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.