Friday, December 21, 2012


Sorry I’ve been missing in action for the past month; I’m cooking as regularly as always, if perhaps less ambitiously, but work chaos and holiday tasks have kept me too distracted to sit down and marshal my thoughts about it. So now you get to read a whole series of posts about meals I made so long ago that I can’t remember anything about them, except that they were tasty. (There were some less tasty ones, but I’m skipping them in the interest of efficiency.) Hopefully I’ll be back on track soon, but in the meantime, let’s hop in the wayback machine to October/November, when we were all excited about pumpkin things. (Remember pumpkin? It’s what dominated the food blogs before peppermint took over.)

I love my lemon-ricotta gnocchi recipe so much that I’ve been meaning to explore other variations, and I’d had this Simply Recipes pumpkin one bookmarked for nearly a year, but when autumn finally rolled around and I got serious enough to read it more closely, it didn’t seem exactly like what I wanted—for instance, it had a greater proportion of flour than I’m used to, and it had you boil the gnocchi before pan-frying them. I started Googling around a bit for other options, thinking I could study up and then invent my own version based on the lemon-ricotta recipe. Well, surprise, surprise: Steamy Kitchen, the source of my beloved original, already had a pumpkin adaptation! Done and done.

I did make a few changes to hew even closer to the recipe I already know and love, ditching the delicious-sounding-but-too-futzy-and-indulgent-for-weeknight-dinner fried sage and brown-butter-balsamic-vinegar sauce. Instead I added sage to the gnocchi dough itself and garnished with a bit more (replacing the parsley of the lemon-ricotta version), and threw some red pepper flakes on top to provide some zip and counterbalance the pumpkin, both excellent choices. The result was a subtle twist on my old favorite—festively orange, a bit sweeter but not overwhelmingly squashy, pungent with sage. I’ll admit that the squash makes the texture a bit less light and fluffy, so if it were a contest between the two the lemon-ricotta would still come out ahead, but it’s nice to have a fall variation to celebrate the season. Next time I might contemplate adding a tiny bit of nutmeg and/or cinnamon, which could very well be disastrous but might amp up the pumpkin theme a bit more.

In point of fact, mine were actually butternut squash gnocchi. I believe I’ve read somewhere that most commercial canned pumpkin products are really made up of other winter squashes, so clearly the taste and texture differences are negligible. I had the butt end of a squash languishing uselessly around the kitchen, and although it seemed very inconvenient I screwed up my Dutch thriftiness, gritted my teeth, and made my own squash puree… which turned out to be incredibly easy. I did it a few days ahead, when I had the time, and it kept just fine in the fridge until I was ready to use it. I’m not saying I’ll abandon the canned pumpkin entirely, but this is a good way to use up leftover squash when you have it. (Directions for the puree are in the footnote below.)

I like to serve my lemon-ricotta gnocchi tossed with steamed or roasted asparagus to offset the fact that I’m basically eating fried cheese for dinner. I couldn’t come up with a fall/winter vegetable to throw into the pumpkin version, so I just served a kale salad on the side. It ended up being the perfect combination.

½ cup skim-milk ricotta
½ cup pumpkin or squash puree, canned or fresh*
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnishing
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt (or ½ teaspoon table salt)
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage, plus extra for garnishing
1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned in and leveled), plus more for dusting
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Black pepper to taste

*To make your own puree, cut a small sugar pumpkin or other winter squash in half, scoop out and discard the seeds and strings, lay the halves face down on a foil-lined baking sheet, and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour, until soft. Allow to cool, then scoop out the flesh and mash it with a fork until smooth (use a food mill, food processor, or immersion blender if you want it super-smooth).

1. Combine ricotta, pumpkin, ½ cup Parmesan, egg yolk, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, salt, and 1 tablespoon sage in a large bowl. Mix well. Sprinkle half of the flour over the mixture and gently turn a few times with a spatula to incorporate it. Dump the mixture on a clean, lightly floured work surface. Sprinkle the remaining flour on top of the mixture and gently knead with your fingertips, just bringing the dough together until the flour is incorporated. (This should only take a minute or two; any longer and you will be overkneading.)

2. Divide the dough into four equal parts. Take each part and roll it into a long log, 1 inch in diameter. Cut each log into 1-inch-long pieces.

3. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter and olive oil. When butter is just lightly browned, add gnocchi in a single layer. Fry for 2 minutes, then flip them over. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes and fry for another 2 minutes. Taste one to see if it’s done—if you taste the flour, it needs to cook longer.

4. Serve with a sprinkling of Parmesan, sage, and black pepper.

Serves: 2–4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: I haven’t attempted it, but probably not very good. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that fried cheese is best served fresh from the pan.

Monday, November 19, 2012


This was my (belated) nod to Oktoberfest. I based it on a simpler recipe from Dinner: A Love Story (the book version of which I recently read and really enjoyed; even though it’s geared toward parents, I do share Jenny Rosenstratch’s love of strategizing). Being a frivolous childless person, I promptly made it more complicated. The original recipe just roasted the components with olive oil, salt, and pepper and then recommended serving it with a dollop of mustard, but I thought immediately of mustard-roasted potatoes and figured that fantastic crunchy, zippy coating would be pretty fantastic when applied to onions, apples, and sausage as well. So I married the two recipes and it was wonderful. The mustard coating doesn’t get delectably crispy as it does on the potatoes alone, but instead it turns into a savory sauce that’s nearly as good. Served with green salad and a beer, this is a hearty, comforting, and extremely easy fall/winter meal.

(Confidential to Westerners: I have finally settled on my favorite sausage: the spicy chicken Parmesan at Sprouts. All their sausages are handmade, from scratch, in store: worth the drive across town (all of 5 miles, as opposed to less than a mile for my other grocery stores--yes, I am spoiled) for me! Whole Foods makes its own too, but I have to say, Sprouts is superior.)

¼ cup whole-grain Dijon mustard
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
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound small unpeeled red or yellow potatoes, halved
1 medium onion, cut into eighths
Leaves from 2 sprigs thyme (optional)
2 to 3 baking apples (I used Fuji), unpeeled, cored and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 uncooked Italian sausages (about 1 pound)
2 tablespoons cider vinegar (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together mustard, olive oil, butter, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, lemon peel, and salt. Add potatoes, onions, and thyme; sprinkle generously with freshly ground black pepper and toss to coat.

3. Pour potato mixture into a large baking dish and bake for 20 minutes.

4. Add apples to baking dish and toss well. Place sausages atop potato mixture and return to oven. Turn heat down to 400 degrees and bake another 30 minutes, turning sausages over halfway through, until sausages are cooked and potatoes are tender. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, stir in cider vinegar, if desired.

Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good.

Thursday, November 08, 2012


I feel like this barely counts as a recipe, especially since I found it on the back of a package, yet I’ve made it several times and it continues to be really tasty, so why not?

As I’ve mentioned, I always buy Trader Joe’s broccoli slaw to go with my fish and chips, because I’m not a fan of cabbage. (Well, I do like cabbage slaw with my fish tacos. I am a complicated person.) I only use half the bag for that, though, and I couldn’t ever figure out what to do with the rest. Sometimes I’d sprinkle it on top of a green salad, but mostly I’d stash it in the fridge intending to find a use for it, and the next time I’d pull it out it would have gone bad. Then one day, I—duh!—turned the bag over and spotted a recipe that looked pretty decent, with apples, walnuts, and cranberries. The recipe just said to use “your favorite dressing,” and I immediately thought of the creamy mustard vinaigrette that goes with my beloved arugula, potato, and green bean salad, a dressing I find myself making often for other purposes. It’s great on crispy chicken salad, which also contains apples, walnuts, and cranberries, so I knew it would work with this slaw.

The result is a wonderfully crunchy, fresh-yet-fallish salad that’s perfect with a grilled cheese sandwich on the side for lunch or a light dinner. I halved the original recipe but usually end up increasing the cranberries and apples a bit. This time, because I had orphaned green onions in the fridge, I threw in some scallion greens and they made it even better; I don’t think I’d bother buying them just for this recipe, but it’s worth adding if you have one to spare, because the oniony bite helps to further balance the sweetness of the cranberries and apples. I think bagged broccoli slaw is available at other stores besides Trader Joe’s, but I’m sure you could make your own if you have a food processor or a good grater—it’s just shredded broccoli stems with a little shredded carrot mixed in.

