Tuesday, March 30, 2010


I used to claim that I didn’t like cooked fruit at all, and then that I didn’t like it in savory contexts, but lately there’s been a lot of evidence that I’ve become intrigued—some might say borderline obsessed—with pairing apples and pears with meat, probably because of the irresistible sweet-salty contrast. As soon as I turned the page to this recipe in last month’s Cooking Light, I tore it out, began trolling the online version for user reviews (it has a 5-star rating so far, I’m pleased to report), and eagerly awaited a chance to make it. Before I got an opportunity, my parents arrived for a visit and whisked us away on a trip to San Diego, during the course of which we ate at a CPK-style “gourmet” pizza restaurant, where I ordered…a pear and prosciutto pizza. The connection barely occurred it me at the time—it just looked like the most appealing thing on the menu to me at that particular moment—but when I got home and took another look at this recipe, I realized it was nearly an exact clone of the pizza I ate, down to the vinegar-dressed arugula salad on top. On the plus side, the restaurant’s version had gorgonzola, which I don’t normally love but which pairs beautifully with pears (I might add it to this recipe the next time I make it). But on the minus side, their pizza was drowning in dressing, leaving the arugula oily and the flavor overwhelmed by vinegar. When I set out to finally make my own, I was confident the homemade version would be better.

And, surprise! Of course it was better. (I tried to generate a bit of suspense with that paragraph break, but I think you know me too well to fall for it.) This being Cooking Light, I didn’t have the sodden-greens problem; there was no oil in the dressing and just the right (i.e., moderate) amount of vinegar. The combination of the caramelized onions, salty prosciutto, sweet pear, and peppery arugula was perfect. It tasted decadent, but the raw greens on top kept it feeling fresh and light—like a main dish and a salad in one! I feel like I always say this when I like something (particularly a pizza), but it’s true—I can’t wait to make it again.

A few notes:
  • The CL recipe called for a 12-ounce premade pizza crust, but as usual, I was using Trader Joe’s pizza dough, which comes in a 1-pound ball, so my pizza was larger and I slightly increased the topping quantities accordingly. I didn’t really take note of the measurements I used, just eyeballed however much cheese and prosciutto it took to cover the crust.
  • I used mozzarella instead of Provolone, because I prefer it and it’s what I had on hand. It was nice and neutral, lending a creamy texture without getting in the way of the other flavors. However, as I mentioned, a little sprinkling of Gorgonzola could amp this up even more.
  • I used a D’Anjou pear, ever-so-slightly underripe. It worked well.
  • I’m not sure how much the walnuts added to the mix. I couldn’t taste them much, and the texture clashed a bit with the rest of the ingredients, and they had a tendency to roll off the pizza when you picked it up to take a bite, so I’d understand if you wanted to omit them. But since I usually have them around, I’ll probably keep on including them.
  • I think I used more arugula than the recipe called for (certainly more than is shown in the CL photo)—about two generous handfuls. I like to get my vitamins without bothering with a side salad.
  • The original recipe called for sherry vinegar, but I subbed balsamic, since I didn’t have sherry, I like the taste of balsamic, and I believe the restaurant version used it.
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups thinly sliced yellow onion
1 pound pizza dough
½ to 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 medium-to-large pear, thinly sliced
2 ounces prosciutto, cut or torn into thin strips
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts, toasted
1½ to 2 cups baby arugula leaves
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion to pan; cover and cook for 3 minutes. Uncover and cook 10 minutes or until golden brown, stirring frequently.

3. Roll out pizza dough and place on a cornmeal-dusted baking sheet. Top evenly with onion mixture; sprinkle with cheese. Top evenly with pear and prosciutto. Sprinkle with pepper. Bake for 12 minutes or until cheese is melted and crust is browned.

4. Sprinkle pizza with nuts. Place arugula in a medium bowl, drizzle with vinegar, and toss gently to coat. Top pizza evenly with arugula mixture.

Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Good, but if you plan on having leftovers, don’t perform Step 4 for the entire pizza, only the part that you’re planning on eating right away. Store the pizza, walnuts, arugula, and vinegar in separate containers and don’t combine them until after the pizza has been reheated.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


I’ve mentioned it before: I’m just not a muffin person. (This despite the fact that my first cat was named Muffin. Hey, what can I say? I was 10.) They’re cute and all, but so many of them are sweet enough to verge on dessert territory, which is usually not what I crave for breakfast or a snack (and when it’s time for dessert, I’ll take candy or cookies or pie or cake, thanks). But muffins are so popular with others and so crazy easy to make that I do end up baking them on occasion, usually when I have an ingredient to use up (cream cheese, zucchini, ripe bananas) or when I need to bring a treat somewhere to share. So when I was charged with bringing the refreshments for my department’s monthly meeting, which takes place at 9:00 a.m., muffins were the obvious choice. While watching the Academy Awards red carpet show, I made poppy-seed almond muffins so I could finally get a picture for the ol’ blog—and then noticed, while rereading that entry, that I referred to making those very muffins during the Oscars three years ago! Apparently, something about the Oscars says “muffin time” to me.

I also wanted a slightly more wholesome (or wholesome-seeming) muffin option, so I decided to try this recipe from the Smitten Kitchen (adapted from King Arthur Flour). Although they sound vaguely hippie-ish—and indeed, they’re blessedly far from the cupcakes-masquerading-as-muffins phenomenon I abhor—the butter, buttermilk (ordinarily, I might try yogurt, but when baking for others my shameless desire for approbation leads me to choose the full-fat option most of the time), and generous sprinkling of brown sugar make them not out of place in the “treat” category. The whole wheat flavor comes through, but the texture is spectacularly moist and tender, with an irresistible crunchy, caramelized top. (If I were actually making these for my own breakfast/snacking purposes, I might go a little easier on the brown sugar on top, but for showoff/sharing purposes, it added just the right amount of pizzazz.) I brought 17 of these to work and had only two left over, so I think they were well received. I’d certainly make them again, on the rare occasion when I want muffins.

The recipe was straightforward, and I followed it to the letter, except that I ran out of cinnamon about 2 teaspoons (a tablespoon is a lot!) and substituted cardamom for the remaining teaspoon. I used Fuji apples and chopped them a bit smaller in an effort to ensure that they cooked all the way through (a few of them remained crispish, though, which is not my favorite texture in baked goods but didn’t seem to bother anyone else).

1 cup (4 ounces) whole wheat flour
1 cup (4¼ ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
½ cup (1 stick; 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup (3½ ounces) granulated sugar
½cup dark brown sugar, packed, divided
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup (8 ounces) buttermilk or yogurt
2 large apples, peeled, cored, and chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Grease and flour muffin cups (or line them with paper liners) and set aside.

2. Mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon, and set aside. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and add the granulated sugar and ¼ cup of the brown sugar. Beat until fluffy. Add the egg and mix well; stop once to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Mix in the buttermilk gently. Stir in the dry ingredients and fold in the apple chunks.

3. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared muffin cups, sprinkling the remaining ¼ cup brown sugar on top. Bake for 10 minutes, turn the heat down to 400 degrees, and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool the muffins for 5 minutes in the tin, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Yields: 12–18
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: High. These will remain moist in a sealed container at room temperature for several days, and they can be frozen for longer storage.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


First fennel, then sweet potatoes, and now parsnips? 2010 has thus far apparently been The Year of New Vegetables , or at least The Year When I Finally Discover Great Recipes That Make Me Fall in Love with New Vegetables. I’d cooked with parsnips a few times before (once in a soup, and occasionally in various roasted-vegetable mixtures), but the results were never particularly blogworthy. Plus, for some reason I have a hard time obtaining parsnips—I never see them at the farmers’ market, and while it’s not that surprising that Trader Joe’s doesn’t have them, I’m confused that I can’t seem to find them at my local Vons either (which is a standard not-that-fancy chain grocery store, but does carry most other produce items I can think of, including quail eggs [I always wonder why those aren’t in the egg section]). So I have to go to Whole Foods, which is not on my usual grocery-getting rotation (the only things I regularly buy there are bulk oatmeal, ground pork, and Leinenkugel's beer), and where they are not particularly cheap for such a humble vegetable. Whither the parsnip in Pasadena?

