Friday, June 27, 2008


Courtesy of Simply Recipes, this is a simple salad that vaguely reminds me of my favorite summer meal, BLTs and corn on the cob. (Hmm, I bet BLTs made with arugula [BATs?] would be really good.) The sweet corn, salty bacon, and peppery greens, and slightly sour vinaigrette all balance each other perfectly. (I especially loved that the imparted another dimension of flavor, but was barely noticeable; I don’t enjoy strong vinegar flavors.) I’d never heard of boiling corn in the husk before, and I tried it with one eyebrow skeptically raised, but now I’m a convert—I really could taste the difference in flavor, and as a bonus the corn was much easier to shuck.

I served this salad with quesadillas for an easy Sunday night supper, the perfect end to a brutally hot weekend. (This is my new, amazingly delicious technique for making quesadillas—I used to just toast them in the oven, but when my oven broke last month, I tried this and was blown away—they are so crisp and tasty, perhaps even better than grilled cheese sandwiches!) While the salad is best immediately after you add the dressing, I ate the leftover servings a few days later and although the arugula was wilted, everything still tasted dandy.

4 large ears of corn
2 cups chopped arugula
4 strips bacon, diced and cooked
⅓ cup sliced green onions
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
⅛ teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Cook the corn by grilling, steaming, or boiling the ears (cook them in their husks for more flavor). Let cool, remove the husks and silk, and cut the kernels off the cobs.

2. In a large bowl, mix together corn, arugula, bacon, and green onions. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, cumin, and salt and pepper. Pour dressing onto salad just before serving and toss well.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


My friend J and I drove up to Somis and picked blueberries on Sunday! Blueberries always seem at a premium here in SoCal, even when they’re in season, so I was excited that in exchange for just a little driving and manual labor, I could get such a bargain—I picked 2½ pounds for just $8. The picking went slowly at first because blueberries are so small and hard to spot on the bushes (at least when they’ve been regularly picked over by other paying customers), but once I got the hang of it, my hunter-gatherer/obsessive-compulsive skills kicked in. Even though the day was brutally hot and sunny, the work was fun, sort of like a treasure hunt where the big “Eureka!” moment happened over and over every few seconds. It felt more pleasant than past U-pick experiences I’ve had with other fruits: blueberry bushes are relatively tall, so you don’t have to backbreakingly hunch over them as you do with strawberry plants, but they aren’t prickly like raspberry plants; moreover, blueberries stay firmer than other berries and don’t make your hands all sticky.

A loves blueberries in any form with a fiery passion; I enjoy eating them raw, but don’t particularly care for them in baked goods (muffins, pancakes, etc.), where they seem to gain just a bit too much intensity. So we both agreed the majority of my haul should just get rinsed and put in a big bowl in the fridge for noshing throughout the week (I’ve been eating them every morning on my plain yogurt; so good!). I did freeze just a few of them, so we could enjoy them later (to freeze blueberries: without rinsing them, lay them on a single layer on a baking sheet and place it flat in the freezer until the berries are hard, then pour them into a container or plastic freezer bag—this keeps them from clumping together; when you want to use them, just defrost and rinse). But I did feel like celebrating my blueberry coup with something special, so I whipped up a mini blueberry crisp. I just used the apple crisp recipe I’ve already posted, adapted it following the cookbook's directions for using blueberries instead (basically, you just add more flour to keep the filling thick), and halved the recipe so it wouldn't use too many of my precious berries.

The result? Yum, of course. Some of my blueberries were on the small, tart side (I like ’em that way), so they responded well to being baked with sugar. I did think the end product had an overwhelmingly intense-blueberry quality I wouldn’t want to eat all day long—I would have preferred it balanced with some vanilla ice cream, or a slightly higher topping-to-filling ratio. But wow, there’s nothing like eating a spoonful of warm, gooey, sweet baked fruit and thinking, “I just picked these this morning!”

This is the full recipe, which I halved (luckily, I inherited a cute little 1-quart baking dish from some unknown source at some point):

5 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
4 tablespoons granulated white sugar
½ cup regular rolled oats
½ cup packed brown sugar
7 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
¼ cup chopped nuts or coconut (I used blanched almonds because that’s what I had on hand)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Place blueberries in a 2-quart square baking dish. Stir in the white sugar and 3 tablespoons flour.

3. In a medium bowl, combine the oats, brown sugar, flour, and spice. Add butter and mix with two knives, a pastry blender, or your fingers until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in nuts or coconut. Sprinkle mixture over blueberries.

