Friday, December 16, 2011

ROASTED SQUASH PIZZA WITH CARAMELIZED ONIONS AND BACON


Just when I think I’m running out of pizza-topping combinations to try, another one presents itself. As soon as I saw this recipe at Dinner With Julie, I knew it would be perfect, and perfect it was—an addictive, comforting blend of smoky, salty, sweet, and creamy.

My one misstep was in using a package of pre-cubed butternut squash from Trader Joe’s; normally I frown upon such things, but we’d missed that week’s farmers’ market due to our Thanksgiving trip to Minnesota. I could’ve picked up a whole squash at the grocery store, but I wanted to make things easier on myself post-vacation, and I figured TJ’s usually has pretty good produce, so… Live and learn, right? The squash was so slimy and soggy that it took forever to roast properly; it just kept steaming away in the oven without browning, and I had to bake it nearly twice as long just to get any color and crispness on it. Then, when I popped a piece into my mouth, I discovered it was nearly flavorless, so I desperately sprinkled a little brown sugar over the rest and threw it back into the oven until the sugar caramelized. That seemed to help the sweetness along and the pizza tasted great, but: never again.

On the plus side, I had been planning to just use mozzarella on this, but then I remembered I had some cheese odds and ends left over from making kale pizza a few weeks before, so I added those into the mix. I think the Asiago in particular really made this spectacular, balancing out the sweetness of the squash and onions with its pungent sharpness. And, of course, the bacon didn’t hurt either. I’ve had a run of just-OK pizza experiments lately, but this one was an unequivocal success, probably the best I’ve tried since July’s corn-feta-cilantro-lime awesomeness.

About 1 pound butternut or other winter squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
4 slices bacon, diced
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 pound pizza dough
Shredded cheese to taste (I used a mixture of mozzarella, Asiago, and Fontina, which I highly recommend)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Place the cubed squash on a rimmed baking sheet, toss with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste, and roast for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring once, until soft and browned. Remove from oven and set aside, then increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees.

3. Meanwhile, cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. Add the onion to the drippings in the skillet and sauté until tender and caramelized.

4. Roll out the pizza dough, place it on a baking sheet coated with cornmeal or olive oil, and scatter half the cheese over it. Add the squash, onions, and bacon, then top with the remaining cheese. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until bubbly and golden.

Serves: 4
Time: 75 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

Monday, December 12, 2011

JALAPENO-CHEDDAR SKILLET CORNBREAD


It’s odd, but I don’t think I’d ever made cornbread before this. I’ve eaten some that I’ve liked over the years (mostly at barbecue/soul food restaurants), but generally I can take or leave it, and I mostly leave it. At its worst, it can be dry, crumbly, and bland. Everyone talks about how much better it is when cooked in a cast-iron skillet, though, so ever since I got a skillet of my own I’ve been thinking I might give it a try. A couple of months ago, I stumbled across the perfect-looking recipe at A Cozy Kitchen. Pouring the hot oil from the skillet into the batter seemed a little weird (and perilous—wear sturdy oven mitts!), but since the recipe was adapted from no less an authority than the Homesick Texan herself, I couldn’t argue. Aside from that little adventure, the bread was easy to make and turned out perfectly: crisp-crusted without and tender within, with the buttermilk and cheese warding off dryness and the jalapeno providing a nice kick. Maybe it was the skillet or maybe it was the recipe, but the bread had a bit more structural integrity than some I’ve seen; it held its shape well when sliced and wasn’t overly crumbly. I served it with chili, but it would have been just as satisfying on its own, with a little butter.

So consider me a cornbread convert! This will definitely be replacing tortilla chips as my chili accompaniment of choice, and I’m contemplating pairing it it with black bean soup soon. I didn’t have any bacon grease on hand, but I’d love to try that next time instead of canola oil; a little bit of porky smokiness would really put this over the top.


2 tablespoons vegetable oil or bacon drippings
2 cups cornmeal (yellow or white)
½ cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1½ teaspoons salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 cups buttermilk, shaken
2 jalapeños, diced
1¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Put the oil or drippings in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet and place it in the oven for a few minutes until it’s sizzling.

2. Meanwhile, mix together dry ingredients in a large bowl and set aside. Whisk egg and buttermilk in a medium bowl. Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, then fold in jalapeños and 1 cup of shredded cheddar.

3. Take the cast-iron skillet out of the oven, pour hot oil/drippings into batter, and mix. Pour batter into skillet and top with remaining ¼ cup cheddar. Bake for 20 minutes, until brown on top and pulling away from the sides of the skillet.

4. Turn bread out of the skillet, slice into wedges or squares, and serve.

Serves: About 8
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; can be frozen.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

CRISPY CHICKEN AND APPLE SALAD


In my ongoing quest for satisfying cold-weather salads, I have bookmarked approximately one million that involve apples and/or dried cranberries, all very subtly different. This one, originally from Everyday Food, which I spotted at Serious Eats, combines those two uber-autumnal/wintry ingredients with lettuce, slices of breaded pan-fried chicken breast, and a creamy dressing. The original dressing looked unappetizing to me—it was basically just a mixture of mayonnaise and buttermilk, with a little vinegar and parsley thrown in—and it is a sign of my newfound passion for mustard that I immediately thought, “But this salad would be perfect with a little Grey Poupon!” So instead I used a lighter, spunkier yogurt-Dijon vinaigrette lifted from one of my very favorite salads, a dressing that has become my go-to default whenever I need to improvise. As I suspected, it was a delectable counterpoint to the chicken and the crisp, sweet-tart fruit. When I ate the leftovers for lunch the next day, I threw in a handful of walnuts, and that made everything even better, so I’m suggesting it as an option below. This isn’t a revolutionary combination of flavors—it’s so intuitive, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen similar salads on fast-food menus, although of course the homemade version is infinitely better—but it makes an easy, wholesome, pleasing meal. We both really liked it, so I’m guessing it’s going to become a regular menu staple around here.

¼ cup all-purpose flour
1¼ teaspoons salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 large egg
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, gently pounded to an even thickness
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons plain yogurt
1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
8 cups red-leaf lettuce leaves
2 large apples, cut into thin wedges
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup toasted walnuts (optional)

1. On three small plates, set up the dredging stations: the flour on one, the egg whisked with 1 tablespoon of water on another, and the breacrumbs on the third. Season the flour with ¼ teaspoon salt and some freshly ground black pepper, and the panko with ½ teaspoon salt. Dry the chicken breasts thoroughly with paper towels until tacky.

2. In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium until shimmering.

3. Dredge the chicken in the flour and shake off the excess, then in the egg mixture, allowing the excess to drip off, and finally in the breadcrumbs, pressing gently to adhere. Add the chicken to the skillet and cook until golden, then flip and finish cooking, 8 to 10 minutes total. Drain on paper towels, allow to cool for a few moments, and then slice into strips.

4. While the chicken cooks, whisk together vinegar, yogurt, mustard, and ½ teaspoon salt in a small bowl; season with pepper to taste. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking until emulsified.

5. Lay the lettuce in a serving bowl or on a platter and scatter with the apples and cranberries (and walnuts, if desired). Lay the chicken over the top, drizzle with dressing, and serve.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: OK, although chicken will be less crispy the next day; store all components (chicken, dressing, walnuts, unsliced apples, and cranberries) separately and assemble right before eating.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

CHICKEN A LA DIABLE


Devil chicken! Except, of course, this zesty, spicy, crispy baked chicken is actually quite divine. I spotted it at Serious Eats and pegged it as an easy weeknight dinner, which it certainly was. I love that I’ve now gone from mustard hating to grudging acceptance to actually perking up whenever I see it in an ingredient list. It’s such a great shortcut to add a lot of zip and savor to food, especially meat; I can’t believe I ever turned up my nose at it. Using it as a coating for chicken is as brilliant as you would expect. Throw on some red pepper flakes, thyme, breadcrumbs, an egg wash to hold it all together, and naturally some butter, and you’ve got tasty Frenchy comfort food. I served it with spinach-apple salad, which was a perfect accompaniment.

