Wednesday, November 30, 2011


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


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

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


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


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


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


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.

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

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.