4. Bake for 30–35 minutes or until topping is golden. Serve with vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Serves: 6
Time: 40 minutes

Friday, June 20, 2008


I'm trying to come to terms with the fact that I like making jam a lot more than I like eating it. (Whereas usually eating the food I make is my favorite part!)

Don’t get me wrong: jam is tasty! But it’s really hard for me to get through more than one jar per year. I don’t eat a lot of toast (even though I adore it; it just doesn’t fill me up for breakfast), and I don’t have a high tolerance for sweet things in the morning anyway. I’ve experimented with eating jam in other ways—for instance, it’s an excellent way to perk up plain yogurt or oatmeal—yet still I’ve got a backlog of perfectly good homemade fruit preserves getting old in my pantry and refrigerator. The main problem is that last winter when I canned a batch of apple butter to give to friends and family for Christmas, at least half a dozen of the jars didn’t seal (I think some of the lids were too old), which meant they weren’t shelf-stable, so I couldn’t mail them or pack them in my suitcase to bring to Minnesota and give away. They were perfectly fine (in fact, the apple butter is darn delicious, if I do say so myself), but they had to be kept in the fridge—and most of them are still there, lurking in the back, six months later. Apple butter is great on toast, but it’s kind of weird stirred into yogurt (there’s a reason you don’t see a lot of commercially made apple yogurt), and now that it’s full summer (100 degrees in Pasadena today!) a bowl of steaming apple-butter oatmeal just doesn’t appeal.

So I was on a mission to find a recipe that would provide a worthy end to my apple butter and any other old jam I might have lying around now or in the future. Because I don’t really want to stop canning jam! It makes me feel all cozy and Little-House-on-the-Prairie-like. But I know that Ma Ingalls would not approve of me wasting perfectly good fresh fruit by canning it, letting it sit on my shelves for a year, and then reluctantly throwing it out for fear of botulism. Appropriately enough, it was The Pioneer Woman who came to my aid with this insanely easy, delicious, versatile recipe for oatmeal-jam bars. Did someone say oatmeal? I love oatmeal!

Don’t mistake these for health food, because they’re totally not; they’re buttery and they’re sweet—in fact, the first time I tasted them they seemed too sweet, and I thought, “Oh, I won’t want to eat very many of these,” and promptly gave a bunch of them away to my coworkers. Then, later in the week, after dinner, I was hankering for a little dessert and I ate a bar and OMG SO GOOD. The flavor was strongly reminiscent of a non-chemical-laden apple NutriGrain bar crossed with an apple crisp or cobbler or crumble; the texture was addictively soft and chewy and slightly sticky. I will definitely be making these again, because I’ve got two more jars of apple butter left in the fridge and maybe even some older jam stashed away in the cupboard. That’s the best thing about this recipe—you can use just about any flavor you want. PW used apricot in the original, I’ve already testified that apple was awesome, and I am just dying to try a berry-flavored version. Folks, I would even—gasp!—buy jam at the store to make this recipe. And if that’s not a glowing recommendation, I don’t know what is.

Oh yeah, and did I mention it’s really, really easy to make? If you don’t believe me, click over to PW’s original writeup, which walks you through step with step-by-step photos.

1½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups oats
1 cup packed brown sugar
1¾ sticks butter, room temperature, cut into pieces
1 10-to-12-ounce jar of fruit jam or preserves, any flavor

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Using an electric mixer, combine all ingredients except jam in a large bowl until completely blended (it should have about the consistency of crumbly cookie dough).

3. Press half of the mixture into a buttered 8- or 9-inch square baking pan. Spread jam evenly over crust. Sprinkle second half of mixture over the top and pat lightly.

4. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until light brown. Let cool completely (this may take several hours), then cut into squares.

Yield: Maybe 24 bars? (I cut mine super-small, about half the size of PW’s)
Time: 1 hour

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I mentioned this recipe a few posts ago, but it needed another go-round to work out the kinks. Attempt #2 happened on Sunday night, as part of a tongue-in-cheek purple-and-gold meal (“gold” being represented by corn fritters) I created to sustain us while we vainly cheered for the Lakers during the NBA Finals. (Boo, Lakers. But yay, I guess, for my dear former Timberwolf Kevin Garnett, who was hilariously gobsmacked upon winning last night—crying, babbling, giving shouts out to “ ’Sota” [I’m so going to start calling it that], using the f-word so many times that vast portions of his speech were bleeped out, and possibly hitting on his female interviewer.)

