Thursday, July 29, 2010


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


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


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

Friday, July 23, 2010


I’m salad-obsessed. It must be the weather. I’m also, ever since my quinoa tabbouleh and chicken gyros successes, Mediterranean-obsessed. Why did it take me so long to discover feta? (I mean, I knew about it before, but I never used it at home.) And is there anything more perfectly refreshing on a summer day than a crisp, cool cucumber? I bookmarked this salad at Smitten Kitchen ages ago, and finally dusted it off to accompany my second go-round of chicken gyros. Not surprisingly, it’s as light and colorful and delicious as it looks. The quick-pickling of the red onions in a sugar-salt-vinegar brine (some of which is then incorporated into the dressing) is genius—it takes away their bite and gives them incredible zippiness, as well as an exciting neon-pink hue. I only made a few slight changes: left out the olives, because I hate them; used the tomatoes that Deb forgot; used pre-crumbled feta cheese because I had some I needed to use up, which ended up being less than 4 ounces (which was not sufficient—next time I’ll definitely use big cubes of the fresh stuff and plenty of it); and used only two bell peppers, red and orange, because the rest of the farmers’ market offerings were looking sad and wrinkly, subbing in another Persian cuke instead (this was an OK change; I still find raw peppers sort of intense in their crunchy-chewiness, and I love cucumbers, as already mentioned). Even though two of these changes were just ingredient-availability issues I hope not to repeat, I get the feeling this is a very forgiving salad you can mix up however you like. We’ll definitely be having it again this summer, possibly with hummus and pita crisps.

¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup cold water
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar
½ medium red onion, cut into ½-inch dice
3 bell peppers, your choice of colors, cored, seeded, and chopped into ½-inch pieces
1 kirby or Persian cucumber, chopped into ½-inch pieces
¼ pound firm feta cheese, chopped into ½-inch pieces
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved if they’re large
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Stir together the red wine vinegar, water, kosher salt, and sugar in a small bowl until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Add the red onion and set it aside for at least 15 minutes so the onions can lightly pickle (this is a good time to chop all your other ingredients).

2. Mix the peppers, cucumber, feta, and tomatoes in a large bowl.

3. Drain the onions, reserving the vinegar mixture. Add the onions to the bowl containing the pepper mixture. Pour ¼ cup of the vinegar mixture over the salad, then drizzle with olive oil. Season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Toss evenly. You can serve right away, or let the flavors mingle in the fridge for a few hours.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

Monday, July 19, 2010


I wanted fish tacos. And lo, I did make them. The End.

Except I’m not sure I know why I wanted fish tacos, considering I’ve eaten them maybe three times before in the course of my life. I’m guessing I just saw them on a food blog somewhere and they suddenly seemed like the most perfect, light, fresh, summery, Southern-California thing to stuff my face with. I’m especially susceptible to the romance of food photography in the summer, the sparkly lemonades, the effortless salads, the insouciant sandwiches, the kicky kebabs, the chic grilled steaks, all prettily arranged on sun-drenched picnic tables looking like they don’t care (bonus points if you know that movie reference), seeming to promise me entrance to some higher plane of casually elegant being where I will nonchalantly produce cool, delicious treats from my kitchen in mere moments without ever breaking a sweat.

Whatever the inspiration, it took me a long time to find a recipe that matched the Ideal Fish Tacos in my head. I wanted the fish to be breaded (I always think of the classic fish taco as being batter-fried, but a lot of online recipes just have you grill or sautée) , but not deep-fried (both for health reasons and because I’m a wuss when it comes to hot oil). Exactly like the panko-coated pan-fried halibut from my beloved fish and chips recipe, actually—in fact, I belatedly realized, I could actually just use that recipe, maybe leaving out the parsley and swapping lime zest for the lemon zest. Perfect! Except that neither Trader Joe’s nor Whole Foods had any halibut last week. I could have used cod, tilapia, or another whitefish, but then I spotted the frozen, pre-battered halibut (basically just fancy fish sticks) at Trader Joe’s and my love for halibut, combined with my laziness, won out. The fish looked to be decent, the ingredients relatively simple and wholesome, and it could be baked in the oven in about 15 minutes. It’s sort of funny that I ended up doing this, because during my intensive recipe search I’d stumbled upon, and rolled my eyes at, this Real Simple fish taco recipe that’s basically the same thing (albeit with Gorton’s fish tenders, which I suspect are several steps down from what I used). Luckily, the end result was really tasty, crisp without being greasy, even though the fish beneath the batter was a wee bit dry. In the future I’ll try breading my own (and forgoing the halibut if I must), but high-quality pre-battered stuff would be acceptable again if I were in a particular hurry.