This recipe from Jack Bishop’s indispensible Vegetables Every Day sounded like it was worth the special trip to Whole Foods, and an excellent way to give parsnips a chance. Roasting is pretty much always one of the best ways to broach a new vegetable, and parsnips roast up particularly well, sweet and caramelized, reminiscent of oven-baked sweet potato fries (one of my recent obsessions, although I haven’t posted a recipe yet because I’ve been playing with different versions). There are a million variations on roasted parsnips available on the Internets, but I’m so glad I tried Bishop’s, because the simple rosemary-balsamic glaze takes these to another level. Two tablespoons sounded like an awful lot of vinegar to be soaking my already-nice-looking roasted parsnips with, but sure enough, after a few more minutes in the oven, the vinegar magically cooked down into a sticky, subtle glaze that made them taste even better--an addictive treat of a side dish I'm already yearning to eat again.

The recipe is easy-peasy, although I did a poor job of cutting my parsnips into uniform-sized pieces, and I’m guessing that overall I could have done bigger ones, because they didn’t need anywhere near 40 minutes to get browned and tender (I’m guessing maybe 25 minutes?) and a few neared the verge of charred. So just keep an eye on them while they’re roasting and trust your senses over the recipe; when they look good to you, take them out.

2 pounds parsnips
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary leaves

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Peel the parsnips. If they are quite small, you can simply cut them into 1½-inch chunks. Larger parsnips will probably have a tough woody core that needs to be removed. (You can see it when you cut open the parsnips. To remove the core, quarter the parsnips lengthwise and then use a paring knife to shave off the portion of the core that is attached to each quarter.) Cut the cored parsnips into 1½-inch chunks.

3. Toss the parsnips with the oil on a large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Roast, turning once, until golden brown, about 40 minutes.

4. Combine the vinegar and rosemary in a small bowl. Drizzle the mixture over the roasted parsnips on the baking sheet and toss to coat. Continue to roast until parsnips are glazed, about 3 minutes.

Serves: 4 (or possibly fewer; I made an approximately 1.5-sized version of the recipe and the two of us ate it all in one sitting)
Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour
Leftover potential: Unknown; I imagine they would lose some of their crispness but still taste quite nice


This was my first time cooking pork chops. I think it was also my first time eating pork chops since childhood, when I distinctly disliked them, along with steak, chicken breasts, and any other large uninterrupted slabs of meat, which always seemed so bland and chewy to me that I ended up trying to secretly spit them out when no one was looking, which I’m sure was lovely for my parents. Now I’m quite a fan of meat, but I’ll admit I prefer it in small bits mixed with other things, and still feel dismayed when presented with a plate dominated by a big piece of it. So I was nervous about this dish. But my mom had given me some wild rice—real, hand-harvested Minnesota wild rice, not the wimpy cultivated grocery-store stuff—which was another thing I had no experience in cooking (I’m not a big rice eater), and I figured the best place to look for a suitable recipes was the St. Paul Farmers’ Market Cookbook, where this recipe jumped out a me. It looked dead easy, and I hoped the onions and broth and pork would jazz up the rice while the apples jazzed up the pork.

