Time: 50 minutes
Leftover potential: This yields a modest amount of food—for a while there, I didn’t even think we were going to have any leftovers because midway through our first drumsticks we were in such rapture that we’d already decided we needed to have a third one apiece, but this is actually pretty rich stuff, and after our second drumsticks we were definitely sated. A ate the two leftover drumsticks a couple of days later and reported that they were just as excellent as the first time around.

Monday, November 17, 2008

PEPPERY BROWN SUGAR SALMON



Yum yum yum. This recipe, from Recipezaar via Ezra Pound Cake, is a simple treatment for salmon that packs a big whallop. The brown sugar creates an irresistible crispy, caramelized crust, while the onion powder, lemon pepper, and pepper balance it out with a savory edge. The seasonings don’t overwhelm the flavor of the salmon, but they do permeate the fish a lot more than some other salmon recipes I’ve tried. That plus the bold flavors and candy-like appeal make this is a great way to tempt fish-phobes (or the fish-reluctant, like me) into eating salmon for dinner.

The only reason I wasn’t completely head over heels is that I feel like I overcooked my fish a little, and the result was a tad dry. I blame myself; I halved the recipe and thus probably should have shortened the cooking time more than I did, plus things got a little confused because I was roasting squash in the oven at the same time. I’ll certainly be trying this again. I love lemon and pepper nearly as much as I love brown sugar, and am grateful to this recipe for finally giving me a reason to buy the bottle of lemon pepper with built-in grinder that has always tempted me on the shelves at Trader Joe’s. I actually ended up using a bit more lemon pepper and black pepper than the recipe called for, and I was not sorry.

This was my first time trying frozen wild Alaskan salmon from Whole Foods. It was so much fresher than the non-frozen farmed salmon we’ve been getting from Trader Joe’s, and the 12-ounce package was exactly the size I needed for a half-recipe. My only trouble was in defrosting the fish. I followed the directions on the package to let it sit in the fridge for 6 to 8 hours, but when I removed the fish to cook it, there was still a thin shell of ice on it. The middle of the fish was soft, but I had to crack away the icy coating with my fingers, and the fish was still so cold that it solidified the melted butter when I brushed it on. Next time, more defrosting!

One other note: Melted, burnt sugar makes a big mess, so use an old baking sheet and be sure to coat it with foil. Even after a thorough greasing, my salmon stuck to the foil—which actually ended up working in our favor, because when I pulled the fish away, it conveniently left its skin behind!

1½ pounds boneless salmon fillets
3 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Combine the brown sugar, onion powder, lemon pepper, and pepper in a small bowl and mix well.

3. Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly grease it.

4. Pat the salmon fillets dry, place them on the baking sheet, and brush them with melted butter. Sprinkle the seasonings over the salmon and press down gently so they adhere.

5. Bake for 20–25 minutes.

Serves: 4
Time: 35 minutes
Leftover potential: Unknown, since I made a half-recipe. Generally, though, I don't like leftover fish, and I don't think the crustiness of the sugar coating--one of the main selling points of this recipe--would hold up particularly well on reheating.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

ROASTED ACORN SQUASH WITH GARLIC


This barely qualifies as a recipe, but it was still something of a revelation to me. Roasted squash is certainly nothing new, and acorn is a prime candidate, with its single-serving size, easy-to-cut-and-seed texture, and edible skin. Traditionally, roasted squash is prepared with sweet flavors, like butter and brown sugar, or spices, like cinnamon or curry, or some combination of the two. I grew up eating it with butter and brown sugar, although shamefully I was not much of a squash fan (it was a textural issue I’ve happily outgrown) and would only eat the small surface area that had come into direct contact with the sugar. Anyway, when I saw this idea at The Kitchn, I was immediately struck by its genius: throw a few peeled cloves of garlic into the shelter of the squash cavity as it bakes! Then you get two for the price of one—both roasted squash and the nutty, caramelized awesomeness of roasted garlic! When it comes out of the oven, just smoosh the garlic into the soft flesh of the squash and devour. I loved how the garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil all help to balance out the squash’s sweetness. As much as I love brown sugar and butter, this more savory treatment wins hands down in my book.

One note: I used a mix of small and large garlic cloves (I was in the process of finishing the teeny inner pieces of one head and starting with the huge outer pieces of another), and some of the bigger ones didn’t quite get as soft and squishy as I’d have liked, so I think it’s best to err on the side of small-to-medium cloves to make sure they cook through. (Or if you have only big cloves, maybe cut them in half?)

2 acorn squash
8–12 medium cloves garlic
Olive oil
Coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the strings and seeds. Place squash halves, skin side down, in a baking dish or on a baking sheet. Brush the tops of the squash (the flesh and especially the cavity) thoroughly with olive oil. Place two to three garlic cloves in each cavity and drizzle them with a little more oil (toss to make sure they are thoroughly coated). Sprinkle squash with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until squash flesh comes up easily when scraped gently with a fork, and garlic is soft and lightly browned. Let cool for a few minutes, then mash the garlic into the squash flesh with a fork or spoon before eating.

Serves: 2
Time: 60 to 70 minutes
Leftover potential: OK.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

ROASTED BROCCOLI WITH PARMESAN AND LEMON


Here’s an easy side dish (from Tyler Florence via the fantastically useful blog Cheap Healthy Good) that may win over some members of the anti-broccoli contingent. Roasting is an awesome treatment for almost every vegetable, and it’s an especially good way to transform questionable ones like kale, beets, and Brussels sprouts (or so I’ve been told—I’m sold on kale, but not the other two…yet). I’d tried roasted broccoli before and liked it, but this recipe takes things to a new level by adding a small amount of Parmesan. The cheese not only tastes great with the broccoli (or distracts from it, if you’re trying to convert a skeptic) but also creates an appealingly browned, crispy crust. This is how I sold the recipe to A, who is wary of broccoli; I, of course, love cheese but was mainly in it for the lemon. Neither of us were disappointed; this one’s a keeper.

1 head broccoli (½ to ¾ pound)
½ tablespoon olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
¼ lemon, juiced

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Trim about 1 inch off the ends of the broccoli stalks and cut the broccoli lengthwise into spears. Arrange the broccoli on a nonstick baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Toss to coat evenly. Put in the oven and roast for 10 minutes.

3. Remove broccoli from the oven, sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top, and bake until the cheese melts and forms a crisp shell over the broccoli, about 10 minutes. Drizzle with lemon juice.

Serves: 2
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Unknown, since we made just enough to eat that night and if A hadn't been around, I might have eaten it all on my own. I expect it would taste fine the next day, although you'd lose some of the crispness of the cheese.

Friday, November 07, 2008

GREEN BEANS WITH SHALLOTS AND LEMON


Here’s a quick and easy side dish that pairs one of my favorite vegetables with one of my favorite flavor combos for vegetables: shallots and lemon. After making this recipe from the Smitten Kitchen (but leaving off the tomatoes, which I don’t particularly like paired with green beans) a couple of times, I barely even want to bother with any of my other green-bean side-dish recipes anymore. This one is light enough for spring and summer but can just as easily brighten up a fall or winter meal as well.

½ pound green beans, trimmed
2 teaspoons butter
1 small shallot, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of ½ lemon

1. Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add green beans and cook for 3½ minutes. Drain and plunge beans into cold water.

2. In the empty pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add shallot and sauté until tender, 1–2 minutes. Add drained and cooled green beans and reheat them in the butter and shallots. Season with salt and pepper and squeeze lemon juice over.