6 ounces broccoli slaw
2–4 tablespoons dried cranberries
2–4 tablespoons chopped walnuts, toasted
1 medium apple, diced
1 green onion, green part only, thinly sliced (optional)
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons walnut oil or olive oil

1. In a large bowl, conmbine the broccoli slaw, cranberries, walnuts, apple, and green onion (if using).

2. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, yogurt, mustard, salt and pepper. Add oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking until emulsified.

3. Pour dressing over slaw (you may not use it all; start with about three-quarters, toss well, and then add more gradually as needed) and stir until all the ingredients are well coated. Let sit for about 15 minutes before serving.

Serves: 2–3
Time: 25 minutes
Leftover potential: Unknown.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012


I love trying new cookie recipes, because they rarely if ever turn out badly. In this case, how could adding pumpkin and spices (yes, I am firmly on board the pumpkin train after years of resistance, and that train is delicious) to the standard oatmeal scotchies recipe be anything but tasty? The pumpkin creates a nice amber color and tender cakiness, the spices help balance the intensely sweet, slightly artificial flavor (I say that in a loving way) of the butterscotch chips, and the whole thing is heartily fallish (if not very photogenic; I think mine are especially homely).

The major change I made to the original recipe was to make my own spice mixture, instead of using premixed pumpkin pie spice augmented by other spices. I went with a similar combination to the one I’ve used in all my other pumpkin recipes, but because I didn’t feel like doing endless math to match the exact amount, it made a little more than the recipe calls for, so you’ll have find some other use for the extra (I threw it into my refrigerator oatmeal the next day). I also increased the salt from ¼ teaspoon to ½ teaspoon, which seemed necessary to counteract the richness of the butterscotch chips (it’s also the amount used in the traditional oatmeal scotchies recipe, at least as published on the Quaker oatmeal package). I would maybe consider cutting back slightly on the butterscotch chips; 1½ cups (nearly but not quite an entire bag, according to my measurements) made for a very sweet result, and some of my cookies seemed more like clumps of chips loosely held together with a bit of dough. I found myself longing for more of the oatmeal-pumpkin portion, so I might try just 1 cup next time. Lastly, I think I could have made my cookies a little larger, because I got about 10 more than the original recipe did. But since when is having extra cookies really a problem?

1¼ cup cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon cardamom
⅛ teaspoon ground ginger
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
⅛ teaspoon allspice
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1–1½ cups butterscotch chips

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, allspice, and nutmeg. Measure out 1¼ teaspoons of the spice mixture and add it to the bowl with the flour mixture, whisking well to combine. Save the rest of the spice mixture for another use.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment (or just in a large bowl using a handheld electric mixer), beat butter, sugar, and brown sugar until smooth and creamy. Add egg and vanilla extract and mix again. Add pumpkin and mix until combined (mixture may appear curdled, but it’s fine).

5. Turn the mixer speed to low and slowly add in flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Stir in oats and butterscotch chips.

6. Drop dough by heaping tablespoons onto prepared baking sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the cookies are set and golden. Remove cookies from the oven and cool on the baking sheet for 2 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

Yields: About 3 dozen cookies (original recipe said 2½ dozen; I got 40)
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; freezes well.

Monday, November 05, 2012


I dogeared this page in the January 2012 issue of Cooking Light, but I didn’t manage to make it before the weather got warm and maple-flavored food lost its seasonal appeal. As soon as L.A. finally cooled off again (mostly; it’s 93 degrees as I write this—but we’ll be down to 46 in a few days), it was at the top of my to-cook list, and it turned out to be everything I’d hoped: easy, sweet-salty-savory, and autumnal. I doubled down on the fall ingredients by serving it with my favorite kale and butternut squash salad, which was an excellent pairing.

I’m grateful that I followed the lead of many commenters in doubling all the sauce quantities except for the syrup. I feel like “double the sauce” is a popular refrain on just about every Cooking Light recipe ever (for the most part, the magazine is more austere than its readers), but in this case, some who didn’t do so complained that it cooked down to a burnt-caramel mess by the time they pulled it out of the oven, and after the balsamic reduction fiasco this summer, I was leery of further damage to my cast iron. The doubled quantities felt like just the right amount, enough to spoon over the chicken without drowning it. Not increasing the maple syrup was key, because I certainly wouldn’t have wanted the sauce to be any sweeter than it was, and I appreciated the extra tang of cider vinegar and mustard to balance everything out.

In all, this is a simple, lovely fall-winter main dish that’s quick enough for a weeknight meal but fancy enough for company, and versatile enough to go with a whole range of side dishes. I plan to make it often, at least during our brief, precious cool months.

2 teaspoons olive oil
4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
¼ cup maple syrup
4 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
4 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons whole-grain Dijon mustard

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Sprinkle chicken with pepper and salt. Add chicken to pan; sauté 2 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove chicken from pan.

3. Add broth, syrup, thyme, and garlic to pan; bring to a boil, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add vinegar and mustard; cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Return chicken to pan, and spoon mustard mixture over chicken.

4. Bake for 10 minutes or until the chicken is done. Remove chicken from pan; let stand 5 minutes. Meanwhile, place pan over medium heat; cook mustard mixture 2 minutes or until liquid is syrupy, stirring frequently. Serve over the chicken.

Serves: 4
Time: 35 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Usually when I alter a recipe, it’s to cut corners, but here’s a rare instance where I made something about 10 times more complex—and it was worth the extra effort!

When I saw this quinoa hash at a Cozy Kitchen, I was really intrigued by the idea. A still isn’t a quinoa fan, but he makes an exception for quinoa fritters, and I thought maybe a hash could replicate some of that crispy, toasty goodness he enjoys. I tend to have bad luck with hashes, though; apparently I just don’t have the knack for frying potatoes. By the time they’re cooked through, they’re overbrowned and sticking to the pan, and then they break apart and everything devolves into a starchy mess. I know this can be avoided by cooking the potatoes through first and then browning them, as in my corn hash recipe, where they’re microwaved. But since squash would also be involved, that made me think of roasting, so I decided to coat the vegetables with the spices (I used smoked paprika instead of regular, to play up the roasty flavor) and throw them into the oven, on separate baking sheets in case one cooked faster than the other. By this time the whole process was starting to seem ridiculously awkward, and I wasn’t even done complicating things yet.

The original recipe boiled the quinoa right in the skillet, but I’m not sure my cast-iron is that well-seasoned, so I opted to cook it as usual, in a separate pot. Then of course it seemed like a great idea to add bacon, so I browned that in the skillet and removed it, then cooked the shallot and garlic in the bacon fat. (I can take or leave big pieces of bacon, but anything fried in bacon fat? Sign me up.) Since I wanted my quinoa to be as toasted as possible, I tossed it in with the shallot mixture and let it fry as long as I could. It didn’t brown as much as I’d hoped—nowhere near as much as the fritters—probably because the pan was a bit crowded and it steamed more than frying, but it did take on a golden hue, a drier, chewier consistency, and a nice nutty taste. (If you’re not a fan of the texture of ordinary quinoa, I highly recommend trying it pan-fried.) Then I added back in the bacon and the roasted vegetables. The original recipe had just cooked eggs right on top of the hash, but since I’m addicted to poached eggs I made those separately and set them on top when I was ready to serve. And finally, for a bit more color, I served the whole thing atop a bed of arugula.

So basically, the original recipe was a true one-dish meal, with everything from the quinoa to the eggs cooked in the same skillet. I had to go and add a separate appliance (the oven) and million extra dishes and steps. I realize this sounds like a pain, and if you want to try the original instead of my version I completely understand, but I swear to you, my method didn’t end up being too hard, and it paid off big time. In fact, it was pretty much a masterpiece, if I do say so myself, joining the ranks of my favorite quinoa dishes ever. The tender, spiced roasted vegetables were delicious enough to eat on their own, but when combined with the peppery fresh greens, the smoky bacon, the nutty grain, and the creamy egg they were even better. I would happily eat this delicious, satisfying dish for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and A enjoyed it enough to have leftovers the next day, which for him is really saying something where quinoa is concerned. I’m tremendously pleased that all my tinkerings ended up being improvements and not fussy time-wasters or grievous errors. Could it be that after so many years, I’m finally learning to improvise in the kitchen?