I also, for some reason, had a really specific vision when it came to the condiments. When I think of classic fish tacos I think of cabbage and a white sauce (usually mayonnaise-based), neither of which I really like very much on their own, but I’ve got to admit they do go well with fish. The fish taco recipes I found online came with a host of varying condiment suggestions, from pico de gallo to pickled onions to mango salsa to guacamole, but my impulse was not to stray too far from tradition—and, for some reason, to avoid normal salsa, because somehow the combination of fish and tomatoes doesn't appeal. I decided to concentrate on the flavors that tantalized me most in the recipes I was skimming, all three of which seemed to marry well with both the fish concept and the taco concept: lime, cilantro, and avocado. I always use broccoli slaw (from Trader Joe’s) instead of cabbage with the fish and chips, so I decided to do the same thing here and found this simple, lime-and-cilantro-laced recipe for a fish-taco-friendly version. Ironically, Trader Joe’s didn’t end up having broccoli slaw that day, so I ended up using shredded cabbage after all—and it was still quite tasty. Then, taking a cue from this excellent recipe from Whipped, I pureed yogurt (the original used sour cream, but I prefer yogurt for most things) with avocado and more cilantro and lime for a fresh, zippy sauce that is also, I might add, addictive on tortilla chips, chili, or just, you know, your fingers.

Considering I cobbled it together from three different sources—and then ended up having to scrap my original plans and improvise thanks to the vagaries of ingredient availability—I’m really pleased with how this meal turned out. I’m not normally an inventive type, and neither A nor I was even certain how much we even liked fish tacos, but I had a dream…OK, that sounds a little grandiose. How about: I had a craving for a fresh and fun summer meal, and I satisfied it exactly. And just for a minute, eating my bright, pleasingly green-and-golden fish tacos and drinking a cold beer, I felt like one of those glossy food-magazine people. Except that we were eating indoors, sitting on the floor in front of the TV, fending cats away from the table, and I was sweating.

One final note: I used a 10-ounce package of fish and halved the slaw recipe and it served two (a generous three tacos apiece), with leftover avocado cream. You could easily scale up the fish amount and make the whole slaw recipe and serve three or four. I don’t think it would be worthwhile to end up with leftovers, though—except for the avocado cream, I can’t see this being good the next day.

Cilantro-lime slaw:
4 cups broccoli slaw or shredded cabbage
⅓ cup thinly sliced green onions
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt

Avocado cream:
1 ripe avocado, peeled, seeded, and chopped
½ cup sour cream or plain yogurt
¼ cup fresh cilantro
Juice of ½ large lime
Salt to taste (a few good pinches)

Pan-fried fish:
1 pound 1½-inch-thick halibut fillets (or cod, tilapia, or another whitefish)
¾ cup panko
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 large egg whites
2 tablespoons dark ale
2 tablespoons olive oil
10 ounces to 1 pound good-quality breaded frozen fish fillets

6–8 corn tortillas

1. To make the slaw, toss together the broccoli or cabbage, the green onions, and the cilantro in a large bowl. Mix in lime juice, oil, and salt and toss well to coat.

2. To make the avocado cream, place the avocado, sour cream or yogurt, cilantro, lime juice, and salt in a food processor or blender and process until smooth.

3. To make fish, cut halibut into sticks and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. While oil is heating, combine panko, salt, lime zest, and cayenne in a shallow bowl; in a separate shallow bowl, whisk egg whites and ale. When oil is hot, dip fish sticks in ale mixture, turn to coat, and shake off excess; then place fish in panko mixture and turn to coat all sides. Add fish sticks to skillet and cook about 2 minutes on each side, until all sides are golden and fish is opaque in center. Transfer fish to paper towels, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve immediately. OR, if using frozen fish fillets, skip this whole step and prepare according to package directions.