Serves: 2
Time: 15 minutes
Leftover potential: Low, because they’re so addictive you’ll eat them all right away. If you do somehow manage to have some hanging around the next day, the lemon juice will have discolored the green beans, although they’ll taste just fine.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

ROASTED FALL VEGETABLE AND RICOTTA PIZZA


Wow. I’m down with putting potatoes (and more potatoes) and squash on pizza, and everyone knows roasted onions and garlic are splendid on anything, but I was skeptical about the carrots. Not to fear; this recipe from Everyday Food, which I mainly selected because I had leftover ricotta to use up, is one of those fabulous “I wish I’d thought of it sooner” combos. Paired with creamy cheese, these sweet, tender, caramelized vegetables make a great topping for a crisp crust. The result is a sophisticated and surprisingly rich pizza—after two pieces, my taste buds still wanted a third piece, but my belly was quite sated (a green salad makes a nice accompaniment to lighten things up).


This one is definitely being added to the pizza repertoire. Even though it takes some time to cut and roast the vegetables, barely any work is required of you after that, so this is still a pretty easy recipe that’s manageable on a weeknight. I think sweet potatoes would be a nice addition to the vegetable mix, maybe instead of the butternut squash if it’s not in season or you don’t want to futz with peeling and seeding it. I loaded my pizza pretty heavily with vegetables and still had about a cup of them left over, but I just stuck them in the fridge and ate them later in the week as a side dish with something else. Oh, and the original recipe calls for 2 cups of mozzarella—I cut it down to 1½ cups and might consider reducing it still further in the future. The cheese is nice and adds some needed moisture to the starchy vegetables and crust, but 2 cups is a lot, especially when you’re also using a cup of ricotta. The original recipe also calls for a final drizzle of olive oil before putting the pizza in the oven, but I also skipped that as unnecessary and didn’t miss it—it felt a bit like gilding the lily to be pouring oil on top of cheese.

For the roasted vegetables:
1 pound (about ½ medium) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pound small red potatoes (6 to 7), well scrubbed and quartered
½ pound red onions (1 to 2), peeled and quartered
½ pound carrots (3 to 4 medium), halved lengthwise, if thick, and cut into 1½-inch lengths
2 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1½ tablespoons olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper to taste

For the pizza:
Olive oil
1 pound pizza dough
6 ounces part-skim mozzarella cheese, grated (1½ cups)
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2. Spread vegetables and garlic on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with oil, 1 teaspoon coarse salt, and pepper to taste. Roast until vegetables are tender and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes, tossing them halfway through.

3. Brush a pizza pan (I use 9x12) with oil, roll out dough, and transfer to pan.

4. Sprinkle dough with half the mozzarella. Scatter vegetables on top (you may have extra vegetables left over), then dollop with ricotta. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and rosemary. Bake until bubbling and golden, 20 to 25 minutes.

Serves: 4
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: OK. The crust won’t be as crisp on the second day, but the toppings are still just as tasty.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND SAUSAGE BAKE


This recipe, originally from Serious Eats, wasn't the quickest thing I've ever cooked (in addition to the long baking time, there are lots of prep steps), but it was triumphantly worth the labor--A declared it to be "awesome" and "the best use of butternut squash yet." Caramelized onions, smoked cheese, and chicken stock (infused with squash flavor via a clever method of boiling it with the squash innards) all help to pack a powerful flavor punch for a dish that actually has relatively little meat and fat. I halved the recipe and then feared there wouldn't be enough food for four servings, but the squash tasted so rich that a petite portion, served with a fresh green side salad, was plenty satisfying.

I made a few changes to the original recipe, mostly because when I halved it some of the quantities seemed so tiny that they might disappear altogether--only an eighth of a pound of sausage (less than one link)? A quarter-cup of cheese? And 3/8 cup of stock was hardly enough to simmer the squash seeds in. Since the volume of a 9-inch square baking dish is more than half of a 9-by-12 dish, I felt OK about using slightly more of certain ingredients, and though I mostly eyeballed it, I've tried to replicate the measurements below. I also substituted smoked Gouda for smoked mozzarella (which Trader Joe's didn't carry) and used panko instead of the breadcrumbs because it was easier. Whatever I did, it was great and I'll certainly be making this oozy, deeply flavored little casserole again during the dark days of winter.

2 links Italian sausage (about ¼–⅓ pound) (I used chicken sausage)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small-to-medium onions, quartered and sliced
3 thyme sprigs
1 teaspoon dried sage
Salt and pepper to taste
1½ pounds butternut squash, peeled and chopped into ½-inch cubes (3–4 cups), seeds and scrapings reserved
2 tablespoons flour
⅓ cup shredded smoked mozzarella or Gouda
⅓–½ cup chicken stock
1½ slices white sandwich bread, cubed, or about ⅓ cup panko
1 tablespoon melted butter, plus butter to prepare baking dish

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking dish.

2. Remove sausage from its casing and cook in a large skillet over medium heat until just browing, breaking up sausage with a spoon as it cooks. Remove cooked sausage with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

3. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the rendered fat in the skillet, then add the onions, thyme, and sage. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. When onions are thoroughly soft, remove from skillet and place in bottom of baking dish. Dot with the sausage bits.

4. While the onions cook, simmer the squash seeds and scrapings in the chicken stock in a small saucepan for 10 minutes; strain, discard seeds and scrapings, and keep the stock warm over low heat.

5. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the empty skillet. Toss the squash cubes with the flour and arrange in a single layer in the skillet. Let the squash brown, undisturbed, for 4 minutes, then stir the squash as it cooks for the next 4 minutes. Season liberally with salt and pepper and add squash to baking dish atop onions and sausage.

6. Sprinkle the shredded cheese over the squash, and then pour the stock into the baking dish. Press the top of the casserole with a spatula to evenly distribute the liquid. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.

7. While the casserole bakes, if you are not using panko, pulse the bread cubes with the melted butter in a food processor until you have coarse bread crumbs.

8. After 30 minutes of baking, remove the baking dish from the oven, remove the foil, and top casserole evenly with breadcrumbs, or top evenly with panko and drizzle with the melted butter. Bake uncovered an additional 20 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the top is nicely browned.

Serves: 4
Time: 2 hours
Leftover potential: Pretty good; doesn’t make a ton, but the flavor deepens over time and there are no unappetizing textural changes.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

COCONUT BANANA MUFFINS


Lately, at my office, we are awash in overripe bananas. The company provides fresh fruit for us throughout the week, but I think someone has been buying too many bananas, because every Friday, there are dozens of speckled brown ones left over, and everyone starts trying to persuade everyone else to take some home, make banana bread over the weekend, and bring it in on Monday morning (there aren’t too many cooks in my department, but a lot of enthusiastic eaters). I’ve never been a huge fan of bananas or banana bread, but I also can’t resist the siren song of free, perfectly good fruit in danger of going to waste. If my freezer wasn’t already insanely full, I’d take every last one of those poor orphaned bananas and save them for a rainy day. As it is, when last Friday rolled around and no one seemed to be stepping up to the banana-bread-making plate, I figured I’d better take a shot at it.

I got it into my head that what I really wanted was coconut banana bread, and I found this recipe at Baking Bites that seemed to fit the bill. Actually, I wanted coconut banana muffins, because I like muffins so much better than loaves of bread—they’re cute, they’re perfectly portioned and portable, and they stay fresh longer. Usually I try to follow a recipe exactly on the first try, particularly when I’m planning to feed it to other people, but I knew that quick-bread recipes usually translate pretty well to making muffins, as long as you decrease the baking time. I took an even bigger risk by deciding I didn’t want to fool with buying a can of coconut milk and then only using a little bit of it. The original blog post mentioned you could use plain milk, but the flavor would be less coconutty. Then I had a brainwave—I have coconut extract in the cupboard, so why not add a little of that to amp the flavor back up?