1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed well
2 cups water
1–1½ teaspoons salt, divided
¾ pound red potatoes, cubed
½–¾ pound butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1–2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
4 slices bacon, diced
1–2 shallots, minced
1 large garlic clove, minced
Freshly ground pepper to taste
¼ cup minced fresh chives
4 large eggs
About 4 cups arugula

1. Place the quinoa in a saucepan with water and ½ teaspoon salt, bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until all liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and spread quinoa in a thin layer on a large plate or a baking sheet to cool.

2. While the quinoa cooks and cools, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the cubed potatoes in a large bowl and toss with ½–1 tablespoon olive oil, ½ teaspoon cumin, ½ teaspoon smoked paprika, and coarse salt to taste. Line a baking sheet with parchment and spread the potatoes on it in a single layer. To the empty bowl you just used, add the cubed squash and toss with ½–1 tablespoon olive oil, ½ teaspoon cumin, ½ teaspoon smoked paprika, and coarse salt to taste. Line a second baking sheet with parchment and spread the squash on it in a single layer. Place both baking sheets in the oven and roast, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are browned and crispy outside, tender within, about 20–30 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

3. When the vegetables are about halfway done roasting, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until crisp. Remove from skillet with a slotted spoon, keeping the skillet on the heat.

4. Add shallot to the skillet and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Place the garlic atop the cooked shallot and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the quinoa to the skillet and fry, stirring occasionally, until quinoa is a bit browned, slightly dry, and smells toasted, about 15 minutes.

5. Add the potato, butternut squash, and bacon to the skillet and cook another 5–10 minutes until everything is warm. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

6. Meanwhile, poach eggs.

7. Place a handful of arugula in each of four shallow bowls or plates. Divide the hash among the dishes, placing it atop the arugula, and top each with a poached egg. Garnish each serving with 1 tablespoon chives.

Serves: 4
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: Good; just don't poach the eggs or add the arugula until you're ready to serve.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


I do feel like I’m reaching max capacity for pureed orange vegetable soups here (five carrot, four butternut squash), but I have no recipes of any kind of that combine butternut squash with corn, and the juxtaposition intrigued me when I spotted this recipe (originally from Everyday Food) at Ezra Pound Cake. It seemed like the perfect transition food between summer and fall—which is finally, finally starting to happen here in SoCal.

The soup comes together like most other pureed vegetable soups, with a quick sauté followed by a boil in broth and then a spin in the blender, and I’m afraid that at first it tasted like any old soup to me, too. Many such recipes I’ve tried are perfectly adequate but never quite rise above the sum of their parts, and despite the presence of curry, which I’d been excited about, this one threatened to underwhelm. When I tasted it at the end, it needed something, so I squeezed in some lime juice, which was exactly the ingredient that revived the curried coconut carrot soup I tried last fall (and now adore). It really helped, but as I ate, even though A kept commenting how good it was (which is rare for him, with soups), I had already decided I wouldn’t make this recipe again; it was fine, but so similar to other recipes I make regularly, it just wasn’t worth it.

Then I ate the leftovers the next day and really actively liked them, not just tolerated them. If there had been more, I would have eaten it the next day, too. I know soup often tastes better the next day as the flavors develop and meld, but this was a dramatic improvement—or maybe I’d just been cranky and palate-distorted the night before. Now I’ll certainly make this again. It’s easy, it’s wholesome, it has a beautiful bright mustard-yellow color, and I love the unique texture; the corn kernels don’t quite blend smoothly, reminding me of a yellow lentil dal (I didn’t want to bother with only blending half the soup, so I just stuck my immersion blender in the pot but only blended semi-thoroughly, to simulate the same effect).

Aside from adding lime juice, the only changes I made were to use fresh corn instead of frozen (amazingly, corn is still in season here) and homemade chicken broth instead of vegetable broth.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1½ pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch chunks (about 5 cups)
1 medium onion, chopped
10 ounces fresh or frozen (thawed) corn kernels
1½ teaspoons curry powder
Kosher salt and ground pepper to taste
29 ounces (about 3⅔ cups) vegetable or chicken broth
½ cup heavy cream
Juice of 1 lime (optional)
¼ cup chopped fresh chives

1. In a large, heavy pot, heat oil over medium heat; add squash and onion. Cook until the onion is soft, about 6 minutes.

2. Add the corn and curry powder. Cook until you can really smell the curry, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Add the broth and simmer until the squash is tender, about 25 minutes.

4. Using an immersion blender, food processor, or countertop blender, blend half the soup until smooth. Return to pot and turn the heat down to medium-low.

5. Stir in the cream, along with the lime juice if desired, and let the soup get warm before serving (do not boil). Garnish with chives.

Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Great; tastes even better the next day, and would also freeze well.

Friday, October 19, 2012


I had nearly a full package of peanuts left over after making the peanut-lime chicken-noodle salad, so I decided to cross honey-roasted peanuts off my cooking to-do list. (What, you don’t keep one of those?) I’d long had a cardamom version bookmarked, but at the last minute I spotted this one from Confections of a Foodie Bride and switched to it because the idea of a spicy version was irresistible.

This recipe could not be any easier. A little microwaving, some stirring, some baking, a bit more stirring, and you’re there: from zero to deliciousness in 25 minutes. It was only with great difficulty that I stopped myself from eating the entire batch while it was still warm and gooey on the baking sheet. It was like some amazing peanut salted toffee confection. I don’t think it even really needed the final coating of sugar. That definitely gave it the crunchy, sandy texture of storebought honey-roasted peanuts, but for me, the added sweetness was unnecessary and overshadowed the other flavors. The recipe called for adding 4 tablespoons of sugar after the peanuts were cooked; I sprinkled on the first two tablespoons, then near the end of the third tablespoon I started thinking, “Hmm, this looks like a lot of sugar,” so I quit. I think next time I’ll try just 2 post-cooking tablespoons, but really, I can attest that these were quite tasty without any extra sugar beyond what they were baked with. I’m also eager to try the cardamom recipe for contrast, because it uses hardly any sugar at all, only 1 tablespoon total.

Still, it’s going to be pretty hard to beat these. They really reminded me of the storebought kind, but a million times better, with roasty caramel undertones that nostalgically reminded me of the peanut brittle my mom used to make for Christmas when I was a kid. (I didn’t work too hard to separate them into individual peanuts for total verisimilitude; the big chewy clumps were actually my favorite part.) The honey flavor is excellent, they’re addictively crunchy, and there’s a good dose of salt to balance the sweetness, all of which makes them so compulsively edible that I’m not going to allow myself to make them on a regular basis, because otherwise I’ll be gobbling up a pound of peanuts a week. A and I made short work of them, and A loved them so much he wouldn’t have me change a thing (he reacted with dismay when I mentioned reducing the sugar, but really, I don’t think he’ll notice when I do it next time, because they’ll still be insanely good). I do think the red pepper flakes could be increased if you want a snack that could actually be described as “spicy,” however. The ½ teaspoon that the original recipe called for added a nice savory note and a gentle heat that I really only noticed as an aftertaste, which I liked just fine, but if tasting blindfolded, I don’t think most people would really know there was spice there. I’m going to take it up to ¾ teaspoon next time for a bigger punch.

1 pound cocktail peanuts (mine were salted)
⅓ cup honey
½–¾ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup sugar or to taste, divided
½ teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.

2. Place peanuts in a large bowl.

3. Microwave honey and red pepper flakes in a small bowl for 30 seconds and pour over the peanuts. Add ¼ cup sugar and the salt, stirring well.

4. Spread peanut mixture onto the baking sheet in a single layer and bake for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.

5. Let cool for 2 to 3 minutes and then stir the peanuts, scraping the honey from the parchment/silicone to coat the peanuts. If desired, sprinkle with 1–2 tablespoons sugar and stir again, then sprinkle with 1–2 tablespoons more sugar.

6. Let cool completely, then break up the peanut clumps into smaller pieces and store in an airtight container.

Yields: About 3 cups
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Good; will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for at least five days.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


A quick search of my blog archives confirms that this is the time when, like clockwork, I habitually complain that autumn in Los Angeles doesn’t really get started until late October or even November, leaving us sweltering in 100-degree temperatures while the rest of the nation merrily goes apple picking in cozy sweaters. Apparently I am freshly surprised/enraged by this every year. You just get used to having enviable weather, you know? And fall, traditional fall, is so fleetingly lovely and nostalgia-laden that it’s frustrating to miss out on it.