2 tablespoons smooth Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon coarse-grain Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
2 eggs
4 whole chicken legs (bone-in, skin-on)
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a small bowl, combine mustards and red pepper and mix well to blend. Season chicken legs with salt, then use a pastry brush to paint the mustard mixture evenly on all the legs.

3. On a plate or in a shallow bowl, combine eggs and whisk lightly with a fork to blend. In another, combine the breadcrumbs with the thyme. Dredge the chicken in the eggs, then in the breadcrumbs, coating them as evenly as possible, and then transfer to a baking dish.

4. Dot the chicken pieces evenly with butter, then bake until the juices run clear, 30 to 40 minutes.

Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: OK (although the leftovers won’t be as crispy)

Friday, December 02, 2011

PUMPKIN PUDDING


After the cookies and the pancakes, I still had some pumpkin puree left, so of course I had to make pumpkin pudding, as part of my ongoing quest to make every kind of pudding in the world, ever. I found the recipe at Sugarcrafter, probably via Food Blog Search. It was as easy as any other pudding (in other words, surprisingly easy) and tasted about as you’d expect, like a lighter, creamier pumpkin pie filling. It didn’t rock my world, but I will certainly make it again, especially when I have extra pumpkin puree to use up.

It amuses me how many ways there are to make pudding; some recipes have you add the egg right away and stir continually (and then strain the pudding to make sure there are no cooked egg bits floating around), others have you add it midway through (which means tempering the egg mixture with some hot milk), and a few have you add it at the end (which means there’s always a small risk of raw-ish egg, since you’re just relying on the heat of the milk to cook it). Whichever way you do it doesn’t seem to have a great impact on the end result, so perhaps it’s just a matter of personal preference. I’m not too afraid of raw egg, and in this case I didn’t balk at straining the pudding since I knew I’d want to get rid of any stray stringy pumpkin pieces, but in general I’m of the add-it-midway-and-temper school, so I might do that next time I make this. Otherwise, I saw no need to tinker with the recipe, except that of course I once again shoved nutmeg to the background in favor of cardamom, because I don’t understand why the rest of the world refuses to use it.

And here ends my experimentation with pumpkin for this year…unless I buy another can, in which case this whole merry-go-round will start up again.

1¾ cups milk
1 egg
½ cup canned pumpkin
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ cup + 2 tablespoons brown sugar

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk and egg.

2. In another bowl, combine the pumpkin and spices.

3. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the cornstarch and sugar. Gradually whisk in the milk mixture, scraping the bottom and sides with a rubber spatula to break up lumps. Bring to a boil and cook until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat.

4. Add the pumpkin mixture to the pudding, stirring to combine. Place the pan back over low heat and warm until heated through. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl to remove any lumps. Transfer the mixture to a clean bowl or bowls (if you don’t like pudding skin, place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pudding so that a skin will not form). Refrigerate at least an hour before serving.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; lasts a few days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

CURRIED COCONUT CARROT SOUP


As soon as fall arrived, I started craving all things orange: sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and even, finally, pumpkin. As soon as I saw this soup at The Kitchn, I wanted it in my belleh. I could eat pureed soups for days on end, but I try to keep my desire for them at reasonable levels because A prefers the chunky stuff; still, I already had three carrot soups in my collection, so adding another seemed like madness. But this one was different! Although curried orange-hued soups are hardly new territory, I hadn’t made one before (although last winter’s lentil version alerted me to how delicious curried soups can be), and besides, the addition of coconut milk was calling out to me.

As with most vegetable soups, this was a cinch to throw together. My can of coconut milk was only something like 13.5 ounces and the mixture looked a bit thick after pureeing, so I added a little 1% milk to thin it out. Then I excitedly took a taste and…meh. I added more salt, usually the remedy for an iffy soup, but was still a bit disappointed. I wasn’t getting a strong curry taste and knew my curry powder was pretty ancient, so I would have added more…except my jar was empty; I’d only just been able to scrape out the tablespoon the recipe required. A little acid seemed as though it might perk things up, so my thoughts turned to citrus. I didn’t have a lemon, but I did have a nice, fat lime. I know lime plays well with coconut, ginger, and curry, and it seemed as though it would complement the carrot nicely. I squeezed in the whole lime and—zowie! Just this one little extra ingredient took the soup from blah to bombastic. I felt like a culinary genius.

I’d like to try the recipe again with some fresh curry powder, just to see if that would have remedied my problem, but as a citrus fiend I’ll still be making the lime (or, in a pinch, I think lemon would be just as good) a permanent component. With it, this soup was fantastic—sweet from the carrots, bright from the citrus, creamy from the coconut, earthy from the curry, and with a surprising kick from the red pepper flakes. (I loved the way the heat blossomed after each bite, but if you’re spicy-foods-averse, maybe start with ¼ teaspoon and see how it goes; you can always garnish with more later.) This will be a wonderful warming, cheerful soup in the depths of winter (not that the depths get very deep in Southern California), particularly when I have a cold. Serve it with some multigrain rolls and you’re all set to feel simultaneously hippie-healthy and cozily indulgent.

2 tablespoons olive or coconut oil
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
6 cups unpeeled, roughly chopped carrots (about 8 medium-sized carrots)
3½ cups vegetable stock (I used homemade chicken stock)
One 15-ounce can full-fat coconut milk
1½ tablespoons freshly chopped ginger root
1 tablespoon curry powder
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of 1 lime (or 1 lemon)

1. Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until tender, about 7 minutes. Add the carrots and cook for another 5 minutes. Pour in the stock and coconut milk. Add the ginger, curry powder, and chili flakes. Put a lid on the pot and cook until the carrots are softened, about 10 or 15 minutes.

2. When carrots are soft, carefully blend the soup in batches in a blender, or use an immersion blender to puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and add lime juice to taste.

Serves: 6 to 8
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Great. Keeps for a week in the fridge or indefinitely in the freezer.

Monday, November 21, 2011

SPINACH-APPLE SALAD WITH MAPLE-CIDER VINAIGRETTE


Hot damn, this is a great fall-winter salad. I saw something similar on Annie’s Eats last month and thought it looked good, although I wasn’t quite sold on the dressing. (You can tell I’ve truly become a mustard convert, because I looked at the recipe and thought, “But where’s the Dijon?”) Then I skimmed the comments and noticed that someone mentioned making “almost the exact same thing but it had a maple-cider vinaigrette…and curry spiced pecans.” One quick Google later and I located that very recipe, from Southern Living, on MyRecipes, where it had an “Outstanding” rating—and Dijon in the dressing. Sold!

I made no changes to the recipe, except to halve the quantities because two people don’t need eight servings of salad (hence all the rather odd measurements; I went with “pinch” for the spices rather than “1/16 teaspoon,” but if you have a measuring spoon that small, by all means, go for precision) and to substitute feta for the goat cheese because I don’t like goat cheese. It sounds like kind of a hassle to have to candy the pecans, but (a) it’s actually super-easy, reminding me that I should make spiced, candied nuts all the time, because they are also awesome, and (b) you can make them ahead of time if you want, although I don’t recommend it because they’re so tasty they’re likely to get gobbled up as snacks before you even get around to making the salad. I do sort of question calling them “curried” pecans when they actually have more ginger than curry, and just as much salt and cayenne as curry; mine didn’t have a really noticeable curry flavor, but they were so good just as they were that I don’t really feel the need to tinker with the spice mixture—I just renamed them in my version of the recipe instead.

We loved everything about this salad—the crunch of the apple, nuts, and onion against the tenderness of the spinach and the creaminess of the feta; the salty-savory-sweet balance (the dressing is seriously delicious—I’m normally pretty sparing with salad dressings because I hate a soggy salad, but I used every last drop of this one); the colors; the wonderful fallishness; everything. I made it twice in the space of two weeks, first with this chicken recipe and then again with this one; it went perfectly with both and I’m still not tired of it, so you can bet it will be a cold-weather standard on my menu from now on. It makes a generous amount, so that even though I’d still technically call it a “side dish” (because it’s not quite hearty enough for me to make a meal of on its own), it took center stage at the table, with our small plates of chicken looking like side dishes in comparison. Which, really, is the way I prefer it—lots of veggies, fruit, and cheese with a modest garnish of meat!

