Tuesday, August 31, 2010


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


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


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

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.