This September seemed especially brutal, with several record-breaking heat waves, and I never thought I’d admit it, but I actually grew tired of tomatoes, corn, and peaches. Luckily, lime, cilantro, and cucumber were still on my cravings list, so it seemed a good time to bust out this refreshing-sounding Asian-inspired salad from Smitten Kitchen. I’d been putting it off because it sounded complicated, and I’m not gonna lie, it is. Amazingly, this is the simplified version, streamlined from the New York Times original, and it still has you making two sauces, marinating and grilling chicken, cooking noodles, and chopping lots of vegetables. It calls for a whopping 21 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lime juice, which for me worked out to nearly 10 limes and a serious case of hand cramps. It also involves more than half a cup of fish sauce, the foul-smelling concoction that I only grudgingly came to terms with the week before and had never used in such quantity, filling my kitchen with an odor that brought the cats running with eager interest while my appetite withered away. At a certain point, I ran out of counter space for the many different bowls, pots, cutting boards, grills, blenders, measuring cups and spoons, and ingredients this recipe demanded, and I began to question my sanity.

But all told, it really didn’t end up taking as long as I’d feared. All the individual tasks are simple, and many (such as the sauce-making and marinating) could be done ahead of time. Most important, the end result was seriously, seriously delicious. There’s a lot of ingredient overlap with last week’s banh mi, but whereas we were ambivalent about those, we flat-out loved this. It’s such a complex layering of flavors and textures, all incredibly fresh and vivid (and not really fishy, thank goodness). It’s substantial and satisfying while still feeling light. The leftovers were even better. Despite the hassle, it’s a keeper, and since I have a half-package of rice noodles left over in the cupboard, you can bet I’ll be making it again soon, without any modifications.

It’s a bit confusing that one of the sauces is called a "dipping sauce" when you never dip anything into it, but I couldn't think of a better name, so dipping sauce it remains. I used jalapenos instead of Serranos or Thai chiles, which was partly due to laziness and partly due to wimpiness in the face of spice, but I reasoned that jalapenos are great with similar ingredients on the banh mi, and they were just fine here. Every now and then I’d get a spicier bite, but for the most part the salad wasn’t very hot, which suited me just fine. Since the Smitten Kitchen post mentioned wanting more vegetables, I doubled the carrot and cucumber quantities. Deb suggested maybe adding sweet red pepper and thin blanched green beans, which would be nice, but then someone in the comments mentioned using edamame and that sounded perfect to me—as, indeed, it turned out to be. A claims not to like edamame, but even he enjoyed them in this context. Winner winner noodle dinner!

Dipping sauce:
6 tablespoons fish sauce
6 tablespoons brown sugar
¾ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
6–8 small Thai chiles or 1–2 Serrano chiles (I used 2 jalapenos), thinly sliced

Peanut dressing:
3 tablespoons fish sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
½ cup + 1 tablespoon lime juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1.5-inch chunk ginger, peeled and sliced
6 tablespoons natural creamy unsalted peanut butter (I used salted and it was fine)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Pinch of cayenne

Chicken and noodle salad:
1¼ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
8 ounces dried rice vermicelli or other rice noodles
4 small Persian cucumbers, cut in ¼-inch half-moons
4 medium carrots, thinly julienned
1 cup cooked, shelled edamame
1 handful each chopped fresh basil, mint, and cilantro
4 scallions, sliced
¼ cup crushed or chopped roasted peanuts
Lime wedges for garnish

1. To make the dipping sauce, whisk ingredients in a small bowl, making sure to dissolve the sugar. Let sit for at least 15 minutes. (Can be done ahead; refrigerate and use within a few days.)

2. To make the peanut dressing, in a blender or small food processor, puree all ingredients to a smooth sauce, about the thickness of heavy cream. (Can be done ahead; refrigerate and use within a few days.)

3. To marinate the chicken, stir together about half the dipping sauce and one-third of the peanut dressing in the bottom of a shallow bowl. Add the chicken to the mixture and toss to coat. Let marinate at least 15 minutes.

4. Cook the noodles according to the package directions. Drain when noodles are al dente, and cool under running water. Fluff and leave in strainer to drain well, stirring periodically to keep them from sticking together.

5. To cook the chicken, grill it on an outdoor grill or a stove-top grill pan (I used the George Foreman), or run under the broiler until cooked through and nicely browned, about 3 to 4 minutes a side. Let cool slightly, then chop roughly into ¾-inch pieces.

6. To serve, toss vegetables with 1 tablespoon dipping sauce in a small bowl. Divide the cooked noodles among 4 to 6 bowls. (If your noodles stick together a lot, you might find it helpful, as I did, to toss each portion of them with a tablespoon of dipping sauce now, instead of adding it after the vegetables and chicken; it really loosened them up for me.) Top each bowl equally with vegetable mixture and chopped chicken. Toss each bowl with 1 tablespoon of each the dipping sauce and dressing, or to taste (we used more). Add the herbs, peanuts, and scallions to each bowl and serve with additional dressing and dipping sauce on the side, plus lime wedges to squeeze over the top.

Serves: 4-6
Time: 2 hours
Leftover potential: Great. I was worried because Deb mentioned storing all the ingredients separately, but I pre-mixed all the portions and they stayed as good as (or better than) new, at least for the couple of days before we devoured them all. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


This recipe (from Bon Appetit via Dinner With Julie) had been sitting in my Delicious bookmarks for nearly a year, intimidating me. I love banh mi and stalk the Phamish truck (now sadly on hiatus or possibly defunct, I guess?) to get them whenever possible, but making them at home seemed like a huge undertaking. Also, I am secretly afraid of fish sauce. But finally, the hot September weather wore me down until the cool crunchiness of cucumbers, cilantro, and pickled carrots seemed like the only palatable foods in the world.

I’ll cut right to the chase and say I liked these sandwiches but didn’t love them. I used a new brand of mayo (Trader Joe’s ) and it imparted an off taste; I should really have made my own, but that seemed like overkill for an already-complex meal. And if time were no object, I really should have tracked down some rice-flour baguettes for optimal texture; mine, ordinary French bread from Whole Foods, were far too tough and chewy. Most tragically, I didn’t enjoy the texture of the pickled vegetables that I had so been looking forward to. Following the Epicurious directions, I coarsely grated them, and they just ended up kind of sad and soggy. It looks like most banh mi recipes call for julienning them, which is labor intensive but would indeed be better. In my mind, what I had actually been craving was crisp, paper-thin slices, so I might try that in the future. I also used ordinary radishes because I couldn’t find a daikon, which I suspect didn’t help matters.

However, despite the dreaded fish sauce (which smells like holy hell but really, as everyone promises, doesn’t taste specifically fishy in the finished dish, just nicely savory), the meatballs were fantastic, the stars of the whole show. I had never seen a meatball recipe that calls for cornstarch before—I’m guessing it’s replacing egg as a binding agent—but it really gave them a unique, firm, uniform texture that was ideal for a sandwich, where you don’t want your meatballs crumbling and falling apart whenever you take a bite. I’m just not sure I really like meatballs on a sandwich; it all seemed too overwhelming to me somehow. (Maybe I should have tried this in the winter, when heartier foods are more appealing.) I’m intrigued by Julie’s comment that “there must be salad potential here”; the meatballs on or next to a mixed-green salad with cucumber, cilantro, the pickled vegetables, and some sort of Asian-esque vinaigrette would be more my speed, I think. I could also see these as skewers or sliders. Meanwhile, I’d like to try making banh mi with some sort of lemongrass chicken instead.

I didn’t make many changes here, except that I followed Julie’s lead in adding thinly sliced cucumbers, which was an excellent decision. And since many Epicurious commenters complained that the recipe was too sweet, I halved the sugar in the pickled vegetables and thought it was still plenty.

Hot chili mayo:
⅔ cup mayonnaise
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)

1 pound ground pork
¼ cup finely chopped fresh basil
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

2 cups julienned carrots
2 cups julienned peeled daikon (Japanese white radish)
¼ cup unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1 tablespoon sesame oil or vegetable oil
4 10-inch-long individual baguettes or four 10-inch-long pieces baguette (cut from 2 baguettes)
1 jalapeño pepper, thinly sliced
1 or 2 Persian cucumbers, sliced into ribbons with a vegetable peeler
Large fresh cilantro sprigs to taste

1. To make the hot chili mayo, stir all the ingredients in a small bowl. Season with salt to taste. (Can be made 1 day ahead; cover and chill until ready to use.)