I’m relieved to say that my experimentation worked perfectly and the muffins were awesome. I made some plain ones, too, from the Baking Bites basic banana bread recipe, because I know there are weirdos who don’t like coconut, and they were certainly good, but the coconut ones were the clear favorite—the container I’d brought was cleaned out by the end of the day. (Luckily, I’d hoarded a few at home in the freezer for A and me.) The flavors were perfect together, and the coconut ensured an extra- tender texture. I will admit the muffins were on the verge of being too sweet for me—if I were to make these regularly (and I’ll hazard a guess that they will indeed replace the tasty-enough-but-slightly-fussy banana-nut muffins as my go-to banana-bread recipe), I would experiment with either reducing the sugar slightly or using unsweetened coconut (although the unsweetened coconut I’ve seen is always dry—would that detract from the moistness of the muffins?). Still, that’s a mild complaint; in all other respects, these are a slam dunk.

2½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed banana (2 medium-large bananas)
½ cup coconut milk (or ½ cup milk and ¼ teaspoon coconut extract)
¼ cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup shredded coconut

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease two muffin tins or line them with cupcake wrappers.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar and eggs until well combined, then whisk in the mashed banana, coconut milk (or plain milk and coconut extract), butter, and vanilla.

4. Pour dry ingredients into wet ingredients and stir until just combined, making sure no streaks of flour remain. Stir in shredded coconut.

5. Pour batter into muffin cups, filling them about two-thirds full. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (or with only a few moist crumbs attached). Remove muffins from tins and cool on wire racks.

Yield: About 16
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: High. Stored in the freezer, these will keep for weeks.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

CRASH HOT POTATOES


Courtesy of The Pioneer Woman Cooks, this simple but clever technique combines the tenderness of baked potatoes and the brownness of roasted potatoes with the crispness of fried potatoes. Perhaps because I didn’t have PW’s awesome potato masher (I used a meat tenderizing mallet), perhaps because I didn’t boil my potatoes quite long enough, perhaps because they were too big, or most likely because I wasn’t gentle enough (Hulk smash!), I botched the crashing part of the recipe, shattering my potatoes into a crumbled mess instead of PW’s neat-looking patties, but they still tasted great. I served them with meatloaf and slow-cooked carrots (which always go together on my menus), and it was a perfect new-wave meat-and-potatoes meal. I sense this will become my go-to side-dish potato recipe...once I hone my potato-squishing skillz, anyway.

8-12 smallish red potatoes
Olive oil
Coarse salt
Black pepper
Fresh rosemary (or other fresh herb, such as chives, parsley, thyme, or oregano), chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the potatoes until fork-tender.

3. Generously drizzle olive oil on a baking sheet. Place the cooked potatoes on the baking sheet, leaving plenty of space between them. Using a potato masher, gently press down on each potato until it slightly mashes, then rotate the potato masher 90 degrees and mash again. Brush the top of each crushed potato generously with olive oil. Sprinkle potatoes with salt, pepper, and chopped herbs.

4. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.

Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Neutral. I wouldn't make these with the specific intention of having leftovers, but I certainly wouldn't throw the remnants away, either. I had some the next day and while they weren’t icky, the delightful crispiness was gone, leaving them basically tasting like baked potatoes. Which is fine, but far less exciting than CRASH HOT!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

BANANA-WALNUT CHOCOLATE CHUNK COOKIES


I’m trying not to post any more recipes without photos, but I dropped the ball on this one. Initially, I was too disappointed with the way the cookies turned out to take loving macro-lens pictures of them; the photo on the Martha Stewart site had led me to expect big, fat, cakey cookies, whereas mine spread thin and browned a lot. Then I tasted one, and from that point on I was too busy eating them to take pictures; between hormonal me, banana-loving A, and a few of our grateful friends, we made short work of them in a matter of days. Despite the less-than-perfect appearance of my cookies (which, until I’ve tried this recipe a few more times, I’ll chalk up to my own inept execution), this is a fabulous recipe that you need to know about immediately, photo or no photo. Postscript, August 2010: I've made this recipe many more times and the result remains rather homely, but reliably delicious; I'm finally adding a photo.

There are so many genius things about this recipe: it combines the flavor and moistness of banana bread with the awesomeness that is the classic chocolate chip cookie, and of course banana and chocolate pair naturally together. The flavor of the banana isn’t pronounced, but the tenderness it adds to the cookie is unmistakable. These aren’t too sweet, and the oatmeal (which I am such a sucker for in baked goods), nuts, wheat flour, and banana lend a wholesome aspect. The coarse salt (don’t substitute table salt!) adds little zings of savoriness. While you can use chocolate chips instead of chopping up a block of chocolate, the irregularly sized chocolate chunks add interest and incorporate the chocolate more fully through the dough.

I’m not even a banana fan and I loved these cookies. (To demonstrate how rarely I buy bananas: the one I used for this recipe was rescued from the depths of my freezer, and when I thought about it, I realized it was left over from when I made banana cake for A’s birthday in April!) A, who adores the banana/chocolate combo, was wild for them and would like to insist that I make them again, right now, please.

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon coarse salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed light-brown sugar
1 large egg
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ cup mashed ripe banana (about 1 large)
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped into ¼-inch chunks
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts (about 2 ounces), toasted

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Whisk together flours, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl; set aside.

3. Place butter and sugars into a large bowl (or the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment) and mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and mix on low speed until combined. Mix in banana, then gradually add flour mixture and mix until combined. Stir in oats, chocolate chunks, and walnuts by hand.

4. Using a 1½-inch ice cream scoop (or a heaping tablespoon), drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until golden brown and just set, 12 to 13 minutes. Let cool on sheets 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to wire racks and let cool completely.

Yield: About 3 dozen
Time: Anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on how many cookie sheets you can fit into your oven at once
Leftover potential: High—duh, they’re cookies. Martha notes that the cookies can be stored in airtight containers for up to 2 days; I will add that they will keep for weeks in the freezer and taste just as great straight from the freezer as they do defrosted. At room temperature you get the nice, soft texture, but I found the banana flavor to be more prevalent in the frozen cookie.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

YELLOW SQUASH SALAD


First the purple potatoes, then these green beans (which I haven’t posted about yet, but they’re quite good), and now yellow squash—I’m starting to think any vegetable can be elevated to world-rocking deliciousness with just a little shallot and lemon.

On Saturday night, the stars aligned: I had a spare, purposeless yellow squash getting old in my fridge; an elderly shallot in the cupboard; some leftover thyme; this Everyday Food recipe languishing on my Delicious list; and a rainy evening alone—A was at play rehearsal, so there was no one except me to be disappointed if this recipe failed. Reader, it did not fail.

This recipe is one of those gems that manages to be both ridiculously simple and still far more than the sum of its parts. I’m not usually a fan of uncooked squash, but after a few minutes marinating in the acidic dressing, the thin slices of squash were intriguingly transformed, losing their hard rawness while still remaining refreshingly crisp. I had been suspicious the salad would be bland, but the seasonings were perfect, the flavors bright and clean. I soon became extra-glad A wasn’t there, because I had made a half-recipe and I devoured the entire thing myself—ostensibly two servings’ worth. And I wish I had some more right now.

