Tuesday, December 21, 2010

BUTTERNUT SQUASH, KALE, AND CHEDDAR BREAD PUDDING


Neglectful blogger returns! Sorry for the nearly two months of silence. The holiday travel-and-gift-making/buying season hit me like a hurricane and I fell back on easy favorite recipes in an effort to spare my own sanity. Now that normal life has finally resumed, I've got two new holiday recipes to share with you (both of which were big hits), plus a tasty new soup, not to mention the fact that I've still got to pick my favorite recipes from last year (a tough job with so many good candidates). But first, here's a tasty recipe (from Bon Appetit via Ezra Pound Cake) I tried way back in November. It's presented as a vegetarian Thanksgiving dish, but I think it's pretty great for January too: substantial, comforting, and savory (the sharp cheddar made me feel like I was eating mac and cheese, and the subtle dab of Dijon adds a nice zip), but also bright, veggie-laden, and not too heavy or indulgent-feeling. I divided the recipe in half to make it into a manageable everyday (or, considering it's a bit time-consuming, at least Sunday) main dish. Give it a shot, especially if your New Year's resolutions involve eating more vegetables or discovering the magic of kale. And rest assured that my New Year's resolutions involve posting on my food blog more regularly.

1 pound peeled, seeded butternut squash, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3–4 large eggs (because I needed an egg white anyway later in the week, I used 3 whole eggs and 1 egg yolk, which seemed to work perfectly)
1 cup + 2 tablespoons half-and-half
3 tablespoons dry white wine (or hard cider)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or 1½ teaspoons dried)
1½ teaspoons chopped fresh sage (or ¾ teaspoons dried)
1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ loaf day-old baguette (do not remove crust), cut into 1-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
½ cup chopped shallots (about 2 large)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 bunch kale (about ½ pound), ribs removed, kale coarsely chopped
4 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place squash and 1 tablespoon oil in a large bowl; sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Spread out squash cubes on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast until squash is tender, stirring occasionally, about 25 minutes. Set aside.

2. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.

3. Whisk eggs in large bowl. Continue whisking as you add half and half, wine, thyme, sage, mustard, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, and ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Add baguette cubes to the egg mixture, and gently fold them into the mixture to coat each side. Let the baguette pieces soak 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in large pot over medium heat. Add shallots, garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes, and sauté until soft and fragrant, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. Add kale; cover and cook 2 minutes. Uncover the pot, and stir until kale is wilted but still bright green, about 5 minutes (the kale will still be a little crunchy).

5. Generously butter an 8-by-8 or 9-by-9-inch baking dish. Using slotted spoon, transfer half of bread from egg mixture to the dish, spreading evenly. Spoon half of kale over the bread layer. Spoon half of squash over the kale layer, and sprinkle it with half of the cheese. Repeat with remaining bread, kale, squash, and cheese. Pour the remaining egg mixture over the bread pudding.

6. Cover bread pudding with foil, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil; bake uncovered until custard is set, about 20 minutes longer.

7. Preheat broiler; broil pudding until cheese browns slightly, about 2 minutes. Cool 5 minutes and serve.

Serves: 4
Time: 90 minutes to 2 hours

Thursday, November 18, 2010

CHICKEN ENCHILADAS WITH ROASTED TOMATILLO CHILE SALSA



I’m not going to beat around the bush here: The salsa in this recipe (from Tyler Florence at the Food Network site, via My Husband Hates Veggies) is effing amazing. Also? Effing amazingly easy to make. I’d never even bought tomatillos before (and once I’d gotten them home, had to launch into lengthy Internet research to figure out how to store them, which let me tell you, there’s no consensus between “in a wire basket on the counter” and “in a paper bag in the fridge”; I ended up doing the former for a few days and then switching to the latter after two went bad, although that might have been a fluke), but all you do is peel them and throw them on a baking sheet with onions and garlic and jalapenos, then puree them into yumminess with cumin and salt and cilantro and lime. I was highly suspicious of this whole method—No oil to roast the veggies? Only 12 minutes in the oven? Wouldn’t they stick to the baking sheet or be too crunchy to puree in my crappy blender? How could this possibly work? But when I took them out (granted, I let them cook a few more minutes due to said suspicions) they were hot and smooshy and turned instantly to liquid when blended. As soon as I tasted it, I was instantly delighted that I’d taken the commenters’ advice and made more than the recipe called for—actually, I tried to make a double recipe, but after a few of my tomatillos rotted I only had enough for 1.5 times the recipe, though I did accidentally use the full double amounts of the cilantro and lime, a very wise decision on my part because cilantro and lime make everything better. (I will definitely follow this exact method next time; the quantities I used are noted below.) The salsa was refreshingly green, zippy, with exactly the right amount of spice; I could easily see myself making a big vat of it and just devouring it with chips, if I didn’t want to bother with the whole enchilada thing. However, chicken and cheese enchiladas both filled with and blanketed in magical green sauce are a worthy endeavor, and not difficult to assemble. A called this the best recipe I’ve made in months, and while it certainly has some tough competition (Fish tacos! Hob Nobs! Magic juice! Pumpkin ice cream!), I don’t necessarily disagree.

I've never made a Tyler Florence recipe before, so I don’t know if I should blame him or the Food Network site, but this one was really poorly written, and it annoyed me. I’ve cooked enough that I could extrapolate what to do when the recipe got vague, but I still like to have detailed instructions the first time I make something and appreciate precision (even if, as in Cooking Light recipes, I roll my eyes at it and end up rebelling against it), plus not everyone is so experienced. I think of Food Network shows and recipes as being for general audiences, so even if Florence wrote the recipe this way (and although I didn’t watch the episode, some commenters noted that the written directions deviated from it), why not have a recipe writer test and clarify it? As everyone noted, it needed more salsa, and the salsa is then added to the recipe in four different stages, but the recipe never tells you how much to use each time, just “some.” (Based on the amount of salsa I ended up making, I figured out quantities that seemed reasonable to me and noted them in the recipe below.) I would also have preferred a precise measurement for the chicken meat rather than just “one 3-pound deli roasted chicken”; I already had deboned chicken meat in my freezer that I wanted to use (left over from roasted chicken or making chicken stock) and had to totally guesstimate how much to use. (I went with 1 pound and that seemed to be plenty; we even had enchilada filling left over, which is hardly a curse because it makes a great nacho or quesadilla topping later—or, hell, just a dip for chips.) Not to mention the shoddy editing throughout (“Garnish, cilantro and tomato”). Boo! Still, the end result is so incredibly delicious it’s hard to complain. But I do think my instructions below represent a vast improvement.

One final note: The original recipe included sub-recipes for black beans and yellow rice, but I skipped them; the enchiladas were a full meal in themselves (we were utterly stuffed after two). I also left out the suggested toppings of sour cream and guacamole, which seemed like gilding the lily, but you might disagree.

Salsa:
1½ pounds tomatillos, husked
1½ medium onions, peeled and quartered
6 garlic cloves, peeled
3 jalapenos
3 teaspoons ground cumin
1½ teaspoons salt
1 cup chopped cilantro leaves
Juice of 1 lime

Enchiladas:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ medium onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken stock
1 deli roasted chicken (about 3 pounds), boned, meat shredded (I used about 1 pound shredded chicken)
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
10 large flour tortillas
½ pound Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (I used pepper Jack)
Chopped tomatoes and cilantro leaves, for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. To make the salsa, roast tomatillos, onion, garlic, and jalapenos on a baking sheet for 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer the roasted vegetables and any juices on the bottom of the tray to a food processor or blender. Add the cumin, salt, cilantro, and lime juice and pulse mixture until well combined but still chunky. (This should yield about 5 cups of salsa.)

3. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and caramelized, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cumin, then cook for 1 minute more. Sprinkle on the flour and stir to ensure that the flour doesn't burn, then gradually add the chicken stock. Continue stirring over a low simmer until the flour cooks and the liquid thickens. Turn off the heat, add about 1½ cups of the roasted tomatillo chile salsa, and fold in the shredded chicken meat. Season, to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Change the temperature of the oven to 350 degrees. Take a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish and smear the bottom with about 1½ cups of the salsa. Briefly warm the flour tortillas one by one in the oven so they are pliable. Place about 1 cup of the salsa in a shallow bowl and coat both sides of each tortilla lightly with it. Put a scoop of the shredded chicken mixture on top of each tortilla, followed by a sprinkle of the shredded cheese. Fold the tortilla over the filling and roll up enclose it. Place the tortilla in the baking dish and repeat with remaining tortillas. Finally, pour about 1 cup of salsa over the enchiladas and top with the remaining shredded cheese. Bake uncovered for about 30 minutes until bubbly and browned on top. Garnish with cilantro and tomato.