2. Make the meatballs, gently mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. Using moistened hands and scant tablespoonful for each, roll meat mixture into 1-inch meatballs. (Can be made 1 day ahead; cover and chill until ready to use.)

3. Toss the carrots, daikon, rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature for 1 hour, tossing occasionally.

4. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add meatballs; sauté until brown and cooked through, turning often and lowering heat if browning too quickly, about 15 minutes.

5. Cut each baguette or baguette piece horizontally in half. Pull out enough bread from each bread half to leave a ½-inch-thick shell. Spread hot chili mayo over each bread shell. Arrange jalapeños, then cilantro, in bottom halves. Fill each with ¼ of meatballs. Drain pickled vegetables; place atop meatballs. Press on baguette tops.

Serves: 4
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: OK, if all sandwich components are stored separately.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012


Chicken gyros have become one of our favorite meals, but I’m always stumped about what to serve with them. Granted, the gyros are generously sized, and there are tomatoes, onions, and a little cucumber on top, but I find myself wanting more vegetables, because let’s face it, Greek salads are delicious. My beloved Mediterranean pepper salad, however, in all its colorful, creamy-briny glory, already has a fair amount of overlap with the gyro ingredients: tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions, check, check, check. Making both seemed too labor-intensive and redundant, and A was suspicious of the idea of flat-out replacing the gyro toppings with the salad. So when I found myself craving gyros yet again and puzzling over side dishes, I decided to take my problem to Food Blog Search to see what other people usually serve with them. There, I discovered that Bridget from The Way the Cookie Crumbles had already resolved my very conundrum: How to combine this precise chicken gyro recipe from Elly Says Opa with that exact Mediterranean pepper salad recipe from Smitten Kitchen!

Noting that each time she made the two dishes together, more and more of the salad kept making its way atop the gyros, Bridget figured out a clever way to streamline the two into a single recipe. The key is to make the chicken marinade do double duty, using a couple of tablespoons of it (pre-contact with raw chicken, of course) in lieu of the salad dressing/onion-pickling brine. She also added a few other brilliant innovations, such saving a little unused marinade to toss with the cooked chicken, which moistens the meat and seriously amplifies the flavor, and halving the tzatziki quantity (we always ended up with tons left over, yet I kept on making the full amount for some reason). I added back in one key ingredient from the original recipe, the tablespoon of dried oregano, which for me really brings the Greek taste, and magically, I had the perfect gyros meal I’d been dreaming of. Our pitas are now piled ridiculously high with toppings, and yes, sometimes they collapse entirely and dump their contents onto our plates, but then we just eat everything with a fork. If putting peppers and feta on gyros is wrong, I don’t want to be right. I didn’t think I could love gyros more, but this revamped version is replacing my old one for good.

For the chicken:
¼ cup juice from 1 to 2 lemons
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt, divided
¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken pieces (thighs, breasts, or a combo)

For the tzatziki:
1–2 small Persian cucumbers
½ teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces Greek yogurt (I use 2%)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1½ teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ tablespoon minced fresh dill (optional)

For serving:
½ red onion, halved lengthwise and sliced thinly
1 small red bell pepper and 1 small yellow bell pepper, quartered lengthwise and sliced thinly
1–2 small Persian cucumbers, halved lengthwise and sliced thinly
1 tomato, chopped, or 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
½ cup crumbled feta
4-6 Greek-style (pocketless) pitas

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together all the chicken marinade ingredients except 1 teaspoon salt, the yogurt, and the chicken. Measure out 3 generous tablespoons of the marinade into a small bowl; set aside. Add the yogurt and another teaspoon of salt to the remaining marinade. Place the chicken in the marinade; cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 15 minutes to 1 hour.

2. Meanwhile, for the tzatziki, grate or shred the cucumber, place it in a colander in the sink or over a small bowl, and add the salt. Set aside for at least 15 minutes to drain. Transfer the cucumber to a clean kitchen towel and squeeze dry. Combine the drained cucumber with the yogurt, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, pepper, and dill.

3. Add 2 tablespoons of the reserved marinade to a bowl and add the sliced onion. Set aside to lightly pickle while you prepare the remaining toppings. Mix the bell pepper, sliced cucumbers, tomato, and feta into the bowl with the onion.

4. Prepare the grill or broiler. Remove the chicken from the marinade and grill/broil until cooked through. Allow it to rest for a few minutes, then slice into strips. Toss the chicken with the remaining 1 tablespoon reserved marinade.

5. Heat your pitas for a few minutes in a warm oven, in a skillet on the stove, or on the grill, or cover them with a damp paper towel and microwave for about 30 seconds. Top each pita with some chicken, tzatziki, and vegetable mixture.

Serves: 4–6
Time: 1–1½ hours
Leftover potential: Good; store chicken, tzatziki, vegetable topping, and pita separately.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


When I make cookies, I usually want something involving chocolate or oatmeal, often both. Sugar cookies seem to boring to bother with—until I taste one and am reminded that they were one of my go-tos as a kid. This is probably because they tended to be frosting delivery devices, but still, a plain sugar cookie is nearly as delightfully nostalgic. What tempted me in this recipe, from Everybody Likes Sandwiches via Poppytalk, was the lime and the coconut, two of my favorite flavors—especially in the summer—but a combination I’ve never tried in cookie form. I was surprised to find that those elements are fairly subtle here, but I wasn’t too disappointed, because what resulted was essentially an excellent sugar cookie with the perfect crisp-chewy texture, but with intriguing notes of citrus and toasted coconut. They taste a lot like the sugar cookies my mom made when I was little, which she made with lemon extract (almond, of course, being reserved solely for holiday spritz). And they’re incredibly addictive.

Maybe it was because I baked these on a hot day, but mine turned out completely different than the ones in the photos accompanying the original recipe; those are thick and rounded, whereas mine are wide and flat, bakery-style. Whatever I did, I want to do it again, because the texture was my favorite thing about these cookies. I kept daydreaming about how perfect they would be as the base for an ice cream sandwich. Someone should get on that, stat.

These cookies are already on the sweet side, so do make sure you use unsweetened coconut. I found mine in the bulk section at Whole Foods.

2¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup unsweetened (dried) shredded coconut
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1½ cups white sugar, plus about ¼–½ cup extra for coating the cookies
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest from 1 or 2 limes
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1. Toast coconut in a small sauté pan over medium heat until fragrant and lightly browned.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment or Silpat.

3. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, toasted coconut, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large mixing bowl using a hand-held mixer, cream the butter and 1½ cups sugar together until fluffy. Add the egg and mix well, then add the vanilla, lime zest, and lime juice. Slowly mix in the dry ingredients until combined.

5. Place some sugar (start with about ¼ cup and add more as needed) in a shallow bowl. Form dough into heaping-teaspoon-sized balls and then roll in sugar. Flatten slightly and place on lined cookie sheets two inches apart. Bake for 10 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned. Cool for a few minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes: 2–3 dozen
Time: 40 minutes
Leftover potential: High, if stored in the freezer; if stored at room temperature, the chewy texture will disappear after a couple of days.

Monday, September 17, 2012


Here’s another secret I’ve been keeping from you: the best thing ever to do with leftover cherry tomatoes (or grape tomatoes, or whatever shape the little guys happen to be). I don’t know about you, but often I used to be plagued by partially used baskets of small tomatoes; sure, you can just eat the really good height-of-summer ones out of hand, but what about the slightly softened, wizened ones that remain at the end of the week, or the less-than-desirable wintertime grocery-store ones that taste OK when cooked but are bland when raw? If I couldn’t sneak them into a meal somewhere, too often they’d end up in the trash. One Friday, faced with yet another wilting cherry tomato surplus, I started Food Blog Searching and found this recipe at Leite’s Culinaria, from Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day. I didn’t have to buy any special ingredients, and it was so easy to throw together that I figured the stakes would be low if I failed, so I decided to give it a shot, letting the tomatoes brown in the often while I watched a movie, filling the apartment with a wonderful aroma. Putting maple syrup on tomatoes felt strange, but that dash of extra sweetness was the key to transforming my wrinkly old bottom-of-bowl specimens into amazingly addictive bits of caramelized tomato candy. (For best results, use Grade B syrup, which lends a tantalizing smokiness.)