Spiced candied pecans:
3 ounces pecan halves
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1½ tablespoons sugar
⅛ teaspoon ground ginger
1 pinch curry powder
1 pinch kosher salt
1 pinch ground red (cayenne) pepper

Maple-cider vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup (I recommend Grade B)
1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
⅓ cup olive oil

Salad:
5 to 6 ounces fresh baby spinach, thoroughly washed
1 small apple, thinly sliced (original recipe calls for Gala; I’m not sure what kind I used, since I tend to buy a big assortment of apples at the farmers’ market and then forget which one is which by the time I get them home, but I’d recommend leaning toward the tarter, firmer end of the spectrum)
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
2 ounces crumbled feta

1. To prepare the pecans, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toss pecans in melted butter. Stir together sugar and next four ingredients in a bowl; add pecans, tossing to coat. Spread in a single layer in a nonstick aluminum foil- or parchment-lined pan. Bake 10 minutes or until lightly browned and toasted. Cool in pan on a wire rack 20 minutes; separate pecans with a fork. (Pecans may be made up to 1 week ahead; store in an airtight container.)

2. Meanwhile, to prepare the vinaigrette, whisk together cider vinegar and next four ingredients. Gradually whisk in oil until well blended. (Vinaigrette may be made up to 3 days ahead; cover and chill until ready to serve.)

3. To prepare the salad, combine spinach and next three ingredients in a bowl. Drizzle with desired amount of vinaigrette; toss to coat. Sprinkle with pecans.

Serves: 4 as a large side dish or a light lunch
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: Poor for the completed dish, but the pecans and the vinaigrette will each keep tightly sealed and refrigerated for several days, and the rest of the salad is easy to put together, so you can make some salad right away and the rest later.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

VANILLA ORANGE JELLY


As promised, here’s the recipe for the orange jelly I made months ago, which turns out to be the perfect topping for pumpkin spice pancakes.

Making jam requires, first and foremost, large quantities of fresh, preferably cheap fruit, which makes Southern California a pretty good place to live if you’re into home canning. Although I lament that I’ll never be able to make raspberry or blackberry jam unless I move away or become independently wealthy—and I have to pick my own blueberries and hoard the resulting paltry jars of jam like precious jewels—the fact that I can have heaps of fantastic strawberries (my very favorite) nearly all year around makes up for it. The one SoCal specialty I’d never managed to take advantage of, however, was citrus fruit. I can buy a 5-pound bag of perfect oranges at the farmers’ market for just a few dollars, but I loathe marmalade, so canning with oranges seemed off the table until I spotted this recipe, tantalizingly called “Creamsicle Jelly,” at Food in Jars. I’d never made jelly before; it had never even occurred to me. I mainly associate it with the grape stuff you (not I, never) might put on a peanut-butter sandwich. But of course, if you want to can with oranges and hate those chewy, bitter pieces of rind cluttering up your marmalade, jelly it must be. I don’t especially love orange-flavored things, but Creamsicles are an exception, so the genius idea of adding vanilla was too good to resist. (You’ll notice I retitled the recipe here, simply because, on reflection, “Creamsicle” sort of implies that there’s cream in the jelly, which is inaccurate and kind of gross. If you want the full Creamsicle experience, mix some of this into your morning yogurt—it’s great.)

I wanted this so bad that I finally broke down and bought a candy thermometer, something I’d resisted for years because I’m inexplicably terrified of anything involving melting sugar. (Which is too bad, considering that I adore caramel and toffee.) You’ll notice that the original recipe has a lot of troubleshooting addendums, because many commenters seemed to have problems getting it to set (or having it set too much). I made this so long ago that I don’t remember the details of how I went about it, except that I followed the instructions and they worked for me. I thought the jelly wasn’t going to set; when I took the jars after the canner and even 24 hours later, the contents still looked so runny that I figured I’d just tell everyone it was supposed to be orange-vanilla syrup, but I stuck the jars under my bed and the next time I pulled the box out, the jelly appeared to have set. The jar that’s in my fridge is just about the same consistency as most of my jams, not too thick and not too loose, perfectly spoonable/spreadable, and the flavor is delicious—quite sweet, but with deep, real orange flavor and the distinct aroma of vanilla. Considering that I can get my hands on as many good oranges as I want, pretty much whenever I want them, I’ll definitely be making this again.

4 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
4 cups sugar
2 vanilla beans, split and scraped
1 packet liquid pectin (half a box) (Ball brand is recommended)

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

2. Combine orange juice, sugar, vanilla bean scrapings, and beans in a large pot (this one is a foamer). Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until volume is reduced by approximately one-third to one-half. Use a thermometer to track the temperature, so that you know when you’re getting to 220 degrees (the set point of jams and jellies). When it has reached 220 degrees and is able to maintain that temperature even after a good stir, add the pectin. (Note that the jelly may reach 220 degrees several times during cooking before it is actually time to add the pectin. It needs at least 30 minutes of boiling, if not more, in order to set up well.) Cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes and remove from heat.

3. Remove the vanilla beans from the pot. Pour jam into prepared jars, wipe rims, apply lids, screw on bands, and process in a boiling-water canner for 10 minutes, as in steps 7–9 here. (Note that jelly may not appear set immediately after canning; mine became firmer over the course of several days.)

Yields: About 8 4-ounce jars
Time: Can’t remember; at least 3 hours
Leftover potential: Awesome! Sealed jars will keep for 1 year.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

PUMPKIN SPICE PANCAKES


The joke is most definitely on me. I only made this recipe to use up leftover canned pumpkin from the pumpkin snickerdoodles, but I fell so hard in love with these pancakes that I’ve already purchased a reserve can of pumpkin in order make them again whenever the craving hits. The recipe is from Joy the Baker and it is perfect—the pancakes cook up moist and fluffy, with just the right amount of pumpkin and spice flavor, a barely perceptible enrichment of wheat flour (I used white whole wheat), and not too much sweetness. I loved the taste of them so much I could have eaten them with no accompaniment besides a little smear of butter, but I did find that they were even better when adorned with a thin layer of the orange vanilla jelly I made earlier this year (but apparently, now that I look, never posted about, an oversight that will shortly be remedied). If you’re more of a traditional pancake eater, I imagine maple syrup would be just fine on these, or whipped cream if you want to get really fancy. The only change I made was my habitual addition of cardamom; I used it instead of the ¼ teaspoon nutmeg, although I still threw in a pinch of nutmeg anyway, plus a pinch of allspice, to approximate my usual pumpkin pie spice mix.


I thought the banana oat bran pancake recipe was the only pancake recipe for me, but I was wrong—I’ll be alternating it with this one, at least in the fall and winter, from now one. I also thought I wasn’t a pumpkin person, but apparently, I was wrong about that too. At this rate, maybe someday I’ll figure out why everyone gets so excited about cranberries!


¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
1 pinch ground ginger
1 pinch ground cloves
1 pinch ground nutmeg
1 pinch allspice
1 cup milk
½ cup canned pumpkin
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or melted butter
A little butter for greasing the skillet

1. Whisk together flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and spices in a large bowl.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, egg, pumpkin, and vegetable oil or melted butter.

3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined. Let the batter sit for 10 minutes while you heat the skillet.

4. Over medium heat, melt a little butter on the skillet. Once the skillet is hot, spoon a heaping 2 tablespoons of batter per pancake into the skillet. When pancakes start to bubble slightly, carefully flip them over. Cook until browned and cooked through, remove to a plate, and repeat as needed with the remaining batter.

Serves: About 4 (I got 16 small pancakes)
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; if you have leftover pancakes, layer them between pieces of waxed paper in an airtight container and store them in the freezer. To reheat, take out the number of the pancakes you want, place them on a plate and heat them briefly in the microwave (I start with 30 seconds) to thaw the centers, then finish heating them in a dry skillet over medium heat just until they are thoroughly warmed and the exteriors are slightly crisp.