Serves: 5
Time: 2 hours
Leftover potential: Good.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

ROASTED SQUASH SEEDS


I can’t believe that at the ripe old age of 33, I’m still learning mind-blowing new facts such as this: It’s possible to roast the seeds of any winter squash as you do with pumpkin seeds. Really! I weep to think of all the squash seeds I’ve thoughtlessly discarded over the years when I could have been crunching on a delicious salty snack instead.

When I was a kid, my mom would always roast the seeds from our Halloween pumpkins, and now I get a visceral sense of nostalgia every time I eat them. But I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve had them as an adult. I’ve never been a pumpkin eater, and we don’t really carve jack-o-lanterns—I’m not that artsy or good with knives, and they always seem to rot spectacularly on the patio before Halloween even arrives. The few times I’ve tried to roast pumpkin seeds, they haven’t tasted as good as mom’s. But as soon as I learned this amazing fact about squash seeds (from an offhand mention at Smitten Kitchen), I consulted Simply Recipes for instructions, roasted some butternut squash seeds, and bingo! Just as good as I remembered. The secret is brining the seeds in salt water; the salt permeates the whole seed instead of sticking to the outside or (as often as not) falling off on the pan or in your hand.

Unless you’ve got a number of squash, the yield is going to be fairly small. I’ve roasted butternut squash seeds twice now and have gotten between ¼ and ½ cup each time. But this recipe is easily scalable to any quantity, so even if you’ve just got one little squash you’re going to turn into soup or serve on pasta or pizza, save the seeds! A negligible amount of labor will soon turn them into a couple of handfuls of tasty munchies.

Winter squash, such as butternut, pumpkin, or acorn
Salt
Olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Cut open the squash and use a strong metal spoon to scoop out the insides. Separate the seeds from the stringy core. Rinse the seeds in a colander.

3. In a small saucepan, add the seeds to water, about 2 cups of water to every half cup of seeds. Add 1½ teaspoons of salt for every cup of water (more if you like your seeds saltier). Bring to a boil and let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and drain.

4, Spread about a tablespoon of olive oil over the bottom of a baking sheet. Spread the seeds out over the baking sheet, all in one layer. Bake on the top rack until the seeds begin to brown, 10–20 minutes. (For smaller seeds, such as butternut or acorn, go with 10 minutes and keep a close eye on them; they’re usually done when they begin popping.) When seeds are toasted to your satisfaction, remove from the oven and let the pan cool on a rack.

Serves: Variable
Time: 30–40 minutes
Leftover potential: OK. The seeds will lose their crispness if you store them in a sealed container, but you can keep them in an open bowl on the counter for a day or two.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

BRIE, APPLE, AND ARUGULA QUESADILLAS


This is fall wrapped in a tortilla, baby. Sharp mustard, creamy Brie, sweet crisp apple, and peppery arugula are a match made in heaven. (By the way, look at me enjoying mustard in a non-hot dog, non-salad dressing context! I’m all growed up!) For added autumnal bliss, we had butternut squash soup on the side, a combo I highly recommend.

This being Cooking Light, the quantities are rigidly precise, but since we’re basically just putting toppings on tortillas here, feel free to go with your instincts. I winged it because the “fajita-size” tortillas I had in the fridge were smaller than the ones called for; using one of those for each of us, with the topping measurements roughly halved, worked out well. We liked them so much that I ended up making them again later in the week, to accompany some of the leftover soup. One tip: Consider doubling the mustard-cider sauce. The second time, I accidentally made the full quantity instead of half, and A enjoyed using the remainder as a dip for his quesadilla (I dipped into my soup instead, because I am wild and crazy, as well as still secretly mustard-fearing).

Maybe I’m just uncoordinated, but I felt like the quesadillas needed a lot of wrangling while cooking—Brie gets very runny when it melts, the arugula leaves are puffy and like to scatter everywhere, and it’s hard to fold and flip the tortilla without apple slices trying to escape. This really worried me the first time around, but I quickly learned that any cheese that oozes out and browns on the skillet makes an excellent snack for the cook (oh, toasted cheese is such a miraculous substance). And with a bit of practice, I refined my method to make things a bit easier: Put the pepper atop the flat platform of the apples, not the wobbly pile of arugula as the original recipe asks; let the arugula wilt for a few seconds before folding the tortilla over; once you fold the tortilla, flip it over right away so that the cheese is on the top layer of fillings, not the bottom, which helps keep the spillage at bay—you can always flip it over again near the end of cooking if the first side isn’t browned enough for you. My end results were a bit homely, as the photos amply illustrate, but when something tastes this great, I don’t care. Quick to throw together, wholesome yet indulgent-seeming, satisfying enough to be a light meal, this recipe is destined to become a go-to.

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons apple cider
3 (10-inch) flour tortillas
6 ounces Brie cheese, rind removed, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices, divided
1 Fuji apple, cored and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices (about ½ pound), divided
3 cups arugula, divided
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided

1. Combine mustard and cider in a small bowl; stir well.

2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spread each tortilla with about 1½ teaspoons mustard mixture. Place 1 tortilla, mustard side up, in pan. Arrange one-third of cheese slices over half of tortilla; cook 1 minute or until cheese begins to melt. Arrange one-third of apple slices over cheese; sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon pepper and top with 1 cup arugula. Fold tortilla in half; press gently with a spatula. Cook 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Remove from pan. Repeat procedure twice with remaining 2 tortillas, cheese, apple slices, arugula, and pepper. Cut each quesadilla into 4 wedges.

Serves: 4–6
Time: 20 minutes
Leftover potential: Unknown, but I wouldn’t bother. The recipe is so easy, you can just make a new batch when you’re ready for more.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

PUMPKIN ICE CREAM


Aw yeah.

Now, I’m not one of those people who goes gaga for pumpkin-flavored things every October. In fact, this was the first time in my life I’d ever bought canned pumpkin. I’ve never had a pumpkin spice latte and I don’t care for pumpkin pie. No doubt this is a relic of my squash-hating childhood, which I’m gradually growing out of. Sure, I appreciate the moisture that pumpkin lends to baked goods, but it still mostly seems like an excuse to foist a lot of spice-flavored desserts on me, and I have a limited tolerance for coffee cake and ginger snaps when chocolate or fruity or caramel/nut/butterscotch/vanilla (what would you call that category?) sweets are available. But a few years ago someone did turn me on to the Double Rainbow pumpkin ice cream Trader Joe’s carries every fall (or used to—I didn’t spot it this year), and A and I made short work of a pint. So now that I have my own ice cream maker and the sky’s the limit for flavors, it seemed natural to try to re-create that seasonal treat. For once, David Lebovitz’s A Perfect Scoop left me high and dry, and most of the pumpkin ice cream recipes I found online contained eggs, which we all know I’m too lazy to fuss with, but at long last I stumbled upon this recipe at Tasty Kitchen. It was one of the easiest ice creams I’ve ever made, rivals strawberry-sour cream for the downright creamiest (thanks to the pumpkin, it was thick and pillowy before I even poured it into the ice cream maker and became even fluffier after processing), and tasted incredibly delicious. It’s definitely going to become an October tradition at our house, and I may even have to make it one more time before Thanksgiving. If I’m not careful, I’m going to become one of those Pumpkin People.

It didn’t seem worth buying pumpkin pie spice for a one-off recipe like this, but luckily, DIY recipes are plentiful online. I went with this one from the Kitchn, but subbed cardamom, which I adore, for mace, which I didn’t have. I divided the recipe in half to achieve the called-for 1 tablespoon (actually, it’s 1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon, but close enough), but unfortunately I ran out of cinnamon, had to make a mad dash to the store, and returned so flustered I botched the math and put in twice as much as I was supposed to (1 tablespoon, eek!). The resulting ice cream definitely wasn’t inedible, but it did leave a slight burning sensation on the tongue. I think that’s the first time in my life I’ve experienced what too much cinnamon tastes like, and I don’t recommend it. Luckily, this is such an awesome ice cream that even that couldn’t put a damper on my glee every time I scooped myself a bowl.