I’ve always hated sun-dried tomatoes—the raisins of the tomato world!—but these were worlds away from any of the bitter, leathery monstrosities I’ve ever had. The flavor concentrates, but some juiciness remains, along with an irresistible tender-chewy texture (yes, these will stick in your teeth and you will love it) and the perfect sweet-tart-salty balance that all the finest snacks possess. I ate every single one straight off the baking sheet that day, and I’ve made these probably a dozen times since then, often just a half-recipe or less, depending on how many orphaned cherry tomatoes are on hand. The recipe is so simple, barely a recipe at all once you’ve made it a couple of times, that I tend to do this as an afterthought and immediately devour the evidence without photographing it. But finally, this time around, the lighting was pretty good and I already had my camera in the kitchen to document something else I was working on when these tomatoes came out of the oven, and now I can finally share these with you. Make them before tomato season is over! Or, if you must, make them in January with out-of-season ones from South America; it’s the best treatment for those poor things and will convert them into something far better. If you don’t want to eat them straight out of the oven, I’m sure they’re wonderful on pizzas, pasta, salads, and more. Just don’t forget to snack on the hardened puddles of syrupy juice that adhere to the edges of the parchment—they may look blackened and burnt, but peel them up and pop them in your mouth and they’re like little bites of toffee. Tomato toffee!

1 pint cherry tomatoes, any color, stemmed
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Grade B maple syrup
½ teaspoon coarse salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Slice the tomatoes in half and place them on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, maple syrup, and salt. Pour the mixture over the tomatoes and gently toss until well coated. Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer, cut side up, and roast, without stirring, until the tomatoes shrink a bit and caramelize around the edges, 45 to 60 minutes.

Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good; I like to eat them right away, but they’ll keep for about a week in the refrigerator. Just let them cool, scrape them into a glass or plastic container along with any liquid that was left on the baking sheet, and seal tightly.

Friday, September 14, 2012


This is my new favorite quinoa salad and it isn’t even really a quinoa salad. The original Cooking Light recipe called for couscous, which I’m no particular fan of; it’s really just tiny pasta, and as you know, I already have enough pasta recipes to last a lifetime, so if I’m going to eat a grain-like salad I want it to be made with actual whole grains (or, in quinoa’s case, seeds). I became obsessed with adapting it for quinoa, even though I wasn’t sure whether boiling quinoa in orange juice and spices would work (with couscous, of course, you just soak it) or just result in a sticky, bitter mess. I’m pleased to report that it works just fine, infusing the quinoa with tons of flavor along the way.

Also new to me was poaching chicken; I usually have some cooked chicken in the freezer left over from making chicken broth, but this long, hot summer hasn’t exactly been conducive to keeping boiling pots on the stove for hours, so I was without. I’d tried poaching chicken a few times early in my cooking career and it always turned out dry and bland, but Just Bento set me straight. It turns out that the secret to perfectly moist poached chicken is the same as the secret to perfect hard-boiled eggs: bring to a boil, then remove from heat, cover, and let sit in the hot water until cooked. (The other secret is plenty of salt, so that essentially you’re brining the chicken.) Magical!

This salad has everything you could want (from a salad, at least). It has textural contrasts: the chewy quinoa, the crisp cucumber and onion, the crunchy almonds, and the tender chicken. It has flavor contrasts: the sweet-tart cranberries and citrus, the warm spices, the fresh green cucumber and cilantro, the meaty chicken, the sharp onion, the salty mustard, the nutty quinoa and, well, nuts. It’s packed with protein from the chicken, quinoa, and almonds, making it a satisfying dinner or workday lunch. It has fruit, nuts, vegetables, meat, and starch, and although it doesn’t need any more help in the deliciousness department, if you want to round out the food groups you can add a little crumbled feta as well (I wouldn’t bother buying feta for this purpose, but since I had a little leftover chunk in the fridge that I needed to get rid of, I tried it and it certainly wasn’t a bad addition). I especially love how well it bridges the gap between summer and fall. As I’ve mentioned, September in Southern California tends to make me cranky because the rest of the country is moving on to autumnal foods while we’re still sweating through our hottest weather of the year. With the orange, cranberry, cinnamon, and mustard, this salad wouldn’t be out of place at Thanksgiving, yet it’s quick, cold, and refreshing enough for the most sweltering days. I love it so much that I’ve made it twice in three weeks. Even if you’re a quinoa skeptic, this is one you have to try.

1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice, divided (from 2–3 oranges)
¾ cup water
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon black pepper, divided
1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained
¼ cup sweetened dried cranberries
¼ cup sliced almonds
1½ cups chopped, cooked chicken breast*
1 cup chopped cucumber
⅓ cup chopped red onion
¼–½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1–2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

*I used poached chicken, made as follows: Take about 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut them in half lengthwise so they’re less thick in the middle, and place in a heavy, shallow pan (one that has a tight-fitting lid, which you’ll need later). Add water just to barely cover and 2 teaspoons salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn chicken over, remove pan from heat, cover, and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink in the middle. Remove from pan, let cool slightly, and dice. This will make a bit more than you need for this recipe, but it can be added to many other dishes (salads, tacos, pizza, etc.) and freezes well.

1. Combine quinoa, ¾ cup orange juice, water, ½ teaspoon salt, coriander, cinnamon, and ⅛ teaspoon pepper in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until liquid is absorbed and quinoa is tender, about 15–20 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in cranberries. Cover and let stand 5 minutes; fluff with a fork. Transfer quinoa mixture to a large bowl and let cool to room temperature.

2. Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add almonds to pan; cook 3 minutes or until toasted, stirring frequently. Set aside and let cool.

3. Whisk together remaining ¼ cup orange juice, ½ teaspoon salt, ⅛ teaspoon pepper, lime juice, and mustard. Gradually add oil to juice mixture, whisking constantly until emulsified.

4. Add almonds, chicken, cucumber, red onion, and cilantro to the bowl of cooled quinoa. Drizzle dressing over the tip and toss well to coat.

Serves: 4
Time: 40 minutes (1 hour if you’re also poaching the chicken)
Leftover potential: Great.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


I wanted a little protein with my spring rolls, and since A and I will often order nothing but an assortment of appetizers when we get dinner from our local Thai restaurant, chicken satay (or saté, but I don’t feel like inserting that accent mark every time) seemed the perfect accompaniment, especially since peanut sauce could do double duty as a condiment for both. I’d spent so much time rounding up ingredients for the spring rolls that I picked this satay recipe from Cooking Light mainly because it was quick and easy and didn’t require me to buy anything new. It seemed so simple that as I was assembling it I began to doubt that it would taste like much at all, but happily, I was wrong. In the future I’d marinate the chicken for longer if I have the time, but even after 10 minutes’ soak it was surprisingly flavorful.

I doubled the sauce so I could use some of it as a spring roll dipping sauce. A thought it was fine on both foods, but for some reason I disliked it on the spring rolls while really enjoying it on the chicken. When I’m feeling more ambitious I might try more complex recipes for both—I’d like to imitate our Thai place’s satay, which involves coconut milk and curry powder—but I’d definitely make this one again in the meantime. It’s hard to go wrong with sweet and zesty grilled chicken for very little effort, after all.

I did this on the George Foreman, skipping the skewers entirely; you could also use a broiler if you don’t have a grill.

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 8 strips
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2½ tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon lime zest
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, minced

Peanut sauce:
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1½ tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons natural-style creamy peanut butter
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 garlic clove, minced

1. Prepare grill.

2. Combine chicken and remaining satay ingredients (through 2 garlic cloves) in a medium bowl. Let stand 10 minutes.

3. While the chicken marinates, combine peanut sauce ingredients in a medium bowl, stirring until sugar dissolves.

4. Thread each chicken strip onto a wooden skewer. Place chicken on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 5 minutes on each side or until chicken is done. Serve satay with sauce.