Friday, November 11, 2011

WARM SPINACH SALAD WITH SAUSAGE AND ROASTED VEGETABLES


I did a pretty good job of overcoming my slight resentment of main-dish salads this past summer; thanks to recipes like this, this, and this, we quite happily ate salad as an entrée almost once a week. As winter approaches, raw, cold meals become far less appealing, yet I don’t want to break this healthy Salad Night habit completely. I have a couple of warm salad recipes, but now I’m on the prowl for more. I have no idea what series of link-clickings led me to this one at For the Love of Cooking, but why even bother talking about that when we should be talking about how much this salad kicks ass? Yes, I just swore, albeit mildly, about a salad, on a blog that my mother reads. That’s how good it is. If I were talking to you about it in person, I might swear downright emphatically. WE $@*!ing LOVED THIS #&!% SALAD.

Really, this is quite similar to a recipe I already have, but served over spinach, with a balsamic Dijon vinaigrette and some cheese on top, additions I would have never thought to make. It manages to be simultaneously wholesome and hearty, with all the fresh and colorful appeal of a salad in a warm, filling, satisfying meal. The combination of vegetables is perfect; along with the expected onion, potatoes, and garlic, you get asparagus (which, sure, may not exactly be in season right now, but we all know how awesome it is when roasted), mushrooms (which I never think to roast but are great that way), and tomatoes (which I have a whole treatise on; see below). Although I usually roll my eyes when some online recipe commenter talks about how they added chicken to a perfectly good vegetarian dish to “make it a meal,” as though meals are somehow not complete without meat products, I gotta say that the savory, meaty sausage does really make this feel like a meal. The spinach wilts gently under all this caramelized, roasty goodness. The dressing adds moisture and a welcome zesty acidity, and the feta does its usual salty, creamy, fabulous thing. All that and it’s easy to throw together on a weeknight.

I made only minimal changes. I probably ended up using more vegetables than called for—I got greedy when picking out my mix of cute little potatoes, and I threw in the whole 8-ounce package of mushrooms and the entire bunch of asparagus because I didn’t want to get stuck with the orphaned vegetables. The original recipe called for 12 ounces of spinach, which, although it’s technically 4 servings according to the nutritional information on the package, is a tremendous quantity in its raw state; maybe my vegetables and sausage weren’t piping-hot enough to wilt the greens sufficiently when I put the salad together, but that amount of spinach wouldn’t have fit in any of my entrée bowls. I just eyeballed it, using one to two generous handfuls of spinach per serving, which probably came to more like 8 or even 6 ounces total.

I also used cherry tomatoes instead of the little on-the-vine ones used in the original recipe or the plum ones used in its Real Simple source. I’ve recently fallen in love with roasted cherry tomatoes (the maple syrup in the recipe I use sounds weird, but go with it! It adds a sweet smokiness without tasting anything like pancakes; I typically scarf them all straight off the baking sheet before I can manage to take a photo of them, which is why I haven’t posted the recipe yet), but of course the key to the ones I’m used to is letting them roast face-up, undisturbed, until they dry and wrinkle. Here, roasting the tomatoes with the other vegetables and tossing them periodically, they break down quite a bit, so their juices leak out and spread over the baking sheet, meaning that all the vegetables turned out much less crisp than I’d envisioned. I think this could be resolved by either (a) roasting the tomatoes ahead of time using my usual recipe (I’ve been meaning to try adding those to salads anyhow, if I can ever stop snacking on them) or (b) roasting the tomatoes at the same time as the other vegetables, but undisturbed on a second baking sheet, not to mention there’s always the option of (c) just using larger tomatoes as the original recipe does. I may give one of those methods a try in the near future just for kicks, but I don’t know if any changes are really necessary, because the recipe turned out so damn delicious just as I made it, and it’s certain to be a Salad Night staple for us throughout the winter.

UPDATE, 1/13: If the idea of out-of-season asparagus doesn't appeal, substitute a couple of handfuls of trimmed green beans, cut into 1-to-2-inch pieces. It's just as excellent.

1 cup cherry, grape, or plum tomatoes, halved
1 medium red onion, sliced into wedges
1 cup baby potatoes, halved, or quartered if larger (I used a mix of yellow, red, and purple)
1 cup mushrooms, quartered (I used cremini)
1 bunch (about 12 spears) asparagus, tough ends removed, remaining spears cut into 2-inch pieces
4 large cloves garlic, with skins left on
1 tablespoon olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 Italian sausages (I used Trader Joe’s Garlic and Herb Chicken Sausage, which I highly recommend)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons coarse-grain Dijon mustard
1 small clove garlic, minced
6 to 12 ounces fresh spinach
2 to 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with tin foil and coat with cooking spray. Place the tomatoes, onions, potatoes, mushrooms, and 4 whole unpeeled garlic cloves on the baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Place in the oven and roast for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the asparagus and continue to roast for 10 minutes, or until the asparagus and potatoes are fork-tender.

2. While the vegetables are roasting, make the salad dressing by whisking the vinegar, 3 tablespoons olive oil, mustard, water, and 1 small minced garlic clove together in a small bowl until emulsified, then season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Also while the vegetables are roasting, cook the sausages in a skillet over medium heat for 10 minutes or until done.

4. Once the veggies are out of the oven, carefully remove the skin from the garlic cloves and then slice the roasted garlic. Toss the warm vegetables (including the garlic) and sliced sausages with the spinach and dressing until evenly coated. Top with feta.

Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good, if not yet mixed together. Store all the elements (roasted vegetables and sausage, spinach, dressing, and cheese) separately, and when you want to eat them, reheat the vegetables and sausage and then add to the spinach, dressing, and cheese.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

PUMPKIN SNICKERDOODLES


After 34 years of total indifference (bordering on mild hostility) to the wave of pumpkin-flavored foodstuffs that sweeps the nation each autumn, I’m suddenly starting to catch on. It started with the pumpkin ice cream last year. I made it again this year, then caught myself jonesing for something else along the same lines. When I spotted this recipe at Annie’s Eats, in which a bit of pumpkin and extra spice is added to the traditional snickerdoodle formula, it seemed a good way to herald fall—and the arrival of My!New!Oven!—without going overboard into full-blown pumpkin mania. And as I’d hoped, the cookies were a perfect pumpkiny twist on an existing fave; the pumpkin adds a tinge of orange color and a tender, cakey texture (don’t expect the usual snickerdoodle crispness here), but its flavor remains subtle.

I replaced nutmeg with cardamom in the dough, because I flippin’ adore cardamom and it never seems to get fair play in baked goods outside of Scandinavia. In general, every time I see cinnamon in a recipe, I throw in a little cardamom too. I may not be a Pumpkin Person yet, but I’m officially Cardamom Crazy! I then rejiggered the coating mixture to approximate full-blown pumpkin pie spice, dialing down the cinnamon a bit to give cardamom a supporting role (natch), scaling back the ginger, and adding nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. I loved the results and will certainly make these again next October. In the meantime, I have half a can of pumpkin puree still to use up, so watch this space for more grudgingly trendy pumpkin recipes in the near future.

Cookies:
3¾ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
¾ cup pumpkin puree
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Coating:
½ cup granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
⅛ teaspoon ground ginger
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
⅛ teaspoon allspice

1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, and ¼ teaspoon cardamom. Whisk to blend and set aside.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter, brown sugar, and 1 cup granulated sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Blend in the pumpkin puree. Beat in the egg and vanilla until incorporated. With the mixer on low speed add in the dry ingredients and mix just until incorporated. Cover and chill the dough for at least 1 hour.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

4. Combine the sugar and spices for the coating in a bowl and mix to blend. Scoop up 1 heaping tablespoon of the dough and roll into a ball. Coat the dough ball in the sugar-spice mixture and place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough to fill the sheets, spacing the dough balls 2 to 3 inches apart. Dip the bottom of a flat, heavy-bottomed drinking glass in water, then in the sugar-spice mixture, and use the bottom to flatten the dough balls slightly. Recoat the bottom of the glass in the sugar-spice mixture as needed.

5. Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, or until just set and baked through. Let cool on the baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Yields: 3 to 4 dozen cookies
Time: 2 hours
Leftover potential: Good; cookies will dry out after three or four days at room temperature, but they freeze fairly well.

Monday, October 31, 2011

SWEET POTATO, RICOTTA, AND ARUGULA PIZZA


Sweet potato. Ricotta. Arugula. Pizza. That’s all you need to know, OK?

What? No? More? Fine. I spotted this recipe (presented as an appetizer “flatbread,” but you say flatbread, I say pizza) at The Kitchn during The Great Ovenless Exile. I knew my stovetop pizza-making method (which I still need to detail for you sometime, considering that it has become my default pizza-making method, even though I still write all my recipes as though I’m baking them in the traditional manner) wouldn’t be enough to cook the sweet potatoes properly, so carefully squirreled it away, glancing at it longingly now and then, until My!New!Oven! finally arrived. It seemed like such a slam dunk: I love ricotta on pizzas, the contrasting colors were so bright and autumnal, and the peppery crunch of the arugula seemed like a perfect foil for the sweet starchiness of the potato.

And it was, indeed, very good. Not transcendent—it tasted exactly like the sum of its parts, although the thyme was a surprisingly nice, elevating touch—but I enjoyed it. One of the original recipe commenters had noted that she had difficulty getting the sweet potato slices to cook through by the time the crust was done, and I don’t have a mandoline or the requisite knife skills to slice a sweet potato that thinly, and besides, I still wanted to use my stovetop method, so I decided to precook the sweet potatoes in the oven, taking a page from this pesto-butternut squash pizza recipe. It worked fairly well, but I think I could have roasted them a bit less long, because they dried out more than I expected. Other than that, everything went smoothly and as written. As always with recipes where raw arugula is added at the end, it was a bit awkward to eat, with leaves falling every which way as soon as you take a bite, but if you add the arugula to the pizza immediately when it comes out of the oven, it does wilt a little bit, which helps. (I always just load up my pizzas with as much arugula as they can hold, which makes overflow a given.)

A was unenthused about this pizza, claiming that he doesn’t like sweet potatoes, which was news to me because he happily devours sweet potato fries and sweet potato spinach salad, but I suppose ketchup and bacon (respectively, not together) go a long way toward making anything palatable. His disapproval means this isn’t destined to become a favorite standby, but I’ll definitely make it again on occasion. It’s a fallish but light meal, which is perfect for this I’m-craving-squash-but-it’s-90-degrees-outside funk I inevitably fall into every October since I moved to Southern California.

1 sweet potato (about 12 ounces)
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup ricotta
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1 pound pizza dough
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, loosely packed
2 ounces arugula (two big handfuls)
Salt to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Peel the sweet potato and slice it into ¼-inch-thick rounds. Combine the slices with the olive oil in a large bowl and toss well to coat. Spread slices in a single layer on a baking sheet (coat with foil or parchment for extra ease) and bake for about 20 minutes or until tender.

3. Remove the sweet potatoes from the oven and increase the heat to 450 degrees.

4. In a small bowl, mix the thyme into the ricotta.

5. Roll out the pizza dough and place it on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal or a little olive oil. Spread the ricotta mixture evenly across the top of the dough. Arrange the sweet potato coins in slightly overlapping layers on top. Sprinkle the entire surface with a little salt.

6. Bake pizza for 7 minutes, rotate it, and then bake for another 7 minutes, or until the edges of the crust are turning golden. Sprinkle the Parmesan on top and bake for one more minute or until melted.

7. Scatter the arugula on top of the pizza as soon as it comes out of the oven. Let it stand for a few minutes to allow the arugula to wilt. Slice and serve either warm or at room temperature.

Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good. I only added the arugula to the slices I was eating immediately, preferring to add fresh arugula to the leftovers after reheating them, but I think it would be OK reheated with the arugula already on top, too.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

MAYONNAISE


Behold! I have worked wonders! Actually, it turns out that making your own mayonnaise is a cinch, at least if you have an immersion blender. I’m not sure why I suddenly got crazy and decided to try this after watching a video at Serious Eats, but I did it and it worked beautifully—like a delicious magic trick! I’d love to whip this out at a party. Even though I technically understand how emulsification works, it still seems bizarre to me that an egg and a bunch of oil can combine in a matter of seconds to form a thick, creamy spread. (You’ll notice mine is a bit freckled, since I only had coarse-grain mustard on hand, but it tasted good all the same.)

The only problem with making my own mayonnaise is that…I don’t really like mayonnaise. I tolerate it a bit more than I used to, and the homemade stuff is certainly far superior to storebought, although I think some claims I’ve seen in recipe comments that homemade mayo will “change your life” or “convert mayonnaise haters” are overblown. I made this on a night I was serving fish cakes, so I used it in the cakes themselves and also in the tartar sauce I dolloped on top, which was noticeably improved by it. But most of the rest of the batch of mayo languished unused in the refrigerator, because I simply don’t have that many recipes that call for great quantities of it and I don’t eat a lot of sandwiches, dips, or creamy dressings. I don’t regret trying it because it was so easy and such a fun discovery, but in the future I’ll be saving it for special occasions. It would be fun to try adding garlic and/or herbs. I can definitely see myself making it periodically throughout the summer, when we tend to have BLTs on a near-weekly basis. I thought I’d perfected my BLT skillz, but this will take it to a whole new level!

1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 tablespoon room-temperature water
1 tablespoon lemon juice (from half a lemon)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 cup vegetable or canola oil (not olive oil; the flavor is too strong)
Kosher salt to taste

1. Place egg yolk, water, lemon juice, and mustard in the bottom of a narrow immersion blender cup. Pour oil on top and allow to settle for 15 seconds.

2. Place head of immersion blender at bottom of cup (directly over egg yolk) and switch it on. As mayonnaise forms, slowly tilt and lift the head of the immersion blender until all oil is emulsified.

Time: 5 minutes
Yields: About 1 cup
Leftover potential: Good; will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks.

OATMEAL BUTTERSCOTCH COOKIES


During my long ovenless purgatory, I kept wistfully bookmarking cookie recipes, and now that My!New!Oven! and I have gotten to know each other and are getting along like gangbusters, it’s time to start putting them to use. Cookies containing oatmeal are always my favorites (except for The Dreaded Oatmeal Raisin), and I’ve been hopelessly attracted to butterscotch chips in all their artificially flavored glory ever since I first encountered them them (in monster cookies) a few years ago, so the ubiquitous oatmeal butterscotch cookies (aka “oatmeal scotchies”) seemed like a no-brainer. I’d figured I’d just try the recipe on the Nestle Tollhouse butterscotch-chip bag (since I find their chocolate-chip cookie formula so hard to beat), until I stumbled across this one at Annie’s Eats. Annie attests that she has tried many oatmeal butterscotch cookie recipes and this one is the best, and how could I resist that?

This recipe varies from the traditional version by adding coconut and toffee bits, two other things I love. Combined with the always-on-the-verge-of-cloying butterscotch chips and the usual cookie ingredients, they conspire to make a very sweet cookie, although the oatmeal and cinnamon help to temper that somewhat. If you can get over the sugar high, however, the flavors are wonderful and the texture is perfect; the coconut adds tenderness and the toffee a bit of chew. I’d still like to try the standard recipe sometime just for the sake of comparison, but I’d definitely make these again.

This was my first time using toffee baking bits (I bought the Heath brand—the “Bits o’Brickle,” not the ones with chocolate), and I have to admit, they were pretty tasty. I’ve got some left over and am looking forward to trying them in another recipe.

1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1½ cups shredded coconut
1 cup butterscotch chips
½ cup toffee bits

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

2. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Stir to blend, and set aside.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugars and beat on medium-high speed until light and smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs until incorporated. Blend in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, mix in the dry ingredients just until incorporated. With a spatula, fold in the oats, coconut, butterscotch chips, and toffee bits until evenly combined.