1 can pumpkin (15 ounces)
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice*
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoons salt

*Homemade pumpkin pie spice:
Mix the following together in a small bowl:
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1. Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth and combined.

2. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 1 hour.

3. Process in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Serves: 8
Time: 10 minutes, plus chilling and processing time
Leftover potential: Good.

Monday, November 01, 2010

BEER-MARINATED CHICKEN TACOS


Hmm. Instead of “Recipes I Was Too Lame or Indecisive to Post the First Time Around,” how about we place this in the more-adventuresome-sounding imaginary category “Lost Recipes From the Distant Past Unearthed!” I first made this recipe (from the book Weber’s Real Grilling, via Serious Eats) more than a year ago, but I was on the fence about it. It wasn’t earth-shatteringly exciting (seasoned grilled chicken on a corn tortilla with guacamole: couldn’t I have thought of that?), and the flavor had a weird, unpleasant undertone I couldn’t place. In retrospect, I think my sesame oil had gone rancid. It’s not an ingredient I use often (gotta make more wontons and dumpling soup, I guess). So I didn’t take any photos and I didn’t add the recipe to my repertoire, but I still kept it in my “try again” file, and when I recently bought a six-pack of Negra Modelo so I could pour a bottle into a pot of chili, I figured I might as well put another bottle toward trying these again—with a new batch of sesame oil. And the result was quite tasty! Even on the decidedly-not-a-real-grill George Foreman, the exterior of the chicken got crisp and caramelized while the interior stayed moist and flavorful. I still don’t find this recipe especially revelatory, but it’s a quick and easy summer (or summery) meal, and living in a household that loves tacos and guacamole and beer, I’d be foolish not to make it again.

1 cup dark Mexican beer, such as Negra Modelo
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 cups of your favorite guacamole
8–12 small (taco/fajita size) corn tortillas

1. Mix the first seven ingredients (through cayenne pepper) together in a large Ziplock bag or large glass or plastic bowl with a lid. Add the chicken thighs, stirring to coat. Seal the container, removing as much air as possible, and place in the refrigerator to marinate for 2–24 hours (I recommend doing it at least overnight).

2. Grill chicken until fully cooked and browned on both sides. Remove from the grill and allow to rest for 5 minutes, then cut into thin strips.

3. While the chicken is resting, warm tortillas on the grill (or in a dry skillet on the stove) until pliable, about 30 seconds to 1 minute per side. To assemble, spread a heaping spoonful of guacamole along the middle of each tortilla, then pile with chicken slices.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes, plus 2–24 hours marinating time
Leftover potential: OK (store chicken, guacamole, and tortillas separately until ready to eat).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

LOADED POTATO SOUP


I can take or leave a baked potato. Certainly I’ve never been attracted by the classic version with all the fixin’s; as a child I had a distinct aversion to toppings, and I still dislike big dollops of sour cream. But apparently I’m attracted to soups topped with bacon, cheddar, and green onions, because when I saw this recipe in the October issue of Cooking Light, I immediately flagged it. (Later I realized that my pictures of it look almost exactly like the photos of CL’s identically garnished summer squash and corn chowder from last month. I am nothing if not consistent!) I thought the soup looked like a basic, quick, comforting, A-friendly weeknight meal, nothing more, but I was surprised by how good it actually was—so flavorful for such a simple ingredient list, and if I may say so, way better than a dry and flaky baked potato.

I used to be a diehard faithful recipe-follower, but so often lately I find myself rebelling against the dictates of CL. I know the magazine has strict parameters for healthiness and, in many sections, speed, and I support both of those concepts in theory, but not when they run counter to good sense. I guess it means that I’ve grown as a cook, that I’ve seen enough recipes to look at one and instantly see how I’d adapt it to my style. So: no prechopped onions for me, and no microwaving the bacon—why let all that delicious bacony goodness go to waste? Instead I crisped up the bacon (I used one slice extra, because A is a relentless bacon lobbyist and I am weak) in the pan, removed it, and then cooked the onion in the bacon fat—for much longer than CL’s oddly precise “3 minutes,” too, because there is nothing like tender, caramelized onion with potatoes, and besides, I was still getting the other ingredients ready before I could proceed. This ended up adding so much flavor to the soup that I think it’s well worth the small amount of extra time. My adaptation for the potatoes was less successful. Our microwave is old and temperamental, and cooking anything in it for longer than five minutes usually makes it overheat and temporarily burn out. Luckily, I rarely have cause to microwave anything that long—the only times I’ve made it burn out are times when I’m desperately zapping frozen chicken broth that I forgot to defrost in the refrigerator ahead of time), but CL wanted me to do the potatoes for 13 minutes. Instead, I peeled them and then boiled them—a rookie mistake. They were so moist that when I added them to the pot and (instead of “mashing them into the soup,” which sounded like a lumpy pain) pulsed them briefly with my immersion blender (second rookie mistake), they merged with the white sauce and the sour cream (which I may claim to dislike, but I gotta say, it added a wonderful zing to the soup) to create a super-thick mixture that hovered on the verge between “incredibly rich and creamy” and “rather paste-like.” It still tasted great, and A (who normally fears creamy things) said he liked it the way it was, and I could have thinned it with more chicken broth if I’d had any, but it would have been better if I’d just baked the potatoes in the oven. With that caveat, I’d definitely make this again. Even with my stubbornly less convenient changes, it was a fast, easy, and satisfying weeknight meal. (We had roasted broccoli on the side, highly recommended to complete the loaded-baked-potato theme.)

Oh, and I increased the other topping quantities a bit, too. I can never resist cheese, and maybe I’m not chopping my green onions finely enough, but the 1 teaspoon CL wanted me to put on each serving equaled about silly little four pieces, so I upped it to 1 tablespoon per bowl. Childhood plain-potato me would be shocked!

4 6-ounce red potatoes
½ cup chopped onion
1¼ cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups 1% milk, divided
¼ cup reduced-fat sour cream
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 slices bacon, diced
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
¼ cup thinly sliced green onions

1. Pierce potatoes with a fork. Microwave on high 13 minutes or until tender (or bake in the oven at 350 degrees until tender--30 minutes, maybe?). Cut in half; cool slightly.

2. While potatoes cook, cook bacon in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper-towel lined plate and set aside. To the bacon fat in the saucepan, add onion and sauté until softened. Add broth. Combine flour and ½ cup milk; add to pan with remaining 1½ cups milk. Bring to a boil; stir often. Cook 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in sour cream, salt, and pepper.

4. Peel potatoes and discard skins. Coarsely mash potatoes into soup. Ladle soup into bowls and top each serving with cheese, green onions, and bacon.

Serves: 4
Time: 40 to 80 minutes, depending on how you cook the potatoes
Leftover potential: High; even tastier the next day.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

QUINOA WITH ROASTED GARLIC, TOMATOES, AND SPINACH


A tasty and amazingly fast (if you roast the garlic ahead of time) quinoa recipe from Cooking Light. I doubled the quantities, as recommended by the CL commenters, because I wanted to serve it as a main dish--and also because roasting a head of garlic and then only using half of it (“save the other half for another use”) is just silly. I swear, there is a certain proportion of silliness in every CL recipe. However, it’s still definitely a petite main (although it was pretty satisfying, the bowls looked awfully meager as I dished them up—only about 1 cup per serving), and might be more fulfilling as a hearty side with some chicken or fish or something as the entrée…or maybe it just needed to be served with a side salad? I liked that this is basically constructed like a risotto, because I enjoy the flavor and texture of quinoa so much more than rice. I’m always tempted by risotto recipes and then I make them and remember I am decidedly MEH ricewise. I briefly got excited about the idea of converting all (er, both?) of my existing risotto recipes to use quinoa instead, but A gently discouraged me. He liked this meal fine, but he’s definitely not a true quinoa believer yet.

1 whole garlic head
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons dry white wine
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth (use vegetable broth to make this vegetarian)
1 cup baby spinach leaves (I probably used more; it shrinks down so much anyway)
⅔ cup chopped seeded tomato (I used halved cherry tomatoes)
2 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon salt

1. To roast the garlic, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Remove the outer papery skin from the head of garlic and cut off the top ¼ inch of the head, so just the very tops of the cloves are exposed. Drizzle a little olive oil over the garlic, wrap it loosely in foil, and place the foil package in the oven for about 1 hour, until the cloves are soft. Let cool slightly, then squeeze the soft cloves out and roughly chop them, discarding the skins. (Roasted garlic can be stored in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container for several days.)

2. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and red pepper flakes to pan; cook 1 minute. Add quinoa to pan; cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add wine; cook until liquid is absorbed, stirring constantly. Add broth; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and stir in garlic pulp, spinach, tomato, cheese, and salt.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes, plus 1 hour for roasting the garlic

Friday, September 24, 2010

FUSILLI WITH SAUSAGE, KALE, AND CHERRY TOMATOES


Autumn is officially here and so is my craving for kale. And sausage. And pasta. But there are still lovely summer tomatoes at the farmers’ market, so this recipe from Serious Eats fit my mood perfectly. I continue to be surprised that I haven’t already exhausted all the possible combinations of vegetables and pasta; not only was this considerably different than any recipe in my arsenal, but it might also be one of my new favorites. Hint: If you’re not sure you like kale, mixing it with garlic, red pepper flakes, fennel, and savory sausage is an excellent way to warm up to it.

My only complaint was that I definitely wanted more tomatoes (even though I’d already increased the amount from the original recipe; I used a whole cup and cut them in half to spread them around, to boot) and possibly more kale. I think I’ve gotten spoiled by Jack Bishop’s veggie-centric concoctions, and I get a little bored if I don’t have equal parts pasta and topping. So I’ve increased the amounts below. I also increased the amount of garlic, decreased the fennel (I love fennel seed and a teaspoon or two is my go-to secret ingredient in pizza sauce and spaghetti sauce, but 2 whole tablespoons seemed like it would be absolutely overpowering, considering most Italian sausage already contains it), and gave you the option of using less red pepper flakes (a teaspoon is quite generous, so start with ½ and see how you feel). But I was really impressed with how well the elements worked together and the way the sausage drippings, tomato juices, pasta water, and cheese made a silky, flavorful sauce (I’d been worried it would be too dry; it’s not the sauciest pasta in town and you can add a little drizzle of oil if you think it needs it, but I think adding extra tomatoes and kale will do the trick nicely). Oh, pasta, will your yumminess never cease?

1 pound fusilli or other short, curly pasta
1–2 large bunches kale, stems discarded and leaves chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
¾ pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed and discarded (I used chicken Italian sausage)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablepoon fennel seeds, crushed (if you don’t have a mortar and pestle, use a meat tenderizing mallet or the bottom of a glass or heavy bowl)
½–1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping

1. Bring two pots of salted water to boil: one for the kale and one for the pasta. Cook the kale in boiling water until tender, then drain well and set aside. Cook the pasta until al dente, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water before draining.

2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the sausage. Cook, breaking up well with a wooden spoon, until the fat is rendered and the meat is starting to brown. Add the garlic, fennel seeds, and red pepper flakes and continue cooking until the sausage is golden brown and caramelized.

3. Add the blanched kale to the skillet and stir to coat well. Cook for 2–3 minutes, then add the cherry tomatoes and cook until they just begin to lose their shape. Add the drained pasta, tossing to coat in the fat, adding pasta water and Parmesan as necessary to create a sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper and divide among bowls, topping with remaining Parmesan.

Serves: 6
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: High

Thursday, September 23, 2010

CORN WITH FETA, CILANTRO, AND LIME


Yeah, as I’ve mentioned, I’m totally obsessed with corn this summer, and even though I’ve been eating it in record quantities, I’m not sick of it yet. So I’m hastily trying out as many of my bookmarked corn recipes as possible before the end of the season leaves me bereft. This one from Sassy Radish made it to the top of my list this week because I already had feta (another of my recent food obsessions) and cream in the fridge, and I’m a sucker for cilantro and lime. Not surprisingly, it’s fantastic. Creamy but not too creamy, warm but still fresh and summery, it makes a nice, zippy alternative to my default fave, corn on the cob. I halved the original recipe (though I threw in a bit more cilantro, mint, and lime than the halved version called for) and am seriously considering making some more this weekend with the rest of my feta. Corn doesn't need any adornment besides salt and maybe some pepper or a pat of butter in my book, but these delicious flavors sure don’t hurt it.

6 ears corn
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup cream
3 ounces crumbled feta
½ cup cilantro, finely chopped
1 teaspoon mint, finely chopped
Juice of ½ lime
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Shuck the corn and cut off the kernels off the cobs. Over medium heat, melt the butter with the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the corn and stir to coat with butter and oil. Cook over medium to medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, until some of the kernels begin to brown, but overall the corn retains its firm, crisp texture. Add salt and cream and cook for another minute or two. Remove from heat.

2. Add feta, cilantro, mint, lime juice, and pepper to taste to the skillet and mix well. Serve warm.

Serves: 4–5
Time: 25 minutes
Leftover potential: Good

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

GOLDEN CORN SALAD WITH FRESH BASIL


This may seem similar to a Cooking Light potatoes-and-corn-and-other-vegetables-in-Dijon-vinaigrette salad I tried earlier this summer, but I liked this one much more. (I was trying to be bravely open-minded about the first version in my blog entry, but let’s face it, I won’t make it again.) The new recipe is more traditionally salady (only the potatoes are cooked), has less mustard, has basil instead of tarragon, and really features the corn (about which I am completely obsessive this summer), with the potatoes playing only a supporting role. I didn’t have white balsamic vinegar, so I used white wine vinegar instead, and I left out the goat cheese (I had intended to replace it with feta, but then at the last minute it seemed like the salad didn’t need cheese at all), but otherwise I followed the recipe and it was quite straightforward. Be forewarned, though: This makes a lot of salad. (I like how the magazine photo just shows a few arugula leaves scattered around, when in reality the recipe calls for 6 cups of the stuff; I actually ran out of room in my salad bowl.) I was serving it as a side dish with chicken, but when I read the recipe description more carefully, I realized it was intended to yield four main-dish servings, and apparently big ones. I got about six generous side servings. Luckily, the leftovers were tasty. If you still have access to fresh corn in September (looks like ours will last for a few more weeks here in Southern California), this is a great way to celebrate it.

8 ounces small yellow or red potatoes
3 cups fresh corn kernels (about 4 ears)
2 cups assorted cherry tomatoes, halved
1½ cups chopped red bell pepper
¼ cup minced shallots
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar (I used white wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 cups arugula, trimmed
½ cup torn fresh basil leaves
2 ounces goat cheese, sliced (I omitted this)

1. Place potatoes in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil; cook 11 minutes or until tender. Drain and let cool, then cut potatoes in half lengthwise.

2. Combine potatoes, corn, tomatoes, and bell pepper in a large bowl.

3. Combine shallots and next 4 ingredients (through black pepper) in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Slowly pour oil into shallot mixture, whisking constantly. Drizzle over corn mixture and toss well. Add arugula; toss. Sprinkle with basil and top evenly with goat cheese.

Serves: 4 (as a main dish) to 6 (as a side dish)
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: OK (the arugula gets a little wilty, but it’s still fine for a few days)

Friday, September 17, 2010

PLUM/PLUOT ICE CREAM


With cooler weather upon us but the farmers’ market still full of summer fruit, I figured now would be the perfect time to make some ice cream. After consulting my ice cream bible, David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop, I realized it had to be plum. Not only are stone fruits at their peak right now, but I’ve also never tasted plum ice cream before—let alone even thought about it. And I have no idea why plums don’t get more play in ice cream, because this stuff was phenomenal, with a brilliant bright pink color (the photo doesn’t do it justice), intense fruity flavor, and amazingly thick, velvety texture. Not to mention that I had all the ingredients except cream on hand already, and it was so very easy to throw together. I actually used pluots (not sure what variety; they had reddish-purple skin with brilliant red flesh—maybe Raspberry Jewel?) because that’s what we like to buy, but I think any variety of plum or pluot (or plumcot! or aprium!) would work here, and it would be fun to try this over and over again with different varieties.

1 pound pluots or plums (about 8)
⅓ cup water
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon kirsch

1. Slice the plums/pluots in half and remove the pits. Cut the plums/pluots into eighths and put them in a medium, nonreactive saucepan with the water. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.