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


This one’s really an oldie; I remember making spring rolls for summertime dinners when I lived on my own in St. Paul in my mid-twenties. I have no idea what the original source is; back then, when the Internet wasn’t the first place we looked for information, I used to check heaps of cookbooks out of the library and photocopy appealing-looking recipes. I haven’t spring rolls this since I moved to California 8½ years ago, partly because we have a beloved Thai restaurant a block away that makes great, inexpensive ones, and partly because I’ve been too lazy to seek out the ingredients. In St. Paul, rice wrappers were readily available in ordinary chain grocery stores, but for whatever reason, none of my usual shopping stops in Pasadena carry them. Luckily, I live on the edge of the San Gabriel Valley, which has a huge Asian American population (fun fact: eight of the ten cities in the United States with the largest proportion of Chinese Americans are located in the San Gabriel Valley!), yet it still took me nearly a decade to muster the energy for a field trip. (My commute to work is long, so on the weekends, I can rarely bring myself to pilot a car for more than a mile or two.) But this summer, with our local Thai restaurant under new management and threatening to change, and a disgustingly sticky heatwave making it impossible to contemplate turning on the stove or ingesting warm food, the time was finally right to make my own spring rolls again. A quick Googling guided me to a well-reviewed Asian grocery about five miles away, in San Gabriel. Somehow I managed to get lost going there, but after I’d driven in circles for 15 minutes I suddenly realized that I was surrounded by dozens of other Asian grocery stores that could provide exactly what I needed. Sure enough, the random place I stopped (sadly, I’ve already forgotten its name) had an entire wall of spring roll wrappers in a dizzying array of sizes and varieties. After some deliberation, I went with the Double Parrot brand (“Good for restaurant”) because they were made entirely of rice (other some kinds also contained tapioca flour, which I’m sure isn’t a bad thing or probably even a noticeable difference, but I figured I’d been instructed to get “rice wrappers,” so…) and had a pretty label, in a package large enough to see me through multiple batches of spring rolls.

And that was the hardest part of the spring-roll-making process. Second-hardest was tracking down bean sprouts, which—are they out of fashion or something? Is it the increased food-borne illness fear? Because they’re another ingredient I used to be able to pick up at an ordinary grocery store in St. Paul, but I had to scour four different places here (I finally found them at Fresh and Easy, in case anyone is wondering). The bean thread (saifun) noodles I just found in the Asian section at my regular Vons grocery store, though, no problem. Once you’ve hunted down your ingredients, all you do is soak the noodles in boiling water for 15 minutes (I find the texture of these, both cooked and uncooked, and their simple cooking process downright magical), chop up a bunch of veggies and herbs (I added cucumber to my original recipe, because our local Thai restaurant uses it and I love the added crunch), and roll everything up in the wrappers. I think the wrapping process is fun; I love the way the wrappers transform from what looks like sheets of textured plastic to a pliable, semigelatinous foodstuff with just a quick soaking in water. I always feel on the verge of disaster when I’m assembling these—tearing the wrappers, stuffing them too full, barely keeping them shut—and I’m not going to lie, my finished product is decidedly homely at times, but overall the process is surprisingly forgiving. It helps that you’re double-wrapping the rolls, so even the most bulbous and precarious ones get some extra shaping and reinforcement.

I’m sure there are fancier versions of spring rolls around, and maybe I’ll eventually try some, but I like how simple these are—a fresh and crunchy salad in handheld form, basically. I do wish I could recommend a good peanut sauce recipe, but alas, I’m still looking. I made these twice in the same week (two half-recipes), and the first time I also made an easy chicken satay (post forthcoming) and just doubled the peanut sauce recipe that went with that. The sauce was good with the chicken, but I didn’t really like it with the spring rolls. (Too—peanutty?) The second time I bought a bottle of Trader Joe’s Thai peanut sauce and liked it OK, but it still wasn’t quite what I wanted. I remember when I lived in St. Paul I’d buy Leeann Chin’s peanut sauce, but that’s not available here, and anyway, I’d rather be able to make my own. What I probably want is an exact replica of our favorite Thai restaurant’s sauce. I’m going to keep testing different versions, and hopefully I’ll settle on one I can recommend.

Anyway, the point of this whole saga is that I’m happy to be reunited with this recipe, and I feel foolish for letting my laziness keep us apart for so long.

2 ounces bean thread noodles (saifun)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 scallion, including greens, minced
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
1 medium Persian cucumber, julienned
1 cup loosely packed mung bean sprouts
¼ cup minced fresh basil
¼ cup minced fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
16 (8-inch) round rice wrappers
2 cups loosely packed shredded tender lettuce, such as Boston, Bibb, or mesclun

1. In a medium saucepan, bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add bean thread noodles and remove pan from heat. Let sit 15 minutes until noodles are soft. Drain noodles and cut coarsely into 2-inch pieces. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. Add noodles and toss well.

2. In a large bowl, combine scallion, carrot, cucumber, sprouts, basil, cilantro, and mint.

3. Fill a pie plate with warm water. Place one rice wrapper in the water and let soak until soft and pliable, about 1 minute. (Don’t soak it too long, or it will tear.) Place wrapper on a work surface and blot dry with a paper towel. Place a layer of lettuce over the surface. Sprinkle with vegetable and herb mixture and add a layer of noodles. Fold the wrapper’s sides, top, and bottom over the filling, then roll up. Soak another wrapper, place on work surface, blot dry, and place filled spring roll in center. Fold outer wrapper around the spring roll the way you did the first.

4. Place finished spring roll on a plate and cover with a damp paper towel. Repeat with remaining wrappers, making a total of 8 rolls. Serve with peanut sauce.

Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Not great—the wrappers will gradually dry out—but I’ve eaten a couple the next day and they haven’t been horrible.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I’ve been holding out on you: I’ve been eating this awesome oatmeal three or four times a week for the past month and I’m only now getting around to mentioning it. And when you try this and it changes your life (or at least, the tiny breakfast-adjacent portion of it), you might be a little peeved that I didn’t mention it sooner.

Remember last summer, when a broken oven left me granola-less and baked-oatmeal-bereft, and I got on a museli kick? Little did I know then that I was just one small step away from oatmeal nirvana. I even mentioned it in my post: soaking the oats overnight. But I never tried it, until somehow I was reintroduced to the concept by the random idea generator that is the Internet. Overnight oats are pretty trendy on the food blogs, and really, the concept is laughably simple—soaking the oats in milk breaks them down in a similar way that cooking does. Except that it’s way easier, far less gloppy and gluey, extremely portable, not oppressively hot on a sweltering summer morning, and, if you use the further genius idea of adding Greek yogurt to the soaking liquid, packed with protein.

I used this basic recipe, but of course there are very few rules that have to be followed. This is a good ratio of oats to liquid, but I’ll admit I use ½ cup of each instead of the original ⅓ cup—I’m a hungry girl in the morning, and ½ cup is, after all, the recommended oatmeal serving size, so it’s not like I’m gorging. So far I’ve stuck pretty close to the blueberries-and-almonds formula, adding only some occasional strawberries or raspberries (and, once, a diced peach) and ground flaxseed. But you could go crazy with your toppings; some example variations shown here use nut butters, jam, and granola and other cereals, and I imagine frozen or dried fruit would be fine when fresh isn’t available.

I still adore my granola and, in colder weather, my baked oatmeal, but when I don’t have time to make those, this will be my go-to. I love the tender-chewy texture, the cool and refreshing temperature, and the way it keeps me full until lunchtime: I’ve been a cereal eater all my life, but with all these cheaper and healthier homemade options, I find myself bringing home the storebought stuff less and less. Who knew oats could be so versatile?

⅓–½ cup rolled oats
⅓–½ cup milk (equal to the quantity of oats)
⅓–½ cup plain Greek yogurt (equal to the quantity of oats and milk)
Fresh blueberries, sliced strawberries, raspberries, or other fruit to taste, about ¼–⅓ cup
1 generous dash of cinnamon
Brown sugar or honey to taste, about 1 teaspoon (optional)
Sliced almonds or other nuts to taste, about 2–3 tablespoons
Ground flaxseed to taste, about 1 tablespoon (optional)

1. Stir oats, milk, yogurt, fruit, cinnamon, and sugar or honey (if desired) together in a jar or bowl. Cover and place in refrigerator overnight.