For my inaugural pork chop voyage, I figured I’d better spring for the highest-quality meat or it wouldn’t be a fair test of whether I really like pork or not. The Whole Foods meat counter (how I love ordering my meat from a real person, picking the pieces out myself, getting exactly the quantity I need, and having it neatly wrapped up in paper, not shrink-wrapped onto a tray; I wish there was a good old-fashioned butcher shop in my area) yielded four handsome, fresh pink chops, thick but not overwhelmingly large, for an eyebrow-raising $20 (although that’s only $5 a chop if you think about it, and the rice was free and the broth homemade and the other ingredients super-cheap, so after the initial sticker shock I determined it had been well worth it). I used Fuji apples and my enameled cast-iron Dutch oven. I had to do some guesswork when following the directions, because the recipe was for an electric skillet and just gave temperatures rather than stovetop settings (it also didn't call for any salt or pepper), but the method was so simple (brown pork, throw in other ingredients, let cook) that this wasn’t a problem. Even though the food had to cook for an hour, it was completely hands-off time, so this is still a decent recipe for a weeknight because you can go do something else while you’re waiting (I made a salad and then played some Wii!). Everything went smoothly and it tasted really good; the sweetness of the apple and the onion balanced out the earthy rice and savory pork, and the fact that the pork was braised in liquid with the rice kept it from the dreaded dryness. I probably won’t make this recipe again on a regular basis, but only because it’s rare to get my hands on the real wild rice. As for pork chops in general, I don’t think I’m going to start eating them on a regular basis, but I would definitely make them again if I found a good-looking recipe. Like, say, one that involves braised fennel…oh, dear.

4 pork chops, about 1 inch thick
1 tablespoon olive oil or canola oil
1 cup uncooked wild rice
1 large onion, sliced
2½ cups chicken broth
2 large red cooking apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Season the pork chops on both sides with salt and pepper to taste, then add the chops to the pan and brown on both sides.

2. Remove chops to a plate and add wild rice to skillet. Arrange chops over wild rice. Place the onion slices over the chops. Pour chicken broth over everything and bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook at a slow simmer for 1 hour.

3. Add apple slices and simmer, covered, about 15 minutes more, or until apples and wild rice are tender and chops are fully cooked. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serves: 4
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: High

Thursday, March 04, 2010


I can scarcely express how much I love this ice cream. I like honey and I like vanilla, so I didn’t doubt that they would be good when mixed when cream and frozen to a fluff, but even so I was taken aback by how incredibly delicious this tastes to me. Sometimes I think it reminds me of something nostalgic and half-remembered, and other times I think it must be what’s meant by “a land flowing with milk and honey.”If I could figure out how to make the inside of my mouth taste like this all the time, I would die happy. It’s not just that this is a good, simple, easy ice cream recipe (by Patricia Wells, via 101 Cookbooks); it strikes some sort of deep chord in me. I’ve been dying to share it with you ever since I tried it...er, last July.

In fact, this is the recipe that put an end to my run of frozen-treat making, which had started when I got my ice cream maker for my birthday in April. It was a halcyon few months—and then summer happened. Triple-digit desert heat + an apartment with no air conditioning + a wimpy freezer = ICE CREAM FAIL, ironically at the time that one requires ice cream the most. Even after a night in the freezer, my honey ice cream had the consistency of a milkshake that had been sitting in a hot car. We slurped it down happily just the same, and I vowed to make it again come cooler weather. But still, even though I knew perfectly well that the heat was to blame (not to mention that homemade ice creams, at least the non-egg ones, tend to be softer than commercial ones anyway, and this one didn’t even contain fruit or anything else that might have given it some extra body), deep down I felt jinxed, like I’d lost my ice-cream mojo. What if I tried it again and it didn’t work? Fall rolled around, but I didn’t get back on the horse, telling myself that I needed to find a source of good-quality vanilla beans cheaper than my local grocery stores. (The original recipe called for two beans, which is wildly extravagant, and although delicious, unnecessary; even most plain vanilla ice cream recipes don’t use more than one. I used one bean this time and it turned out just as tasty.) When Santa put a jar of three Penzeys beans in my Christmas stocking, that excuse went out the window, and now, with spring and the advent of tasty fruit season upon us (I'm fixing to be a frozen yogurt fiend!), I knew I had to face my fears before the summer heat returned. And this time, everything worked out just fine.

Both times, I used the amazing honey I got from the CSA last summer, but now the jar is just about empty. Next time, I’ll buy the honey at the farmer’s market (probably orange blossom, which tastes like candy to me). I’m sure the recipe would still be better than a poke in the eye if you used average everyday honey, but since honey is the main flavor here, it’s worth getting the good stuff. Luckily, a big jar of good honey plus a vanilla bean make this just expensive enough that I can’t justify making it every week, because otherwise I’d be (bee?) in trouble. Did I mention I love this stuff?