2. Once cool, puree in a blender or food processor with the cream and kirsch until smooth. Chill the mixture thoroughly.

3. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Yields: 1 quart
Time: 20 minutes active work, plus chilling and processing time
Leftover potential: Good

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

HOMEMADE HOBNOBS


I visited England three times in the mid-to-late 1990s, and on the third trip, 13 years ago last week, I met A. I immediately introduced him to my favorite British food, Chocolate HobNobs, and during our three months studying abroad at the University of East Anglia, we consumed a great many of them. (I also think I ate a Cadbury bar every single day, alternating among the many exciting varieties only available in the U.K. Ah, for the halcyon era of my innocent young metabolism!) Since returning stateside, I’ve only been able to get my hands on HobNobs a few times, although (like the array of exotic Cadbury bars) they’re becoming more widely available here (I bought some at Cost Plus World Market last year). And, to be only slightly flippant, on those rare occasions when I do taste one, I am still reminded of those long-gone days of carefree adventure and young love.

We don’t celebrate our anniversary per se, except to casually remark its passing, but I bookmarked this copycat HobNob recipe at Cookie Madness forever ago and figured the start of our 14th year together would be a good excuse to give it a try. If you are unfortunate enough to have never tasted a HobNob, (a) my condolences; and (b) they're basically crisp oat cookies--er, biscuits--with chocolate on top (there are also plain ones, but I've never bothered with those). Sounds simple, but there's something in their crumbly texture and wheaty, not-overly-sweet, slightly salty flavor (and, in my opinion, its interplay with the sweet, creamy milk chocolate) that makes them incredibly addictive. Amazingly, the copycat recipe pretty much nails this.

I was a bit surprised the recipe worked out at all, considering how much I ended up messing with it. Usually I follow cookie recipes to the letter, because I know that precision is important in baking and I'm no great improviser. But having gotten all set to make these cookies, I realized that the entire recipe was structured around making the dough in a food processor, and I don't own a food processor. Feeling uncharacteristically cavalier, I decided to just wing it by rearranging the steps as in a standard cookie recipe--mixing the dry ingredients, creaming the butter with the sugar, adding the rest of the wet ingredients and then the dry ingredients--and making the dough with my KitchenAid mixer. I didn't have salted butter, so I used unsalted and added extra salt, and I didn't have whole wheat pastry flour, so I used white whole wheat (but made sure to weigh it out), and following the suggestion in the comments for the original recipe, I also added wheat germ to amp up the wheaty flavor. Then, I figured that since I was already flirting with disaster and I'm terrible at working with dough, I'd skip the laborious effort of rolling out the dough and cutting circles with a cookie cutter and just make drop cookies instead, rolling tablespoons of dough into balls with my hands and flattening them slightly on the cookie sheet to approximate HobNobs' neat circles (actually, I originally planned to shape the dough into a log, chill it, and then slice it into cookies, but I got lazy). Miraculously, even with all these changes, the cookies turned out deliciously, and just as HobNoblike as I could have hoped, down to the characteristic grainy texture (McVitie's calls it "nobbly," which is adorable), although since they contain butter instead of palm oil, they're more flaky than the sandy original--not entirely a bad thing. I'd have to do a side-by-side taste test to be sure, but the homemade version might even be better than the real thing. I'll definitely be making these again every September 8--or any time I have a craving for a little taste of nostalgia.


1¼ cups rolled oats (120 grams)
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (50 grams)
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour (50 grams) (I substituted white whole wheat, but if you do this, be sure to weigh out the 50 grams because the density is different)
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1–2 tablespoons toasted wheat germ
9 tablespoons butter, cut into small cubes
¼ cup packed brown sugar (50 grams)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar (25 grams)
2 teaspoons corn syrup
¼ teaspoon vanilla
4 ounces chocolate (I think Cadbury milk chocolate is perfect in this case, but if you prefer dark, you won't be totally inaccurate--there is also a dark chocolate HobNob variety now)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment and set aside.

2. Process oats in a food processor or blender until fine. Add to a medium bowl with both flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and wheat germ and whisk to mix.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or just a large bowl with a hand-held electric mixer), cream butter with both sugars. Add the corn syrup and vanilla and mix well, then reduce mixer speed to low and add dry ingredients in several additions, mixing just until blended (dough will look dry).

4. Scoop out 1 heaping tablespoon of dough, roll it into a smooth ball with your hands, set it on the baking sheet, and flatten it slightly with the palm of your hand. Repeat with remaining dough.

5. Bake for 12 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Remove from oven and let sit for a few minutes on the baking sheet, then remove to a cooling rack.

6. When cookies are completely cool, melt the chocolate in the microwave or over a double boiler. Spread melted chocolate over cookies. When the chocolate is partially set, you can drag a toothpick or fork through it to make a HobNob-like crosshatch pattern, if you like.

Yields: 12–14 cookies
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: I did not try freezing these, but they stayed pretty fresh in a sealed plastic container on the counter for nearly a week.

Friday, September 10, 2010

SUMMER SQUASH AND CORN CHOWDER


This is a perfect end-of-summer soup, sweet and light and loaded with lots of fresh garden veggies, yet with the savory, comforting quality of a creamy chowder. The weather turned autumnal suddenly (and probably only temporarily, considering September and October are usually our hottest months) here in L.A., and we ended up eating this on a perfect Soup Day, chilly and overcast, but it would have been just as welcome on a warm summer night with a nice tomato salad (or bruschetta, the original serving suggestion, which I skipped only because I am lazy and was undergoing dental work earlier in the day, hence why soup made it into the meal plan to begin with).

I have a couple of other good corn chowder recipes in my arsenal already, so when I spotted this one in the gem-packed August issue of Cooking Light, I questioned whether I really needed to try another. But what sets this one apart is the lack of potatoes—the base is just corn pureed with milk, which adds body without heaviness. Also, the inclusion of yellow summer squash, a vegetable often overlooked in favor of its cousin zucchini; you see a lot of mixed yellow-and-green-squash combos, but rarely a recipe for just yellow squash on its own. Also, cheddar cheese, my first and truest cheesy love and a natural compatriot of corn and bacon.

First of all, I do think Cooking Light is crazy for publishing a corn soup recipe IN AUGUST that calls for frozen corn. Sure, corn is one of the more decent-quality frozen vegetables and it’s fine to allow the option for using frozen corn if fresh is unavailable, but if you’re building an entire recipe around two seasonal vegetables, why would you completely ignore the possibility of fresh corn? I can only guess it’s because the Dinner Tonight section, in which this recipe ran, is geared toward quick recipes, and cutting the kernels off fresh corn would have put this over the 30-minute mark (although of course these promised timeframes exist only in the test kitchens anyway—I think I’m pretty dang efficient as a cook and it always takes me longer than the advertised 30 minutes anyway). Which is sad, because fresh corn is one of the great delights of this world and really makes this dish awesome (not that you shouldn’t try it if you don’t have fresh corn; I’m sure it’s perfectly tasty when made with frozen as well).

Secondly, some of the CL online commenters are even wackier than the magazine itself. While this recipe scored a deserved four out of five stars and has mainly glowing reviews, there were a few heated negative ones that gave me pause when I was weighing the decision to make the soup. Now I can confidently say that those complaints are due to user error, personal tastes, or just plain nuttiness. Among my faves: “I don’t really get this dish. It’s a bunch of vegetables sautéed, then served in warm milk” (apparently this reviewer missed the step of pureeing the corn and milk into a thick base entirely), “I did not get four full servings” (we ended up with four-plus, and I measure ingredients almost as obsessively as CL does), and “the squash had a very prominent flavor” (er, there’s a pound of it in there and it’s mentioned in the recipe title). Not to mention the person who rated it one star with the review “Good recipe! ..wow what a great taste of summer” and the person who rated it two stars with a review admitting they hadn’t made it yet and asking if anyone had tried adding crabmeat to it. (Oh, I could do you a whole separate rant on recipe reviewers who are always saying they threw in some chicken or shrimp “just to make it a full meal.” I’m a happy omnivore, but I don’t get the “it’s not a full meal without meat in there somewhere” contingent. We had big bowls of this soup with small bowls of peaches on the side. It was definitely a full meal.)