2. In the morning, remove from refrigerator and top with nuts and flaxseed (if desired).

Serves: 1
Time: 5 minutes, plus about 8 hours in the fridge
Leftover potential: n/a

Thursday, September 06, 2012


Can you believe I have more than 450 recipes here (whoa), and not a single one uses Swiss chard? Honestly, I have nothing against the stuff, but ever since I discovered kale it’s been my go-to leafy green, leaving little room for experimentation with others. Then I saw this recipe on Food52 and it spoke to me. Specifically, it said, “Give chard a chance, you moron.” (Chard can be kind of a jerk. Fortunately, it’s pretty and it tastes good.) Also: “Look, I have bacon and lemon and cheese.” Sold!

Somehow I wasn’t really expecting this to taste like more than the sum of its parts, but boy was I wrong: This was a fantastically delicious and well balanced pasta dish. The only change I made was to double the recipe and add the lemon juice as well as the zest, both excellent decisions. In retrospect, I might have increased the cheese quantities just slightly (noted below), and I definitely wanted even more chard. Like all leafy greens, it seems like you’re buying a ton, but it cooks down so dramatically. I bought two large rainbow bunches, dutifully measured out six generous cups, and…that’s all I used. I easily could have added another two cups with the amount I had left over, and looking at the tiny flecks of green in the finished pasta, I wished I had. More greens are never a bad thing.

My vegetable bible, Jack Bishop’s Vegetables Every Day, says that the chard stems cook at a different rate than the leaves, so I didn’t include them even though the original recipe said “including the stems.” Do what you want! I included the thinner rib near the leaf, just not the really thick, celery-like lower stem. If you don’t use them for this, you can always cook them up separately another time. (Which I intend to do next time I make this. Which, by the way, will be really soon. As usual when I write glowingly about a recipe, I am now craving it.)

6–8 cups raw Swiss chard (2 large bunches), sliced (leaves and thinner ribs, but not the thickest part of the stems)
1 pound spaghetti
4 strips bacon, cut into ¼-inch slices
1 large shallot, minced
⅔–1 cup ricotta cheese
¼–½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra to taste
Zest and juice from 1 large lemon
½ teaspoon salt, plus extra to taste
¼ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Blanch the Swiss chard for 5 minutes. Scoop out the chard with a slotted spoon, transfer to a colander, and drain well, squeezing out as much of the water as possible. Chop again and set aside.

2. Keep the pot of water boiling, and add the spaghetti noodles. Cook until al dente. Remove 1 cup of cooking liquid, then drain the noodles.

3. Meanwhile, fry bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until just crispy. Add the shallot and sauté until soft. Add the Swiss chard and toss well to break up the chard clumps.

4. Combine the ricotta and Parmesan cheeses in a small bowl, and add the lemon zest and juice, ½ teaspoon salt, and red pepper flakes. Add to the Swiss chard mixture in the skillet and mix well.

5. Add cooked spaghetti to the skillet and mix well. Gradually add pasta water as needed to thin the sauce to desired consistency. Serve topped with additional grated Parmesan.

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

Friday, August 31, 2012


Here would be a perfect place to employ the oft-overused (I include myself in this accusation) foodie phrase “summer in a bowl.” Summer squash, corn, avocado, cilantro, and lime all in one place is about as summery as you can get, at least without a tomato in sight. The recipe is from Two Peas and Their Pod, and while it didn’t rock my socks off quite as much as I’d hoped based on the gorgeous photos, there’s nothing not to like here. The well-matched, fresh, simple ingredients are elevated by the elegant presentation—ribbons are purty, and the white-yellow-green palette shot through with threads of purple is something I could gaze on all day long…assuming I didn’t get hungry at any point. It tastes just like the sum of its parts, but with parts like these, that’s not so bad. I especially liked the generous proportion of avocado.

I made no changes, except to use feta instead of queso fresco, because I already had it on hand. See my notes below regarding the leftovers; they’ll keep better if you leave the avocado out until you’re ready to eat.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
2 medium zucchini
2 medium yellow squash
2 ears cooked sweet corn
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
½ red onion, sliced
2 medium ripe avocados, peeled, pitted, and sliced
½ cup queso fresco or feta cheese

1. In a large bowl, whisk the olive oil and lime juice together. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

2. Trim the ends of the zucchini and yellow squash. With a vegetable peeler, shave lengthwise into long, wide, thin strips. When you get to the center of the squash, turn the squash over and slice from the other side until you get to the center again.

3. Put the zucchini and yellow squash ribbons in a large bowl. Cut the sweet corn kernels off the cob, cutting close to the cob. Discard cobs. Add sweet corn, cilantro, red onion, and avocado slices to the squash ribbons. Pour olive oil and lime dressing over salad and toss until coated.

4. Crumble queso fresco over the top of the salad and season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Serves: 4
Time: 20 minutes
Leftover potential: Surprisingly good for a day or two, but if you plan on having leftovers, I recommend not adding the avocado in Step 3. If you plan on eating two servings now and two servings later, slice the first avocado and serve it atop the servings you intend to eat now, waiting to slice up the second avocado until you’re ready to eat the leftovers. I did the same with the cheese, adding it only to the servings only right before I ate them, but that’s less crucial.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


And with this, my “Put a Fruit on It” experiments have reached their zenith. I saw the base recipe at Two Peas and Their Pod and immediately wanted to try it. Then, at the end of that post, in the automatically generated “you might also like:” section, I spotted a link to a nectarine and prosciutto pizza over at A Cozy Kitchen. I knew that prosciutto and melon are frequently combined, and I was willing to bet that prosciutto and peach wouldn’t be a bad pairing at all. I thought the prosciutto might help keep the pizza firmly grounded in savory territory, balancing out the sweetness of the peaches and the balsamic reduction. (As you’ll recall, although I liked the strawberry pizza, it did seem just a bit desserty.

The Cozy Kitchen recipe applied the prosciutto after baking (along with some raw arugula, which I’m sure was quite lovely and kind of makes me want to devise an arugula, prosciutto, and nectarine salad—yeah, like this, maybe), but I decided to cook mine on the pizza itself, and I was glad I did. Placed between the cheese and the peaches, the cooked prosciutto added just the right touch of salty, greasy, porky chewiness to the otherwise soft and sweet toppings. Instead I left the basil uncooked—I hate the way it gets all browned and crispy and loses its fresh grassy greenness otherwise.

A word of warning about the balsamic reduction: It’s apt to drip off the pizza when you apply it or during baking, and when it gets on the pan, it burns like nobody’s business. It didn’t smoke up my oven, although that seems to have happened to at least one commenter. But it did transform into a charred-caramel substance that was nearly impossible to chip off the pan. I made two smaller pizzas, baked in my cast-iron skillet and my enameled cast-iron pan, and I eventually managed to scrub the blackened goo off the enamel with many tears and much elbow grease, but my regular cast iron still bears a few scarred spots a month later. I’m afraid that if it happens again, I might ruin that skillet for life. However, I refuse to stop making this pizza, because it is one of the most stellar pizzas I’ve ever made. I know I say this a lot, but it just tastes like summer, and it’s the balsamic reduction that really makes it special. So my options are to either start making this on a really old baking sheet I’m willing to sacrifice to the burnt-vinegar gods, or to drizzle on the reduction after the pizza has baked. Right now I’m leaning toward the latter choice, because I’d like to believe it won’t make too much difference. The baking does help the vinegar really soak into the peaches, but it’s so flavorful to begin with that I doubt its power will be much diminished. After I try it, I’ll let you know.

1 cup balsamic vinegar
1–2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
4 ounces sliced prosciutto, torn into pieces
2 to 4 peaches, thinly sliced
½ cup freshly chopped basil

1. To make the balsamic reduction, pour balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until the vinegar has reduced to ¼ cup. Set aside, and cool to room temperature.

2. To make the pizza, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Roll out the dough on a baking surface coated with cornmeal or olive oil.

3. Lightly brush the dough with olive oil. Top the dough with fresh mozzarella rounds, torn prosciutto, and peach slices. Drizzle the pizza with balsamic reduction (or wait to add the reduction until after baking; see note above).

4. Place the pizza in the oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until pizza crust is golden and cheese is melted. Remove from oven and sprinkle with chopped basil (and drizzle with the balsamic reduction if you didn’t add it earlier).

5. Let the pizza cool for a few minutes and then cut into slices and serve warm.

Serves: 4
Time: 45 minutes
Leftover potential: Good.