As an added bonus, this might be one of the easiest, quickest recipes I have. No cooking, only one bowl, just a tiny bit of whisking and slicing, five minutes to marinate—you can literally be done in 15 minutes. Magical.

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
3 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 medium yellow squashes (8 ounces each), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise into half-moons
1 shallot, thinly sliced crosswise
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together lemon juice and oil. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Add squash, shallot, and thyme. Toss to combine. Let stand at least 5 minutes before serving.

Serves: 4 as a side dish
Time: 15 minutes
Leftover potential: Unknown!

Monday, October 06, 2008

STOVETOP BAKED BEANS


I mentioned trying this recipe a while ago, when I was desperate for something warm and savory (and leftover-hotdog-complementary) during the Broken Oven Ordeal. I’ve never before been a big fan of baked beans, but then I’ve spent most of my life not being a fan of beans in general. I’m slowly coming around to this cheap, comforting, protein- and fiber-rich staple—in fact, I just noticed this is the second bean recipe I’ve posted in a row. Whatever prompted my sudden desire for baked beans, I’m happy that I found this recipe at Simply Recipes. It's easy to throw together and tastes, to my constant amazement, just like “real” baked beans (er, that’s the Heinz canned ones I grew up with, I’m afraid), but a hundred times better, with a beautiful sweet-sour-spicy balance. In my mind, this is a DIY triumph on par with taco seasoning, ranch dressing, and pickles.

Unusually for me, I’ve made a number of adjustments to the original recipe—some on purpose, but others by accident. The first time I made this, I absentmindedly confused the directions for using dry beans with the ones for using canned beans, leading me to slow-cook my canned beans with onion and garlic—a step not actually called for in the recipe, as it turned out, but one that yielded such delicious results that I wouldn’t dream of skipping it. If you want a quicker method using the canned beans, or if you’d like to use dry beans instead (I’ll try this sometime—this winter I’m itching to get my hands on a Dutch oven and an assortment of Rancho Gordo beans; if you’re reading this, Mom, there’s a Christmas gift idea!), consult the Simply Recipes version, but here’s the way I do it, where the beans get nicely broken down (I still hate the firm, mealy texture of whole beans), almost soupy, and deeply seasoned. I’ve been craving it repeatedly over the last few months, and although I officially categorize it as a side dish, I’ll admit that our favorite way to eat this is as an entrée, in big bowls with slices of grilled hot dog (Trader Joe’s makes a good, uncured, all-beef frank) stirred in (and, don’t worry, a green salad on the side). Oh, yum.

3 (15-ounce) cans small white beans, such as cannellini or navy, undrained
1 onion, peeled and minced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup ketchup
¼ cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1½ teaspoons dry mustard powder
¼ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1–2 slices raw thick-cut bacon, chopped

1. Place beans with their can juices in a large pot. Add onion, garlic, and bay leaf, plus water as needed to cover the contents of the pot. Heat to a simmer and let cook over medium heat for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender and some of the liquid has cooked away. Remove the bay leaf and add 1 teaspoon salt.

2. In a separate bowl, mix together the ketchup, brown sugar, vinegar, mustard powder, Tabasco sauce, and pepper. Add mixture to beans, along with bacon, and stir to combine. Bring the beans to a simmer and cook over low heat for 30-40 minutes until thick.

Serves: 4–6
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: High; as with soup, the flavor seems to improve over the next couple of days.

Friday, September 26, 2008

BLACK BEAN AND SALSA SOUP


This may be the easiest recipe in my entire repertoire, and is one of the few minimal-ingredient, pantry-food-based recipes I’ve tried that actually taste good. Could anything be simpler? Black beans are blended with broth to make soup, with salsa ingeniously serving as a stealthy, handy one-stop seasoning agent, assisted by cumin and green onions. It was a staple of my menus when I lived alone—not only because it was so quick and easy and relatively healthy, but also, admittedly, because it gave me an excuse to eat corn chips, or in more indulgent moments, nachos, on the side. I was initially surprised that I hadn’t already posted it here, until I remembered that A doesn’t really like beans and since moving in with him I only make it for myself when he’s out of town. But I really wanted it last week—I had a vision of how good it would be with quesadillas dipped into it—and so I introduced A to it, and he ate it willingly. His verdict was “pretty good,” which spoken by A about a bean soup really means something.

Of course I’m going to tell you that this recipe will be better if you use homemade broth. But back in the days before I became a broth snob, I recall using canned low-sodium broth and it was fine. Naturally, choose a high-quality salsa you really like the flavor/spiciness level of—I, as if you had to ask, use Trader Joe’s Salsa Especial (which isn’t very chunky, so I usually use slightly less broth to keep the soup from getting too thin—maybe 1⅓ cup?). I haven’t experimented with any add-ons, but there are all sorts of things you could mix into this soup or sprinkle on top if you feel like fancying things up—cilantro, jalapeno, shredded cheese, sour cream, red onion, even chicken I suppose. You might also want to add a sprinkling of salt if you’re using low- or no-sodium broth (my homemade stuff is salt-free, and I found that a dash of salt really perked up the finished soup). Corn chips or quesadillas—or, heck, nachos—make a nice accompaniment.

2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1½ cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 cup chunky salsa
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion

1. In a food processor or blender, combine beans, broth, salsa, and cumin. Blend until fairly smooth.

2. Heat the bean mixture in a medium saucepan over medium heat until thoroughly warm. Ladle soup into bowls and top each serving with ½ teaspoon green onion and 1 tablespoon sour cream (if desired).

Serves: 4
Time: 20 minutes
Leftover potential: As with all soups, high. The flavor seems to improve with a few days in the fridge, and you can easily freeze if you’d like to—though given how quick it is to make and how few fresh ingredients are involved, that doesn’t seem necessary.

Monday, September 22, 2008

ZUCCHINI-POTATO FRITTATA


I’m usually disappointed by egg-based dishes such as frittatas; they seem to turn out either too dry or too watery, and usually bland, the kind of sad, mysterious blandness that seems to persist no matter what other ingredients are involved. Yet I bullheadly keep trying them because they always sound so seductively wholesome and cozy and nourishing, despite all the evidence suggesting that maybe I just don’t really like eggs as much as I think I do. And finally my stubborn deludedness has been rewarded! I grudgingly tried this recipe because it called for six eggs and, due to a little miscommunication with myself (“We need more eggs! I’ll just buy a dozen at the farmers’ market…Oh, wait, it was last week that we needed more eggs, and I already went to Whole Foods and bought a dozen, so now I have…many, many eggs”), I needed to clear some eggs out of my refrigerator, stat. What a fortunate mistake that turned out to be, because this recipe, from Andrea Chesman’s Serving Up the Harvest (which I just put on hold on the library based on the strength of this dish), found via The Kitchn, conjured up the exact frittata I had always dreamed of.

The flavors here are ideal—zucchini and potatoes are a match made in heaven, onions and ham always liven things up, and Cheddar is hands-down my favorite cheese but seems underused in cooking outside of mac-and-cheese-contexts—but I’m convinced the technique is the real magic ingredient here. While the recipe steps might sound fussy, they happen surprisingly quickly and easily and are vital to the success of the finished dish. (In particular, don’t skip salting the zucchini—allowing it to drain much of its liquid before cooking prevents the frittata from getting watery.) How else to explain the exquisite texture of this frittata? Everything was perfectly cooked. The potatoes give it a firm structural integrity (I was astonished at how beautifully it sliced into clean wedges that maintained their shape even after being bounced around in my lunchbag on the way to work), and the underside was pleasingly browned, yet the eggs remained fluffy and creamy—gone the dry crumbliness that has plagued so many of my past frittata attempts!