4. Heat a skillet over medium heat and warm tortillas on each side for a minute or so, until soft and pliable. Place tortillas on plates and top with a piece or two of fish and generous amounts of slaw and avocado cream.

Serves: 2–4
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Not good, except the avocado cream will last for several days in the fridge and makes a great dip for chips or veggies.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Ever since Christmas, there’s been a box of Candy Cane Jo-Jo’s waiting patiently in my freezer for exactly this purpose. Cookies and cream is one of my favorite ice cream flavors, and Candy Cane Jo-Jo’s (Trader Joe’s delectable holiday-season-only chocolate sandwich cookies with crushed candy cane bits mixed into the cream filling, like the glorious love child of an Oreo and a Thin Mint) are my favorite (storebought) cookies, so of course I had to try combining them. I used David Lebovitz’s Philadelphia-style (i.e., non-egg-based) vanilla ice cream recipe from The Perfect Scoop, leaving out the vanilla bean since I wanted the peppermint and chocolate flavors to be the main attraction, and followed Lebovitz’s advice in the back of the book for adding mix-ins. Needless to say, the finished product was glorious. I’ve mainly stuck to the fruit ice creams so far, because it gave me some pretext of wholesomeness, but now the genie’s out of the bottle. I’m intoxicated by the possibilities for other variations: regular cookies and cream, oatmeal cookie, chocolate-chip cookie, peanut butter cookie…heck, not just cookies, but candy, nuts—I could throw anything I wanted in there! I’ll try to restrain myself, but it’s going to be a struggle. Good thing we seem to have entered the too-hot-to-make-ice-cream-in-my-un-air-conditioned-apartment phase of the summer.

3 cups heavy cream, or 2 cups heavy cream and 1 cup whole milk
¾ cup sugar
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups crushed cookies

1. Pour 1 cup of the cream into a medium saucepan and add the sugar. Warm over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved.

2. Remove from heat and add the remaining 2 cups cream, or the remaining 1 cup cream and 1 cup whole milk. Stir in the vanilla extract.

3. Chill mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator. Meanwhile, chill crushed cookies in the freezer.

4. Freeze in your ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Quickly stir in the crushed cookies before transferring ice cream to a storage container.

Yields: About 1 quart
Time: 15 minutes, plus chilling and processing time
Leftover potential: Good

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


We’ve gone blueberry picking in Somis every June for the past three years, and each time we come home with more berries. This year we harvested 8¼ pounds, enough for copious snacking, our old favorites blueberry buttermilk cake (twice) and blueberry frozen yogurt, and, as I’d hoped, a new endeavor: a small batch of blueberry jam. I wanted something quick and painless—a fun Saturday activity with Friend P, not an all-day project, so I turned to this recipe in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I always feel like a cheater using pectin, especially when I dump in all the sugar it calls for, but sometimes you just can’t beat the convenience, and anyway, this jam turned out wonderfully. You can’t taste the lime specifically, or at least you don’t take a bite and think “Lime!”, but it adds a certain something. I halved the recipe and, after barely more than 90 minutes of work (relaxed, chatting, laughing work, not the sweaty, slogging work of some of our previous jamfests), I had four pretty jars of purple-blue goodness (I used these adorable, squat wide-mouthed jars M gave me for my birthday) and next to P’s ruby-red strawberry ones. We’ve only eaten this on toast so far, but I can’t wait to try it on pancakes. (Other ideas for using homemade jam: stir into oatmeal or plain yogurt, or make oatmeal-jam bars.) Next year, maybe we’ll pick enough berries for me to make a full batch.

4½ cups crushed blueberries (about 9 cups whole berries)
Grated zest and juice of 1 large lime
1 package (1.75 ounces/49 to 57 grams) regular powdered fruit pectin
5 cups granulated sugar

1. Prepare jars and closures as in steps 1–2 here.

2. In a large, deep, stainless steel saucepan, combine berries and lime juice and zest. Whisk in pectin until dissolved. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Add sugar all at once and return to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil hard, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Remove from heat and skim off foam.

3. Fill jars and process for 10 minutes, as in steps 7–9 here.

Yield: 6 8-ounce jars
Time: 2–3 hours
Leftover potential: But of course.