4. Drop scoops of dough (about 2 tablespoons each) onto the prepared baking sheets, a few inches apart. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until just set and light golden, rotating the pans halfway through baking. Let cool on the pans about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yields: About 4 dozen cookies
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good; freezes well.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

MUSTARD-ROASTED POTATOES


My!New!Oven! was installed unexpectedly midweek, so I hadn’t had the chance to plan and shop for any recipes that would put it to use immediately. I did break it in by making chocolate chip cookies and baked oatmeal, two things I could throw together using ingredients already in my pantry, but it wasn’t until the following Sunday that I really got to bake my official inaugural meal. I didn’t have to think very long about what I wanted: roasted chicken with actual bones in it (not daring to attempt anything as ambitious as a whole chicken until the oven and I became better acquainted, I went with lemon-garlic drumsticks), and these potatoes, which I’d bookmarked at Smitten Kitchen last spring, after the “I love Dijon mustard” realization of early 2011, but before The Great Ovenlessness.

And it was AWESOME. Keep in mind that this is coming from someone who hadn’t eaten a roasted vegetable in five months, but these were easily the best potatoes I’ve ever made, crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and so incredibly tasty. Old Me would have been scared off by the quantity of mustard I slathered on those things, but truthfully, after roasting, the overall taste wasn’t very identifiably mustardy (I don’t think if I’d tasted one blindfolded, I would have exclaimed, “Ah, mustard!”), just super-complex and dynamic and wonderful. It was a little more complicated to put together than many other roasted potato recipes I’ve tried, but every single one of those ingredients—oil, butter, lemon juice and zest, garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper—played a crucial role in the zippy flavor. In particular, the whole mustard seeds became addictively nutty and crunchy when roasted; I found myself picking up the crusty scraps that fell off the potatoes and devouring them straight off the baking sheet with glee. I’d better start buying larger jars of mustard, because this is going to be my go-to potato recipe from now on.

¼ cup whole-grain Dijon mustard (I used Grey Poupon Harvest Coarse Ground, which still has enough liquidity that it sticks to the potatoes easily; if your mustard is on the drier side, you may want to consider using 3 tablespoons of it and 1 tablespoon of regular, smooth Dijon to help things along)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1½ teaspoons dried oregano
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1½ pounds small unpeeled red and/or yellow potatoes, cut into ¾-inch-wide wedges
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray or coat with parchment paper.

2. Whisk mustard, olive oil, butter, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, lemon peel, and salt in large bowl to blend. Add potatoes; sprinkle generously with freshly ground black pepper and toss to coat. Place potatoes on prepared baking sheet, spreading them out in a single layer.

3. Roast potatoes 20 minutes. Stir, and then roast about 25 minutes longer, until crusty and browned.

(Potatoes can be made up to 2 hours ahead; let stand on baking sheet at room temperature, then rewarm in a 425-degree oven for about 10 minutes.)

Serves: 4–5
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: OK; leftover potatoes will be softer if reheated in the microwave, but they’ll still have great flavor. I haven’t tried reheating them in the oven, but I imagine that would restore them to something closer to their former glory.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

APPLE, FETA, AND PECAN PIZZA


As soon as I saw this recipe in the October issue of Cooking Light, I dogeared the page. I had almost skipped over it because the title contained the dreaded (to me) phrase “goat cheese,” but I quickly noticed that feta was suggested as a substitute, and I think we’re all aware how much I currently adore feta. I do think pizzas topped with salad are difficult to eat gracefully (I refuse to resort to a knife and fork), but I can never resist fresh arugula with lemon-Dijon vinaigrette, and when you add apples, pecans, and cheese, you’ve got a perfect early-autumn meal.

Everything came together exactly as you’d expect. My!New!Oven! hadn’t been installed yet, so I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, using my now-habitual cast-iron-skillet-on-the-stovetop method and finishing it under the broiler (the only part of Sad Old Oven that still functioned). I realized while typing this just now that the recipe calls for a “six-grain pizza crust,” implying some sort of prepared, pre-cooked product, whereas I started with actual dough. I’m specifying dough in the recipe below, but I don’t think it should make too much of a difference which one you use; you just may need to cook it a bit longer when starting with raw dough. Just use your common sense—pizza recipes are always just loose suggestions anyway.

I did make a few changes that aren’t shown below. I doubled the dressing and arugula quantities, heaping some of the salad atop the pizza and whatever didn’t fit off to the side of the plate. This makes for a heartier meal and also gives you something to do with all the bits of nuts, cheese, apple, and arugula that will inevitably tumble off the pizza as soon as you take your first bite; just let them fall onto the plate, and then when you’re done with your pizza, stir all the detritus into the remaining greens and you’ve got a nice side salad to enjoy! I also amped up the lemon juice a bit in the dressing, because the honey was more noticeable than I’d expected and I prefer a more acidic taste with my salad; next time I might try leaving out the honey completely because I don’t think the added sugar is really needed when you’ve already got baked fruit. But all in all, the flavors went together wonderfully—the sweet apple, salty cheese, earthy nuts, and lemony dressing combine for a simple yet sophisticated lunch or light supper.

1 pound pizza dough
3 cups thinly sliced Fuji apple (about 8 ounces)
1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled feta or goat cheese
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1½ teaspoons honey
2 cups baby arugula
3 tablespoons chopped pecans, toasted

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2. Roll out pizza dough and place on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Arrange apple slices evenly over crust; top with cheese. Sprinkle thyme evenly over cheese. Bake for 8 minutes or until crust is crisp and browned and cheese is melted.

3. Combine oil, mustard, lemon juice, and honey in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add arugula and toss gently to coat. Sprinkle pecans evenly over pizza; top with arugula mixture.

Serves: 4
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; just store the cooked pizza, dressing, arugula, and pecans separately and assemble them after reheating the pizza.

Friday, October 14, 2011

LEMON PUDDING


And so we come to the end of my effort to make homemade versions of all my favorite Jell-O instant pudding varieties. (Well, I might try coconut someday…and maybe pumpkin…but I will not be attempting “cheesecake,” “Oreo,” “chocolate fudge,” “Devil’s food” [don’t ask me how Kraft’s three kinds of chocolate pudding differ from one another], “white chocolate,” “egg custard,” or “flan.” [Kraft’s online description: “But don’t be fooled by its elitist attitude this flavor is beloved by everyone.” Aside from the heinous lack of punctuation, how is flan even a flavor? Is it shorthand for caramel? And while we’re at it, the concept of custard-flavored pudding kind of blows my mind, too. Isn’t that like saying “yam-flavored sweet potato”?])

I used Food Blog Search to find my way to this recipe, from a book called Luscious Lemon Desserts by Lori Longbotham. There’s not much to say about it except that it’s lemon, it’s pudding, and it’s delicious. The recipe is structured a bit differently from other ones I’ve tried, in that you cook the egg at the same time as all the other ingredients instead of adding it later, but the result was pretty much the same. I like a really thick pudding, so for my taste, I should have cooked the pudding a tiny bit longer; I forgot that I’d be stirring in an entire ½ cup of liquid at the very end, which thinned it out somewhat. I also freaked out and threw in some vanilla at the last minute, on the principle that vanilla is delicious with everything and would give it a richer, smoother taste. I liked the resulting flavor, but I’m not sure I can out-and-out recommend it because the bright taste of the unadulterated lemon is great, too—I’d go with straight lemon for a spring/summer version, whereas mine was maybe more appropriate for fall/winter.

As I was making this, I pondered why other fruit-flavored puddings aren’t common. Why not strawberry, for instance? Couldn’t you make a lime or orange pudding using the same method as this lemon one, or would that just be gross? As you know, I had a hard time even finding a banana pudding recipe that had real banana in it. Most of my searches for fruit puddings turn up bread puddings, British-style puddings, or pudding cakes, not plain old pudding pudding. Although I’m not necessarily sure this is something I want to pursue—my ideas for future pudding experiments tend more toward peanut butter or maple. Which off-the-beaten-track pudding flavors sound good to you?