I wouldn’t change a thing, except to add a pinch more salt, either to the beaten eggs or to the potatoes or to both. Otherwise, the only salt in the recipe is what’s added to the zucchini to drain them, plus of course the salty flavor of the ham. While the reviewer at The Kitchn thought her version was perfectly salted (maybe because she used regular bacon, which tastes saltier than the all-natural ham I used?), I thought mine could have been kicked up a tiny bit more (potatoes just cry out for salt). I sprinkled salt and pepper (and a little fresh basil) over the wedges before serving, but the salt really would have been better integrated inside the frittata. Still, this was just a small flaw, and it became less important as the flavors seemed to deepen and develop in the leftover servings. Oh, the leftovers! The frittata was so large, I cut it into eight slices, and then it turned out to be so filling that I couldn’t eat more than a slice at a time, so suddenly we were faced with six containers full of leftover frittata, which worried me. But the leftovers were fabulous. We had frittata for dinner on Thursday night, lunch on Friday, dinner on Saturday, and lunch again on Sunday, and we never tired of it—in fact, after we polished off the final sliced, A asked, “When are you making this again?” The leftovers were so happy that they inspired me to add some new info at the end of the recipes I post here: A “leftover potential” rating. I used to hate leftovers so much when I was younger, and now I adore them—if I’m going to go through the trouble of cooking, I want it to last me for more than one meal, and if it’s something delicious, I want to eat it more than once. I rely so much on leftovers for cheap, easy, healthy lunches every day at work and no-fuss meals on the weekends, I want to encourage everyone to take advantage of them! Eventually, hopefully, I’ll go back and add that information to all the previously posted recipes. Eventually.

A final note: I didn’t have any serving plate large enough to hold the finished frittata, so I had to use a big plastic cutting board, and my Calphalon oven-proof skillet is so heavy I can barely hold it in one hand, especially while wearing clumsy oven mitts, and A wasn’t home to help me out, so I didn’t feel equipped to try the nifty inversion of the frittata onto the plate described in step 7. Instead, I took a deep breath, gripped the handle of the skillet in both oven-mitted hands, and flipped it over as fast as I could, dumping the frittata out onto the cutting board on the counter. Usually I’m not too coordinated with such things, but it worked just fine! There’s more potential for the frittata to get bent or broken with this technique, but I think if you’ve cooked it sufficiently and are using a nonstick pan that will release it easily, the frittata will be solid enough that you can pull it off nine times out of ten.

1 medium-large zucchini or yellow summer squash, cut in half lengthwise and sliced into half-moons
1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus additional salt to taste
4–5 tablespoons olive oil
1½ pounds red potatoes, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced into half-moons
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
¼ pound smoked Canadian bacon or ham, diced
6 eggs
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup grated Cheddar cheese

1. Combine the zucchini and 1 teaspoon salt in a colander and toss well. Set aside to drain for 30 minutes.

2. While zucchini is draining, heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat in a large, well-seasoned cast-iron skillet or ovenproof nonstick skillet. Add the potatoes and onion, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, flipping and stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and continue cooking, tossing occasionally, until the potatoes are brown, about 5 minutes. Remove the potatoes from the pan with a slotted spoon, but keep the skillet on the burner.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

4. Transfer the zucchini to a clean kitchen towel and pat dry. Add the zucchini and ham/bacon to the skillet and sauté over medium-high heat until zucchini is just tender, about 4 minutes. Remove zucchini and ham/bacon with a slotted spoon, but keep the skillet over the heat.

5. Beat the eggs and pepper to taste in a medium bowl until well blended. Fold in the potatoes, zucchini, ham/bacon, and cheese.

6. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons oil to the skillet as needed to lightly coat the bottom. Pour in the egg mixture, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook without stirring until the bottom is set, about 10 minutes.

7. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the top is set, 5 to 15 minutes, checking every 5 minutes.

8. Place the serving plate on top of the skillet and carefully invert. The frittata should fall out of the pan. Cut into wedges and serve.

Serves: 6–8
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: High. Reheats well, the wedges maintain their shape, and the flavor continues to develop. Great for breakfast as well as lunch or dinner. We made the frittata on Thursday night and continued eating it happily all weekend long.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

MRS. FIELDS COOKIES


This recipe, known variously as the Mrs. Fields Cookie Recipe (note: I have never eaten an actual, official, storebought Mrs. Fields cookie), the Neiman Marcus Cookie Recipe, and the $250 Cookie Recipe, is the subject of much urban legend, which is not really exciting enough to go into here. The point is that these are some damn good cookies, good enough to merit a grandiose backstory. In fact, although I am certainly a fan of the good ol’ plain Nestle Toll House recipe (and will eventually have to try the NewYork Times recipe everyone’s been blogging feverishly about--it's this year's no-knead bread!), these are hands down my go-to chocolate-chip cookies because of two important features: (1) They have oatmeal in them, which I love, but it is ground to a powder and so takes on more of a background role than in your usual oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookie; and (2) They have both semisweet chocolate chips and milk chocolate chips. Not being a fan of dark chocolate as a child, I loved it when my mother made Mrs. Fields Cookies. Now I enjoy dark chocolate, but milk chocolate still holds a special place in my heart, and I think the combination of chocolates in these cookies is interesting. Overall, the cookies are not as soft and chewy as I usually prefer (owing to the oatmeal, the dough is so thick you have to mix it by hand), but sturdy, robust, and most importantly, not too sweet—I think it’s thanks to the oatmeal again, which adds a savoriness. I had one of these followed by a normal homemade chocolate-chip cookie given to me by a friend, and the normal cookie (while quite good) seemed so sickly sweet in comparison, my mouth puckered.

Whereas I could eat Mrs. Fields Cookies all day, which is good because when I made these a couple of weekends ago, I clean forgot that the original recipe (as passed down to me by my mother and found all over the Internet as well) makes an insane amount of cookies—about double your average cookie recipe, at least 8 dozen, which meant that the dough barely fit into my largest mixing bowl. Thanks to this little oversight, our cookie supply (stored in the freezer) will last for weeks or even months, but after being unexpectedly chained to the oven for hours baking tray after tray of them, I prudently halved the recipe in my book so I wouldn’t be taken unawares again. Not that too many cookies can ever really be a bad thing...


1 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2½ cups oatmeal
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoons baking soda
6 ounces dark chocolate chips
4 ounces milk chocolate chips
½ cup chopped pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cream together butter, sugars, eggs, and vanilla.

3. Process oatmeal in a blender until powdered. In a separate bowl, mix powdered oatmeal with flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.

4. Mix dry ingredients with creamed ones. Dough will be quite thick; you will have to mix with your hands unless you have a very powerful mixer.

5. Stir in chocolate chips and pecans.

6. Drop heaping tablespoonfuls of dough onto greased cookie sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes.

Yields: about 4 dozen
Time: 1 hour

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

DILL PICKLES

Cucumbers in their brine, ready to go into the refrigerator and begin the pickling process

A snack-sized portion of the finished pickles, nom nom nom


OMG pickles! I love pickles! Well, I hate the sweet ones. And anything pickled that is not a cucumber. Let me start again…

I love dill pickles! And I am just kicking myself for not figuring out earlier how easy it is to make them in the refrigerator. (Canning them, while not that difficult either, is another story.) Make a brine with vinegar, water, and seasonings, and pour over salted cucumbers? I could have been doing this in kindergarten and eating awesome homemade pickles for an after-school snack every single day. Why did I have to put it off until Labor Day 2008? Ah, so many years wasted eating the store-bought ones….