But anyway, this was an easy and surprisingly flavorful soup, and we both enjoyed it (that’s a big compliment coming from A, who is not much of a soup lover). I’ll admit I used a bit more bacon and cheese than the parsimonious CL, which I’m sure did not hurt the deliciousness factor, but it was the corn and squash that really shone through (with the celery, which I do not ordinarily like in soup, playing a surprisingly important supporting role in balancing out the sweetness with a bitter tang). I also really enjoyed that it only made four servings. Sometimes it’s nice to make a big pot of soup and enjoy it for weeks (or months, if you freeze some), but summer is about fleeting pleasures, and corn soup is one of those.

2–4 slices bacon, diced
¾ cup sliced green onions, divided
¼ cup chopped celery
1 pound yellow summer squash, chopped
1 pound fresh (from 3–4 large ears) or frozen (thawed) corn kernels, divided
2¼ cups 1% milk, divided
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
½ teaspoon salt, plus extra to taste
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra to taste
¼–½ cup shredded cheddar cheese

1. Cook bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Add ½ cup onions, celery, and squash to drippings in pan; sauté 8 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

2. Reserve 1 cup corn; set aside. Place the remaining corn and 1 cup milk in a blender; process until smooth. Add remaining 1¼ cups milk, thyme, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper to blender; process just until combined.

3. Add pureed mixture and reserved 1 cup corn to pan. Reduce heat to medium; cook 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring constantly. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide soup evenly between 4 bowls; top each serving with some bacon, remaining onions, and cheese.

Serves: 4
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: Good

Thursday, September 09, 2010

MAGIC JUICE


I apologize: To do full justice to the magic of magic juice, the above photograph should have been taken on a sunny porch, not in my dark apartment kitchen. The first time I made this recipe, I drank it from a thermos while lounging on a picnic blanket on the grass at twilight listening to an outdoor concert, and it was perfect, because magic juice is like summer in a glass. But I didn’t have my camera with me, so I mixed up another batch one night at home. I’m pleased to report that it was just as delicious indoors, if not so photogenic, so there’s no need to wait for a special occasion to make this drink. Any Tuesday evening will do.

The recipe is from Design*Sponge, where you can see much prettier pictures than mine. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to try it. I adore gin, but I don’t often make drinks at home—in fact, adding gin to ginger ale is about the limit of my mixology, and I’m much more apt to open a bottle of beer instead. Summertime, however, always makes me long for cool evening cocktails, so I was glad to be able to feed that yearning for once. The recipe is a little too resource-intensive for my everyday life—if you make a double recipe, which I highly recommend if you’re drinking with a friend because you’ll crave another drink once you’ve finished your first, you’ll need to have nearly a pint of strawberries, two oranges, half a cucumber, and a whole bunch of mint on hand—but is so irresistibly refreshing, fruity without being sickeningly sweet, I know I’ll be making it periodically from now on. The gin flavor isn’t overwhelming, so even if you’re one of those crazy people who doesn’t care for gin, you should still give this a try.

A few recipe notes: I don’t own a muddler (see above re: not making drinks at home), so I used a meat tenderizer mallet to crush the fruit and bruise the mint, which worked well enough for me—as far as I’m concerned, the more juice that gets into this drink, the better. I used Hendricks gin, which is my fave and works especially well here because of its cucumber undertones. Fresh lemonade was called for, but I wussed out and used Trader Joe’s brand (a staple in our refrigerator) and it tasted plenty good. The first time around, I even skipped the ice, since we were bringing it to a picnic—I just poured the magic juice into two water bottles and chilled them in the fridge for half an hour or so before packing them up.

6 strawberries, hulled and diced
1 orange, peeled and diced
¼ of a large cucumber, peeled and diced
5–7 mint leaves
4–6 ounces gin (I recommend Hendricks)
8 ounces lemonade (ideally fresh, but I used Trader Joe’s)

1. Muddle strawberries, orange, cucumber, and mint. Pour gin into mixture and let sit for 10–15 minutes.
2. Strain over lemonade and ice. Garnish with a fruit slice or mint leaf, if desired.

Serves: 2
Time: 20 minutes
Leftover potential: None

Friday, September 03, 2010

CHICKEN, ZUCCHINI, AND RICOTTA SANDWICHES


We were going on a picnic, and I had a sudden desire for sandwiches. I never really make sandwiches, except for grilled cheese and BLTs and—lately—these, none of which are terribly picnic-ready. So I plugged “sandwiches” into Food Blog Search and almost immediately stumbled across this recipe from Simply Recipes. I was intrigued by the lemony zucchini-ricotta spread, enlivening what would otherwise be a standard chicken-breast sandwich. It sounded so fresh and summery that I had to have it immediately, despite the fact that it didn’t exactly seem to fit the picnic-portable criteria.

It’s rare that I decide to make a recipe more difficult, but the original recipe called for roasted, skinned, boned, sliced chicken breasts. This would be a great use of leftover chicken if I had some on hand, but I didn’t, so rather than roasting, I decided to grill—if you can call using the George Foreman “grilling.” A plain chicken breast sounded totally boring, so I decided to crib from one of my old recipes and make a simple lemon-garlic-olive oil marinade. Basil also seemed like a good addition for maximum summeriness, and I threw some into the ricotta mixture. Both of these were excellent improvements on my part, I think. The sandwiches turned out quite deliciously, perfect for a warm August evening on the grass, and I've already made them a second time since. They weren't even as hard to transport as I'd feared, although it helped that the picnic was just a few miles away from our apartment, so we were able to eat them within 45 minutes of making them. I even managed to make these leftover-amiable (not exactly downright friendly; you still need a big lunchbag to tote all these containers around) by storing the toasted ricotta-smeared bread, chicken, and tomatoes in three separate sealed containers in the fridge, briefly reheating both the bread and the chicken in the microwave the next day, and then assembling them.

One tip: This calls for a full container of ricotta, and there always seems to be extra zucchini spread left over, at least when I make these—perhaps I don't spread it on as thickly as intended, or maybe my bread is just too small. But not to worry! Spread on crackers or small toasts, this stuff makes excellent crostini just on its own. You might even try it as a dip.

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons salt, plus extra to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 pound total)
2 medium zucchini, shredded
15 ounces ricotta cheese
½ cup chopped fresh basil
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
4 5x4-inch pieces focaccia or ciabatta bread, halved horizontally
2 large tomatoes, thinly sliced

1. In a large zip-top bag or a large glass bowl with a lid, mix together the lemon juice (note that you’re going to need lemon peel later, so you may want to zest that lemon before you squeeze it and set the peel aside [it will do OK in a small airtight bowl in the fridge until you’re ready to use it]), garlic, ¼ cup olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the chicken breasts, make sure they get thoroughly coated with the marinade, and let them marinate at least one hour and no more than 24 hours.

2. When ready to make the sandwiches, mix zucchini and salt in a colander set over the sink. Let stand 15 minutes to drain liquid from zucchini, then rinse, drain, and squeeze zucchini (wrapping it in a kitchen towel works well) to remove as much liquid as possible.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add zucchini and sauté 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. While it’s cooling, combine the ricotta, basil, Parmesan, and lemon peel in a bowl and then stir in the zucchini. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Preheat the broiler. Arrange the bread pieces cut side up on baking sheet. Broil bread just until lightly toasted. Spread ricotta mixture generously over each piece, then broil until ricotta mixture is heated through and beginning to brown in spots, about 4 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, grill the chicken.

6. Top 4 bread pieces with tomato slices, then with chicken breasts. Cover with remaining 4 bread pieces, ricotta-mixture side down.

Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes, plus 1-24 hours marinating time
Leftover potential: OK, if sandwich components are stored separately.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

OATMEAL PANCAKES


How convenient: Just a few weeks ago I was saying I wanted to try oatmeal pancakes, and then the September issue of Cooking Light arrived in my mailbox with an oatmeal pancake recipe that is both as healthy and as simple as I could have dreamed (in contrast, other recipes I’d been contemplating either called for a whole stick of butter or required ground or pre-cooked or pre-soaked oatmeal). These were easy to make and quite delicious. With their crispy outsides and chewy insides, they were a bit less like the traditional soft, fluffy pancake than the whole wheat ones I made before, but as an oatmeal lover I preferred these (and as a lazy cook, I found them much easier—no blender, no separating eggs!). They’re officially my new go-to pancake recipe, at least until a new contender takes the field.

1.1 ounces all-purpose flour (¼ cup)
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon salt
1 cup nonfat buttermilk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 large egg
Butter or cooking spray for greasing griddle

1. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine the first 7 ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk.