¾ cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
2½ cups milk
3 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
A pinch of salt
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

1. Whisk together the sugar and the cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Add the milk and whisk until smooth. Add the egg yolks, zest, and salt and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently at first and constantly towards the end, until thickened.

2. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and butter. Press through a fine-mesh strainer into a large serving bowl or four individual serving dishes. Let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate, loosely covered, for at least 2 hours or up to 3 days, until set and thoroughly chilled.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good, for a few days (I've found that homemade pudding eventually gets runny or sort of separates if you keep it too long, although it comes together with a vigorous stirring and still retains its essential yumminess).

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

ODDS AND ENDS

Lest you think I’m some sort of perfect kitchen goddess (aw, I know you were thinking it), I must confess to a recent string of cooking disappointments, or at least non-triumphs. Usually if a recipe turns out poorly I don’t bother to post it (don’t worry, though—if I had any really spectacularly inedible disasters I’d definitely write about them for your amusement), but in these cases it’s not the recipe that’s at fault, just my recipe-selection skills, and the results haven’t been unpleasant, just sort of…meh.

I blame the transition to autumn, which has me all confused about what’s in season, what I feel like eating, and what’s appropriate for weather that swings wildly between cool, rainy, and fallish and hot, sunny, and summery. My five-month ovenless state was also a factor, keeping at least half of my recipe collection off-limits and severely limiting which new things I could tackle. At first I approached the challenge with can-do pioneer spirit, trying to focus on what I could cook, but eventually the initial thrill of experimentation—Skillet pizza! Muesli! Puddingfest!—died down, leaving me feeling restless and deprived. I should have just hunkered down and relied on old favorites, but I still felt compelled to seek out and try new recipes to generate blog material, with decidedly mixed results. My to-be-posted queue got clogged with entries I felt ambivalent about, yet couldn’t completely discard. Maybe someone else would want to know about these recipes, or perhaps I’d try them again sometime and love them more, or hey, that photo turned out rather prettily…And so here we are. Now that I have a Brand-New Oven (I should just assign a macro for this phrase, because I’m totally going to try to work it into every blog post from now on), I’m ready to move forward, and I’ve decided a roundup is the best way to tackle all these lingering fragments.

Spinach, Mushroom, and Feta Pizza


I improvised this one after being inspired by, of all things, a pizza I glimpsed on an episode of Man vs. Food Nation. I love spinach, mushrooms, and feta on pizza, but it hadn’t occurred to me to put the three together. I made it so long ago that I can’t really remember the details to share them with you, but my approach was pretty much as you might expect. It turned out tastily, except that somehow, even knowing perfectly well how much spinach shrinks up when you cook it, I didn’t use quite enough and it faded into the background. I’m mainly mentioning this pizza here to remind myself of the concept, because I intend to make it again someday (with double the spinach) and do a full post when I’ve perfected it.


Chicken With Tomato-Herb Pan Sauce/Fresh Corn and Basil Polenta


We eat chicken about once a week, but at least half of my recipes use the oven, so I was getting desperate for new sautéed and grilled versions by the time I spotted this one, originally from Bon Appetit, at Annie’s Eats. It seemed to be getting rave reviews and looked like a super-flavorful treatment for boneless, skinless chicken breasts (oh, how I was missing chicken with actual bones in it at this point!), so I decided to give it a shot, but I wasn’t sure what to serve with it. It seemed like you’d want something to soak up all that savory-looking sauce, but I couldn’t make bread, I don’t like rice, and potatoes with tomatoes just seems weird to me. Annie’s Eats had linked to several other posts about the recipe at other blogs, and one of them, Pink Parsley, showed it being served with this beautiful fresh corn and basil polenta. As soon as I saw it, I wanted it, despite never having made polenta before. Tomatoes, corn, and basil are a perfect combo, after all, and I’ve been obsessed with corn all summer long.

Technically, the recipes turned out just fine…except it turns out that A hates polenta. I should have guessed this, knowing he dislikes other similarly-textured foods like oatmeal, not to mention the fact that he can take or leave corn. It also turns out that that recipe, which neglects to mention this so I assumed it would match the quantities of the chicken recipe, makes a TON of polenta—like eight servings. I figured I’d save the leftovers, let them firm up in a baking dish, and then cut them into squares and fry them up all nice and crispy, but alas, I never got around to it, and to my shame, I ended up throwing it all away. Personally, I liked the recipe, and normally I don’t let it bother me too much when A doesn’t care for something that I’ve made, because he always gives it a fair try and is polite and appreciative and hey, more tasty leftovers for me! This was just one of those cases where I wore myself out making two new recipes at the same time, and then by the time I sat down to eat I was so exhausted and Over It that the whole effort just felt like a horrible miscalculation and a complete waste of time. That’s the problem with having too many cooking victories in a row sometimes—the first thing that’s not a total win feels like a failure. I would definitely recommend the polenta recipe to polenta lovers (make a half-batch, though), and as for the chicken, I wouldn’t mind trying it again someday. Mine turned out a little dry, but the sauce was nice.

Asparagus and Bacon Hash

I actually just wanted to make the sweet corn hash again, but I was trying to restrain myself because it had only been a week since the first time I’d made it, plus corn season is so close to its end that I never know if it will still be there when I show up to the farmer’s market. I know asparagus isn’t in season either, but there’s always one stand selling decent hothouse stuff, and the Smitten Kitchen has never steered me wrong. Indeed, this was a great recipe, and if I’d tried it a month ago you’d definitely have been seeing a whole post about it here, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the corn hash, and I don’t know if I really love hash enough to accommodate two recipes in my repertoire. Maybe when spring rolls around I’ll feel inspired to give this another shot, and if it looks good to you I totally recommend it, but I didn’t care quite enough about it to give it the full blog treatment.

BLT Pizza With Corn


This was another improvisation on my part (I know! Who am I all of a sudden?), an homage on my favorite summer meal of BLTs and corn on the cob. It should have been a slam dunk, considering it involved diced bacon, wilted arugula, heirloom tomato slices, fresh corn kernels, and shredded mozzarella, but somehow it didn’t quite gel. It was quite moist—the tomatoes gave off a lot of liquid, the arugula cooked more than I expected, and maybe I used too much cheese?—and the bacon flavor didn’t come through as much as I expected (I’m thinking I cut the pieces too small). Perhaps I should have scattered fresh arugula on top rather than baking it on there? It tasted just fine and we certainly had no trouble polishing it off, but I was vaguely disappointed. I’m not sure whether I’ll give it another shot or whether I should just let BLTs be BLTs and pizza be pizza.

Maple Frozen Yogurt

Once I’d burned through all the homemade pudding flavors I could think of, it was luckily cool enough to start making ice cream again. I wanted something fallish, but wasn’t quite ready for pumpkin yet, and maple seemed to fit the bill. I wouldn’t describe myself as a maple fan because I hardly ever put syrup on my pancakes or waffles, but when I think harder about it, I have periodically enjoyed maple-flavored things—like Nut Goodies, Minnesota’s distinctive local candy, with which I have a fond history. (At my last job, I wrote a children’s book about candy making that was based on the Pearson’s factory, which involved many tours and all the free Nut Goodies and Salted Nut Rolls I could ever want.) That is apparently the point at which my brain stopped working. This recipe at Sassy Radish was described in such glowing terms that I never really stopped to ponder the fact that it was frozen yogurt and thus tart. Or that it involved sour cream, which is even tarter. All the frozen yogurts and sour cream ice creams I’ve made thus far have been fruity, which to some extent has masked/complemented the tartness, so all I was thinking of was how wonderfully thick sour cream ice cream can be. The maple frozen yogurt was easy to put together, and it sure felt like I was putting in a ridiculous amount of maple syrup (it feels quite bizarre to pour syrup into a bowl of dairy products, by the way), but I was surprised by how not-sweet the result was. I added a bit more syrup (and, in a moment of panic, some vanilla), but the dominant flavor was still, surprise, surprise, yogurt.