In short, I have made pickles, and I am pleased with myself. They taste just like actual pickles! (I know, I know, they are actual pickles. But they were so easy to make, it seems like magic.) This very basic recipe, courtesy of Martha Stewart, makes a nice, mild dill pickle slice with a hint of garlic. I am sure it would be awesome on a hamburger or other sandwich of some kind, but so far I’ve just been eating them straight from the bowl whenever I crave a little salty, crunchy snack. Undoubtedly they are better for me than Doritos.

I was a little worried because when I was preparing to make these, I discovered that my big old bottle of white vinegar had expired. In…er, 2005. Turns out I don’t use a lot of white vinegar (balsamic, red wine, white wine, and cider, yes; white, no). The sad thing is that I went ahead and used the vinegar anyway. I know, I’m terrible! You’re never going to want to come over to my house for dinner, are you? Bad enough that at least one cat hair gets into everything I cook, but now I’m using ingredients that expired almost one presidential administration ago. To be fair, I gave the vinegar the sniff test and it smelled like…vinegar. What happens to vinegar when it gets old, anyway? Does it turn into wine? The pickles taste just like they’re supposed to and no one has died, so I suspect vinegar can’t really expire.

Oh, wait! This is what the Internet is for! Let’s check….

(Five minutes later) All right, the Vinegar Institute is on my side:

“The Vinegar Institute conducted studies to find out and confirmed that vinegar’s shelf life is almost indefinite. Because of its acid nature, vinegar is self-preserving and does not need refrigeration. White distilled vinegar will remain virtually unchanged over an extended period of time. And, while some changes can be observed in other types of vinegars, such as color changes or the development of a haze or sediment, this is only an aesthetic change. The product can still be used and enjoyed with confidence.”

I will certainly be using and enjoying the rest of my vinegar with confidence—to make more pickles! If you are a pickle fan, I strongly recommend that you do the same.

2 pounds Kirby cucumbers (small, unwaxed pickling cucumbers)
3 tablespoons coarse salt
3 cups water
2 cups distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon dill seed
4 cloves garlic
2 bunches fresh dill, coarsely chopped

1. Cut the cucumbers into ½-inch rounds and place in a colander set over a bowl. Toss cucumbers well with salt and let drain in refrigerator for 1 hour.

2. About 20 minutes before cucumbers are done draining, bring water, vinegar, dill seed, and peeled garlic cloves to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer for 4 minutes. Let mixture cool slightly, about 10 minutes.

3. Remove cucumbers from refrigerator; rinse well and drain (discard any juice in the bowl). Pat dry between paper towels or in a dishtowel. Transfer cucumber slices to a large bowl (to save washing, I just dried out the one I’d drained them over and used it again). Add chopped dill to the bowl and toss to combine. Pour in the brine. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes.

4. Transfer mixture to airtight containers (I was able to skip this by making the pickles in a Pyrex bowl with a tight-fitting lid) and refrigerate at least 1 week. Pickles will keep in refrigerator for 3 more weeks.

Yields: 2 quarts
Time: 1 hour 30 minutes (but most of that is draining/cooling time during which you can go away and do something else), plus 1 week for the actual pickling process

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

BLT SALAD WITH RANCH


I believe my love for BLTs is well known. My weakness for ranch dressing is a darker secret I try to keep in check. So when I saw this recipe in (of all places) Parade magazine, I knew I’d have to give it a try. I’m generally not in favor of entrée salads, but on a hot summer night they sometimes seem like just the thing, especially when they involve (a) arugula, (b) tomatoes, (c) bacon, and (d) bread cubes toasted in bacon fat.

As is noted in the comments on the Parade page, despite the lead-in “Hot August evenings call for light dinners,” this salad is not exactly a dieter’s dream (you can now click over to look at the fat content if you like, but I don’t really recommend it, especially since the fat stats aren't broken down into saturated/unsaturated and thus aren't that helpful). You could probably decrease the bacon quantity, and cook the bread cubes in less bacon fat or switch to olive oil instead (though I wouldn’t encourage that—those bacony croutons were amazing). You could use less ranch, and I think I did—two tablespoons per serving seems like a lot to me, although, granted, I’m not someone who likes my salads drenched in dressing. But how did I choose to make this salad more healthy? Via the dubiously effective yet undoubtedly exciting strategy of eschewing chemical-laden prepared ranch dressing and making my own instead! And I know maybe, speaking strictly statistically, my dressing wasn’t any less fatty than a bottled version—sure, I did use vitamin-rich fresh herbs and substitute nonfat Greek yogurt for the sour cream, but the majority of the dressing is good old mayonnaise—but shh! Leave me my illusions. Because that dressing was awesome. And it made this salad super awesome. And I plan on enjoying them together (with a side of fresh corn on the cob) at least one more time before summer (which, thankfully, in Southern California, lasts through September) is over.

You don’t really need an exact recipe to throw a salad together, so I just used the Parade instructions as a general guide. I split the recipe in half, to make two servings instead of four. I could have decreased everything a little further, since the quantities turned out to be generous, I guess because this is intended as a main dish—2 cups of lettuce, 1 cup of bread cubes, and 1 tomato per person. I could definitely eat that much, but I could not fit it into a bowl. (I prepped the salad in the two individual bowls we were going to eat out of, instead of in one large salad bowl. I suspect that if A were to serve himself out of a larger bowl, he would end up with 80% croutons and bacon.) I had neglected to buy frisee, but the bag of arugula from the farmers’ market was plenty for the two of us. So, just eyeball it. The point is the combination of fresh greens, good tomatoes (I used some gorgeous heirlooms—Cherokee reds, I think), and salty bacon, with the extra flourishes of bacony seasoned croutons (I am always suspicious of dried thyme, but it was great here) and creamy, herby dressing. (Not to neglect the chives—they add a subtle oniony touch.) And, I would like to argue, this salad is likely nutritionally superior to an actual BLT, since you get more lettuce, more tomato, and less bacon than a traditional sandwich contains.

So I recommend this recipe, and if you are going to bother with doing that, I strongly recommend making your own ranch dressing. It’s not as crazy as it sounds, and it will totally rock this salad.

¼ pound bacon (I used 4 slices), diced (1x¼-inch pieces)
1–2 cups cubed French bread (1-inch pieces)
½ teaspoon dried thyme
3–4 cups baby arugula (you can substitute frisee for half of this if you want)
2 ripe tomatoes, cubed (1-inch pieces)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
2–4 tablespoons ranch dressing

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. While oven is heating, cook the bacon in a nonstick skillet over medium heat until it reaches desired crispness. Remove with a slotted spoon and set to drain on a paper towel. Reserve 1 tablespoon bacon fat from the pan.

3. Toss the bread cubes with the reserved bacon fat, plus the dried thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Spread bread cubes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until crisp and golden, 10–15 minutes, tossing once.

4. Place arugula (and frisee, if using) in a bowl and toss with the bacon, tomatoes, bread cubes, chives, and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with ranch dressing.

Serves: 2
Time: 30 minutes

RANCH DRESSING


God bless the Pioneer Woman. First oatmeal-jam bars, and now this.