2. Combine buttermilk, butter, and egg in a small bowl. Add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist.

3. Heat a nonstick griddle over medium heat. Coat pan with butter or cooking spray. Spoon about 2½ tablespoons batter per pancake onto griddle. Turn pancakes over when tops are covered with bubbles; cook until bottoms are lightly browned.

Serves: 2–3 (Cooking Light says you’ll get 3 servings of 4 pancakes each; I got 2 servings of 3.5 pancakes each, so I’m guessing I made mine too big?)
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Unknown

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

JAM COOKIES


If you’re like me and you enjoy making jam more than you like eating it, or if you know someone like me who persists in giving you homemade preserves for Christmas, this recipe is a perfect way to use up that assortment of little half-full jars in the back of your fridge. I don’t know why it never occurred to me that I could just stir jam into plain butter-cookie dough, but I’m so glad Joy the Baker thought of it and created this simple, delicious recipe that can easily be made with ingredients you’re likely to have on hand. I used strawberry jam and the cookies turned out a delicate, barely-there pink, flecked with bits of fruit. The strawberry flavor isn’t strong, maybe because I added almond extract (replacing the ground ginger of the original, since ginger is not my fave and almond most definitely is, and Joy suggested it in the comments so I’m not just flying blind here), but I’m not a devotee of fruity cookies, so I kind of liked that subtlety. You can bet I’ll be trying these in a rainbow of varieties—blueberry, peach, maybe pear or apple butter in the winter… These are certainly basic, everyday cookies (mine verged on downright homely, rescued only by the sparkly sugar coating), but for a non-chocolate dessert, I find them pretty dang exciting.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
⅔ cups sugar, plus ¼–½ cup extra for coating the cookies
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
¼ cup jam

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

3. Working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy and smooth. Add ⅔ cup sugar and beat for 1 minute. Add the egg and beat for 2 minutes more. Add the milk, vanilla, and almond extract, and beat just to combine. Reduce the mixer speed to low, add the jam, and beat for 1 minute more. With the mixer still on low, add the dry ingredients and mix only until they are incorporated.

4. Fill a shallow bowl with sugar. Spoon a rounded teaspoon of the dough into the sugar, toss to coat, and remove to a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, leaving about an inch between cookies.

5. Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point. The cookies will be only just firm, fairly pale, and browned around the edges. Remove the sheets from the oven and allow the cookies to rest for 1 minute, then carefully transfer them to racks to cool to room temperature.

Yields: About 5 dozen small cookies
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: High

Friday, August 27, 2010

ORZO WITH CHICKEN, LEMON, AND DILL


First there was vacation, then recovering from vacation. Now I’m finally ready to get to work on this recipe backlog! Conveniently, cooler weather finally seems to be prevailing across most of the country, so there’s a chance you can actually make this tasty oven-baked dish without breaking a sweat. And you definitely should make this.

I love watching cooking shows (especially while I’m cooking, for some reason), but mostly as pleasant background noise rather than as a practical resource. Usually they’re either making something I already know how to cook or something I wouldn’t care enough to bother with, so I just admire the look of the food and the skill of the chef—not to mention the gorgeously clean kitchen, fancy tools, and shiny dishes. For the latter, Everyday Food is one of my favorite shows. The recipes aren’t always the most exciting (OK, they sometimes verge on stupidly simple) and the delivery is PBS at its blandest, but the chefs just make everything look so damn effortless. It’s got the ruthless efficiency of the Martha Stewart empire, but without the fussiness of the woman herself. It’s pared-down and streamlined and modern—the IKEA of food shows! Well, maybe less hip than IKEA. Anyway, I was watching one day and this recipe was featured. It had me at lemon, feta, and dill. A thought it looked pretty good, too, so I hopped on over to the Web site, bookmarked the recipe, and tried it at the earliest opportunity.

This recipe couldn’t be easier to throw together (heat liquids, mix everything in a pan, bake), but somehow I managed to overcook my orzo. With nearly 10 minutes of cooking time left to go, I peeked in the oven and was surprised to see all the liquid gone; when I tested it, the orzo was already beyond tender and approaching sticky. Instead of the juicy, creamy, risotto-like texture I’d been expecting, it was clumpy and a bit dry. I’m not sure why mine cooked so much faster than the recipe said it would, but I think it’s easily preventable—next time I’ll start checking it after 20 minutes and take it as soon as the orzo is tender (and the chicken is fully cooked, obviously). Because oh yes, there will be a next time. In spite of its texture issues (let’s face it: even cooked properly, orzo is one of my least favorite pasta shapes; it’s too reminiscent of rice, which I’ve always found dull), this was surprisingly unique, delightfully easy, light but satisfying, and deeply flavorful: savory from the broth and chicken, bright from the lemon and dill, and crikey, is there anything more delicious than melty, slightly toasted chunks of feta? Next time, I might add a little more feta. I sort of wanted to try adding something green, too, maybe spinach—there’s no denying this dish is seriously boring to look at—but A thought that sounded like a bad idea, and after all, a green salad on the side mitigates all the whiteness just as well.

I think I just talked myself into making it again ASAP.

Postscript: Making this for the second time, I noticed that the feta quantities seem contradictory; is there any way that just 4 ounces of crumbled feta can equal 2 cups? The first time around, I think I measured by weight, but this time I went by volume and ended up using an entire 8-ounce block of feta. It turned out even more delicious than before (and helped resolve the dryness/overcooking problem), so I'm going to go ahead and cautiously state that you should use 2 cups or 8 ounces.

Also, this time I couldn't get fresh dill and had to use dried instead, which worked better than I expected; if you're in this boat, use 4 generous teaspoons of dried dill to equal 1/4 cup of the fresh stuff.

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
¾ cup water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1¼ teaspoons coarse salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound orzo
2 cups crumbled feta cheese (4 ounces) (8 ounces, in my experience; see postscript above)
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh dill
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a saucepan, bring broth, water, butter, salt, and pepper to a boil. Meanwhile, in a 3-quart baking dish, combine chicken, orzo, feta, dill, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Pour broth mixture over orzo mixture and stir once to incorporate.

3. Bake until orzo is tender and cooking liquid is creamy, 30–40 minutes. Sprinkle Parmesan on top and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Serves: 6
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: High

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

SOUTHWESTERN SALAD WITH CILANTRO-LIME VINAIGRETTE


I’ve discussed this before, but I have a weird aversion to green salad recipes. Unless it’s really complex or has an exotic feature (like meat or fruit, or both), I tend to look away, thinking, “Big whoop! Different vegetables on top of lettuce. I could’ve thought of that!” The trouble is, I never do think of it, and just end up eating plain spring mix and dressing 90% of the time. So I’m trying to be more open-minded. I spotted this utterly delicious-looking cilantro-lime dressing at Whipped and immediately bookmarked it (if two flavor combos had to compete for my summer adoration, it would be a cage match between lemon-basil and cilantro-lime), but only later did I think to click through to the original recipe and its accompanying salad at For the Love of Cooking. It looked so fresh and colorful and full of things I love (avocado! corn! black beans!) that it immediately broke through my salad-recipe resistance. With a quesadilla on the side, it made for a delicious and satisfying Summer Salad Night.

Obviously, measurements are approximate (I probably ended up using more corn and black beans, just because I had them), and you can customize however you like to fit your tastes. I didn’t tinker much, except that since we were having quesadillas, I left out the cheese the first time around. But A was a bit underwhelmed by the salad, and at his suggestion, I threw in some extra shredded pepper Jack the next day when we ate the leftovers for lunch (I stored the tomato/onion/pepper/bean/corn mixture, the dressing, the lettuce, and the half-avocado all separately). It added an important creamy/savory/spicy component, so I’ll definitely add it again next time (although I imagine crumbled cotija would also be quite tasty). Although I also skipped the tortilla strips—I had some tortilla chips I thought I’d use, but the pepitas seemed to fulfill the salty/crunchy role well enough— if I had some extra corn tortillas next time, I’d probably cut and bake them and throw them in there. I could also see this being good with pieces of cooked chicken added, if you feel you need more protein to round out the meal. As for the dressing, I might try leaving out the vinegar next time; I was pretty (overly?) enthusiastic with the lime, so that acidity would probably be enough. But it was still utterly tasty, and easy enough to make with my immersion blender that I’d happily try it over just corn, black beans, tomatoes, or even my habitual plain salad greens.