1 vanilla bean
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
½ cup honey (use a high-quality, aromatic honey that you enjoy the flavor of)

1. Flatten the vanilla bean and cut it in half lengthwise. With a small spoon, scrape out the seeds. Place the seeds and pod in a medium saucepan. Add the cream, milk, and honey. Stir to dissolve the honey. Heat over medium heat, stirring from time to time, just until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan, 3 to 4 minutes.

2. Remove from the heat and let steep, covered, for 1 hour.

3. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled (several hours to overnight).

4. Remove the vanilla pod, and stir the mixture again to blend. Transfer it to an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions.

Serves: About 6
Time: 15 minutes, plus at least 4 hours of chilling time, plus freezing time
Leftover potential: Good

Tuesday, March 02, 2010


Just when I start thinking it’s time to put a moratorium on acquiring new pasta recipes when I have so damn many already, I keep stumbling across new ones full of exciting ingredients: first fennel, then kale, and now pears! It took me a while to work up the gumption to try this unusual pasta sauce (another great find from the Meat Lite column at Serious Eats), but I’m certainly glad I did. Of course pork is often complemented by fruit, so I knew the pears would work out well, but I was still surprised by how well the three main ingredients, spiked with sherry, broth, and vinegar, melted into such a rich, savory sauce. As promised, it felt satisfyingly meaty even though it contained only a small portion of pork (it breaks down into tiny bits and permeates the sauce). A enthused that it might be his favorite pasta recipe. My reaction was more along the lines of “this is pretty good”; I enjoyed making and eating it, but there are a lot of pasta recipes that I prefer, most of them meatless. Even though there were a lot of flavors involved, the end result tasted so uniformly brown to me. I might experiment with brightening it up with parsley or lemon at the end. Still, if you’re looking for something to shake up your usual pasta routine or want to impress dinner guests with your gourmet cooking skillz—or if you just want something warming and hearty but not gut-busting on a cold winter night—this pasta will give you a complex dish with very little effort.

There was one flaw in the recipe as written: It called for 2 tablespoons of olive oil; 1 tablespoon was used in Step 1, but the second was never mentioned. I just used both tablespoons in Step 1, but that looked like too much. My pork got nice and crispy and browned, but then the pan seemed a bit dry in subsequent steps. One of the Serious Eats commenters said they added it with the mushrooms, so I’ve gone ahead and written it into Step 2 below. That was my only real deviation from the recipe. My sauce did seem a bit over-liquidy even after 30 minutes of simmering, so I took the lid off and raised the heat to try to reduce it further, but then once I put the pasta in, it seemed a little dry and I had to add pasta water, so really I should probably have followed the recipe more closely in that regard. I have noted below that you might want to reserve some pasta water, though, just in case.

I used homemade chicken broth and a red D’Anjou pear, both of which worked well for me. The original recipe says you can use white button mushrooms, but I really think you should go with the brown cremini (as I nearly always do when mushrooms are called for).

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
¼ pound ground pork
2 large shallots, finely chopped (½ cup)
½ pound cremini mushrooms, quartered
1 large pear (about 10 ounces), diced small
2 large garlic cloves, sliced
¼ cup dry sherry
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1½ cups mushroom, vegetable, or chicken broth
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound penne pasta
Freshly grated or shaved Parmesan cheese to taste

1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large, high-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the pork and cook to brown, about 5–7 minutes, breaking the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Add the shallots and sauté an additional 2–3 minutes.

2. Add other tablespoon of oil and the mushrooms to the pork and shallots; sauté 5–7 minutes, until the mushrooms begin to brown and soften. Stir in the pear and garlic, cooking for another 2–3 minutes.

3. Pour in the sherry and scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pan as the liquid sizzles. Let the sherry reduce until it is almost dry. Add the thyme, broth, and vinegar, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, partially covered, for 20–30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. While the sauce simmers, cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve about 1 cup of pasta water, then drain the pasta and toss with the sauce, adding pasta water if needed to moisten. Top each serving with grated Parmesan to taste.

Serves: 6
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good.