I have never been a huge fan of salad dressing. For many years, I would eat my salads entirely “naked” (I still do, on occasion, if the dressing isn’t worthwhile), and now I only use a tiny splash of dressing—not so much for health reasons, but because I can’t stand the slimy texture of lettuce drenched in liquid. When I go out, I always order dressing (usually vinaigrette) on the side, so I can control the quantity, and when I’m home, I use only the simplest of dressings—lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper shaken up in a jar. But the first dressing I learned to tolerate, then crave, was ranch. It perked up, or at least masked, the sad lettuce-and-shredded-carrot-and-red-cabbage salad bar mix that sustained me at the college cafeteria, and as far as I’m concerned it makes a better dip for French fries than ketchup (ah, I mourn for those halcyon faster-metabolism days of my youth, devouring fries with ranch every Monday night at the Groveland Tap in St. Paul, washing them down with a pint of Leinenkugel's!). The advent of Cool Ranch Doritos is a fond food memory for me, right up there with the introduction of the Dairy Queen Blizzard (1985, I remember it well).

Now, ranch and I have grown apart. Happily, I’ve mostly lost my taste for Doritos and am no longer subjected to sad salads on a regular basis (though sadly, I’ve moved away from both the Tap and the land of Dairy Queens). I’ll still dip a few baby carrots into ranch dip at a party, but it would never have occurred to me to try making my own ranch if it hadn’t been for a recipe I recently spotted and instantly craved: BLT Salad With Ranch. Then I remembered seeing a recipe for homemade ranch on The Pioneer Woman Cooks, and the rest was history. Delicious, delicious history.

If you have a bottle of Kraft ranch dressing in your refrigerator or those Hidden Valley ranch-mix packets in your cupboard, throw them out and make this instead. If you think prefab dressing tastes like chemicals, make this and rediscover the joy of ranch. This recipe is dead easy to make and actually tastes just like other ranch-flavored things you’ve eaten, but better. I’m as shocked as you are to learn that the mysterious “ranch flavor” is actually something than can be created using real ingredients, but there it is.

I made a few modifications to the original recipe: (1) I halved the quantities, because a household of two people does not need, and probably should not have access to, a big bowl of ranch dressing. (2) I substituted nonfat Greek yogurt for the sour cream. Certain boyfriends I could mention were skeptical of this decision, but I guarantee it, they were not able to taste a difference and neither will you. Not only is yogurt healthier, but it's also available in small single-serving containers, so you won’t be stuck with a big tub of sour cream. (3) I never have buttermilk around and hate buying a big carton for just a couple of tablespoons, so I always use the ol' milk-n-lemon juice trick. Verdicts vary on the quantities, but for this dressing I just put ¼ cup milk in a Pyrex 1-cup measuring cup, then added about a teaspoon of fresh-squeezed lemon juice and let it sit for a few minutes before adding it gradually to the bowl of ranch until the dressing was thinned to the right consistency).

Oh, and I added some black pepper, because I love it, and some fresh dill, which I happened to have a ton of, because I was also making…homemade pickles! Stay tuned to hear about that exciting adventure later this week!

In the meantime, if ranch dressing holds any dear place in your heart, for pete’s sake go out and make this recipe at once. You owe it to yourself. And if you’re really hardcore, you’ll make your own mayonnaise to go in it! (OK, I haven’t tried to leap that culinary hurdle yet, but it’s on my to-do list.)

1 small garlic clove
½ cup real mayonnaise (not Miracle Whip)
¼ cup nonfat Greek yogurt (such as Fage)
2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
Fresh dill, if desired
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Buttermilk (or milk + lemon juice) to taste

1. Mince the garlic. Sprinkle a pinch of coarse salt over it and mash it into a paste with a fork or the flat side of the knife.

2. Add the garlic to a small bowl along with the mayonnaise, yogurt, and seasonings. Mix well and add buttermilk or milk as needed to thin to desired consistency (about ¼ cup seemed to work for me). Chill for a while, preferably a couple of hours, before serving. Keeps in the refrigerator, covered, for about a week.

Yields: About ¾ cup
Time: 10 minutes

Monday, August 25, 2008

DELICIOUS ST. PAUL

Bear with me. Thanks to all the traveling I’ve been doing this summer (Pacific Northwest and Indiana in July; Minnesota in August), I haven’t been doing much blogworthy cooking lately. Until I manage to get my act together, here are some photos from my recent visit to the St. Paul Farmers’ Market.


After a few years away from my hometown, what struck me was how the produce was portioned so neatly into individual containers. At the California farmers’ markets I’ve frequented, the fashion tends more towards enormous crates or casual heaps from which you fill a plastic bag with your desired amount, then hand it to the seller to be weighed. While this system is much more practical for me (I can control how much I buy, making it easier to match the exact quantities called for by a recipe), it certainly isn’t as aesthetically pleasing (at least to obsessive-compulsives like me!) as all those perfect rows of little boxes and baskets.


Yet I was equally pleased, in a different way, by this heap of garlic. Er, “garlics.” I bought one as a souvenir.

These flowers were extra-pretty when awash in the early-morning sunlight. Thanks, parents, for forcing me to get up so ungodly early!


Yes, please! Man, I love those little yellow guys right there.


Beep!


Wee baby squash, so cute.


Two vegetables I have never tasted.


Cleverly preassembled salsa ingredients. I love the spiciness scale.


Harbinger of fall.


I could eat all of those tomatoes right now. Hmm, perhaps it’s time to take my lunch break.

Afterwards, we had breakfast at my parents’ neighborhood café, Bon Vie, where they know how to serve proper pots of tea (we were all drinking my favorite everyday tea, Tea Source Emperor’s Blend, on this particular morning):


My appetite whetted by all that gorgeous farmers’ market produce, I had this delicious and unique vegetable hash (potatoes, red pepper, celery, zucchini, and yellow squash) topped with a poached egg. And poached eggs are so darn photogenic!


Yep, definitely time for lunch. I just fought the impulse to lick my screen.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

PANCETTA-WRAPPED CHICKEN BREASTS WITH LEEKS AND THYME


I’ve long admired Jamie Oliver from a cuteness standpoint, but this is the first of his recipes I’ve actually made. I must say, I’m impressed, even though I’ve tried this twice and not yet managed to execute it perfectly. Don’t worry—the fault is not with the recipe, which is of the simple mix-things-together-and-throw-in-dish-then-bake variety—but with my supply chain. Namely, the pancetta. I think of it as a fairly common ingredient, but neither my beloved Trader Joe’s nor my usual big corporate grocery store carry it sliced, only cubed. So the first time I attempted this recipe, I went to a new Italian market near my house (which I’d been looking for an excuse to visit, but it turned out to be lamer than I’d imagined—mostly an overpriced sandwich shop with a half-assed selection of imported groceries), walked up to the meat counter, asked for a half-pound of pancetta, and watched as the guy cut it off the big marbled chunk in the glass case and wrapped it in paper for me. But I guess I wasn’t really paying attention, because it wasn’t until I got home that I realized the pancetta wasn’t sliced. (Not really the Italian market’s fault, but I still don’t think I’ll be going back there again.) I had to slice it myself, which resulted in thick, rather stubby strips I sort of had to lay awkwardly across the top of the chicken breasts instead of wrapping them around. It worked OK, but it wasn’t the thin, crisp, elegant layer of meat I’d imagined.

I wondered if one might substitute good-quality bacon, and so I tried that the second time I made this recipe (documented in the photo shown above). Bacon did indeed work much better for wrapping, but surprisingly, I didn’t notice the same depth of flavor in the finished dish. Also, the bacon released a lot more fat than the pancetta, so that my leeks were basically swimming in grease by the end of the cooking time and had to be lifted out with a slotted spoon.

Obviously the answer is to embark on a thorough search for proper sliced pancetta (I’m hoping Whole Foods might be the solution to this conundrum) and try this a third time, but I wanted to share the recipe with you now because regardless of all my ingredient problems, I can still tell that it’s a great recipe. This is the kind of dish that takes barely any effort to make and yet produces food delicious and sophisticated enough to serve at a dinner party and spend all night basking in the compliments. The pancetta and thyme do much to spruce up boring chicken breasts, but it’s the leeks that are the superstars here, cooked until they’re meltingly tender and sweet, with winey and porky undertones. Served with a refreshing green salad, it’s an easy yet impressive meal—quick enough for a weeknight, yet worthy of a special occasion.

The original recipe served just one person and was written in Jamie’s casual, almost careless style—few precise measurements, just a knob of this and a pour of that. So everything is pretty much to taste, but in increasing it to serve four, I’ve tried to quantify things as best I can. The one thing that befuddled me about the original was that it called for 6 or 7 pancetta slices for just a single chicken breast (and you’ll notice that in the accompanying photo, that chicken is pretty well blanketed). This seemed excessive, especially when multiplied by four, unless those slices are super-short or something? With the bacon, I found that two slices wrapped around each breast covered it adequately, and for my own serving (shown above) I only used one—both for health reasons and because I like the spirally look of the single slice with peeks of chicken showing through. So I’m leaving the pancetta quantity totally to your whim, along with the oil (you don’t need much) and the wine. Experiment—I think no matter what, you’ll be impressed with the result.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (if the breasts are large, as they all seem to be nowadays, I like to use just 2 and slice them in half to make 4)
4 large leeks
about 12 sprigs fresh thyme
olive oil
1 tablespoon butter, cut into pieces
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
white wine
enough sliced pancetta (or good-quality bacon) to wrap around the chicken breasts

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Place chicken breasts in a bowl. Wash and trim the leeks, remove outer leaves, and cut white and light green parts into ¼-inch-thick slices. Add leeks to the bowl along with leaves from about 6 thyme sprigs, a splash of olive oil, the butter, salt and pepper, and a swig of white wine. Toss everything together.

3. Remove the chicken breasts from the bowl. Pour the leek mixture into a baking dish just large enough to hold the chicken snugly (an 8- or 9-inch square glass dish works well). Wrap each chicken breast in a single layer of pancetta and place in the dish. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and scatter remaining thyme sprigs atop and around the chicken.

4. Bake in the center of the oven for 25 to 35 minutes.

Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes

Thursday, July 24, 2008

DELICIOUS PORTLAND

Over the July 4th weekend I paid my first-ever visit to the Pacific Northwest, spending most of the time in Portland, which is revered as a foodie mecca for its bountiful fresh produce and local microbrews. I hoped to eat and drink as many tasty things as I could, documenting all of the tastiness with photos of every meal. In this I was only marginally successful. First of all, I was only there for three full days, and I would have needed about a month (or possibly a second stomach) to make my way through my wanna-eat list, so I regretfully shelved some of my food dreams (seafood, brewery tour, Tillamook ice cream, Pix, The Tin Shed, Roots Brewery) for another time. Secondly, travel eating always involves compromise for the sake of expediency—you’re hungry or someone else in your group is, you don’t know the lay of the land, and you just need to eat what’s readily available at the moment so you can get on with your sightseeing. Even I’m not about to spend an entire vacation in the pursuit of restaurants, not when there’s Powell’s and The Grotto to see. And the photo thing fell by the wayside on the second day. Restaurants were dark, or I was too eager to eat, or the food wasn’t that exciting, or I would have felt weird whipping out my camera. I can, however, present you with this excellent portrait of my first morning’s breakfast (I must say, our breakfasts were uniformly excellent on this trip, but this one was my very favorite), an open-faced bacon-tomato-avocado-poached-egg sandwich at Café Marron in Spokane:


Here are three more delicious Portland moments:

1. Circumstances conspired to allow us to dine in the home of a real Portlander, a sort of friend-of-a-friend (well, actually, a father-of-a-friend-of-a-brother) none of us had met before. I knew it was a good sign when we arrived at his lovely house and were immediately drafted to pick raspberries for the dessert. Sitting in the backyard, we drank wine (a good Syrah we’d picked up, at the Maryhill Winery on our way into town) and chatted while dining on a delicious homemade chard-rice casserole and salad featuring vegetables from the garden, followed by an amazing chocolate tart (like this one, from Jamie Oliver’s book Cook With Jamie) garnished with the fresh-picked raspberries. It was our first night in Portland, and it was perfect.

2. In Portland I became determined to finally try this year’s (or last year's?) food-blogger-darling dessert, the French macaron (not to be confused with a coconut macaroon, this is a ground-almond-based sandwich cookie that looks rather like a tiny hamburger, with two rounded layers enclosing a creamy filling, available in a wide array of colors and flavors, making it as photogenic as it is delicious). Of course these are probably widely available in L.A., but in my normal, sensible, well-balanced life I try to avoid bakeries, and traveling is always such a good opportunity to (a) try something new and (b) indulge. Though we weren’t able to make it to Pix, where my source assured me that the salted-caramel macaron was so good “you almost need to eat it in private,”* two varieties of macaron, chocolate and mango, were available at Ken’s Artisan Bakery, just a couple of blocks from our hostel. On a restless late-afternoon walk while my travel companions were resting, I decided to go for it. I had chocolate, of course, and it was delicious—lightly crisp on the outside, tender within:



3. On the final night of our trip, we decided to splurge at Higgins, a highly recommended restaurant in downtown Portland that emphasizes local, organic, seasonal, sustainable food. And wow, it was a great dining experience from beginning to end—excellent food in a relaxed, unpretentious-but-still-fancy atmosphere. K and I both had good regional wines (I don’t remember what mine was called, but hers was “Jezebel”). S had a roasted-beet salad and a cold vegan soup made from pureed potatoes and almonds, seasoned with smoked paprika (it sounds odd, but was quite good). K had a beautiful piece of salmon with vegetables and homemade spaetzle. I had a fabulous sweet-pea risotto featuring three forms of peas—peas, pea pods, and a pea puree swirled in. The sweetness of the peas was perfectly balanced by rated Grana Padano cheese, smoky little chunks of coppacola, and salty wafers of fried Parmesan. I don’t even particularly love peas or risotto, but I loved this. It was the kind of restaurant where you sensed that anything you ordered was going to be delicious, even if it was something you didn’t normally like. This caused us agonies of decision-making over the alluring dessert menu, but at last we settled on house-made rhubarb sorbet and hazelnut ice cream, both served with an assortment of tiny house-made cookies and an amusing cube of Cognac gelee (think freestanding, upscale Jell-O shot). But the show was stolen by the third dessert, and utterly amazing raspberry-ricotta tart with a lavender shortbread crust (I’d been skeptical, fearing it would taste like potpourri or something, but was pleased to be proven wrong—thanks for sticking to your guns on that one, K!). In short, I will definitely be returning to Portland, and Higgins will be on the itinerary.

*This turn of phrase led us to fantasize about opening a restaurant featuring a dessert so supposedly decadent and delicious that when you ordered it, you would simply be brought a plate with a silver key on it. You would get up and go to the back of the restaurant, where your key would open one of several little phone-booth-sized red-velvet-padded rooms, inside which your dessert would be waiting on a silver platter, for you to eat in private, able to groan and gorge to your heart's content, away from strangers' eyes. The dessert wouldn't really even have to be that special; it would all be in the fun presentation. If anyone executes this idea, I demand a lifetime of free desserts!