Cilantro-lime vinaigrette:
½ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup canola oil
1–2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon dried oregano

Salad:
1 head Romaine lettuce, chopped
¾ cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved if large
2 green onions, sliced
2 small red, yellow, or orange bell peppers, diced
½ cup black beans
½ cup fresh (cooked and cut from cob) or frozen (thawed) sweet corn
1 tablespoons raw or toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1 ripe avocado, diced
¼ cup crumbled cotija or shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 handful chopped corn chips or baked or fried corn or flour tortilla strips

1. Combine all the dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor (or put them in a small bowl and use an immersion blender). Blend well and then let the flavors mingle for at least 30 minutes before using.

2. In a large salad bowl, combine all the salad ingredients, add the dressing, and toss well.

Serves: 4
Time: 35 minutes
Leftover potential: Low, unless you store the lettuce separately from the dressing and other ingredients.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

WHOLE WHEAT PANCAKES


I don’t know which is more surprising: the fact that I’m actually posting this in the same week I cooked it (I’ve been lagging behind for what feels like all month), or the fact that it’s a pancake recipe. I don’t have anything against pancakes (heck, I named one of my cats Jimmy Pancake), but I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve made them in the past five years. They just don’t really have a niche in my life. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a diehard breakfast-cereal eater (mainly granola, baked oatmeal, or storebought shredded wheat), and that’s all I really ever want before about 11 a.m. Then for lunch there are usually leftovers of some kind hanging around, and although I’ve extolled the glories of breakfast for dinner, when it comes down to it I feel that dinner should include some vegetables, and pancakes with a side salad just seems too weird. So whither the pancake in my eating schedule? Afternoon snack? Not to mention that pancakes always take longer to make than I expect (sure, the batter is easy to mix up, but that cooking-one-or-two-at-a-time thing always seems to keep me standing over the stove more than I’d like) and most recipes make way more than two people can hope to eat in one sitting. And, with all that white flour and butter and sugar and buttermilk and whatnot, they don’t feel like such a healthy meal, either. So I go merrily along without them.

Except that there is nothing so cozy-looking as a stack of pancakes. Every now and then I see a delicious-looking photo on a food blog and I get a craving. Usually it passes unheeded; occasionally I ponder making pancakes but don’t find the time (I’m too busy six mornings out of the week and too lazy on the other). But this time it stuck. I spotted this recipe from Country Gourmet restaurant in the L.A. Times Food section (print media, how quaint), thought that it sounded both tasty and wholesome, and bought the buttermilk so there could be no turning back. And on Sunday afternoon, for lunch, I made us some pancakes. They were easy and they were delicious. I liked how nonsweet they were, almost savory, with a slight crunch from the cornmeal and a nuttiness from the wheat, but not heavy or dense. (Mine didn’t fluff up as high as those in the Times photo, but I may have overstirred the batter.) I slathered them with blueberry-lime jam, and as I expected, it was the best way to eat jam I’ve found so far. And, taking a tip from the food blogs, I froze the leftovers (this had never occurred to me before), so we can have them again next weekend.

Even if I were to become a habitual pancake maker, which is doubtful (at least once the blueberry jam is gone), I don’t see this being my go-to recipe, but only because it uses so many egg whites (I hate wasting the yolks) and buttermilk (which, although it does delicious things to baked goods, I just don’t have in my fridge on a regular basis). However, it is definitely a good one, and might have been my gateway drug. Next up, maybe oatmeal pancakes!?

1 cup (4.25 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 cup (4.5 ounces) whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat)
2 tablespoons cornmeal
¾ teaspoon salt
1¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ cup egg whites (about 4 egg whites)
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
2¼ cups buttermilk
¼ cup (½ stick) butter, melted

1. In a large bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour, wheat flour, cornmeal, salt, cinnamon, baking powder, and baking soda.

2. In a blender, purée the egg whites, honey, vanilla, buttermilk, and melted butter until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds.

3. Gently whisk the dry and liquid ingredients together to form a batter.

4. Heat a griddle or large skillet over medium-low heat. Grease the surface (I used butter), then ladle half-cups of the batter to form each pancake. Cook until puffed and golden brown, about 1½ to 2 minutes on each side. You should have 8–10 pancakes.

Serves: 4–5 (2 pancakes each)
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: TBD

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

FLANK STEAK SALAD WITH PLUMS AND BLUE CHEESE


I get all excited whenever a shiny new Cooking Light arrives, but these days (dare I say since its dumbed-down redesign?), I only seem to find one recipe per issue that I actually want to make. Either the August issue had a greater-than-average number of tasty recipes, however, or I was in a mood to be seriously hypnotized by glamorous summery food photography, because I folded over nearly a dozen pages. One argument for the “hypnotized” theory might be the fact that I flagged this recipe, despite the fact that I have no particular fondness for steak or blue cheese. But I like arugula and plums, and the ingredient combo was excitingly surprising, yet somehow made sense. Plus the picture was so pretty! (Yep, definitely hypnotized.)

Mostly, though, I love the idea of main-dish salads in the summer, and I thought that this would be an A-friendly way to work more of them into our weekly menus, since he loves red meat and strong cheese. In retrospect, I needn’t have worried; later, when we were discussing the concept of salads for dinner, he clarified that he loves salads, “way more than pastas [pointed glance at me] or soups.” So I guess Summer Salad Nights are a go, and this was a decent way to kick off. It’s not one of those transcendent recipes that become more than the sum of their parts; it tastes just as you’d expect: like arugula, steak, plums, and blue cheese. (When the salad was mixed together, I could barely detect the dressing at all.) This disappointed me during the first few bites, but then I just sat back and appreciated the interplay between those four flavors—peppery, meaty, sweet, and sharp. I won’t be making this every week, but it was still an interesting, well-rounded, healthy, and satisfying meal (not to mention easy, quick, and attractive).

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
1½ tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, divided
1 (1-pound) flank steak, trimmed
Cooking spray
1 teaspoon honey
⅛ teaspoon salt
8 cups loosely packed baby arugula
3 plums, thinly sliced
¼ cup (1 ounce) crumbled blue cheese

1. Combine pepper, ¼ teaspoon salt, 1½ teaspoons olive oil, and 1 teaspoon lemon juice in a small bowl; rub over both sides of steak.

2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add steak to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Remove steak from pan; let rest 5 minutes. Cut steak diagonally across grain into thin slices.

3. Combine remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, honey, and ⅛ teaspoon salt in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk. Add arugula; toss gently to coat. Arrange about 1½ cups arugula mixture onto each of 4 plates; top each serving with 3 ounces steak, about ½ cup plums, and 1 tablespoon cheese.

Serves: 4
Time: 25 minutes
Leftover potential: Low, although not impossible if you store all the salad elements (sliced steak, arugula, dressing, unsliced plums, and cheese) separately until ready to eat.

Monday, July 26, 2010

ARUGULA PESTO


Here’s a handy tip for summer: if you have extra arugula (which I often do, because I like it on my BLTs, but that uses just a fraction of a bunch), make arugula pesto! Of course, you can simply substitute arugula for the basil in a basic pesto recipe, but I also like this one from Simply Recipes, which uses walnuts instead of pine nuts (their meatiness stands up well to the peppery arugula) and softens the bite of the garlic by roasting it—very cleverly, especially for summertime there’s-no-way-I’m-turning-on-the-oven-in-this-heat weather, in a skillet on the stove. I’d made this once before, a couple of years ago, but never posted it; then, I had it on pasta, which was good, but this time, thinking about how well arugula goes with potatoes, I tried it on pesto potato pizza, where it was excellent.

2 cups packed arugula leaves
½ cup walnuts
½ cup fresh Parmesan cheese
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 small garlic clove, peeled and minced
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Brown the 6 garlic cloves with their peels on in a skillet over medium high heat until the garlic is lightly browned in places, about 10 minutes. Remove the garlic from the pan, cool, and remove the skins.

2. Toast the walnuts in a pan over medium heat until lightly brown.

3. Combine the arugula, walnuts, and roasted and raw garlic in a food processor or blender. Pulse while drizzling in the olive oil. Add the Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste and mix until blended.

Yields: About ¾ cup
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; keeps in the fridge for about a week, or can be frozen for months