This time, I deviated from the original recipe by briefly sautéing the shallots in olive oil instead of leaving them raw, and for me that was the one adjustment needed to push this over the edge into side-dish perfection. At least for potato-salad-phobes like me, this is the ideal summer potato dish: It’s got the comforting texture of rustically chunky mashed potatoes, but with a light, lemony flavor and cheerful, festive color. It’s easy to make and doesn’t need to be eaten piping-hot. And watching the color “bloom” as you add the lemon juice is just endlessly fun.

(One note: Your color results will vary depending on the type of potato—I didn’t use the Purple Majesties the recipe specified, just whatever anonymous purple variety the farmers’ market happened to have, and you’ll notice mine are a delicate shade of lavender instead of the brilliant plum hue of the Smitten Kitchen’s.)

1 pound small purple potatoes, washed
4 small shallots, minced
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons good extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

1. In a large pot, cook potatoes with skins on in heavily salted boiling water until tender, approximately 15 minutes.

2. Remove potatoes from pot, and let them sit until cool enough to touch.

3. Meanwhile, put the empty pot back on the stove (dry it out first if necessary), add the olive oil, and warm it over medium heat. Add the minced shallots and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.

4. While the shallots are cooking, peel the warm potatoes with your fingers. Place them in a large bowl and, using a fork, gently smash them, maintaining a fairly chunky consistency. Pour in the shallot and olive oil from the pot, then add lemon juice, salt, and pepper and fold gently to combine. Sprinkle parsley on top.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Hands down, these are my new favorite cookies.

One funny detail I didn’t mention about the Broken Oven Fiasco is that during the insane four-week wait for the electrician, our building manager (totally blameless and a really nice guy who once got pranked by David Letterman while they were both students at Ball State) placated me by giving me permission to use the oven in the apartment next door, which currently happens to be vacant. This was a stroke of luck that got me through some rough patches—the night we discovered our oven was broken while we were in the middle of making pizza, the special birthday dinner and cupcakes I made for my mother, and the day I decided I Absolutely Deserved Some Cookies, Damn It, Brokedown Oven or No.

Cooking next door was one part fun adventure and one part annoying sitcom trope. On the plus side, it was useful, of course, as well as gratifying my curiosity about the neighboring apartment (turns out it’s designed completely differently than ours, except, eerily, for the kitchen, which is laid out identically). On the minus side, every baking operation involved carrying heavy and often skin-searingly hot dishes of food out through our sliding screen door, across our patio, out our front door, down an outdoor sidewalk, through the front door of the next-door apartment, across its patio, through its sliding screen door, across pristine wood floors I had to avoid tracking dirt onto, and then all the way back again multiple times. On one occasion, I did all this in the rain. On other occasions, I suffered the embarrassment of running into mystified neighbors outdoors while wearing oven mitts and carrying casserole dishes. And on the day I made these cookies, I burst into the next-door apartment to retrieve my final tray of treats from the oven only to discover that a couple of prospective tenants were looking at the place. After awkwardly explaining what I was doing there, I joked that the apartment manager paid me to ensure that the vacant apartments always smelled enticingly like fresh baked goods. I tactfully didn’t mention to them that I’d found the brand-new oven in that apartment to be woefully inferior to my old Thermador next door. I also didn’t offer them any cookies. I’d already tasted one and deemed them too good to share.

I picked this recipe (from the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion, which I really need to check out, via Bake or Break) mainly because I’m a sucker for oatmeal and I had some M&Ms to use up. (On Valentine’s Day 2007, A filled my gumball machine with white, pink, and red M&Ms, and yes, it had really taken us that long to eat them all. After a year, they had taken on an oddly hard, crumbly texture. I knew that baking them into cookies would disguise their staleness.) I do love M&Ms in cookies, but the real stars here are (a) the peanut-butter flavor and (b) the butterscotch chips. I adore butterscotch, but somehow I forget how much I love it until I actually taste it. I’d never baked with butterscotch chips before, and when I opened the bag of Nestle butterscotch morsels (obscenely priced at over $4 at my neighborhood grocery store) and tasted one, I was dismayed to find that they tasted like sickeningly sweet chemicals. But mixed into cookies, blending with the soft oatmeal-peanut-butter dough and contrasting with the chunks of chocolate, they are awesome. Not too photogenic, mind you—definitely lumpy and “homestyle”—but chewy, luxurious, with a variety of flavors that all work well together.