What had I been thinking? I do like yogurt, but since I’m on the fence about maple anyway, I’d geared myself up for something candy-sweet, like the interior of a maple cream See’s chocolate, and I had a hard time not being crushed that it didn’t meet my expectations. Still, it wasn’t bad enough to throw away, so it had to be eaten. I knew A wouldn’t like it—he hates that tangy yogurt flavor—but he wasn’t home anyway, so I resignedly scooped myself a bowl. I don’t know whether it was Stockholm Syndrome or what, but after a few bites I really liked it! The syrup flavor was just a subtle sweet smokiness, well balanced by the creamy tartness of the dairy. I wouldn’t make it again, just because I know A won’t eat it (he did try some later and declared his dislike) and I shouldn’t be polishing off entire batches of frozen treats on my own, but I enjoyed it and would recommend it to others. (Just remember: Is tangy!) It also inspired me to look for more maple dessert recipes. I’d like to try a maple pecan ice cream, sure, but I also had a brainwave: Why not maple pudding? It turns out there are several recipes I can try, so yay.

Crustless Broccoli-Feta Quiche

Now that I have my Brand-New Oven, I can try all the baked recipes that have been sitting in my queue for months. This simple, easy egg dish from Poppytalk seemed like a perfect Saturday-night supper, and indeed it was (it would also make a good breakfast or lunch). Not quite exciting enough to devote a whole post to, but the kind of thing I’m glad I know about because it’s so easy to throw together. Obviously, you could use put anything you want into it, but I like broccoli and feta together, and feta and dill together for that matter (baked feta is my love right now—it gets so tantalizingly crisp and browned), so this worked well for me.

So now that I’ve cleared away all my ambivalence, stay tuned for some recipes that got me genuinely excited! I’m kicking it into high gear and putting my Brand-New Oven through its paces this week—I hope it's up to the task.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

PISTACHIO PUDDING


Yes! More pudding! If you’re some kind of weird pudding hater, be forewarned that there is actually still one more pudding recipe in the to-be-posted queue. After that, however, you’re in luck, because glory hallelujah, after suffering with just a stovetop and a broiler lo these many months, I finally have a brand-new oven, which means I will be reveling in cookies and cakes for the foreseeable future. Not that I will ever lose my newfound love of homemade pudding. In fact, Weird Pudding Hater, you can send all your unwanted pudding my way and I’ll gladly finish it off for you.

As far as I can remember, I never tasted a real pistachio until I was well into high school (I just don’t recall seeing them around when I was a kid—maybe they were harder to obtain in Minnesota back then or something?), but Jell-O instant pistachio pudding was always my very favorite flavor, even if I had no idea what it was supposed to taste like or why it was green. I loved it with an intensity matched only by my adoration of the croissants from Napoleon’s Bakery that were stuffed with a fat layer of almond paste. Later, I discovered that the green layer of spumoni ice cream was usually pistachio-flavored, and I would carefully excavate only that portion from my college cafeteria’s self-serve ice cream freezer, leaving the boring chocolate and weird chunky cherry parts behind. What can I say? I’ve always loved those somewhat old-fashioned dessert flavors (see also: butterscotch, butter pecan, butter brickle, maple nut). So as soon as I realized, thanks to this recipe at Joy the Baker, that I could make homemade pistachio pudding using real pistachios, which remain perhaps my favorite kind of nut (although it’s a close tie with cashews), I was all over it.

I made this recipe once before, early in my pudding-making adventures, but didn’t manage to photograph it before we devoured it all. That time, craving a perfectly silky-smooth pudding, I carefully strained it after cooking to remove all the pistachio bits. It was good, but on the thin side, because I wasn’t perfectly experienced with cooking puddings yet. This time around, tired and pressed for time, I just said “Screw it” and skipped the straining, and I gotta say, I don’t know if it was that or my improved pudding-making skills, but it was even better than before. Leaving the pistachio pieces in obviously heightens the flavor, and the texture is nubblier but not off-putting—and actually more reminiscent of the good old Jell-O version, which did have little nut chunks sprinkled throughout. You will, however, notice that unlike the Jell-O version, my pudding is more golden-brown than green. That’s because I lazily used the shelled pistachios from Trader Joe’s, which I’m guessing are roasted after being shelled, thus losing most of their color. If you have the patience to shell the pistachios yourself, you should be rewarded with a gentle green hue.

Ever since I first made this, I’ve been dying to know if I could achieve a decent almond pudding (as tasty as those almond-paste-filled croissants, perhaps?) by substituting almonds for the pistachios and almond extract for some of the vanilla. It seems like it should work, right? I’ll give it a try sometime and let you know—once I’m done playing with my new oven, that is.

½ cup salted pistachio nuts, plus extra for garnishing if desired
⅔ cup granulated sugar, divided
2 tablespoons water
2 cups milk (original recipe calls for whole, but 1% worked for me)
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1. Place ½ cup pistachios in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the nuts are in small bits. Add ⅓ cup sugar and the water, and blend until relatively smooth.

2. Spoon pistachio paste into a medium saucepan. Add the milk and whisk over medium heat until steamy and hot.

3. While milk is heating, whisk together ⅓ cup sugar, egg yolks, cornstarch, and pinch of salt. (Mixture will be thick; keep whisking until it’s smooth.) Pour ½ cup of the steaming pistachio milk into the sugar and egg mixture; whisk together. Add another ½ cup of hot milk and whisk to incorporate. Return the milky egg mixture to the saucepan over medium heat.

4. Heat pudding mixture over medium heat until thick and bubbly, whisking constantly. (You might also want to use a heat-proof spatula to stir the mixture, ensuring that the sides and corners of the pan aren’t burning.) Boil for about 1 minute, or until fully thickened. Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla extract, until butter is melted. If you want a smoother pudding, press cooked pudding through a fine-mesh strainer set over a medium bowl to remove the pistachio pieces.

5. Spoon into small ramekins, cover the surface of the individual puddings with plastic wrap if you don’t like pudding skin (I happen to love it), and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours. If desired, garnish with chopped pistachios before serving.

Serves: 6
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; pudding will last, covered, in the refrigerator for about 4 days.

Monday, September 12, 2011

CHOCOLATE PUDDING


Once I began my pudding mania, chocolate pudding was bound to happen, and I am happy to report that it was just as delicious as expected. I’d bookmarked this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, but at the last minute I balked at the thought of having to futz with a double boiler, even though I’m sure pudding made with pure melted chocolate is divine. I figured there must be puddings made with cocoa powder instead, and as usual, Simply Recipes delivered a strong, straightforward one.

As usual, I used 1% milk instead of whole and detected no ill effects. I also tossed in a little vanilla extract, because it always seems to make chocolatey things taste even better. My one error was managing to cook my pudding until it was actually a tiny bit too thick; I didn’t really think that was possible, but I’d forgotten that this pudding would be enriched with chocolate chips at the end, which of course makes it set to a firmer consistency. Mine was almost like a soft ganache instead of a pudding—not unpleasant by any means, but I think I’ll go easier on it next time. This is definitely a must-have basic recipe, so easy to throw together whenever a chocolate craving strikes. If you’ve never made pudding that didn’t come out of a box (which I certainly hadn’t before this summer), I urge you to give this one a try.

¼ cup sugar
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 pinch of salt
2 cups milk (original recipe calls for whole, but 1% worked fine for me)
1 large egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

1. Whisk together the sugar, cocoa powder, cornstarch, and salt in a heavy 2-quart saucepan. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly, and boil, continuing to whisk, until pudding is thick, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

2. Immediately beat the egg lightly in a medium heat-proof bowl. Very gradually, add the hot chocolate mixture to the egg, whisking constantly. Whisk in the vanilla, then add the chocolate chips and stir until they are melted and the mixture is smooth.

3. Pour the pudding into the ramekins or cups. If you want, cover the surface of each of pudding with plastic wrap or wax paper to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate, covered, until cold, at least 2 hours.

Serves: 4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: OK; pudding will keep for a few days in the fridge.