These cookies were really easy to make (at least for normal people who don’t have to run back and forth between two different apartments). The recipe only uses one bowl, always a plus. The dough seems strange (it barely has any flour in it!) but comes together with little difficulty—a bit on the loose and crumbly side, so that the occasional chip or M&M would fall out when I formed them, but I just gave the dough lumps a squeeze and pressed the stray bits onto the top. The original recipe is for enormous ¼-cup cookies (“monster”-sized, I guess), but I dislike big cookies and just formed them normally, in heaping tablespoons (really heaping—probably about 2 tablespoons of dough per cookie).

I still have half a bag of the precious butterscotch chips left. Originally, I was thinking I’d try them in a different cookie (maybe the Oatmeal Scotchies recipe on the bag?), but now that I’ve grown to love these monster cookies so much, I’m seriously contemplating just making them again.

3 large eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon corn syrup
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
1½ cups chunky peanut butter
4½ cups rolled oats
½ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips
¾ cup butterscotch chips
¾ cup M&Ms (mini or full-sized)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease baking sheets or line them with parchment or silicon mats.

2. Combine eggs, both sugars, vanilla, corn syrup, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add melted butter, peanut butter, oats, and flour and mix thoroughly. Stir in the chocolate and butterscotch chips and the M&Ms. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes to allow the oats to absorb the butter.

3. Drop the dough by heaping tablespoons onto baking sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until lightly browned.

Yield: 4 to 5 dozen
Time: 1½ hours

Friday, June 13, 2008


Here’s my excuse for not posting in a month:

My oven was broken for four weeks, people. Then the electrician finally arrived…and took it away, leaving behind a gaping, cat-enticing hole in the wall of my kitchen. Sure, it’s possible to cook ovenlessly, and I did so, bravely soldiering on preparing meals on the stovetop day after day, but it’s amazing how many of the exciting new recipes I’d been wanting to try required an oven. Suddenly all my food cravings were for precisely what I couldn’t make: pizza, cookies, roasted chicken and vegetables. So when my darling vintage Thermador was returned to me, fully functional (they even fixed the broiler, which had been broken for about two years), not surprisingly my zeal for cooking (and writing about it) came roaring back too.

Of course it seemed appropriate to inaugurate the rejuvenated ol’ oven with a new pizza recipe. I was already aware that potatoes are great on pizza; pesto and potatoes are a natural pair, and I just happened to have some homemade pesto in my freezer, so when I saw this pizza at Eggs on Sunday (just one of the delicious ideas in the “Friday Night Pizza” feature), I went for it. And it was my kind of pizza: super-delicious, super-easy. I might have gotten a little overenthusiastic with the oven, because everything on my pizza turned out very browned—tastily so, but it’s easier to distinguish all the ingredients in Eggs on Sunday’s photo than in mine. I added some extra basil because I wanted to use it up; it was fine but unnecessary. The only thing I’d really do differently next time would be to use fresh mozzarella. Just for expediency, I went with the shredded mozzarella I keep in my freezer for ordinary pizza-making, but with its higher moisture content, I think fresh mozzarella would work much better here. Potatoes are so starchy and there’s no actual sauce on the pizza (the pesto pretty much bakes into the dough), so even though it was completely delectable, I will say the texture was on the dry side. Fresh mozzarella would have made things a little gooier.

1 ball pizza dough (about 1 lb)
2 medium or 1 large red potato, thinly sliced (to about ⅛-inch thickness)
About ½ cup pesto
Grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh mozzarella cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Place the thinly sliced potatoes in a medium bowl. Drizzle them with some olive oil, and toss in a good pinch or two of coarse salt and a few grindings of black pepper. Lay them in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 10 minutes, flipping the slices halfway through. You want the potatoes to be just barely tender (not mushy); they’ll cook more when you put them on the pizza.

3. Remove the potatoes from the oven and raise the heat to 500 degrees. Stretch out your ball of pizza dough and lay it out on a baking sheet that’s been generously dusted with cornmeal.

4. Spread the pesto out all over the pizza dough. Top with the slices of potato, arranging them in a single layer. Sprinkle the pizza with a little grated Parmesan, then top it with torn pieces of fresh mozzarella. Bake for about 8–10 minutes, until the crust is golden and the cheese is melted.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes